These Streets

I’m really enjoying running on streets I’ve never visited before. Particularly while the parks are swarmed with people walking 4 across who glare at runners for daring to exist in their presence.

English streets – particularly those in this part of London – are so different to the streets I grew up with.

New Zealand is all about the 1920s wooden bungalows, large front yards and windows and doors facing the street, but far enough back to still be private. Terraced houses are reserved for modern, new-build townhouses, and you rarely see them out in the ‘burbs.

Here in Greenwich, I love the wet brick, terraced houses I run past. The small old working class homes, and the large ones up along the park.

They might vary in size and decoration, depending on the street. But once you’re there… uniform but for the colourful doors. Who knew that the colour you painted your door would be your shot at showing the world your personality? That’s a lot of pressure on a door!

I like to ponder the prices some of these houses go for – ridiculous prices – and I can only hope to be in a position to seriously consider buying one one day.

My mind wanders as I think about the families that live in the houses, and those that have in the past. Some still have childrens’ pictures of rainbows offering kindness and thanks to the NHS staff from the first COVID-19 lockdown in March/April. Others have fluffy cats lazing in the window, giving zero f*cks about those of us outside.

This all provides great distraction from the physical feelings of training my body to get used to this running, but it also gives a great change of scenery, reminding me of why I enjoy living here, and taking me away from the worries I’ve had in the day – work, family, anything. I’m in the moment, appreciating my surroundings, and the community that I live in.

Back on it!

The last couple of weeks I’ve been concentrating building back up to running more than a couple of kms at a time, and – touch wood – I think I’ve done alright.

I managed a couple of good runs over the weekend and a really fun (wow!) casual 5km around Greenwich this evening. I’m back on my training plan!

Well, cautiously back on my plan. As long as my legs are up for the challenge. If nothing else, I’m learning a lot about listening to (and understanding!) my body . And that is everything!

It doesn’t hurt that Greenwich at Christmas time is absolutely gorgeous.

Old Royal Navy College, Dec 2020

This time last year, if you had suggested that I would be out on the street, running in public where strangers could see me exercising outside the gym, I would have openly laughed in your face.
Laughed. In. Your. Face.

Now, I really don’t enjoy the thought of heading to the gym. COVID absolutely has a part to play in that, but I love being outside. The fresh air on my face, the changing scenery, and the reliance on my body to tell me what I’m doing – not a machine.

Of course, I would happily do without the groups of people blocking the walk ways, and y’know, the weather. But that’s also part of the charm!

No steppin’ in dog turds at the gym, though. At least, not yet.
If 2020 has taught me anything; never say never.

Week Six – Ugh

This isn’t going to be a standard weekly progress check in, because this week has been one of those weeks. You know the kind… the ones where nothing quite goes right, but it’s not so bad that it’s a bad week. Yeah. One of those weeks.

I’ve been doing some running, but I’ve started noticing a twinge in my right shin at about the 2km mark. You and I both know what that can mean… so I’ve been taking it easy on the running, and been concentrating on my stretching and cross-training to build strength without the impact. Thankfully, England’s country-wide lockdown ended earlier in the week and the gyms are open. Huzzah!

So, I’ve taken pause on the training plan this week. I’ve had three short runs, but no longer run today. Hopefully this is going to give my leg the rest it needs and I’ll be able to pick up again next week. But I’m not going to put pressure on myself to do it – I want to take this risk of injurt seriously, and right now my body is telling me not to push through.

That, and it feels like everything I touch breaks right now. Today’s highlights include…
…. I woke up to a massive, swollen lip – an allergic reaction to something
… went to take the rubbish out and the bottom of the bag opened straight up. And then I managed to somehow spill a pint of bin juice across my kitchen while tipping said rubbish into a new bag. And I don’t usually have bin juice, so I’m extra pissed it was today
… I opened my mail to find a £558 power bill. Splendid.

Yeeeeeeeah.

I’m in good spirits, and none of this is going to hold me back. I’m sharing because I can see the funny side. Resilience is something very front-of-mind for me, and I’ve worked bloody hard to build mine over the last couple of years. That said… I’m not going to push anything the universe is resisting!

So, erm, watch this space, I guess?

Week Five – Progress!

This week was a step up. A promotion? Graduation? Whatever it is, it was progress!

I’m now at the stage of my training plan where my runs are set out by distance, not by time. I can stop running and walk for a bit if I need to, but I’m not working to set intervals, and I’m loving the feeling of being able to just… run.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still not running fast. And I’m still stopping to walk every now and then (usually, conveniently, at pedestrian crossings waiting for the lights to change). But this is very real, identifiable progress, and I’m very thankful I’ve set myself this challenge.

It’s not always great in the moment… but moments pass.

Today was my first time running more than 5km on this plan, and the day hadn’t started as planned. After a couple of glasses of wine on my Friday night lockdown Google Hangout with the girls, I has passed out on the couch exhausted. I woke up at some stage late in the night, turned off the TV and took myself to bed. Where I proceeded to sleep another 11 hours. When I woke up, I felt rough. I took a couple of hours to rehydrate, eat something, and went out for my run anyway. It felt awesome about 1km in.

I’m so glad I still went.

The Stats:

Mon 23 Nov 2020PMOutdoor4.0 km7’30” pace
Wed 25 Nov 2020PMOutdoor2.5 km6’40” pace
Fri 27 Nov 2020PMOutdoor4.1 km7’30” pace
Sat 28 Nov 2020PMOutdoor6.0 km6’51” pace
Total distance16.6 km

Heart health –

  • Resting heart rate – 68 bpm (previous week: 65 bpm)
  • Fitbit ‘cardio fitness’ rating – 33 : “average” (previous week: no change)

Observations:

  • I’m really not sure why my 6km run was more similar in pace to my 2.5km short, fast run, than my 4km standard ones… I certainly stopped to walk less on the longer 6km run, but I ran a lot slower knowing I had 50% further to go. Maybe it just goes to show that slow and steady wins the race.
  • My resting heart rate has increased shockingly the last couple of days. I suspect the jump this Saturday compared to last Saturday is a combination of weekday caffeine overload, and Friday evening alcohol. Makes sense. Sorry, not sorry.

A Weighty Topic

Can we talk about weight for a minute?

I wasn’t sure quite how to tackle this topic, but I think it’s one worth discussing. Even if it’s just to document how I’m feeling now so I can refer back to it in a year or two.

If I were to go and stand on a scale right now, it would tell me a number that would bring many women to tears. I’m 20-or-so kilos heavier than when I was at my last fittest peak. I jiggle when I walk (and run!). I have cellulite. And stretch marks. I have to test all trousers with a squat test before I buy them.

And I bloody love my body.

I can’t remember a time when I’ve loved it this much.
I don’t accept it as it is.
I don’t love it despite my weight.

I love my body.
For what it does to keep me alive.
For what it does to keep me safe.
For what it does when I push it to work hard.
For what it does. Full stop.

I know that losing weight will help my body with my running.
Less fat on my body will reduce the effort required to propel it forward.
A lighter frame will reduce the stress on my joints.
If I lost weight, I’d reduce the likelihood of injury over these months of training.

All valid. All make perfect sense.
And if I lose weight during my training, great.
But I am done actively trying to shrink myself.

I do not need to make myself physically less to feel more.

This body – obese if you trust my BMI – walked the width of England this summer. 6 days along the length of Hadrian’s Wall. There were long days. There were complaints. There were blisters on blisters, sore legs, and an aching back from carrying my gear from accommodation to accomodation. We walked in the (English) summer sun, and the pouring rain.

This body is a good body.
This body deserves love and respect.

Week Four – Progress?

I did not want to run today, but I did it anyway.

I’m not particularly proud of my progress this week – it’s not what I would have liked it to be. But I know I need to give myself some grace. It is still progress, and life isn’t about making great bounds of progress every day. That’s just not realistic.

Cutty Sark, Greenwich Nov 2020
Cutty Sark, Greenwich, Nov 2020
Of course it’s blurry… please do not assume I run with grace

Actually, I had a couple of really fun runs along the Thames and back through the Old Royal Naval College. The more I think about those while I sit here typing this and pull up photos, the more I’m looking forward to heading out and running there again.

Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich, Nov 2020
Complete with COVID-19 social distancing signage

The Stats:

Sun 15 Nov 2020AMOutdoor4.1km7’50” pace
Thu 19 Nov 2020PMOutdoor4.5km7’51” pace
Sat 21 Nov 2020PMOutdoor3.3km7’40” pace
Total distance11.9 km

Heart health –

  • Resting heart rate – 65 bpm (previous week: 67 bpm)
  • Fitbit ‘cardio fitness’ rating – 33 : “average” (previous week: 34 “average”)

Observations:

  • My resting heart rate has been all over the place this week. Overall, it has reduced (it had dropped to 65 for a bit last week, too, but last Saturday saw a small increase). This is probably what explains why I appear to have gone backwards on my fitbit cardio fitness rating. Hey-ho.
  • Work had me quite distracted earlier in the week. By Wednesday, I found that my concentration had dropped quite a bit, and my caffeine in take jumped up to accommodate. I hadn’t been running as regularly as the last couple of weeks, and my heart rate stats were all over the place. Of course they’re all related.
  • On a positive note, I’m finding it much easier to regulate my speed and run for longer periods without walking. Looking at my pacing for this weeks runs, the numbers confirm what I was feeling on those runs. While running longer at a regular pace is great news, I think the biggest win here is that I’m listening to (and better understanding) my body. That is pretty f*cking empowering.
Thames, Greenwich, Nov 2020

I’ve also been telling more people about my goal to run a half marathon – not just strangers on the internet – but people who know me but perhaps don’t get me, like my colleagues at work.

That makes it feel very real. Everyone has been great and encouraging. Some people were surprisingly exciting about it all, and offered to join me for the odd run. If I don’t succeed, these people will know. That’s neither motivating or demotivating, it just is.

I’m not doing this for them.
I’m not doing this to say that I have.
I’m doing this so I know that I can.

But the accountability can’t hurt.

Week Three – Progress

This week started with what I thought were two broken toes, which were the absolute last straw. Parent still in hospital on the other side of the world, London still in Lockdown and a list of other things which – on their own – would be completely managable, if they hadn’t snowballed into a giant pity party.

Then, the calm came. An acceptance that; yes, things are shitty, but there is only so much in your control.

And I ran in the rain.

The Stats:

Mon 9 Nov 2020PMOutdoor2.8km7’19” pace
Tues 10 Nov 2020PMOutdoor4.2km7’15” pace
Thu 12 Nov 2020AMOutdoor2.4km8’15” pace
Fri 13 Nov 2020PMOutdoor5.0 km7’46” pace
Total distance14.4 km

Heart health –

  • Resting heart rate – 67 bpm (previous week: 69 bpm)
  • Fitbit ‘cardio fitness’ rating – 34 : “average” (previous week: same)

Observations:

My breathing has been much better this week – probably a combo of the above, and my improving fitness – and I can really feel the difference. It doesn’t necessarily show in the runs, but look at that change in my resting heart rate!

I’m also learning a lot about what does(n’t) serve my body. In particular: hydration. I can run for half an hour without a water bottle (which would have been unheard of two weeks ago!) but I struggle to do it on morning runs – presumably because I’m not drinking water throughout the night, whereas I’m fully hydrated when I head out in the evenings after work. Makes sense, of course, but it’s helpful to know in the training toward a much longer, early morning race.

Music to my Ears

How do you keep motivated during your workouts? I’ve always found that I need something to listen to, regardless of whether I’m at the gym or outside.

The only exception is when I’m actively engaging with someone else – it’s hard to talk when your attention isn’t entirely there!

I’ve walked a lot this year – the first lockdown had me craving long walks outdoors, breathing in the spring air, and it was a habit I happily kept up (more or less) as the lockdown restrictions lifted. On these walks, I listened to a lot of audiobooks and podcasts. It was easy to give them the attention needed to follow them, and I really enjoyed being transported to these new worlds, with these new narratives, as if I was out on a long walk catching up with my friends.

At the gym, I was never able to do that. I couldn’t follow podcasts, books, or be one of those people watching Netflix on their phone while on the cross-trainer. I needed more ‘oomph’ to what I was hearing. But more importantly, I needed to be able to zone in and out as required – to check form, or to concentrate on a particular action – to get the most out of my session.

The right music is great for setting the baseline mood, and to get lost in when you need the mental distraction.

Now that I’m spending so much more time running outside, I find that I’m searching for another solution.

I think music is the answer – I need something with a good beat to keep me motivated, and I definitely need to be able to block it out without consequence for things like crossing the road or navigating obstacles (like today’s surprise wildlife).

But I would love something more than that – something to keep my mind engaged, like I was running with friends, to pull me out of the ‘oh-God-I’ve-only-been-going-10-minutes!?’ and help me settle into my rhythm earlier.

That’s exactly it. I’m struggling to find the right audio to help me find my rhythm.

Of course, like so much in life, it’s going to come down to trial and error to find out what works for me. That’s part of what this regular practice of running is all about…

… yes, my legs are getting used to running …
… yes, my lungs are getting used to this new way of breathing…

… and yes, I’m finding and strengthening the mental tools which will get me through, too.

Music is going to be one of those tools.

Sample of workout playlists on Spotify, Nov 2020

Currently, I’m experimenting with Spotify workout playlists. I haven’t built one of my own – I’m not sure if it’s going to be worth the effort?

But I’m very interested to hear what you do?
What do you find helpful (or unhelpful – that’s good to know, too!)?
Any suggestions for approaches I should try?

I don’t suppose you know of any magical music-podcast hybrid that will magically solve everything!?

Keeping the Theme

Well, in keeping with the theme of new experiences, I had my first run in the rain tonight.

And I feel amazing now…

It’s been sunny all day, and I should have known better than to leave it until after work. But hey-ho, here we are.

The run was miserable.

No, that’s not fair. The actual raining was pretty good. I’ve had a wonderfully calm day, and my anxiety is starting to feel under control. It felt like I was making real progress with my breathing while I was out running.

The rain was f*cking awful.

My running jacket was actually pretty good. my upper body stayed pretty dry, and my phone was absolutely fine. I wouldn’t trust it to run it for an hour, but for tonight’s run it served me well.

I kept to the streets for better visibility, rather than running up on Blackheath, and it was nice having a change of scenery (though, I’ll pick Blackheath or Greenwich park in the day time, any time!).

Okay, now I’m rambling.
The point is: I ran in the rain. It sucked at the time but oh-my-God it feels amazing now.

My lungs have space. For proper breathing.
And I’m cozy with my PJs on.

Here’s to setting goals, working towards them, and feeling the buzz of progress.

We’ve got this.

Week Two – Progress

Week two has had great points, and not-so-great points.

I had my favourite run so far earlier in the week, but hospitalised family and the new lockdown had my anxiety through the roof. I was signed off work for a couple of days and though it meant that I was able to get out for runs in the daytime, I had one false start.

If ‘false start’ is an accurate way to describe a complete inability to breathe. Which it probably isn’t.

Blackheath, London. 5 November 2020.

Thursday saw things settling a bit and I was able to get through a good run and clear my head a little. I still need to work on that breathing, but Thursday was the first official day of Lockdown 2.0 and we were met with foggy weather to match. It was my first time running in fog, and visibility was terrible. I had to concentrate on what I was doing and where I was going the whole time, which was actually pretty good for getting me out of my head.

It was also a good excuse to get out an old fluro race shirt, too. I haven’t had the guts to wear it in public much… I didn’t even enjoy wearing it for the event. It kind of stands out…

I had to mark the occasion with the stairway selfie, ha!

The Stats:

Tues 3 Nov 2020PMOutdoor3.9km7’45” pace
Wed 4 Nov 2020AMOutdoor0.6km
Thu 5 Nov 2020AMOutdoor4.5km6’48” pace
Sat 7 Nov 2020AMOutdoor4.4 km7’51” pace
Total distance12.8 km
All mid-week runs were run-walk intervals to a 30min time limit.
Weekend long run was for distance, with minimal walking.

Heart health –

  • Resting heart rate – 69 bpm (previous week: 70 bpm)
  • Fitbit ‘cardio fitness’ rating – 34 : “average” (previous week: 32 point something: “average”)

Observations:

This week’s observations have been largely anxiety-related. I can feel my fitness improving – you can see it in my stats – but breathing is a real struggle.

This morning’s run focussed more on how long I could run without taking a walking break, rather than how far I can get in a 1 min running interval, and it felt really, really different. Breathing wasn’t easier, but I could tell that this is what will help me reach my goals. That, and I know I couldn’t have done this run two weeks ago.

I’m so excited to see what I can do two weeks from now.