Special Feature

Pauline’s Depth Year Diary – May – June 2019

On Revisiting Objectives (Again) and Self-Care

Back in December I published my Depth Year 2019 post, which set out my goals and hopes for the year.

  1. As a reminder, here are the goals:
    Limit my social media time to 20 minutes per day, except if I’m involved in an important group chat about something: no mindless scrolling.
  2. Uninstall or block notifications from Instagram and Twitter. Turn off Strava notifications and most Facebook notifications so they’re not distracting me when I’m trying to do deep work.
  3. Set aside dedicated time each week to play board games and shoot the breeze with Michael. You’d be surprised at how little that happens due to a combination of my fitness training schedule and mindless time-wasting.
  4. Look at ways to improve how we run the house, so that less time is wasted on mindless chores. Spending money on this is fine as long as the utility value makes the costs worthwhile.
  5. Allocate (realistic) time limits for tasks. If I haven’t got the task completed in that time then move on, and work out how to do it more efficiently next time.
  6. Identify a personal project to work on over the year, and track my progress on a monthly basis.

We’re now half way through the year. I think it would be fair to say that I haven’t stuck rigidly to all of my rules, or made that much progress with some of my goals. It has however made me (even more) contemplative regarding how to try to live my best life, given the constraints within which that must happen.

Photo shows The view from the top at Gothenburg botanical gardens
The view of the top at Gothenburg botanical gardens

May and June are always pretty hectic times in the academic year. You’re basically crawling to the finish line, trying to get students to complete their courses successfully.  All the while there is a never-ending flow of marking coming in. The students are tired, you are tired, and you’re also busy trying to recruit students for next session.  At the same time you’re really keen to get planning for the post-summer intake.  In the end you can’t do that effectively because the timetabling can’t be finalised until recruitment numbers firm up. I’ve now been on holiday for a fortnight, and Michael has been off for a week. I have never had a day, or even an afternoon, where I’ve just sat and read or done something genuinely relaxing. And the house is still a mess. At least the garden looks more presentable.

Clematis hedge in bloom
Our clematis hedge in bloom

If you remember my last diary from April, you’ll note I identified that my obsession with productivity was having a negative impact. I said that needed to structure my time in such a way as to achieve maximum productivity whilst taking real breaks and ensuring I spend my time intentionally. That all sounds great – and it is a worthwhile goal. But it works only if you schedule in real rests. Truthfully, I push myself too hard and to serious detriment at times.

I’ve not had the best couple of months in terms of health. I didn’t bounce back fully after the virus I had in April, and I had a poor performance at RST Crombie 5k in mid-May. I put it down to a combination of lack of speedwork and feeling lousy due to physical reasons you probably don’t want to hear about.  Actually there’s going to be a lot you probably don’t want to hear about: maybe I should put this entire section in a box that you need to click on in order to read it. It’s not pleasant if you’re squeamish or good at visualising things. It may though give you an insight into a few of the pathologies of my mindset.

Photo of purple flowers in the Duthie Park Winter Gardens
Purple flowers in the Duthie Park Winter Gardens

After Stirling Half Marathon, I’d jumped back into a Half Marathon training program, and was optimistically trying to follow a sub 1:30 plan but adjust the times slightly for 1:35 pace. This involved, amongst other things, a 10-mile run which included a 10 km time trial/ race pace run in the middle of it. Brechin and the surrounding area are rather hilly, and not designed for time trials in any way, shape or form.

The sensible thing to do would have been to drive to Montrose and run there. But I had a plan: head up a category 4 climb for a mile and a half then have half a mile to recover from that before doing the time trial section on a reasonably flat loop before hitting hills again on the final 2 recovery miles. I should have realised this was not the best option. When the morning turned out to be unseasonably warm, I should probably have taken a water bottle with me and dialled back the pace a little. As it was, I was aiming to hold 7:10 pace for the 10 k.  My race PB is 7:00 pace or thereabouts. My quickest parkrun this year so far though was at 7:09 pace, for a pancake flat run that is half that distance and doesn’t include a 2-mile hill climb as a not-so-gentle warm-up.  This was – on the optimistic side.

The time trial section started well, with a 7:05 mile followed by a 7:12, but it felt like a pace I would struggle to hold. The third mile was a depressing 7:23, and I was really working. I dug deep and pulled it back to 7:13 and 7:18 for miles 4 and 5 respectively, even though by this point I had rather severe abdominal pains and was worried I might not manage to get home if I kept pushing. The final 1.22 miles of the 10 k were blessedly downhill and I managed a 6:57 pace, bringing the full 10k in at just under 45 minutes. I took my foot off the gas and jogged home at a reasonable plod, but the abdominal discomfort wasn’t easing off the way a stitch would.

It took me a while to realise just how much of an idiot I had been. I was feeling proud of “over-ruling my inner governor” and pushing past the discomfort.  I was still slightly disappointed with the not-overly-stellar time that effort earned me. Then I went to the bathroom, and there was blood.

It gets worse from here.  Maybe scroll on a bit.

Photo of a colourful cactus
Seriously, keep scrolling past until you get to the next sub-heading…

At first I wasn’t worried and assumed my cycle was just out of whack due to the virus and the fact it can be irregular sometimes anyway. It was a lovely day; I wasn’t feeling too bad.  I wanted to spend the rest of the day with Michael so we headed to Aberdeen. The same thing happened again there, and I realised it was haematuria – I was peeing blood. This was rather disconcerting as you might imagine. Apparently it’s something that is not completely uncommon in runners and other athletes if they overdo it when dehydrated, but my GP has referred me to Urology just in case.

It’s been 8 weeks and I haven’t received a letter from them yet, but I know I’m low risk and therefore low priority.

There was also blood in my stools.  I was less concerned about that due to family medical history, but my FIT test results, alongside the family history, was enough to get me a fast-tracked hospital appointment for a colonoscopy. Sure enough, everything was okay on that score.  It was a fun-filled few days, and it cost me close to a week of training.

Nonetheless I clearly didn’t learn my lesson from all of this: I went out for a run on the Sunday with a friend despite having a post-hospital fever on the Friday and Saturday. I knew it would be a fairly relaxed pace but I stupidly tried to pick up the speed for the final few miles.  That was after she headed off to her parents and I turned for home.  I had to dial it back within a couple of kilometres due to the protestations of my internal organs. I was exceptionally glad to discover the public toilets next to the bus stop were open.

Photos shows an array of colourful food from Sol y sombra Tapas Bar
Sol y Sombra do excellent Tapas. This was my first meal post-procedure!

Asides from what appears to have been literally beating myself up inside, I’m also now moderately anaemic. My Haemoglobin levels and total blood count tend to be on the low side of the normal range, dipping into mildly anaemic range when I have a virus. They’d gone back into to the normal range at the start of this year, but I hadn’t been tested since. I got bloods taken in June, and got a phone call 24 hours later from the Health Centre saying the GP wanted to discuss them.  They didn’t have any appointments for a fortnight so it’s a weird case of ‘We need to get in touch immediately to tell you to wait for information’. I assumed that meant it wasn’t urgent though and that I was mildly anaemic again.

It turned out my haemoglobin levels now classify me as moderately anaemic, and my ferritin levels are less than half the lower end of normal range. I find myself on a 3-month course of iron tablets. They have a rather *interesting* side-effect – and I’ve had to come off a medication I’ve been on for several years which may cause internal bleeding.  That, as you might guess, would contribute to the anaemia. I’m really hoping they work. The GP said it’ll take a few weeks but I should see a noticeable improvement in my training in time for Chicago marathon in October.  Yep, you read right.  I’m doping.

My stomach seems to be coping with the pills okay so far, so it’s looking promising. I’m having to cut back on dairy and am trying to eat more red meat. This works fine when on holiday, but with Michael being a pescatarian who mainly eats cheese it doesn’t make for harmonious meal prep. My albumin levels also dipped just below normal, but my GP isn’t concerned about that yet. I eat a lot of protein, and rarely drink alcohol. They should hopefully go back to normal given the hospital investigation didn’t find any inflammation or disease likely to inhibit protein absorption.

Photo of a public park in central Gothenburg
A park in Gothenburg. It’s probably safe to start reading again

So, have I learned anything from this? In theory, I think I’ve taken on board that I’m a middle-aged woman whose body is slowly starting to fall apart.  I need to take time to relax and treat myself properly rather than hurting myself by rigidly following a strict training plan I may not be physically up to. In reality, I’ll almost definitely still put in the miles the plan says. I just might dial back on the pace when my body tells me. I really do find running to be active relaxation – a term that when I googled it turned out to be a real thing. I’d rather be doing that than sitting around watching tv given the option. The internet also tells me that we need a mix of active and passive relaxation to give our bodies adequate rest. I suppose I need to be prepared to schedule in more time for reading, or just relaxing at the beach – if we get our summer weather back.

On the benefits of financial stability

Two things over the past couple of months brought home to me how lucky Michael and I are in terms of our financial position: not necessarily in terms of earnings, but in terms of savings. After all, as Mr Micawber said in David Copperfield:

Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.

The first was that we needed to make a fairly last-minute trip to Gothenburg, for Reasons. Or, at least, Michael needed to go there and for Other Reasons it made sense for me to also go for a few days. It ended up being a rather expensive long weekend due to the last-minute flights we were able to get that fitted around my working hours. It was the highlight of these past two months and we managed it without resorting to credit card debt. I know we’re really fortunate to be able to do that and not worry about how we’ll pay for it, and it was great to get a glimpse of life in Sweden – including being the first female finisher at Gothenburg parkrun!   That tells you far more about how new parkrun is to Sweden rather than any indication of improvement in my 5 k times.

Photo shows a street with tram stops in Gothenburg
A tram hub in Gothenburg

The second thing was that we both got sent new contracts to sign for an organisation we have both done consultancy work for on a regular basis over the past 7 years – longer in Michael’s case. The terms of these new contracts were such that we would be doing much more work for somewhat lower remuneration.

Michael didn’t have to take long to consider it before resigning.

I’ve still got one contract on the more favourable terms so am retaining that one, but am mulling over the other one. We’re losing a fair slice of income (not compared to full-time employment, but the income more than pays for our holidays). I’m also a big fan of having multiple income streams as it reduces the pressure if your job is under threat of downsizing, or because you want to move because your other half has got a job offer elsewhere and you haven’t had time to find something in the new location. Part-time contract work got me comfortably through 6 months when we moved back to Scotland (I was able to pick up additional contracts over the usual ones during that time) and I was able to take time to find a suitable position rather than having to jump at the first post offered. However, there comes a time when the disadvantages outweigh the advantages, and having the option to reduce our income without it making much difference to our lifestyle (though it might slightly delay our early retirement plans) is such a luxury. As Jim Rohn said:

“Time is more valuable than money. You can get more money but you can’t get more time.”

Freeing up some of the time we spend on one of our (multiple) side hustles should allow a little more time for self-care, which, given how little attention we both pay to our physical health, can only be a good thing.

On Summer Plans

Even though I’ve been on vacation for a fortnight, I’ve not done much in the way of passive relaxation. I spent the first 48 hours of my vacation as support crew for two fellow Footers who were brave enough to run the 95 ½ miles of the West Highland Way race in 26-something and 31-something hours respectively over two sleep-deprived days. I then spent the following three days processing the photos and writing the race report. It’s the post that has by far the largest number of views on the website, but that’s largely because it was such a loooong post that I put in some page breaks. I then caught up on a bunch of chores including ironing, laundry, and gardening, but I haven’t managed to do the dusting or deep clean the bathroom yet.

Photo shows the two runners and 6 support crew after the West Highland Way Race presentation. Chris and Jagoda have their goblets
Cookie Crew after the West Highland Way Race Presentations

I did take last Saturday as something of a rest day – pacing 26 minutes at my local parkrun then going on the Footers summer day out (where we had a lovely 3 course lunch for a tenner a head) and spending the evening with Michael.  Then it was back to 3 days of work for the employer we both do contract work for, all whilst ramping up the marathon training around the work and chores. And today I have been writing this random brain dump after my morning run. I’ve got several Facebook messages I need to reply to or send out, a Footers Summer Newsletter to put together which is probably already later than last year, I’ve got a Half Marathon to run on Sunday (and the race report to write afterwards) and I want to visit various friends and relatives but need to work out the logistics of all that and find times that work for everyone.

Nothing but free time and no time to do anything.

Photo shows Jagoda running along a path with views of Loch Lomond during the West Highland Way Race
Who wouldn’t want to run this race with views like this?

I’m hoping to schedule in some time for some quality passive relaxation, but I suspect that will happen in the final four weeks of the vacation. Until then, I’m just trying to whittle down the checklist. Oh, and we’re not going to be able to get married this summer as apparently there’s some paperwork we should have filed 29 days prior to a wedding date, and Michael only has 4 weeks off so we left it too late for this summer. He has got a new birth certificate though, and most EU countries provide visas for cohabiting partners whether or not they are your legal spouse, so it’s not currently urgent.

On Depth Year Progress

In terms of rule 1, I have largely continued to restrict my social media time in terms of mindless scrolling. I’ve heard Cal Newport on a couple of podcasts talking about his new book about Digital Minimalism, and it resonates with my philosophy. Social media has many benefits, and quitting social media isn’t the sensible option for me. However, the goal should be to use it intentionally. That means using it to plan running meet-ups, plug blog posts, and contact people I haven’t spoken to in a while and want to catch up with. As long as it is used actively, with purpose, and not for mindless scrolling then that enhances life and is time well spent. Mindless scrolling is barred.

This is aided by rule 2, as I rarely get notifications anymore, having turned them off for Facebook, Messenger, Strava, Twitter and Instagram. I’ve probably spent all of 5 minutes on Twitter in the past two months, and zero minutes on Instagram. A Facebook friend I haven’t seen in over a year sent me a message via Facebook Messenger, with a rather abrupt one fewer than 6 hours later when she didn’t get a response. Expecting immediate responses to messages and comments seems to be due to the default being instant notifications, but most people understand it’s not reasonable to expect they can interrupt whatever you are doing and get an instant reply, so I’m not fretting about it.

Photo shows an art vivid mode photo of sunlight through branches
An underexposed photo of a tree, with some post-processing to make it look more like a painting

With regards to rule 3, I have managed to spend a reasonable amount of time with Michael, given the time of year, and it was great to get a few days concentrated time in Gothenburg together. We’ve also burned more petrol than I’d care to admit to, just going for drives in the country like an old married couple. He’s never going to take up running, or hill-walking, so driving is the only way to get him to experience the great outdoors.

We haven’t had as many board game evenings as we would like, because to be honest it can feel like work if we’re learning another new game, and his buffer of review content dwindled dangerously low so we had to learn 4 or 5 new games in one weekend which was a little mentally draining. We’ll set aside a day a week for gaming over the summer holidays since it won’t be too cognitively taxing, and we might get to the point that we have the luxury of enjoying old favourites. We’ve finally got a venue booked for our games weekend, and will have a solid two days of gaming with a nice group of friends in early August, followed by a weekend at Tabletop Scotland at the end of that month.

I’ve made no progress on rules 4 and 5 if I’m being honest. I have though decided to hire someone to prune the tree in the back garden as it’s not possible for me to do without serious risk of falling off a ladder, and it’s such a Sisyphean task.

In terms of rule 6 we have identified a project, and will be starting on it in July.

With regards to my goals, I think I’m doing reasonably well with the goal of being aware of how I’m spending my time. And it has led to me reassessing what is realistic for me to achieve in terms of other goals. The health issues have also made me reassess my running goals slightly, and as I said in my March – April diary, I run for so many reasons that are not performance-related that it isn’t an issue if I don’t meet my ideal targets.

I’m still feeling pretty happy about goal three. It’s only halfway through the year and I’ve already read more paper/ Kindle books than I did in the whole of 2018. Just by being more mindful of “fake breaks” and changing my pre-bedtime and waking routines. I’m pretty sure Michael and I are still pretty solid (goal 4). And you can probably tell that goal 5, if anything, could be scaled back, given the amount of time I appear to spend navel-gazing. It’s almost as if I were a youthful hipster rather than a middle-aged adult.

So, with all this in mind, will I have a productive or chilled summer vacation? I’m not sure yet, but my guess is that it won’t involve much on the chilled side, unless we’re talking about the weather. Check in to my next diary in August to find out.

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