But if you’re all about the destination, then take a f*cking flight

I am injured again. No saga, it wasn’t even a running injury. I’m just a grown woman who manages to fall down the stairs with alarming frequency and on this occasion, rolled her ankle in the process. screen-shot-2016-09-11-at-19-36-40It took a couple of days for reasonably severe swelling and bruising to show but almost two weeks later that swelling is still refusing to fully recede. I’m not in pain but am occasionally getting odd twinges of shooting discomfort through my foot. It’s going to be a while longer before I risk running.

All runners despise being injured don’t they? Injuries cause stress and complaints and we think of nothing but when will we be able to run again. HA, no, not this girl! I’m ace at being injured; I practically revel in it. Lazing around in the warm, watching Netflix instead of putting in the miles in the cold? I’m amazed more of us aren’t self-sabotaging; I probably subconsciously throw myself down the stairs so I can justify not running.

I’m (mostly) joking but we do have a tendency to catastrophize and treat injury as a death knoll instead of an inevitable part of our journey as runners. Considering it’s likely to come to us all, I try to view injury as a detour rather than a delay. I do wonder if several years of shoddy mental health has helped me develop this attitude. Running is usually my coping mechanism for anxiety and so you would expect me to fall apart without it. The thing is, I’ve had years of not being able to do the things I ought to, or want to do. The days of not being able to get out of bed, of missing work, of flaking on social commitments because leaving the house is too terrifying a prospect. It’s frustrating and misery-inducing but it’s also a part of my life and so I’m bizarrely calm and practical about not running. Would I like to have run today? Yes, but what’s one more thing that I can’t do because of my health? It’s an odd sort of resilience that I wish I didn’t have but it saves me that additional layer of angst.

“I’m awful at not doing anything” is a common refrain from injured runners but there’s still a lot you can be doing whilst injured. Here are five things contributing to my running during any period where I can’t physically run (because remember, it’s only a detour to your journey):

1. RELAXING

I know, it’s difficult. You’re terrible at doing nothing. Sometimes it can be beneficial to take the pressure off of ourselves. There’s a physical toll that comes from the endless procession of races. Not only that, but I find that I experience an emotional toll of constantly training for something, of constantly feeling that I should be aiming for a PB. This mindset matches up with when injuries induced by running seem to occur. I suspect lacking motivation and feeling tired means I neglect strength work and let my form slip and before long, I’m injured and have taken myself out of contention.

With the pressure of racing or attempting a PB gone, I then tend to do my best running. My favourite races and PBs, they’ve come on days when I expected nothing. A good chunk of running is mental exercise – the will to carry on when it hurts, dragging ourselves out in bad weather, and yes, not caving to pressure on race day. That last one is a particular weakpoint for me and so being set back by injury and thinking there’s no chance of getting a PB? That can be just what I need to prosper.

2. TRYING

Running gets to be a reasonably intensive process, doesn’t it? We’re training 3-4 times a week, if not more frequently. Throw in the odd bit of cross-training and the strength work that we all know we should be doing and you find that you’ve run out of time to pick up anything new. I’ll admit to being resolutely unimaginative with my cross-training; you’ll find me in the pool. The majority of friends supplement their running with a bit of cycling. Very few of us are venturing out of that box of triathlon components.

Unless you’ve had surgery and are waiting for stitches to heal, there are reasonably few injuries that are going to fully put you out of action. Throwing yourself into something new can distract you from the frustration of not running, keep your cardiovascular fitness up, and strengthen muscle groups that perhaps you’ve unknowingly neglected with your standard routine. Try something new and it could become an important part of your running routine.

In the past year I’ve been bouldering, rowing and kayaking and on one particualrly ridiculous day attempted aerial yoga, but I’m blessed enough to have lived in London and had the capital’s resources at my feet. There are still far more activities that I’d like to dip a toe into when running isn’t taking up my time. And that is how I very recently signed up for a course that is legitimately titled “Ballet For Grown Ups”. Hilarity to follow.

3. VOLUNTEERING

I’ve written before about the benefits I experience from volunteering at parkrun. I definitely don’t volunteer often enough; when I get into a good rhythm with my running it’s too satisfying to watch the times fall week on week.

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Volunteering at Southwark Park

Injury is a good reason to fit in a block of volunteering and do your good deed for the year. We all know that parkrun can’t take place without the volunteers who selflessly give up their chance to run that week and we’re all incredibly thankful for them. Yet every week, emails and twitter appeals go out from parkruns up and down the country in search of more volunteers just so that events can take place.

Similarly, if injury keeps you from a planned race, then races also need volunteers. They are huge logistical events and we should give more thought to the people who hand us water and push shiny medals into our sweaty little hands. An increasing number of races offer a free race place for the following year if you volunteer in some capacity so you can console yourself that you’re just delaying the race rather than missing it.

It’s also a sneaky way to watch other runners. How often do we do that? Stand back and properly take in what other runners are doing, how they hold themselves, how they move. You’ll spot behaviours that you think look awkward – for me it’s always how other runners use their arms – and give more thought to what you do yourself.

Volunteering has kept me actively involved in the running community when I could easily curl up at home and isolate myself. Friends deserve my support even though I can’t run, and it makes you all the more appreciative of what goes on behind the scenes to allow you to run at these amazing events. Next Saturday I still won’t be running but I will be volunteering at Guildford parkrun, my new local.

4. LEARNING

Most of what I know about the human mind, chemistry and happiness has been discovered through anxiety, depression and sobbing in my therapist’s office. Similarly, most of what I know about physiology and how running “works” is from physio appointments, trying not to scream during sports massages and staring at diagrams of muscles, trying desperately to understand exactly why pain is occurring. We only look at the mechanics behind something once it’s broken and we need to work out how to fix it. This is why I’m repeatedly amazed every time that an injury is actually caused by a weakness elsewhere.

The human foot has 26 bones, 33 joints, 107 ligaments, 19 muscles and tendons. The 52 bones in your feet make up about 25 percent of all the bones in your body. That’s an awful lot of numbers without even considering your legs, what your arms are doing, how your core is supporting all that. There is so much happening with every step we run and we don’t necessarily give that any consideration. Maybe we don’t need to, but I do think that the more I learn, the more self-awareness I gain. That now when a niggle hits, I (vaguely!) understand what’s happening and as a result I can counteract it and prevent more serious problems from developing. It doesn’t always work and it will never be foolproof but I’m still learning.

5. APPRECIATING

The moment I most want to go for a run is precisely 25 seconds after I’ve realised an injury is going to stop me running. I’m contrary like that. The human body is an incredible, terrifying, wondrous thing and we should applaud it and revel in it, even when it’s not behaving quite as we’d like. I’m spending a lot of this current injury period trying to be thankful that I’m just being set back from something amazing that I’m capable of doing 90% of the time.

When I finally get back to running, I know that my fitness will have been annihilated and all the speed progress I was making will be lost. Again. But that first run back is going to be glorious and freeing and I hope I can capture that feeling for a while longer. Appreciate what your body can do, because it may not always be able to do it.

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Parklife (part deux), or; Now I’m ready to start

Do you remember the time I achieved some limited blog notoriety by writing about how parkrun was a great initiative for mental health? I had already been planning a follow up, and then Stoke Gifford Parish Council ignorantly decided they should charge for Little Stoke parkrun. Twitter is abuzz and the running community is quite rightly outraged.

Let us forget for a moment, that parkrun manages to successfully organise 850 events, across 12 countries without a single one charging anything. Actually, no. Let’s remember that. 850 parkruns. 12 countries. 932,917 runners. Truly staggering statistics and nobody pays to participate. Yet Stoke Gifford Parish Council say it is “unfair” to expect non-running residents to pay for path maintenance. There has been discussion about how fair this is – whether the park is already being subsidised by council tax, whether the runners are (not) so local that it’s (not) their taxes contributing etc. Ultimately, that’s not how tax works. Whilst I love to believe my taxes solely fund libraries, I suspect large amounts of it goes towards all sorts of unsavoury things I dislike and have no need for.

So let us turn our attention to a more pertinent issue, the rather dodgy accounting skills and lack of common sense of Stoke Gifford Parish Council. Little Stoke Parkrun has been running (no pun intended) for over 3 years and given the parish council’s position, you would expect that a lot of maintenance must have occurred in that time. Here is Stoke Gifford Parish Council’s expenditure for the FY2015/16. This is public information, freely available on their website; you can easily find it for yourself by visiting their homepage. Go nose through the month-by-month itemised account of the parish council’s expenditure. No really, go ahead. I’ll wait, I’m not even really here. Take your time.

Back? Stoke Gifford Parish Council initially proposed that each adult runner pay £1. I can’t find details of the proposal but if anyone has a link, please drop it in the comments or let me know on Twitter, and I’ll update this. The BBC article says that there are “about 300” runners at Little Stoke parkrun each weekend. If the council planned to charge 300 runners, £1/week, that would amount to a grand total of £15,600 each year in the parish council coffers. Let’s be benevolent and say half those runners are at junior parkrun on Sunday and exempt from the charge on account of being 6 years old. That’s still a total of £7,800. How much did Stoke Gifford Parish Council spend on “path maintenance” at Little Stoke in FY2015/6? £0. Nothing at all. Presumably thousands of pounds of damage is being done to the paths to justify this course of action and yet the parish council have spent nothing. I will leave you to draw your own conclusions and return to why I originally planned this follow-up.

Not long after my original post, I ended up talking to Mind about their Get Set to Go campaign, focusing on the (perceived) barriers that those experiencing mental illness may feel prevent them from taking part in activity. They were already speaking to a number of runners but read the parkrun blog and asked how I would feel about them coming to film me running one Saturday morning and taking part in a short interview.

I messaged Mike, the event director at Southwark parkrun who partially prompted me to write that first post and is an all-round good egg, as the whole team at Southwark are. He liaised at length with both the team at Mind and with parkrun HQ to get the approval we needed. This wasn’t a straightforward task and I’m immensely grateful to all at Southwark who have been so very supportive of me and this blog.

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Southwark. ❤ (Photo credit to whoever I nabbed this from!!)

On a chilly, grey March morning, I was the tailrunner at Southwark parkrun. I caught up with a few people, had a delightful leisurely run (after too much tequila the night before) and met the lovely Louise Jones at her first ever parkrun (she is now a convert) who was also filming, about her experience of the Couch to 5k app. Filming the run was surprisingly fun with a member of the Mind team repeatedly whizzing past me on roller blades. Filming the interview was less so because an awful lot of helicopters fly over SE London which meant standing about waiting for noise levels to drop every few minutes.

You can watch the finished product below, or on the Get Set to Go mini-site. I am assured, unprompted, by friends that the camera has added at least 10lbs and that I don’t actually sound like that in real life. I haven’t actually watched it the final version as yet because ironically I think it may bring on a bout of anxiety and self-loathing.

It’s truly sad that Stoke Gifford Parish Council feel they can put a price on the life-changing effects that parkrun can have on their community. I’m proud of the stance that parkrun have taken and sorry for all those at Little Stoke who have lost their parkrun home. I’m sure they will find a new home soon enough and they will all remain a much-loved part of the greater parkrun family regardless.

 

It is the hollow month of March now sweeping in

March is sweeping out, actually. But I don’t write the lyrics, I just pilfer them for blog titles. When I wrote my round up of February, I ended by saying it would be a big month. It was, but in ways I never expected.

I started the month by turning 27 on the 2nd. Birthdays are ace; I don’t usually like mine much but this year I was truly happy and calm on it for the first time in a few years. The problem with birthdays is that there’s a lot of eat/drink/be merry which doesn’t leave much time for running. Ho hum, I don’t pretend to be a paragon of virtue, running or otherwise. The night before my birthday, I went out for (many) drinks and some dinner with a friend. Wine, whisky and I think 12798908_10154028832863307_1160822745085107067_n.jpgthere was a meat board at some point. The next day was my birthday and so I went out and did it all again, having dim sum and large amounts of prosecco with some of my nearest and dearest in London and a super time was had by all. London gets so lonely at times and it really helps to have memories like this, knowing that people are around. I’ve been more cautious about drinking the past few months; I’m aware of the effect that both being drunk, and being hungover has on my anxiety levels so I’m really glad that I had a few days of having fun and not worrying about repercussions, and there being no repercussions.

That week was a write off for running for obvious reasons. On the Saturday I was back at home for birthday CcxmmPxWwAApKhkcelebrations with the parents, and dragged myself down to Lee-on-the-Solent parkrun. Yay! Parkrun! Yay! The seaside! I wasn’t trying to push it too hard with only a week left until the Bath Half but ended up with a time of 28:04 which while not a PB isn’t too shabby a time for me. I also pleasingly managed almost perfect splits. As pacing has been a bugbear for me, this was huge for me and I was on a real high, feeling like my running was finally progressing. My heart rate had been reasonably good, the whole run hadn’t felt too bad until I started my sprint finish too early; I think if I hadn’t mistimed that it would have easily been in the 27:5xs. Everything was good.

Then everything went wrong. So wrong.

On the Monday, I lost my job. I won’t rehash it all here but it was unexpected and dramatic. I phoned my mama and asked her to come to London, I phoned recruiters en route to the train station, I phoned a couple of friends to try and stay level while I awaited my mama’s arrival. Packed some bags. Came home to the coast for sea air and home cooking and awaited my inevitable meltdown. Except it never happened. Tears and panic attacks have come so easily, over the tiniest inconsequential things but in a real crisis, it seems I cope. I was stressed and sad but I coped. That’s worth knowing. If I can get through this, then that strength is also there to be utilised in my sillier moments.

I had grand plans for rest and running. This was going to be my highest mileage month ever! (Un)fortunately, the phone started ringing very quickly and my first two weeks at home were actually spent on trains to/from London, attending interviews. Thankfully, I received an offer a mere nine working days after losing my job.

The Bath Half came at the end of my first week of unemployment. 10169185_10154070677308307_5339933511251828_nIn hindsight, I suspect the stress I was under probably played its part in it being a bad race for me. I thought I was just thrown off track by the unexpectedly nice conditions but looking back at the data from my Garmin, it seems to have been the start of some heart rate issues that I’ve been having ever since. I had no motivation to run after Bath; disheartened by a truly miserable race and a lack of routine without work meant a lot of napping and Netflix. When I did get back out there after 10 days or so without a proper run, my heart and lungs felt like they would explode. I chalked it up as a bad run and tried again a few days later but to no avail. My heart rate was way up near its max despite running significantly slower than my usual 5k pace. I rested some more, kept an eye on my resting heart rate and stared mournfully at the data. Following those bad runs my resting heart rate was high 70s/low 80s for a couple of days before returning to its normal level of high 50s/low 60s. I’ll see how things are when I get back to work and having routine and a normal life – impossible to know if this problem is physical or mental as the two are so closely linked for me.

The other run of note this month was at Southwark Parkrun. I know, those babes again. If you’re ever in south London, Southwark is a particularly wonderful parkrun and I can’t recommend it enough. This month, they very graciously agreed for a team from Mind to come and film me (tail)running as part of an upcoming campaign about exercise and mental health. Expect a more detailed post when the campaign launches. I had a delightful morning leisurely running at the back of the pack while a cameraman on inline skates whizzed past me before I stood in the park repeatedly waiting for helicopters to pass over and spoke about why parkrun is a great way to get into sport and its many benefits. I also got to meet the very lovely Louise and her boyfriend Ryan who experienced my near-evangelical ranting about why parkrun is the best but hey, we follow each other on Twitter now so I can’t have seemed too mad. Or maybe they enjoy madness. Thank you so much to the ever-wonderful team at Southwark for agreeing to the filming, and especially their event director Mike who was instrumental in making it happen. You are all stars. Finished product coming soon; expect repeated wails of “am I really that ginger?” (yes), “am  I really that pale?” (also yes), and “do I really make those faces when I run/speak?” (another yes).

April. The return to the London. A new job, again. Cheering as part of Team Mind at the London Marathon. (N.B. If you’re running the London Marathon, I’ll be the ginger one wearing a VERY fetching Mind t-shirt at Mile 25 at Embankment, send me your race number, I’ll track you and then high 5 you because you’ll be so close to finishing). Lighter evenings. Putting my life back together again.

 

It’s February again, we must get older

It’s time for the month in review! What’s been going on inside my head and where have my feet been taking me this month?

The month began on a serious high with my Time To Talk post going the smalltime blogger version of viral. I was asked in advance by the event director at Southwark parkrun if I had anything suitable for them to share as part of the day. I didn’t, but they’re good people so I wrote a piece on how parkrun has been more than just running to me. It ended up being retweeted a ridiculous number of times and being shared by so many parkruns, by parkrunners and by the founder, Paul Sinton-Hewitt. A bizarre day of people sending screenshots of my face as it popped up in their Facebook feeds via parkruns across the country.

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Sporting my parkrun performance shirt. A ginger in apricot. Bold.

That post has now been viewed well over 5000 times, in over 40 countries. Thank you to all who supported, shared and talked about mental health on that day. You know how much the cause means to me and to have had even the tiniest impact was fantastic. The blog will probably never reach such lofty heights again!

Running has been a mixed bag. Again, the month started well. I managed a couple of post-work 5 milers, as opposed to my usual 5km. I’m slowly trying to up my overall mileage and it’s reassuring to have broken the mental block I had of doing more than 5km on a school night. This will seem such a tiny breakthrough to so many of you but my running is plagued with arbitrary and nonsensical negative mental blocks of my own forming and it’s taking a lot of resolve to dismantle them.

The first weekend in February I once again smashed my longest run, taking the distance to 17.1km/10.6 miles. With 5 weeks to go until Bath Half, this was hugely reassuring. Thank you to everyone at #ukrunchat that evening who confirmed that yes, that was indeed completely on track when I was having a wobble! The other bonus of that run was my pacing was almost spot on; a little slower than usual but that led to consistency with a couple of (actually very small) blips that I think correlate to where I paused to stretch my niggling calves.

But then came the dreaded lurgy. Classic February cold/flu/misery had been doing the rounds at the office and I finally succumbed in the second week of February. Coincidentally, also set up to be the toughest week I’ve had at this job yet. Life, oh life.  A week of feeling terrible both physically and mentally and not being able to run at all, so once again a month where my mileage is nowhere near as high as I had hoped. I’ve actually only run about 50km all month which is appalling. I’m frustrated but I know how dangerous for my emotional resilience it is to push myself too hard. A lot of rest, a lot of cups of tea and watching Netflix in leggings and ratty old jumpers, a lot of envying everyone talking about their running. I attempted a long slow run exactly one week after having run 17km. I made it through 3km with legs and a stomach feeling like lead, went home and was promptly sick. Another attempt at 5km in the week was cut short at around the 3km mark again with burning lungs. Super disheartening.

The following weekend I made it out for my long run with minimal confidence after almost 2 weeks off. I put myself through 16km, although with a few short walks thrown in there (at 3km, 10km, 14km). I’ve already written about how negative I felt after that run. I’m trying to be objective about it and be a lot kinder to myself. I was on course to be only about 2-3 minutes slower than my 17km run 2 weeks earlier. Considering that there was a good 5+ minutes of walking involved, I was just coming back from illness, I’d had some time off and it was horrendously windy out there, that’s not at all bad going. Pain and Panic are whispering that I’m making excuses but they can hush. I ran 16km when I wasn’t at my best, having expected to struggle to hit 10km, and I didn’t run them that badly. I didn’t run them anywhere near as well as I would have liked but you can’t always get what you want.

Given the setback of illness, I now won’t run the full half marathon distance until race day but I’ve now comfortably hit 15km+ on several occasions in the past 6 weeks without any real ill effect and I think I could probably have kept going. I think the adrenaline and atmosphere on the day will carry me through without too much fuss. It’s “less than a parkrun” (a well-established unit of distance!) to be added on my longest run and that’s not too terrifying. I’ve just hit the initial fundraising target I set when I signed up for Bath but as I’ve now planned an entire year of running for Mind, I’m hoping to absolutely smash that amount. Anyone feeling kind and inclined to donate, you can do so here and it means the world to me.

I went back to work and had a panicked couple of days trying to progress various matters before putting the out of office on and heading to Iceland.

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Iceland was like Narnia

This actually prompted the biggest meltdown of the month, a severe 2 hour panic attack the night before my holiday and the first serious one I’ve had in a while. I can’t explain the terror that I experience knowing that emails are flooding into my inbox and not being able to deal with them. Holidays are more stress than they’re worth really. Anyway, Iceland. The highlight of my month and you can read about it in a lot more detail here. After recently wondering where I’m going in life, I’ve realised that maybe this is where I’m supposed to be right now, booking holidays on a near-whim with one of my best friends. Now we are home and I am planning our trip to Japan next year.

This morning I turned my work phone back on to be greeted with over 300 emails. I was only out the office for 3 days…A moment of inner panic, a couple of whiny messages to people, a tube journey spent sifting through the noise. By the time I stepped into the office, I knew where I stood, a huge number of emails had been deleted, more had been filed and I could start prioritising the relatively few that required any level of attention. That’s real progress. Once that scenario would have resulted in so much panic that I wouldn’t have made it to the office.

I’d hoped to pick the running back up tonight but leaving at gone 7pm and having to be back in for 7.30am is making that seem unlikely. Law is all kinds of fun.

That’s February done. On we march to March. In 2 days, I will be 27. In 13 days, I will be running my first half marathon for Mind. Work is set to be very busy (when is it not?). I have two incredibly exciting projects relating to this blog that I’m hoping to announce soon, I’m just waiting for confirmation on some details. It’s going to be a big month.

Hail the winter days after dark

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Iceland. It’s icy.

This isn’t about to become a lifestyle blog.I like this blog having a clear purpose and my life isn’t really one anyone will be aspiring to. But, a lot of factors of my lifestyle do impact on my anxiety and some of the bigger non-running events probably warrant a post. This is part travel write-up of my recent holiday to Iceland, part mini-commentary on how mental health links into that.

At the end of 2015, I convinced my friend Chris that he wanted to go to Iceland with me. Chris has many good qualities as one of my best friends – mostly that he always seems willing to order pizza – but my favourite is that he’s really easy to talk into travelling. The conversation went something like: “Do you want to come to Iceland with me for my birthday?” “Yeah, sure”. Simples. I’ve also played a very similar game about Japan next year which has worked out in the same fashion. And so very hyper and a little drunk at New Year, we booked a holiday for the week before my birthday.

Holidays work nicely for me as a marker. Just as parkrun is a weekly beacon, I need points marked out in the future to be heading towards. Throughout the first couple of months in a new job where I’ve been tired, ill, stressed, I’ve been aiming for Iceland. They also make for a good distraction technique because I can throw myself into research and planning whenever I’m feeling low. The flipside is that a lot of anxiety is derived from not being in control of situations and therefore airports especially are basically hell for me. I’m not relaxed about travelling to places, there’s a plastic wallet of paperwork (boarding passes, hotel reservations, car hire etc), all in chronological order of when it will be required. I presume Chris doesn’t mind my military precision because he keeps agreeing to go on holiday with me and I do calm down a lot once we actually get somewhere. I think he’s relieved someone enjoys organisation.

We flew from London Gatwick to Keflavik, about 50km along the coast from Reykjavik, where we were based. A poor start in that as soon as we went through customs in Iceland, I realised I had left my coat on the plane. It is sub-optimal to be coatless in Iceland. It’s also a particularly nice coat that when bought, I joked that I would have to wear until my 30s to justify the cost. At home, something as simple as this could have induced a bad panic attack but I think this proves that having the right people around me can have a significant effect on my reactions. One of the reasons I suspect this friendship works so well is that Chris absolutely refuses to pander to my anxieties. He’s known me since we were 11 and in that time as part of the Core Alix Support Team has had me wailing down the phone over horrendous breakups, stressful jobs and fights with my parents. He’s supportive but incredibly practical, and if I try to have a breakdown over a lost coat, I know full well he will laugh at me. Sometimes that’s really what I need, to appreciate that I’m being utterly ridiculous.

With me tweeting easyjet for help and the promise from Chris that we would come back to the airport in the morning, we went and collected our jeep and hit the road to Reykjavik. We had booked a room through airbnb (where did we all stay before airbnb?!) in the centre of Reykjavik,IMG_20160226_111936 close to the Hallsgrimkirkja which is one of the few notable landmarks in the city. Handy for us because it meant that whenever we were driving home, we just headed towards it! Come the morning, we drove back to Keflavik and retrieved my coat. This was actually all very painless, we were so quick that we didn’t even have to pay for parking. As we were already on the road, we decided we would do the famous Golden Circle tour that day instead of on Friday as we had planned. With Chris taking on all driving responsibility, it was up to me to navigate using the world’s most unwieldly and oversized map and a bunch of directions I’d hurriedly printed off before leaving for the airport. Apprehension all round.

First stop was Þingvellir (the Þ is like a th). Þingvellir is a national park where Alþingi, the Icelandic parliament was formed in 930. It’s also supposedly very interesting from a geological perspective because there are cracks all over the region where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet.

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Horse whispering

It was hard to see any of this because there was so much snow! Chris read all the information boards and tried to tell me some history. I was too busy jumping in the snow like a small child to listen. We got back on the road to see the geysers of Haukadalur but en route, there were many Icelandic ponies. Chris asked if I wanted to pull over to see them and did so rapidly when he realised I was liable to throw myself from a moving vehicle with excitement. Fun fact, you can’t import animals into Iceland so if an Icelandic pony leaves, it can never go home. Unfortunately you can’t fit a pony in your hand luggage.

After larking about with the ponies for a bit, taking a few selfies and several attempts by ponies to eat my mittens, we finally carried on to the geysers. We watched Strokkur, the most reliable of the geysers erupt a few times; every 5-10 minutes it shoots about 20m of water into the air and it really is spectacular.

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I’m battling adverse weather

There are a number of tiny hot springs in the same area so we wandered around a bit while I concentrated very hard on not falling over and breaking a leg so close to Bath Half when I’ve been fundraising. After lunch, we drove the 10 minutes up the road to the (mostly frozen) Gullfoss waterfall. I have honestly never experienced weather conditions like it. It was so windy that we couldn’t walk in a straight line, I was being blown almost a metre sideways with every couple of steps and the cold meant that taking photos left my hands in pain for minutes afterwards. It was entirely worth it for the absolutely staggering views which I’m still amazed are real because every perspective looked like something out of a fantasy film. You’ll be pleased to know that my day of navigation was on the whole, very successful.

The next morning, we walked around Reykjavik. It had snowed quite a lot in the night so I was once again living in fear of falling over, an activity I manage frequently in far less perilous conditions back home.

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Sun Voyager

We headed down towards the harbour, slowed by my inability to not take photos of the sea every 30 seconds. Iceland still permits commercial whaling and it was quite unsettling to walk through the harbour and have whaling boats on one side of us, with whale watching boats on the other!

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Snowbathing on the beach

There wasn’t a huge amount to do in Reykjavik so after stopping in a cafe for a while, we decided to head back up the hill and take the car to the outskirts of the city to an observation deck with 360 degree views and then on to the geothermal beach which was a really good afternoon considering it was a whim, rather than something we had intended to do. That evening we boarded a coach and headed out into the wild in the hope of seeing the Northern Lights, after it had been cancelled the night before due to the snowy conditions. 5.5 hours on a coach. The things we put ourselves through. Sadly, most of western Iceland seemed to be covered in a thick blanket of cloud so there was nothing to be seen but we actually had a fairly amusing night due to our guide telling us a lot of odd stories about his childhood and the region. It’s a shame we didn’t get to see the lights but the rest of the trip was so spectacular that it didn’t really diminish it.

After getting home at about 2am, we set the alarm for a little after 7am. Oof. Neither of us are morning people at the best of times but I had insisted on booking our trip to the Blue Lagoon for 9am so that we had masses of time before the airport. The joys of being an anxious traveller. Although my main worry was obviously that I was missing parkrun at that time. IMG_20160227_120108.jpgThe Blue Lagoon is actually a manmade geothermal spa but it’s similar to the natural hot pools that can be found across the country. The minerals in the water are supposedly very good for you, although as Chris learnt, they are less beneficial if you get them in your eye! In hindsight, going early was probably the right thing to do because it was much quieter than when we left at lunchtime. With a few hours left, we drove along the coast to Keflavik, then on to Gardur, for the sake of something to do. Turns out, there is not much to do at all but we wandered about on the coast and drove along to a lighthouse. Chris learnt some more facts that I’m sure were very interesting but I promptly forgot them as soon as he told me. The lighthouse was built in 1897 and somebody had to live in it to wind the light. Something like that. After that, we dropped the jeep back and went to the airport to come back to London. Birthday trip over, Iceland crossed off the travel bucketlist, a lot more silly in-jokes and memories created with my best friend.

Despite loving holidays and them being very good for me, they are still a challenge with anxiety. Most things I love in this world are. As an only child, I find sharing my space very difficult, I’m used to being alone. Much as I adore Chris, being around someone near constantly for 4 days is really tough but I’m very lucky that we have the sort of friendship where we don’t feel compelled to talk. After 15 years, I’m comfortable to be around him and not have the pressure of making conversation the entire time which makes it a lot easier for me to cope. The key factor in my resilience is my energy levels and as I get further into a holiday like this, the more tired I get and the more I start to struggle. We structured the trip quite well so we got the most tiring bits out the way early on and Chris is very relaxed and knows I don’t cope brilliantly (or at all) with exhaustion so although I was a bit delirious by the journey home, I managed to stay in fairly good spirits throughout.

If you’re still wanting more photos, I posted far too many on Instagram. Now, if anyone wants me, I’ll be distracting myself from a horrendous week at work by planning our holiday to Japan.