Keep on running

Yesterday I went for a little run in Swindale and thar got me thinking a bit about my running. I’m not a great runner, I’m not even a good one; maybe an average one on a (really) good day. Until I was about 20 or 21, I couldn’t imagine anything worse than going for a run. But then something changed and somehow I decided I wanted to run.

I’m easily influenced by what I see and when I guess running was always something that seemed like a “cool” thing to do (because God knows, I’ve never been cool in my life and yet it is my life goal to be cool!). I’m not a natural when it comes to any sport; probably spending the first two decades of my life avoiding any physical activity didn’t help. So my running started with 200 m and them collapsing in a heap. Slowly I started to get a bit of a hang of things and managed to run a few kilometres and then 5 kilometres and so on until few years onwards I ran my furthest race in Estonia: 13.6 kilometres.

When I moved to Cumbria, my running took a bit of a hit because when you’re used to running on the flat roads, the smallest of the inclines seem like mountains. However, for some reason I still signed up for the local half marathon in March 2016. I did actually train for that: got my runs in and did circuits and HIIT training and for the first (and only) time in my life I felt like I was in good physical form. The half marathon felt great. I was still slow, I finished in 2 hours and 13 minutes but I was never planning on breaking any records anyway. I was happy with my results.

After that though my running became incredibly sporadic. I tried to start again and again but never got very far. The decline of my mental health wasn’t helping the matters along. I also have a tendency to compare myself to others, so spending a lot of time working alongside with a freak of nature, who runs ultramarathons, the hilly ones, for fun, wasn’t the comparison I could deal with. A five-mile run around the block looked so pathetic next to his 30-mile loop up and down hills. I struggled with motivation, everyone was just so much better than me and I couldn’t find a reason why I should even try.

When I mix my anxiety with an unhealthy relationship with work, it’s not a good mixture for a healthy lifestyle. It basically means that I’ve felt exhausted for the 99% of the last few years. And that’s not great for doing any physical activity. The chronic iron deficiency isn’t helpful either.This year, I’m working on doing things differently. It’s not a smooth path (I had a major meltdown on Thursday night..) but I’m trying.

One thing I realised while out yesterday is that if I want to run (and I do want to run), I need to change the way I look at running. I can’t exactly turn my anxious brain off when I go running, worrying for me is like fly paper – it sticks to everything around me. So whenever I go for a run, the first few kilometres I struggle because I worry about not being fit enough, about being tired, about feeling crap etc. When I did the DaffyDo (a 21-kilometre run/walk that was NOT a race), I struggled for the first 4 kilometres because I was so nervous about running. It was only after I managed to let go of my expectations and just allow myself to not worry if I can’t run, that I started enjoying the running. (The last 5K of that event were again a bit of a struggle with a sore hip and being tired, because my preparation for the whole thing was about 6 runs over the course of 3 weeks, but it was the thought of cake at the finish that kept me going.)

I didn’t plan to go out for a run yesterday until about 30 minutes before heading out. I had promised to take the dogs out and they would’ve been just as happy with just a walk. But with that aforementioned freak of nature running a 53-mile ultra on that day, I felt inspired to do more. But instead of saying to myself that I’m going for a run, I said that I’m taking the dogs out for a walk / run over in Swindale. I said I would run a bit and walk the bits I couldn’t run (mainly uphills and some of the downhills). The result was that I ran most of the way and even decided to extend my route half way and ended up doing 12 kilometres.

Because I had taken the pressure off myself that I have to run and assured myself that I could always just walk, I was actually able to run and enjoy it. Yes, I was slow. And yes I still did 73 kilometres less than that freak. But I learnt something on that run and that is not to obsess over running. Because I have regained some of my confidence about walking, it has allowed me to start building my confidence about running: at least I love I can walk back to my house/car when I can’t run anymore.

So I took home a few new understandings from my little run with the doggies. I don’t have to run the whole way. It’s okay to just break and enjoy the scenery and catch your breath for a few minutes or even for 10 minutes. It doesn’t matter if I don’t run fast, I’d much rather keep going for longer (and further) than breaking my PBs. I also made a promise that when I have a few hours to spare (which I won’t this week, which will be hellish…), I need to make an effort to go for a walk in my running gear and without putting the pressure on myself, try to run as much as I can or want. Maybe this will help me find my way back to running. And maybe it’ll give me the confidence to challenge myself with 20 miles in October…

Post scriptI also finally discovered yesterday how fucking boring and dull it is to run on the road! As I was making my way back from the waterfalls, I thought that once I cross the river it’s just a little bit on the road until I get to the car park… except that then I remembered that I had parked my car at the crossroads, which is two more kilometres further up from the car park. Despite being the fastest, those were the worst 2 kilometres of my run…

A week with Wainwright

I have missed the outdoors. It’s not that the outdoors had gone missing but I haven’t really felt like going out. So when I had the opportunity of an easy week at work, I made the most of it and headed to the hills on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

Tuesday I had promised to take out the dogs, so I packed them in my car and headed to Askham and parked on the fell. It’s such a good place to have a shorter or longer walks and with views to Ullswater, it’s a great place for a stroll. As I had taken a beasting from Wiz a couple of hours earlier, I didn’t fancy a particularly hilly walk. However, it did offer me an opportunity to tick off a new Wainwright. If you’re not familiar with that name then once upon a time (in the last century), there was a man called Alfred Wainwright who loved the Lake District and wrote and drew pictorial guides for the Lakeland fells, altogether 7 books that describe 214 hills. So these hills are called Wainwrights and many people challenge themselves to walk up every one of them.

I haven’t been particularly bothered about ticking them off vigorously but as Scott and Leigh-ann gave me all of his books for my birthday, I have been looking more into it as an inspiration to get out. So last Tuesday (13th of April) I decided to walk up to one just on my doorstep that I had never done before – Arthur’s Pike (533 m).

It was a rather gentle stroll on the various tracks on the fell to join the High Street, an old Roman road that runs across the tops, and a bit of cross-country contouring to avoid going back and forth the same track. The view from the tops towards Ullswater and the Helvellyn range was gorgeous! The dogs were enjoying a good run around so much so that Tia was a bit stiff the next day. A nice 12-kilometre round in the afternoon.

On Thursday, my legs had recovered from the PT session and Scott asked if I wanted to take a ginger nut out. So I took my good pal Tia and we headed down to Haweswater. It being a sunny afternoon in Easter half term, the car park was busy. But as luck would have it, there was exactly one place for my car which saved me from having to park further down the road. I have been wanting to go up Riggendale, a nice ridge leading to High Street, for a while now. The first and only time I did that walk was with Scott only couple of weeks after I had moved here. As it is a lovely walk, I have kept meaning to do it again but never got round to it. So on Thursday (15th of April), Tia and I (aka #teamgingernut) headed up.

I was going at my own comfortable pace and I was pleased to find that I wasn’t feeling really out of breath or struggling. We kept a steady pace and I genuinely enjoyed the ascent (which I rarely do as it’s often a bit of a struggle). Mid-way, Tia found the tiniest, muddiest bog pool and dived in head first. I’m not even exaggerating, she did take a proper dive in and came out looking not so ginger. I guess the wasn’t that happy with being part of team ginger nut.

When we reached the top, I decided to walk over to the OS trig point at the top of High Street and have a quick sit down and enjoy the sunny afternoon. I then went over Mardale Ill Bell and down to Nan Bield pass. I’m pretty sure that that is where I also left Tia’s lead but by the time I discovered it down by Small Water, I wasn’t willing to climb back up again to retrieve it. So instead I ordered two new dog leads on Amazon as soon as I got back.

I made Tia go for a swim in Small Water because she was still pretty muddy from her previous dive and I didn’t particularly want her in my car like that. When we got back after a 3-hour walk, the car park was almost completely empty.

As I was feeling good after a few nice walks, I fancied a big walk on Saturday before my newly found enthusiasm died down. I was thinking about maybe doing the Kentmere Horseshoe, which would have allowed me to tick off quite a few new Wainwrights but when Scott messaged me that he was planning on heading to Langdales for a run and offer a lift, I decided to go that way instead. I love that valley – it’s so beautiful and there’s always enough to do there! This time I decided to tick off a few new fells as I was feeling confident enough to navigate on new tracks on my own for the first time in a while. I decided on Bowfell (902 m) and Crinkle Crags (859 m) and Cold Pike (701 m) – three new Wainwrights for me.

Once again I felt good and strong going up Bowfell and even overtook quite a few walkers. I didn’t feel out of breath or like I needed to stop for a breather, I just kept going. I decided to take a little climbers trod instead of the footpath that looked like it faded out on the map but I thought by looking at the hill, I would be able to still pick a way to the top. The trod turned right and at one point there looked like there was a path going up covered in scree but I decided continue on the path. I met another walker shortly who asked if I had seen his mates coming down on my way but I hadn’t passed anyone. He told me that the path leads to a few slabs after which you can scramble your way up. I didn’t quite fancy that and I also didn’t think it was a good idea with Tia, who was accompanying me again. So I headed back for a few hundred yards and went up the scree and joined the main footpath.

As I was nearing the top, I could feel the icy wind really picking up and trying to blow me over. The wind stayed with me all the way until I started descending. I quickly scrambled up the pile of boulders that’s the summit of Bowfell and headed back down the footpath towards Crinkle Crags. I was keeping warm in my new Mountain Equiment soft shell jacket as long as I kept moving. I quickly downed a sandwich and a piece of brownie on the ridge that is Crinkle Crags but it was only a few minutes’ stop before I had to get moving again.

I made it to the top and started to head down by following the cairns but they led me to an about 8 foot step that I might have been able to climb down on my own but I wasn’t even going to try it with Tia. She’s quite the mountain goat even as a nine-year-old labrador but that was way too much for her. So we headed back up for a few hundred yards and took the path that went around it instead.

On the track between Crinkle Crags and Pike O’Blisco, there were loads of people coming up. As Tia was being her stubborn self, I had to put her on her (new) lead just so I wouldn’t spend the whole way shouting her in (which didn’t work). She was just too keen on saying hello to every single person. I missed the path that went to Cold Pike, so I decided to beeline to it. I ended up picking up quite a clear path leading to the top that wasn’t marked on the map. I messaged Scott at the top that I was starting to descend and should be back at the car in an hour.

In reality it took me an hour and a half to get back to the car park. The descent was quite steep and the stones laid by Fix the Fells were so uncomfortable for downhill, so I ended up being slower than I expected. Also, I had underestimated how long the walk in had been from the car. I opened a gate to the farmer on a quadbike at the bottom and had a quick chat with him about the weather and spring in general.

Somewhere between Old and New Dungeon Ghyll, two young lads stopped me to ask whether the way to Scafell Pike (or Scayfell Pike as they called it) was signposted or whether they should take a map. It took me a good couple of moments to get my words out – the question seemed so unbelievably stupid. I told them to definitely, DEFINITELY take a map with them. “This is the Lake District,” I said, “There’s no signposts!” And that’s the truth, Lakes are notoriously protective about having signposts up, you do actually need to know what you’re doing. Just in case I also pointed out the way they needed to head because I wasn’t sure they’d be able to work that out by themselves. I just hope they weren’t another statistic for the Langdale Mountain Rescue…

I was back at the car park by 2.30pm – 5.5 hours after starting off. Down in the valley the wind was much, much gentler and it didn’t feel as cold, so I managed to sit down and have quick bite to eat before Scott arrived back about 15 minutes after me.

Those three days of being out gave me the energy to deal with what was quite a long and stressful week at work. I felt so stuck between being either at home or at work that on Wednesday I just needed to get outside, so I borrowed the dogs and headed down to the river for an hour just to save some little sanity I had left. I just hope that I somehow managed to retain some of that enthusiasm for being outside in the next couple of weeks that seemed be pretty stressful again…

Previously on my so-called life*

Somehow it’s suddenly almost mid-April and I’m back at work. This winter has been a bit of a blur and I’m not sure how to make sense of it all. So before I can move on, I’m going to try and write some major points down on “paper” to help me navigate through it.

So, after 2018 summer season, I was broken. It would be easy to say that it was just the work but I think it was an accumulation of many things that led to my breakdown. Because let’s be honest, it did look and sound awful like a breakdown. After one really bad episode, thanks to an encouragement from a friend online, I did something I never thought I would or indeed could do: I asked for help. I faced my enormous fear of doctors and went to see my GP.

So I sat there, almost nauseous with fear, shaking uncontrollably and trying not to cry (didn’t really work out), worried that I’d be sent home for wasting NHS time and money. I wasn’t. In fact, my Gp was and has been brilliant. It was such a huge thing for me to be taken seriously and not be brushed aside. I had a full bloodwork done and it confirmed that my old friend iron deficiency was back again, and as always, when I go low on iron, I go low. I’m not sure how medically sound it is but I always tend to go low after periods of being stressed out, so it wasn’t exactly surprising. But it’s still pretty annoying.

Besides starting on iron supplements once again, my GP also referred me to therapy, namely Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. She suggested also medication but also worried that it might be something that I might struggle to come off, so after some reading and consideration, I decided to try therapy first without medication.

The months after those first appointments with the doctor weren’t all plain sailing. Because I had managed to completely exhaust my body, I ended up catching every cold and virus and bug that went around and was coughing, sneezing or just generally feeling shit for about 2 months straight. Not to mention the tiredness – I felt more exhausted than ever and it just wouldn’t go away. Usually the iron kicks in quite quickly making me feel stronger just after a few weeks but this time, it took almost 6 weeks for me to start noticing the difference in how I feel. And then I caught the flu in February, which was the most horrible 5-day period of the winter. I regretted complaining about my colds because they had been nothing compared to that shit! It felt brutal, I couldn’t sit or lie down because my back and legs and arms were hurting and yet all I wanted to do was sleep. And the hallucinations from high temperature were just something else. Anyway, I am now really considering a flu jab for next winter because I really don’t fancy doing that again in the next few decades!

As for my mental health, it has been a bit of a rollercoaster. There were (and still are) so many moments when I almost regret going to ask for help. I feel like I’m overreacting and just seeking attention. Or at other times I just feel like I’m a complete basket case and that I should be kept away from people. I’ve had many meltdowns, some more embarassing than others (an email to work dripping from self-pity comes to mind….). The good old bathroom floor has had to endure quite a bit…

I met with a therapist for the first time in February and she collected my demons under a name: generalised anxiety disorder. The first few sessions I walked out of therapy feeling like I had just been through a boxing match and lost. I’ve never talked about how I feel, so I found it hard to suddenly have to explain and describe things. Did I also mention that I’m afraid of doctors (or anyone resembling one like a nurse, dentist, physio, optician, pharmacist etc)? I’ve now been to 5 or 6 sessions and it’s not fucking easy. I’m constantly swinging between “Yeah, I can do this, I can beat this thing!” and “God, I’m so fucked up they should just shoot me.” It’s been difficult to accept having to need help and having to be vulnerable but it has been equally difficult to let go of my thought patterns that have made me succumb to anxiety.

So that’s the honest summary of the struggles of this winter and an update as to where I am now. But it hasn’t been all dark and gloomy. As my 30th birthday present for myself, I bought my first car. (Because I’m a fucking adult now!) It’s a little Suzuki 4×4, comes with a few scratches and dents, so I don’t have to feel bad about those that I’m going to add. Although getting used to driving again after more than 18-months of being off the road was extremely nerve-wracking, I’m slowly gaining confidence. I’m okay with driving in the dark and I even drove on the motorway on my own the other day! My 3-point turns are completely on point (pun intended) but I still can’t park or reverse to save my life!

One thing that made me much more confident about my driving was taking my car to Isle of Harris. Although Scott did majority of the driving (especially going there through a snow storm in the middle of the night and getting us safely to Harris on completely ice-covered roads!), it make me trust my car and that just adds so much to decreasing my anxiety about driving. Harris itself was beyond words! A magical island! One of these days I will kick myself in the butt and edit my photos and put something together. I did write an essay about the seals on Harris, which I might share.

I’m slowly trying to get myself back into gear for doing more walking and running. I challenged myself by signing up to do a 13-mile walk/run in March called the DaffyDo. I entered with not very high hopes as my training for this was 3 weeks, one of which was just dominated by storms. I was sure it’ll take me about 3 and a half hours to get from Pooley Bridge to the top of Hallin Fell and back but I ended up finishing in 2 hours and 45 minutes. It was a beautiful day and I managed to run about 60% of the way (and walk all the uphills). I definitely did not feel fit but it also wasn’t as big of a struggle as I had feared it might be. I’m now pondering whether or not to sign up for a 20-mile challenge in October. The jury is still out…

Besides running, I have been trying to get some fitness back by being beasted by the wonderful Wiz Lees Fitness and a little bit of yoga (not really much this winter I’m afraid). Now that the season has started, I’m going to have to give up on the evening classes again but I have signed up for personal training sessions, which are brutal (but lovingly so.. right, Wiz?). Although Scott and Leigh-ann gave me the full collection of Wainwright’s books for my birthday as well as a poster for ticking them off, I haven’t really been walking in the hills much this winter. The most I did was on my winter walking course on Harris (still waiting to receive my certificate for that…). I am hoping to get back to it but with everything going on from my neck upwards, it has been a real struggle.

I also returned to my writing group and have actually managed to write a few things that I don’t completely hate. I have recently found a bit of confidence to write about my memories and my life experiences and they have been well received by the group. I have always thought that my life has been so uneventful and ordinary that no one wants to read about it. Also, I find it really good for sorting my shit out by just writing snippets of memoirs.

So there we go, that’s my last few months. I feel like I needed to write it out to start making a bit more sense of the blur of this winter. Maybe it’ll help me to write more. Maybe it’ll be another 6 months by the time I come here again. I don’t know. I’ll just try and get to the other side of this burnout-breakdown and see what’s left of me.

(*I remember always trying to imitate the dramatic voiceover at the start of TV soaps saying “Previously on The Bold and the Beautiful” etc but for little Eastern European girl, the word ‘previously’was pretty impossible to pronounce, so i’ve always wanted to say it)