The number game (Waistline Woes part 3)

I admit it: I am a nerd when it comes to my running and cycling stats. I track every outdoor workout and pore over my split times working out where I could do better.

That said, I really wish people didn’t ask me my marathon time. I am happy(ish) being bottom of the pack, because I know that’s where my place is. But when people ask me, I feel like I am being judged, which makes me embarrassed by the timestamp.

One person asked for my time, before adding “it doesn’t really matter, because you still finished it.” What I have discovered that it is generally non-runners who tend to ask the question. They are under the misplaced belief that running is all about the time. Runners know the struggles we all face are struggles we all face. Although other runners sometimes are interested in my times, there is a mutual understanding;  they are as happy for me when I nearly got under 1 hr for 10K as I will be when they hit under 3 for their marathon.  Yes, I am competing against myself and aiming to get better and faster. But the time is only a tiny part of the story.
I worked for months, had a few injuries (including a scare which saw me head to minor injuries with four weeks to go), watched my diet the closest I ever have, learned how to fit in all my workouts within normal life. During the marathon itself, I started feeling wobbly at mile 16, tanked at 18, and ran/walked the last 6.2 miles with severe cramp in my legs – so severe that when I tried to literally shake it off at mile 19 I nearly fell over, and debated between miles 23 mile 25 about the pro’s and con’s of stopping to stretch. I really wanted to but was terrified that if I did I would collapse and not finish the race.  But all that negative stuff is less than half the story.

I had a lot of laughs along the way, a lot of great conversations, encouragements, high-fives, smiles and fun, connections made with strangers I may never see again.

So frankly, to be asked for my marathon time smacks of ignorance of why people run. I think the same goes for asking anyone any statistics about their waistline size. I haven’t measured mine for a year. I didn’t invest much in my measuring tape – it came from Ikea. I dated measurements in pencil on the tape itself, and became discouraged when I seemed to work really hard but only lost a milimetre – or worse gained one!  I have intermittently weighed myself when the opportunity arises, and found I am a stone heavier than a few years ago; but I was wafer thin back then, and now I have more muscle from working out.  I have toyed with buying a set of scales, but know that this would be unhelpful, unless it also measured the percentage of body fat and muscle, and I’m not willing to spend that much! I know that I would become a slave to the number, constantly checking it.

It is no fun being a slave to either my waistline measurements or distance specific times. Each of us know the specific moments of encouragement we have used to spur us on – for me, this was when I enjoyed my first sugar free coffee in years; or last week, when I actually enjoyed having a crisp free day during the week. Each of us know the discouragements as well. None of this can be reduced to the number on the scales or measuring tape. The goal of losing a mm made me lose out on something far more important: The fun of the journey.
I do have specific time goals for my next half marathon and marathon, but I put them behind the goal of enjoying my running and only use them as a general guide to prove I’m fitter than I was before. This is vital for me because there can be drudgery in every training period, and this can be made worse when you miss a target. Running isn’t fun all the time. To run at a specific pace is harder work than to just run. Getting caught up in times adds pressures. Enjoying the process helps motivate you for the next run. The runs where I’ve experienced some amazing things (like being stuck behind a herd of sheep) are far more valuable than the times and splits.

Tonight I will be running 10 miles homeward. It will be a massive psychological boost to know that I ran home in the cold, probable frost & wind and the last couple miles on dark country roads (don’t worry, i’ll be in grippy shoes on a footpath and have a headlamp and a red for my back). It will be hard work. I will be aiming for a specific time on the run. But I’m not going to think of that number.

Instead, I will use runtastic to record the run but not give me feedback at each mile (as it usually does). I will simply run as best I can at an easy pace, looking for the joy within the journey: the shower at the end of the run; the psychological boost of having gone through it despite my best efforts to get out of it; the madness of running through the cold and frost and in the dark; the blessedness of being able to enjoy my health in such a way.

So next time I run a race, please ask a more imaginative question than “what was your time?” Likewise, never ever ask someone their weight or their waistline. Ask something more interesting, like what being healthy means for them and about their journey, which will be told not in numbers but a life lived to the best of their abilities.


Could’ve, should’ve

“I must get in the right frame of mind for this,” muttered Zaphod.
“There is no right frame of mind,” said Gargravarr sternly.

All going well, I should never have to enter anything so ghastly as the Total Perspective Vortex, but if I do I shall try and remember a lesson I have been relearning this week: that doing what I ought seems to be more important than doing what I feel.  All of my life I have been living under the impression that what I feel is more important than what I should do.

I was performing on Monday and Thursday. Trust me, when I was on stage if I had waited until I felt ready everyone would have been waiting a very long time. Even when I was drawing my breath I felt a bit of a “it may go wrong” panic. I don’t normally feel ready until I actually start reciting. At some point I just have to steel myself and force myself to do it.
On Saturday I was due to do an 8 mile run. I can do that. I did a half and full marathon. Yet I felt like I couldn’t. It took as half as long to get out the house as the actual run took.  I was over-complicating the task: what route to take, whether to postpone till Sunday, how many layers to wear. Eventually I realised that what I was doing was trying to justify my feelings of helplessness by letting those feelings determine that I wouldn’t go out. So I went out, and came back having completed one of the best training runs I’ve done in terms of pace, scenery, really getting in the zone, learning how to push the pace in the second to last mile (using the last as a cool-down).

Likewise, any number of household tasks would not have gotten done. I wouldn’t have gone outside to take the washing in because I didn’t want to feel the cold (or indeed, hung them up), no dishes would not have been done (six big lots, over the weekend…). One of the writing projects I am doing takes a lot out of me; I sat for a good 20 minutes putting it off until time meant I really had to do something about it.

I wonder if this goes for people at the top of the game. If Djokovic had relied on his feelings, he would not have clawed back in such an amazing way (all-be-it too late) yesterday; likewise if Murray had panicked after letting two matchpoints slip, Djokovic may have won the set and who knows what would have happened? If he had also been prematurely excited he would not have had the focus do play each stroke, each point.

Feelings can be good: I made soup just because I felt like it. But I wonder if my life would be more satisfying if I did what I ought to do, even if I don’t feel like it. I would like to not be able to think/feel “I could’ve done that, I  should’ve done this” at the end of each day. Sometimes it is wise to reflect in such a way, but here I am talking about the things one ought to do. Here’s a hypothesis: my wellness is correlated with my doing what I ought more than it to the way I feel about the things in my life. I will experiment over the week by trying to do before my feelings get in the way. I’ll keep notes. Join me! Otherwise, see you on Monday.

Some Truths which Trump our Hilaryous Thoughts

I have been deliberately quiet about Trump on Facebook, biding my time until I actually know what I think. There have been so many words already, so much more eloquent than mine. All our thoughts and opinions can be helpful. Heck, I often gain more from an opinion piece than bare-facts reporting because they help me see things about topics I know little about. But sometimes we speak too much. I know I do.

Over the last few days I’ve been wondering where on earth the world is going, but I’ve also been mindful about some truths about the nature of the universe and God which, frankly make my own opinions and thoughts about the political situation laughable. These go for any situation, really, but have been brought home to me this week.

None of us can predict the future
The media got it wrong, the pollsters got it wrong. None of us can foretell what a Trump presidency will look like, and what the world will look like after his term(s). We live in a world in which we are expected to read everything, know about all the latest happenings, opine about it all. But we can’t. We just can’t. An erudite acquaintance surprised me recently when he admitted he knew next to nothing about politics; we agreed it is best to focus largely on the areas we know well (for us, education was common ground). While it is wise to think and plan for the future, globally it is impossible, and all our panicked “what ifs” will not solve it.

The world is fallen, and humanity a fallen species
Ten years ago to say such a thing in the UK would have been seen as ridiculous. There is still a legacy of “people are basically good” but it would be very hard to deny that this species is not growing into the perfect beings that we want to be. Trump and Brexit did not cause racism and sexism; they brought out what is latent in society, and society is a reflection of what happens in individuals. I would be surprised if someone would still argue in favour of the basic goodness in humanity – in the light of the crookedness of both candidates, in the light of the racism, sexism, hate-crimes, in the light that many didn’t cast a vote; in the light of abortion even being a thing, let alone the statistics on it, in the light of the struggles of people with disabilities because of our attitudes. No, this world is not as all as it ought to be. We each of us strive to be better versions of ourselves. If that doesn’t tell us that we are not as we should be, I don’t know what else will.

We need salvation, and we can’t save ourselves.
Our politics can not save us. Politics can, if used well, can protect us from committing worst of our sins, which is why laws exist. But ultimately politics cannot save us from the source of our wrong-doing, which is our hearts.
Education cannot save us. One of the most harrowing things about the holocaust is the number of intelligent, educated, people who were needed to make it happen.
Education can help protect us and improve ourselves; it can help us understand more about other cultures; but ultimately we need to accept that other cultures are worthy. No amount of education can change an attitude of the heart. Our education systems has gotten better (maybe), but that has not prevented us committing crimes against each other.
Talking and opining cannot save us. We read and talk about the news, and are keen to jump in with our own opinions. It is good to seek counsel, but ultimately if all we ever do is talk and lament, nothing will change.

We cannot save ourselves because humanity is responsible for humanity’s fallenness.

Nicola Sturgeon said she hoped that Trump would make a better president than he did candidate. Me too. But ultimately he is still the same person, with the same wickedness inside.


God is sovereign.
I am holding on to this because (a) a God who is not sovereign is not a God at all and not worth believing in and (b) the bible tells us that He is in control.
He placed Nebuchadnezzar in charge; as a friend said “he knew about Nero.” I don’t know what the future holds, but I know that He is in control. There is nothing that doesn’t happen without Him. As Arthur W Pink points out in The Sovereignty of God:
“To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is “The Governor among the nations” (Psa. 22:28), setting up kingdoms, overthrowing empires, and determining the course of dynasties as pleaseth Him best. To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the “Only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6:15). Such is the God of the Bible.”

This does provide tension; how could a good God allow such an evil-doer to be in charge? I don’t know why God put Trump in charge. But I have to accept that He did – as I stated, a god not in control is not god! The only reason I can think that God allows darkness in the world is to make the light of himself and Jesus shine brighter.

So we must trust God in all this. He has a plan beyond our imaginings. So I will do what Psalm 46 says:
“Be still, and know that I am God,
I will be exalted among the nations
I will be exalted in the earth.”

NaNoWriMo? NoMoProWriProMo!

I would love to say that I’m participating in NaNo this year, but I’m afraid I am not. For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo (or NaNo) is National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write 50,000 words between 00.01 on Nov 1st and 23.59 on the 30th – an average of 1,667 words a day. I’ve toyed with it many times, but only completed it once (2014). It is an ambitious task, but that’s one of its allures!

Naysayers would argue against such a venture because come December the market is flooded with half-baked novels. But I love it for the purpose that it gets you writing. It means you write that novel you’ve been wanting to write for years, because often the most difficult part is getting started.

My effort was only vaguely sketched out. As a result I followed the prompts more often than  I would have liked to. I consider my 2014 effort not so much as a novel, but a pile of bile. First drafts will always need to be edited, but there is a case to be made for making your first draft more considered than a panicked mustgetto1667wordsbytheendoftheday!

I do have another novel in me, which I considered doing for NaNo this and last year. But I would like to do it more wisely so I am holding off until I have made a thicker plot and developed the characters more. So I’m including this background task in my personal No More Procrastinating on my Writing Projects Month, or the exhausting tongue-twister NoMoProWriProMo.

NaNo 2014 taught me in a more real way than anything else I had done that if I put my mind to something, dedicate the time and effort, I can get it done. 50,000 words is an ridiculously large number of words, at least for me. But I managed. I carved out the time, often through taking time from other (arguably more important) things, with sheer stubborness, and almost always with a panicked “gotta get this done!” This depth of knowledge about what I am capable of has helped enormously with the rest of my college work, job applications, and in training and on race days for my half marathon, marathon and first trail run (which was yesterday). NaNo showed me how I like to write, which is to plan, thinking and scribble notes before writing it in one fell swoop in a concentrated time period. I am in awe of NaNo participants especially as they fit it in with everything else around in their lives.

But I have a few projects that I’ve been putting of.  So in honour of NaNo I am instituting a NoProWriProMo. Here’s my writing projects tae dae for the month:

Video and upload a new poem onto YouTube.
Complete a new spoken word piece. I’ll be performing this at Blind Poetics on the 14th. (8.00pm, Blind Poet Pub, Edinburgh).
Do the background tasks for aforementioned novel.
Complete the tidying of a book I wrote.
Complete the draft of another short book I’m writing.

This is perhaps an insanely ambitious ask – but if I don’t aim, I won’t attempt. Blog posts will probably be considerably shorter than normal (possibly a good thing for all of us).

I have 24 days.

Ready, set, go!