How running and being a parent has turned me into a total hippy.

I never quite know how much backstory to give in this bit: whether to assume everyone has read previous blog-posts or that this is the first thing I’ve written that you’ve ever had the misfortune to stumble across. I’m probably going to plump for the latter because I’d like to think LOADS of people may suddenly start reading it, like I’ve accidentally written some massive zeigeisty thing (that is a word actually. It is now anyway), and the gods of Mumsnet bloggers network have smiled upon me and I’ve gone VIRAL. Which is something that I never thought would be a good thing… But it’s also entirely possible that I’m just screaming into the void.

So I’m going to assume you don’t know stuff, even though we’re all really aware that it’s just my friends and family who are reading. Back in April I ran my first marathon – you can read about my experience here. I literally put my blood, sweat and tears into it. The marathon that is; writing the blog wasn’t nearly as painful. Reading it, however… well you may judge for yourself. I raised shitloads of money for Mind, so it was all worth it. And also (*whispers*) I kind of loved every minute of it, even the horrible bits because I’m a massive masochist. It must have been OK because I almost immediately signed up for another one.

Fairly early on in the marathon, and I can’t remember what prompted it (I could go back and re-read the marathon blog to find out but what if I think it’s awful in retrospect? Not worth the risk), I was having a dark moment, and the words “only positive thoughts” popped into my head. And that became a sort of impromptu mantra for the race. I know, what a TOTAL hippy – even the word mantra makes me think of dream catchers and patchouli. Normally I hate that kind of stuff, and get very irritated; I’m not an especially zen kind of person. People who have read the blog will know that I am not exactly a calm soul. As an example, when my daughter (now 7) started talking, I was at some lentil-eating, Guardian-reading (yeah, yeah, I do eat lentils AND read the Guardian…) community garden thing for babies and toddlers – and I said that I thought it was hilarious that one of E’s early words, after the usual Mama, Dada stuff, was ‘NOT!’ because even at the age of one she knew exactly what she DIDN’T want – and this American hippy woman, who looked like she’d knitted her shoes, and was literally holding her newborn over a flower bed and whistling to try to make it wee – said, “Oh that’s just saaaaoooooo negative, man, what a shame it wasn’t yes, you should really try to be more positive around her”. She may not actually have said ‘man’… To which my internal response was the entirely reasonable ‘OH MY GOD, fuck off, hippy’. I can’t remember what I actually said back, I think I just mumbled something neutral, but I didn’t go back to that playgroup very often after that. I was proud of how early my perfect girl was talking, and she pissed on my chips, whilst trying to get HER daughter to piss in a flower bed. I was functioning on very little sleep at the time and did not want to feel judged that I was feeding E shop-bought rice cakes rather than home-grown mung bean dahl or something.

But later parenthood, and more unexpectedly running, has mellowed me right out, maaaan. More recently, I’ve been having more zen-like thoughts about running, and also have been doing some reading on mindful running and all of that stuff, so it’s not completely out of the question that this has come from there. So here goes. My peace and love outlook on running for your delectation:

This came about, as you may have read about in great and tedious detail, when I had a month off running after I tore my calf. It was VERY annoying and frustrating for all involved. But luckily for my own sanity and the safety of those around me, I am now back running again, slowly and carefully at first, but fingers crossed, it is going OK, and that October marathon may still be on. This epic zen moment occurred in that VERY FIRST run, where I was allowed to run for a mere 5 minutes. After a couple of false starts where I didn’t take the injury seriously, I did all my exercises and was finally, finally going to try a little run. I walked the five minutes from my house to the scenic ring road (actually, it’s really near this BEAUTIFUL bit of National Trust land called Shotover, so it actually is scenic, but I was just going to run along the footpath because it is dead flat and I love the smell of lorry fuel while I’m running), and then tentatively began to run. My thought process was as follows: “YAAAAAAAAAYEEEEEE! I’M RUNNING! I’M RUNNING AND NOTHING HURTS AND NOTHING FEELS LIKE IT’S GOING TO SNAP OR FALL OFF! I’M SO LUCKY! I LOVE RUNNING SO MUCH!” And I enjoyed that 5-minute run as much as I’ve enjoyed any run in years. Then I had the recommended rest day, and the day after that I ran for my allowed 10 minutes, and if anything that run was EVEN more fun. It was weeing it down with rain, I got soaked, and when I was at the 8 minute mark, I found myself running along the road, with black streaks down my face because I’d forgotten to put my customary waterproof mascara on (not running, see – does weird stuff to you), and looked very much like the mutant love child of Alice Cooper and Spike from Buffy (no, really – look at the picture), and started laughing. Laughing at the sheer joy of running in the rain, on my own.

It feels as though I’ve got my love for running back. When I said this to a friend, he asked if I had previously fallen out of love with running, and I replied that I hadn’t been aware that I had, but that I had lost something of my reason for doing it. This was about the sheer JOY of it for its own sake, with no thoughts of PBs or pace or training or races, or any of that. That stuff all has a joy to it too – I have detailed in previous posts the satisfaction of putting a gold star against a long run on my marathon plan – but this made me remember how much I love just running. Just the movement of my body. Just being outside and moving. The privilege of being able to do it. Not thinking OK, to PB I need to do this 5K at 8.5 minutes/mile, gritting my teeth and going at breakneck speed (for me, not for an actual fast person) and hating EVERY bloody lung burning, thigh aching SECOND of it while I’m running. Enjoying the satisfaction of the PB and DEFINITELY the coffee and debrief with friends afterwards, but HATING the actual run. Whereas these last couple of weeks, I haven’t cared what speed I’m going, I’ve tried to only look at the time on my watch because I don’t want to do too much too soon, and it’s just been FUN. Amazingly when I do look at the pace I’ve done, it’s not half bad. I don’t seem to have lost all of my fitness. I can’t WAIT to get back to doing longer runs, but just because I love it so much I want to be able to do it for longer! Other friends have said that sometimes they put their GPS watch in their pocket and just go out for a run without the pressure of looking at their pace or whatever, and I think this is something I may try to adopt in the future too.

I know some people that know me will laugh when they read this – but I’m not naturally a competitive person (although some people bring out my ‘sibling’ rivalry, some people who know who they are, who have been threatened with kettlebells before and even though they are nearly a foot shorter and probably about 3 stone lighter than me insist on lifting the same weights because they are SUPER competitive…) but I had recently been caught up in the fact that I was third in my age category for our club road race championships, and I got a bit obsessed with the idea of keeping that position: working out which races I needed to do and getting really genuinely competitive with friends in my age category. It wasn’t actually a nice feeling at all. But having missed a whole bunch of races whilst off injured, that feeling has just gone. Dissipated into thin air. I simply don’t care anymore. I don’t even check the listings to see if I’m still in that position. If I do races it will just be because I want to and because I enjoy it rather than because I feel like I have to keep my position or desperately need a PB. I don’t have to do EVERY race. I know, it’s a novel thought… And my major Fear of Missing Out will be further tested, I guess. I did a parkrun at the weekend, for the first time in ages, and I ran with a friend who is just coming back to running after having her second baby. We ran together at a leisurely pace, chatting the whole way around, in the sunshine. I ‘paced’ her to a post-baby parkrun PB and we both felt pretty good afterwards. Compare that to the last 5K I did, where, yes, the photograph is one of my favourites, and I have actual flying feet, but I really didn’t enjoy it, and could barely breathe let alone talk through that one.

I did my first ‘race’ last week too. But I travelled there and ran with one of my favourite club buddies, and yes, it felt good to have the Headington Road Runners blue and yellow strip on and it felt good to be running, but we were both coming back from injuries, so kept a decent but still fairly leisurely pace round, and even managed to keep talking going up the MASSIVE hill that literally goes on for an entire mile, and you have to do it twice because it’s a double loop. And it was so much fun! We knew half the marshals on the course and encouraged other people who were struggling, and laughed with all of our friends. If I’d been going flat out and busting a gut for a PB I wouldn’t have been able to do any of that.

Something of this applies to being a parent too. Sometimes I’m so busy shouting at my kids for not eating something (or FOR eating something they shouldn’t), and hustling to get hair brushed and teeth cleaned and out the door and on to the next thing, that I forget to enjoy them. My parenting technique at the moment seems to be two extremes: either this nurturing earth mother, hugging them close and not minding reading the same story over and over, or shouting “OH WHAT IS IT NOW?” from the kitchen into the living room and almost reduced to tears over the food battles I said I’d never have with my children.

We stayed the night at my in-laws recently, and the boy, who is 3, was supposed to be sleeping in the same room as my husband and I, on a blow-up mattress (I’m going to stop calling my husband long-suffering by the way; it started as a joke, but independently both of my OWN parents referred to him as such, so they blatantly think for some reason that I’m a pain in the arse, which is obviously untrue as I am a constant joy). The boy decided these sleeping arrangements were a right laugh, and no one got any sleep. At about 3 o’clock in the morning, after husband had fallen asleep on the floor next to the blow-up mattress the boy was supposed to be sleeping on, he (the child, not the husband) appeared at my side of the bed and crept right up to my face and said loudly, “MUMMY! CUDDLE!” So I hauled his little sturdy body into the bed with me where he promptly headbutted my nose, and fell asleep across my neck. And whilst I was knackered and could feel the beginnings of my hangover kicking in (we’d been out for lunch for my aunt’s 80th and my cousins had kept my wine glass very well topped up. I’m the youngest by nearly 10 years, they still think it’s funny to get me pissed), the thought crossed my mind to wonder how long he would be THIS cuddly for. How long do I get this for? So I inhaled his damp hair which smells of mango shampoo and something sort of sweet and wholesome at the same time, like biscuits or bread, and for a moment felt very content to have his little chubby hand twiddling my earlobe like he has from birth. It’s a primal thing sometimes holding your kids – I would literally die for them if I had to, but I need to remember that in the moments when you discover a month’s old grape behind the radiator, or they’ve inexplicably lied about brushing their teeth and you know they have because their toothbrush is still dry, for fuck’s sake.

So, yes, I seem to have turned into a total hippy. Pretty soon I will be knitting my own shoes and eating home-made mung bean dahl. But for now, everybody slow down for a second. Take joy in those moments. With your kids. Out for a run. Peace out, man.

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