I’m in…

Last week I travelled.

First, to Newcastle and onwards to the coast, unplanned, but easily managed by train.  A pre-arranged journey would have taken longer, there’d have been waiting time. I’m not one to plan for sprinting between connections; I succeeded nonetheless to make swift changes. My running for the week was mainly at York station.

Then, back from the coast, to the edge of Cheshire for a reunion with two school friends. That journey, planned ahead, presented problems. Trans-Pennine trains proved unreliable. I went by bus. It was worth the effort, years rolled away as we recalled memories of the life we shared half a century ago. After I left I realised that no-one had taken a picture. I need to remind myself it happened, despite not being recorded.

Monday afternoon brought news by email. ‘Huge congratulations, YOU ARE IN.’

That risk I took with my running ambitions, a ballot entry to the Great North Run, has been rewarded. There’s 28 weeks of training time (and the arrival of two new grandchildren) before I stand in fear on the start line. They’ll play Mark Knopfler’s Going Home; I can hear it already. It’ll be with me as I head back to the coast. It won’t be a sprint, not even that final stretch along the seafront at the end; but it will be an achievement for a granny who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, run at school. Wish me good luck… and strong knees.


The best part

My running habit is restored. January’s goal of returning 3 miles to the comfort zone is done. I tell myself that if I increase by just one mile each month, I’ll have smashed 10 miles by August.

I’m persuasive, I’ve convinced myself that I can do this. So much so that, with the countdown for the October 10 miles slowly ticking down, I took a risk. I tempted fate, and entered the ballot for September’s Great North run. It’s where my running journey started nearly 20 years ago. I tell myself that, if I get a place, it’ll only be another 3.1 miles. Anticipating the exhilaration of that final run along the seafront will keep me motivated through February’s frosty days.

Whether or not I get that place, I’ve plenty to celebrate this year. Not least, two new grandchildren on the horizon, and the prospect of a return to study. Can I possibly achieve new status as thisGrannyMA? I’ll need to keep on running to stay grounded.

I upped my effort today with an undulating route. I earned an encouraging “Well done love” as I panted uphill past an elderly couple. Thankfully, today there was none of the less than welcome heckling from stereotypical ‘white van man’ that I sometimes have to endure.

Returning home I announced to Mr A that I’d run the best part of 4 miles. He asked what the best part was. I pondered. The start, the finish or maybe that gentle stretch of downhill? No, the best part was that I’d run it all. Even better, when I measured later, I discovered that I’d under estimated the distance for a change. Admittedly, not by much, but another milestone is broken.

Seeking resolutions

The Friday writing group re-convened this morning. Some of us had also met for lunch on Monday, and scones on Thursday, all with the intention of feeding our minds and nurturing our creativity. Today, we faced a challenge to poeticise New Year hopes and resolutions, and reflected on the idea that January is not always the best of months for creating better habits.

In our house, the change of year, unusually, slipped by in sleep. I’d felt no motivation to send out invitations for midnight celebrations; there were none to accept or refuse. It was a quiet night in with no fireworks. We ate dinner and played Carcassonne at the kitchen table.  The following morning we awoke in a new year filled with fresh anticipation. There may be economic gloom but family growth forecasts are good; two new babies are expected in the spring.

There were no new resolutions for me this year, just the inevitable recycled determination to make my running shoes work harder than they managed last year. A quick calculation tells me that the 365 days to train for that deferred 10 mile run are currently down to 277. It’s still a possibility. It’s not only health and stamina holding me back. It’s the loss of habit and routine.  I miss the buzz of the endorphins.

We talked this morning about our writing habits and routines, and how we use our notebooks. Most of us confessed we’d lost our motivation. I rummaged through my bag and found another resolution. I know that I don’t thrive in creative chaos. I need to tidy out my bag, clear my head of rubbish; make a plan, create a list, enjoy the thrill of ticking off the tasks.

Watch this space, this granny is seeking new adventures.

Advent joy

It’s Advent Sunday. I went looking for the candle holder, found it with the remnants of last year’s advent candle. I burned it down, it took some of the enamel from the holder with it and left me wondering where this year has gone. Parts of it have left me overwhelmed by the demands and speed of life.

Covid knocked me out twice; energy is not yet fully restored. I’m not alone in that.

One of the healthy habits built up in lockdown was the daily walk or run. Purposeful being out of doors, thinking time. Now, I feel I’ve lost the art of walking as a habit. My body may accept a brisk walk to get to a planned activity as exercise but my mind does not receive the same rest. The solitude of lockdown walking, lightened by chance encounters with friends and strangers, is gone. 

Earlier this week, I was walking with Jenny. She’s a good friend, a planner and an extrovert.  She loves a group activity and thrives on doing things with others. We were on our way to lunch. We met Mary, she was coming towards us, alone and walking for the sake of walking. I’ve missed Mary’s quiet company and wisdom. We’re overdue a coffee. I had to cancel last time due to Covid. 

My writing habit has been intermittent this year too. But it’s not been without its achievements. I remind myself of the joy derived from belonging to writing groups. And in my year of failing well, there’ve been small victories too. Not least, a short listing for a short story, celebrated by a trip to Edinburgh for a gathering of fellow writers.

My advent book’s been on my shelf for a while. I found it second hand, out of season. I opened it this morning and read, in the opening lines of the introduction: people ask me how I find time to write…we all find time for the things that really give us joy

That’s as far as I got, I needed to stop and reflect.

Do we? Or are those things sometimes squeezed out by daily life?

My advent hope is now for joyful habits to be reborn in me. I need to rekindle the joy of walking and jogging in mindful solitude. For today, I’ll just reflect on that opening sentence. With eleven chapters to go, this advent pilgrimage may take a while.

Fail, fail again, fail better

Leaves shine golden in the sunshine. An invitation from a perfect autumn day to scrunch amongst acorns, beechnuts and conkers carpeting the paths. I’m always pleased to kick through fallen leaves.

Four years ago, on a wet October day, I ran my first, and only, marathon. (You may ask, how do you tell if someone has ever run a marathon? It’s easy, they won’t stop telling you.) It was a day of exhaustion, exhilaration and continuous bouncing rain. The weather for that run was very different this year: a perfect day for running, not too hot, not too cold and even better, it stayed dry.

Thirteen weeks ago I set a goal, made a plan to return to the route for the shorter ‘just ten miles’. Having a goal got me back into my running shoes, back to the parkrun. The training started well, continued through August. I even drafted in granddaughter1 to cycle along the disused railway line as I ran behind her. She was rewarded for her achievement with an ice cream at the far end of the route.

Now, #thisgrannyruns taunts me from the redundant running number lying on the kitchen table, never to be pinned onto a running vest. No excuses, it just didn’t happen. I’ve not been idle, I’ve walked many hilly miles with Mr A and friends. It’s just that training drifted, energy diminished, plans were disrupted. Something was missing. The drive, the motivation, the get up and go, had gone. It’s there, on the results sheet, ‘Did not start’.

I was there at the finish, as spectator and supporter ready to cheer daughter1 over the line. She, and all the other runners, have my respect for the effort they sustained. Not just in running on the day, but in building the physical strength and mental stamina for this achievement.

This year, I failed to make it to the start; but, I’m learning to fail wisely. I’ve deferred my entry to next year. The 365 day countdown to the start line has begun…

Nostalgia reimagined

The end of the second Elizabethan era has been marked by proclamation, pageantry, and procession. Pictures of Elizabeth’s state funeral reminded me of souvenir magazines, once carefully stored in my Gran’s house, containing photographs of Elizabeth’s father’s coffin draped in the same colourful flag. And now, seamlessly, whether royalist or republican in belief, we have a new monarch. One generation has given way to the next.

It’s been a time for nostalgia. Last week, I learned its etymology.

Apparently, it’s derived from the Greek: nostos, homecoming, and algos, pain or distress. In the 18th century it referred to severe homesickness and was regarded as an illness. It’s a longing for a time or a place that may never truly have been quite as we imagine it.

I felt a little nostalgic this week for a part of my own roots. I went up to Glasgow to meet a friend; it was a sunny day, and I had some time to spare. I walked beside the Clyde to the end of Glasgow Green where I stood directly opposite the red stone terrace where, a century and a half ago, my Great-Great-Grandmother made her home. I’ve read copies of some of her correspondence; it’s a life I can only imagine.

Walking back towards the city, I passed beneath the McLennan Arch. It’s at the entrance to the Green; I’d run beneath it 10 years ago at the end of the Great Scottish Run. I assumed then that it had always stood here, even imagined my G-G-Grandmother here.

There were plenty of runners around in the late afternoon sunshine. I was happy enough to let them run whilst I took my time to walk and think. Just beyond the arch, I paused to read the engraved stone sunk into the pavement. It seems that, over the years, the arch has had several homes around the city, it’s only been here since 1991. If G-G-G did ever shelter beneath it, it would’ve been elsewhere. I’ll never know.

Delays and cancellations

Parkrun is back in the comfort zone. I’ve been up and out there every Saturday in August. Running further feels much harder. The mid-October ten mile target may be deferred. I blame the summer sun. Other excuses are available.

Last week Mr A and I completed the three day walk along the stanza stones. It’s taken just a little over three years.

We’d planned to walk the 47 mile trail from Marsden to Ilkley in August 2019. Accommodation booked, backpacks at the ready, weather forecast bad, we decided not to commit to three wet days in the hills. We agreed, weather permitting, to do each day individually, using public transport at the start and finish.

Day 1, completed with the Rain Stone; the rest of that summer was a washout. We’d walk days 2 and 3 next year. Twenty-twenty foresight would’ve told us this was not a year for plans.

Day 2, completed in 2021. We arrived at Hebden Bridge to pick up where we left off two years earlier, walked to Bingley. We’d walk the final leg later the same week. An emergency call for childcare put the day on hold.

Day 3, August 2022, took us out along the canal from Bingley, passing the three and five rises of locks before heading across the moors to Ilkley.

On Ilkley Moor we met a solitary poet from Toulouse. Three years is nothing she said. She’d waited ten years to make her poetic pilgrimage. She warned us that the Beck Stone can be hard to find. She was right. The path is overgrown; there’s not much evidence of passers-by deviating from paddling beneath the bridge.

The Ilkley poets’ seat, offering a space for reflection of the landscape and perhaps to leave a poem, seemed sadly neglected, overgrown with nettles. Less than tempting for a short clad walker to linger.

We rushed on. We believed we had a bus to catch. The online timetable told us they’d been reduced to a 2 hourly service. We arrived at the bus station in good time to read the handwritten notice: X52 no longer runs from Ilkley, it starts and ends in Otley. We went in search of a train, back into Leeds and out again.

Mercury rising

It’s been a hot day.

The hottest ever in the UK. It’s a day to stay indoors, to drink iced water in a shady corner. Outside, temperatures soar. It’s reported, not so far away, to exceed 40°c. Mr A’s old thermometer, an inheritance from his Grandad, pushes towards the dizzy heights of 100°f.

The climate emergency feels real. Air conditioned spaces feel comfortable. It’s a mixed blessing, the cooling units are part of the problem. It’s not a record we hoped to see.

It’s not a day for running.

Half a week ago it seemed easy to say yes to running ten miles in mid-October. Two weeks ago, I watched endurance runners battle on to 100 miles and more around a five mile loop. We camped, with two daughters and two grand-daughters: their dad began to run at lunchtime, kept running through the night.

My target’s just a tenth of his. There’s 3 months left to train. With 3 miles back in my comfort zone, 10 miles sounds like a possible challenge. Place secured, I planned to make a plan. Thirteen weeks to go. It can’t be that hard to gear up my running and put in the extra miles.

I started a training spreadsheet, opened my diary in search of uncommitted time. It will be neither easy nor impossible. There’s time to make a plan, break it, struggle round the route. The plan is simple: run further, not faster; prioritise the headspace; enjoy the running me-time.

#thisgrannyruns is back. Or will be, once the temperature falls.

English Rose

June is a month of roses and, for us, of birthdays. Our youngest daughter left her twenties, Mr A achieved 64, who could ask for more. We celebrated with a sunny weekend in a Yorkshire folly large enough to accommodate three generations. Even with a combined age of 94, these two birthdays cannot compete with Great gran, Gi-gi. The same age as the queen, it’s her turn to celebrate today. I took cake and roses, we had a short walk in the sunshine.

Our neighbour’s a collector, mostly of art deco. She was talking of roses this week. She’s got a lovely garden, but she’s also quite besotted with the red and white English Rose kitchen she keeps in a garden room. It looked familiar, and prompted nostalgia in a child of the late fifties. She began to tell the story of how the kitchens were produced post-war in redeployed aircraft engineering works. The story sounded familiar, ‘I think our family’s cooker might have been English Rose’, I said.

I described its hob. An oblong griddle, warmed by the grill, a round hot plate and a single ‘red-ring’, a fierce element that was slow to glow. I was regularly warned it could be hot even when it wasn’t glowing. I tested it for myself, and lived for a while with parallel blisters across my fingers.

Its oven was small, it struggled with a Sunday roast; its grill burned everything. Toast was scraped each morning. It was tough, survived a minor fire to cross the Pennines in our uprooting. It fed our family into the 1970’s.

Marion doesn’t have the cooker. She’d like one, says they’re hard to find.

What’s the plan?

We walked St Hilda’s way, extending the route to start and end at Whitby, beginning with a walk along the coast to Runswick Bay. Planning for the twice delayed trip began pre-pandemic; after a long wait, we were blessed by perfect walking weather.

One oversight in our planning: we didn’t think to check that all St Hilda’s churches visited on the route would be open. Things have changed in lockdown. We became skilled at identifying Hilda in stained glass windows, viewed in reverse, from light to dark. They were impressive but doubtless less so than back-lit as intended.

This wasn’t a solitary pilgrimage, but there were opportunities to walk alone, to take time out, recharge my batteries. Many years ago, Myers-Briggs scored me, by the smallest of margins, as an extrovert. It never felt quite right, I don’t always become more energised in company; I can feel drained after too much time with others. Especially those who really do take their energy from those around them.

I prefer the label, ambivert, I first came across it in Susan Cain’s book Quiet. She quotes Jung: “There is no such thing as a pure extrovert or a pure introvert. Such a man would be in the lunatic asylum.” Such a woman too, I echo. I don’t like the language, it’s outdated, but the fact remains that achieving the right balance seems to be the key to wellbeing.

Inspired by those I’ve met this week, not least a passing conversation with a supermarket cashier, I began to review how I’m currently using (or neglecting) my own strengths. I was reminded that the M-B profiling that suggested I was energised by extroversion also identified my lifestyle preference as, almost off the scale, ‘J’: planned, organised, decisive. All positive strengths, when used in the right measure.

Alone, or in a group, I can be full of energy. So long as there’s a plan.