Take the day off..in fact take two

Sometimes you have those days where nothing is happening.

There is nothing in your legs.

Your head is telling you it’s silly to try, but your heart feels like you should give it a go anyway, just to be sure. It takes me a while to get going some days and I’ve had some brilliant runs that have started very badly, so for me it’s always worth pushing on in these circumstances.

My legs felt so tight they could snap at any moment. I had stopped to stretch them off a couple of times but nothing was helping. My head was fuzzy and I could happily have closed my eyes and curled up under the nearest bush for a long sleep.

I got 3.5 horrible hard miles into my 20 mile run on Sunday , decided this was utterly futile and so I turned round shortly after I passed the 10k tree and headed back home. I managed to run 1.5 miles on the way back, and then I gave up and walked the rest.

I felt rather silly walking along with my running pack on, but I carried on listening to my podcast and the time soon passed. I’m always amazed by how quickly I get cold when I’m walking in my running kit, and I was glad to get home and feel the warmth of my dog as he greeted me at the door.

Two days later, two whole days with no running, and the bounce has returned to my legs at last. I’m ready to run again and I only have a handful of short runs left to complete before I head out to Switzerland for what might just be my biggest running adventure yet – the Eiger Ultra Trail, the full distance E101 course.

Skye feels like it was years ago and yet only 5 ½ weeks have passed. I’ve still not finished my race report (sorry Jeff, it is coming honest) and I’m still processing everything that happened in those 22 hours and the days either side.

I think I’ve recovered at last and my blisters have all healed, although the skin is still dropping off my feet. This is something new and something slightly alarming – not painful, just a little strange.

I’m apprehensive, nervous, excited, a whole jumble of different emotions, but probably the biggest one is,

Have I underestimated what lies ahead?

As ever, there’s only one way to find out.

In between

I’m in an in-betweeny phase at the moment.

Normally I hate these phases, but things have been a bit unsettled lately and I’m enjoying the sense of just pausing in between Things and drawing breath.

The race on Skye has been and gone.

The race in Switzerland is on the not too distant horizon.

I’m recovering from a really bad phase/episode/bout (?) of asthma.

My blistered feet are healing.

I’m in the post Isle of Man TT slump.

My April gig has settled into my consciousness as a done deal, processed, successful, dealt with.

I’m thinking about moving house and a few things are in motion but I’m not pushing them because I’m interested to see what will reveal itself about the whole situation.

I’ve been going to bed at a vastly more sensible hour.

My energy levels are returning to normal and I can breathe clearly and easily.

The last couple of months have absolutely battered me and so I am gathering strength for the next phase, and I’m super conscious of the need to protect my health and my spirit at all costs.

I keep saying this after every time I’m ill, but this time there has been a breakthrough.

I’ve reached the point where I am bored with it, and that usually means that change will follow.

Daydreaming

An older house near some water. Ideally by a quiet beach, with some hills or even mountains nearby.

Pets. A dog for taking out in the hills and a dog for curling up on the sofa with afterwards. I love the idea of having a cat but the truth is, I’m not really a cat person and I would like to keep greyhounds.

A room with a view, for writing, for playing, for sitting and reading. With full bookshelves and pictures on the wall. Not too tidy.

A kitchen with a table in. With space to bake and lay out a recipe book. And with a sofa, and a TV.  I like to have the telly on while I cook. The kitchen needs to be tidy.

A space for friends to stay when they want or need to.

A garage, or a decent shed or a barn. With a sink and a worktop, and power and shelves and cupboards.

(A small house and a big garage would be the ideal way around)

Outside space. Not too much to maintain, but somewhere to sit with an early evening drink watching the bats on the better weather days, or to stand with a morning brew and listen to the birds. Honeysuckle in summer. A fuchsia bush. Maybe hanging baskets. Maybe part of a farm, with horses and sheep and goats and cows nearby.

Arms to come home to. A voice that doesn’t scold when tears flow. A piece of paper and a house party to celebrate, maybe a pretty dress, maybe jeans and wellies. No diamond ring.

A pub nearby. Or somewhere that people gather to share food and drinks and music and stories.

A station nearby. Or some connection to the outside world that doesn’t require a car at least.

The debt monster

It has been a long time now, trying to clear all the residual divorce-related house-selling debt that has been hanging around since what feels like forever.

But things are under control, and gradually, what was a monumental amount three years ago is now reducing at a healthy pace each month.

Long term debt clearance involves a different approach compared with short term cashflow struggles, where you can just eat beans on toast/porridge/pasta for a little while, tell everyone you’re skint and not go out for a bit.

This whole process has been life-changing, in good ways and bad. Even the bad are good in my case – friends who have fallen by the wayside, relationships that have crumbled under the weight but ultimately weren’t worth the time or effort anyway.

The good ways involve learning who you are, what it is about life that you enjoy and that isn’t reliant on money, how sustainable your life is, the financial risks you are/have been exposed to. 

The biggest thing has been finding out what the little things are.

The little ways to pick yourself up when you’re creaking under the weight of the numbers.

The little things you can do for people that cost nothing but bring a lot to both them and you.

The little changes you can make to your finances that bring big payoffs when applied over a period of time. 

This last year I’ve been able to buy coffee in the mornings if I want to. To give money to buskers and street artists if I’ve enjoyed their work.

Today I’ve taken myself out for lunch. 

I could have put this money towards clearing my debt, of course. 

But there’s some living to be done as well, and it has taken a long time to find the right balance of what money goes towards what. To work out what can be willingly sacrificed and what can’t be.

** of course that’s not a monster in the picture. That’s my girl greyhound Wendy, mid-yawn, displaying what a fine set of teeth she still has at the grand old age of 11

It is well within my soul

Lately, I’ve started to feel … I don’t know… really at peace with myself. Those who know me best know that peaceful is rarely a word anyone would use to describe any aspect of me unless I’m asleep. There’s always a long list of things to be done, places to be, things left unfinished.

 
But just recently, these have dropped right back, died right down.
A few things have led to this new state of being – the winding down of harp craziness for the year, the satisfaction of a job well done at the open mic session I performed at recently, progress made on slaying the debt monster, the cold (and often soaking wet) evenings spent building up my training again just for starters.

 
The state of my house is gradually coming back under control and is moving from ‘Armageddon’ into ‘a bit messy round the edges but lived in’ which is how I like it best.

I’m looking forward to the start of December so I can put all my Christmas lights up.

 
The cold dark evenings are proving to be the perfect excuse to curl up with my now very elderly pets and watch things of questionable quality on telly.

I’m working on a harp project that will finish next summer, and that is coming into balance too, moving from a very busy and intensely focused October into a more restorative November and hopefully a glitzy sparkly polished December.

I’ve been out in the hills a bit, both with friends and on my own.

 
There are exciting running things in the diary for what’s left of this year and next year.

My contract at work has been extended another few months so there is no rush to look for something else just yet.

The social life that I once craved so deeply is starting to build. At the start of October I thought my winter was going to be quiet and a bit lonely, but actually things are appearing at a really nice pace and I…

Well, I feel happy.

I’d always like more of course – some bright colours in my hair, smaller skinny jeans, time to put a bit of makeup on in the morning if I fancy, a minute a mile off my running pace, that car, two weeks in the Caribbean, someone to spontaneously make me a mug of tea and/or give me a cuddle at home.

But, in fact I feel more than happy, I feel contended, at ease.

Normally, there’d be an expectation to feel a sense of impending dread, that something is going to come along and ruin all this that I’ve worked so hard for. And, it may well do so. But I know I have the strength to deal with whatever comes my way, and I won’t let the fear of this spoil everything that is good.

I’d never say I’ve got it all figured out, but just recently, and at the grand old age of 38, I’m learning to stop worrying that I haven’t.

 
**It is well within my soul comes from this beautiful blog post about rejoicing when things are good around you, even when there is still sadness or loss to be dealt with.

Interval Alley **

Rep 1 I set off at a pace I know I cannot sustain over 8 reps. Am I going hard enough? I am pumping my arms, lengthening my stride, breathing hard. So hard. How do I know if I can do more?

Keep going, keep breathing in rhythm, don’t look at your phone, just wait for the beeps.

Is that a beep? Oh, yes it is, wait, there’s another one. Thank fuck.

Recovery 1 Walk a little, try to run slowly. Keep breathing hard.

 

Rep 2 Can I do this? For 7 more reps?

Keep going, keep breathing in rhythm, don’t look at your phone, just wait for the beeps.

Trust that they will come.

Count to 20 over and over. Am I going hard enough?

And there it is. My lungs feel like they are going to burst out of my chest through the back of my throat. It’s going to be horrible.

Yes, you are going hard enough.

Recovery 2 Walk a little, try to run slowly. Keep breathing hard. Look at the stars and the lights and the hills.

 

Rep 3 I think I’m going to be sick. I actually might be sick right here. There’s someone coming. Oh arse. I’m going to be sick everywhere and someone’s going to see and ask if I’m alright and what I’m doing and why.
Trying to get faster.

Just to see what it’s like and if I can do it and for how long.

Back off a little, keep going, don’t look at your phone, just wait for the beeps.

Recovery 3 Walk a little, look at the stars and the lights and the hills.

 

Rep 4,5,6,7
Don’t look at your phone, just wait for the beeps.

Lungs need to slow down, fine but keep going, just keep trying to lift your legs a bit and keep using your arms.

Shoulders back and down. Where are your elbows, your neck, your arms, your fingers, your head, your pelvis. God this is like harp practice.

But instead of thinking about the position of every single bit of your body to avoid injury and make a great sound, this is about something different.

This is about learning to go faster. PRACTISING going faster (thank you awesome coach last year who put it into musical terms and helped me get it)

This is about learning to explore, and learning to trust that your body can do it if you let your mind just try.

Rep 8 is barely faster than my normal slow run.

Finally, there are the last beeps.

I’m back in proper training and it feels good.

 
My legs are wrecked. They’ve never felt like this before, I’ve never tried quite so hard before. The slow plod back to the house feels weird, my legs feel like jelly and lead all at the same time. The short slope back to the main road that I always run up even at the end of the longest run feels like a mountain.

It’s over.

Until next week.

It is next week now.

Tonight, interval alley awaits. It will probably be raining or snowing. But I quite like it like that.

** Interval Alley isn’t really an alley. It’s a section of path near my house, but it’s quite enclosed by trees and hedges and is often dark when I tend to go, so feels a bit like an alleyway. There are rarely any people on that stretch at the time I go so I don’t feel too silly.
It goes through a farm, and usually there are only sheep for company, occasionally a couple of horses or cows or even deer, and every now and then I’m joined by an owl or a bat. I can’t even remember why I picked it now but having a silly name for it now makes it feel a little bit gladiatorial. I quite like that.
I never thought I could do intervals but I worked with an amazing coach for a little while at the start of last year and he made me make myself do them. I was stunned by how much I enjoyed them (afterwards) and how they made me feel so strong after, literally like I could do anything I set my mind to, maybe even take on the world.

Samhainn

The Celtic festival of Samhainn brings the end of the harvest season and the start of the winter.

Beltane – the end of winter – feels a long way away at the moment but the start of winter is important too, and this morning I thought to myself, there’s always an opportunity for a fresh start.

This winter, more than ever, needs to be a time of restoring, resting, reviving, recovering and preparing for new growth in the spring.

Beltane has a new significance for me since I heard the gorgeous Beltane Dance by Monika Stadler and it’s now a favourite piece in my harp repertoire. I adore the harmonies, the light joyful slightly hypnotic feeling and a few times when I’ve played it, the sun has actually come out. Truly.

Be it a new academic year, a new calendar year, a solstice, a season or even just the declaration that the old is no more and the new is here, I guess I’m saying you can turn the page whenever you please.

I had a musical meltdown last Sunday night, the cumulative effect of an intensive but transformative month working on a new harp project combined with the first painful encounter with my ex-boyfriend at Saturday’s race. Nothing was said, I’m not sure he even saw me as we didn’t even look at each other but it was the first time I’d seen him in well over a year as I had done a pretty good job of avoiding any events where he might be. I hadn’t expected him to be there and it really shook me up.

Thanks to a really helpful productive supportive chat with my mentor on the harp programme I’m working on, everything that was going on was aired and explored. In the time since, some of it has been resolved. The cleansing this has brought about has been quite profound. The idea of backing yourself, supporting yourself and trusting yourself was the main thing I have taken away from Sunday’s session and my spirit really does feel like a load has been lifted.

The last few weeks have seen me getting more comfortable with being on video, but along the way I have been faced with my own physical appearance in a much more intensive way than usual. I’ve always struggled with my weight, and most days when I look in the mirror I still see the small chunky 7 year old girl with bottle thick glasses, built for comfort not for speed as my Dad has always said, and who got dumped in primary school for the prettier girl who she sat next to.

The video project brought about the harsh realisation that I don’t look or even feel like myself at the moment, and actually I haven’t for a long while. A race photo yesterday proved the final straw, and the contrast between this picture and one of my favourites from two years ago was really painful.

Lifting the load has exposed some other things that needed to be very sadly left in the past, and so this Samhainn I am moving onward into the next phase of my adventures.

The Lion of No tattoo (a daft play on words on LionO from Thundercats) that now takes up the whole of my back is already earning its keep and has gently reminded me to say No when I need to.

All the big race entries are now in for next year, they are gloriously terrifying and will give me a great incentive to look after myself as the training volumes increase once again, and also to get out there in the hills over the winter and the coming spring and make the most of all the incredible scenery I have on my doorstep.

 
 
I’ll never be a glossy honey coloured sleek and slender whippet of a runner, I’m definitely more of a snowy white happy wee Staffy chugging along at the back admiring the scenery. 

 

I’ll leave tall, dark and skinny to my own pets. Right now all I want is to feel strong and fit again, and I know that once I do, I will feel better on the inside as well. And I am really looking forward to buying some new jeans with my Christmas money.

Wtf?

It has been a weird few weeks, months even since I ran the Great Glen. My body let me know in no uncertain terms that it didn’t want to run very far, and I listened.

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I also put on weight and felt sad because there was nothing much to work towards, and no long runs in the hills to empty out my stressy working-two-jobs-to-clear-a ton-of-debt brain. 

Just recently I also read a couple of  brilliant blogs by other runners who I really respect and admire, and they were saying pretty much the same thing. 

After the Fling last year, I had a lot of questions for myself about why I ran and why I did big silly distances slowly rather than shorter distances fast, and I wondered if I’d ever feel good enough about it all. 

And then I had a break (and a break-up), and found my physical and emotional running limits on the side of a mountain in the Trossachs during a hill race in October last year. I prayed to whatever was out there to get me down that hill safely and then got poked in the eye by a load of Christmas trees and tried not to cry in front of the tourists.

 
Then I entered some totally different stuff where it wasn’t just about elapsed time but about navigating and survival and picking the right kit for the job, and I had a whale of a time despite the apocalyptic weather conditions (these happened the day after the picture below, which was taken on the first May bank holiday weekend!!)

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I entered another bigger race, had a really tough time of it down to something entirely avoidable but still had a blast overall and came away wanting to do more, regardless of what people think about really slow runners or anything at all really. 
And then even running 10k felt awful. Hard, unpleasant, damaging, unhealthy. I pulled out of a race at the start of October as I wasn’t ready. I took some iron tablets, went to the doctors for some bloods as I still felt rotten, and was given the all clear as long as I kept up with the iron and factored known crappy iron levels into any future big training plans.

And then I got a cold, a stinker which saw me in bed for the best part of 4 days. My first cold in almost two years. 

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I had my first run in over a  week last night, and it was slow and hard but …. I felt ready for more again. 
I’m unfit and weak and overweight but I think it will be OK, because I think these are whats holding me back now rather than because my body is too worn out.

And this is all kind of handy, because I entered a really daft race last week which I now have 8 weeks to get ready for. And I’ve just entered a really, really big one in July next year.

October

Somehow it’s the middle of October, and going by how quickly the year has flown by so far, it’ll be Hogmanay before I know it.

This has been one of the most hectic years I’ve ever had, on all fronts. Now that harp-related work is winding down for the year, my existence will become slightly more normal and less time-pressured.

Has it been worth it?

Sitting here right now, in this moment, desperately trying to fend off my first proper cold in 18 months, I am exhausted, spent, and rather withdrawn from my normal all-guns-blazing say-yes-to-everything, what’s-the-worst-that-can-happen self, and so no I’m not sure whether it was worth all the effort.

All the time given up, all the money spent, all the things missed out on.

But, looking back, it really has been worth absolutely everything I’ve put in.

I’ve worked really hard for everything that has come my way, and now I’m hoping to be able to relax a bit, to breathe and stretch myself out and shake myself down ready for the next stage.

The debt battle is just a few months away from being won, for good this time.

I can’t quite believe it’ll all finally be gone and I’ll be free of all the things I’ve been carrying around along with those massively depressing numbers.

As a result of that, I’m thinking hard about long term things – about where I want to live and the sort of work I really want to be doing.

Applecross
the shit had hit the fan big time the night before. but I learnt so much about myself that weekend in Applecross. huge thanks to G for the awesome photo.
Entries for next year’s chosen big running event open very soon, and assuming I get in, my winter will largely be built around training for that. It will involve some very big hills, getting to grips with walking poles and a trip to Switzerland (not to France though, it’s not that one!).

There are big harping plans too, and at last I can say I have a much better relationship with music and my harp than I did at the start of the year. I’d even go as far as saying I think I am figuring it all out. Well, harp-wise anyway.

It will be quite a challenge to keep both harp and running things going together, but I’m gradually learning more and more about what is really, truly important to me, and I’m gaining the confidence to sidestep all the other things that suck my time and my energy. I’m grateful to Helen Mirren on that one – a marvellous quote that is never far from my mind and one I could really do with putting into action a whole lot more.

 
I have a weekend off, and it really couldn’t have come at a better time.

I finally hit the buffers last night. Something quite silly set it all off but of course, a good night’s sleep fixes most things and so I felt much better this morning.

I was planning a long run in the hills tomorrow but there is a lurgy lurking, a sofa calling, with two big black furry pals to snuggle into. There’s loads of (motor)bike racing on the telly, my Kitchenaid will be called into action to make some pizza dough and I might even paint my nails – my ultimate sign of spare time.

And, assuming this cold makes a swift exit, I hope to blast away the last of the lurgy with a trip out on my motorbike.

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little things

A few people close to me are having a really, really tough time at the moment.

When life is throwing what feels like the worst of everything at you, I think it’s really important to have little things you can do to make yourself feel better quickly and/or cheaply.

Much as my reserved British nature gets a little twitchy around the popular concept of loving yourself, I do recognise the importance of self-respect and looking after yourself. I think they’re basically forms of the same thing, and while you’ll never find me telling myself I love me in the mirror, for me self-respect and looking after yourself include standing up for yourself, not getting pushed around, not over-committing to things you have little interest in or will bring little reward for a punishing outlay, and recognising that it’s OK to put yourself first at times, especially in a relationship.

I’m really bad at all those.

But over the years and through the bad times, I’ve assembled a pretty foolproof list of things that help me feel better instantly when I’m feeling low or exhausted:

SMALL THINGS

A mug of tea

I like Lady Grey or Tetley. Milk and one sugar, in a nice big cheerful mug.

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A shopping trip to buy something small and brightly coloured

Paperchase serves well here. I’ve been known to give myself the grown up equivalent of a 10p mix at the sweety counter – even £5 will buy a couple of cute colourful (or polka dotted) bits in here, and it’s one of my favourite shops.

I used to love buying a new bottle of nail varnish as a cheap cheerful pick me up, but in truth I hardly ever wear it so I try not to buy it now.

Something small and sweet to eat

French Fancies or Swizzels sweets will do at a push. A warm cinnamon bun if I’m somewhere with a few more options.

Writing a long list

It’s one of the few Virgo traits I actually possess. Doesn’t matter if the likelihood of ticking everything off the list is minimal to zero, the act of writing the list is enjoyment enough.

Baking something using my Kitchenaid

Pizza dough or lemon drizzle cake would be top of the list,  or mince pies at the appropriate time of year.

A new gin I’ve not tried before

With proper tonic.

Peperoni pizza

Ideally home made, with posh salt and vinegar crisps while it’s in the oven, and plenty of juicy red wine to wash it down with.

Nigella’s kedgeree risotto

Without the eggs. Smoked fish is the main reason I could never go vegan. This is my most favourite comfort food and I love cooking it as well as eating it. I also love eating it cold.

A funny film and/or a trip to the GFT

Preferably with a glass of wine or coffee and a piece of their lovely cake before the film in the bar upstairs.

A quick fix of Grand Designs

Ideally the one with the disused power station near Chesterfield or the chalet in France.

A run/stagger up Cort ma Law or Meikle Bin

These are two of the biggest hills in the Campsie Fells and happen to be just behind my house. I can be at the top of either within an hour of leaving my doorstep, and despite being so close to the city, I’m often the only one up there.

A cycle up the Crow Road or the Cuilt Brae/Stockiemuir Road

Only when I’m bike fit (which I am most definitely not at the moment). I love the effort of a good climb on my bike and the instant reward of the downhill afterwards.

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The Coronation Street omnibus on a weekend morning

Preferably curled up with a pair of greyhounds and a few mugs of tea

Sitting down at my beautiful harp 

and working in a very small way on my very long list of very big pieces

Doing a small easy DIY job in the garage or garden

Hanging pictures, painting, trimming hedges, putting shelves up, tinkering with my motorbike. I’m quite handy really and I am very proud of this. I love the satisfaction of a job well done afterwards.

A board meeting/drinks in the city centre

with one of my most loved, most respected, most insightful and most straight-talking friends.

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A blowout at my favourite Italian deli/restaurant or cafe

Eusebi’s or Once Upon A Tart, that’ll be you then.

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A loud blast of one of my favourite songs in the car driving round the city at night

Ageispolis by Aphex Twin takes me a million miles from this planet.

It has to be loud enough to make the car shake.

If there’s an epic sunset, even better.

 

BIGGER THINGS

A long run in a beautiful place

Provided my energy levels are good and it’s not too hot, in which case this is less enjoyable. But if I’m feeling good in myself but in need of a clear out in the brain department, this is one of the best things I can do for myself. Ideally to be shared with a similarly paced and/or sympathetic supportive friend.

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A trip to a quiet beach on the west coast of Scotland

Preferably involving getting my toes in the water and a pint afterwards.

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A fast motorbike ride

On quiet, well surfaced roads

A trip to my gran’s 

And a good catchup over a dog walk with my uncle

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A trip to a certain German lake

On a very sunny day, smoked fish and beer for lunch, involving getting my toes in the water, and next time I visit, the rest of me too. Maybe I’ll even find a gold bar.

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