Saturday, 27 October 2018

The Power of Strangers

Many of you who have been members of the LiL Runners Facebook group, before its superb transformation into LiL Wellbeing, Health and Fitness may well have seen my posts and Blogs about all things active. I think at one point I even posted a video of my hideous feet, (hideous even before the 20 miles road run from which I am still, 7 months later, missing toe nails) as I tried to describe exercises for alleviating shin splints.
Image result for black dog depressionThen, about April time, my world wobbled. Not for the first time did I teeter on the edge of all-consuming self-negativity, but this time it was worse, and even more so because life was good. When it has happened before I have put my running shoes on, taken the dogs and “run up a mountain” (shuffled actually, if I’m being truly honest), cycled 100km with my chums at Bedarieux Cycloclub, or taken a couple of spin classes where I am paid to yell at people, motivationally of course. And all has become, miraculously, well again. Only this time, I was so overwhelmed with work, travel and a couple of my dearest friends being dreadfully poorly, that even that didn’t work. Because “I didn’t have time”.
Now, I have believed in the power of strangers for a long time. They are like consultants – I know you pay them to use your watch to tell you the time, but we listen to them. They may speak the blindingly obvious, tell you what you already know, but we hear them. They make sense, they are in the right place at the right time, and most of all they tell us things that we often don’t have the courage to tell ourselves.
So, my first Blog back is to tell you about a stranger-friend, a strange expression, I know, but I have never actually met this person, although I hold her dear to me and count her as one of my friends. And best of all, she is a member of this group. I won’t embarrass her by naming her, because I have a strong suspicion that she is one of many and I could be talking about most, if not all of you.
She dropped me a note to ask how I was. She was concerned that I had gone to ground. She hadn’t known me long, but it was long enough to know that all was not well. Out of the blue, I got a message from her.
One of my dogs is a black Labrador, which means that quite often I am accompanied by two black dogs. One is my mad-as-a-balloon, Oz, who is a big, important part of my life. The other Black Dog, who has no name, used to belong to Winston Churchill, and he is not welcome in my life any more than he was welcome in Mr Churchill’s. So, what did my stranger-friend do that put Black Dog back in the kennel where he belonged, that my usual therapies weren’t able to do?
 At the time, Black Dog was sitting so close to me that I couldn’t bring myself to read her message, I didn’t even open it. It was from a part of my life that I loved but thought I had lost. So, I stuck my head in a bucket and ignored her. Then for some reason, I opened the message, read it. Wept a bit, and then replied. It all came out, this vast sense of overwhelming-ness that was filling me with guilt because life was good, but I wasn’t doing what I needed to do for my mental health. And do you know what she did, this stranger-friend I have never met? She wrote back to me. She wrote back to me straight away after I had ignored her for all that time. And she made some comments and suggestions that started to shove Black Dog back in his kennel.
So, thank you, my dear, dear Stranger-Friend. You will know who you are. Thanks to you I have made time. Guilt-free time. In the last two weeks I have run with my dogs in my favourite mountains, I have cycled with my cycloclub, I have raced in some crazy relays with my triathlon club who don’t care that I am the old bird at the back with more enthusiasm than skill. I have taught spin classes, come out of there hoarse and had people younger than my child ask me when my next classes are. And despite legs that cycled 75km today, I will be running with my running club in the mud of an English Cross Country tomorrow, and I will be smiling while I grimace every step of the way, ready to run up to the Pic du Tantajo next week with the trail running club in Bedarieux.

Thank you, I’m back, if you’ll still have me xxxxx

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

So I am Good at Running after all

I have been running for many years but that doesn’t make me good at it, not if your definition of “good” is to break 20 minutes for a 5K (or even 25 minutes these days), run an ultra-marathon, or even actually look like I’m running. Sometimes, however, I am good at it, if your definition of “good” is to enjoy at least some part of it or to (normally) be able to walk the next day regardless of distance, terrain or pace.

And last Sunday, I was good, really good. Better than I have been in a long time. Why? Because I absolutely loved every single one of the 210 minutes I was running for. The smiley faces, welcoming shouts and friendly abuse from the organisers, marshals, fellow runners and public along the way. My biggest pre-race anxiety, once I’ve actually got there, is always whether the loo will flush, but on Sunday I accounted for the clocks going forward and else everything worked just fine.

I knew the route would be lovely. Windsor Great Park is home turf, I know it like the back of my hand and even know when the Queen will be driving through on her way to church. But what really made it good, was that it was organised by my running club and I was running with a friend. At least for the first fifteen miles anyway, then I needed a pit stop and her superior training paid dividends as she pulled away. We occasionally spoke, but not often and I don’t think we did at all after ten miles. Comfortable, relaxed silence interspersed with banter from the marshals (“there’s a downhill bit that way somewhere” – thanks Ron!!).

This run wasn’t a race, it was a 20 miles training run for the marathon season organised by my UK club, the Datchet Dashers. We had marshals so that if it all went to pants someone could get us home, and we had race numbers so the marshals could identify us from the other runners. It was a safe, secure environment for those needing a long run. And of course, the camaraderie of being with others. We did have a briefing (respect the other park users, don’t drop litter and don’t get run over crossing the road), we did sign in and out and there was an amazing lady on a tail bike who had a pocket full of chocolate and laughed all the way round with the folks at the back. But there was no clock, no official start line and no actual finish line. It was just a bunch of slightly crazy people going for a run with wonderful volunteers who had given up their Sunday morning.

So, on Monday morning, as the descent started into Toulouse, where the running experience is just the same, only with more cow bells (French marshals love their cow bells!!), I was really hoping that walking backwards down the stairs off the plane wouldn’t cause too many strange stares, and now, two days later I am still buzzing over how “good” at running I am.

The Power of Strangers

Many of you who have been members of the LiL Runners Facebook group, before its superb transformation into LiL Wellbeing, Health and Fit...