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.

southwark parkrun

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.

southwark parkrun

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.