Alison Cowling

Alison Cowling

Director | Actor | Musician | Writer

Running and Reflection

A weekly blog to document what happens on my running adventures in my legs, in my lungs and in my mind. Each blog will be different, just like every run, from a marathon essay to a short sprint. Something to write and read through these social distant times.

This is the first entry of The Running Diaries, more of an introductory ramble than a full on sprint…

So a new year has begun. We’ve entered 2021! What a futuristic year, it seemed so far away when growing up. I was born in the 90’s, now I have nephews who have been born in the 20’s. When will the flying cars be built?

Anyway, welcome if you are reading this…maybe it’s just going to be future me looking back. I’ve been stewing on this idea for so long, ‘The Running Diaries’. Every run in the last year or so, thinking that I’d love to document my runs more than just short notes on Strava. Yes I succumbed to Strava after saying ‘nahhh’ to it for ages. I’ve always had tech on my runs, a banging playlist of chart hits, 80’s classics, french rap, Disney (this is a game changer if you haven’t run to the belting notes of Phil Collins’ Tarzan) and big showtune musical numbers to take me to my happy place – the feeling of being onstage (more on that later). But there was something about being tracked as I ran…and I didn’t want to know how far I had run, instead just running in any direction and distance I wanted, which was so freeing.

When I attempted Calendar Club in May 2020, recording my runs on Strava seemed like the logical thing. The challenge is intense and I still don’t know how people do it! (Yes, looking at you @alice_adventures_93 – who inspired me to try!) You run a mile every day for the day of the month. So May 1st – 1 mile, May 2nd – 2 miles, May 3rd – 3 miles etc… until the final week you are running a marathon and more every day! I was determined… didn’t have much else going on in Lockdown 1… but my physio sister did warn me tendonitis would be on the cards. Day 13 arrived, after lots of eggs, avocados and ice baths… and 13.1 miles later (I had to add the .1 to get that half marathon in there) I knew my left foot didn’t have another day left in it (see what I did there?) So 91 miles in 13 days but with a very painful inflamed tendon in my foot, I was unable to walk for a month let alone run! It was the first proper injury I had from running and a bit of a reality check in preparing more for big challenges.

The year went by… .I’m sure that’s how we all feel about 2020. It happened. And my relationship with running went in ebbs and flows. August was a tricky mental month for me, meaning panic attacks mid runs left me high and dry in the middle of Essex fields, walking back home with a lot of weight on my mind and salt on my cheeks. It’s interesting now to reflect back. Running has always been a release, a time to chill, focus and feel strength bubble up inside me. Yet in the middle of a dark year even running couldn’t provide a quick, easy fix. (Obviously everyone has had the most difficult times of their lives recently and this is just little ol’ very privileged and fortunate me talking so I know things could be tougher and I’m not asking to get the little violin out). When I began to land on my feet again, returning to the city I love and seeing friends again in the flesh, running once again became my constant.

I’ve learnt a lot in 2020. And learning what my mind needs is one of my biggest achievements. When another low moment popped up in October, this time I started to pick up the tools I knew I had, in order to care for myself. A goal. A deadline. That’s what I needed. Something to work towards to highlight to myself that ‘me, myself and I’, well I’m a strong, badass, solo woman. Feels big headed but actually being my own cheerleader is the best thing I have discovered in the last year or so. (Thank you Lizzo!)

So the goal of a marathon was set in my mind for Christmas eve and after a quick glance at a marathon training plan online, I had about 10 weeks to go from a comfortable 5 mile run, to 26.2. I could do that! I actually loved the training so much and fell more in love with running than ever before! Also I’ve been living in this city for 7 years now, and running has always been a great way to discover new routes, new spots and find a mini solo adventure on each run. Even now with the winter nights upon us, running in the dark and rain was sort of refreshing – like being a fugitive on the run from the law! Haha. I have to find a character in everything. (More on that in another diary entry I think!)

A week before Christmas eve, with a sudden change of plan due to bullshit fluctuating tiers, I decided to push race day to New Year’s Eve. Contacting the race organiser was easy enough, she was so friendly and agreed to run it a week later. She was pretty sexy too 😛

New Year’s Eve, the route was set, the facebook status had been published, no going back!
A very frosty day with very icy paths that stayed that way for the whole race, so my warm up jog very much became my pace for the run. The views were beautiful, I made sure the route passed through some of my favourite training spots and although I was running alone with no crowd, my intermittent instagram videos were fun to film as I went and I quickly read texts along the way from my lovely family and friends 🙂

As I was running through one of the most beautiful parks in Bristol, Blaise Castle, I realised looking at Strava that I had gained a mile and was nearing mile 19, with still a long way to go to home. And so this spurred me on, and the hill I had been dreading at mile 20/ 21 was actually alright and I downed some fizzy cola bottles as a race sugar snack. There are probably healthier options going but not a lot can compare to my childhood favourite! And once I had conquered that hill, it was all down hill from there – a very good thing! My brilliant housemate @filmsofrozzy came to cycle and meet me a couple of miles from home and it was just the bit of cheering support I needed, her riding alongside like security as I made the last stretch home. I hit 26.2 as I neared my mates’ house, with them popping out to wave and then legged it home to finish at 27.23 miles. 5hrs 22mins later I walked back through the door and could sit down.

Although my first marathon in 2015, the Bristol to Bath, had been in 4hr 52mins and I was hoping I could beat it this time, I was amazed at how much stronger and fitter I felt than 5 years ago. Throughout all the training this time round, it felt much more like it was in my head than my legs. I knew going into it if I thought I could do it, I could do it… and even enjoy it!

So I suppose I’m going to bring this running entry to the cool down stage and round off. I’m excited to finally be starting this and who knows where it’s gonna go and where I’ll end up… just like my favourite runs…

Soundtrack to this entry: ‘Come Alive’ – The Greatest Showman. One of my top songs from my NYE marathon.

Snack for this entry: Fizzy Cola Bottles.