Messy-ness · Why I run

My year of messy running: motion, not mileage

2017, dear friends, has not been my best year of running!

(My regrettable anti-sweat teenager / post-Glandular Fever, chronic fatigue-dominated years aside.)

The tone was set with a re-sprained ankle in January, which kept me off-road until pfft … April? There’ve been the seasonal bugs along the way, and inevitable wearings-out of my person, which scuppered any hopeful running streaks. This winter for one has been pitiful on that front, with just a general sense of rundown-ness clinging on for what’s felt like weeks and weeks, which has kept me cocooned and doing the Sensible “staying put” Thing.

But today, four days before Christmas, I set out for my second run in forever*, logging four miles without stopping. Not so bad for no exertions in 6-7 weeks (*I lost count). And all the while possessed of a peculiar sensation that me dragging my body around Bristol was very much like forcibly steering a rogue and hefty supermarket trolley round an assault course. Regardless, I was just happy to be wearing my kit and moving again, even though it was laborious, though I don’t know what my body is going to say about it tomorrow. Hopefully not gruffly reprimand me, but we shall see.

I do worry. I worry about my energy levels whenever I start feeling a bit bleugh, a bit floppy, like my engine has dropped out. A bit too ‘chronic fatigue-y’ for comfort. That general sense of aforementioned rundown-ness.

I think that feeling is something I will always have to manage to ensure I don’t tip over the threshold of healthy uprightness, as I have a few times before. I’m still learning how my particular physiology functions, but even then I feel the goalposts moving a bit with age. I am thirty now, you know. AFTER ALL.

Last year, I would have been a bloody nightmare about all this stop-start. Just ask Harry. Downright blue about having to sit still, about being flat. Bursting into tears with frustration at points. But this hasn’t really happened in 2017, (and I have been sober for most of it) (LOLZ).

Why is that? Could it be the wisdom of age? Ha. Wisdom. Wisdom! I don’t even have wisdom teeth.

I feel like this year has been a more energy-zapped year in general; more challenging on that particular front. I’ve only logged one 10 mile run the whole year, whereas last year I was nailing them every week for weeks at a time.

But then, I and we have done so much in 2017! We can be very busy bees H and I. I got to run around Central Park! Around Jackie Onassis’ dramatically-lit reservoir, after a storm! Plus, I hear it’s normal to get bugs. It’s normal to get really, really tired. It’s normal not to be an ultramarathon runner.

IMG_4493

Except, I once thought that at least a single marathon would be on my list of achievements, someday. But I’m really not so sure it will now. I just don’t know if realistically I will ever physiologically be able to get to that point of training, without literally running myself down. I don’t know yet how I feel about that. I still like the idea of trying, of continuing to hack away in that direction. Because it’s the movement that’s important, more so than the mileage. Right?

The Messy Runner bristol with beesAnd in all this stop-start of 2017, I’ve found some new, parallel obsessions. I’ve been writing more again, so sharing a bit more of my indulgent nonsensical word-smudgery, with a bit more headspace. I have fallen for the delights of kefir and really enjoyed cultivating my own. Then there’s my experimenting with sourdough, and all that tomfoolery. There’s been epic live music, some hair experimentation, a few top-notch trips. Not forgetting the arrival of Bees, our furry pixie. What a year!

So I’m not where I hoped I might be in my running when I started out four years ago. Even then it was an experiment, because I hadn’t moved faster than walking pace since my school days. After being really quite ill with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome after university, I was, and still am, so grateful to have the support of my family and loved ones for helping my recovery. And running is part of that. Really important. I think now, the experience has become just as important as the endgame. And that’s a good place to be.

Wishing you happy holidays, festive tidings and good health in 2018,

The Messy Runner x

Advertisements
Messy-ness · Why I run

On a small black cat who likes yoga

If you’re lucky enough to have had any contact with me in times a-recent, you’ll be aware of the existence of Bees, my (and Harry’s) cat.

Bees is a musically trilling firework; a manic pixie dream boy; a veritable teenage mutant bat cat; our significant shadow tabby. Bees is, quite frankly, a magnificent beast.

Blonde and Bees

And but of course he is. We’d always, always had animals growing up in our house. So when H and I moved in together, some (minor planetary, in the grand scheme of things,) moons ago, I naturally wanted to squeeze a cat in with us. Third abode in and now in Bristol, we did it. Picked up our little blue-eyed, beautiful and shouting four-legged hairy millipede from the suburbs, shuffled our lives around him, and introduced him to our ways.

Of these ways, one of the most initially baffling and bemusing to our little zoetrope, was of course my fixation with lolloping. Sorry, er, running. And all the faffing I do around it.

A big part of this faffing is doing all my stretches / vague nods at contortionism before and after going out for a dart. Being a morning runner, this is how it normally goes: I’ll finally drag myself from our bed, clamber into my running gear, make myself a bucket of herbal tea (tea bag kept in) and roll out my squishy blue yoga mat in the glare of the window, with a flick. I’ll then set about some pacing forward folds, to start the leg-loosening process.

Turns out that not only is Bees fantastic at catching lone earthworms, jumping into my muesli at height and collecting pigeon feathers. He also has a penchant for yoga.

Hearing the soft landing of ol’ squishy blue, Bees extricates himself from his breakfast of meaty biscuits and gravy, and appears, with an upturned ‘brrrrrrrrrr’, under my now downward facing dog.

Grinning widely, Bees’ cat yoga routine opens with a rebounding figure of eight for a time. Depending on his mood (though this is less frequent since his op, cruel mother that I am), he will bump heads with me for a while like some happy drunkard, either carrying on gleefully, or sinking his teeth into my bare and bracing wrists, his pupils like dinner plates, becoming more and more incensed in the throes of the ‘game’ as I yelp.

Yoga cat yoga 2YOga cat black and white

I then move on to my hip-stretching pigeon poses, while Bees trots purring alongside my lengthened leg, and curls up in the crook of the bent one opposite. Finally, he jumps up, then in and out of the house through his cat flap, collecting morning rainwater on his fur and distributing it widely in muddy pawprints up and down my lovely sky blue mat. He finishes this curious choreography by tucking his feet under himself in drumlin fashion, staring unblinkingly at me to get on with it.

Far from my mad cat being a distraction, funnily enough, his routine now makes my routine. I always thought having a cat at home again would help me be more mindful, more present in my surroundings; less ossified by my latest millennial existential angst or Fear Of Missing Out. Turns out I was right. My yoga cat is a charm.

Messy-ness · Training and motivation

Get Up Offa That Thing! (beating the racer snakes)

Hello folks. Today I’ve officially been having a Day Off, and not because I am poorly, but because I can! It’s delightful. Harry being his teachery good self, his time in terms, while I, being wayward scribbler (of sorts), means I’ve spent the day Han Solo.

It’s a funny, reflexive thing when you’re not used to spending time completely by yourself (that is, not even sharing a luggage rack on the train home with a gent with something stuck in his teeth), as is actually making sure it is actively spent, rather than let-go-by. I’m fixated with it. Sometimes, I’ll admit, to the point of tear-forming anxiety.

But why? I wondered, as I festered bluely the other week. Why the obsession with not ‘wasting’ time, even when it’s to recover? Even when, this is what life is, and a very lucky one at that? Threads of thought span out, akin (I fancy) to the memory strands from Dumbledore’s brow into the pensieve, or the racer snakes chasing newborn iguana babies in the first episode of Planet Earth II (you know the ones).

The thoughts went: it’s the sneaking shadow of mortality. The spectre of capitalism; the need for citizens to be productive at all costs. The drive to survive our online lives, Black Mirror-like, by living to satisfy our social profiles. The fear that being stock still, through illness or monies (a lack thereof), is your limit; and therefore the limit of your experience. All of the above, searingly intertwined.

Sometimes the shadow is happy for you to watch the full fourth season of Girls in a few hours, while eating an entire pack of oatmeal and raisin cookies. (I went through a phase of doing this A LOT last winter.)

Most-times, however, the shadow wants you to Get Up Offa That Thing. Needless to say I’ve been trying to find a happy medium between Karl Marx and James Brown.

This has involved…

  • Commuting to work in my running gear, so I can now build regular running in to and from the station. I mean, I knew other people have been at it forever, but for me to do it? It’s crikey worthy. Definitely preferable to beating myself up for not having the time or energy to go at all. I’m only three goes in, equating to a solid 5k a day if I go there and back. I’ve loved it. It is oddly extra-motivating knowing I have to mission it to a particular place, instead of simply clocking up miles to keep my pedometer happy. Aside from this lightning strike of realisation, this has further been made possible by a lightweight runner rucksack, which hugs my stumpy frame pretty nicely, see exhibit A:
  • Getting my flu jab – as someone who often gets horrendous flu over winter every winter, I figured it was worth a shot (HAAA). Especially having heard my sister and her fellow comrades have flu jabs, paid for by The Man, every year, and she’d been flu-free for five years! Obviously it’s not guaranteed, but still.
  • Pilates – this, my new favourite hobby, has been a revelation, for several reasons. I have been reunited with my stomach muscles, after all these years. What a renaissance we are enjoying. Also I’ve had this immediate feeling of being stronger and more flexible, which is refreshing and, so I’ve read, a great partner for running. Today I did a 30 minute session from YouTube, with all the stupid ‘dum-dum-dum’ background music to boot, but it works.
  • Frank Turner in show on Saturday. He is the best live act; supreme, like chicken. And knowing his openness about blueness and battling, it is like going to see a friend. In a crowd full of hot, sweaty friends.
  • Eating well – and yes, often a little bit too well. The thing with the stuff I share on this blog is that, I do try and do the right things most of the time. Eat the good stuff, cook from scratch, put superfoods in everything, pack in protein, make turmeric soup. But there is also a big side of me that buckles to sugar or Cheeselets, and ends up going to town. Last night it was ring doughnuts, one after the other, just like an American cop.

In short, I’m experimenting still, in this busy time of twinkling lights, afternoon gloom and flooding at the door, to find what works.

And striving to avoid being cast as the unfortunate iguana baby, enveloped in racer snakes:

Messy-ness · Why I run

The return of Sensible Badger

14976436_10154182329134538_8506839868471452530_o-2
#nofilter

I’ve a confession to make. (it’s this big <–>.)

In the end, I didn’t do the Great West Run.

These four weeks since starting up in Bristol has forced me, after many months of hibernation, to embrace the return of Sensible Badger.

With her fearsome nose of polished coal, furrowed grumpfbrow, and growlsome demeanour, she’s quite a beast.

I’ll explain. I am (largely) compos mentis. The Badger thing is a throwback to me aged nine in a small Warwickshire village. My sisters and village mates, stuffed-full of Blytean visions of the Famous Five and Secret Seven, decided we were going to form our own awesome club to trump all clubs: The Badger Club.

(Aaaaaaggggggghhhhhhhhh TRUMP. It’s all getting a bit close.
*Crosses chest and prays for reprieve*)

So if you were nineish in 1996, loved the Spice Girls and know anything about club ettiquette, you’ll not be surprised to hear that every Badger Club member had a nickname. There was Sporty Badger, Scary Badger (uh-huh), Baby Badger, and yes, Sensible Badger, because, aha, I was the sensible one. Iron-clad logic.

Sensible Badger in her 28 year-old incarnation meant two big things. I stepped back a bit to figure life and health stuff out, instead of my normal trick of lunging into everything like a hyperactive Dalmatian who crashes and burns after too much stimulation.

921065_10153410315504538_2165898254582163831_o
My  Sensible Badger days.

I’ve got a three hour all-in commute door-to-door, so I’m prioritising sleep instead of 5am runs, using my walk to and from the station to keep my step count up. So when it came to it, I didn’t have the lead-in to the Big Run I would’ve liked, so I passed it up, because I didn’t want to do myself in.

That same day I managed a strong 8-miler, then a 4.2mile the day after (which was two weeks ago tomorrow), when I got a nasty winter virus that had me too drained and wiped out to do anything at all for a few days. I was blue as hell, which isn’t a fun place to be.

15000713_10154182330279538_1716751644206522166_o
When you’re feeling blue, eat blue porridge

I am getting better (faster-stronger); breaking back into it with walking and small pelts, eating well, sleeping, and a lot of tea. Feeling more myself again.

Yesterday was a great day, dotted with rummaging for vintage stuff in Bristol Textile Recyclers‘ warehouse, revisiting our new flat in grown-up fashion, topped off by tomato bacon at Brew, and a long-awaited trip to Moti running shop on Whiteladies Road.

Up on the treadmill they took a proper look at my running technique, and I got, I think, the best result, because the guy reiterated the podiatrist’s analysis. That is, my form is pretty sound, and any imbalance is not in how I strike the ground, but from my hips. He prescribed me neutral, not mega supportive shoes, which felt like a victory after conscientiously changing my landing style.

So I picked up some beautiful new springy Saucony shoes that are 1.5 sizes bigger than my actual shoe size, which’ll hopefully mean the end of black toenail gate. Though my big right one still looks a fright:14939562_10154165000849538_5639260818377916706_o

The lesson of all this? That when you need to step back from this stuff, do it. Embrace your grumpy Sensible Badger and sit on your pesky running pixie for a bit.

I’m as determined to find my way to longer distances, but it’ll have to be on my terms.

Messy-ness

What to do when it rains in Scotland? (Ahhhhhhhhh Barry Manilow)

How’s this for an oxymoron: Harry and I are on a summer Scotland expedition! You heard me right.

We’ve split it between Edinburgh and the bonnie Isle of Arran. Translation: we have between us half a pair of trousers and two shoes still dry. Intepretation: We are currently sheltering in ‘PHT’, one of our locals, while Boney M. is piped VERY LOUDLY overhead. In summary: I am in dire need of a large glass of wine, because I can’t for the life of me concentrate with ‘Rivers of Babylon’ (1978) bouncing Europopilly through my lugholes. Aaaaand now it’s Barry Manilow (1975). And now Meatloaf’s Hellbats (1977). Help, we’re trapped in a ’70s easy listening earwarp!

(Phew… Lou Reed. Praise be to he. Balance is restored.)

Anyway, let’s push on through, shall we – we have had an ace shock of days in the crammed ‘Burgh for EdFest. Key constituent parts: proper lovely faces (big thank you to Amy and Laura); some good running (including round Arthur’s seat); my surrealist first date with Tony Law (a stand up dissenter. Still not sure what happened, but it felt like an awakening); a stomping midnight ceilidh in the city caves with the bae (that’s his cool name now) and company (our calves are still feeling that one).

Edinburgh crowd

Bill EdFest

Me and Darth Vader

And now we’re camping in Arran, as of last night, from o’er very choppy waters. In my 28 years I’ve been able to count myself very lucky to have been to most of Scotland’s Western islands, but Arran’s a first for me. For H-face it’s a trip back into seven year-olddom, the cutie. Today after a somewhat concerning night with the wind, we’ve trekked to see the best standing stones the island has to offer and soaked up remnants of ancient burial rituals. (To my Dad, we have been trawling some wonders! And doing some wanders. You’d be proud).

What always surprises me is the number of Englanders who haven’t been to Scotland, let alone taken the trip up watery westwards, and to them, I say, go. Go now. Unless you are a fool without a cagoule. For there is a big rule. Weather apps are nice, but they become a bit null, and often void in these lands. Being islanders anyway, you should’ve come to know and appreciate that things can change quickly where the weather’s involved. On the likes of Arran, this is even more pronounced. Case in point: we’re camping in Lamlash, and we have seen Lamlash stun in the sun, and Lamlash become the inside of a soaking waterproof in the rain. The kind of rain where you feel like a giant is chucking fistfalls of sea at you. It’s great.

But, I am mindful of the fact that it is usually the dismaland that keeps people away, so I want to assure you, you can do summer here, with the rain! You just need some tactics…

1. Go for it, get wet
This is a big one. There is no point waiting for the sun to come out. If you have a plan, unless it is climbing up to the peak, you go out. And when it’s slightly less than pouring, you go out. If it’s driest in the morning, go out. But bring wellies.

Lamlash

2. Get thyself to an outdoor shop
…to afford yourself, at the very least, the psychological semblance of preparedness by checking out every flummoxing outdoorsy snicket available to you. We’re planning to head up Goatfell tomorrow (yippee) and I know I am going to be wearing my running lycra. We went to an outdoors shop earlier and I picked up some child’s waterproof trousers, in a dab at practicality. But they were still too long, and some of them were £50 a pair, which is ridiculous. So I’d also advise sticking to what you know or are at least comfortable in. Non-chafing!

3. Go to a distillery and/or do a trawl of local crafters/producers.
The latter in particular is very cathartic. Especially when you see something refreshing, something aside from commercial prints and easy sells, something which really is a creative translation of the world outside. The former is also quite fun and tastes nice. As does cheese. We got to see the curds today! Arran curds. These are cheese fingers.

Daisy cheese fingers

4. Enjoy a good nap. Or Battleships!
We did the nap. We needed to after our R.E.M. was destroyed by the midnight wind. But we appear to have lost our Battleships. The intention was there though.

5. By Harry: Find a good pub, drink plenty while your better half tap tap taps away. Tappidy tap tap. Tap. Then eat food, drink more and stagger through the water home. I say home, back to the tent. The windy windy tent. Windy, noisy flappy tent. Best tip here – stuff your pillow in the hood of your sleeping bag, tighten the cord so then your head is wedged. It’s like a pillowy cacoon, one that shields your ears from all the noise. I was particularly pleased with this early hours innovation – how often do you get a good idea when you’re sleeping and actually get to carry it out there an then, rather than something forever forgotten.

Harry C in the rain

And that, dear friends, is that.

Messy-ness

Out on the Canal

nuthatch

On a roof of skid-resistant treacle, the sun’s hot beams out, to heat a weary stomach.

I am a bad poet at best, I know. But how often do we grab time to create a whimsical sentence or few, like that scrap? Not often. That’s unless you get lucky, and out on the canal.

Out on the canal, you see the world more slowly. Scrap that: you see the world, slowly. That’s not to say you simplify it, shutter off, or strip it bare, but remember to breathe in, between hectic, same-filled days, and feel it more. For some that’s a weakness. I think, sad or odd that slowing down could be pegged as privilege or luxury, or part of those rare, one-off times. Surely you need slower spells to really see the colour and clarity of life around you; to break the fuzz of speed.

Out on the canal, you have no choice. Your top pace is 4mph, and most times calls from all sides are to ‘Tick Over!’ when you pass mooring boats, so walking speed is a stretch for a bulky barge.

What do you do on a canal boat? You can spend your days unmooring, moving, shuffling up and down locks, strengthen your arms, torso and legs by taking on locks and paddles, admire the longevity of this Industrial Age technology.

You might eat and drink a tonne, unused to the constant motion of treading up and down a canal path. Your skin fizzles, and your hair gathers rain, with the glory-dust and grime of being outside.

You see life and art; people steering away from bullshit, people steering away from society, or towards an alternate society that fits their soul. People create worlds with boat paint; illustrate their arms, life rings, let their hair fall long and low; go anti-Heathrow expansion, cycle and be-rid of the car, make friends with white-dappled ducks, duck from the herons; some steel away to fish where they shouldn’t; some fill their universe with herbs and flowers, in the shadow of a manor house.

People choose a nostalgic life, a hobby horse, or want to make less of a troubled imprint on the world. There is beauty, poverty and luxury, out on the canal.

Messy-ness

Talking about: Harry’s hair.

Harry's hair

Seeing as many of my posts have so far been preoccupied with the messiness of my running game – and I did promise meanderings from the outset – I felt it was high time I spent some of my writerly energies on an altogether different, yet still universal, fixation:

Harry’s hair.

Harry’s hair has featured heavily in my tiny world in the three years we’ve known and tolerated each other. The more time we’ve spent together, I’ve got to see how his happy, shiny burden governs his existence. This majestically curled, Warlockian forest, adds clout to an already high-punching persona. Without a doubt if you love Harry, Harry’s hair gets an equal portion.

It’s the first thing I see when I wake in the morning (quite literally. Our sleeping arrangement can end up a bit Sleeping Beauty’s castle in the 100-year period, with Harry’s hair as the mystical vine.). It’s the happy-cloudy outline I can spot from miles away when I’ve had a tiring day.

Shy retiring types hang off his every word, wanting an insight into his chosen hair care methods (I’ll let you into the secret: he is an unbending Tresemme man. What’s more, he’s landed upon a 2-in-1-shampoo-conditioner-condition-again regime he insists is a happy accident of misreading the label. And yet it keeps on happening… I’ll tell you though, the results are Worth It.)

Our conversations at the bar will be interrupted by beefy lads with clipped crops, dead-set on manfully fondling his curls without invitation. When approached for a simple tidy-up, barbers shy away, for fear their clippers will be too rudimentary to tame rather than maim the beast. Women want to know if he and my mum, who is similarly blessed, are mother and son (THEY ARE NOT), because what luck I must have to have two such hair-blessed souls in my inner circle?

I’m sure I’m not the only one who’d be aghast if it disappeared one day. That idea is just a bit too much Samson-and-Delilah jeopardy for my liking.

It would seem unnatural, somehow… and when you think about it, hair is an anagram of…

Anyway, as anyone who knows Harry will know, he has some powers; even more-so now the Hair is edging closer to its Everest: the full-blown Robert Plant.

Two years on from his last trim, this prospect still excites me to the core. Why? For the same reason I’m intrigued by Tokyo, and impressed by beards. It’s all about reclaiming space.

And this rate of growth means there’s just more Harry by the day…