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Running. Trials and tribulations.

I have been blogging about getting back into running for the past two years. This journey back into running has felt really tough at times, and at the same time I am well aware that it doesn’t signify in the face of what many others face daily, especially in these often gloomy times.

This is blogging as personal record keeping, and as such only really of interest if you are prepared to suspend the ‘so what!?!?’ instinct for a while.

The story so far

In 2021, I blogged about reclaiming my morning run, and making my way back to running… little did I know that shortly after I wrote those posts I would have to stop not only running but exercise all together for a long while. Then in December 2022 I tried to get back into it again… and now, six months later I have (I hope) finally reached a new milestone.

Rather than blogging about hoping to get back into running, I am now actually running. Phew! and YAY!

Last month I ran 5k for the second time this year and now I am back to running 3-4 times a week, slowly working my way up from 5k to 10k and beyond. I’m blogging about this (admittedly unimpressive) achievement not because of what I did, slowly plod along for 3 miles on a sunny Sunday, but because of what it represents to me: this run was very hard won.

At the start of this year I finally recovered from a serious, year-long shoulder injury. It took far more time, money and effort to restore my shoulder to normal mobility than I ever imagined and once I was able to get dressed on my own again and attend a gentle yoga class, I assumed the job was done. I felt ready to return to my usual activities.

As I’d kept working throughout most of the year that I was injured, taking some days off for hospital treatment and physio, and kept doing lots of things as normally as possible, it didn’t really sink in for a while how much strength, flexibility and fitness I’d lost overall, or how much physical confidence.

Fortunately I can afford to keep going to see my physio every 4 weeks, and with his help I started the long journey back to being able to do things. Obviously day to day activities were the main focus of my recovery: being able to get dressed again on my own, getting things from kitchen cupboards.. being able to walk the dogs on my own. Being able to travel for work, carrying a laptop case and so on. Physical exercise however did and continues to play an important role as it helps not only my body but also my mental health.

Running, which has long been my most effective coping strategy for a stressful and demanding week, started 30 seconds at a time. Then a minute. Then two.

After 3-4 months, over the course of this spring, I got used to doing 30 min of exercise again. A big achievement. Although my phone unhelpfully reminded me that by every measure my efforts were ‘below average’, it meant a lot of progress for me. My yoga teacher was a big source of encouragement and helped me find some joy in moving my arms and legs, tentatively at first, fearful of pain and injury.

Brief rant about sports bras

Although I appreciate the sentiment that all you need for running is a pair of trainers and to head out of the door, my experience as a curvy middle aged woman has never really lived up to that. Anyone who’s ever wrestled into a sports bra with a 5 hook fastening at the back will appreciate that the combination of a shoulder injury that reduces mobility + getting back into running is not fun. I am still waiting for the promise of technology and design to deliver the hype that every single new overpriced sports bra promises for me and all the other people frequenting chat forums on chaffing and avoiding bounce.

Mind AND matter

I’ve always run for primarily my mental health, finding calm and release in the ritual of heading out in the mornings. In my most anxious years, I ran nearly every morning, capturing serene sunrises in all seasons. I also ran to raise money for the cancer charities supporting my mum’s recovery from lymphoma, and gradually half marathons became an achievable goal. Running felt empowering and gave me balance, as well as a connection to the outside world that I have missed a lot during the past few years when my weekly milage was low or nonexistent.

Once I got some fitness back and managed to get out of the door regularly, I was expecting things to get easier, but my body and my mind were not happy to cooperate. I had every ache and pain in the book after just minutes of running and a sense of fear and panic that was not helpful at all. A mile seemed entirely unachievable.

After a few weeks of being stopped in my tracks by this mental block, I tried a different approach: I tried a running meditation, headed out and had only one goal: run slowly for 5k and don’t stop no matter what. Slow down if you need to (I did) but do not stop. And… it worked. Mind AND matter, with a lot of help for the mind.

Now, a few weeks on, I am back to a regular routine, a very gentle one, but a routine nonetheless, for the first time in a long time and it feels great. I am back to listening to music or just letting my thoughts wander, enjoying the feeling that I have a bit of my morning all to myself before another busy day begins.

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