The best laid schemes…

Today should be my first 10k race. I was looking forward to it. I was confident I could cover the distance, not fast admittedly, but at a run all the way. I did a deliberately long run commute on Wednesday lunchtime, then the plan was parkrun on Saturday before the race on Sunday.

Wednesday evening I didn’t feel great, and had to scrap my gym session. I just figured doing the gym the same day as a long run had been a bad plan.

Wednesday night I started throwing up.

Thursday and Friday are a blur of bathrooms and sips of water, until finally, on Friday evening I proved I was on the mend by stomaching Lucozade. Any other 70s kids out there who still believe Lucozade cures all?

Saturday I made it out of bed, but the trip downstairs to the sofa left me feeling more exhausted than I usually feel after a run of miles! I knew I wouldn’t make the race, it would be stupid to try.

My partner thinks I’d pushed myself too hard with that lunchtime run across the icy moor, too much effort with too little fuel in my tank, but I don’t think it’s all that. In hindsight I realise I’d been finding it increasingly difficult to get out of bed in the morning for a few days. I think this was something I’d been fighting off for a while.

Exploring on my day off earlier in the week.

I’m disappointed, but there will be other races. I’m disappointed that I couldn’t make a family trip to the cinema too. That I missed so much of half term with the kids, we’d had fun on the one day off I did get with them. I’m disappointed that I missed a friend’s first parkrun (she smashed it 😁).

Some days go to plan, some days don’t. I’m not going to stress over it. I’m going to make a new plan. I need a new first 10k.

image from scottishpoetrylibrary via Pinterest.


The difference the dark makes…

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.

One bad run.

I’m not sure what went wrong this morning. I really struggled at parkrun. For some reason my legs and lungs just wouldn’t work together. I ended up walking more than once.

At one point I was nearly in tears, just past 3k, the point at which I usually feel confident I can keep running to the finish, I was walking and just couldn’t make myself go quicker. I considered giving up. But friendly support from a passing runner kept me going. And I kept telling myself something I read this week:

It is OK to walk…it is always OK to walk

7 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Started Running, Too Fat To Run

So I kept going. And considering I’d walked some of the way I did OK. Official time 35mins 31secs.

You can see where I walked.

So what went wrong?

Maybe jumping from 2 runs last week to 3 runs and gym this week was too much too soon. Certainly there is a lingering cough after the bug I had over Christmas.

Maybe I set off too fast.

Maybe I shouldn’t have run two days in a row.

Maybe I had unrealistic expectations, I got my PB while I was doing a 8k run commute twice a week, could I really better that my second week back after sickness?

Maybe my mind wasn’t in it after a cryptic text from my disabled son just before it started.

Maybe it was just a bad run.

I need to recognise one bad run as just that, one bad run. They happen. What matters is not the speed I went, it’s that I got out and did it at all.

Image from This Girl Can via Pinterest

I shouldn’t let a bad run spoil my day. And I didn’t. It was great to see people, to chat over a cuppa afterwards. I ended up snoozing when I got home, which is probably a sign that I am still more run down than I think I am.

I won’t let a bad run stop me. I’ll let it steer me to increase things a bit more gradually, possibly leave it a week longer before I go back to my run commute. I’ll keep telling myself it’s OK to walk. And I’ll get there.

Comfort eating and working out.

Mental ill health is unpredictable. I can be tootling along feeling OK when suddenly BOOM I’m unbearably low, unable to cope, hopeless. There seems no reason for it, no trigger I could avoid, nothing I could have done differently. It’s as if a switch has been flicked and my thinking changes. Every positive becomes a negative, every solution unthinkable. This happened yesterday.

What I can do is notice it. Name it. Keep telling myself that it’s screwed up thinking, not reality. Find ways to get through it. Make it shorter.

Even after a year of healthy eating my first call when feeling bad is still food. Yesterday I ate too much chocolate. It helps. I guess it’s an improvement that yesterday I only ate six chocolates, a year ago I would have eaten six bars of chocolate, a packet of biscuits and some cake! I’m improving, but the link between food and comfort is too hard to break.

Image from Pinterest (as is chocolate image above)

I also went for two walks with the dogs and got an early night, which is a healthier way to deal with it. I woke today feeling more positive, and hope I’ve avoided a downward spiral.

Today was my first day back at the gym, and I was slightly dreading it after such a long gap. But I did well.

Now I feel tired, slightly achey, but content. Which feels so good after yesterday.

A wobbly week.

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 Running5 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:

Image from 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. 

All things in moderation… Including moderation!

Returning to work

This week I returned to work after six weeks off sick due to mental health issues. I’ve been here before, but previously it didn’t go well. 

I have a tendency to get myself back to work as soon as I’m well enough to force myself through a day, which leads to me burning out again quite quickly, and needing more sick leave in the long term. It had become a pattern, and was having a negative impact on my health, my work and my employers.
This time feels better (so far.) So what’s changed?

I’ve been more honest this time. Not just with my boss, but also with my colleagues. I know I’m lucky to work somewhere that recognises the impact of mental ill health, where it won’t be held against me or used to guilt trip me. I’ve worked places in the past where any sick leave, physical or mental, was treated as dereliction of duty. So it’s taken me a long time to be able to open up to other people about my mental healh. The first time I was on long term sick I asked my boss not to let other staff members know the reason. I was ashamed of it and wanted to keep it quiet, but that caused speculation among my colleagues and an occasional feeling of treading on egg-shells in their interactions with me which made me anxious. 

So this time my colleagues know I’ve had mental health problems. Everyone welcomed me back, and knowing they know has meant I’ve felt able to acknowledge being up and down. There was an incident this week with a missed deadline which would have had me in tears and panicking a few weeks ago. I was able to say “I can feel myself getting wound up, so I’m going to stop, make a cuppa and come back to it in a few minutes.” My colleagues were really supportive of that, and we got it completely sorted without my anxiety getting the better of me. 

I’ve also been more honest with myself this time. I’ve accepted that returning too soon compounds the problem, tried to limit my worry about how my colleagues are coping without me, and instead looked honestly at how I’m feeling and whether I am fit for work. I’ve allowed myself to do nothing some days, just gradually let myself see what I can manage.

Then there’s been the planning. I like to plan. To quote one of the TV icons of my youth…

… although unlike the A Team I don’t cope well with the unexpected. Unfamiliar places, unknown people and sudden changes of plans unnerve me at the best of times and floor me completely when my mental health is bad. So I plan.
But I have to stop myself over-planning. While having a plan in place eases my anxiety, trying to plan every scenario in minute detail can set me into a spiral of worrying that is incredibly difficult to get out of. Again this trait is worse when my mental health is bad. It’s a balancing act. 

While I was off my boss has been working with me on temporary changes to my role which acknowledge my mental health may take a long time to return to “normal” and limit the pressure on me while that happens. My hours have been reduced and my role changed slightly. I’d rather continue with a job I enjoy in a limited capacity than end up jobless because of my fluctuating mental health. And my employer benefits from my experience and commitment, rather than having to find and train a new worker. Win win.

In addition to these changes we’d agreed a phased return, with a detailed plan for catching up over the first month back. This meant I went into work on Monday knowing exactly what was going to happen, rather than feeling panicked about everything I had to catch up with. That really helped reduce my anxiety.

Of course I work in the real world, so already my plan has notes and edits, things that need slotting in. When I’m not too anxious, as now, this feels like necessary flexibility, rather than impossible demands. 

So I had a good first week. There were a couple of wobbles but I was able to identify and address them before they grew, with the support of my colleagues. Certainly I coped with things this week which would have had me in bits a few weeks ago. That success has increased my confidence, I feel like I was a useful part of the team, and I’m looking forward to doing more next week. I can see how my mental health has improved over the last few weeks, and I can acknowledge that I did that! I recognised the self care I needed, I let myself rest, I knew I was unwell and gave myself permission to get better. 

I still feel partly broken, but now I feel like I’m holding the glue and carrying out the repairs rather than just crying in the shards. 

Image – sculpture repair in progress from

Book Review: Unprocessed by Megan Kimble

Megan Kimble was a twenty-six-year-old living in a small apartment without even a garden plot to her name. But she knew that she cared about where her food came from, how it was made, and what it did to her body — so she decided to go an entire year without eating processed foods

Unprocessed: My city-dwelling year of reclaiming real food by Megan Kimble (from back cover blurb)

It has taken me too long to read this book. That’s not down to the book at all, it’s well written, and informative without being dry or excessively technical. I started reading it a few months ago before my current bout of anxiety and depression. 

One of the first indications I’m getting ill is when I struggle to read. In general I’m a real bookworm, flying through book after book. But when I’m ill I struggle to concentrate for a paragraph let alone a chapter. Reading just becomes impossible.  

Contrawise it’s a good sign I’m on the road to recovery when I feel like reading again. Last week I read two pages. Over the weekend I read six pages. Yesterday I sat down and read the two and a half remaining chapters and finished the book. The return of my concentration is hopefully a good indicator that I’m on the mend. 

I spotted this book in the wonderful Quaker Centre Bookshop last time I was in London. It leapt out at me. I’ve been worrying about the amount of processed food my family eats for some time, both in terms of its impact on our bodies and in terms of the environmental impact of its production. Yet it seems impossible to avoid. Then here was someone who had avoided it, for a full twelve months, I could read about her experience, and possibly pick up some tips. I had to buy it. 

I enjoyed it from the start. It’s clearly well researched and referenced, without the level of excruciatingly complicated scientific detail which puts casual readers like me off. The style is chatty and cheerful. While I try and avoid processed food by avidly studying labels Megan Kimble actually visits food producers, from massive industrial dairies to small breweries and distilleries. She finds out more about how labels can mislead us than I’d ever have known without her. 

I hadn’t started the book with the intention to dramatically change the way I eat. One of the things Megan demonstrates is how much work an unprocessed diet is. I knew that for me completely cutting out processed food wouldnt be practical. But it did get me thinking differently. 

Some of Megan’s conclusions shocked me. Considering dairy for example:

I try to consume less, but better. By better, I mean whole — I eat eggs with all their yolks, milk with all its fat, cheese with all its curd. Not only do fat molecules help your body to absorb the nutrients in mill, but also fat is delicious. Fat fills you up, so its easier to eat less of it. 

Unprocessed: My city-dwelling year of reclaiming real food by Megan Kimble

 This is so counter to everything I’ve been told about low fat that it seems positively revolutionary. And I don’t know if I could do it. I’ve never had whole milk, unless they gave me whole milk at school in the 1970s (until it was notoriously snatched by Thatcher.) Its been semi-skimmed or skimmed all my life. Maybe I should give it a try?

In other areas her experiments in processing he food herself led her to realise why communities and eventually big corporations developed, as the time and effort taken to produce food was better spent when sharing roles. But the soullessness of these massive corporations is evident, churning out bland additive-filled food, caring for their own profits over their customers health, causing damage to the environment and seeing animals as commodities rather than living creatures. There are lots of good reasons to avoid processed food.

One of the compelling reasons for Megan, which she quotes more than once in the book, is the realisation that we as consumers have power, and can make changes. In the UK free-range eggs and various Fair Trade products are now generally available, all due to customer pressure. 

For me, living in the north east, one of the most deprived areas of the country, the argument about investment in the local economy also resonated. If I spend £100 on food at one of the big supermarkets most of that money will leave the region, going instead to shareholders and parent corporations. If I buy locally produced food with that £100 much more of it stays in the region, supporting the local economy. 

Unprocessed food is more expensive though, and we all have to decide where we spend our money. Whether its £5 or £50 it will make a difference. I try to buy organic and unprocessed, but its a fine balancing act between what I want and what I can afford. I often have to compromise.

If I had to have a negative, and its a very unimportant negative, the book was very much embedded in the American systems of agriculture and processing. This is only natural, it’s where it was written and the audience it was initially written for. But it let me wondering whether things are the same here, and how I would find out. And she just did food, a mammoth task in itself, but what about the chemicals we have around us all the time? Toiletries, cleaning products, plastic. I had unanswered questions. However I think inspiring me to look further into something is the mark of a good book, not of the author missing something out. 
All in all a good read, and one I’d recommend. 

You can visit Megan Kimble’s website to find out more about her year unprocessed.