Running again

It’s been a while since I’ve hit the trails for a run. It was September last year I ran a Half Marathon on the remote and rugged island of Lundy. But since then? Nothing. Zilch. Nada.

I’ve been wondering why…

It’s not because it was hard. (I mean, obviously it was challenging and I always knew it would be!!). But I think I shocked myself at how hard I was on MYSELF more than anything. What was required of me physically nearly broke me! The terrain was difficult and precarious in places, and despite the wild beauty of the island it was an unforgiving landscape to run across. But I would not let myself give up. There were points where I didn’t think I could make it, but like the landscape I found that I was also unforgiving! So I made myself crawl, climb and run the course until I’d finished.. even if it made me sick.

I was immensely happy that I completed it, and amazed that my body and mind had been capable of getting me across that finish line. It DID make me feel like anything was possible, and this IS a massive positive to experience. But over the next few months I lost all desire to run. I began to question my motivation. Did I really need to do these extreme challenges. Ok, I’d been interested to see how far I could go. To test “mind over matter” but WAS it good for my mental health?. Or was I just beating myself up?

In the months after Lundy Island, I decided to be kinder to myself. As the days grew shorter, I found myself moving slower, walking and sleeping. I gave myself permission to rest. I entered these dark, cold months of Winter with a warmth in my heart as a result. I’ve been rising at dawn to greet the sunrise at the beach, slipping silently beneath the waves has been the only movement and wild remedy I’ve needed. I’ve been recharging.

But now I feel something is shifting. As first light comes earlier and lasts longer every day, I feel the need to move more, to breathe the air deep in to my lungs. To stretch. To reach a little further. To feel what my body is capable of again.

I don’t mean setting myself goals, or challenges in terms of distances or frequency, I’ve just felt that “spark” to want to feel more physically active.

So this morning I asked the dogs if they’d take me for a run. Their joy and enthusiasm for their two (sometimes three) daily outings is utterly boundless. They are born to run after all! It is fun for them! I said to my son I was going for a run for the first time in a long time and he said “you can stop if you want mum. Maybe 3 or 4 times if you want to”. I couldn’t help laughing as this is the same advice I give him when he has to run the daily mile at primary school! So with permission to stop if I want to, me and the dogs set off early, running together up the muddy tracks, between hedgerows and out into the misty fields.

And all of a sudden, I remember what it is I love about trail running! Moving through nature, the air firing up my lungs as my cheeks glow and my heart pounds. The blur of greens and browns and blue as I move through the landscape beneath the vast sky. Noticing the lay of the land with each step, my energy connecting and colliding with the ground; earth, stone, grass, rain, mud, frost. Looking for signs of the seasons as they change and transform, seeing these as metaphors for life.

I remember how I enjoyed the feeling of growing in strength. The progress. The improvement and development. The shifting from one form to another. That last year, over time, I moved faster, and further, my body and mind always in transit. I remember that it is transformational.

I am on that journey. Again

This by no means looks like a 21km distance right now. But then it never did. Not when I first started running. I certainly never imagined running around Lundy Island!

Perhaps I will always want to challenge myself. Perhaps I need extremes. By reaching as far as my outer edges will possibly allow, then retreating safely back to centre. Maybe these are the limits I need to go to in order to truly know the expanse of my self and to understand my mental health. By swinging between these counterpoints, over and over, perhaps my inner pendulum will one day reach an equilibrium.

I would rather stop and start, then stop and start again, than never begin at all.

Wild Swimming With Wolves

I feel the need for space right now. It’s not that I don’t like people, it’s just that I prefer the peace and quiet when I’m on my own. I can relax, completely. No need to state, or answer, or navigate the “to and fro” of a conversation. These things may come naturally to some, but to me it is something I have to practice. It takes time. It takes effort. To be alone is to take time out, time off. I revel in it.

I have been going to the beach with the dogs. The company of animals never draws on my energy. It is effortless. We happily fall into a rhythm of walking, stopping, looking, running. We are a pack. But when I peel away my clothes and walk to the water’s edge to swim, this is where we part company a while. They watch from the shore, alert and interested. But then – I am alone out there in the water. Separated by the elements, we are still in each other’s company. I am alone, but in the company of wolves. Our dogs, and their wolf ancestors.

On Monday night it was the January full moon. Known as the Wolf Moon it is named after the wolves that are active during the early part of the year. As the breeding season approaches wolves are likely to be heard howling to their pack mates. If there was ever a full moon to swim in the company of wolves, this is it.

So I took the dogs with me to swim beneath the rising moon, their wolf blood and I. Although our oldest lurcher “Yanto” is suspicious of water, our younger dog “Spook” is known to launch himself into rivers and lakes. But this night “Spook” was suspicious of the sea, warily backing away. Whining as I slipped beneath the waves and swam away from him. There beneath the Wolf Moon I drifted with the tide while they tracked and followed me along the shore.

Since the full moon I’ve been watching it’s waning phase. Standing in the garden at night, crisp and clear and quiet, it’s beam shines bright defining silhouettes and shadows. At dawn it shines on, hanging bright in the west, casting an eerie light as the eastern sky changes.

This morning I woke early to swim beneath the waning Wolf Moon. With stars still plotting the sky. The moon sinking, making way for the emerging dawn. The dogs, sensing my movement within the house began to whine, alert to the possibility that something interesting might be afoot! I gathered my swim kit; hot water bottle, gloves, warm clothes. The only signal the dogs need for confirmation of adventure. Their eyes bright, with dancing paws, they weaved between my legs whipping me with their tails. As we fell out the house into the cold air, the wind chill was -1. Breathe hung in cloud around us.

Arriving at the beach, a layer of peach and purple emerged on the horizon. The tide pulling deep while the moon begins to bid farewell. The sun rising as the world turned. We stood a while, wolf blood and I. The world to ourselves. A vast solitary silence, but for the sound of the waves and the lone cry of a gull.

These transitory moments, between two worlds, the dark and light of a new day and the past night, is so significant. I often miss the depth of this when I’m with others. Like skimming a stone across the surface, the fleeting moment is there to see, but there is so much more happening as the weight of it collides. When I am alone I see beneath the surface. A knowing that sinks deep into my soul. A greedy soaking of wild. I am saturated in my solitude.

As I enter the water the violence of the sharp biting cold is electrifying. I sense every single cell in my body jolt awake, alert and alive, ready for the fight. As I swim east with stern intention, the sun begins to rise. A burst of blood orange bleeds across the water, kissing my bare skin, soothing my soul. As I soften to soak it all up, I feel a blissful happiness hard to describe. I cast my gaze to the shore where the dogs stand still. Motionless. Then as they lift their heads towards the sun, they scent the air as the warm light floods the landscape, reflecting in their eyes.

Together then, we greet the day. Our spirits soar; wolf blood and I.

Sunrise swim as the wolf moon wanes

Running With Wolves…

Ok, so maybe not wolves, but running with Lurchers. I’m discovering it brings a whole new experience to trail running!

My husband is the dog fanatic. He grew up with dogs, breeding his first Border Terrier at just 8 years old. Later he developed a passion for Lurchers. Not a breed in it’s own right, but a cross between a sighthound (greyhound, saluki, deerhound etc) with something else. (Collie, Retriever, Bull Terrier).

We’ve had several amazing Lurchers over the years, all from a long line of running dogs with a history of agility, intelligence and speed. At the moment we have two; Yanto and Spook. Yanto being the senior at 8 years old, and Spook the latest recruit who is now 11 months old. They are completely different in character. Yanto (below right) is sensitive and gentle in nature. Spook (below left) is fearless, bold and a bit feral right now!

I started running with Yanto a few years ago. It seemed crazy that I was out on trail runs in the fields and off road but not taking him with me. I’d come home covered in mud with brambles in my hair and he’d sniff my trainers with great interest. But I guess I was “in the zone” when I first started trail running. I was finding my feet and testing my endurance, getting slightly obsessed with my times and distances. I didn’t want anything to distract me from my progress. And I knew there was a lot to consider when out in the countryside with our dogs.

Lurchers are natural born hunters. Anyone that owns one will know that rabbits, squirrels, deer (cats!) will never go unnoticed. A sight hound, with incredible speed and agility they are designed to be predators. And they know it. My husband has trained them around livestock. They’re steady as anything with sheep, horses and cattle, and their recall is spot on. But if I’m walking our dogs, I am always alert to the possibility they might catch sight, or scent of quarry and be off. They have trained ME to be aware of our environment, wind direction, certain times of day, what season we’re in, what wildlife is likely to be in the vicinity. They are instinctively assessing all of this silently, and I need to be aware of all of these things if I want to try and be one step ahead, and prevent a catch.

So running with a Lurcher comes with the risk that you’ll end up running AFTER him, rather than WITH him!

I began running with Yanto a few years ago. Initially on a lead, I thought I’d need to get him used to me running, and that I’d need to “desensitize” him. My thinking being that the change in dynamic from walking to running might send a signal that there’s something to get excited about (and I didn’t want him to think we were “game on”!). I just wanted him to get used to my movement and pace.

We did the same route, a 5km loop our across fields and tracks for a few weeks. But he was used to being off a lead for long walks and his etiquette on a lead when running didn’t improve. He would often suddenly stop to smell something of interest (and yank my shoulder out of it’s socket), or randomly cross over in front of me and trip me up. I was constantly stopping and starting and found myself head first in hedges and muddy ditches on more than one ocassion!

The time had come to let him run free with me…… THIS is where it got interesting!……

I smile now when I say I’m taking the dogs for a run. I’m not sure when it changed, but at some point I realised that I’m not “taking them”…… WE are going together.

You see, when you run with a dog there are a two major shifts that take place. The first is that all of those things that you need to be aware of; the conditions that dictate whether there is a hunt afoot, (wind direction, the time of day etc) that is all still relevant, but somehow you are IN it, you become a part of that. You’re not observing it, you ARE it. Your impact on the environment and how it responds to YOU is much more noticeable.

The second shift is that of the relationship between you and the dog. There seems to be a sense that you are now a team. That ancestral instinct kicks in and you’re alpha male/female, part of the pack. You are running wild together. We instinctively stop as we enter a field and survey the land, we push on when we’re tackling a steep track, and most incredibly, this creates a deeper connection to the land, to the wildlife, to the wilderness on a level that I’ve never experienced when just walking the dogs, or running on my own.

I wonder if this is how it feels to be a wolf, running with wolves!?? This is what I think when we’re out there together.

My obsession with how far we’ve traveled, and how long it’s taken us, isn’t there anymore. I have a rough idea and that’s mainly just for practicality. The experience is more important, and we go at our own pace. If the dogs stop and take interest in something, I might stop too, or I might push on and they catch up. But on the whole we are training together as a team, practicing our skills and communication and deepening our understanding of the land.

The difference being of course that I am a human, running on two legs! Generally seen wearing flourescent lycra, sweating profusely and whistling loudly to make sure any wildlife around has a head start or can go to ground. Just. In. Case!

For brilliant advice and tips on running with dogs click on the link below.