So. We made it to the end of the eleventy-billionth week of January. This month of dismal mornings, short, wet afternoons, and chilly, cold-infused nights can seem to drag on forever—and if you’re one of the many who enthusiastically signed up to a life-changing 31 days of juicing, veganism, daily exercise or alcohol-free virtuousness, it can only feel even longer…
January got off to a very slow start for me. Far from being the moment to embark on greater fitness or dietary adventures, it has instead been a month of finally getting to grips with doing less.
I got sick over Christmas—nothing serious, but enough that I spent a good couple of weeks mostly in bed or on the sofa, with nothing more exciting than Night Nurse to keep me company, followed by seemingly endless days of inching back up the steep and winding recovery hill.
Sometimes I’ve found it hard to relax my running routine.
For me, running is supreme enjoyment: being challenged, being outdoors, feeling powerful (sometimes!) and alive. I won’t bang on about this here, but if you need to double check that you read that right (“she enjoys running…??”) you could read pretty much any previous blog post of mine for long and wistful descriptions of wind through hair, open road, freedom, empowerment etc.
Overtraining and exercise addiction are both very real, very unhealthy, and it’s wise to do a regular check-in on yourself if you think you might be at risk of either of these things. I think I have a good balance (and a lot of balancing people around me) to keep those checks in place. But like many runners, I absolutely love my sport, and find enforced time off / dialing down profoundly frustrating, disheartening and dull.
But when you’re sick, you’re sick. Over Christmas I restricted myself to an extremely slow run / mostly walk for one mile each day. The fresh air felt good and the change of scenery helped my mental health; I made sure I went with someone, just in case I felt a bit rough along the way, I monitored my heart rate ensuring it was comfortably in a safe zone the whole time, and it was basically the only thing I did do for about three weeks!
I was disciplined. I didn’t try and do any more, but every day I did this one little thing. Maintaining the daily running streak (even though it was only really running in the loosest sense) gave me the satisfaction of knowing I still had some say in what my body did, even though it was limited—keeping a pattern of daily exercise that I could gently crank back up as I started to feel better.
And get better I have, although it’s taken some time. I’m still aiming (badly—I’m rubbish at this one) for early nights, and I’m turning down social events in the evening; I’m still restricting my pace and my distance; I’m even trying to give myself a couple of hours off every day (work allowing) to completely rest, reading a book or watching a bit of telly. This is unprecedented territory for me. It’s not what I do.
I’m the Pusher Through, the Tough It Out Woman, the Queen of Pulling Myself Together.
Not this time.
Being actually properly unwell, although it was just for a short time, has given me a new perspective on managing lower physical capacity. I’m consciously putting to one side my normal expectations of myself and appreciating my returning capacity.
Since I started to feel better, I’ve been carefully considering my run each day, and often still keeping it to one or two gentle miles. Cross training is now back in the picture, and so when I returned to my twice-weekly HIIT classes, I dipped the running down again, so that I didn’t overdo it and compromise my body’s returning fitness.
A friend told me last week that it was good to see me moving at a slower pace. In my Strong by Zumba class, there are some absolutely fierce exercises where we slow down a familiar move and do it at half speed. The control required to resist momentum, and complete the movement with the same technique is immense, and it builds greater strength and resilience.
Last week—the third week of January—was the one in which, apparently, most people abandon their New Year’s resolutions. In my church community we have a phrase: “the stumble is the lie”. Basically, it means that when something goes wrong, when you make a mistake or fail at something, it’s a blip. You fall over, you get back up again. Stumbling isn’t your status. The danger comes from being intimidated by the blip, fooled into thinking that this is the end of your process.
Taking time out to recover from illness or injury is a good idea. Feeling overwhelmed by daily running (or any other new undertaking) and deciding to skip a session or two for your mental / physical wellbeing is fine. Doing something every day because you feel you must is not okay—and all of these January Challenges can create a false sense of obligation that entangles and trips us up.
If you have fallen off the New-Year’s-Resolution wagon, fear not. The stumble is the lie. Your journey can start with small steps (and it can start in any month of the year!), and will ultimately lead you to a mature, balanced and sustainable approach to your health and fitness.
You may have made some decisions about 2020, perhaps set a few goals, and it’s possible that some of your intentions haven’t yet been fully realised, or you got a bit off track lately. For me, January has been a lot slower than usual, and if I’d made a plan for the beginning of the year, I’m pretty sure this wouldn’t have been it. But guess what?
Status Update: I’m still running.
Running streak total today is 1120 days, 4136 miles. #runeveryday