The week in words #14 – On running in the woods


You know that cold I mentioned last week? It stayed. It’s one of those ugly ones that make you feel like your brain is trying to exit your skull through your face. I was the gross one at work this week, sneezing more than I talked, my desk cluttered with tissues I had to keep within sight and reach because my nose was out of control (Reader, are you in love with me yet?). It has not been fun.

I have been running in spite of it. This morning, after a week of illness, little sleep and going out twice (including yesterday), I picked up the water bottle I’ve never used, zipped up my running jacket, and headed off towards Hampstead Heath. My half marathon is in three weeks and this was my last chance to get some distance in before tapering, so damn the cold and the rain and my aching head, I thought, and hit the road.

I recently read about effort-based running, which is a mindful kind of running that disregards pace and heart rate and requires you to check in with yourself, and rate your effort on a scale of 10. For recovery and long runs, aim for a nice and easy 3-4. Ever since I started going by that, I have been both slower, and better. Running feels less like a chore and more like walking: a thing that I do with my body and enjoy while my brain is busy doing other things. I return feeling less like I want to die, and more like I want a shower, that weird post-run snack I’ve come up with*, and get on with my day.

Today’s aim was 15km, so, bored by my neighbourhood, I went for the Heath. I thought, if I can do 15k in hilly North London, I will breeze through that river half in a few weeks, and I can stop worrying about all the training time I missed.

It all started out innocently enough, walking some hills (because I’m sick, don’t judge me), running everything else while the remainder of my cold left my ears in little pops, until I got lost in the woods around Kenwood House. All of a sudden I found myself in a world of mud, surrounded by trees dripping heavily with rain, and all paths looked the same. I passed several people in running gear holding paper maps, and I felt silly and out of place with my phone, and a little bit like I’d crashed a race I hadn’t entered.

Once I made it to Kenwood House it was raining so heavily I decided to take the shortest route home, and – got lost again. My way home was one wrong turn after another. At one point I remembered food and popped into a Tesco, soaking wet, to buy a protein bar that I ate on the way up the next hill. Then I remembered that my running jacket is water resistant, not waterproof, panicked about my phone, and started to run. I am now the proud owner of my very first running injury caused by accident. (I slipped on the wet pavement and bumped my knee. It’s fine. Yes, it happened in front of people.)

I have never considered myself a runner. Not when I started, or when I ran my first 10k race, or when I finished my first half marathon last year. Only today – caked in mud, dripping with rain, nose running after a week with a horrendous cold, in the line at Tesco with my Graze Protein Bite – I thought: yes, running is a thing I do. I’m a runner. I like this.

The nap after lunch, though, was the best of all.

*My post-run snack for the past weeks has been a banana, cut in slices; a spoonful of peanut butter; and frozen raspberries. Microwaved for 40 seconds. Not good for Instagram, but great for your tastebuds.