Attack of the killer pollen

I’ve just got back from today’s run. I let myself sleep in a little to make up for a few nights in a row of less than my usual eight hours sleep. While this was a good idea, given that I have an extremely heavy work-week ahead of me, it meant that the roads were busy with people, and the temperature a little warmer. 14 degrees C is hardly the 30+ degrees that I experienced last week in south Spain, but it was enough that I didn’t go out with a jumper and started sweating pretty quickly into my run. It also meant that my face, always quick to colour through heat, exertion or embarrassment, quickly glowed a red-purple colour. Every person I ran past looked at me as though I was about to have a heart attack. No really, I wanted to tell them, I’m fine, it’s just my face. Here is a good reason for running at 6:30am – no one to witness my rosy face, and my embarrassment of it’s alarming colour only making the problem worse.

So add to this the problem of pollen. I suffer with Hayfever from March through to the end of September – I’m lucky like that. But, since this is the case every year, I have a routine of taking anti-histamines from the first day of March through to the first day of October. So far this year, armed in this way, Hayfever has not been much of a problem. Until today. As I made my way round my route, I could feel the gentle tingling sting in my nose. I sneezed, a lot. Thankfully I had tissues with me to deal with the constant stream from my nose. Add a bright red, streaming nose to my already glowing face and a pretty picture you do not have. No wonder people were giving me strange looks. All the same, I wish they’d kept them to themselves.

I had no stiffness after yesterday’s run, which was surprising but welcome. Maybe it’s a sign that my body has started to accept being made to work on an almost daily basis. If so, thank you, body, for adapting so quickly. Maybe it’s a sign that despite how the run felt, I didn’t push myself as hard as I thought.

I thought today’s session of 3 minutes running, 1 minute walking, 2 minutes running, 1 minute walking for 28 minutes would be easier than yesterday’s session. Nope. That extra 8 minutes, even with the alternating shorter running interval, made itself felt. It wasn’t burn in my legs though, it was my body’s reluctance to keep going. I felt tired and in constant battle with my willpower. When I came to the end of each walk interval I begged my running app to announce “end of workout” so I could walk the rest of the way. When it did finally come, I said “Thank you!” with such force that I made an old lady walking her dog jump.

Now that I’m home, I am sneezing constantly, and the tingle in my nose has spread to my throat. I’ve used a box of Kleenex trying to stop my nose from running, and now my eyes are itching and streaming. Time to get in the shower, and hope that removing all traces of pollen from me will do the trick.

Session stats:

  • Distance: 5.3km
  • Total time: 42m 10s
  • Fastest km: 6:53
  • Slowest km: 9:52
  • Average pace: 7:57
  • Weather: 14 degrees, sunny
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Angry running

The alarm went off at 9am. I had planned to get up earlier but ended up reading until 2am, mesmerised by the end of the book I was reading for a review. Books, good ones, have that power over me – just one more page, just until the end of the chapter, well it seems silly to leave just a few pages left… you get the picture. I hit snooze for 15 minutes – I have never been able to leap out of bed as soon as the alarm sounds. It hurt this morning, and I was very tempted to turn the alarm off and keep sleeping until I woke up naturally, but I was determined to not let today turn into the waste of time that yesterday turned into. Just get on with it, I thought to myself. I grabbed my running gear as I walked down stairs, jumped on the scales (22.9% body fat – yes!), got dressed, made up a bottle of protein shake, heavily watered down, drank half of it, and walked out the door.

I had originally planned to redo session one of my training plan as doing session four would mean starting the week two programme ahead of schedule, but having had a day off yesterday it seemed lazy to give myself an easy run. I selected session four and got running: run for 3 minutes, walk for 1 minute. The 3-minute intervals were tough from the outset. A muscle in my right glute was twinging, and I wanted to turn around, go home, and go back to bed. No. Keep going. Grit your teeth, get through it, get home, get on. Don’t be a baby.

It was an angry run. The more I ran, the angrier I felt. I even started thinking about a conversation I’d had earlier in the week that had really pissed me off, and mentally had an argument with the other person, which just made me feel even crosser. But then, just as I was wondering how many more of these bloody intervals I had left, the Runtastic app announced “end of workout” in my ears. I was surprised. That seemed quick. I checked my phone: the session was 20 minutes long, and it was 20 minutes since I’d left the house. Ok then. I was half way through my 5km, so I walked the rest.

By the time I got home, my mood had lifted a little but had been replaced with a thumping headache. Thankfully, breakfast and a large cup of tea fixed that. I have never been a fan of breakfast, but have settled on porridge (with milk) with fruit as something I can stomach, which tastes sweet enough to satisfy my tooth, but without a heavy calorie toll. Tea is non-negotiable. I will not function or be capable of anything better than a growl without it.

The great news, given the disaster of yesterday, is that I didn’t let myself sit down on the sofa. I ploughed on through the todo list. So, lesson learned. When feeling crappy and unproductive, get out the door and get moving – it will save the day.

How to procrastinate a day away

This morning I ignored the alarm. I just couldn’t do 6 hours sleep two days in a row. I slept until 8am and then got up. It was raining so, I attempted to get on with things, and managed to procrastinate all morning. I had lunch and then procrastinated all the way through the afternoon. My leg muscles are sore and stiff today – did you know that there are muscles on your shins? I didn’t until today. Now, every time I move, I can feel every single one of them in painful detail.

So the long and short of it is that it is now getting dark, and I haven’t been out for a run. How do I feel about this? Honestly, so tired that I want the sofa to absorb me. But I also feel guilty/crummy that I didn’t make it out today. Not only that, I haven’t even come close to hitting my usual step count for the day. I simply haven’t moved. Upgrade the crumminess to low-level shame.

Do I have any excuses for my slackness? Yes. Lots. I’m tired. My other half has gone away for the weekend, and the emptiness of the house is both distracting and absorbing. I have an end of year assignment to do for my part-time degree – it is bothering me, and I know that, because of a three-week contract that I’m about to start, this weekend is the best opportunity to get the bulk of the work done, and the feeling of pressure that this brings is crippling my ability to get started.

How do I respond to my excuses? Well, I could still have gone for a run, even after having had a longer sleep. If I had gone out for a run, it would have loosened up my stiff muscles. If I had gone for a run, it would have cleared my head and probably left me feeling energised in a way that would have prompted me to make myself busy and not feel the emptiness of the house. Coming back energised, I would have probably found getting started on my assignment easier. And as for avoiding starting my assignment, by procrastinating all day, I have wasted one of the four days that I have to make a decent dent in it, thus putting myself under even more pressure. All round counterproductiveness. Ridiculous.

What to do now? Simply, I just have to get on with it – do better tomorrow. So, bath, book, bed – a good night’s sleep and an early start, fully refreshed tomorrow.

Ok, now I get the early morning run thing

I did it! The alarm went off at 6am, I hit snooze until 6:15am, and then dragged myself out of bed and into my running gear. I downed up a cup of tea, plugged in my earphones and set off. It was FREEZING. There was crunchy frosted dew on the grass, and the car was crispy and glittery. Thankfully, I was wearing a hat and scarf otherwise I think it would have been unbearable. Thanks to the clocks moving forward, it was light in that soft, early morning kind of way. The best part was that it was quiet – hardly anyone about, light traffic – it was so peaceful. Today I was using session three of the Runtastic training plan: 2 minutes running, two minutes walking, for 30 minutes. Those two-minute run intervals started to burn quite quickly, my legs feeling really stiff from the last two days. The burn eased after about 20 minutes, but it wasn’t easy – I had to really push myself to keep going. I was glad when the session came to an end. I was about 1km from home, and by then the light was getting a little warmer, and the day seemed like it was starting to warm up. I got home, had breakfast and got ready for work, managing to get everything done much faster than normal.

Having only had 6 hours sleep, in order to make time for the run, I was expecting the early morning run to cause an energy crash part way through the afternoon, but actually found I had more energy throughout the day than normal. But, boy, was I hungry!

So, early morning run – not easy to get out of bed, but worth the trouble for the peaceful surroundings to run through. I wonder if I can do the same tomorrow.

Just because you did it once doesn’t mean you’ll do it again

I woke up with stiff legs from yesterday’s run. It took a while to get my body moving and to stop walking like an old lady. To add insult to injury I also woke up with stomach cramps, deep, painful cramps that travelled down my legs and made them feel like lead. I took paracetamol and then, because it was raining, I started working my way through my to-do list. By the time I had come back from a hospital appointment in the afternoon, the cramps were still defying the paracetamol, but the day was evaporating so I pushed my feet into my trainers and then out of the door. I have come to the conclusion that if you want to make something a habit, you have to do it every day, no matter what. If you don’t do it every day, you give yourself the room to not do it today. If you think “not today, I’ll do it tomorrow” then you’ll always put it off until tomorrow, and it’ll never get done today.

I selected the second training session from the Runtastic ‘Run 30 mins after 6 weeks training’ plan. This is 25 minutes of run for 1 minute, walk for 1 minute, run for 2 minutes, walk for one minute. The first interval of running for 2 minutes came as a bit of a shock, and towards the end the training session, they were starting to burn a little. At the end of the 25 minutes, I was around 3.5km through my route, so I walked the last 1.5km. Amazingly, the cramps had gone away – it was as though the run had eased the spasming muscles, and maybe the dopamine that exercise releases into the brain had acted as a natural painkiller too. I got back home feeling good.

Now, a couple of hours later, my legs are so stiff! I have to work on site tomorrow, needing to leave home at 8:30am, so I’ve laid out clothes to run in, filled my water bottle, and left everything ready for heading out for a run at 6:30am. So far so good. I hope I manage to drag myself out of bed in the morning.

Who the hell would choose to go running?

Yesterday, I arrived home, exhausted after two flights and three hours sleep, from a ten day trip to Spain to visit family. Getting off the plane this (UK) end, I was hit by a ten-degree drop in temperature from that which had ushered me onto the first flight of the day, ten hours earlier. That wasn’t the only harsh reality to welcome me home.

A couple of years ago, I experienced that realisation that I had put on more than ‘just a couple of pounds’ and now was the time to do something about it. Since then, I have been steadily losing the excess weight, and at the beginning of the year hit that ‘about right’ weight and size. This has mostly been achieved by sensible, healthy eating (no fad diets here), and sporadic periods of exercise training programmes. Recently, I bought a FitBit activity tracker so I could track calories burned versus calories eaten. It has been reassuring to discover that the balance of these calories is in the right direction most days, but it has also motivated to increase my daily activity and over the last two months I have increased my average daily step count from around 10,000 to around 15,000. I spend many days working from home at the moment, so the movement reminder once an hour has been great to prevent me spending so many hours at a time sitting at my desk that my chair and my body merge into one. The addition of weighing scales that measure body fat percentage has been useful too. I am increasingly of the opinion that what you weigh is not as important as your body fat percentage. You can have two people of exactly the same weight and height, but with completely different bodies – one athletic and one soft and squidgy – because fat weighs less than muscle. Too much or too little fat is the enemy that needs watching to be a healthy size. My body fat percentage is around 23%, which is within the healthy percentage range for a woman of my age, but for reasons of vanity (I’m not going to lie to you about this) I want to aim for 20%, which would put me at the top end of the ‘athletic’ range.

Anyway, I digress…

Ten days in Spain, trying all of the delicious food typical of the region we were in, meant that even without overindulging I knew I had eaten more than I’d burned. I also knew that a summary of that food could look like: eggs, potato, salami, cheese. Not exactly a balanced diet. We had done a lot of walking in Spain, but at a ‘tourists having a wander’ pace rather than anything that would elevate your heart rate.

I decided that there was no point hiding from the scales – much better to get on them and find out what the damage was and then make a plan to address it. I’m becoming increasingly pragmatic as I get older.

It wasn’t as bad as I’d feared. I’d put on 1.5kgs, and increased my body fat percentage by 1%. I had gained 0.6kg of muscle (yay!) but had also gained 0.9kg of fat. Not a disaster, obviously, but it effectively undid everything I’d achieved in the previous couple of months. Please note, I think it is always important to have a good sense of perspective about this stuff in order to make sensible and healthy decisions that won’t damage your body or your mind. In practical terms, I’d gone on holiday basically healthy, and I had come back basically healthy. No drama here. Simply a reversal in a trend I’d worked to establish in order to work towards gaining a more than basically healthy body. The sensible thing to do was simply to acknowledge the small deviation from the plan and then decide on a plan to get back on track. I needed a new plan anyway – increasing my steps and burning more than I ate was cutting my body fat at an extremely slow pace and I felt I could do better. Rather than restrict food (this can only get you so far, and at a certain point becomes counterproductive), I opted to increase my activity burn. Time to step things up a level.

So this was how I found myself going out for a run this evening. I hate running. I honestly have never understood why anyone would choose to go for a run. In past years when I’ve attempted to force myself to become a runner, the end result has been feeling red-faced, puffed out, slow, stupid, and heavy. I listen to committed runners talk with envy – what is their secret to achieving that nirvana-like enjoyment of running that they all talk about? I think it is quite possible that even these running enthusiasts don’t like running itself. Maybe what they like is pushing themselves, the benefits it has on their body, and getting out the house and being on their own for an hour. If that’s true, then I can say with certainty that I like the idea of running.

I was determined to avoid feeling ‘slow and stupid’, so I adopted a combination of Ruth Field‘s approach and the first of the training sessions in Runtastic’s ‘Run 30 mins after 6 weeks training’ plan. I mapped out a 5km route, beginning and ending at my front door, before leaving the house so I wouldn’t have to worry about where to go while running. Then, I put on jogging bottoms, a sports bra, a t-shirt, and a jumper. I filled my water bottle, plugged in my earphones (listening to an audiobook to distract myself from the fact of actually running), pushed my feet into my trainers and stepped out the front door before I could change my mind. I started the Runtastic training session on my phone and began running. This first session is 20 minutes of running for a minute, walking for a minute. The Runtastic app cuts over your earphones to tell you when to run and when to walk. Ok, running for a minute, not so bad. I made sure to run really slowly – avoiding the ‘slow and stupid’. It was ok. It wasn’t fun, but I didn’t want to die. I was out running. The 20 minutes of the training session were done fairly quickly, and I was around halfway round my 5km route. I walked the rest of the way. This bit I enjoyed. I got home feeling good for the blood flowing around my body, and relaxed from breathing some fresh air, promising myself I will do that same again tomorrow.

Who knows how far I will go, how long I will stick with it. Being accountable is important to sticking to it even when I don’t want to, hence the decision to start this blog. I won’t post pictures of myself, but I will tell you how I’m getting on, how much I hate running, the hurdles I come up against (literal and metaphoric), and if I get out of it everything that I hope for.

Are you also a beginner runner? Say hi in the comment boxes – misery loves company, right? 🙂