Reconnecting with cycling

One of the better aspects of the long and strange summer of 2020 has been rediscovering cycling.

We haven’t been away on holiday at all this year. We’ve had days out, been for lots of walks, done some decorating, DIY and gardening (a “staycation” in the true meaning of the word – but I’m not going to get into that debate!) One of the days out was a trip to Barnstaple with my son and daughter, to explore the Tarka Trail, a cycle path that runs along the route of the disused Barstaple to Bideford railway line.

The Tarka Trail is great for cycling, being flat and surrounded by gorgeous Devon countryside. There are also traces of the route’s railway heritage to be spotted. It helped that we picked a calm and sunny day – but I’m certain it would be stunning in any weather.

We hired ebikes from Tarka Bikes, who were extremely helpful, and conveniently located at Barnstaple Railway Station (handy for parking). We thought ebikes would be fun – and easier as we were all a bit out of practice. I was, in truth, a lot out of practice. I hadn’t been on a bike for at least 35 years.

They say you never forget how to ride a bike. Well, maybe you don’t forget, but I was very, very wobbly. I had to take the bike back to get the saddle lowered as I felt very insecure and just couldn’t get going. Once I was closer to the ground, I was able to start – and it was fun.

We had a glorious day riding alongside the Rivers Taw and Torridge. We cycled 9 miles to Bideford, and on the way back we stopped at Instow for our packed lunch, and at Fremington for an ice cream.

As far as the ebike was concerned – I found it heavy, and didn’t really use the power enough to get the best out of it. Eighteen miles was very ambitious for a first ride in three and a half decades – my sit bones were very sore for days afterwards. But – the cycling had captured me. So – there was only one thing for it – I had to get a bike.

I didn’t get a bike straight away because, hum, well, lots of people have been buying bicycles this summer. But eventually I got the bike I had my eye on – a very pretty sit-up-and-beg Pendleton bike in mint green. It’s not sporty, because I don’t intend to go fast. If I am a snail when running, I am a tortoise when cycling. Yes, visualise a tortoise trying to balance on a bicycle and that’s pretty much me.

New bike being checked out by the dog

I’ve been out a few times now, gradually building up my confidence, exploring more of my local area. It’s good to have a different activity to do on non-running days – and it’s good to have a different perspective. And, whereas running was a new thing for me, cycling is familiar and reconnects me with my past self. I left cycling behind some time around 1985. I’m enjoying becoming reacquainted.

Improvement is relative

A year ago I ran my first half marathon – Bridgwater Half Marathon. I’ve been reflecting a lot on this lately because, over the summer, running hasn’t been going so well for me.

I’ve only been running for just under two years and, for the first eighteen months or so, it was progress all the way. Every time I compared runs on the same routes on Strava I’d be seeing improvement over time. My PBs were gradually, steadily getting better. I’m a slow runner anyway and so there is a lot of room for improvement. I expected the improvement to continue and, for a while, it did.

Then I started to have a few health problems. Nothing major. Niggles. I kept running. I kept my mileage up. Although all my races for the year had been cancelled or postponed, I continued to clock up the same miles I had while marathon training – albeit over shorter but more frequent runs. Of course, with hindsight, I can see that this possibly contributed to my problems. I expected to maintain fitness but gradually, bit by bit, it just melted away. Running the same distance became harder and harder. My runs became shorter and slower. Running shorter distance became harder and harder. I had no energy.

Now, when comparing runs with previous efforts, I would either panic or become despondent. Suddenly I was relieved that the marathon that had been postponed until October, was postponed again until next April.

I had an endoscopy a couple of months ago, which reassured that, although there was a cause for my issues (always nice to know it’s not just in my head!) it’s nothing serious. I think the endoscopy also set me back physically much more than I’d expected. It was not very nice.

But finally, over the past week or two, I’m beginning to see improvement. I’m increasing my miles again. Although my times are slower now than twelve months ago, and considerably slower than they were when I was marathon training – I am getting out there and running. I’m still doing better than I was before I began this journey.

I think what I have learned is that I am who I am today. I can do what I can do today. Comparing what I can do today with what I could do in the past is only useful where it can serve to motivate. Otherwise, it’s just a waste of energy.

Running still brings me joy, and that is why I got into it in the first place.

View from Sunday’s long run at Steart Marshes.

Happy Bank Holiday Monday

It’s a public holiday in the UK – August bank holiday. A last chance, for those of us lucky enough to get the day off (four out of six people in my household are working today anyway, holiday or not), to go out and make the most of the summer.

This time last year my daughter and I ran the Severn Bridge 10K – on the hottest August bank holiday on record. Swealtering heat, crowds of people – this year is very different. A much cooler, and for us, quieter day.

So far today, I’ve pottered about, done a bit of yoga, ran a measly mile on the treadmill (making up miles for a monthly challenge) and had a lovely walk along the coast with the dog.

A rare sight in Somerset: blue sea

All in all a good day.

I hope you have had a good day too.

Looking towards Kilve
The dog, who stops to sniff every blade of grass, is wondering what the hold-up is…

Where running takes me

I love where running takes me. Physically, and mentally.

I’ve been feeling stressed. Who isn’t feeling stressed in the context of a global pandemic? Next week I’ll be back at work, working with two to four year old children, who have no ability to socially distance (thank goodness – that’s not what being two is all about). But I’m anxious.

I couldn’t run yesterday – my stomach was on fire (possibly stress related?) Today I felt better, so I got out for my long run. A glorious eleven mile run/walk/dawdle along the coast path. I had planned to head east along the coast path – I haven’t been that way before and I was in the mood for exploring. But I got confused trying to find my way past the Hinkley Point power stations. So I turned back and headed west – along my usual coastal route.

Still in the mood for exploring – I decided to go a little further than usual along the path.

Lots of people were out – it’s a wonderful warm and sunny bank holiday Monday. I ran until I caught up with a very large group who were walking and chatting together. I didn’t want to pass this large group on the narrow path. They were clearly not following current UK lock down rules (but then who is – certainly not high ranking political advisers).

On the way back I passed a chap who had decided to get changed for some reason – perhaps he fancied a dip in the sea. He stood totally naked in what he must have thought was a secluded spot. When he spotted me he quickly sat down, clutching his clothes to his lap. He clearly wasn’t staying very alert. There were people all over the coast path.

The run home was slow going due to the heat. I took my time and enjoyed the views of coast and rolling hills.

Today, my run took me to the sea. It took me over hills. It challenged me. It took me on a little adventure. It took me to a happier place.

Off the beaten path

I’ve been finding running the same routes three or four times a week a little repetitive. Don’t get me wrong – I am grateful for both the fact that I can run, and that I live in a beautiful part of the world. But yesterday, I felt the need for a little variety. Besides, my left hip was telling me it was time to get off the tarmac (and away from the worst of the hills) for a while.

So I decided to try some of the footpaths off one of my usual running routes. I regularly pass a tempting public footpath that trails off into a shady wooded area. Yesterday I decided to explore (having made sure that someone knew where I was going and for how long).

The first part of my run – on roads – was tough. Once again, I wished I’d got out before the day warmed up. But as soon as I turned off onto the footpath, I felt that wonderful, light-headed and light-hearted sense of freedom.

What I thought was woodland didn’t last long – and soon opened up into open fields. After about a mile, the path joined the coast path, which I’ve ran along before. I passed a couple of dog walkers, but for miles it felt like I had the entire coast to myself.

This was a very slow run – but it has to be one of my favourites.

Lilstock Beach
Looking towards Lilstock
Hinkley Point C Construction site

Not-Marathon Day

Today I should have been running my first marathon. Naturally, in the face of COVID-19, the race didn’t go ahead. It’s been postponed until 25th October.

I got up this morning feeling very sorry for myself, and then feeling guilty for feeling upset about it. In the grand scheme of things, a postponed race is not a big deal – and I know I am extremely fortunate to have my health and to be able to run. But…. it can still be hard to deal with disappointment.

I had planned to get up early and go for a long run. I got up not in the mood, and wasted a lot of time. But in the end, I got out.

Running really is the best medicine. I didn’t run a marathon today. No where near. But I had a good, long, hilly run. And I felt good about it.

And to be honest, I think today was too hot for marathon running anyway.

My daily exercise

I haven’t been very active on the blog recently. I find it hard to write about the trivial details of my life (and runs) when all over the world people are losing their lives to COVID-19.

But it is important to find joy where we can, and to stay positive. This disease is taking people’s lives – and it is also having a massive negative impact on mental health.

It is for our mental as well as physical health that we are still allowed to go out for exercise once a day in the UK. I have been making good use of my one-a-day.

This morning, I went out for a run in the quiet lanes around my home. It was my long run – not as long as the runs I was doing while marathon training – but long enough for a hot day. I am going to have to work hard to get acclimatised to running in warm weather again.

View from the hilltop before beginning an exhilarating downhill run

Wherever you are, stay safe. And try to find some joy to help see you through the hard times.

Happy Birthday Run

Photo by Hilary Halliwell on Pexels.com

A moment of joy amongst the uncertainty and worry of coronavirus.

Today is my birthday, and I am fortunate that my birthday fell on a day off. With people being told to avoid social contact, the choice of birthday activities is a little limited. But that’s okay – the main things is to stay safe and healthy.

At the moment, in the UK, we are still allowed to go outside to exercise – as long as we keep away from other people. A solitary run through the quiet (quieter than usual?) roads around my village was a good thing to do on my birthday.

It was a lovely morning – signs of spring all around; birds singing, daffodils and primroses in full bloom.

I’m a little lost now that I’m no longer following a marathon plan, and don’t know what I should be running when. I initially thought I’d go out for five miles. As I reached the point where I’d need to turn back, I decided to go a little further – making the most of my freedom to run outside and my good health. And at least there is an upside to no longer needing to follow the marathon plan – I can reconnect with the joy of running for fun.

It was good to get outside and clear my head. As we all face worry and uncertainty, it’s important to nurture both physical and mental health.

Be well and stay safe.

And just like that….

Our world changes.

Just last week I had a very busy calendar. Suddenly everything is on hold. It is sobering to think of how the world can change so rapidly in the face of something as small as a virus. It makes me think of H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, and it makes me feel very vulnerable.

I am grateful for my health, and I am deeply sad to hear the rising Coronavirus death toll each day. Each single loss of life is a personal tragedy which can sometimes seem swamped in the face of cold, hard, dispassionate statistics.

So I am very aware that my own problems – cancellation or postponement of marathon/trips and holidays/conferences – are absolutely first world problems.

My disappointment at my marathon (Newport) being postponed is a small thing. The organisers have actually done a really good job – offering every possible option to keep people happy (new date, transfer to 10K if you don’t want to train over summer, free transfer to another runner if you can’t make the new date, virtual race if none of the above works for you). ANd I am still fit, healthy and able to run.

But I think I am still allowed to be disappointed. I’ve trained through storms. I trained in pain (after a nasty fall). I gave up on many activities (housework, blogging, housework, cooking, housework) to make time to run for hours each weekend. And it feels like it was for nothing. It feels like a waste.

But – and this is really important – I know it is not a waste. I am healthier, and I have pushed myself in a way that I never would have thought possible. And I had a really good excuse to neglect the dusting for all those weeks.

Even so, it’s a little hard motivating myself to go out for a run. It’s raining outside. And it’s not like I have a marathon to train for right now…

But then, in a few days I might not be able to go for a run outside – so I’ll stop complaining and lace up my trainers.

My thoughts and best wishes go out to everyone affected by illness or grief.

Long longer longest runs

Now my marathon training is well underway, the long run distances are getting slightly scary.

This weekend I needed to run 17 miles. It looked like a beautiful morning with the bluest sky. Pity about the wind. The wind was fierce; the wind had teeth.

Another thing about this marathon training is that – with so much running to do – you can’t afford to wait for a better day. Besides, who knows what the weather will be like on marathon day? Best to prepare by running in all weathers.

It took over three and a half hours to run the seventeen miles. I see this as a positive – knowing I can keep running for that long. Although, at one particularly windy point, I looked at my pace (14:10 per mile) and realised that I could probably walk faster. So I did. Just until I turned out of the worst of the wind.

One more long run down. The marathon is starting to feel very real.