This has been a hard entry to write.
It's been ticking away in the back of my mind for several weeks now. Come clean, confess, discuss, a voice has whispered.
The Christmas period meant taking time off from writing, but if I'm honest the break was less to do with the busyness of family activities -- the tending to clamouring hyped-up children that makes this holiday so particularly un-restful -- and more to do with the fact that each time I attempted to write this post I felt queasy.
My discomfort is unrelated to the amount of mincemeat and cheese I have consumed recently, as is my wincing approach to the kitchen these days. But the source is indeed located at the fridge, which hums carelessly as though unaware of my torment. There, pinned in place by an array of colourful magnetic letters, is my marathon training plan, which I abandoned three weeks ago.
Just looking at what I've written makes me feel sick again. If only a salty glass of digestive medicine, or a chalky teaspoon of pink antacid gloop could cure it.
Outside it is iron-grey and hard cold. The tail-end of the month, the last gasp of the year. There is a sense of judgement all around: newspapers, television and online media are full of lists of what was good and bad in the last 12 months, who and what have succeeded and failed; assessments with the benefit of hindsight confidently outlining past events with a view to foretelling the next. Amid their chatter I have judged myself and I have found myself wanting. I am a hypocrite and a dissembler. Since extolling the life-changing and life-affirming joys of running here I have stopped running.
I'm not quite sure what happened.
At first I was under the weather and eased off. Then I was just exhausted, so indulged in a short break. My trainer had prepared a six-day-a-week plan which I just couldn't keep up with, so we changed it. After that, it was a busy period at work for my husband, who notched up so many late nights in his office that for me to actually leave our home full of sleeping children was impossible.
Then there was that terrible, terrible treadmill session, when my legs felt like they did not belong to me and would not move to my will, and my throat and chest burned with the effort and still I missed every time target for every mile on my training plan for that day. Soaked in sweat and dismay I thought: this is no longer what's helping me to keep going. It has become another task, another project to juggle along with all the other demands on my time, and another yardstick by which to measure my failings.
We are good at this, we women. In particular, there is a certain kind of mother who does this. When the job is not quite demanding enough, or when circumstances dictate that it must be downgraded, or even halted altogether, when the kids occupy every moment and their accomplishments, needs and desires rotate further up the list of priorities and the food shop and the laundry and the constant tidying and the to-do lists teeter higher and ever higher, the thing that is yours and yours alone -- the whatever it is you do to make time for yourself amid the hubbub -- becomes the thing that you do to prove to yourself that you still matter. That you've still got it. It becomes the thing that offsets that seam of gnawing constant anxiety, that thread of worry present throughout all the other activities, that voice that says "Is this it? Can I do more? Did I fail yet?" Thus the joy and the accomplishment of it turn to ash.
So I have stepped off the treadmill. I have looked through the pages of my diary and counted along to April 22 and so long as I start running again in the week of January 1 I still have time to complete a 16-week marathon training plan. I am not running and all I can think about is running. My not-running guilt is particularly toxic because the running is so interwoven with my maternal responsibilities: the act of putting one foot in front of the other has come to represent progress for Grace too, and when I am not doing it I feel as though the process of supporting her has also ground to a halt. But. When I think of putting on my running kit, something rebels and says no, not yet, I'm not ready again yet. On two occasions I have managed to get out of the door and jog six miles, which felt like utter fakery. According to the schedule on my fridge, I have missed three sessions of stamina-building hill sprints (find the nearest one and run up it as fast as possible, 20 times), three sessions of speed-building interval training (walk, jog, run, sprint, over and over again) and two of those stomach-churning Long Runs -- I have not completed 11 miles or 12 miles over the last two Saturdays and am struck with fear to contemplate the 13 miles that is assigned to the day after tomorrow.
And lo, my body has taken control of the situation. It has succumbed to a thick cold that makes my teeth and eye sockets ache, my nose stream constantly, and my legs want no more challenge than that of walking upstairs to bed, where I am writing this. I am shivering despite the fact that the heating is turned up high enough to make the bedroom radiator groan and clank with effort and beads of condensation trace their way down clouded window panes.
While I hide under the covers and wait to get better and to run again, one thing above all else gives me hope. Over the last week or two a steady stream of generous donations to my fundraising pot has shown me that my family and friends still have faith. Their message that I won't let them down gives me the courage to believe it myself.