The morning light here is magical- glowing golden and copper. The leaves are all ginger and cinnamon spice, with the odd stroke of bright yellow splashed in the hedgerows from hazel and willow. The temperature was 2 degrees at first light. There was ice on the car and the bedroom was freezing. The dogs stayed in their beds until I turned the heating on and haven't strayed far since.
As soon as I refilled the bird feeders, the garden was a-buzz with whirring wings as hungry birds of all shapes and sizes appeared to refuel after the chill of night. Coal tits, Long tailed tits, Great tits, Blue tits, Dunnocks, Chaffinches, Starling, Nuthatch, Robin, Marsh tit, Blackbird, Jackdaw, Goldfinches, they were all there. And then, unexpectedly, among them a little bird I've never seen in the garden before. One I've never seen at all.
Also known as the Chaffinch of the North, which is very apt because she's in the company of three Chaffinches. Lovely, no? This, added to the fact that our empty grey wagtail niche by the stream has now been filled (since the Sparrowhawk took the last one) and that a Tawny Wol flew over my head hooting softly at dusk the other night, and I've also just seen my Heron swooping low over the lake, and the Lapwings are back in the pig fields and the Starlings are starting to mumur down the lane (three huge flocks flew whispering over our heads just before dusk yesterday while I was out walking the hounds so I reckon I'd just missed the mumur - there are notes all round the house saying: "3:30pm MURMUR" incase I forget), means I've had several special bird encounters this week, making for Happy Days.
The bird encounters cheered me up because we're full of sickness here which means no running has happened for two weeks. To cheer myself up Even More, I've bought a new pair of Comedy Running Leggings....
Little Miss Sunshine.
I forget I am 44 and not 8.
I've been working with a new Sports Therapist. He is doing a lot of marathon training groundwork. I felt I'd gone as far as I could with the physio and decided it was time to see someone who was trained specifically to work with runners.
The first question he asked me was has anyone ever looked at your feet?
No, I said, wondering why they hadn't because now he mentioned it, it seemed rather an obvious place to start.
What's the one bit of a runner's body that comes into contact with the ground, over and over? he asked.
Your foot, I said, feeling decidedly stupid now that I hadn't been suspicious when previous treatments had ignored my feet entirely.
So let's see what's going in with your feet.
After an hour and a half during which my left foot felt supple as a willow while my right was like bending concrete, he concluded that the bones in my right foot and ankle are so seized up that I am pronating (fancy runner parlance for turning my foot in and collapsing the arch), twisting my knee and hip inwards, hence the pain when I run anything over ten miles. To correct this, I have exercises to do twice a day which involve getting the ankle to flex and the heel to bend. In a fortnight, my ability to anchor myself and remain upright while standing on my right foot has really improved, as has the bend in the foot. What I haven't done yet is try running on it.
Runners are impatient folk.
How long will it be before I can start marathon training? I wanted to know.
He grinned. A piece of string, he said, you know? It might be a week, it might be three months.
You'll be surprised to hear I am focusing on the week rather than the three months. But I have until January before I need to really start upping the miles, and that's almost three months away :o)
I have noticed this year how mentioning injury and running in the same breath prods awake the Prophets Of Doom (usually these are non-runners, who seem an odd demographic to be advising runners on the effects of running). People fall over themselves to gleefully tell you about people they know who've ruined their joints running and now can barely walk, or who died running a marathon. I don't know anyone personally who's died running a marathon, but I know plenty who've run them time and time and time again. Of course, it's utterly tragic losing a loved one during or after a race, but I suspect if you asked them they might just say popping off doing something you cared about wasn't a bad way to go. I know I would.
It's an interesting insight into the human psyche that no-one screams Don't for God's sake get into that car! every time we approach a vehicle, and yet driving is far more dangerous than running, and most of us do it several times a day. Life is not risk-free, but paradoxically, the fewer risks we take the more our fears of their power over us seems to distort from reality. A view highlighted by the statistic about more kids being admitted to A&E with sofa-related accidents instead of falling out of trees- a fall carries risk, wherever and however you do it, and while not everything that carries a risk in life will kill you, the mind-numbing boredom of living entirely risk-free might.
I'm getting fed up with hearing all this negative, fear-driven stuff, so I decided to do some research to see whether there was any truth to it. And by that I mean proper, scientific, rigorously-tested, research-led, empirical truth, as opposed to rumour, hysteria or bias. And I found none. None at all. All the research-based evidence I've seen to date shows that running is no more dangerous than anything else we do, and in fact better for you than a lot of other things. Did you know, for example, that running prevents osteoarthritis by strengthening bone?
There is no evidence that running is worse for your body than any other physical activity. Subscribers to the Donald Trump School of
Not Thinking will doubtless remain unsatisfied by that, but the rest of us will presumably be reassured to know it.
As we become ever more sedentary as a society, with many people never raising their heart rate from one month to the next, running offers a very simple and inexpensive way to look after your health and wellbeing.
Sure, if you go to a GP with a sore knee and say it hurts when I run, they will, in all likelihood, tell you to stop running. But if you see a running specialist, they will test your bones, joints, muscles and movement to work out where the weakness lies, why it's happening, how to treat it and what kind of running you are safe to do as a result.
Runners injuries are highlighted in popular consciousness, but in reality when you ask your body to step up and perform at a higher level, any pre-existing niggles or imbalances in the way you move that have been there a while are going to be highlighted. What I've learnt talking to people who've worked in this field for years is that running doesn't cause injury; it reveals it. Whether you choose to put the necessary work in to help correct it, and are then sensible about the type of running you do afterwards, depends on how important your participation in the sport is to you.
I know of three runners who use their running to help with conditions that the lay person would dismiss as sufficiently bad to make running impossible. One has a spinal condition which gives him significant pain unless he keeps his spine mobile by running, another was advised to take up running to help her control a breathing problem and she now runs marathons, and a third ran her first half marathon despite having arthritis in her knee. What these stories reveal is that it's lazy logic to apply a 'because it's happened to me it will happen to you' approach, which is a trap many people fall into.
The mind-set that automatically moves to worse-case scenarios, whether it be about injury from running or anything else, can unconsciously burden or crush the hopes and ambitions of those close to it. I've seen it myself this year: a friend who wanted to start a counselling course received a stream of negative responses from 'friends' who expressed doubt that she was the right person to do it and said that she wouldn't cope. Thankfully, she didn't let them put her off and now she's a month away from finishing the course. But her self-confidence was very fragile when she started and it certainly wasn't helped by people telling her (wrongly) that she wasn't capable.
Some people just love to tell you you won't be able to do something. The charitable view is that they don't realise how draining that is (the uncharitable one would be that they don't have the confidence to do it themselves). Not only do you have to summon up the courage to do whatever it is (which can be considerable), you also have to put energy into countering and batting away their insidious negative voice. Believe me, it's hard enough on a physical challenge to combat your own negative internal dialogue when you're tired and sore. You really don't need somebody else's neurosis making life harder than it needs to be. You've heard the expression: a marathon is run nine tenths in the head, right?
I've just finished reading an astonishing account of one woman's utter determination to overcome physical exhaustion and complete a running challenge that no-one else had ever done before. She failed the first time round and her family said don't do it again, but she was determined, and a year later she was successful. If there's one thing that running is teaching me, it's that people have hidden depths of determination inside them that make them capable of so much more than they, or others, think. And you can apply that across life. None of us knows what someone else can do until they try, but all of us know how it feels when someone pours negativity onto a dream you are nurturing. It isn't nice or helpful; it's upsetting and it's usually plain wrong too.
What I've learnt this year is this: if you want to set yourself a goal or a challenge, go for it. I guarantee you will surprise yourself with how much you can achieve and the satisfaction you get from it could well be life-changing. If you aren't getting support to do this from the people who should support you, drop me a line in the comments and I'll give you the support.
If the negativity of the people around you is eroding your confidence, consider joining a group of like-minded souls who will support you, understand your ambition and help you achieve it (running clubs are great for this if it's a running-related goal). If you give something a go and fail at it and you want to try it again, then give it another go. Failure once does not equal failure forever. Every single competitive runner I know has a story about at least one race that was a complete and utter unmitigated disaster. My own was the Beast this year where I limped the last mile home in the pouring rain, frozen stiff and utterly miserable, being overtaken by everyone, sobbing all the way, in pain, and then breaking down when I saw M at the finish. But I tell you what- I shall be back at that bloody race next year and it won't beat me again. Even if I have to walk the whole way round.
Failure is NOT about weakness, you see. Contrary to what many of us have been told it's about learning, and you should never, ever, be embarrassed by it.
If someone you care about wants to try something amazing, and you're a little worried about it, please think about supporting them instead of voicing your fears. You might just be the little bit of sparkle that keeps them going when the going gets tough.*
There's a lovely saying I carry with me: worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, only saps today of its strength. It's a keeper, I think.
Hope you're all well, and have a lovely weekend.
*of course, if you're already a can do person who's there on the sidelines in all weathers cheering and shouting and jumping up and down yelling enthusiastically for your friend/ family member, telling them they can do it and you're proud of them: Thank you! Good on you! Keep it up! You're a complete star, and you will already have made more of a difference than you know :o)