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For the love of running

Published on Wednesday 3rd February 2021

Even the word “routine” fills most with the sense of having given in, which is how I felt in a hectic 9-7 job, ending each day completely defeated. Sensing purposelessness in life from doing the same thing every week, and without bestowing upon our world a solution to any of its problems, I understood that my panic attacks and stress-related pain and irritability would continue if I didn’t do something drastic.

So, after 4 years with a steady income, I signed myself on as self-employed.


Going freelance

My background is in sustainable textiles and fashion, though I was now at a crossroads where I could do whatever I wanted. I had the freedom to go to the gym late morning when it wasn’t as busy, I could take off for a long run mid-week and mosey with a coffee. I could even lie in! But it wasn’t to last; creative freelancing comes with the challenge of taking on whatever comes your
way whenever it comes your way - I still had London rent and bills to pay after all. And because I was so used to cramming as much as I could into my day, at one point I was working four jobs to stay afloat. I would still manage to fit in social runs, some races, four gym sessions a week and the cycle commute or run when I was in a physical workplace, and it felt... alright. Manageable. Still not purposeful, but the move had brought on an ability to try things out, and I crave exploration. I became a gardener, did some arty projects, I worked in e-commerce and operations, created the content for a few businesses, and all the while was still able to fit in exercise, chance to go for walks and sit on a bench with a book.

And it was because I didn’t have any other choice. If I didn’t take the time to include these “tasks”, then I would go down the spiral of hatred and frustration again - the world I’d built for myself, and seemingly couldn’t escape from. And it is always partly to do with this love-hate relationship I have with London, even 11 years on from setting up camp here. Perhaps for many Londoners, what keeps us here is the ease. And yet, the likelihood is high that we all just want to get out to real nature, where you don’t even need to consider convenience as a necessity. We love our parks, but it’s just not the same as true fresh air. So while freelancing, I took Saturdays to help out at the Maverick races, or even allow myself a full weekend away to have a “holiday” - mainly because I didn’t have money to play with and every journey counted. It was a mini-adventure, and though I would get home weary, I would also be exhilarated. Which is the nudge you need when you face uncertainty, as a reminder to keep going.
 

Variety is the spice of life

A variety of experiences can come in any line of work. Yet, my creative lifestyle was increasingly instigating a vast array of conversations that allowed me to bring all of my “lives” together. I was the person working in a jeans shop that could tell you about how the cotton for them was grown, while my flax was germinating in a garden I was learning about soil health, to further the
conversations I could have in sustainable fashion innovations, to then speak to fellow runners about how to best look after their clothing to avoid textile waste...

It may sound all of a jumble as you’re reading this because frankly, it was a jumble. I would look at job ads that were offering full-time positions, and battle with myself over how I craved the structure though didn’t want to give up freedom. When you put it in a calendar and see you’re working 50+ hours per week for very little pay to live in a London warehouse that you hate (but
has space for all your hoarding), it seems rather silly.

Come March 2020, it proved to be a blessing in many ways.

 


Locked down

In a time of uncertainty, a structured day can engage productivity and motivation. By this point, my three jobs had cut down to two. (This was after I was essentially fired for refusing to move from four days to five days a week, while working a gardening job, e-commerce operations and content job, and fitting in my running adventures. Ok, so in fact, the running adventures were perhaps taking a bit too much precedence and in that respect, I wasn’t as reliable, but in positions where there is an investment from both sides, my loyalty is sound. And here it wasn’t. So, self-government in how I spent my days, over bandying to someone else’s worries, won out). Then I found myself in a lockdown with, on the one hand, a newly increased employment due to my boss’ maternity leave where I was now running two businesses, and on the other hand a paid position reverting to volunteering as things started to close. But that felt ok. My finances were dwindling, so I went on Universal Credit, and yet because I had already experienced for over a year at that point what it was like to be unsure and to have to budget, it was all normal. By not worrying, I was able to focus on being grateful for what I could control.

You’ll have experienced it too; how tiresome your local area seemed before lockdown, to now bringing a sensation of thrill in discovering new roads and green spaces. For us in the capital, it was actually for once navigable (though a pang of guilt rang through me every time I visited the Thames Path in remembrance of a regular wish of mine that “London would be just for Londoners, just for a day”). But truly, it was liberating to escape and spend an hour roaming the local parks and streets. Making an effort to visit novel spaces to take in the never-noticed-before trees, revelling in sheer gratefulness for the ability of my body to move, and finishing up with a pastry and coffee that at that time was like gold dust. All the while telling myself that “I could become a really good runner”, if I got out every day, and continued with daily Yoga With Adriene and Monday morning strength and conditioning with Lucy.


Accountability

It turns out, if no one is telling me to go somewhere, then I won’t go. It hit most likely everyone, that working alone was tough mentally, or, if you were a key worker, that you had more-than-normal pressure on your shoulders. I wasn’t a key worker, but I did have two businesses to keep going, and I still invested time in supporting my team and garden space so that that could keep going. So naturally, some days, it was just too much; I didn’t exercise as much as I physically needed, or deep down really mentally wanted. I slept 11 hours at a time, sometimes took a nap. There would be bouts of working 10 hours straight in whatever home set up I could muster up the energy for that day. And my routine became one of restlessness, despite having a lot to do and a lot I could do. I went from being full of enthusiasm and gratitude in enjoying the quiet times and small wins, to depression and resentment. It carried on like that, and quite frankly, still is like that. Being someone with low self-esteem, I can’t easily reach out to ask for social time, even if this would provide both accountability and wanderings that I yearn for, plus a hearty dose of laughter that I most certainly don’t get enough of nowadays.

But, I remind myself each day that this is what I can do now, and even if I just manage to find a solution to one niggle each week, it’s a step forward. It turns out that my physical health had declined to begin with, so in all the logistical issues of a pandemic, your own needs become less important within the grand scheme of things. Now, the fight returns. 1. To understand the cause of my health decline, and rectify what I can. 2. To remind me that I don’t need to do everything, but I do need to do something, and furthermore, that this is about me first, not work first.


Strength

Running became both my fight and flight response when I started “properly” about four and a half years ago. When my PT told me after just a few weeks of walking again, following a triple ankle break and two months off my leg, that we would go running and it absolutely knacked* {*Northern slang meaning “really quite painful”}, I wanted to do it again and do it better. Through any time of stress, or anger, or worry, running was the release. You’ve probably been in the same situation. We run for the pain and the pleasure. We run because we can. So, point 3 in my checklist, is to remember how blessed it is to have a body that can move, even if it’s slower on some days, sore on others, or utterly needing a rest for days on end. Just get up, and say thank you for what you
have.

One heavy prompt for everyone is that we now have to alter how we go about things, but it doesn’t mean you can’t find pockets of joy in solo or in shared moments. Despite sometimes feeling alone, I know I’m actually not - especially when you can tell the whole
world your story in a digital instant - with solace being found in the supportive groups you call your tribe, or family, or whatever, you know the ones you say you’re not competing against, but in reality, are. We all give each other a leg up, physically or psychologically, for that symbiotic feeling of strength. In particular with the Maverick Run Project, I am honoured to be part of something that can radiate that nurturing, and look forward to anything and everything that comes my way, as I’ve built the resilience to deal with it.

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