Pastures New

My next big race will be a 10k so I have started planning increased distances for my runs. One tactic is to get out an explore every street, nook, cranny and in today’s case country path. 

Instead of taking my normal route I decided to take a path I have seen lots and never thought anything of… and how surprised I was! 

This road went to Edinburgh if I went far enough! I hadn’t even realised. I knew that there was a canal nearby which went from Glasgow to Edinburgh but in my head it was further away. The path was very scenic:

Rivers, grass, bridges, sheep! Who knew eh?

The whole path is about 1k and pops out at another convenient path. New route for me ūüėČ

My most satisfying run to date (Elie #2)

Thursday was probably the best run I’ve ever had. It was fun, adventurous and although not my longest I got more out of those 30 minutes than I have in a while.

This is a town I’ve been holidaying at with Mum (excellent woman) for years. Days spent as kids on the beach digging holes, exploring rock pools and jumping in the sea before lunch at the deli. I know it’s streets, the beach, the loops and flats. I had a while mental map planned.

It had started with a walk along the seafront, into pavements and houses, I set my GPS watch up and GO!

I ran up a hill (you don’t get better at then by walking Pinterest  reminds me), onto the long flat main street where the sun was warm. A long stretch. 1.75km at least.

Onward past the bit I refer to as ‘that bit we park at’ and onto the one way road that loops past the golf course.

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The golf course is in itself a scenic spot, open to the wind and rain but also the views of the sea. I flew down it, stopping only to take a photo. This was fun. Fun!

Back round to the main road where I went down to the beach, looking to see if Mum was where I thought she might be. She was. I stopped to chat and she pointed to the cliff, some cove she said. OK.

And off! Along part of the road I had come and up a hill I have never been up in my times coming to Fife. 

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There was a ruined hut of sorts and a tucked away bench. The sun was warm. I sat down to soak it all in. The view was amazing. Looking across the bay to the harbour I had come from it felt both vast because of the water and small. The sea was fairly calm. I took out my headphones to enjoy the sloshing sound of the waves. A sea bird caught my eye. A large black bird, decent wingspan that it showed off as it spread out to dry in the sun.

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It was a fairly magical moment, the sort described in books or shown on TV. It could have appeared on ‘Coast’ and BBC viewers would have sat in their living rooms thinking ‘how nice’.

I continued, I wasn’t finished. Down the hill and cut down the nearest street headed for the dunes. Dunes. Sand. I came out beside the people, walking with purpose to the shore trying to show I had no interest in interrupting them. I opted to run to the far side of the wall I had come from in order to give myself a long stretch to finish on.

Once again my issues with sand running came into play but I continued, reaching the wall.

But I stopped again. Why was I running past this beautiful place?

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Off came the shoes and earphones. This wasn’t a day to be wasted.

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Into the sea, well aware I would probably not get my feet dry enough to get rid of the sand and thus unless I wanted to be running with veritable sandpaper toes I had accepted this was my finish line.

It was cold but pleasant. What a casual Thursday! Yes I wasn’t helping my training but I felt it was important to enjoy this moment in the sun.

And then it became obvious. The point of beach running wasn’t about just pounding sand underfoot or trying to enjoy a view bouncing past but to finish in a beautiful place and rest my feet in the fresh salty water. Why had I not seen it before?

I stood there in silence for several minutes, feeling more satisfied with every wash of water on the shore.

Thank you beach. I get it now.

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Running on the Sands of Elie #1

I’ll be blunt from the off. I’m not quite Baywatch. I’m not even Chariots of Fire. I plain didn’t enjoy sand running.

I was on a week long holiday in Fife with my mother and sister, a cosy and casual kind of break involving books, good food and various activities involved in the sea (looking at, being near, standing in, taking photos of…). We went to a beautiful place called Elie, a scenic spot epitomising ‘quaint seaside life’. The sands are long and clean, the water clear and the weather… well it was cold but when the sun came out it was idyllic.

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The very colours of the place were beautiful; blue, aqua, green, yellows, browns… it’s inspired many a painting and I couldn’t wait to run along it.

Hmmm… Here is my stages of running on sand.

Stage 1 of sand running:
Accept the invariable truth that regardless of the precautionary measures you take you will end up with shoes filled to the brim with sand, socks that should now be packaged 50% cotton, 50% sand and sandy toes.

Stage 2:
Pick your strip. That soft sand near the dunes is no good, you’ll end up falling all over the joint looking like some giggling, loved up couple and some rom-com involving a beach trip, except you’ll be alone and covered in sand. The best bit is that nice wet sand near the waters edge, wet enough to be hard but not so wet as to create sink holes under your feet. Tide just going out you say? Ideal.

Stage 3:
Run a bit.

Stage 4:
Panic about your ankles. As someone who is new to this whole ‘real places’ thing, the constant change in elevation, bumps, dips and general non flatness is a real worry for me. I have a fear of falling and breaking something, even on the sand. I couldn’t get a good beat, I had to keep watching steps, it was too odd. Nope.

Stage 5:
Hate it. I love the location, it’s beautiful and scenic and has more fresh air than I had in a year of Chinese factory district living but I couldn’t enjoy it. I wasn’t used to this and because I don’t normally live near a beach I decided that I didn’t have to get used to it. I was trying this for fun and I was not having a lot of fun. I was too worried about falling over and failing to get a proper run going to even enjoy the fact I’d bothered to put on a sport bra. This was awful!

Stage 6:
Sit down take your shoes off and decide to enjoy the beach for what it was, a beautiful landscape and not a gym.

So there is was, I had tried a miserable 2K and spent so much time panicked and in discomfort that I couldn’t get the Chariots of Fire moment I was seeking. I guess I’m just more of a concrete girl. Still, the view was intense.

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Spooked in China! (Why running late is a bad idea)

Since coming back to Scotland I have changed from a nighttime to a daytime runner. The weather isn’t an issue so there isn’t a need to run in the dark. In truth the dark had always scared me.

A memory from China…
The blazing sun has left the sky. The heat has dissipated and although the humidity is still unforgiving the prospect of running seems reasonable.

It is 9pm.

The track is dark. Some of the lights are dim, the floodlights doing most of the work from up high. A bat might fly past the floodlight creating a batman shadow on the ground while the occasional jumping creature scares me from below.

My headphones keep out most of the strange night noises; crickets, rattles, squawks and other oddities. I’m more afraid than I will admit.

The track is safe, I can see things moving on its flat surface… But the grass? The grass might ripple in the wind. The grass hides the bugs, frogs and, from what I’ve been told, snakes. The grass is a no go zone.

But these are all tangible fears. Its almost understandable that I’d be scared of these things. But then as I run, distracting myself from the laps but thinking, I end up in the strange dark recesses of my mind.

The trees on the other side of the fence seem unfriendly. I grow aware that the lack of light means anything could be watching me. Yeah, anything. Alive or dead, real or fake. Who knew?

Running westward I look into the trees, scanning for nothing in particular but feeling fear regardless. Even worse was running eastward, with my back to them.

Enough of the trees! There is nothing there!

But it is too late. My mind brings forth images of every internet baddie, every ghost and ghoul I knew of. Slender in the trees; the Rake who would follow you from the dark and sit watching you at the end of your bed;  Skin crawler who assumed the form of others in order to lure them to death. Creepy pasta indeed.

I turn the corner, keep going. The bench is there sitting under the floodlight, and it is here I become most unreasonable. Are the legs of the bench fixed? Are they moving? Could they run?

Without realising it I was running faster as if to get away from this unreasonable fear, only to face it again on the next lap. Was it in the same place? Had it moved? I couldn’t answer with certainty, such was my fear.

At the end of the run I wanted out. No hanging around watching stars. I put on my phone’s flashlight and walked quickly home. I did not sleep well.

Convinced still of something just outside my eyeline…

Failure and success (A lengthy personal post about returning home after a long time… and how running today made that ok)

It had been days, likely weeks since a decent run. Besides the odd 20 minute runs I had not been sticking to my 10K programme app.

I had malaise, I was a failure. Every passing day mounted that failure into sheer defeat. Defeat shifted into an acceptance and acceptance into new rationale. ‘I go home in 2 weeks, I can start running again then. It’s too hot here anyway. I’m too busy. I’m too tired. I’ve given up eating right because buying food here is so problematic.”

(That last one is true, food purchasing when I have little to no language skills relies a lot on guess work and in truth I had given up on trying to muddle through. I wanted home.)

The sheer weight of understanding I had nearly completed a year in Asia hit me like a wall. First elation, a weekend of excess in Guangzhou with a friend and partying until I couldn’t see. Secondly memories, feeling bad about leaving my shitty little part of the world and how quaint it actually can be now I was used to it. Thirdly and most upsetting, the wall of loneliness.

I had left my home for a year forsaking my then shitty relationship, my friends, my family and my life in order to go… well… do something and find something I guess. It was mostly running from things, but that can be a tale for another day.

In that year I had seen wonders; the Great Wall of China, the Terracotta Warriors, the Rice Terraces, the Asian cities, Hong Kong, Beijing, Hu tongs, transport, travel, tickets… I had managed lots in a short space of time. But I had been alone. Talking to a man in a bar in Beijing he hit me with a phrase I can’t shake:

‘well, no-one back home really gives a shit do they?’

No, I guess not was the answer I came up with. It was my experience and mine alone which was utterly invigorating and totally devastating. I don’t necessarily mean I needed I romantic partner, but the idea I couldn’t share it with my mum, my gran, my sister and the likes hurt me inside. I had trail blazed, who would follow? Would they even want to?

I felt a failure. A highly successful bucket listing failure.

I came in after a dinner alone in the village where I had chain-smoked several cigarettes, staining my hands with the scent. Smoking was something I associated with holiday and leisure, by engaging in it I guess I was trying to convince myself this wasn’t hard work despite coming home drained¬†everyday.¬†I sat on my bed to assume my youtube watching position as I had been doing for nights on nights on nights until…. GET THE FUCK UP.

Trainers. Socks. Shorts. Sports bra (was this tighter? Was I imagining it?). Phone. Headphones. Move.

Outside. Stairs. Hallway. Track.

I put on my phone and music. I went to my app.

‘Welcome to 10k trainer by Zen Labs. Start your warm up now.’

It was to be 5 mins then 10 mins run, 1 min walk repeated 4 times. I paused. Fuck it I’ll do 20 minutes. I went to go to set a timer. Did I really want to be out here for 1 hour?

FUCK THAT. MOVE. Hit start. Just go. Warm up. 10 mins. 1 min. 10 mins.

The stars were out. The sky was unusually unclouded and the night sky was littered with glittering stars. The north star looked oddly red. Was that a thing? Was that why it was a symbol? I thought it was a metaphor… but here it was.

By 20 mins in I bargained with myself. Do the 40 minutes and we get to lie in the middle of the track looking up.

In truth the bargain was not needed. I wasn’t exhausted. I kept going. 10 more.¬†1 min. Still ok. 10 more, that’s 5.5 laps of the track I still have no clue the distance of. 1 done. 2 done. 3 done. 4 done. 5 done. Check timer. 30 seconds to go. 20. 10. stop.

Done. Cool down. Headphones out.

In the first ten minutes I thought about this blog post. I had all sorts of dark ideas about failure and sadness. By the end I wasn’t elated but content I had finished. I had done it. I wasn’t a failure after all. I guess that was something good to take back home, I could run now. Likely further and longer than many of my friends.

Sad I had to think that, tragic I was trying to play this petty game of 1 up in my head to stroke some kind of ego, but in the year I was gone missed a wedding, various baby chat, a new relationship blooming and an engagement. I was genuinely happy for my mates. I was. I am. I love them and want them to be happy. But I felt left in the dust, my travelling hadn’t been life changing it had been like¬†hitting a progress pause button as far as society was concerned.¬†I had made some sort of error somewhere and this was where I had ended up. Here. On a track in China. At least I could run round said track. Make the most I guess.

I lay in the middle of the track for 30 minutes. The odd student came out to look at the mad teacher taking a moon-bath in the dark, staring up and occasionally using her pointed finger to follow a shooting star. I would have cared more, but I guess being caught in work out clothes doing something fairly wholesome isn’t a terrible way to be found.

At 21:30 I left the track and came home, where the full size of the moon could be appreciated from my 5th floor apartment. It was huge. I felt small. My achievements were small. But fuck it. So was everyone else’s.

I’d deal with that shit when I got back to Glasgow. You deal with running track one step at a time, one lap at a time, one interval at a time, one work out at a time. Why should life be any different?

Zen. Success. Calm.

I’m glad I went a run today.

Why running in China is awesome #2

The weather.

I hail (pun) from Glasgow, a not so hot but not so cold place that has never heard of humidity. In fact I had never really experienced it until I moved here to Guangdong. Here temperatures can easily hit high 30s centigrade before 10am and humidity 60-80% daily.

But all this humidity results in something wonderful.

Thunder and lightning…

I’d seen the odd thunder and lightning storm back home but it is nothing compared to here. In April it was a storm daily! They don’t always result in rain, and that’s when it’s beautiful to run.

Friday 3rd June I ran on my track at 8pm. I had been tired and slept 5pm-7pm, ate a little then decided through lack of doing anything else that running was totally acceptable. It had cooled considerably making it pleasant to be outside.

The sky was flashing. Orange, grey, yellow, black. I had never watched it be so many colours over seconds at a time. Every flash came from deep inside the clouds, making the clouds seem huge, giant  monsters in the sky.

The storm was over east of the track, I would watch it running one way then turn my back to enjoy the effect of the flashing on the ground. Huge clouds, atmospheric flashing, repeat.

My whole 30 minute run it continued and having something to watch distracted me without hampering my performance. It was amazing.

The entire time, as I watched the flashes illuminate the constantly raised Chinese flag I remembered how lucky I was to be in this place, how unusual and magical it was.

I tried taking photos but lightning isn’t a very good subject, it goes too quickly and is unpredictable.

Still. It made running an awesome experience.

This post is part of a series. China is too awesome to only be in one post.

Why running in China is awesome #1

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This is my track. I run it daily and it is good to me.

I work at a private school in Guangdong, south China. Its hot, humid and unforgiving weather but I’m hoping to reap the benefits of this tough training.

As I wrote before, I run at night from 7pm onwards depending on how hot it is during the day. Sometimes I like to run at 6pm to mix it up but I can never finish my full work out if I do.

When the swallows become bats…
I run when I see the swallows have disappeared and the bats come out in force. I love the bats, eating up all the mosquitoes that munch me. It’s an awesome experience being able to look up at the dusky sky and see bats swirling round the track with me.

The next wildlife I have to look out for is the frogs. China is awash with rivers and water; duck farms, fish farms and goose farms galore. Round the school there are plenty and the frogs love that along with the heat. Running round it’s not unusual to see a frog jumping out the way of my feet.

The wildlife is certainly brilliant and it’s awesome to be able to share my track with animals that I don’t normally see in such quantities back home.

Its one reason I like running in China.

This post is part of a series. China is too awesome to only have one post.