The picture here is of me standing on top of a Fell in the Brecon Beacons last month, on a Yoga and Fell Running weekend. Yes, yoga, and yes, also, Fell running. I signed up for this on a dark, cold January evening, sitting on my sofa reading a Guardian article about it. In one of those dangerous, inspired and impulsive sofa moments, I paid up, thinking it would motivate me to get out in the mud and run on the Downs a bit more.
I know. The South Downs and the Welsh Fells are two very different things.
Months later, a week before the event, I came to my senses, and panicked. I emailed Ruth, ex British Fell running champion and the weekend organiser, and confessed I didn’t think I was up to it. Can I still come and walk most of it without holding the group back? I enquired. Yes, just come, she said.
So I got in my tiny car and drove 5 hours to Abergavenny. The weather was not very Welsh all weekend, beautiful clear blue skies over miles of green and empty hills and peaks. On the way, I pre-planned that I would just do the running technique session on the first morning and then take myself off for a walk, and join in the yoga after that. Yoga would be fine! On Sunday I could do the same.
I was worried about a knee tendon I had injured a couple of months earlier that was still niggling, my old hamstring injury that flares up, and my still below par breathing after being ill earlier in the year.
And ‘FELL’ is actually just another word for MOUNTAIN….shit.
There were quite a few last minute drop-outs apparently, but that sunny Saturday morning found me and 11 other women practising running steep downhill paths as fast as possible – which for me felt like hurtling with no brake. Then we followed a short circular uphill – downhill route we could choose to do once or twice. Surprising myself, I went for it twice. I walked a bit but with a sense of growing exhilaration, I ran most of it ok, .The landscape was stunning and so peaceful, I had enough energy to challenge myself, digging in for that ‘just keep going’ grit. As Ruth advised us, “just keep shuffling instead of walking, it’s easier to pick up the pace again when the ground levels off”. Weekend mantra for mid-life runners: “keep shuffling”.
Encouraged by my ‘success’, I decided to join in the afternoon longer run. It was a 40 minute really, really steep climb up, then an undulating horseshoe route along the top and a long, steep and rocky run down. I was at the back of the group, very slow and had to walk a few times, but I did the whole thing. Not my best look, but see my happy beetroot face as proof!
Yoga for me was the relaxing part of the day – how lovely to listen to someone else guide the session. I felt tired, ready for the “shaking hands with the toes” foot massage, and no niggly parts were bothering me at all. Back to comfort zone briefly.
I woke up stiff and sore in all the good places, quads, hams and a new backside! No injury issues at all. Maybe pushing it a bit was a good idea. Emboldened by this, I went along for the Sunday plan to self-navigate a route up and around and down Sugar Loaf, 600 metres.
This was hard, reaching a turning point to see another uphill ahead of you. What a difference a few degrees of incline can make! Sometimes it steepens so much it’s just like walking up steps, then sometimes it levels out with such a feeling of relief and sudden ease in breathing. Then the steep downhill of momentum management and hyper awareness of your feet. The lower grassy hills eventually open to lines of spring green oaks back to the road.
I ran in my ‘minimal’ trainers and could feel all the muscles in my feet way more than usual, my feet had worked so much.
I came in at the back of the group, again, with a couple of near miss wrong turns, and had a fantastic day in the sunshine running (and walking). I had done the whole weekend. I arrived home after another long drive on a total high, to tell my kids all about how I was actually a superhero. I had run 28km (very roughly) UP MOUNTAINS.
I won’t be running fell races anytime soon (maybe a very small one next year!) but I did surprise myself. I felt physically strong and energised, despite my limitations. I learnt some good techniques and LOVED being out on the fells all day.
My Personal Takeaways
Get out of your comfort zone!
Choosing to put myself in a new, for me slightly scary situation, letting the excitement win over the nerves. That voice saying, “this is a ridiculous thing to do”, and then doing it anyway….sometimes that’s a good call! Sometimes.
At the same time, I trusted myself to make good choices to take care of myself as required, not pushing myself to pain in order to keep up. Not going down the rabbit hole of, “I’m not good enough, not as fit as I could and should be.…” etc etc. B****cks to that.
I navigated how much challenge was enough for me. I really feel confident in the value of making things hard work enough – jeez, life is hard enough – so, I found that to keep breathing steadily, legs moving until the next ridge, walking a bit, feeling calmer breathing again, enjoying my beautiful surroundings and then setting the goal to run the next bit to the next ridge was enough. Ending the day with that happy, whole body tired feeling is one of my faves.
How cautious I’ve been with running for months and months because of various niggles and injuries! Going forward, I would get professional advice sooner and then test it out. Truth is, we can only ever see and know a portion of what’s happening. So much of our health and body are stories we tell ourselves, mixed up with fear and piecemeal information, so there is space for things to be not as we think they are. I still have work to do on my physical issues, movement patterns and things that need gradual strengthening, but I’m more open minded now.
I’m also very glad for all the body awareness, confidence and movement variety and resilience that yoga gives me. SO HELPFUL. Just sayin….
Anyhow, often I’m in the role of sharing knowledge about how to move well, and, of course I’m also working through my own challenges and joys being alive in a human body with its habits and patterns, strengths and limitations.
The weekend put into practice my own values of enjoying being active out in the natural environment as much as possible, to keep exploring possibilities in life and in my physical being. Not being afraid to follow what sparks joy for me, as the tidying lady would say.
Personally, marathons, races and roads are not my thing. What I love is being out as far away from roads and people as possible! That sense of freedom moving up on the hills.
Left behind on my own at one point on a high ridge in the sunshine, with a map, looking at several criss-crossing, very faint paths in the grassy ground. No clue which way to go, I felt full of joy being right out there, doing that.
How about you, are you someone who throws yourself at physical challenges? How does that work out? Or are you more cautious? What are your ways of enjoying exploring yourself? Do add in the comments. I bet there is so much variety out there, maybe with a shared theme of some yoga in the mix if you’re reading this.
Perfect segway into a bit of Rumi, true to my yoga teacher roots haha.
Today, like every other day,
we wake up empty and frightened.
Don’t open the door to the study and begin reading.
Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
I went to Wales with https://element-active.co.uk. run by Fell runner Ruth Pickvance. She runs weekends of yoga & running, yoga & walking, and mountain biking including for beginners. I highly recommend it for an active outdoorsy weekend to have fun developing some physical skills with expert support. The food was delicious and healthy, our barn base was lovely, we sat outside with cups of tea to chat amongst birdsong and green hills all around us. And Ruth’s team were so encouraging and lovely.