Running shirts

I’m about to go out running again, for the first time in weeks, and I’m hoping my knee will hold out. As I went through my clothes, sorting out what I wanted to wear, I realised that I have a whole load of running shirts, and that there’s a story behind just about all of them.

There’s my Paddock Wood Half Marathon shirt – the longest distance and longest race I’ve done to date.

My Brighton Marathon training shirt – a sad story, as I never got there.

My Beyonders shirt – a Facebook group where I’ve made many friends and find great support running. This shirt needs my name on, and then will become my race shirt.

My two-blue shirt – my current race shirt, and the first running shirt I used regularly.

My darker blue shirt – I ordered this from Amazon, and got grumpy when it took three weeks to arrive instead of three days.

My three parkrun shirts – 50 (red), 100 (black) and 25 Volunteer (purple). I earned those. I value them.

My Faversham 10k shirt – I have three altogether, but this is the only one in technical fabric. It’s also hi-vis, so gets a lot of wear.

My red Adidas shirt – bought to wear for a school sports day. It was a couple of weeks before I was due to leave the school altogether, and for the first time I felt part of a group, moving around, being active, laughing at the kids who decided they were too cool to join in, arguing with those who objected to my way of interpreting the rules.

Then there’s my long-sleeved shirts – one hi-vis, and one black. The black one is worn as an extra layer under a teeshirt during cold days. The hi-vis one was my first confirmation that I was an actual runner, who would go out running even when the weather wasn’t warm and pleasant.

My two vest tops – one bought because I wanted something to wear in summer. The other donated by my mother in law as part of a promotion she qualified for.

Finally there are charity vests – a reminder that I was supposed to raise money for a charity during my Brighton run. I’m hoping that some day I’ll be able to honour that commitment.

But first of all, I need to get back to running. Which is where today comes in. And my choice of shirt? Purple volunteer shirt. To remind myself that I’m useful to parkrun even if I’m not a fast runner.

 

 

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It’s all in my head

I went for a run today. Tuesday is my long run day. So far, I’m only running about 10k, but today I wanted to try for a little longer.

So I covered 11k altogether. But the second half involved walking breaks, aching calves and ankles, twinging knees and a complaining brain. You’re not going to do this. You’re useless. You’re too slow. You’ll finish last again in your 10k next month, and you’ll be even slower than last year. How are you going to run a full marathon next year if you can’t even do 10k properly?

I heard that voice. And I kept going. Slowly. Taking walking breaks for my aching legs, and telling myself that it’s all helping them to get stronger; that even if I’m not ready now, I will be. That even if I’m last (again), what matters is that I do it, and that it’s another run in the bag. That the training, and the learning to overcome that little voice, is the purpose of the race; the race itself is the celebration of the achievement.

It’s the same with my writing. Whenever that little voice points out the number of books already out there, or say there’s no point in competitions, or that nobody wants to read my writing anyway, I just smile and nod and then keep writing. In the end, while it would be very nice to sell loads of copies and make people happy and become a successful writer, I’d settle quite happily for finishing a complete novel to a standard I’m happy with and then moving on. And any writing session I do helps that along.

So in the end, whether it’s my legs or my imagination playing up, the real problem is in my head, and that’s what I need to defeat. But one thing I do need to be aware of is the subtle temptation to do just enough to keep myself at that level where I’m unhappy with my performance, when just a little more consistent effort would bring about improvement, because that’s where the real motivation lies.

And to do that, I really need to beat that voice into submission.

 

Another new year

I was really pleased yesterday when I reviewed my running goals for the year. I’d carried a few over from the previous year, and now they’re all complete: run a parkrun in less than 30 mins (29:58); achieve an age grade better than 50% (54%); run a half marathon (Paddock Wood, last March).

So now I need to set new running goals. I’m aiming for distance more than speed this year, so over the year I have a bronze target of 500k, silver of 750 and gold of 1000. I also want to do Paddock Wood half again, plus another half at some point, and I’d like to cover the whole marathon distance in one run by the end of the year, whether it’s within an official race or not.

It would be nice to get under 30 mins for parkrun again, but that’s not my main concern. Hopefully, getting back to the weight I was when I did it the first time will bring my speed back. And hopefully the distance running I’m planning to do will help with the weight.

As for writing, I’ve been working steadily on my 2014 nano novel (Gods V Heroes) since the beginning of that November, with only a break for 2015 nano (Abandoned). Abandoned was the cleanest, most complete first draft I’ve managed so far, and is now sitting waiting, while I get back to GvH.

So the aim is to get a complete finished draft of GvH and seek beta readers for it. Then while that rests again I can get back to Abandoned. I did start another last month, but I’ve decided that two completely active projects is the most I can cope with, at least for now.

Thanks to a drawing course I did in November, I’ve rediscovered the pleasures of drawing and painting, so another aim is to keep going on that, and develop my skills in drawing, painting and digital painting.

I never really got back into technical stuff like programming last year, apart from working on a coding book and revising the GCSE computing syllabus for a tutoring client, so that’s something else I’d like to put on my list.

But most of all, I’m finally learning to be nicer to myself. To allow myself to do things I enjoy and feel pleasure from them, and to appreciate time instead of wasting it. This also means recognising that I enjoy the housework and take pleasure in having a clean and tidy house, and that it’s acceptable to expect those around me to help me in that as well. A tidy house is for life, not just for Christmas!

So:

running: distance goals.

writing: completing both novels.

Drawing/creativity: regular practice.

Technical skills: develop.

Personal life: create an environment in which all can flourish.

Let’s see how that goes!

 

Rediscovering my spark

It seems like a long time since I really felt that spark of excitement. I’ve been plodding along, making progress at times and then slipping back at other times. I’ve reached the point where I say enough is enough, it’s time to really turn myself around and start being more positive.

And yet I know I’ve been at this point before. I’d look back through the blog, but I’m sure I’d only depress myself further with the number of times I’ve declared myself at that point, only to slide back again.

So what’s the problem? Where has that spark gone? and how can I get it back?

I was doing okay until the end of May this year, when I broke the 30 min barrier at parkrun. Having done that, I slacked off, and after being unable to run while on holiday at the beginning of July, I never really got going properly again.

I ran a 10k race yesterday, and while it was by no means my worst performance, it wasn’t my best either. I’ve got slower again, and that’s probably not helped by the stone (14 pounds) I’ve put on since the half marathon I ran at the end of March. So while it was an okay performance, I really want to get that sorted and improve.

So, how do I keep going? I can only think that finding my inner spark will help with motivation. I’m thinking of making a collage or scrapbook of images that will remind me of what I’m trying to achieve. I’m considering making a list of things that contribute towards a positive feeling, and sticking it up above my desk as a reminder. I’ve ‘fessed up to my food and exercise monitoring websites and need to focus on those.

Above all, I need to ensure that I’m writing regularly and exercising regularly. Both will help with my mental state, and the exercise will help with my physical state. I have a selection of races coming up over the next few months, and I always seem to exercise better across the winter than the summer. Nanowrimo is coming up, and I’m trying to get into an appropriate mindset for that, with a nano project lined up plus another to keep me occupied until then. And of course there’s still Gods V Heroes.

As to that, the next stage involves really upping the stakes in the novel. I need to dig deep and find the strength to write strong scenes. Those scenes are what the story is about, in my head; about the in-fighting and hatred I see around me, and putting that into a fantasy context. I need to get out of this comfortable rut I’m in, where I seem content to curl up and go to sleep, and I need to get out there fighting.

Above all, I’m not competing against anyone else; it doesn’t matter how many novels others have published, or how fast or far others can run; it’s about pushing myself. About knowing that I’m doing the best I can, and not just sitting back relaxing, while complaining that others are achieving things that I want for myself. And all that needs to start now. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Not when the cake has been eaten. Not when the race is over. Now.

How do you find and keep your spark?

 

Plans and ultras

With the a-z challenge out of the way, it’s back to normal. And this means getting back to finishing my novel, considering the other one, and planning and training for an ultramarathon. A what? where did that come from?

I’m in a couple of running groups on facebook, and someone on one of those posted that she was halfway through the Pony Express Ultra.

Now for some reason the name caught my attention, and so I looked it up. It’s based in my favourite part of the country, the New Forest, and it’s a 60 mile/2 day run, through the forest, on trails, cycle paths and very occasionally roads. It involves navigating through the countryside, at a walk or run, and a night out camping in a sports hall.

Sounds fun, no?

I’ve only run as far as a half marathon so far, so I’m being sensible. I’m too late for this year, obviously, and I’m not even going to think about doing it next year. But the year after? I don’t see why not.

It’s a big challenge, that’s for sure. But it’s a challenge that has me excited at the thought, and I consider it manageable. After all, a couple of years ago 10k was a big challenge. So this year I’m doing several 10ks, I’ve done a half marathon, and I’m looking into doing a second HM. The particular one I’m looking at is described as “challenging”, which originally put me off a little, but hey, if I’m heading for a two day ultra, what’s scary about an undulating half?

Next year I’m planning to do a marathon or two – looking at the Kent Roadrunner as a possible first – and then the year after it will be the ultra.

It means building up my long runs, adding in at least one more run a week, running more trail routes and getting much more serious about getting into shape. That doesn’t scare me. I keep feeling it should, but I really enjoyed the long runs building up to the half, and felt sorry when it was all over. Now I have a good excuse to build back up again.

I also have a new pair of shoes for road work, to go with my new trail shoes I bought recently. So I’m all set to go!

I did a 10k race on Monday, so allowing myself to take it easy for a couple of days, but then back to the three runs/three swims a week from tomorrow, building in a fourth run from next week, and increasing the distance. My running is getting faster at the moment thanks to some podcasts I’ve been using, which are working on my cadence, but the beauty of an ultra is that distance trumps speed.

I woke up a couple of mornings ago, the day after completing a 10k, and thought to myself: I just ran fast(ish) for an hour yesterday without stopping. And recently I ran for over two and a half hours without stopping. That’s absolutely incredible. And now I’m thinking of doing it for several hours and over two days. There’s still a long way to go until I’m ready for it, but bring it on! Nearly two years of hard work to go before I get there, but I’m looking forward to it.

 

N is for necessary

Posted as part of the a-z challenge.

Is your journey really necessary? That’s something asked in this country in times when there are extreme transport issues – usually because an inch or two of snow has fallen overnight. Yes, we’re that feeble.

I was thinking this morning about what’s necessary for my life. Since I ran my half marathon, in fact since about a week or so before, I’ve not been exercising so much, or been so careful about what I eat. I’m trying to get back into a proper routine, but as the swimming pool showers have been out of use this week I haven’t been swimming regularly for two or three weeks now, and I’m just getting back into running regularly.

I consider it directly attributable to my lack of exercise that I’ve not been sleeping as well, I’ve been overeating and I’ve been feeling aches and pains, and general stiffness.

So I’ve decided that exercise isn’t just something I enjoy doing, or something I can do if I have time. It’s something that’s necessary for my wellbeing.

It’s the same with writing. I’ve always made up stories as part of a stressbusting exercise. They haven’t always been written down, but the stories have always been there. So has the journal writing. Any time I feel extra stressed, my remedy is to reach for a notebook and pen and get it all onto paper.

So I need to accept that exercise and writing are both necessary and get on with them, which generally I do; but sometimes if I have to stop for a bit it can be hard to get back into the routine again.

I’m currently trying out a passion planner – while I don’t have the money to import one from the US, and it’s not the best idea to import a year-long journal partway into the year, there’s a free PDF available to print out one out for yourself, as long as you spread the word about it, which I’ve already done (and am doing here!), so I’ve printed out a few pages and I will attempt to use it to bring some kind of focus into my life. Because if I don’t focus on what I want to achieve, then how can I ever expect to get there?

Just as a map is necessary on a long journey into unfamiliar territory (yes, even if it’s a satnav map!), a focus is necessary for life, in order to figure out where you’re going and how to get there.

 

 

J is for jogging

It seems there’s a lot of fuss in the running world about being called a jogger. “I’m not a jogger, I’m a runner.” “Run like you’ve just been called a jogger.” I’m not sure when we changed from calling the activity going out for a jog to calling it going for a run.

Running sounds more impressive, I guess. But what’s wrong with jogging? What’s wrong with taking your time and enjoying your surroundings?

I’m slow. I’ll admit that. I struggle to run fast. And yet since I’ve been running longer distances I find I have different paces. I can run as fast as I can – still slow, admittedly – or I can jog along comfortably. Both are useful for different things. I wouldn’t jog parkrun these days, or a race, but I’d definitely be comfortable moving slowly on a long run.

But anyway, I have decided that this is the year I shake off the slow label and the jogger label and finally beat that 30 min parkrun time.

 

The dreaded taper

I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t like who I am when I’m not running.

My first ever half marathon is in two days’ time. So over the past few weeks and months I’ve been focusing on training, lengthening distance, building endurance, working out fueling during the run, ensuring my diet is healthy… and for the past week I’ve been tapering, doing very little. I swam on Monday, I ran 5 miles on Tuesday and since that – nothing.

I don’t currently have access to a car, so I haven’t been swimming. I’ve still been walking the dog, of course, but have struggled to meet my step targets this week. I’ve given myself permission to stop worrying about food, so that I reach the race well fueled and ready to go, but the end result has been snacking and almost reaching the point of comfort eating.

What worries me is that on one level it’s been easy. I’ve had more time to get on with other things, and I haven’t really felt any different.

And yet on another level it’s been hard. My routine is built so much around runs and swims and sensible eating that I’ve struggled without that structure. I feel twitchy and as though my fight-or-flight is being triggered for no reason.

So do I run to race? Or does the race get in the way of the running?

Both, I guess. I’ve really enjoyed the longer runs I’ve been doing lately to prepare for it, just getting out there and covering the miles. I haven’t been focusing on speed, but I think that’s what I want to look at when the race is over. And most of all, I want to get back into that routine, because it hasn’t felt right without it.

As usual, I can reflect this onto my writing too. Writing regularly feels good. Suddenly stopping feels bad. After a while the bad feeling fades, leaving me with a niggling feeling that something isn’t right, but with no clear link as to why.

Running/swimming for the body. Writing for the mind. Both essential as part of the regular routine.

 

The long run

In my progress towards a half marathon, which I’m running in just 11 days’ time, one part of training has been to extend my longest runs. Previously, the farthest I’d run had been 10k, or 6.2 miles, but the half marathon is twice that distance, so gradually, over the weeks, I saw my longest run achievement edge up from there to the half marathon distance of 13.1 miles, or around 21k.

As I set out for that full distance run last week, I was feeling relieved that it would be the last time I had to cover a really long distance on a training run, not least because it would take me around 3 hours. I was also feeling that half marathon was really too long, and I preferred 10k distance for races.

By the time I was halfway round, I began to feel that I’d really, really miss those long runs when the half marathon was done.

Yesterday I ran only 8 miles. Yes, I said only. I’m tapering down now, so as I have to miss parkrun on Saturday, on Sunday it will be 6.2, as part of a virtual 10k race, and next Tuesday I’ll probably only do 3 miles or so, and not run on Thursday or Saturday at all, in preparation for the HM on the Sunday.

So now I find I feel cheated. Only 8 miles. Only an hour and a half. I’ve got quicker over the time, thankfully, but I still run slowly enough to have a couple of days of panic after the furore at the weekend where a runner was pulled from a race for being too slow, until the fallout from it convinced me that I’d be okay and that what happened was exceptional and not approved of by the majority of the running community.

Last night I found myself checking interesting marathons that were coming up on my timeline – Bath, where 4k of it is through railway tunnels. The New Forest, an area I’ve always loved. Bedgebury Forest, trail running not too far from home. It’s far too early to be considering any marathon, of course; I haven’t even completed a half marathon yet (but those races mentioned also have half marathon versions, the little voice whispers). But it does seem that the long distance bug has bitten well and truly, and having discovered the pleasure of going out for a full morning’s run and covering the miles around my local area, I consider it likely that I’ll keep going even after this race is out of the way. While the shorter, faster races generally hold little appeal, perhaps because I know I’m highly unlikely to achieve the sort of speed that most do, the longer distances definitely do call to me.

I often draw the parallel between my running and my writing, and I feel that applies here too; short stories really don’t appeal to me. They don’t have enough meat on the bones for me to get stuck in. But novel writing – yeah, that I can handle. The in-depth, longer story, with multiple characters and plotlines. A project that’s definitely for the long-haul.

I briefly considered giving up my writing recently. Was there any point? Was I ever going to produce anything worthwhile? Looking back at what I’ve written so far was reassuring; no prize winner, but sound for what it was. I’m enjoying the process. I’m learning from it. And in the end, that’s all I can ask from anything, whether it’s planning and writing a novel or training for and running a long-distance race.

And will I ever run a marathon? Who knows, but at the moment the little voice on my shoulder seems to think I will.

 

New targets

2014-12-31 10.46.10

For 2015 I’m going with another Keep Calm and Carry On page a day calendar, and with it I get the electronic version of another one for free, which this year I’ve chosen as Today is Going to be a Great Day! – I’ll receive emails with the message of the day every day, or can access it online. The Keep Calm saw me through 18 very difficult months at work, and then a further 6 months of running a new business, so I’m looking forward to getting back to it. I was a little disappointed in my Runner’s High calendar over the past year, as sometimes the messages seemed a little odd and irrelevant, but a couple did make it as far as display above my desk – You already have everything you need to be a long-distance athlete. It’s mindset, not miles, that separates those who do from those who dream, and The only failure is not finishing, both of which seem to apply to my writing as much as to the running.

At around this time of year I tend to reflect on the year just past and consider the one to come. What have I achieved? What do I want to achieve?

On the first day of last year I set myself some targets. On looking back, I’m pleasantly surprised at how far I got with those targets.

Running

  • Beat my parkrun (5k) PB (currently 34:21) – done (currently 32:27, and working on reducing that further).
  • Beat my 10k PB (currently around 1 hour 18 mins) – done (currently 1:13:45)
  • Beat 50% age grading for 5k (that makes it around 32:24) – my current highest grading is 49.992, which is pretty damn close
  • Complete a parkrun in under 30 mins – this one is still a work in progress, but I haven’t given up
  • Complete a half marathon – not done yet but booked for end of March

Writing

  • Write at least 1000 words every day – not so good here, but I’m working on building the habit back up
  • Complete at least a working first draft of my novel – halfway through but also working on another novel
  • Study and work at writing – sort of in progress, too vague really
  • Plan out another novel for next November’s nano – done
  • Complete nano – done and the nano novel is the other novel I’m currently working on

So writing wasn’t as good as running, but still progress has been made.

I guess next year the plan is to tick off those I haven’t done already, and work on keeping the running and fitness up while developing the writing side as well.

In another review I mentioned the house and garden. Well the house is kind of tough – any space I clear is immediately invaded by stuff from another member of the family – and the garden hasn’t received too much attention apart from a rather large puppy running around destroying the grass and digging up my carrots, but I did take on an allotment at the end of March, so I’ll be working on that throughout the year.

This leads on to the other area I need to focus on, which is sort of related to running, and that’s to achieve a more healthy weight. It’s another work in progress, but now I feel I have the tools and motivation to get further on this.

Then there’s the business, which is building up steadily. That’s an area where I need to make sure I have a good work/life balance, not wasting time or putting in time at the computer when I could be doing more productive things elsewhere. In quieter times, there’s plenty to be done without feeling guilty about not working, and I need to make sure I’m allowing enough time for other projects that are more long-term.

Talking of more long-term projects, I seem to have lost my enthusiasm for learning about technology and coding over the past year, which is understandable considering I’d just left the classroom and needed a break from it, but I need to get back into that side of things, and back into my technical writing side generally.

All in all, I think I’ve done well this year, and I’m looking forward to continuing this progress into the next year. It’s always good when a new year doesn’t bring in lots of things I need to change, and it’s more about keeping up the good work.