Why I love winter running

The other night, when walking home from the bus stop with the wind howling around my ears, the cold biting at me from every direction and my shoulders pulled up, huddling with myself for warmth, I thought for the first time in almost two months, ‘I really fancy going for run.’

I think there is something a bit wrong with me. I hate running in the summer. In theory it’s easier, and true there’s less kit to battle with, but I just can’t get on with it. I get too hot. I either get dehydrated or drink so much I need the loo five minutes after setting off. I go the most impressive shade of maroon.

Winter on the other hand is ace. Its cold, it’s dark – I love it. I love getting on all my layers – running tights, a couple of tops, jacket, gloves and headband (gotta protect the ears!). There’s something about running under the cover of darkness. It’s like you’re in on a secret. It has its obvious dangers, but aside from that I like to think it’s that little bit more hardcore. These conditions aren’t for fair weather runners. I am neither hardcore, nor an all weather runner. But running when it’s freezing out and everyone else thinks your mental certainly helps.

It’s why the only half marathon I’ve managed to complete (out of the four I’ve entered over the past two years) has been at the start of the season in April – it was all winter training. I had a training plan that started on Boxing Day and came to a head once we were through the coldest, grimmest months of the year. I’m really looking forward to doing it all again.

A reality check

The past few months haven’t been the most fun. I’ve been far from miserable, but a string of failed attempts to flee the East Midlands to something bigger and brighter in the Big Smoke have left me feeling deflated. I’ve been within touching distance on more than one occasion, so when it all falls through it’s all the more heart breaking. Couple this with spending almost every weekend (which has now turned into every weekend) on a train doing the long distance relationship commute, as well as a recent house move, and running – or indeed even maintaining a basic level of fitness – has slipped way, way down my list of things to do.

As such, in the last seven weeks I’ve managed one three mile run and one NTC class. I’ve lost fitness, tone and strength. I’ve put on weight. But over and above the thoughts of races, times and PB’s that aren’t achievable right now, the scariest thing has been the impact on my health.

I’ve had asthma for as long as I can remember. I can also remember as a child being told that it was likely that I’d ‘just grow out of it’. This kept happening, I got older and older, and now here I am at 25 – I still haven’t grown out of it.

I went for my annual flu vaccination earlier this week and had an impromptu asthma check up to enable me to get a new asthma inhaler prescription. The results were scary.

Usually it’s just a few questions that I breeze through, no problems. For the first time in as long as I can remember, the nurse showed genuine concern in how I was (or rather, wasn’t) managing the condition. My peak flow meter (a device in which you blow a short, sharp breath as a measure of how quickly you can expel air from your lungs, measured in litres per minute) reading was 340 versus a more acceptable reading of someone my age and height of around 460.

Basically, my lungs are functioning at 25% less than the capacity they should be.

One other question was “do you find your asthma is effecting your daily life?” and I was horrified to find myself answering, “I do tend to try and avoid stairs at the moment”. The nurse’s – more than appropriate – shocked response also noted I was far too young to be coming out with such a statement. IT IS RIDICULOUS.

The appointment showed me that instead of ‘not having time’ to take my health (and fitness) seriously, I should be channelling my current frustrations and using them to help me focus. I ran a half marathon less than seven months ago, but I’ve already let life take over, when running could be the perfect escape.

There are several things I’m trying to change in my life, but I already used that excuse to flunk out of my Great North Run training. Time to drop that one.

Sometimes a situation is far from ideal, but I shouldn’t punish my body because of it.

Cheering at the Great North Run

After deciding I wasn’t going to take part in this year’s GNR, I thought I wouldn’t want to have anything more to do with it. Even though it was the right decision, I thought that watching or reading about it would mean guilt, or worse, regret.

But once I arrived in Northumberland this weekend – we booked some (thankfully lovely) accommodation that we couldn’t get out off) – I knew I had to go and experience the race anyway.

Me, the parents and the boyfriend set up camp in between miles eight and nine, just after a load of charity cheer points and just before the steel band, who were awesome and had us dancing right from the off. We got some of those blow up cheer sticks from the kind people manning the Mencap area and we were ready. Unfortunately Freddie (the dog) wasn’t quite as keen.

20120916-200825.jpgFirst up were the wheelchair racers, followed by the elite women.

20120916-200910.jpgA short gap before the start of the main race, headed up by the elite men. Look at how Kogo is flying!

20120916-200940.jpgThen was the vest and teeny short brigade of the club racers.

20120916-201015.jpgThen the fun part, the ‘ordinary’ people. Club racers, charity fundraisers, fancy dressers.

20120916-201807.jpg I’ve never really watched and cheered on at a race before. I floated around this year’s VLM course, with only the odd clap. But here, we banged our cheer sticks continuously and we shouted well done and come on at as many people as possible. Fancy dressers got special mentions, as did those who looked like they were struggling.

Reactions ranged from nothing, a half smile or a thumbs up to cheering, waving and back chat. A couple of walkers started running again whilst passing us. Great moments.

I got a high five from a girl at about the same point in the Berlin half and it made me smile for a good few minutes afterwards. Hopefully others got the same from this boy today.

20120916-201850.jpgCrowds add so much to events like this and I am so glad I was a part of it. Cheering is underrated, cheering is awesome.

New kicks #3

Every single shoe from the Nike x Liberty collaborations so far has been beautiful. Fact. It has been full blown trainer lust at first sight every time.

This time around I actually decided to splash out (with a helping hand courtesy of the boyfriend’s credit card) instead of just staring at them from my computer screen every other day.

These have even had office approval from my boss.

Why I’m deferring my place in the Great North Run

The first six weeks of my Great North Run training were nothing short of disastrous. I’m not going to make excuses, it is all my own fault. I’ve done this before, I’ve known what I’ve needed to do (I just haven’t done it).

The one word I’d use to describe how I’ve felt about training so far would be indifference. I haven’t wanted to train, but I haven’t cared that much either. This time round my heart hasn’t been in it. Right from the word go I haven’t felt connected with any of the experience. I’ve rewritten my training plan three times – and still not stuck to it. I’ve dreaded weekends because of the Sunday long run.

At this point during Berlin training, I was in pain, I was panicking, I was feeling guilty for missed runs and I was crying an awful lot. But I was also making progress. I was enjoying the challenge and I was seeing results. Most of all I was having fun.

Although a few weeks ago I realised that I probably wasn’t going to better my (somewhat mediocre) Berlin PB, I figured I’d keep going – the GNR in itself would be an amazing experience. I thought as long as I got my fitness up to a level where I can at least make it round without collapsing, a few walking breaks in between wouldn’t be the end of the world.

But this weekend I went on for a ‘long’ Sunday run. I was going to attempt 6 miles. I can run 6 miles, I’ve done it countless times (I told myself). Less than a mile in and down by the canal, I fell onto the bank in floods of tears. EVERYTHING HURT. It hurt bad. I called my boyfriend and he cycled to ‘rescue’ me. I’ve cried plenty of times over training, but this time he said “anything that is making you this miserable isn’t worth it”. And that’s the conclusion I’ve come to too.

Running over the past eighteen months has given me many things – this blog, new friends, medals, a trip abroad to complete a half marathon in an awesome city with some even more awesome people. That was honestly one of the best weekends ever. It’s brought a love of exercise which I’d never had before. That will never change. But right now training is making me just plain unhappy, and that is absolutely not what it is supposed to be about.

I’m trying very, very hard to make some major changes to my life at the moment and I can’t do it all. Running is meant to be an escape, but it has turned into a burden.

I’m really sorry to the two people who have sponsored me – my Oz-based friend Matthew, and the awesome Sarah Scribbles. I shall be donating the money back to Sarah, who will be dominating the race with a super speedy PB – of that there is no doubt at all.

Tonight I took my training plan off my wall and the amount of relief was immense. I will do a half again, just not right now.