Running on a Treadmill in an Arctic Blast

I am running on a treadmill because the roads and pavements are too slippery in this man-created world in a harsh and early unexpected winter.

I am running because I want to see my heartrate come up, to know I have a heartbeat, a pulse, after the shock of thinking climate change means warmth.

I am running because this is the only thing that keeps my feet warm, “Warm feet, warm feet,” my mantra, one foot, then the other, slowly the layers come off.

I am running to summon the heat from within not the electric heater.

I am running for endurance, I am running for  strength, I am running for salvation, breaking down my nine miles into inclines and sprints and imagining I am escaping grenades and bombs in some underground city of ice.

I am running because I am safe, I am privileged, I can afford to go to the gym.

I am running to escape my guilt.

I am running because keeping goals is the only dignity this world allows us.

I am running to escape my flaws, which are without number, cannot be counted.

I am running, but going nowhere, wondering if I might set foot on the spirit paths, if other runners go elsewhere and there is a place where treadmills meet.

I am running on a treadmill because no path is ever dark or challenging enough.

I am running the tread off the treadmill, aiming for the stars, hoping if I get to the North Star in this bitter cold I might be able to reset my compass, start again.

I am running on a treadmill in an Arctic blast and my feet cannot keep my pace.

*For over a week, due to an Arctic Blast, we experienced temperatures down to -6°C here in Lancashire and colder in other parts of the UK. As it snowed and then froze the icy conditions made it very difficult to walk on the pavements let alone run.

**With thanks to my local JD Gym in Preston for providing somewhere to work out (and run when the weather is awful) for a reasonable price.

Strength

It’s been a year since I joined my local JD gym in Preston and started strength training sessions with a personal trainer and I’m writing this post to share some of the benefits this has brought to both my physical and mental health.

As background I have run on and off since my early twenties as a way of keeping fit and managing my anxiety. However, I have struggled to maintain running longish distances due to a variety of issues such as runner’s knee and problems with my piriformis and hamstrings.

Over a decade ago a physio recommended strengthening my legs to help with my knee pain by doing squats and lunges but this seemed to make my knees worse and I gave up on this course of action and running for a while.

Since starting sessions with my excellent personal trainer, Marie Meagher, I have learnt that I am perfectly capable of doing squats and lunges. Initially my form was incorrect and, with her help correcting me, I have progressed to learning a variety of different forms (sumo squats, split squats, reverse lunges) and to adding weights such as kettle bells, dumb bells and bar bells. 

She has also helped me learn to use the resistance machines and free weights. When I first started at the gym all the cogs and pullies and weights and fastenings were utterly bewildering and I didn’t understand the exercises or know much about my muscle groups and the best ways of working them. 

I can now put together an effective workout incorporating a variety of exercises such as leg extensions, hamstring curls, hip adductions and dead lifts for my lower body or dead rows, chest and shoulder presses, and assisted pull-ups for my upper body. I know what weights to use, the right techniques, how many reps to do.

Strengthening my legs has worked wonders for my running. Before training, the most I had been able to run was 4, 7, and 10 miles a week with the occasional half marathon which usually left me crippled for a couple of days. I am now running 7 and 9 miles and a half marathon every week and have taken 15 minutes off my half marathon time from 2hrs 10 mins to 1hr 55 mins. 

I’ve also noticed the difference that doing exercises for my upper body, abs, and core has made when I’m doing outdoor work in my local green space or gardening.

It is now rare that I suffer from any of my former issues either during or after a run. Another big help has been finding a good physio, Phil Noblett at South Ribble Physiotherapies, who has been brilliant at sorting out my minor injuries and keeping me running. It’s been a big revelation that some of the niggles I’ve had are simply due to lactic acid build up and can be massaged out.

Learning about my different muscle groups, how to work them, and discovering muscles I didn’t know I had has provided me with much better knowledge of my body and a more positive and mindful relationship with it. 

My successes with strength training and running have also improved my mental health. Being physically stronger helps me feel mentally stronger and and provides me with a source of accomplishable achievements when I’m struggling in other areas of life due to limits with my autism and anxiety.

I have found both are better antidotes to stress than alcohol or overeating and am far less likely to do either as I know they will have a detrimental effect on my training.

Although I will never run record beating times or lift heavy weights it is an accomplishment, at the age of forty, to be the strongest and fittest I’ve ever been.

*With thanks to Marie for taking the photographs as this morning’s PT session.

Moving Forward

The rain falls. The leaves fall. Trampled underfoot they turn to mulch. They squelch beneath my trainers. As again I run past the man from across the road with the black Labrador and walking stick he says, “You’re going round in circles”. It’s necessary for a run to be a circle leading from home and back again and it can be made of smaller circles – same place, different time, a little further ahead.

Running’s simpler than writing. You know through sheer perseverance, putting one foot in front of the other, breath by breath, you can achieve that goal of going a little further, a little faster each week. It’s similar with Taekwondo. Turn up, train hard, you’ll progress through the belts. Although, of course, there are limits. As an injury prone thirty-eight year old a half marathon in 2hrs 10mins has proved to be my threshold and I doubt I’ll have the flexibility and bounce to get beyond Second Dan.

Writing’s trickier. Hours put in and perseverance are no guarantee one’s work will be any better. I completed my two best poems in 2012 when I was new to poetry and polytheism and riding a wave of excitement and inspiration. ‘Proud of Preston’ and ‘The Bull of Conflict’ were gifts from my gods.

The awen, the divine breath of inspiration, no matter how much one chants, does not come on command but flows to those who are in the right time and place and ready to do the work. There are no check points, no belts, only that shiver of beauty and truth, which is confirmed by the reactions of others. I believe this sense of awe can be found in the three books I’ve published. It was felt when I read the poems and stories back to my gods and to the land and when I’ve shared them in public.

Since my completion of Gatherer of Souls I’ve been slogging my guts out trying to find a new and original take on the Brythonic myths and failed because in doing so I only made them more inaccessible. My quest to explore Annwn and share my findings resulted in fragmentary obscure visions. I seemed to have hit a limit and the lack of awen signalled I was heading in the wrong direction.

This was made worse because I was trapped in the vicious circle (“you’re going round in circles!”) of working in a supermarket job I could not leave until I’d found a way to make a living from my writing yet being in that trap, and it making me miserable, was depriving me of the inspiration to escape.

I’ve been here in the past, to break that circle, only to enter a wider one circling it. I give up a job in order to put all my best efforts into my writing in the hope this time round I’ll succeed in making a living from it, fail, go back to another job, then in six months to a year’s time I’m quitting again – same place, different time, only a little further ahead.

Greencroft Valley October 2019

This all came to a head when I decided to try writing fantasy because it sells better than poetry and polytheism. Whilst attempting to dream up a fantastical wetland I killed a dragonfly on the way to a real one.

It was a wake-up call on many levels. It showed me I wasn’t listening to the land. This was partly because I was trying to imagine up a fantasy novel rather than focusing on the living beings around me. On a deeper level it was because I was trapped in a vicious circle that had severed my connection.

Shortly afterwards two things happened at once. One bad – I had a horrendous night at work where I was stuck on the tills. They kept breaking down whenever I put potatoes on the scales and I had to move myself and all the customers onto the next one, then onto the next one, leaving a trail of broken tills.

One good – the episode with the dragonfly at Brockholes Nature Reserve prompted me to look at volunteering opportunities with the Lancashire Wildlife Trustand I was struck by the realisation this might be a way into paid work I enjoyed as well as a way of reconnecting with and giving back to the land.

Finally I divined a way of breaking out of both circles. Firstly by starting volunteering as a way into a job I will stick at due to its importance in this time of climate crisis and because it is a way of serving the land and my gods. Secondly by giving up the illusion I will ever make a living from the type of writing my vocation calls for.

So I’ve handed in my notice at work and am starting volunteering with the Lancashire Wildlife Trust on the Woodland Oasis and Carbon Landscapes projects. Both fit really well with my values because they involve restoring wild landscapes and connecting people with the land. The latter provides training qualifications in ‘carbon skills’ and it’s looking possible I may be able to contribute some poetry as a way of inspiring others to love and be inspired by the land around them. I’m hoping such work will feed and nourish my creativity and lead to new unexpected avenues to explore.

At last I am moving forward onto a path that will be both materially and spiritually fulfilling.

Avenham Oct 2019