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.


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

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 · Why I run

The return of Sensible Badger


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.

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.

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 · Why I run

Feeding the Monster Introspection

Lately, in the wee small hours, I’ve been fighting a cold, bloody battle with my whirring brain to get back to sleep. The upshot? I’m exhausted; my challenger, unperturbed.

Unable to annihilate him, whatever the a.m., I fall to the only two things I can muster the energy for to distract my juddering thought cycle.

One is playing Tetris (usually badly), and the other is reading the latest ’10 ways to be your best self’ self-improvement, mind/body/soul listicles in my Facebook newsfeed.

I click the posts knowing full well that, by-and-large, it’s a shmear of clickbait; a swift portal to the advertiser’s gratification chamber, that’s all. Yet still I’m drawn into these pieces – countless times -, aware there is little-to-no chance they are actually going to tell me something I don’t know (A la The Thrills. (Chuh, I wish, 17 year-old me)).

Why do I do it? Because the Monster Introspection is a hungry, hungry beast. And at those times when you’ve had too much time to question everything around you, fed by feeling atrocious, and having to stay stock still for longer than a half a day, it develops its bottomless-pit hunger. Craving still-more glimmers of hope that can suddenly satisfy, and make the heavy brain fog part to a clear blue sky.

I get why the Matcha tea amazement sect exists, I do. I have made a few healing, neutralising soups in my time (admittedly they are tasty). I have a mindfulness app on my phone. I’ve used it 1.5 times. Why so little? Because I can’t step outside of myself: I’m too tired. So I do the only things I know how: I go running; I seek out the bassy thrum of mega-amplified live music; or drink enough so that the stars feel hot, and the world feels big again, and I can boot the Monster out for a short while.

I run. I see the people I love settling down, making firm choices about what to do, building their feathery nests. I see my ideological soulmates thrive, but I feel chaotic; I can’t stop, I run.

The world unfolds around me; a frantic, unraveling spool of dynamism, love and colour; fear and anger. I want to bring the one to the other, but don’t know what else to do. So I sit stock still in my South West town, and do what my money will stretch to. Then when I feel unable to move or do, or I want to out-race my thoughts, I don’t want to stop; I run.

Until I can expand my world beyond these four, rented walls, I’ll continue craving the world, craving feeling alive: I’ll keep on running.