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Running mojo

July was the first month in a couple of years that I’ve run lots and this is by no means a lot by my own low standards. However, it is a lot compared to how much I have been doing in the last 3 years.

As regular readers will know I moved to Scotland last year and now, being safely ensconsed in my new home, I have the time to dedicate to running. The trouble has been that my body has been ravaged by chronic injury, weight gain and a distinct lack of fitness action and so when the GingaNinja told me that I had finally gotten fat enough, it was decided that I would start to look after myself again and this meant getting fitter.

You may well have read my piece about my poor relationship food (read it here if you like) and my various blogs about a general annoyance at logging every last iota of data from running – I’ve never ascribed to the ‘if it isn’t on Strava then it didn’t happen’ – but this month I did a number of new things;

The first was I put my massive over-eating under control. The second thing was, despite my reservations, I signed up to Strava.

I did a couple of other key things too though, the third thing was I wanted to explore my surroundings and so invested in a few maps and ensured that I sought new and interesting places to run – this was in combination with a subscription to the OS Maps app (highly recommended for easy browsing maps).

I also sought support from my family and asked them to join me on a weekly hike up a hill or mountain within relative striking diatance of home – they heartily agreed and all of this began when we bimbled up to Cairngorms for a week towards the end of June. Now though all I needed to do was commit to the idea of returning to fitness and maybe even getting back down to a weight I could be a bit happier with.

Shaming myself
There was a part of me that felt like being on Strava and Instagram was a form of public shaming and by being more open than usual I would have nowwhere to hide. Those first runs were hard and they were brutal, they lacked any form of pace, my breathing was rubbish and I really was not going that far. Worse than that I had gotten the point where my running shirts were starting to make it look like I’d bought a size too small to show off ‘the goods’ – I hadn’t though. But I was committed to the idea of sharing this information, in part, to highlight to myself how far I had fallen and more importantly how much progress I could make.

Still those first few posts were damning and I hated putting them on Strava and Instagram.

However, as each day passed and I ran a little bit more, with a little more elevation and across harder terrain I could feel the benefits kicking in. Don’t get me wrong I was not going any faster but it was getting easier and I was focusing on climbing rather than distance which made every session I was doing even harder than I would train when I lived in the South East.

To help incentivise myself I added in a few Strava challenges such as the 5km race, the 10km race, 200km in a month and 2,000 metres elevation in a month – expecting to hit only the 5km and maybe the 10km race challenges. There was also the public humiliation of giving over my information to runners I both knew and didn’t know and so logically I began following local, to me runners, who if I knew might be looking at my runs might inspire me to pick up my feet and get round a bit quicker.

Food
The added challenge was that all of this has been run on a diet of around 1400 calories a day and so has been both intense and tough. I love food, especially ‘treat’ food and I’ll reward myself for almost anything. So sticking to a better eating life has been good for me and the whole family. I’ve found myself cooking more again (and enjoying it) and I have generally eaten less – that said my consumption of sugar free Irn Bru has quadrupled (at least). The one thing that has been dropped from my diet is chocolate (not 100% but not far off) and my consumption of sugar has also been drastically reduced – all of this means that I have managed to shed nearly 3kg in weight during July.

I don’t want to make it all sound positive though and there were a couple of bad days where take away food was eaten but I’m trying not to beat myself up about that – these were social occasions and there were more good days than bad, and are that note I can seamlessly segway into the numbers of July…

The Numbers
So how do the numbers stack up for this month?

  • Time on my feet: 29hrs 45 mins
  • Activities: 30
  • Distance: 233.7km
  • Elevation Gain: 4,142 metres
  • Running: 24hrs 16mins
  • Running Distance: 209.6km
  • Running Elevation: 3,332 metres
  • Hiking: 5hrs 6mins
  • Hiking Distance: 22.3km
  • Hiking Elevation: 795 metres
  • Weight: Down 2.8kg
  • Races: 1 (Ben Vorlich Ultra)
  • Instagram Posts: 300
  • Blog Posts: 3

The numbers aren’t amazing but they do show a surge in my activity level and if I can maintain this level then I am sure that I will get faster and continue to get fitter.

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Physical and Mental Wellbeing
I’ve discussed several times that running keeps me healthy both physically and mentally and that when I don’t run then both suffer and while it is bad for my body to be unfit when my mind is unfit I become a much less decent human being. When I was running through London on a daily basis as part of my commute I found this rather stressful and was often having to reach a point by a certain moment or running to another train station because London Bridge was closed or Cannon Street had been flooded or Dartford  was closed so I would then have to wake up tired legs to run the final leg home. Now I am running for pleasure with the greatest pressure deciding on where I need to run – it won’t always be like this but for the moment I am enjoying the freedom afforded by my job, my drive to work and the locations I pass through – which are filled with rich, luxourious landscapes.

My mental wellbeing is as good as it has ever been, if not better and my life feels lighter – of course nothing is perfect and something terrible could happen tomorrow but I’m working on the assumption that it won’t and so as my physical wellbeing improves through the running so does my mental wellbeing and perhaps I’ll get to a point where I won’t be thinking about the next potential disaster situation and rather be thinking about the next step upward.

The Routes
The routes have been the most spectacular part of returning to running and I’ve explored lots of my little part of Scotland, there have been mountains, waterfalls, hills, lots of mud, some tarmac and head high grass at almost place I’ve run – this has been tremendously exciting. Some of my favourite places have been Polmont Woods& Burn, Blackness Castle & The John Muir Way, Torphichen & the Cairnpapple, Muiravonside & the Avon Aqueduct, The Kinneil Estate, Westquarter, The Union Canal,  Dechmont Law, Ben Vorlich, Dumyat & Castle Law, Miekle Bin, Meall a Bhuachaille, Steall Falls, Ravencraig & The Knook, Greendykes Bing, Seafield Law and Rough Castle & The Falkirk Wheel. I can highly recommend trying out some or all of them – it is true to say that these aren’t The Highlands but they are no less fun. I’ll be continuing to explore over the following months more and more areas, I’ll be spending more hours poring over maps to find places that nobody else goes to and I’ll be continuing to get lost as I increasingly seek the off trail routes (my legs have been stung so much this last month).

 

Highlights
The highlights are actually pretty easy and it has little to do with running and more about achieving fitness – climbing up Dumyat & Castle Law in the Ochils with ASK and the GingaNinja and also the climb up The Law was lots of fun. Hoerver, it was more than that, it was excellent preparation for running up hills and testing myself – forcing myself to go slower with a 4 year in tow up a 700 metre ascent means that I have developed patience. So thanks family for helping me get back on track.

The Future
There is much in the diary already – first up is the Thieves Road in a week but I consider that a stepping stone to more challenging oportunities further down the line. The Ambleside 60 in September will take me back to a true love of mine – The Lake District and to a place I spent many happy days during my 20s – from here though things get a little more serious. The Ochil Ultra at the end of September will be hard and at 50 miles it will be a test of how far I have come and will very much determine whether I race the Rebellion. The Rebellion at 135 miles is the furthest I will ever have run – I will have no support crew and I will need to be on point and fit as I can be. If successful I then have four weeks to recover before my 2019 A race – The Montane Cheviot Goat, I am very much looking forward to this and will hopfully serve as reward for several months of hard work – but we shall see.

But the future is about more than races, the future is about my health and wellbeing and that of those around me.

ASK asks me when I am going to die and the answer I give her is that, ‘I’ll die one day, maybe tomorrow, maybe next year or maybe a long time away’. I always remind her that the reason I run and want an active life for all of us is to make sure that I am, and we are, around for as long as possible and it is the reason I ask that she join me on runs and hikes – so that she will live, in her words, ‘a very long time’. There are things I cannot control but this is something that I can influence.

If we can maintain this as a family then we will succeed and I have learnt that I really can’t do it alone and it is not just the support of family I’ve found the social thing much more useful this time around too.

When ‘the social family’ is sending kudos on Strava or liking pictures on Instagram or reading this blog then know that you are making a difference to ensuring I succeed, but not in the way you might imagine I still don’t really care if anybody reads this and if no Kudos or Likes are received then that is fine – I’m not really needy about stuff like that. But exposing myself to social scrutiny is a valuable lesson for me, in that it ensures I am looking at developing an ongoing healthy relationship with my own honesty towards wellbeing and I’d hate to be dishonest so if everyone ignored it I that’s fine because its for my own self satisfaction. Maybe self satisfaction is what this needs to be about – something for me to think about as August comes around.

Anyway, so see you out there and enjoy your running.

 

One of the guiltiest pleasures of my life is my love of the classic 1980 masterpiece ‘Flash Gordon’ starring the outrageously blonde Sam Jones, the tempting Melody Anderson, the debonair Timothy Dalton and of course Brian Blessed stealing the screen with his huge presence.

For God’s sake! Strap yourselves down! Quick!
One of the things I have recently discovered is that the film was part shot on location in the Isle of Skye – yes that’s right the runway scene at the beginning just before we discover that Flash hasn’t learnt to land a plane.

Gordon’s Alive
The good news is that the runway is still there and although I understand its fallen into disuse you can still get on there and grab a photo while wearing your ‘fan favourite’ Flash Gordon’ T-shirt. Trust me – I’m filled with a deep sense of glee knowing that in just a couple of weeks I’ll be grabbing that photograph.

Flying blind on a hawkman rocketcycle! Over to homing beam!
Now why is my running blog going on about my favourite movie? Ah well that’s pretty simple, as some of you know I’ll be running the 74 miles from the top of Skye to the bottom during the Skye Ultra Trail running event at the end of May and I had this amazing dream last night where Sam Jones, Brian Blessed and other cast members presented the runners with their medals for running from one end of the island to the other. I think it also had Brian May giving it riz on guitar in the background as I crossed the line – what a dream.

Forget it Ming, Dale’s with me
So here’s the thing, just if any of the cast/crew read this, if you happen to be passing Skye on May 28th/29th and wanted to eat some cake and say hi, if you happened to want to leave a message of good luck for the runners then that would be an awesome lift to those who will be battling (not Ming) the challenges of the Skye Trail and I imagine we would all jump up and down in joy.

Vultan: That must be one hell of a planet you men come from. Flash: Not half bad
I realise I’m probably abusing my own blog but putting this out there but if you don’t ask you don’t get. The Skye Trail Ultra will be one of the hardest races I have ever committed to and especially as it takes place just  five days after I will have completed the incredibly tough 80 mile Hillsborough to Anfield Run in memory of the 96 people who died at the Hillsborough Tragedy.

I suppose Ming put it best when he said;

Pathetic Earthlings! Hurling your bodies out into the void without the slighest inkling of who or what is out here. If you knew anything about the true nature of the universe, anything at all, you would have hidden from it in terror.

Well I’ll be hurling my body into the void and while I might not know what I’ll be facing I’ll be hoping to invoke the spirit of Flash Gordon and make sure I save the day.

What do Santa, God, the Tooth Fairy, Captain Kirk, Time-travelling Deloreans and a tasty Greggs Pasty have in common with Running Mojo? That’s correct they’re all fictitious – especially the Greggs pasty those things are nasty.

 

So to the point – in the last few weeks I’ve seen a rise in what people are calling a lack of ‘running mojo’ but here’s a weird thing – the symptoms of this phantom disease are never the same. Surely if it were real we could find some commonality but seemingly it can be caused by anything, at anytime and to anyone.

So what gives? 

Here are some of the reasons I’ve been heard over the years as to why ‘mojo’ has apparently left the building.

  • I can’t be arsed to run
  • I’m too fat too run
  • I’m just not ‘feeling’ it
  • I can’t run as fast as I used to
  • My life’s a bit crap at the moment
  • She’s left me
  • I need new trainers
  • It’s cold
  • It’s wet
  • I’m injured 

None of the reasons I’ve heard are liable to create a scenario of ‘mojo’ loss, these are individual problems that might affect running negatively but they shouldn’t necessarily stop you doing it. So when you analyse the problems you’re having with running is it really the waving a magic wand or searching under the sofa to restore the magic mojo that will make it all better or do you need to seek out the root problem?

I believe it’s the latter rather than the former – but there are those that will suggest the reverse. But let’s look at the major groups of so-called ‘mojo loss’

Excuses, excuses, excuses, we make excuses and come up with spurious reasons not to run. It’s a case of convincing yourself to get out there and do a bit – I’m not saying go and run up a mountain but excuses benefit nobody. A lack of motivation could be solved by finding a club, a running buddy, some friendly support (either in person or via social media platforms) or simply looking in the mirror and telling yourself to get out there. I’ll say this again – there’s no magic wand, running can be hard work but think of the long and short term benefits when you’re looking for excuses and you’ll be fine.

Life isn’t always like a box of chocolates, sometimes it’s just a box of turds! This is a difficult one, time, money, family, etc are the external pressures that we can’t always control. However, if running is your thing then you need to find a window for it, whenever it is – it may serve as an outlet to alleviate, however briefly, everything else. Running doesn’t solve life problems but can it make it worse? I tend to think not. What I know from personal experience is that if I don’t run for periods of time where life is overtaking me that leads to a less and less positive mindset which can be difficult to get out of and I do spiral downwards.

Boys and Girls and Girls and Boys. If a relationship has fallen apart or indeed just started up that’s not runnings fault, (well unless you run as much as I do) so don’t blame your lack of enthusiasm on it. Truth is there’s a silver lining to the end of a relationship – you’ll have more time for running AND running is full of attractive, sweaty, fit looking people, who’ll understand your running fascination / obsession better and some might even be looking for a bit of romance, running styleee! Obviously this is not an excuse to exchange your current loved on (ahem). And if it’s vice-versa and you have started on a new relationship that overtakes your life, try and remember that running was there before your new beau and will be once they’re gone – so don’t neglect it. In fairness I’d hope that a spanky new relationship would inspire you to get out there and keep in great shape but you never can tell.

Wet weather and lacking the right kit. Seriously that’s not running mojo that’s laziness. A lack of new trainers, a bit of wind and rain? Get your shit together and get out of the house.

The plague of injury. Stop, get it fixed, come back stronger. Injury is crappy and it requires mental toughness and a desire to fill your time with something other than running. Injury is something most of us will suffer with periodically and if the only thing you do is run then that can be very challenging to fill the void. However, having a range of activities or people you enjoy and can support you during these times will deflect from the pain of rehabilitation and lay-offs.

In and out of love. I’ll agree that you can fall out of love with running, it’s happened to me enough times but I’d never try and blame something so intangible as ‘running mojo’, I’d accept that I wasn’t enjoying it and look to rectify the source of my angst. For me, when times are tough and running isn’t going as planned I usually take a break and only when I start seeing Lycra clad runners streaking past me and I’m jealous do I know it’s time to return. Yep there ain’t no mojo got a hold over me.

I may not believe in running mojo loss – because I believe it’s simply a term for a collection of things such as lethargy, disappointment, injury, negativity and the like. There are solutions to most things in life (not all of them easy) but if you’re feeling shit in your running you might consider the root problem rather than look into the eyes of this mysterious mojo force. We’re all individual and how you drag yourself out of that hole is as individual as your fingerprint but remember there ain’t no hoodoo over you it’s just all about the awesome hard work you put in.

So do you believe in ‘running mojo’? Am I missing a trick? Have I just never been imbued with the power of mojo? If it is real, then what is it? Or am I correct and mojo is simply all the positive gubbins like tenacity, endurance, good feeling and desire? I’m curious about this one and keen to learn – thoughts happily accepted.

Enjoy running.

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