My fitness journey started roughly 24 years ago when I was about 15 years old. As I write these words I find it difficult to believe I’ve been exercising and keeping myself fit for over…View Post
I’m a little bit behind with some of my posts at the moment. Unfortunately, I have the attention span of a goldfish which means I get easily distracted by shiny objects. Luckily, I have Lightroom to jog my memory about the places I’ve visited!
It was a cold January morning. There was frost on the ground and a winter nip in the air. As I sat in the car carefully wrapping myself up in multiple layers, I silently hoped I’d brought enough with me to keep warm. The heater was on full blast, and I found myself looking out of the window, happily watching other people go about their business. Some were walking their dogs, others were admiring the plants, and some were sat outside the café enjoying a hot drink, while their four-legged friends lay patiently at their feet.
I opened the door and stepped out of the car into the cold winter air. I pulled my hat down over my ears and breathed out, watching my breath hang in front of me. I pulled my mittens on, readjusted my bag, and decided I was ready to explore.
The venue was Sizergh Castle, and the event was my best friend’s birthday. Although it wasn’t our original destination, it provided us with a good backup plan when we discovered Levens Hall hadn’t opened its doors for the year yet. In our usual style, we’d taken to the road without checking out the details of our intended destination – so part way up the M6 we had to make a detour. Unfortunately, it’s not the first time we’ve done something like this, and I’m pretty sure it won’t be the last.
A medieval house set in spectacular landscaped grounds, Sizergh Castle is over 700 years old and is still lived in by the Strickland family. With water gardens, herbaceous borders, an orchard and the National Trust’s largest limestone rock garden – there’s plenty to explore. And with prices available to visit either the house, the garden or the whole property, there’s something to keep everyone happy. Hoping to spend a few hours there we’d planned to pay for the whole shebang, but we soon discovered the house was shut, and our money was to stay in our pockets.
Everywhere was frozen; the white frost clung to the foliage for dear life, and the sun was hiding behind the trees, leaving most of the stump garden in shade. Occasionally, it would twinkle between the leaves reminding us of its presence, treating us to a magnificent display of sun flare like a giant glitter ball in the sky.
As we meandered around, I found myself lost amongst a sea of plants, spoilt for choice of what to photograph next. There were small ferns, luscious and green, with water droplets glistening on the leaves where the ice had melted away. Next to them were green and brown ferns still dressed for winter, covered in bright white frost. We watched the gardeners as they worked hard under the cold January sun, preparing the soil and planting new life, and we commented how colourful everything would look when it finally came into bloom.
Walking slowly along the pathway we found ourselves heading towards the greenhouses, and through the windows, I could see a vast array of plants. There were tiny seedlings waiting to be put into the ground and boxes of potatoes piled on top of one another. It was becoming abundantly clear how much work it took to prepare Sizergh for the busier months when the gardens would be filled with visitors.
We eventually found ourselves overlooking the limestone rock garden, the National Trust’s largest in any of its properties. The sun still hadn’t made its way over, so it was cold and grey with the heavy frost leaving the trees looking spindly and bedraggled. But as we started to explore, the sun slowly began to rise, casting a hazy golden light onto the trees, highlighting their twisted winter branches that hadn’t even thought about starting to bloom yet.
Wandering around the frozen gardens my hands were becoming painful from the cold, so we made our way towards the sunlight and in the general direction of the lake. Apart from the occasional ripple here and there the water was still, and we found ourselves staring into it playing a guessing game of what could be moving just below the surface. We watched the sunlight glisten on the water and spent some time talking, laughing and generally catching up on life. When we couldn’t ignore our rumbling bellies anymore, we decided it was time to head back to the car and fill ourselves up on jamwiches and salted caramel nibbles.
Fat and happy from our bread feast and warm and toasty from the heater, we once again left the warmth of the car to explore the rest of the gardens. With not everything being open there wasn’t too much left to discover. But we took a route off the beaten track and found ourselves walking through woodland and alongside another lake. The ground was still frozen, and with every footstep, it crunched beneath our feet. Taking another detour, we followed a narrow track that was overgrown with tall bushes along one side and soon stumbled upon a gate leading to a field. We watched hikers and dog walkers crisscross along the grass, and we squinted against the bright winter sun before retracing our steps alongside the lake and heading back to the car.
It’s not the first time we’ve misread something or turned up to somewhere that’s closed, and we frequently end up in random situations where our favourite catchphrase comes courtesy of Joey from Friends: ‘so, I’m in my map….’. And although it may not have been our intended day out, as always, it turned out well in the end.
For opening times and prices, I suggest heading over to the Sizergh Castle page on the National Trust Website.
The Warm Up
As I start to warm up I begin to work through my checklist. Pain in left knee? Check. Pain in left hip flexor? Check. Sciatic twinges in my right side? Check. Numbness in right big toe? Oh. This one doesn’t always show up, yet today it’s decided to make an appearance. Check. Discomfort in arms and hands? Check and check. Each run begins with the same routine, a mental checklist of all the niggles throughout my body. The pain in my left knee because it’s been dislocated twice, caused by lax ligaments. The pain in my left hip flexor due to the labral tear that’s been there for over a decade. The numbness in my big toe caused by a cyst behind my right knee that can’t be removed. The sciatica, which first flared up as a pinched nerve and bulging disc after overdoing it in the garden a few years ago. The discomfort in my arms and hands caused by tendonitis in my elbows and the nerves in my neck and shoulders. Once I’m happy that everything is present and correct, I try to forget my injuries and pick up the pace into a jog.
The First 10 Minutes
The next ten minutes are hell. This is the part of the run I dread…oh wait…I dread the last ten minutes too. It’s at this point where my muscles are burning from lactic acid that I could easily stop, giving up before I’ve really started. But I continue. Because once I’ve broken through the pain barrier I know there’s a sweet spot waiting for me. There’s a gentle rhythm where one foot effortlessly lands in front of the other, my breathing settles and I forget about my injuries. I search for them but they’re not there. I become lost in my music, in the zone, and my mind starts to wander. This is where my nuggets of inspiration appear and I make a mental note of everything that flows, telling myself I’ll remember them later. I’m 20 minutes in and I increase the speed. A minute later I get a twinge in my back, a gentle reminder that I need to take it easy. I let my body adapt to the speed, vowing not to increase it again just yet. But I will. I always do.
When I hit 35 minutes the pain begins. My chest becomes tight, my energy stores are starting to deplete and it suddenly dawns on me I had pancakes for tea the night before. Even though they were nice at the time, they’ve done nothing to help fuel this morning’s run. #epicfail. I keep going. Only now I can’t take my eyes off the time and I’m watching each second go by. I challenge myself to look out of the window for a full minute, but when I glance back at the clock I realise it’s only been 30 seconds. Damn. It’s at this point I have to start working in 5-minute increments to keep myself going. Just five more minutes and you can stop if you want to. It’s okay – you’ve done really well. The dialogue runs through my head on a loop. Just four more minutes and you can stop if you want to. It’s okay – you’ve done really well. When I hit 40 minutes the countdown starts again. Just five more minutes and you can stop if you want to. It’s okay…..
I always use a treadmill in front of the window. The one that’s furthest away from everything else, in the corner of the gym near the spinning bikes. It means I don’t have to acknowledge anyone if I vaguely recognise them and I can make as many running noises as I like. I just watch the cars drive past on the road and look at other gym goers as they come and go. I stare at the idiot who parks his car on double yellow lines outside the window, because he’s too arrogant and lazy to use an actual space. Ironic really, considering he’s about to spend the next hour working out.
45 minutes done. 15 minutes to go. Just five more minutes and you can stop if you want to. It’s okay – you’ve done really well. My mind starts to wander and I think about the day ahead. I can’t decide if I should go for a Starbucks. Even though it’s out of my way I still try and justify it. I don’t normally need much persuasion but today I decide against it. Driving ten minutes in the opposite direction for a caramel soya latte seems a bit extreme – I’ll go later in the week instead. By this time, I’ve turned into Monica Geller, because let’s face it, the best kind of competition is with myself. Not only do I want to finish, but I want to finish with style. With speed. With the feeling that my heart could burst out of my chest at any second.
At 50-minutes the dialogue in my head changes. Gone are the gentle, nurturing mantras, instead it turns into my version of tough love: Come on you fucker, you’ve got this – ten minutes and you’re done. Keep going. I increase my speed and I feel my legs working as fast as they can to carry me to the finish line. I keep pushing, my arms pumping faster and my stride getting longer. The last 5-minutes are hell. I can’t take my eyes off the time and I start to question if I could run any faster. My hand is already one step ahead and I find myself pressing the button to increase the speed. Not once, not twice, but four times. Shit me. I wonder if my legs can sustain the pace, but it’s too late, I have to keep going, I’m committed and there’s no going back. Keep going you fucker you’re nearly there. And then I realise. I did a 5-minute walk to warm up, which means my five minutes is actually 10-minutes. Shit. 60 minutes. One hour. That’s what today’s run was. It wasn’t supposed to be about speed, it was about endurance – I just wanted to run for an hour. Just five more minutes and you can stop if you want to. It’s okay – you’ve done really well. The mantra changes back to the original message and I realise that I might just make it. I look down at the display: 60 minutes followed by: Begin Cooldown. And just like that the treadmill starts to slow. Whhaaaaaat???? New gym – new treadmill. One that cuts off at an hour apparently. I debate whether to stop it and restart it to run the last 5 minutes, but realise that I’m done – absolutely spent.
The Cool Down
I’m gasping for air and even though I’m desperately in need of water, I start to weigh up which I need most – oxygen or water? Oxygen wins. As I begin my cool down, I go back to the beginning and start again with my check list, only this time it’s a different story. It’s rare to find any pain at the end of a run, it doesn’t show up until later in the day. Perhaps there’s a niggle here and there, but nothing significant. I finish my cool down and head over to the stretching area. I watch as a woman gets onto a treadmill, she slowly stretches her neck from side to side and gives her shoulders a gentle roll. As I begin to stretch out my hip flexors, I smirk to myself and wonder what her mental checklist looks like.
A few months ago, when I was reading Vegan Life Magazine, I saw a recipe for 10-minute pitta pizzas. They looked so tasty that even though I hate cooking, I felt compelled to make them.
The original ingredients included olives and artichokes, but I left those off because, well….olives and artichokes. Also, it didn’t include the pesto. Even though it was shown in the photo, it wasn’t listed in the ingredients.
Including preparation and cooking time, they only take about 20-minutes to make and they taste delicious. Winner winner vegan dinner!
Ingredients (Serves 2)
4 x pitta breads
50g chestnut mushrooms
1 tbsp pine nuts
1x Red chilli
15ml olive oil
1 tbsp vegan pesto
2 tbsp tomato puree
Before you start, set the oven to 200° (fan assisted)
Cover two pitta breads with tomato puree and two with pesto
Sprinkle pine nuts over each pitta
Slice the mushrooms and spread over the pitta breads
Add a drizzle of olive oil over each pitta
Place pittas into the oven for 10 minutes
Once cooked, remove from the oven and add basil leaves, rocket lettuce and sliced chillies
Drizzle with olive oil
Nutritional Value per serving (2 pittas)
529 k/cal 73g carbohydrates, 15g protein, 19g fat, 1.3g saturated fat
So, if like me, you don’t like cooking but you need a quick and easy evening meal, why not give them a try?
Sometimes, the hardest thing about a run is the act of putting your trainers on and leaving the house. You’re tired, it’s cold and last night’s take-away didn’t agree with you. But more than anything else, you just can’t face running those bloody hills.
That was me earlier in the year. After spending over two decades running, I finally found myself defeated by hills. We moved to a new house in November last year and up until that point, we had several routes we could follow. If we wanted hills, we could run our hill route, if we wanted a mainly flat route we would hop onto the East Lancs (not the prettiest route I know), and if we wanted a mix, we would join the East Lancs and then branch off onto one of the adjoining roads. But once we’d moved house, we discovered all routes from our front door led to multiple hills. We tried being clever by heading off onto different roads, only to be met by a hill that we’d somehow forgotten about. We started running routes in reverse hoping the hills wouldn’t be as bad, only to find ourselves cursing, followed by me dramatically declaring I was never going to run outdoors again – until the next weekend of course.
I realise that some hill training is good and I don’t mind adding it in occasionally, but tackling hills every time I ran was sucking the life out of me. I started to hate it. When my 6am alarm woke me, I found myself turning it off, getting up an hour later and doing a home circuit instead. And if I did manage to crawl out of the warmth by convincing myself that the hills wouldn’t be that bad, 5 minutes into the run I found myself dreading what was coming. No sooner had we recovered from one hill, we found ourselves approaching the next one. I was broken, and after every run I found myself taking to Instagram complaining about the bloody hills. My love of hitting the pavement, and watching the sun come up while my neighbourhood was still sleeping, was slowly but surely fading away.
Taking a fall
Then at the beginning of April, on a nice steady run where for the first time in ages, I felt a little bit of joy creeping through my veins – I tripped. It happened so fast that for a second I thought I‘d regained my balance – but I hadn’t. Time somehow slowed down and weirdly everything went into slow motion. I saw the pavement coming towards my face and all I could think was ‘please don’t fall, please don’t fall, please don’t fall’. Like a mantra on repeat, it echoed through my head. I felt my right knee hit the floor, so I put my hands out to try and stop myself going down, but it was too late. The pavement was coming closer and my mantra suddenly changed to ‘shit no – not my face, not my face, not my face’. But it was out of my control and before I knew what was happening my left knee, my hands, my left shoulder and then finally my face all hit the tarmac and I skidded across the gravel. I lay there for a few seconds before sitting up to assess the damage. A moment later as shock started to creep in, I felt warm tears start to roll down my cheeks. Luckily, I was wearing gloves and a hoody with thumb-holes so my hands escaped with just some minor grazes and loose flaps of skin. Too scared to look underneath my ripped, blood covered running pants, I decided to wait until we got home before examining the damage to my right knee. 4 miles into a 6-mile run meant we were still a couple of miles from home, so we started to walk – slowly. Ian offered to run home for the car, but obviously quite shaken, I said no. 30-minutes later, realising how long it was going to take us (me) to get home, I finally agreed to let Ian run ahead while I continued walking at a snail’s pace. My whole body was shaking with the cold, and my limbs were starting to stiffen. It was the worst run ever!
I was out of action for a couple of weeks, and my first run after falling was awful. I was hoping it wouldn’t affect my confidence but it clearly had. Each step was tentative and every hill was a nightmare. I dramatically made another vow to give up outdoor running forever! It was about this time we decided to start looking for other routes, and if it meant we had to drive out somewhere, then so be it.
The following week we headed to Riversway Docks. It was windy and cold, but it was flat. We weren’t the only runners either. We saw runners, walkers, bikers, dog walkers – a vast difference to our previous routes. We had found the holy grail of flat running! Over the following weeks we found ourselves driving over to Riversway, heading off through the industrial estate, past the car showrooms and out onto the main road exploring different areas then finishing off with a lap of the river – all without a hill in sight! It was after a few weeks of running this route we stumbled upon the Preston Guild Wheel and realised we could join it from the docks.
The Preston Guild Wheel
The following week, with no idea of where we would end up, we drove to Riversway and joined the Guild Wheel. It was 18°. Tufty white clouds floated through the sky and the sun warmed our skin as we ran. The river was still, and as the trees reflected upon its surface we ran alongside the water. We ran up steps and over bridges, through streets and under trees. We passed by houses and discovered parts of the city we never knew existed. With no set route in mind, we hopped on and off the wheel, exploring as we went. It was so refreshing, and this my friends, has completely changed my outlook on running. The picture at the beginning of the year couldn’t be more different from the one I’m looking at now.
Come rain or shine, I look forward to hitting the pavement. If I’m tired, I push myself to go. If it’s cold, I put on a jumper. And if last night’s take-away hasn’t agreed with me, I just hope that I’ll be okay until I get home! Is it easy? Hell no! Running is something I have to work at. But no matter how hard it is, and no matter how much I want to give up – I keep going. Because exploring the city on foot has become one of my favourite things to do. And one footstep at a time, the love I had for running is slowly working its way back into my veins.