It’s week 4 already! I have no idea how I’ve got through a whole month of constant running as we emerge from this pandemic, yet here we are. A bit like how we’re all wondering how the hell life as we know it and several lockdowns have gone on for a year. How are we actually here? Who knows. Looking at that slightly less philosophically, I am very much glad to be literally here, and that you are too, as I’m sure if you are sticking with me by week four, we are at least connected in some way. But hey to random readers who have ended up here via google or Twitter, you’re very welcome too.
This week I stuck to my running three times a week goal, alongside realising that I can’t do everything at work. I need to pace myself, literally in all areas of my life. I’ve taken more breaks this week and felt less knackered by Friday. Although time of the month visitor wanted to have something to say about that. I really hope my period doesn’t arrive for Great North Run day. I’ve ran on my period before, but I’ve never had both a period and running deadlines to meet. Before it’s been easy to just not run if my period is making me feel awful, but not this time, post pandemic Alice is on a mission.
My first run of the week happened on Tuesday, I signed up to the 5K with my running club. It was another sunny evening, and I felt good as I stepped out of the door, following a fab final session with a group of young people I’ve been working with online since before Christmas. The pandemic rules for running in groups is that all organised runs have to be capped to eleven runners plus a leader, and logged on the run together app to abide by track and trace. For anyone who is running socially, not part of an organised club, it still has to be in groups of six. I’ve felt comfortable running with other people up until now, knowing the groups aren’t going to be overwhelming and are generally made up of the same people. My second vaccine also puts me at ease, although sometimes I still feel like a meerkat on high alert. The run started well, I listened to my music, and had people in the club both in front and behind me. I was mildly freaked out by a dog, which is a usual occurrence but I pushed on. I met the run leader at the bottom of the massive hill, that is named “couchie hill.” It’s the hill on the couch 2 5K route and I’ve never ran up it in its entirety since my race day, it’s that awful. I’m sure they make new runners conquer the hill to prove if they can run up there, they can do anything. I’ve stuck with running so it must have worked. “You okay?”, he said, as I froze at the start of couchie hill. “Yeah, I’m fine, there’s just a dog,” I told him. We pushed on, half running and walking up the hill onto the top path. From here it’s mostly downhill until the finish. It was not far along this path when we were met with a throng of 30, 40 or even 50 runners from another local running club thundering down towards us, taking up all of the space. I was left with no other option but to dive into a bush. Not only had they broken England Athletics Rules about numbers per session, there was no respect for social distancing or anyone else out running, walking or cycling that night. I was proud not to have a panic attack, as has happened on occasion when I’ve been around too many people while I’ve been out during Covid, but really I should not have been in that situation in the first place, to be pleased not to panic. As it happened, there wasn’t time to think, or to shout, “what the fuck do you think you’re doing?!” as I wished I had. It was only after it happened, I began to reflect about how intimidating that experience could have been if I was completely on my own, and how it might have quite easily ended my desire to run for a while.
These weekly running posts aren’t just about training for the Great North Run, they also aim to document using running as a way to feel better about going back into relative normal life post pandemic, whatever “normal” means. For months I have struggled to leave the house, walk down the street on my own and refused to go anywhere there would be people. As soon as I saw people in the distance ahead, I’d make whoever I was with (normally my mum or sister) cross the street. I began to crave open spaces, and developed a fear of cities, with narrow streets and lots of people. I was so so scared of people dying, or developing a terrible illness thanks to health anxiety, and this pandemic, that I couldn’t avoid if I tried, made those fears very real. My anxiety was no longer just anxiety, it was everyone’s reality. There really is something to be said about running etiquette, that is even more important during a pandemic. We don’t know how the people we meet when running are feeling. No one wears a sign on their forehead saying “having a bad day, please be kind”, and they shouldn’t need to. People should just be considerate. When I’m running, I always stick to the left, and slow down as I approach walkers or people with kids or dogs. I’ll move out of the way for walkers coming ahead of me, I am going at a faster speed, it is only right that I do so. When we’re running in a group with the club, everyone is reminded to stick to the left, and we run in small groups rather than on mass. We’re a mixed ability club, and everyone runs at different paces, which helpfully allows for enough distancing. As the pandemic has progressed I’ve developed different levels of comfort, and sometimes that has been giving people such a wide berth, often bigger than two meters, so that I feel safe. Struggling to judge how far away I am from people at the best of times, I’ve made allowing as much distance as possible a helpful strategy. As we emerge from this pandemic, restrictions may be easing, but we all have different levels of comfort. Forty odd runners storming towards me on Tuesday, a month on from running with small, very socially distanced groups, was not in a zone I found remotely comfortable. And I don’t see how anyone would, especially a year on from our world being completely turned upside down. That evening I questioned if I should run again because of that incident. I was worried about coming across this army of runners next time, who are known to be elitist and competitive and judging by this week inconsiderate of anyone else trying to enjoy running too. It is the kind of club who would put people like me off running for life. Running should be inclusive of everyone getting out there, not exclusive to those who run the fastest and claim ownership of an entire path. I joined Red Kite Runners because they are the exact opposite of the club I encountered on Tuesday, everyone is welcome, and just getting out there and having a go is all that matters. I love seeing people out and about exercising or meeting up with friends, especially after the year we’ve all had but we must not become complacent or assume that everyone feels as comfortable as you do, our open spaces, parks and woodland need to remain accessible for all. No one should be scared off because a group or individual failed to think about the other people trying to enjoy being outside too.
My next run of the week happened on Thursday, and turning up was my biggest achievement of the day. Owing to my period I was exhausted, and owing to Tuesdays incident, a little bit scared. Earlier that day I made another massive win, I went into a shop for the first time in a whole year. I’ve needed my gait analysis done for a while, which I’ve put off, and then physically couldn’t go because of lockdowns. When the shops opened again, I was wary about going into town to the only shop I knew who did your gait, until I heard about a new shop, in a quiet industrial estate were we could park outside. This would be doable, I thought. It helped that I was going into a shop with a very clear purpose, to get new trainers so I don’t break my feet. Inside the shop there was just me and my mum who helpfully drove me out there, and the shop worker, so I it felt very comfortable. He looked at the way I run, and told me that I “overpronate”, I’m dyspraxic and flat footed which doesn’t help in the recipe for “runner.” Before I’ve been running with neutral shoes with really badly made insoles, that after time have begun to hurt my feet. They say running is a cheap sport, and you don’t have to spend much money on running kit, but the one thing it’s important to get right and can come at an expense, are your shoes. Running in the wrong trainers can cause damage in the long run. Building up to running longer distances, I don’t want to risk injury. He brought me out a couple of more structured trainers, with more support and cushioning. I ran on the treadmill to test these and he told me I was running better than before, and that the shoe was doing what it was supposed to do. I decided on the softer of the two I tried. I left the shop feeling proud I’d actually gone in there, and that I’ve finally got round to it to ensure I don’t injure myself because of the wrong kind of trainers. So back to Thursday and periods. I don’t know if it will be wise to rearrange training so it doesn’t coincide with the heaviest day of my cycle and a long day at work, or if I just had too much adrenaline from the day of shops, new trainers and also looking at a possible new house, that I won’t go into too much here. The run was a 20 20 run, which meant run for 20 minutes, turn around and run for 20 minutes back. It was a mixed ability group ranging from people who were starting with the couch 2 5K, to people comfortable with 5K’s or getting back into running after a while off and others who have been running for a while, so ran further. I like this run because you can only go as far as you feel comfortable and walking is always acceptable when you need to. It was the first outing for my new trainers after a day of stomping around the house trying to break them in, so I took it slow. I also ran slower because my period kept reminding me it was there. Before the run I worried about meeting other massive groups of runners following Tuesdays event, and assumed this would be all I would think about. It wasn’t. I focussed on seeing how my new trainers could improve my running, while intermittently listening to Spotify. Everyone from my running club smiles, says hello, or tells you you’re doing great as you pass them. It really motivates you to keep going, and to come back. It’s no exaggeration that running has really changed my life. First outing of the new trainers was a success, so much so I took them out again on Saturday.
Todays run was a warm and happy 6K. I decided to go running today, rather than my usual Sunday because tomorrow is filling up (with mostly admin and phone calls) by the minute, and today felt more realistic to fit a run in. On my second outing in my new trainers I took it slow and managed a steady 6K, singing along to mainly sea shanties as I ran. No one expects to see an over excited 30 something, belting out “John kanaka-naka tulai-ie,” but anything is possible these days. As I was mooching around at home before the run mum said “Alice, you’re being too hyper and annoying, just go out for your run.” She’s got it. I hope I was less annoying on my return. Every time I finish a run I think about a few years ago, and how much running and enjoying it would have seemed impossible. Today’s run was largely uneventful, although now my trainers have broken in a bit more, I’m really noticing the difference to my running. I’m also amazed that I got to Saturday and still wanted to run, Tuesday could have very easily made it go the opposite way. I’m very glad, for the sake of Gateshead Youth Council who I am fundraising for, and my own sense of achievement, that it didn’t.
On a fundraising note, I am not just training for and running the Great North Run for myself but also for Gateshead Youth Council who had a profound impact on me as a teenager. Thank you so so much to everyone who has sponsored me already in this early stage, from people I’ve known for years, others more recently and other members of the Red Kite Runners. Thank you. Thank YOU. If you’d like to support me to support this fab local charity for young people who changed my life, please do.
I got to week four! And I am so proud to be here.