World, keep on turning

There’s an almost back-to-school feeling in the air lately.

The race is run. Not almost run, like in the song, but actually run. The immediate recovery is complete, and now it’s right back to normality.

Except it isn’t.

Things feel different. There are a couple of obvious reasons for the difference which I won’t go into here, but I’ve been surprised by some of the other things that have come about.

Generally I feel so much more in control of what’s going on around me.

A few days away from working at the day job and away from harp related email have helped enormously of course, but otherwise the difference is mostly due to having more time.

There’s no denying that training for an ultramarathon takes time – 35-50 miles a week takes a LOT of time, and more so if you’re a slow runner like me. And even more so when you add hills and trails to those miles rather than endlessly bashing tarmac.

The training clearly takes phenomenal amounts of energy, but I think what I hadn’t appreciated is just how much it drains you even when you’re not actually training. I have been so tired for these last few months. My greyhounds’ sleeping habits and my inability to switch myself off at night haven’t helped, but most of all running and planning and driving around and endless extra loads of washing have totally worn me out. Housework has been a long distant memory beyond the essential, I’d hardly played my harp except for booked gigs and my motorbike’s MOT and tax expired without me realising. My dogs have been missing their sofa time with me, and me with them.

I had three unscheduled days at home after I arrived back a bit earlier than planned, and I barely told anyone I wasn’t still away. My weekend plans were changed by the weather, and I hardly left the house except to buy food. Instead, I just pottered around doing whatever took my fancy.

The scruffy pile of sheet music that has been shooting me dirty looks for months – tidied. Filed. Scanned into the iPad I’ve had for a couple of months but not had time to use.

The pile of receipts that has been slipping down the back of the table for months – tidied. Filed/binned as necessary.

The kitchen floor – properly clean.

The dust bunnies under the sofas, under the stairs, behind my bike – gone.

The washing up – done and put away.

I read, dozed, watched telly, ate the last remaining items of junk food, and circled round again.

I had a bride and groom-to-be round last week to confirm their music choices for their wedding next weekend. My harp was pointing the other way, giving me a different perspective, so before they arrived I took a quick picture for my Instagram feed. As I looked at it before briefly editing it, it occurred to me my house looked…

Pretty wonderful actually. Inviting. Homely. Quietly stylish even. It looked like I lived there. Tidy but not clinical. A greyhound snoozed on the sofa.

We had a hugely enjoyable hour talking about their wedding and the music they wanted. It quickly turned into a session of “can you play…?, what about …., oh what’s that song that goes….etc” and not only did I have all the music they wanted (bar one new thing which won’t take long to learn at all), it was all things I already knew well.

And we soon had a list of great choices which are special to them, and which I enjoy playing. I can’t wait to be a part of their day.

I love sharing the music I play, and it was great to do so at home. I loved feeling comfortable in my house not worrying about how untidy it was or what cleaning I hadn’t done. Their little girl loved having a go on the harp and loved meeting my dogs.

There are some tremendously absorbing musical projects in the pipeline, and rather than worrying about how on earth I’m going to fit everything in, I’m actually really looking forward to getting started in even though I know they will take a lot from me.

There’s space for those projects now, and as I went through my list book this morning, I realised there’s space for quite a lot of things at the moment. Rather than worrying about how empty things look, I am really enjoying the peace and I’m thinking what else I want from my life and how it will all pan out.

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Crossing the border…again

I was tired on Sunday morning. I hadn’t done much the day before, other than sitting and reading and having a steady mooch round a National Trust property with my mum.

But I had 6 miles to run, and after a couple of days off, my legs were feeling as sluggish as the rest of me. I seem to be OK if I take one day’s rest, but two days is too much. I’d skipped my run the day before, just too tired, so I needed to push through this one and get it done.

For my parents, the fact that I run at all is still a new thing. Normally they wouldn’t bat an eyelid as to what I was up to but it was a bit different that morning.

Where are you going, how long will you be, have you got everything you need, are you sure, how far are you going?

I don’t know, just over an hour, yes I just need my phone and my inhaler, planning about 6 miles but maybe more.

Dad had pointed me off down some quiet lanes which I hadn’t thought of, and off I went.

I’d never dream of running in the roads where I live now, it’s far too busy. This is quite an odd thing to say given Scotland is generally much less hectic than the corner of south east England where my parents live. Their village is a bit of a tourist trap and it can take a while to cross the main road that runs through it, but once away from this, you can go for miles and hours without seeing another soul. Maybe the odd farmer.

I passed a beautiful old church, just as I crossed the county border into Essex. A lot of people don’t know that Essex is like this. The bright lights of Bas Vegas and the orange glow of Brentwood are a world away, and out here the land hasn’t changed much in over a thousand years.

I run down deserted lanes, with my ears pricked for the rumble of a car. Only two pass by in almost an hour. There are fields overhead, the crops high above me. The verges are filled with wild flowers – in particular I notice the poppies. Public rights of way here are rarely used, and they pass through ancient fields and farmland. Trails as I know them in Scotland are non-existent in this neck of the woods, and any off road running is strictly a cross country affair.

It’s easy to think of wilderness and remoteness being an exclusively northern concept, only consisting of the moors, the hills, the Lakes, the mountains, the islands, the lochs.

But here you could drive for miles in search of a pint of milk. You could reach for many more miles across the wide open fields before you touched another living soul. Here, it is quiet, seemingly idyllic, wild in its own way. Beautiful traditionally built (and coloured!) houses peak out over hedges or from behind walls. Here I feel close to the natural world in a totally different way to how I feel in Scotland. I feel at home here also, and yet it is only the fact that my parents and a couple of very dear friends live here that gives me this feeling. I have never lived in this immediate area, never worked here or been to school here. It’s somewhere I come to visit the people I am deeply connected to.

Early last year when I was last here, I thought maybe my time in Scotland had come to an end, and here would realistically be the only place I would consider moving to. I’ve got used to the peace and quiet of where I live, the vast expanses of space around me. My mum asked me if I still wanted to stay, not having the same ties to Scotland as I did before.

But I can’t imagine living anywhere else now. I am restless and looking to move on again. I’m not sure where to but it won’t be south of the border unless something unforeseen changes things drastically. My whole life has changed, and access to those hills and mountains and lochs is a hugely important part of where I would choose to live. I love the proximity to the bright lights of a big city, but much as I am curious about what city living would be like, I don’t think it would be for me.

After a few miles, I am back at a main road. I’ve crossed the border again and I’m back in Suffolk. I’ve miscalculated a little, forgetting which village is how long along this road. I have to dodge the traffic a bit which adds a few unplanned intervals into my run, and I’m brought back to reality quite sharply. Even on a Sunday in the countryside, people are in a rush.

But before long I’m back at the top end of the village, the even more picturesque, chocolate box, country life end this time, and yet I’m standing around waiting for some time to be able to cross the road.

It’s baking hot, muggy and close and the pollen is high. This is how I remember the summers being here, the constant hayfever and streaming eyes but also the endless warmth and the changeable weather from very very dry to incredibly wet with little warning. The mornings and evenings are often misty as the farmland holds the warmth overnight while the air cools sharply above it. Dad collected me from the airport on Friday night and I’d forgotten what it was like driving with fog lights on. I realise how much I miss the mist across the fields outside my old bedroom window. I miss the beach that was so near to where I lived before.

Maybe I am an East Anglian girl after all. Maybe the rural backwaters of deepest darkest Suffolk and coastal North Essex are where I am meant to be. The cosy pubs, beautiful old churches, brick and beam and thatched cottages. rickety old clanking boatyards. The chip shop here shuts at 9pm and the reading material consists of Horse and Hound or Classic Car magazine.

But I don’t miss the traffic. I don’t miss the rubbish transport links, sitting for hours on the A12 or A14 before you get anywhere near the ridiculously congested motorway network. I don’t miss the lack of decent public transport. I don’t miss the house prices.

No, this is no longer the place for me, but coming back at this time has reminded me of the connection I feel here, and I know it is somewhere I can always return to when I am feeling adrift.

The pace of change

Sometimes a lot changes in a short space of time. You tell yourself it’s short term, things will settle soon, you can get through it.

And then it continues. 

Since the decision was made to move to Scotland, I feel like the changes haven’t stopped. 

The only constant things have been the hills behind my house, and two greyhounds. Even they are changing as they age more noticeably.

The thing is, thanks to my upbringing, I’m really good at dealing with change. And I don’t always recognise that I’m running myself ragged until there’s a drastic collapse, normally accompanied by a wailing and gnashing of teeth.

This year, Easter combined with the start of spring and the clocks going forward came at the same time as yet another new job. 

Life is slowly returning to normal after several months of long hours at the day job, accompanied by weekend working since the start of the year while I’ve been building the harp side of things back up. 

I should be feeling revived, refreshed and ready to speed forward into whatever the future holds.

But I’m not. 

I’m exhausted, and I’m feeling utterly crushed by everything that has happened (good and bad) since last summer.

As I started to ramp up the training miles ahead of the races and events I have planned for the summer, my body recently put in a very stern protest.

I dragged myself round a 6 mile run on Saturday. It was agony and I felt completely destroyed afterwards. I took a couple of days off. 

I set out for another 6 miles on Tuesday evening, which should have been well within my ability. It was a beautiful evening, I had no need for a head torch as I’d be back well before it got dark, and I had been looking forward to getting out. 

It quickly became obvious that I was not going to make it round. I cut the run short, and was home after 3 miles, again feeling wiped out and this time in a bit of pain too. The recent hills and long runs in my legs had finally said no more, stop, please.

In desperation, I rolled out my yoga mat, put a DVD in the player and awaited the curious sniffing from one of the hounds. 

The intention was to stretch everything out. Or at least to start. 

I was looking for the physical benefits of a yoga session, but actually I found much, much more. 

My spirit started to unwind a little. The voice came from the screen, just go with it and let your body do what it needs to do. Enjoy the time, the space, the creativity. 

Since then, I’ve been overwhelmed by a sense of depletion. Not just in my legs, but deeper. It has only just occurred to me this morning that if someone (or something) takes from you over an extended period without giving, then some fairly serious replenishment is going to be required. I’d thought that once the situation/s came to a close, everything would get back to normal.

But normal has shifted, and I’ve changed. 

There’s an hour in between the first and last pictures of the church in Unken, taken last summer as I ate pizza and drank wine outside with my friend.

There’s seven weeks, and a world of other differences, between the top and bottom pictures of Buchanan Street in Glasgow, taken on lunchtime escapes from two jobs. The sun has risen in the sky , friendships have passed, seasons changed, commuter routes swapped.

 

The longer days will bring evenings in the hills, and I crave the feeling of effort on the way up followed by the freedom of reaching the top, leaping across the bogs and seeing nothing but grass, a few sheep, the mountains further north and the setting sun. 

 

on (not) being busy

A tweet just reminded me that Lent starts tomorrow. Not being of a religious persuasion, I accept this doesn’t mean quite as much to me as it does to others.

What it does mean is the return of the wonderful Not Busy campaign.

This is a simple idea – to prompt us to think about how we spend our time and energy.

There is a religious message there, but I don’t think it’s forced, and importantly, the overall message is relevant to everyone. To me, this is the best kind of religion.

A few years ago now, something awful happened in my life and there wasn’t really anyone around who could or was able to help in the way I needed. But a particular vicar could, and did. I wouldn’t describe myself as religious, or Christian, but I do find a sense of peace in going to a church sometimes, just to sit.

This particular vicar’s church was at the top of a hill, in the middle of nowhere, in an area that has since become tremendously special to me. Her congregation was small, and scattered widely. I went to a couple of services, one of which was just me and her, a contemplative silent service in between Christmas and New Year.

Meetings with Reverend Margaret were often held in the local pub, for as well as the church, she knew very well that this was the main centre of the community. She also held a popular annual carol service in the pub, acknowledging that even for her as a hardy Scot, the church was far too cold at night in December. She bought me possibly the finest chips I have ever eaten, and she listened, advised, and listened some more. She accepted that not everyone ‘believed’ in the same way if at all, but welcomed anyone and everyone to her church.

In recognition of the help she gave me personally at that dreadful time in my life, I did a couple of concerts in her church and filled it with music, both my own and that of my pupils. We also put some money into the coffers, and I was delighted when during the interval of my recital, such was the turnout that she sent her husband back down the lane to her house to get some mugs as they had run out of wine glasses in the church.

Margaret changed how I felt about the church, about religion, about spirituality and about peace and healing and forgiveness. At that time in my life, she was the only person who said to me that it was absolutely OK not to feel able to forgive someone. I was amazed that it came from her, but so grateful for everything she did for me.

It’s easy to blame religion for bad things in the world. But often there’s a lot of positive aspects to be taken from it too, whether that’s beautiful old buildings or peaceful people who welcome strangers and lost souls and all sorts of things in between.

Once again I’ll be drawing up my list of Must Do and May Do, taking some time to be still and booking some holidays. I might be brave enough to Not Do some things. Things are rather frantic, pretty much the worst they have ever been in terms of having a lot to fit in and not quite enough time to do it all in, and so I believe that now more than ever, I need this challenge.

So…

I’m. Not. Busy.

 

I heard the news today, oh boy

Somehow it’s the middle of January already.

I’m sat on the sofa, disentangling one greyhound from a phone charging cable while maintaining a respectful distance from the other, who will startle and bolt for her bed if I move too quickly.

The new year has brought good things, bad things and sad things already. A poorly friend, hard going at the day job, and then of course the news of David Bowie’s passing came through yesterday morning.

I finished Marcothon on Hogmanay. It was my biggest ever mileage in a calendar month. Then I took a couple of days off running. I should have run the Hardmoors 30 on New Year’s Day, but I decided against it in the end. I felt a little sad about it, but I missed it for the right reasons and it will be there another year.

There are new things in the calendar this year. 3 days in the Lake District at the end of April. 70-odd miles inside 24 hours along the Great Glen Way between Fort William and Inverness in July. Hopefully third time lucky at the 75 miles between South Woodham Ferrers and Salcott cum Virley (with an overnight stop).

I’m so excited about everything that’s coming my way. A little extra food consumed over New Year wasn’t quite run off thanks to those few days off, but I know the extra warmth around the middle will soon disappear once the miles climb up again. I love the security of building my training up – the feeling that progress is being gradually made, and that the preparation I put in now will be felt in every mile I run later this year.

There is a mountain on the German/Austrian border with my name on, and I hope to climb it this year. There’s talk of a trip back to Mont Ventoux, a big (motor)bike ride around the north coast of Scotland, and of hills and mountains to be walked up, run up, cycled up. A couple of long distance trails to be explored. There’s a tent and assorted camping kit to be researched and chosen, and navigation to be practised in whatever weather Scotland cares to throw at me.

Right now, most of all, I can’t wait for the days to draw out a bit so I can get up in the hills behind my house after work.

And for now, I’ll be listening to a lot of music. David Bowie was a huge part of my teenage years after I borrowed the Singles Collection on tape from Stratford-upon-Avon library when I was about 14. It was a great introduction to his music over the years. My dad was a big fan too, and listening to the music that he loved helped me learn a bit more and gave us something else to share.

Dad’s favourite song is Let’s Dance. I have two, and I couldn’t choose between them. I adore Sound and Vision, and I also love Everyone Says Hi from the Heathen album.

I’d had the album for a good few years, but for some reason, I had it in the car the weekend I made the final trip north from Essex to start my new life up in Glasgow. I listened to that song on repeat for much of the journey.

It includes the wonderful lyrics, which are among some of my favourites ever:

Don’t stay in a bad place,

where they don’t care how you are

That’s not to say no one cared because that’s just not true, but I needed to move and start again, and the song felt like a letter from the past wishing me well in the future and reminding me I could come back if it didn’t work out.

Mr Bowie, thank you for everything you did and everything you left behind. I was angry enough about cancer, now even more so.

Someone posted something somewhere yesterday, I can’t remember it exactly, but they were saying how the earth was however many billion years old, and how lucky we’d been to be on the same planet at the same time as David Bowie.

I agree.

Changes

For the last 29 days I’ve been doing a running challenge called Marcothon. Briefly, it started when one person decided to run every day in November. The next year his wife decided to run every day in December. Since then, it has gathered momentum and is now a firm fixture in the running calendar.

Two years ago I decided not to try it as due to my asthma, I wasn’t sure if I could run every day through winter. I went for an 80 mile month instead, and at the time this was my biggest ever mileage.

Last year, as a more experienced runner and knowing my asthma a bit better, I reluctantly threw in the towel after my run on Day 17, coughing, spluttering and knowing it had been really stupid to go out feeling so ill. The next day my peak flow had dropped by nearly 50%, I had the death rattle so much feared by asthmatics, and it was straight off to the doctors where I was diagnosed with the second chest infection of the winter. There would be two more to follow that one.

This year, despite practising like mad for a solo concert late in the month and attempting to save my legs for an ultramarathon on New Year’s Day, I find myself still in the hunt after Day 29. Even more unbelievably, despite feeling plenty of warning tickly throats, so far (touch wood) I haven’t succumbed to a lurgy. And yes, I did just touch my head with my hand.

The lasting reflection I will take from Marcothon is how noticeable even small changes can be.

Due to time constraints, a lot of my runs have been along the same route at a very similar time of day.

I run along an old railway track next to a small stream that has moved from a trickle to a raging torrent during Storm Desmond, and now back again. At the height of the storm it was truly frightening running next to it – the path is normally a good distance from the water, but as the rain continued to fall, the power and strength of the water rushing by was hypnotic and I felt myself being drawn towards it. I saw how near the water was to the bridges I ran over, and the force the bridges had to withstand.



I’ve noticed how the niggles move around my body. Something that one day has felt quite worrying has completely gone the next day. The outside of my right knee, then underneath my left knee. And then a worrying lump on the outside of the really bad ankle.
I felt dangerously tired on a couple of days, even early in the evening. My legs were fine but I struggled to keep my eyes open. I made it home without even remembering these runs, but I know I must have done them because Strava tells me I did.

I’ve run early in the morning, late at night, whatever I could squeeze in.


Some days have felt easy but have been fast. Other days have proved to be a huge effort for a slow time.

The weather has changed drastically, from being utterly soaked from the moment I locked the front door to the moment I returned three hours later, to picking my way neatly along frozen footpaths a few days later, to running in a vest in the middle of December at a distinctly northerly latitude.


My longest run was several laps of my local forest. I hadn’t been particularly looking forward to it, but I needed the miles and the hills so off I went. I was amazed at how different each lap was. I only met a couple of people during my run, but each time round I noticed extra marks in the mud next to the distinctive marks of my new Terraclaws. Bike tyre trails, a buggy, horseshoes, wellies, more and more paw prints.


I watched as the trees bent and twisted in the wild, biting winds. Every time I run down that particular path I am amazed the trees still stand after each storm, and yet they do. They shed leaves, and lose the odd branch, but otherwise they stand firm while the chaos blows around them.

There have been other, bigger changes as well.

At the start of the month I rather nervously went out on a date.

A few days later, said date and subsequent second date having gone quite well, we were out in the hills, running in the dark with snow, wind and hail battering us and agreeing this was quite a good way to spend our time. First thing on Christmas morning, we ran 8 rather chilly miles round the forest, laughing, joking, busting our lungs on the hills I could run (safe to say there were less of these than usual after running every day!) and eating sweets on the others, before heading our separate ways for prior work and family arrangements.

I can’t quite believe where the month went, it has been hectic beyond belief. I started the month desperately willing the year to finally come to an end so that I could put it behind me and start again with a new one.
But now there are just two runs left before the bells ring tomorrow night, and once again another fresh start is just around the corner.

The late arrival of Christmas spirit

Christmas has come late this year. 

Well, strictly it comes on the same day every year, but I’m normally well and truly full of the joys and anticipation by mid November. I worked in retail for many years, both at the coal face of the Tesco deli counter and checkouts and in a head office based role where we were planning Christmas from February. 

This year is the first year I will be putting up my tree on Christmas Eve. I made a start a few weeks ago, and bought new decorations at the beginning of the month. 

And they have sat unopened in my spare room. 

Crazy weeks in the day job and even crazier concert preparations meant there was just not enough time to squeeze everything in, and I bought the last of my presents yesterday.

My concert went really well, and among the feedback was that it was the first time some people had felt really Christmassy. I certainly did, playing some of my favourite Christmas music while dressed rather festively in red and gold. 

 

Sometimes I can’t believe how different things are this Christmas. Many things are the same – the anticipation of lots of good food, drink and a few days off work, joy because my granny is still here and I  can get down to see her. Knowing I will see my parents in January. 

But this year there is a sense of peace within me. A lot of bad things happened this year, but I’ve survived them and have drawn a lot of strength from within myself and from others who have helped me along the way. 

The knot of tension that had been sitting, gnawing, twisting, at the bottom of my stomach has gone. I didn’t know it had been there until it went, and then I understood why I had been feeling the way I had been feeling for so long. 

Once I understood this, my confidence and faith in myself returned, almost as quickly as it had gone away.

I’m so excited about the New Year. Santa seems to have brought me something incredibly special this year.

Not everyone celebrates Christmas, and if they do, it’s not always in the Christian way. 

There are many more generic ways to wish someone well at this time of year, but I saw a very mixed bunch of very young kids of different colours and faiths singing carols outside Tescos on Sauchiehall Street last year. I’ll never forget the happiness they shared, dressed up in tinsel, baubles, antlers etc. To them it probably didn’t really matter why, they were just singing songs with their friends.

I’m out for an early run with my present from Santa, then I’m off to play for Christmas Dinner at the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh. Once I’m home, I’ll be curling up with a GnT, some smoked salmon, a couple of ageing greyhounds, Coronation Street and Downton Abbey.

Thanks for reading my blog, and I wish you a very Merry Christmas.

 

Not in my name

I know I’m not alone in feeling a monumental sadness this morning. 

Crawling out of bed, picking my feet up, getting dressed, clinking my dogs’ food bowls as I scoop out their food, stroking their heads and rubbing their ears as I put their coats and leads on, then ushering them out of the door for their early morning walk is normal procedure. 

Usually I’d take their morning walk time to slowly wake myself up and start to sketch out the day ahead.

But not today.

I remember very clearly standing in the back garden of my old house in Stratford on Avon at the start of the Iraq war. I was 12 I think. We lived near several RAF bases, and as a jet flew overhead, I couldn’t help but wonder how long it would be before I needed to worry about enemy fire. Perhaps a little dramatic in hindsight, but the fear was very strong and very real.

A couple of years ago, I visited the Imperial War Museum on Salford Quays. I had watched it being built when I worked in an office further down the quay several years before, but had then moved away. The building is designed around the concept of a shattered globe, and is absolutely stunning.

Inside, there was a timeline of wars over the last few centuries, and as I followed it along the years to the twentieth century I was stunned at how much there was within my lifetime. The Gulf War(s), Kosovo, Rwanda, Palestine, so many more.

This summer, I visited a friend in Austria. She lives just over the border with Germany, so I flew into Munich and got a train to Freilassing where she met me, still within Germany. As we left the platform, she told me they had just met some people they thought were Syrian, possible refugees, who seemed to be trying to get to Munich. They had a train ticket and the clothes they stood up in. It was gone midnight, the weather was bad and they were just waiting and hoping.

The next morning, I woke up in a warm comfy bed in a beautiful old house in an Austrian mountain village.

That week, we crossed the border several times, just going about enjoying the weather and the scenery. In and out of Bavaria, a bus to Salzburg in Austria, stopping off for a wander round Bad Reichenhall in Germany, back home to Austria.

The week after I got back, suddenly continental Europe seemed very different as the borders were tightened, closed, fenced, guarded, blocked.

As I walked along this morning, pausing for sniffing time and all the other things that dogs do out on a walk, I thought also of the latest shootings in America. 

I know there is much, much more that is unreported, under reported, scanned over, passed by. I don’t know what to do, how to help. But I don’t know how more violence can possibly be the answer.

Long weekend

At last. Thanks to a dog with a poorly eye, I have a long weekend. 3 days to catch up with myself.

Things have been a little bleak the last few weeks. A little while ago I needed to take a day job. The ins and outs aren’t for sharing here, but for now, needs must, and there are plenty of positives.

This job was chosen for various reasons, but the main one was that it allowed me to save my energy for other more creative uses of my time. And then a few things changed.

I have a few days off to use up, and I’d hoped to get away north for a few days. Said dog with poorly eye plus a rapidly approaching harp insurance bill mean that this isn’t an option now, but to be honest I am really looking forward to having some time at home. That, and the luxury of not having to be anywhere at any particular time, and not having anyone waiting on me for something I haven’t been able to do yet.

And so. I get to breathe a little.

Tiree (the image at the top, taken while running the ultra marathon the day before my birthday in September) feels like a long time ago, but unbelievably it has only been ten weeks. Three months ago I was in A&E in Austria getting my leg sewn up. This year, the time has truly flown by.

Sometimes the pace of life feels overwhelming. Sometimes there is nothing to do but to run with it and try your best to keep up. But this isn’t sustainable in the long term, and it’s important to know how to take even the smallest break in the midst of all the craziness. This becomes more crucial when you find yourself brushing your teeth and realising you can’t remember what day it is.

Thankfully things are calming down. All the little things that help me take a step back – animals, running, reading, a bath, a mug of my favourite tea – have been deployed to the maximum and have done their job. Apart from being incredibly tired, drained even, and some lingering pain in my forearms (long story), I think I have survived.

A longish run tomorrow, a concert, a film with a friend and a whole lot of practice will take me through the weekend, and then Monday will be about nothing beyond taking care of my poor wee dog once she has come round from her minor procedure at the vets. I fully intend to make like a greyhound and laze/snooze on the sofa until the phone call comes to go and collect her.

Grey, green, orange

Autumn is out in all its glorious colour in Scotland. We’ve had a beautiful few weeks with only a couple of really soggy days. The combination of shorter days, turning leaves, migrating geese and lower sun in the sky mean that winter is firmly on its way. But the landscape is absolutely stunning.

I’m going into my fourth winter up here. Bad things still happen in the ‘new’ life, but I am much more resilient and able to cope with the knocks when they come. A tough hill race nearly finished me off emotionally for a few days, but I got through it and will live to fight another day. Difficult days at work are shrugged off relatively easily, and there is a freedom and a lightness that I didn’t have where I lived before.

I’ve had my head down for a few weeks but I emerged a few days ago, having had a pretty much perfect week and a visit from my parents. I’m back running again, and while Saturday’s run was grey, damp, hard and badly disrupted by my asthma, the miles out on the Antonine Wall yesterday morning with friends were the exact opposite. 

My entries are in for my races next year. This gives me some of the focus I need to keep going through the winter. There are three new ones, and an old one I didn’t complete the first time around. 

Three of them are south of the border, two are totally different to anything I’ve done before, and one of these will yet again be the biggest scariest thing I’ve ever contemplated doing. 

As a result, I’m tremendously excited while being ever so slightly terrified at the same time. But this is what I love doing, and I do it for the moments where everything stops around me and all I am aware of is my lungs working and the scenery around me.

I’ve had to rope my parents in to help with the big one, which will be a new experience for all of us. Dad is a long distance cyclist with a love of 24 hour time trials in bad weather, and Mum is really good at tough love and not giving in when you’re scared. 

I’m learning a new piece on the harp at the moment and it has become a bit of a mantra. 

Everything will be all right. 

taken from Croy Hill early yesterday morning
  
lookimg towards home from Croy Hill