It's been a month since my last training update, which is not to say that I haven't been training, but rather that I've been training around the 'edges' of life this May, which has thrown up it's own challenges and woes.
April ended with a week working in Asturias, Spain and though we were out and about every day I only ran once. Though what a run it was! An early morning trot around the hills that left my legs pricked and bruised from the endless undergrowth mis-turns that I took, but found it's literal and metaphorical high-point looking over the countryside to the Picos de Europa mountains, as a beautiful temperature inversion broke over the villages below.
Our hosts Dave and Jave kindly enabled a selection of their mapped local routes on Wikiloc for me to choose from and follow, but problems with my phone connectivity left me stumbling blind, and going with instinct rather than map. No matter. It was a glorious introduction to the area. I really fell in love with Asturias, but that's a whole other story.
This work trip was the first I'd had since committing to the Bosnia challenge, and was a chance to prove to myself that 'Yes, you can still train whilst working if you make allowances for the time'. A pair of running shoes doesn't require a lot of extra space in the travel kit. No more excuses.
Five days after returning from Spain, I was on silent retreat in France, and training was preemptively positioning in my mind as a chance to be alone, to shake off the endless hours of quiet sitting, and a chance to do mindfulness my way.
I managed to run three times - sneaking out of the dorm during 'personal time' in the rainy afternoons that beleaguered the Dordogne area during the second week of May - and followed various road routes to local towns and villages for which I had no map and no phone to guide me.
The first run was an unremarkable hill jog to suss out the lie of the land, but the following two were each (I know now, and felt intuitively at the time) about 11-12km through undulating wine country on route to Bordeaux. I ended up in a hilltop town called Monsegur, where I ran primarily to obtain sugary contraband, and Duras - where I'd hoped to find a Patisserie only to discover after an hour of running that nothing is open in France on a Tuesday afternoon.
These training runs were best described as odd. My diet on retreat was so different from my usual fare, that I was running heavy every time. I also like to do fasting runs regularly in the mornings, and this week I was running mainly in the afternoons. This left me feeling full and lumbering. Not good for my sports psychology. Nevertheless, I did the miles and aside from the rain, the mischief making with bags of sweets stuffed in my RAB, and the heavy legs, I was pleased to have got out at all during the retreat.
Training lessons learnt? Timing and nutrition matter even on a daily timescale, and it's possible to run really mindfully and 'think' away your aches and pains. Several times I'd felt my knees yelling at me. Several times I outwardly acknowledged their pain and invited them to move for me anyway. Letting go of my physical suffering and accepting that it was to be either way allowed me to step above the nagging insistence to stop, and get on with the job in hand. I'll be using this trick in Bosnia.
When I returned from France, I was conscious than in two weeks I had run much less than usual. I run about 5 times a week at home, and those tend to be hilly miles. As soon as the plane landed I was itching to hit my local routes. I have reached that hallowed and fearful point where not running makes me fidgety. I have started to need it for mental balance. Ironic, given the frequency that it also breaks me.
My first run out was a scared affair. I went in to it full of internal voice around 'Oh, this is going to be hard' and 'Clearly, I will have lost all of my fitness'. And sure enough the first miles were strenuous. I was back on my own schedule, but with the hangover of someone else's diet and everything in me was determined to prove I was right. This would be hard. I might as well accept that Bosnia is doomed. Two weeks can't be made-up for, I will die on my feet probably. Right here, right now.
But after those first couple of miles, I found my legs and settled into the pace I had been running before the Spanish-French interlude. After that first run at home I ran into the house declaring 'It's OK! It's OK! I'm going to be OK' to my husband's withering look of 'No shit', and so it was that I returned into a relatively normal pattern this last fortnight.
Bring on Wales.
I was determined to spend the bank holiday weekend back in Snowdonia. We'd not been back since 2017, which was a long absence when we try and visit every couple of months. The weather looked worse than the Lakes (our second option) but we turned our back on the promise of sun in favour of less crowds, better van camping options and frankly, just a yearning to return.
On Saturday then, we completed a long mountain run taking in Moel Hebog and the surrounding peaks and forest of Beddgelert. The weather was windy and humid with gathering storms overhead, and despite my positive mood heading into the run I mentally cracked 45 minutes in. I have walked the planned loop several times - not viewing it with a runner's eyes - but found it hard work from the get-go. Dragging my legs. Taking tiny steps. Seemingly making no progress whatsoever. And sweating. A lot.
It's not uncommon that I have a meltdown on a long mountain run, the main problem is I can't predict it. If I'm feeling rubbish then I tend to do better, stoically digging into myself for resolve. When I'm buoyant it's as if the true effort still required takes me by surprise. I had a similar 'moment' in Austria in August 2017 after a long alpine run uphill. You can read about that one here.
At moments like this I am grateful to the steadying words of my long-suffering husband. He reminds me of how many other runners we have seen (usually none). How many walkers we have overtaken (everyone) thus proving that I am still running, and not walking. How hard the incline is in reality (might as well be vertical). How predictable I am in a kindly tone (very). This last part usually involves a big hearty, snot-bubbly sob of self-reproach and is generally just the tonic I need to brush myself down and carry on.
Which I did. And you know, the rest of the run was glorious despite the trials and the muggy air. We rounded the route off with a wildswim in the Lyn above - I need very little excuse to shed off to my skin - and finished back in town with veggie burgers and A LOT of drink.
Later that night we walked quietly and I reflected on how I'll cope when I only have myself to save me if I psychologically crack on a run. There won't be any sweet potato fries to bring me round, water might be rationed and I'll be higher in the wild and basically alone. I haven't got the answer to this dilemma yet. I'm not anticipating finding one.
Waking up early on Sunday, the van was wrapped in cloud and the rain hammering on the roof. We had lucked out yesterday, and though I would usually see it through I was tormented by the good weather in the Lakes, and in need of running redemption. My calves were achey, but I wasn't done with training. So we bit the bullet, stuffed down some breakfast, and drove to the Lakes. We would have all of Sunday to have a lazy swim day on Coniston, and then give the Fairfield Horeshoe a go on Monday before heading home.
And that was such a good decision. Because I really got to push myself and rise above my own silliness of Saturday.
I wasn't hopeful for this run. It was swelteringly hot for a pale redhead and wind lick was low. I've walked Fairfield several times and I know that there's no water to cool off in, no shade to duck under, nowhere to hide from yourself.
I also have the beginning of an eye infection and my tummy wasn't feeling great so I had already resolved this would be hard, but I would do it anyway. And I had added incentive. I had been promised any item off my Bosnia kit-list if I could keep my head together. These sort of incentives work for me as a low-income earner. You can call me Pavlov's Dog.
Almost every step of the run in the midday sun was hard, but I settled into my slow pace and distracted myself with the big views, the sheer number of people I was overtaking (and being praised by - hello ego!) and the promise of a treat back in Ambleside. In that way the miles flowed and by the top I was in great mental form. Elated to have ticked off another mountain classic under difficult temperature conditions, legs still knackered from Saturday and with one weeping eye.
Also the visor was invaluable. I've not worn one since the 80s, but that will be an essential in Bosnia. I kept my kit-list treat modest, feeling undeserving after Sunday's shenanigans, and opted for a midweight Capilene Patagonia baselayer that was in the sale. I snuck in a veggie scotch egg and Twister too.
All in all, May has been a testing month for running with some overwhelming highs and dismal lows.
In terms of learning, I have to remember to take each run as it comes. Because none are forewarning of how the next will be. To be more 'in the moment' with each run is my aim - I learnt this through my Buddhist education in France - and this will be vital in Bosnia when I will be running maybe 10-14 days back to back. Each will have their own 'arc' of pain and joy and I hope to be present to each day with mental freshness, if not physical.
I've reassured myself that I can complete a good run in hot weather as well as my usual rainy preference, and hope that in Bosnia altitude will bring me a welcome wind to cool the skin.
Now, June lies ahead of me. Three and a half months left of training on the clock. I will soon be getting my pack and tent so that I can begin training loaded with gear. We'll see what comes of that.
In the meantime, if you like to sponsor me then I'm grateful for every penny. I've nearly raised £300 of my £1500 target to help me get my kit together. I'm beyond grateful and love how it's keeping me accountable. Thank you to everyone's generosity so far. I'm blown away by it.