Day 27 of 200 – Remember, remember

(Blackpool Half-Marathon training)

Monday 5 November 2018

It’s soon got to Guy Fawkes Night.  It only seems like last week when the Christmas decorations were being packed away and carefully placed into the loft.  Now we’re already thinking about which weekend will be best to go through what we have stashed away and plan to put them all back up again.

I quite like this time of year because it is full of dates that one can use to mark the passing of time.  Halloween, Guy Fawkes Night. To me they are memorable because they represent things that I have done with my children.  I can remember every single time we’ve walked around our estate trick or treating; luckily where I live this means it is simply families walking to the houses of other families and swapping sweets and treats.  I can remember one year when my son received a plum. The family had run out of sweets and were now improvising with fruits. Being just two years old he found it funny to call it a plim rather than plum. The memory almost breaks my heart with its utter ordinariness.  Then there was the year my daughter was a curious mixture of shyness and confidence as she ambled round in her costume, holding my hand as she knocked on doors. This year I hardly saw her as she walked around with her friends, before returning home with a pumpkin full of sugary snacks, her face a mixture of childish pride and hints of the adult she’ll eventually become.

So, yes, I like this time of year because it somehow encourages my reflectiveness.  It’s the leaves falling from the trees; the year is drawing to a close. But the opposite of this is the fact that spring will return, the leaves will come back, and life will once again shine in all of its greenness.  The sun will be warm. And by next spring, I’m hoping that runs will be fast.

In the meantime, runs are slow.  I’ve been at Bolton parkrun. On Saturday I had a target time of 33 minutes, just shy of eleven minute miles.  I really want to do everything that I can to protect my hamstring and build up slowly. In the end I ran 29:25, and my leg felt great.  The hills felt harder than they used to, but overall it was great to be running with others and bobbing along reasonably comfortably. I also wanted to start slower than I finished.  I’m convinced that, in the long term, success on this course is dependent on not getting too carried away at the beginning. So, with this in mind, I was really pleased with miles of 9:50, 9:21, 8:54.  The aim will be to chip 30 – 45 seconds off each week so that I get used to running a tiny bit quicker in a measured and controlled way. That’s also the aim for the other runs in the week. This is week two of the ‘comeback’.  I don’t have any fancy plans. My only aim is to very gently turn the screw so that the distance nudges up by half a mile here and there. For each run, I aim to run slightly quicker than last week. Strava tells me that the average pace of my runs last week was 10:12 minute miles.  This week I will be happy with 10:00 minute miles. It’s all about gently making progress.

Strava also tells me that this time last year I ran a steady 9 miles at 8:18 pace.  As I look back on this run, it almost feels like a different person ran that. As I prepare to run 4 miles tonight at a pace much slower, I allow myself a moment to feel a touch sorry for myself that I am nowhere near being that fit.  It is just a moment though. Those memories are only worth dwelling on for the positives, and the positive is this: runs like that have led to where I am now. I’m healthy, happy, and learning all the time about what I can do. Running is ace.  I always remember that.


Day 21 of 200 – Habits, again

(Blackpool Half-Marathon training, 2019)

Tuesday 30 October 2018

Part of returning from an injury is learning to get back into the habit of running again every day.  It’s all too easy to get into the habit of not running because, after all, that’s what I have been doing: not running.  So, after two months of not being able to run, it’s back to it, it’s back to the habit of running.

I’ve often reflected on the idea that the universe has an odd way of putting in your path just the very thing that you might need.  It’s not always what you want.  I didn’t want to be injured. (Although, let’s be honest, of all of the things that one can be afflicted with, a dodgy hamstring is pretty low down on the list compared to the sheer misery of illness and circumstance that so many people in that world have to contend with.) But maybe, on reflection, it’s what I needed. Maybe I really needed sometime off, some time away from it all to work out what I really want from myself each time I lace up my shoes.  I’m still trying to work it out.

Sometimes these things that the universe seems to provide are a little more direct. This morning was no exception. For the last year I’ve made the conscious effort to break my twenty-odd year habit of listening to the Today programme on Radio 4. The coverage of the news, although thorough and comprehensive, left me feeling somewhat deflated.  I frequently found myself responding to a news agenda rather than actively setting my own for the day ahead.  With its insistence on global issues (many of which seem totally insurmountable, at least to me), I’d often feel the need to give myself a pep talk after listening.  So I broke the habit.  My new habit is to listen to podcasts.  My tastes are wide and varied, but a particular favourite is The Rich Roll Podcast. Today’s episode was with habit expert James Clear. (As an aside, I highly recommend that you subscribe to Clear’s email list.)  Of course, the topic of today’s podcast was habits.  This was a lengthy episode and it seemed like each minute contained a lesson that could be taken away and applied.  As I was busy doing other things I couldn’t really make notes – although I will definitely listen again to do so. But, still, a couple of points really stick in my mind:

  1. Start small. Do the smallest thing. For example: going to the gym for two minutes repeatedly sets the habit. If you do this each day, then the habit sticks. Yes, it’s only two minutes but momentum is everything. You build from there.
  2. This habit creates identity: I am someone who goes to the gym everyday. Habits are not really about what you do, but about who you are.
  3. It is the cumulative of these small actions which compound over time.

What is notable is the fact that there is nothing particularly new here.  Many people have said similar things before; I know I have on my own podcast.  What makes the observations so notable is the fact that we often need to convince ourselves of these basic truths when we are facing our own behaviour change.

Tonight, my own small training session was 30 minutes of weights, followed by a two mile jog at 12 minute miles.  My hamstring felt great!  Remember, it’s the small things completed repeatedly that add up to success over time.


Day 20 of 200 – One tenth

(Blackpool Half-Marathon training, 2019)

Monday 29 October 2018

When I started this little project I thought that I might be able to write a few lines each day as a way of reflecting on my progress towards running the Blackpool Marathon in April 2019.  It was not to be. I’ve been busy with work, busy with family life, busy with decorating, busy with going away with my family, busy, busy, busy…

I’ve also been busy continuing to build leg strength towards being able to run again.  And yesterday, I ran.  Not a long run.  Not a quick run.  But a run nonetheless… and it felt great.

I’m now one tenth of the way through this project, a project which will culminate in being able to run the Blackpool Half-Marathon at the end of April next year.  As I write this it is now 180 days away and after yesterday’s run it feels like I am going to need every single one of them.  Not only do I feel unfit, but it also felt like my legs didn’t really belong to me.  I suppose that this is no surprise as my last training run was back on 2nd September and my last run was the English Half Marathon on 16th September.

What was also no surprise is just how good it felt to be out running, or at least jogging along.  It felt amazing to be able to move my body around the park without feeling any pain in my left hip and leg.  It’s this that I want to dwell on. If there is a positive to take from all of this, it is this: running is great, no matter how slowly you do it.

Today I trotted round the park; I was able to get home for 16:30 and nip out for 35 minutes in the fading autumn light.  As I kicked through the fallen leaves I was struck with a profound gratitude.  One tenth of the way through a half marathon build up and I can just about muster a jog.  But that’s ok, and for that I’m grateful.

Day 7 of 200 – In the chair

(Blackpool Half-Marathon training 2019)

Tuesday 16 October 2018

I’m in the chair.

It’s my first local authority review as a Chair of Governors, a role I’ve been in for a matter of weeks.  I’m seated opposite the school improvement partner who is asking lots of searching questions about governance.  The questions are straightforwardly challenging, nothing that comes out of left field.  No curve balls here.  I’m being stretched but I’m confident. I’ve spent the last twelve months absorbing information as a governor; I’ve spent the last seven months on the Executive Board.  It’s an unusual way to run a school but it’s given me a great developmental opportunity that I’m pressing into service.  The more he pushes, the more I’ve got.  I think we’re both enjoying the interview.

And then it happens.  Quite literally, one second I’m talking through the way in which the governing body is positioning itself to offer greater rigour, support and challenge to the school and the next my left leg feels like it’s on fire.  The pain is spectacular; it radiates from my knee to my shoulder and throbs with a burning intensity.  For a brief moment it puts me off my stride, not too much, but just enough to make me realise that this injury is throbbing away in the background like the hum of a distant engine.  Luckily it ebbs away as quickly as it came and I get back to the business in hand.  But for that briefest of seconds I am acutely aware of the irony of feeling most injured when all I am doing is exercising my mind.

The review goes well.  I’m proud of the progress that we’re all making.  Perhaps what brings it home to me most is when, after the feedback, we make our way through the hall where the last of the after-school club children are helping to pack away toys and games.  A parent is waiting at the the other side of locked door in reception.  As the door opens and his daughter emerges he asks her how her day has been.  She’s clearly smiling and replies it’s been really good.  I have to agree.

Injuries are no fun.  I miss running.  But I’m always looking for the positive and today I don’t need to look very far.  It’s not all about running, schools, half-marathons, reviews… sometimes it’s more than enough to see a smiling face to know that you’re helping to make a difference.



Day 6 of 200 – Appraisal

(Blackpool Half-Marathon training 2019)

Monday 15 October 2018

It’s October.  For teachers everywhere this means completing the appraisal cycle.  We reflect upon our strengths, identify areas for development, set targets, fill forms, have conversations about performance.  The real value lies not so much in the completion of forms (although, it must be said, if this is done thoroughly it can be amazing to acknowledge just how much you really have done in the space of a year), but rather in the acknowledgement that this is simply part of a process.  Process is everything.

Like running, the outcomes of appraisal are useful for they can be measured.  But that only really tells part of the story; like running, success lies not in the yearly completion of a form, but in the daily commitment to the process of being better, of doing something better than you’d previously managed.  It’s all I can think about at the moment. Thinking about the outcome of this project is futile for I can’t even stride while walking without the telltale hamstring twinge. What I can do is think about the process of trying to do something each day that will bring me closer to my goal of getting to run again.  The process of getting to that point is more important than focusing on an uncertain outcome.

I reflected on this as I walked the dog.  Tonight it was the only thing that I could do in the process of getting back to running again.  One day the process of being injured will end…

Day 5 of 200 – Aching arms

(Blackpool Half-Marathon training 2019)

Sunday 14 October 2018

My arms are shaking slightly as I type this.  The first part of today’s training was a straightforward upper-body weights session.  As the gym was really quiet this afternoon I managed to keep my heart rate up as I moved from weight to weight.  Result: shaking, aching arms.


Then it was a quick drive home to take the dog round the park for another brisk walk. After a windy and wet few days it was great to march round with the sun out. Poppy enjoyed going for a swim and I enjoyed reflecting on the fact that so many people that I know had successful days out racing.  The great thing about running is the fact that it is possible to be motivated by the success of others, even when you can’t currently run a single step.


Day 4 of 200 – Only the Wind

(Blackpool Half-Marathon training 2019)

Saturday 13 October 2018

I’m being pushed around the park.  The wind at my heels, in my face, on my back.  The dog is enjoying it though; she’s pretending to nip at it when it ruffles her ears.  As we turn down a path that we taken countless times before, I see that the wind has felled a tree and the pathway has become a riot of snapped branches and colour.  I use the opportunity to take a quick picture and check my step count, 8564, before mooching on.

‘Just a little wind and the trees are falling down’

I’m walking because other than gym based work it’s the only weight bearing activity that I can do without aggravating my hamstring.  Really I want to be running on an afternoon like this. I take a moment to think about what I’ve not been able to do today: parkrun and then the first cross country race of the season.  For the briefest of moments I allow myself a second or two to feel sorry for myself.  I’ve learned that it’s healthy, at least for me, not to fight away such moments of despondency.  These days I acknowledge them for what they are, just thoughts.  And then I let them drift off into the mental ether and normal service can be resumed.  So I luxuriate in a self pitying ten seconds before looking across to see my Jack Russell bounding up a hill with a look of sheer delight spread over her face. It makes me smile.  And on I go. Just me, the dog, and the wind.

The first half of the Pet Shop Boys’ sublimely beautiful 1990 album Behaviour closes with the track ‘Only The Wind’.  The lyric discusses the aftermath of the wind rampaging through a neighbourhood replete with the sort of characters who ‘don’t lie anymore’; the whole song, at least to my ears, is a metaphor for the emotional devastation that is visited upon relationships when alcoholics stop drinking.  I’ve always been deeply moved by the short central refrain:

When life is calmer/I have no doubt/No angry drama/A storm blows itself out

The ambiguity of exactly to whom the angry drama belongs is what impresses me the most about the lyric.  The second time round the chorus offers a note of reconciliation as the orchestral arrangement grows in strength and offers a solid aural backdrop before the persona’s final words of ‘I’m sorry’.

Here’s a 2018 remaster:

Day 3 of 200 – Alton Towers

Friday 12 October 2018

(Blackpool Half Marathon 2019 training)

Just before I take this photo my watch buzzes to tell me that I’ve walked 10,000 steps.  I pause and look up.  The photo sums up where I am with training for this half-marathon: at the bottom of a huge climb.


My training today has been walking around Alton Towers with colleagues, checking in with students and chivvying them along at the end of a great day out with school.  There was a time when I’d have looked down my nose at the idea of walking as training.  The thing about a chronic injury is how you have to learn how to reframe your experiences if you are to maintain a happy and optimistic outlook.  There’s always something to learn. Everyday really is a school day.

Day 2 of 200 – Killing Eve

(Blackpool Half Marathon 2019 training)

Thursday 11 October 2018

Yesterday’s training consisted of walking the dog for 45 minutes.  I wanted to swim, but in a disaster of forward planning I got the days mixed up and missed the allotted swim time at my local pool.  Still, something was better than nothing and I enjoyed being outside for some unseasonably warm evening air.

You have to start where you are.  In my case this means with baby-walking steps.  There is little point worrying about the way that my fitness must have plummeted over the last six weeks.  It is what it is. Although it is sometimes hard to grasp, being injured is also an opportunity to do other things and to see things differently.

One of the other things that we’ve been doing is watching the brilliant Killing Eve, a spy drama that is darkly hilarious and equally dramatic.  Its two lead females pitch their perfectly observed characters across the globe in a tale of genre defining cat and mouse, while the viewer marvels at the uncontrived freshness of it all.  It’s spy drama not just done differently, it’s done better. Much better. The best thing I’ve seen in a long time. Thank you, injury. Take a look and see the genre differently.

I’ve also been spinning.  I’ve hardly been on a bike since Ironman, so it was great to complete a spin class at Leverhulme.  Although it must be said, anyone popping in would think it was more like a nightclub with wheels.  Music.  Lights.  Great fun at 5PM on a wet afternoon and a good way to get the heart rate up while protecting my hamstring.  I’ll be back.

Day 1 of 200 – Faith

(Blackpool Half Marathon 2019 training)

Wednesday 10 October 2019

I truly believe that within us all lies an untapped potential to be better and greater than we ever dreamed possible.  I haven’t always thought this way.  For most of my adult life I simply bumbled along and I didn’t give much time to thinking about how we are all able to grow into a different version of ourselves.  I’ve written and spoken about this many times, and there is little point repeating things here for the sake of it.  In essence: I believe we are happiest when we are living our lives in an attempt to fulfil our potential.

Running has helped me to see the truth of this.  Over the last few years I’ve felt at peace when I’ve exhausted mind and body while trying to become fitter, faster, stronger.  But here’s the problem, I’m currently injured. My hip has been aching on and off for over a year. After a painful half marathon a few weeks ago I decided to take a complete rest from running and allow it all to heal.  It’s not actually my hip that is the problem, the issue lies with my hamstring.  There is some scar tissue towards the very top of it.  This has been chronically aggravated, and therefore chronically inflamed. I can throw lots of different treatments at it, but what it mostly needs is time to heal.

Faith is what is needed and it is what I struggle with the most.  I like to maintain the illusion of control by planning my progression in my running.  It is an illusion though because our bodies (quite literally) have a life of their own.  While I was planning for a half marathon PB, my hamstring finally gave up.  So I need faith that it will get better; I can’t plan for it getting better: it will either happen or not.  There are things that I can do to help, but essentially the healing is an act of faith.  And this thought brings me to this little project.

Obviously I am disappointed that I wasn’t able to run the English Half Marathon.  I jogged around in 1:52 and even this really hurt.  I haven’t jogged a step since.  I would like to have another go at a half.  There is one in Blackpool at the end of April 2019, and by sheer good fortune, it is exactly 200 days away.  This is long enough to recover from this injury and long enough to get fit again.  However, rather than plan for how I am going to run this half marathon I am simply going to take it day by day.  In other words I am going to have a plan for each day and then have faith that things will start to come together at some point in the future.  These are my goals:

  • To complete in Blackpool Half Marathon on Sunday 28 April 2018.  (As of day 1 I have no time target, no outcome target other than to finish it without injury.)
  • To document the process in the form of a daily blog post.  The aim here is to hopefully help others to see that there are times in life when it is of far greater benefit to focus on process rather than outcome.
  • To be open minded about what the process might reveal.  (For example: it might reveal that I don’t want to run anymore! Hey, anything is possible!)
  • To have faith that things will work out as they should do, regardless of what the actual outcome might be.

That’s it!  I’ve always set out at the start of a project with a far clearer idea of what an outcome should look like.  This approach just simply wouldn’t work this time as I can’t even say with any certainty when I will actually be able to jog without pain!  Writing that and believing it requires faith.