A year ago I battled my anxiety to walk the Active Newcastle This Girl Can International Women’s Day 5k. It was the first organised exercise I’d taken part in for years, and my mental health nearly stopped me. At the time I wrote:
At this year’s event I ran the full 5k, and it wasn’t a problem because I regularly run that far. This year I was looking forward to it rather than dreading it. This year I saw lots of faces I knew, and was joined by women I’d cajoled/inspired into coming along for the first time.
This year I’m more relaxed about the name This Girl Can, which I’d initially misunderstood (I’d still rather be called a woman than a girl though!)
This year my whole family were with me, daughter running again, son and partner cheering us on. My son coped well with the challenge of of noise and crowds, and I coped with running off leaving him in a place I knew was challenging for him. I’m not sure I could have done that a year ago.
Last year I had no idea where my fitness journey would take me, this year I have goals: first 10k, Blaydon Race, a sub 30 minute parkrun, the Great North Run…
I can’t wait to see where I am next year 😁
– – – – –
I’m dedicating my running this year to two charities that have helped me a lot. I’ll be writing more about this in a future post. If you would like to sponsor me that would be lovely.
Apart from running group, which I only started earlier this month, I pretty much exclusively run in the daylight. I work part time so my run commute is generally finishing as darkness falls, even in winter, and my evenings are generally too full of family to fit in running.
Tonight I decided to run home from work even though I wasn’t finishing until much later in the evening than usual. I had to miss running group and felt I should make up the miles. I could have got up early and done it, but, you know … mornings!
So it was dark by I left work in my reflective gear, and I was instantly struck by how different everything seemed. Shops were shuttered and the streets were quiet, but the pubs were noisy. Back alleys I think nothing of running down in daylight seemed sinister and uninviting.
Image from Pinterest, quote by Terry Pratchett.
My first half mile was the fastest I’ve ever run, just because I wanted to put some distance between me and the drunken rowdiness of the pubs. I knew full well it wasn’t a pace I could sustain, and forced myself to slow to a more manageable rate.
I had areas where I usually weave through pedestrians and cyclists all to myself in the dark. Rather than appreciating the space I felt stressed, anxiety creeping in as the familiar became unfamiliar. I started at every unexpected noise, jumped at shadows.
After a couple of miles, on a stretch I have covered with running group in the dark, I felt less anxious and was able to settle into a steady pace punctuated only by pauses for traffic lights and iPod problems. I kept to the main roads though, telling myself this was an attempt to increase my distance and not me being scared of being alone in the dark!
Not creepy at all!
It was a good run, I felt I could see an improvement just since last week. My stamina is definitely getting back to where it was before the chest infection. By mile 3 I felt like I could keep going for ages, and I didn’t slow to a walk all the way home. However it was a lesson that I need to mix things up, get out of my familiar routine to challenge myself. It’s perfectly possible to run safely in the dark, especially as I live in a well lit city. I will be doing it again.
It’s been that very British kind of snowy that is gorgeous for about 5 minutes, then turns to slush which freezes into ice that stays for days. It’s impossible to walk on, let alone run.
On Thursday I fell on the ice, which left me with dinted confidence and a sore back. I had planned to restart my run commutes that day, and was frustrated that the weather prevented me.
On Friday I discovered that despite being really good and resisting the siren call of the chocolate sales all week I’d still put on a pound. And I didn’t dare exercise because it was still icy.
On Saturday parkrun was cancelled, ice again, but the celebration to mark 8 years since the first parkrun in Newcastle still went ahead. The fact I went along is a sign of how much my anxiety has improved over the past few months. I was very glad I did.
Sunday I spent the morning moping. Then I decided to get my arse into gear and asked other members of the parkrun for people affected by obesityFacebook group how they keep motivated in the bad weather. There were loads of fantastic suggestions, many of which I’ll be making use of, but an oft repeated one was having a goal.
I have my goal of Great North Run in September, but decided I needed something more imminent to force me into action. I’m booked on a night run in a couple of weeks, but that’s 6k which I already know I’m capable of, so isn’t really making me push myself. So I looked into races coming up locally, and sounded out local runners.
And I’ve booked myself a place in a 10k happening mid-Feb! It will be my first official run of that distance. It’s the same location as my local parkrun, so the terrain shouldn’t throw up any surprises, but the distance will push me.
Tonight I realised I was enjoying running group. Running has been a challenge, something I forced myself to do, I enjoy the social aspect and the feeling of accomplishment afterwards but the actual running has always been something to endure. Tonight I enjoyed it. I’m taking that as a sign of progress.
Since my last blog post in November I’ve only managed another 3 parkruns. First I hurt my leg, and just as I was getting back from that I developed one of those annoying winter bugs which just keep on going. So only three parkruns and no additional running, similar lack of attendance at gym, and pretty certain to miss tomorrow’s double parkrun. If you’d told me this time last year how much not being able to run would upset me I’d have laughed at you!
Image from Newcastle parkrun Facebook page.
Other things that have slipped clearly include blogging. Updating here more regularly is definitely on my to do list.
Healthy eating has wobbled a bit. I have indulged over Christmas more than I have the rest of the year, and given that and the lack of exercise I haven’t dared step on the scales! However what I count as unhealthy eating now is still miles better than what I was eating just a year ago. Many of the small changes I’ve built in are still holding.
It’s hard not to end the year a bit despondent. I’m inactive, over indulging and feeling grotty. It would be easy to imagine myself right back where I started. So I need to recognise what I have achieved this year.
Eating healthier. I have completely changed the way I eat, with more meals cooked from scratch, greater understanding of what’s in my food and fewer unhealthy treats. I’ve got braver at substituting ingredients and giving things a go, and am calling for takeaways far less often. This doesn’t just affect me, the whole family are affected.
Cooking from scratch
Exercising. I’ve gradually increased my exercise from a daily dog walk to regular running and weights training, via dancercise. I’ve gone from unable to run for a bus to able to regularly run 5k and beyond.
Obesity. While my BMI stubbornly remains just within the obese rather than overweight scale I have dramatically improved. I’ve lost almost 2 stones, have changed body shape and am much healthier than I was.
Health. My bloods are no longer alarming my practice nurse, no more high risk of diabetes, cholesterol and heart disease! Obesity related back pain has vanished, a recurring skin condition has cleared up and I’ve had far fewer migraines than usual. Eating less highly processed food has also lessened IBS symptoms.
Mental health. Fluctuating. I’ve had bad spells and good spells, and I accept that this is how it’s likely to continue to go for me. I’m getting better about noticing the bad spells early and trying to stop downward spirals. And I’ve used good spells to push myself, trying new things and making new habits, which will hopefully mitigate future dips.
And looking forward? For the first time in years I’m starting a new year with concrete plans for improvement, rather than a vague “I must sort myself out this year.” In 2018 I plan to:
Join a running group. Through people I’ve met at parkrun I’ve been invited to several, and have shuffled evening commitments so I can get to one.
Get to 50 parkruns. This may be an ambitious target, I’m on 10 now, but I think it’s achievable.
Enter some races. My big goal is the 2018 Great North Run, a half marathon in September, but to train for that I’m intending doing some official races beforehand, building distance and trying new routes and surfaces.
Blog more. Keep myself accountable and track my progress so I can celebrate the highs and work through the lows.
Lose more weight. I’ll continue tracking my weight with Newcastle Can, aiming to get out of the obese bracket, and possible even into the healthy weight bracket!
Keep it sustainable. I’ll be attempting Plastic Free July again, but also trying to make changes throughout the year to reduce my impact on the planet.
Look after myself. While plans are great to have it may be my health, mental or physical, won’t let me achieve them all. I won’t be beating myself up if that happens, I’ll be putting myself first and making sure I’m strong and safe and have time and space to recover.
I’ve done a lot this year. I still can’t quite believe how much I’ve changed. I started with tiny baby steps, and I kept on going. Now I’m running, and I don’t intent stopping any time soon.
It’s been a wobbly week. I should be grateful for that. Wobbling between OK and desperately depressed and anxious is better than being constantly depressed and anxious I suppose.
Except sometimes it feels like the lows are lower when there are, if not actual highs, then at least ups to compare them to. I don’t know if that makes sense.
Monday was mostly good, although I was very aware of my anxious thought patterns trying to establish themselves. I did my walk/run home from work again and managed to shave 4 minutes off my time. But my training plan says I should be able to do 15 minutes at “an easy run” by now. “An easy run” is a running speed at which you could carry on a conversation. I worried that I don’t have an easy running speed, I’d struggle to carry on a conversation after three minutes let alone fifteen. So I worried that I was doing something wrong, and ignored my anxious brain trying to tell me it was because I’m a useless idiot.
Tuesday was a comparatively good day. I caught myself wobbling, and took myself out for a half hour walk to give myself time to stop wobbling, rather than try to force myself on through it.
Wednesday was just wrong. My lowest recent dip and a day when everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Ignoring the success of he previous day I tried to carry on and force my way through despite feeling thoroughly depressed. I ended up in the changing room at the gym in floods of tears, having realised I’d forgotten both my water bottle and one of my trainers. All positive self image that’s built up while I’ve been exercising and losing weight fell away, and I was just a fat, sweaty old woman too stupid to even bring shoes, deluding myself that I could ever be anything other than fat and hideous. I made it home and hid in my bedroom, until my partner persuaded me that skipping meals was not the solution. I got it together to collect my son from youth club, but felt bad about missing my regular gym session.
Thursday was OK. Not particularly bad, not particularly good. Average. But average is fantastic when there’s been a day like Wednesday.
It’s currently early evening on Friday and I’m hoping I’m not jinxing anything if I say today has been a good day. I’ve been struggling to sleep all week, but instead of dwelling on anxious thoughts have used he extra waking hours to try and fathom why I don’t have an easy running pace. I can do it on the treadmill at the gym, but not in real life. So I’ve been browsing articles like The Overweight Beginners Guide to Running, 5 Beginner Running Tips if you are Overweight, and 6 Tips That Will Actually Help You Start Running. All useful stuff, but I feel like I have been doing what’s suggested, start slow, walk and run and gradually decrease the walking while increasing the running, invest in decent footwear etc etc. But it isn’t getting any easier. Then I happened upon this pin on Pinterest:
It led me to The 4 Keys to Proper Running Breathing and reading it felt like a lightbulb moment. When I was first shown round the gym the instructor demonstrated the best breathing pattern for each machine as well as how to use them and what muscles they’d target. I’m always aware of my breathing at the gym. But when I’m running elsewhere I’ve never considered my breathing, I mean, its just breathing right? You’re either breathing or you’re not. And if you’re not, well, being unable to run is the least of your worries.
This morning I went for a run and deliberately concentrated on my breathing. The difference from Monday was phenomenal. I did a simple 4 steps in 4 steps out pattern and I kept running far more than I’ve been able to previously. I shaved almost 2 minutes off my average speed per mile!
I felt fine! Not desperately counting down until I could walk again, but like I could do more. Apart from walking for a warm up and cool down I only slowed to a walk three times on an almost 4 mile run. I even jogged on the spot when waiting to cross the road, rather than being blessedly grateful to have the opportunity to stop running.
I’m struggling to believe how big a difference such a small change made. I’m feeling far more confident about the 5K in September now. I can do this 🙂
This afternoon was less healthy, but just as positive. Apparently this week is afternoon tea week, so I took my kids to Langley Castle hotel to take advantage of their 3 for 2 offer. Definitely a good afternoon.
I’m having a blip. My mental health is wobbling, between the equilibrium I’d reach and a lower, more self destructive mood. I know this happens. It’s part of my recovery. But knowing that doesn’t make the blips any easier.
I’m trying to identify what causes these blips. But it’s rarely as simple as one thing. Potential triggers this week:
First week back at work after two weeks annual leave.
IBS flare up leaving me feel bloated and uncomfortable.
Worry about elderly dog who spent Friday at the vets for blood tests.
Out of my routine with one child away with friends and the other at Granny’s.
Long drive to collect daughter from Yorkshire leaving me very tired.
Variois triggering conversations I couldn’t avoid.
And those are just the ones I noticed!
I’m trying to deal with it differently. Keep the wobble from turning into a downward spiral. So yesterday evening instead of hiding myself away when I felt dreadful I let myself cry in front of my partner. Usually I insist “I’m fine” even when I’m clearly not. I cry alone, hiding in another room or after everyone else is asleep. This time I let my partner know how I was feeling, we talked about it. It didn’t stop the negative feelings completely but it muted them a bit.
This morning I felt lethargic and numb, that washed out emptiness that hits after a real low and leaves me not wanting to do anything. I could happily have moved no further than the sofa all day, and very recently I wouldn’t have. Again I spoke with my partner.
My plan for today had been to go for a run, but with my mood low being seen in public in running gear just seemed impossible. My paranoia was in overdrive, my anxiety telling me how awful an obese middle aged woman in leggings would look, how I’d be unable to run, how people would laugh.
My alternative was the gym. Leggings aren’t so bad when everyone’s wearing them! But getting up seemed impossible. My partner reminded me how positive having the 5k goal had made me, that I’d feel worse about myself if I skipped a training session, that I could do this.
And I did. I headed to town, did a couple of messages (including buying cupcakes for tea) and then I went to the gym.
I started slowly, and felt leaden for the first few minutes, but I managed my first ever 5k on the treadmill, running the first 2.5k and then combining running and walking for the rest. It took me 43 minutes, and hopefully I will improve on that in the 4 weeks before the race. I know it will take longer off the treadmill. Mo Farrah could run 3 x 5k in the time it takes me to run one, but he’s a world class professional athlete and I’m a middle aged obese woman who has never run before, so I’m still proud of 43 minutes!
This evening I cooked our tea from scratch, so I’ve not yet succumbed to the sofa, but my anxiety tried to turn every tiny error into a crisis. A dropped knife, a missing ingredient, a pan boiling over – all led to panic. Getting out helped, but it’s not a magic fix. I feel better than I did, but still wobbly. I know I need to keep on top of it, I know how easily a blip can become a nose dive. But I also know I have support, and if I take advantage of that support I can start heading back upwards.
Yesterday I had one of those days. You know the ones. Every door I went through I bashed into the door frame. Every cuppa I made I spilt part of. Every task I undertook seemed to take twice as long as it should due to piffling little errors. One of those days.
It started with an argument with my son, who was upset I wouldn’t let him microwave an aluminium foil food container.
I couldn’t get a parking space, so parked a ten minute walk from work. So of course a large and heavy parcel I needed to bring home arrived.
Mid morning I discovered my insurance company had mistakenly taken my annual car insurance payment twice. From an account with no overdraft set up. It got sorted out quickly, but felt like a lot of stress and hassle. Particularly when I should have been working.
And so it carried on. A day of frustrations, bruises and bother.
These days can leave me feeling very negative, as if I’ve achieved nothing all day. It’s easy to remember the things that didn’t go according to plan, rather than the things that did. I’ve been trying to challenge this way of thinking, and over the past couple of months have been keeping a kind of minimalist journal.
To be honest it’s barely even a journal, just a notebook in which I jot down a list of things I’ve achieved each day. The achievements might be small and routine (washed dishes) or big and challenging (went back to work after sick leave) but they all add up to challenge my feelings of uselessness. I write it at bedtime, and I’ve found the focus at the end of the day on what’s gone right has helped my mood. And I have a physical record of achievements that I can look back on when my mood does dip.
I’ve often struggled to keep going with journalling. And although writing things down can feel therapeutic it can also lead me to dwell on things best let go of, and to decend into spiralling negative thought. But I’m finding this quick listing of achievements is easy to keep up with. If you’re naturally disposed to negativity I’d recommend giving it a go.
– – – – –
A brief public service announcement for parents of small children.
Don’t be tempted to buy the character elastoplasts/Band-Aids. Unless you have exceptionally accident prone children they will grow into sullen teenagers before the packet is finished. Rather than waste them you, like me, will become a grown adult who ends up walking about with Barbie/Peppa Pig/Mr Men plasters on when you’ve had one of those days!