My 40s started as a slog: a newly single parent running a household alone, a rewarding but intense job, not enough childcare, a difficult to communicate with ex-partner, training for a half marathon, a pandemic, a fuck load of DIY and a newly-bought house to re-sell.
And to use a running metaphor – I kept running fast.
As someone who has a patchy medical history, the lockdowns did unfathomably wonderful things for my health. Shut away in our homes, contained behind masks, my body no longer had to defend against colds and flu and unshakeable coughs that would make a nest in my wheezy lungs for weeks. In fact, I managed almost an entire year without a single ailment. I was a normal, robust person.
But then ‘normality’ returned (even though the Covid stats were still high) and everyone, including (and specifically) the Prime Minister, removed their masks and started to congregate across the UK. As did their germs: I found myself with 5 colds in a row – undefeatable buggers accompanied by coughs and fatigue and chills. At one point I had a matching sty on each eye, a UTI, thrush and a cold sore. Just when I thought I couldn’t feel any more broken I toppled off a chair at work and broke my left rib. I needed to be broken literally to realise I was in fact dangling by the hinges.
Speed Runs are the type of run that builds muscle and hones speed. They’re pretty relentless. And I’d been allowing life to push me too fast – had a permanent eyeball pressed on the time, on objectives, on a finish line. Which doesn’t reflect how life really is because there isn’t always a finish line. And it isn’t possible to maintain one Speed Run after another - but it’s exactly what I’d been doing.
So I let the rib repair - a remarkable 3 weeks. The other ailments crept away. Then I dusted off my trainers and got back to my half marathon training.
Some people might question my attempt to change the pace by training for a half marathon, but I find running mindful and therapeutic (I shouldn’t really have sneaked it into the ‘slog list’ up there).
I particularly love the Long Runs: the brace of the outdoors on your skin. The feeling of living inside your body. I enjoy the way the world moves past cinematically because, although you are running at a reasonable pace, you notice a flower on a winter footpath, a hole in a bridge shaped like a cloud. You see dogs sniff at things and sometimes get a passing ‘hello’ from a stranger. On Long Runs my mind is like a typewriter tapping out poetry, all to be forgotten by the end of the run.
On my last Long Run, filled with the grief of having to sell my home, I ran towards a rainbow that sprung up from behind a new housing estate and plummeted down onto the railway tracks below. The rainbow dissolved and a horizontal hailstorm bit at my ankles and reddened my cheeks. It was emotional and exhilarating and it seemed like the most beautiful metaphor for the year we’d all had.
Recovery Runs have been the biggest revelation to me. Recovery Runs – the slow, easy plod that separates the stamina of Long Runs from the relentless pace of Speed Runs. The bit where you allow yourself to float and breathe and mend in between all the hard bits.
Professional runners will always tell you that the Recovery Run is the most important run in your repertoire.
Its obviousness was blinding: there was no recovery time at all in my own life. No holidays or lie-ins or day on the couch eating eggs and catching up on telly. It had all become Speed and Long, Speed and Long. If I’d approached my running in the way I approached my life, I’d have a ruptured Achilles and a Hamstring injury by now.
So I committed to use what I learnt about running in my own life: some days would be long, some days would feel so fast and full of deadlines I’d be cross-eyed. But other days would be all about recovery. Me under a blanket with no agenda accept for 5 episodes of ‘make-over/transformational’ TV and a bath full of bubbles.