Microadventure day 7: pushing boundaries

This is the seventh post in our microadventure during [Coronavirus] lockdown series. You can find the others here.


Murphy’s Law! It’s what we call it in Ireland when anything that could go wrong, does go wrong. Like when we are have to isolate indoors, and the weather blazes the best sunshine we’ve seen all year. Similar to exam season for children – when it occurs, and they must stay indoors revising, we suddenly get good weather too. And so it’s happened.

The weather that comes when one isn’t on holiday.

I’m a little hesitant about when I go out on such days. My local walking path (just 200m away) is sometimes teeming with people who’ve driven in from elsewhere, and so I try and go when the crowds die down.

But as I stepped out of my front door to stretch before my run, it wasn’t just the area that was teeming with people. The air was teeming too.

Midges.

The crafty little things that loitered in the shadows, stealing the cool, shady areas of my driveway, and popping out at the sight of human flesh, to take a nibble and enjoy the crazy attempts of a human trying to swat and clap and do ANYTHING to get rid of them. Entertainment at its finest, for a midge-sized-eye.

But I put up with them for a short while, knowing that I’d soon be out plodding the pavements, quicker than any of them could catch up with me, or so I thought.

Glendalough: probably one of the worst places for midges I have ever been

Pushing Boundaries

Today was the day I decided to go for a long run – to push the boundaries of what I’d been doing recently. I was used to doing ultra-runs over the past couple of years, but I was a little out of shape this winter, given how much I tend to consider myself a fair weather runner. Today, for our microadventure, would you join me?

Why running?

For many reasons.

For one, it gives the day shape. Somehow I find that slotting a run into my day, shapes the rest of my day. On running days, I’m more likely to have a good time alone with God too. On running days, I’m more disciplined in my work routines. Running seems to do something to me, which puts everything else in order.

But much as I could go on, I’ll come back to more reasons for running, later in our run!

Today’s challenge was to go push myself further than I’d gone recently, which for me would be over an hour of running. And it was a beautiful day for it – blue skies, sun beating down.

My route would be the coastal path along Belfast Lough, which sadly turns away from the coast and goes through endless industrial estates at a point not too far from my house, and leads to the city centre, and then out the other side along the river (or alternatively, along the rest of the shore path to Bangor). Today though, I was grateful for the industrial estates, because they lessen the crowds and give some shade.

And we’re off

And so I set off, glad to get away from the swarm of biting friends, and head in the opposite direction to where most of them hang out, by the water’s edge.

I love running, but particularly by the water’s edge, or through beautiful regions. It’s partly what made me take up ultra-running – to remove the concrete from under my feet and remove the constant glancing at my watch from my runs. Not that I don’t care about time anymore, but its not what drives me. The joy of running drives me onwards.

FREEDOM!

And it gives me a mental release from over-thinking. I’m a person who thinks alot. I replay situations in my head, I mull over problems that aren’t even my own problems, I am always engaging intellectually with something. But running is the chance to lose myself (in the music, the moment….you only get one shot etc etc – sorry a little sidetracked) and think about nothing apart from the path ahead, the beauty around me, and the nothing-ness of the moment.

And so there I was, delighted to be free of worry, until a mile further on, as I passed a shady wooded area, dappled in sunlight trickling through the branches, I was slightly alarmed to find them again. I pushed on through the infested cloud of indiscernable bites, in the hope I could outrun them still. My legs felt fresh enough to give them a run for their money today.

On I plodded, knowing that I didn’t have to keep going. The danger with setting a time on running, rather than a distance, or setting joy as your driver, rather than set distance targets, is that I find it easier to turn round at nearly any point or to be reduced down to a snail’s pace (if time is my goal). I mean, technically you could do this, no matter what motivates you. And some days, one does really need to dig deeper, even when you don’t feel like it. Even when joy is not there in your mind. Even when your mind groans at the thought of the miles ahead.

No pain no gain?

Let me differentiate though between your body painfully groaning at the miles ahead, and your body mentally groaning. Yes, there is sometimes deep connection between the two, and it’s not quite as simple as I might make out here. But my mind will often complain at the journey ahead. But my body will only complain in pain if I’ve been pushing it too hard for its own good, if I’ve picked up niggling injuries or if I haven’t been sleeping well or physically doing ok in the recent days. The two are very different things. And it’s essential to listen to your body. To put your ego of your training routine or targets behind you, and listen well to your body, and not just your lazy mind (that will perhaps rarely choose to run any decent distance at times).

This, in today’s world is a counter-intuitive thing for anyone to do – to not listen to the loudest voice in your mind. For the mantra of the modern age is “be true to yourself”. But for the runner, if one was to listen to this internal voice, you would never leave the sofa. For the good of one’s self, one must not listen to oneself (which raises big questions for other areas of life…but I digress).

Choosing a goal

I say this, as I lay down the gauntlet of our microadventure today being to run farther than you’ve done before. Can I suggest pushing yourself just one or two steps further, rather than trying to break land records for running? Perhaps it’s only me, but my teenage self would often just take a whim to do some stupidly mad long distances on a nice day. To take off, and never return. And that was normally on top of a physically gruelling training schedule. The day after, I’d always suffer. In fact, often the whole week after, it’d put my other training into reverse. My ego would have tried to persuade my body that this was fitness. Instead, it was normally just pride.

I must never run so hard, that my body feels damaged by my actions (with perhaps a few exceptions of escaping danger or occasionally when I push myself in a competition – but still, I would be foolish to do this without knowing what will result). Because I partly run, to keep myself in shape. I sleep better when I run. My body feels fitter, when I run. And the endorphin release after running is the only drug I need for the day. There’s something about the elation and buzz of coming back from completing a run that leaves me buzzing for the rest of the day. I don’t know all the science behind it, but it feels good!

So if you’re choosing a distance to push yourself this week, perhaps consider your current level of fitness and go just beyond it. If you’re used to running 2km, run 2.5km. If you normally do 10km, do 13km. Or run the same distance at slightly faster speed or on a more hilly route. The “couch to 5k” challenge is beautiful for this reason – it sets reasonable targets over weeks, that won’t break you beyond what your body is capable of.

Pounding concrete

But as I ran on, I came to the depressing part of my route – the industrial estates. Thankfully they were quite quiet, given the nature of the times we live in, though they must still be ok to traverse at other times, given the main cycle route to the northside of the city goes through this route, giving a perfect path to run.

Here, I smiled. I had outrun my fellow competitors. Nothing moved for several miles around me, apart from two cyclists, whizzing past at high speed.

At the 35 minute mark, I turned, stuffed a few more jelly babies in my mouth (I’m a type 1 diabetic, so need constant sugar supply) and turned to run the same path back again.

It was 10 minutes in to my run back again that I sensed a cheater in our ranks. Had the race adjudicators not noticed? I was once again being bitten by my friendly rivals. But they’d not been anywhere near the distance I had traversed? Angrily, I pushed onwards, sure that even with less of my body in tact from their incessant biting, I could still outpace even cheaters like these.

And so I was still confident as I hit the sign for one mile to go – and it was all along coast now, with a gentle breeze off the shore, and stunning views of the Cave Hill to my other side. A flock of geese forming a “v” shape in the sky, flew by, effortlessly flapping their wings and gliding close to the water. Stunning!

Passing a walker, they dived into the bushes, sensing my deep breathing might smite them with undesirable viruses, as I ran past. But on I ran, keen to keep going.

One hour 10 minutes struck. And I was back within a few hundred metres of home. Time to slow down to a walk, for the last bit to allow my body a chance to recover before I spent the rest of the day indoors.

Overtaken at the final hurdle

But sadly it was that decision (which was a good one, I must add) to slow down, that cost me the race that day. Just in those last few hundred metres, my fellow competitors caught up with me for one final time, and gloated over me as I headed towards my finish, continuing to bite at any possible juicy morsels they could find on my body. Too tired to swat or dance away from them like I did at the start, I resigned myself to defeat. How had they run faster than me on such an occasion? I slammed the door, hopeful that they’d remain outside of my isolation bubble and at last, I could have some peace for the rest of the day.

Collapse, midway through an ultra.

It’s over to you

So, at the end of our little microadventure for today, could I encourage you to get out there and use your one exercise per day to push yourself just a little bit harder, faster, wiser, (and erm stronger?) in the days ahead.

PS: What if you’re only allowed 2km away from home by government isolation?

Don’t worry, there’s always running round your garden a billion times:

Or doing many lengths of your seven metre balcony, in order to run similar distances:

So what are you waiting for?

Let’s get running!

One thought on “Microadventure day 7: pushing boundaries

  1. Pingback: 30 Microadventures for 30 April days of lockdown | al-jabr

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