Friday 31 May 2024

Less than six months to go

 


As I write, tomorrow is June. Just under 25 weeks before the main race of the year.

How is it all going? Well the work I'm doing with my coach is paying off. I'm stronger, fitter and recovering better than ever. And my mental game is stronger too. It's so good being able to talk through things with someone else and have them challenge me, get me to reassess my thought processes and mindset. Knowing that someone has my back is such a huge thing.

I'm also very hungry! Getting to grips with nutrition is  proving a significant part of this training journey too. I think I have a much better relationship with food and eating now- it does help that the training I've been doing has significantly changed my body composition and the menopot belly is gone- but my understanding of the need to fuel properly is deeper and I'm not afraid to eat enough. In the past I've generally only had compliments about my figure when I've been quite underweight so when my coach told me the other week that I'm looking solid I was delighted. Because he means that I look strong, able to endure. I've made a conscious effort in myself not to slip into saying I feel 'big' or 'heavy' but to choose a more positive word like 'sturdy' (like the rebuilt Andromeda when Doyle asks her how she feels in her new avatar). 

That positive self-talk is something we've discussed in my training sessions too. The fact that if I'm giving myself a hard time, focussing on things that aren't going well or on feeling tired or unhappy, then it will just reinforce not feeling so good. 

Last Sunday I had an opportunity to put a lot of this into practice when I ran Runaway Racing  Greensand Country 50k The last two races I've done haven't gone to plan and I've not enjoyed them so this time I really wanted to have a better day out. Whilst I don't really like the idea of liquid calories, I gave Mountain Fuel Xtreme Energy fuel another try as I've just not been taking in sufficient calories during races; I figured it would also get me drinking more too. I also decided not to be so speedy through aid stations but instead to take time to get some real food and empty out then properly refill my bottles. Both the liquid calories and the extra minute or two at aid stations really did seem to help. I didn't have a meltdown or require a power sob and I never got as far as that horrible can't think straight or be rational state that I know is down to not eating and drinking enough.

I also made an effort to appreciate the day- I was grateful for the sun because I love running in the sun but I was also appreciative of the rain as it was refreshing. Every stretch of flat, downhill or smooth road and trail I took as a gift allowing me to properly run. And I did run most of it despite the return of that hip flexor niggle. I accepted it was uncomfortable, that it was making it hard to pick up my right leg properly but I knew it would probably stop hurting a few hours after finishing the race so there was no point in worrying or being upset about it.

The last 1km or so of the race. I was pushing myself hard but able to smile.

I had a lovely day out- a little slower than I would have liked (still sneaking into the top 10 though!) but I made a bad shoe choice because I hadn't expected the mud to be Mud of Epic Proportions. I rescued a vole; saw demoiselles, butterflies and stunning foxgloves; heard so much birdsong. Lots of members of the public were out and about and everyone was so friendly and encouraging. I would definitely recommend this race for anyone wanting to run an ultra but is a bit nervous about it.

This was a race I needed to go well- either for things to go to plan or to be able to take any setbacks in my stride. The hard work is where growth happens and it was so good to see that hard work pay off and to be able to appreciate the progress I'm making.

Life right now is far from perfect- more change is on the horizon and will require a lot of adjustment and adaptation on my part- but I'll settle for honest hard work and the opportunity to keep learning.





Wednesday 8 May 2024

Spring update

 I was going to write a report on running Canary Trail Events inaugural Surrey Hills Marathon in March but never got around to it. Partly because of being busy but also because I had a rubbish day and I didn't want to make it sound like the event is rubbish because it's not. It was friendly, low-key, well-organised, everything you'd expect from the CTE team. But I just had a bad day out. My head wasn't in the right place at all and I couldn't focus on the task in hand. And I had a complete melt down at mile 20, for ne obvious reason just completely fell apart.

Photo by Lenny Martin




Then last month I ran Runaway Racing Chiltern Ridge 50km. Another rubbish day out. I had wanted to finish in around 5:30 but was almost an hour slower. There just didn't seem to be anything in my legs although conditions underfoot were quite nasty in places which certainly didn't help. I pushed myself as much as I could but my body wouldn't respond how I needed it to which was incredibly frustrating. And again, another melt down at the last CP. I don't know what was wrong. Maybe I got nutrition wrong; maybe I was just exhausted from how the year has gone so far; maybe there was no particular reason.



Anyway, for various reasons it's been tough trying to recover from the last race but I'm doing my best to focus on nutrition, sleep and adapting training to what I think my body needs. 

Right now the race in November feels like an impossibility. I can't see or imagine how I can be ready for it let alone finish. When I was training for Copthorne 100 I was really focussed and training for that race was the most important thing in my life but I can't seem to find that drive and focus now. I don't know if it's because I don't care enough about it, whether I'm deeply fatigued, whether the pressures of simply surviving and making ends meet are taking all my energy. 

Saturday 10 February 2024

New beginnings

 Yes, it's been far too long since the last post. I'm not going to do a huge recap on everything that has happened but here is a brief summary:

Between the last post and August 2023 not an awful lot, mostly very tired. 

August 2023 I ran a marafun on a loopy loop timed event. I'd spent the first part of the summer break utterly wiped out- getting out of bed was a struggle, doing anything much left me so tired I'd have to lie down and rest- but I'd set myself the goal of going to this looped event just to see how I'd manage. I took things really easy and actually once I'd got a couple of loops done my body remembered about running and it felt good.

That same day I had a phone call saying the housing association paperwork had all gone through and as of that moment we were tenants of a house in a nearby village. 

So we packed up and moved house!

The house is great and the garden is enormous. It needs an equally enormous amount of work, but that is going to be a project of many years

September was particularly dreadful for all sorts of reasons, and I realised that I needed to make some significant changes in my life. Those decisions have not been easy, not all the repercussions have been comfortable to live with, but for the first time in many years I feel as though a weight has been lifted, there is no longer the Sunday evening dread, and I'm free to choose not to work if I'm feeling exhausted.  

In October I ran a little ultra- a 50km loop not too far from where I live. It was just lovely! I felt good most of the way round, met a couple of runners who kept me to an honest pace as I was tiring. At the finish I was given a little certificate- first in my age group!

Running in the autumn sunshine in the Chiltern Hills


Over the winter various plans for a change of workplace/career didn't come to fruition for all sorts of reasons.

January 2024 saw some big changes. I have several jobs that more or less seem to fit together, all still in education but no longer as a TA stuck in a school. It's tough at times, there are days when the pay really doesn't reflect just how hard I've had to work. My brain is being used again, I'm learning so much, and I'm meeting some really amazing people. I hadn't realised just how bad boredom and stagnation was for me- although I'm now very busy I don't feel drained, wrung out and a shell of myself. 

I did another loopy loop event and came 2nd in the marafun distance. I'd wanted to do another loop but the mud was so awful I could barely stay upright and it wasn't worth risking a fall and potential injury.

Medal and T-shirt from the Running Tribe event

February the lovely DWP are trying to throw a spanner in the works telling me I'm not working enough- but I'd say 4-6 days a week is a decent amount of work. We'll have to see how that all turns out...

Knitting

I completed a temperature blanket last year. It turned out a bit untidy but it was fun to make and I'm making another this year but for for a friend. Lessons from last year's attempt have been learned and taken into consideration this time round, and I think will result in a fabulous finished article.

The finished temperature blanket with Salvatore the Octopus and Hug Me the Dinosaur

Running

It's been tough getting back to regular running. Both the races last year were off the back of very little mileage. It seemed to work well enough but longer-term I'm worried whether I'll be able to keep running ultras off 20-30 miles a week. This year I signed up to the Centurion Running virtual slam again, aiming to complete the 500 mile distance. It's just not going to happen. Things started off fine as it was the Christmas break and there was much less going on, but I just can't keep up with the mileage. Not just because of having less time but because trying to hit 50 miles every week on top of work is making me so tired. 

Post-menopause I am definitely noticing that I can't do the volume of training that I did even 2 years ago. I am getting more tired and recovery takes longer. So I've found myself a coach as, since what used to work for me doesn't any more, I need to train smarter. but I can't figure out what to do by myself.  My coach is not a runner but that's great because he's not going to try and make me do running stuff that doesn't work for me. We're doing lots of hard but (mostly) fun stuff to prepare my body for a challenge that will probably leave me broken. I'm not thinking too much about the challenge- I want to enjoy the journey of being ready to stand on the start line.


So it's a year of new beginnings in so many ways. I don't anticipate it being a smooth ride, but let's just see what this year has in store...

Sunday 30 July 2023

Adapting to survive

 It's been a strange couple of months with so much going on. Work has been crazy, and some of this has contributed to the overwhelming pressure in my role as a rep and activist. It's been a tough time for my children which means it's been tough for me as a mum too. My own mother is in what looks like the last weeks of terminal cancer. There have been countless emergency hospital admissions because her pain hasn't been properly managed, acute breathing difficulties because of her illness, and I feel guilty because I haven't visited as much as I should. Fatigue and the expectation of a house-move mean I've been reluctant to make the long drive (covid has had a significant impact on my ability to drive long distances). We were invited to see the house in early June and told maybe a month or two but at time of writing we STILL have no date. Life feels on hold and every day is punctuated with frequent email checks to see if the date has come through. And it's also been really challenging to manage my health and fitness.

I reduced my hours at work to help me cope with fatigue and some of the difficulties within my family circle. It was a bit of a fight to get what I wanted, but I couldn't continue with being so exhausted from work that I could barely cook dinner or have a conversation with my children, and needing to be in bed at 8pm. As it is I still find I need to sleep during the day at weekends but, day to day, I feel like I'm able to manage things better. It is tough being on the rollercoaster of a good day or two (or even three) but then the next day feeling exhausted, achey and mentally struggling to focus or be motivated. That rollercoaster is tiring in itself but I'm trying to accept it with grace and just be more gentle to myself on the rubbish days.

Training (which is an optimistic term really) has needed a rethink as I simply can't do what I did pre-covid and there's no point in trying to get back to that. I'm just about through menopause now and that could also be contributing to what my body can cope with, but despite fatigue, more muscle soreness and some joint pain, I don't see why I should stop moving and give up any hope of being able to race again one day. Anyway, what's the point of resting and 'saving' my energy? What would I be saving it for?

So, I bought a copy of Stacy Sim's latest book, Next Level, and had a good read through her advice on training and looked at some of her real life examples of how women at my point in life are using her principles to find a healthy balance between training so they can still compete or continue with sports they love, and managing the fatigue and other challenges of menopause. I can't afford to buy all the supplements but I can adjust how and when I train and return to being more mindful of my diet. It's so easy to end up not eating enough nutrient dense food when you're physically and mentally exhausted so much of the time, and that of course just reinforces the feeling crap.

Training now happens on 4 days a week, but 3 if I'm really struggling and 5 if I feel good. I prioritise strength work over running and would rather do 3 strength sessions and 2 short runs if time and/or energy are limited. I do still aim for 'double days' where I strength train and run as although that's challenging it does allow me to take complete rest days where, other than work and the usual household chores, I don't do any exercise and can stay in bed longer. The strength work is hampered by this strange arm/shoulder problem that appeared at the end of last year. It's better than it was but I'm still lacking mobility and stability in that area which is really frustrating. I lift as heavy as I feel I safely can at home, which is probably not heavy enough, but I have to work from where I am and with what I've got. 

The new thing I've added into the training mix is regular plyometric work. At the end of a strength session I do 3 or 4 plyometric exercises as a mini circuit. I hate it because it's so hard and I can't manage the recommended 40 seconds on 20 seconds rest, but even the little I can do is having an impact. Whether or not I'll be able to get round a 50 miler in September remains to be seen. It's a race I've wanted to do for several years and I have been looking forward to it so much, but honestly I'm not sure if it's manageable. 

I have dared to think about next year and have a couple of things planned that will really challenge me. Both scare me a lot, but one (if it goes well) will, I hope, bring some healing with it. Of course I might not be back to full fitness to even consider attempting either, but both are things to give me some focus for my training. All I can do is train to the best of my ability and, as long as I believe I'm safe to attempt these challenges, be on the start line trusting in my preparation.

On a less serious note, I've been knitting and made a few gifts. Here is one for a colleague who left at the end of term:




I used some gorgeous cotton yarn by Sirdar. The colours haven't come out quite right in the photo, but they are such happy colours! I sewed the hearts onto an embroidery hoop and made a hanging loop out of ric-rac. The garland will take pride of place in my colleague's new class room.




And we have three new hens! Willow died three weeks ago. She went downhill very quickly and it was so sad to see her like that. But we were already on the list to rehome some ex-battery farm hens so it was always the plan to add to the flock. We'd hoped Willow would be there to show the new hens how to do all the chickeny things they'd never experienced before but actually they have adapted to their new life really well and already look healthier. Here they are:




From left, clockwise: Serenity, Andromeda and Moya. Serenity loves naps and will even allow us to stroke her. Andromeda is the top hen and very pecky, but also the jumpiest and most easily startled.  Moya is fascinated by the chicken in the camera.




No big exciting stuff, but I'm focusing on the joys of the small, everyday things and trying to find things I can rely on: maths, physics and knitting. 


Friday 5 May 2023

Towards the light

 Last post I had just started training regularly again. I'm now three weeks in so the good news is that I've been able to keep going. It's proving really tough though and I've had to accept that for now at least, I have to do less than I want.

I'm more sore and tired than I remember being in the past, and recovery is slower. In theory I should be finding things easier because of all the disruption from bank holidays and strikes, but those days haven't been particularly restful. Planning and organising trade union members and picket lines is hard work and requires a big emotional investment too, although I don't begrudge any of my time and efforts for that cause. 

Since covid, my appetite has been weird and I'm often struggling to eat enough. I was used to eating three meals and one or two snacks but at the moment meals are tricky as I seldom feel hungry enough, but going for the little and often approach makes it hard to eat the right things for health and recovery. I know if I don't get enough calories then I won't be able to rebuild muscle and see the benefits of my training. Hopefully once I feel more settled with training this will kickstart my desire to eat properly again. 

In terms of possible Long Covid, nothing can happen until 3 months post-infection. I don't even know if that is what's underneath it all. Compared to many others, what I'm experiencing is very mild- after all I'm able to run a bit and lift a bit. But my brain isn't working properly and most days I'm in bed very early because I just don't have the energy to keep going. I think that a large factor is also all the stuff going on in my head. That amount of emotional hurt and turmoil and all the various things going on in my life are going to take their toll physically and mentally; many of the symptoms I'm dealing with could easily be a physical manifestation of the stuff in my head. Or maybe I'm just wearing out and getting old- maybe my body just can't take all the crap any more.

On top of this, my mum's health has taken another big dip and so the long drives to my parents have resumed as my dad needs some respite. I'm not sure how we're going to manage things as the days and weeks go on- I have so many responsibilities pulling me in too many different directions but doing only what I feel like isn't an option. Something interesting that I noticed on my last visit is that despite the hilly terrain, when I run there it feels good. It feels easy, almost effortless. Is it the clean air? Is it the fact that there are no memories in those lanes and fields? The hedgerows are filled only with beauty- there are no ghosts or whispers of past conversations. 

Grief comes in waves and sometimes the waters are relatively calm. Other days the storms mean I can't keep my head above water. But at last I've properly owned up to that- said it out loud to someone who matters to me and that has helped. They understand even if it's not easy for them. It's this chink of light that is keeping me going. The little glimmer that someone cares enough to stand with me, that there is still a life to be lived.



Saturday 22 April 2023

One step forward, two steps back

 


After several false starts, this is my first week of trying to actually train again. I've settled on a similar pattern to when I was training for Copthorne as it's what fits best around life although it does mean two or three double days of a run and strength work. I'm shattered already, but can't tell if that's because of post-covid fatigue or whether it's that normal shock to the system you get when you start structured training again after a break. I guess I'll have to see how things go and adjust what I do as needed. But three days this week I've had to go to bed before 8.30pm because I've been so horrendously tired.

A tendinopathy in my right arm has been making it really hard getting back to strength training but at long last (4 months and counting) it has eased enough to make some lifting possible although using a full range of movement in my shoulder is painful still. I've missed lifting as much as I have missed running- feeling strong has become so important to me- and in my first runs post-covid I couldn't even run with good form because of the muscle wastage. But I've returned to the exercises I did to get strong for my first Autumn 100 and although they are making me sore and feel much, much harder than I think they should, they will get me back on track eventually.

There's a LOT of life stuff happening too, much of which is not for here. But I am still very much struggling with the grieving process over the not-fella. I inadvertently stumbled on something the other day that has really knocked me back. It's not something I wanted to hear and certainly not the manner in which I'd like to have found out. Copthorne gave me the illusion of coping better than I was. In fact, I didn't need to cope when I was training for that race because it took over my life and emotional stuff just got shoved to one side as there was no time or energy spare. But when you do that, it always comes back at you- stuff needs processing and resolving before it will sit relatively peacefully in a corner of your brain and heart.

I remember reading something, an irunfar article I think, about the dangers of 'running from' and I think I've written about it too. Running can be a much needed source of respite, but it's not healthy to use it to escape things that need acknowledging. My local trails will always be full of ghosts, so many spots where I can recall specific conversations we had as we ran past, where I remember a smile or the particular rhythm of feet. Some days I can run with those ghosts and that is better than a year ago, but other days the sense of loss is still so strong that I have to stop, try to breathe, calm the horrible knots in my stomach. Sometimes the physical response to loss still overwhelms me. But at least by acknowledging it, learning to run and live with it rather than trying to erase it all, there's the chance of healing.

Amongst all of this I am trying to embrace life, to welcome new opportunities, the chance to feel loved and alive. I'm pretty bad at it so far, every step I take towards the light it feels like two steps back again and I am so tired of the struggle to keep going.  But I've never been one to quit even when every fibre of me is screaming for it all to stop. 

Anyway, we might be moving house soon. And I can't quit when, hopefully, we're about to have a house where no one can tell us to leave, and I'm finally about to get a room of my own.



Saturday 4 March 2023

A brief update


 It's been quite a while since I wrote. I never really got back into regular training after Copthorne, then Covid-19 finally got me. My symptoms weren't really serious- a razor sharp sore throat for a few days, muscles aches, a bit of a cough and deep tiredness, but it went on for 12 days and also took that long to get a negative test. I'm still not right. It's left me with some cardiac symptoms, headaches and weird fatigue.   Right now I don't know if it's safe for me to run or lift.

This isn't a great place to be and it's going to take me a while to figure out how to manage. Bear with me.