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Monday, 21 June 2021

From where I stand now...


Yesterday I stood on the startline of a race. It was my first in just under two years. And I did not finish...

DNF 

I've never had those letters beside my name before and it hurts. But more than anything I'm realising I have to keep trusting my own process - now more than ever. I'm still coming to terms with the fact that healing can't happen overnight. My body is still paying for my past mistakes. 

I have to stop comparing myself to the girl and athlete I was when I was suffering with RED-s... she's long gone. But like anything lost, it's only natural that she's being grieved too. It's all part of the healing and recovery process. I can't wait for the day I can turn around and say honestly that I don't miss the old Heidi anymore - the Heidi that short cut her way to success. I can't wait for the day when I feel 100% happy in my own skin and my own journey. At this point in time I'm not afraid to admit it - I'm not there yet.

I ask myself though - does anyone ever fully recover from disordered eating or an eating disorder? Will I ever not have that nagging voice in the back of my head that tells me I need to restrict my food intake - that a skinnier version of myself is more worthy even though deep down I know how toxic that train of thought is? Or on the other hand, will I ever not feel the urge to open up the cupboard and eat everything I can find? Certainly, these voices are a lot quieter now and I feel in a much healthier place mentally but I do still carry around some fear about these issues... I wonder whether I'll ever be able to get back to that healthy, strong athlete I was when I was younger before my first stress fracture hit.  I look back at this journey I've been on over the past four years and I honestly still don't know what full recovery looks like. I wonder whether I should reach out for professional help around these issues ... but even after sharing my story over the last few days I still wouldn't know where to turn. 

And now I think back to the athlete I was when I was younger and all the training camps I attended with British Athletics or Welsh Athletics and I realise nobody ever mentioned anything about any of these issues. As a young athlete I was not educated about these topics. RED-s was never mentioned - I didn't even know what it was and so when I found myself in the middle of it I didn't feel like I had anywhere to turn. Maybe it was naive of me to believe I had to struggle along by myself, but when nobody within the athletic world is talking about these issues or even highlights to you how unhealthy it is that you're missing your period - you don't begin to realise the downward spiral you're on until it's way too late. 

You know what - this makes me angry. The fact that this is still a taboo subject despite the fact that some athletes are starting to open up about their journeys and struggles now. We can see it in our sport... sometimes it's so goddamn obvious and yet we are still scared to open up about it, to be fully honest and admit there is more work to be done to make RED-s and all the repercussions it causes something the next generation of athletes are aware of and educated about. So that they don't feel like they have to suffer in silence.

Perhaps all it would've taken was a quick workshop provided by British or Welsh Athletics when I was enrolled in their coaching programs to have prevented these past four years of hell I've been through. Yes I know we can't go back and change the past but we can look forward and make a change and an impact on the future of our sport. Wouldn't prevention be better than cure?

I want the next generation of athletes to grow up in a safe environment where these issues are talked about. Where athletes are warned about how the short term success they may have when they find themselves stuck in the cycle of pushing their bodies way too much is only detrimental in the long term. It is not sustainable. It is unhealthy, toxic and the short term success is never worth it - the painful past two years I've been living have taught me that. We need to stop celebrating this short term success - I think maybe this is part of the problem. We need to stop placing so much of our self worth on race wins, on body size, on body shape. We need to start placing self worth on strength and longevity of athletes... start placing more faith and trust in the long term process and enjoyment. 

I'm not a doctor. I'm not a coach. I can't give you any scientific information or any proper research. I'm just an athlete who feels like she's been through hell and back over the past four years and now she's angry and also deeply saddened at the thought that it could've somehow been prevented. Maybe all it would've taken was more awareness, more conversations, more focus on overall health as an athlete and the long term process rather than short term success and race wins. I'm just here telling my story in the hope that this will create more noise and awareness around these subjects. I can see more and more athletes are speaking out - together we can do so much. These are just the beginnings of creating a healthier environment in our sport. I look towards the future and I hope something can be done to create safe spaces for younger athletes to learn about these issues - so that they don't have to suffer like so many of us have.  We have to be the change we wish to see in the world. 

And so here I stand now. My name is Heidi. I'm 23 years old and I'm living my dream in the Italian mountains alongside Zak - a fellow mountain lover from Ireland and I'm so excited for all the adventures ahead.

I stand here - my head held high despite of all the mistakes I've made in the past. I stand here and I'm going back to basics, learning how to be an athlete again, taking each day at a time and finding joy in the process. Moving from one step to the next towards my goals, now knowing there are no short cuts. I know it'll take several years of dedication and determination to get back to where I want to be... but this time it'll be sustainable. This time my body won't break, because this time I'll be treating it with the love and care it deserves. I have a body that functions again and I vow to you all reading this - I won't ever take it for granted or abuse it the way I did before ever again. 

Yesterday I may have had my first ever DNF, but it was the beginning of the final realisation that there really is no overnight fix after the journey I've been on. Instead it's a long term lifelong project... and in these sorts of races, there are no finish lines. 




Sunday, 20 June 2021

Dear 22 year old Heidi

Phew, I bet you're glad 2019 is over – with all the lessons it's taught you and all that you went through. Looking back you can't quite believe how far you've come. You're settled into your new home in Malonno and everyday you wake up and open the window to see the mountains towering above you feeling so grateful to have found your place in the world and to be doing what you love. You feel free around food and can't quite believe how last year you were struggling so much and going through so many mental battles just to put food in your mouth. Now when you're hungry, you eat and yes I know - it feels so freeing. 

But 22 year old Heidi don't get too content, there's some more chaos coming your way. It's not going to hit just you, but the whole world. Covid-19. Lockdown is coming and you're going to have to stay at home for almost two months without being able to run out into the mountains. You're going to have your freedom taken away from you just like the rest of the world. As you run loops around the outside yard you're confined to, you'll begin to question whether you made the correct decision moving to a foreign country all by yourself, hundreds of miles away from your family and not knowing when you'll be able to see them again. The ghosts of your struggles around food last year will begin to haunt you again and you'll begin to realise you're not really okay at all. You don't feel light any more, you don't feel like the skinny athlete you placed so much of your self worth and value on and you don't like it one bit. You're not sure who you are at this point in time and it's all because of the fact that once you start eating you can't seem to stop... 

To start with you'll think to yourself that you're doing okay. You'll feel like because you restricted yourself so much in the past the huge amounts of food you're eating now are justified because your body needs it. To an extent this is true - it's part of the recovery process from RED-s.... But there is a voice in the back of your head that feels disgusted with who you have become. The fact that you can't just seem to eat like a normal person. You won't know what to do, as you cook a whole pack of pasta and eat it all, or eat a whole loaf of bread, open the fridge and eat six yogurts in a row just because they are there and you feel the need to put food in your mouth. Your stomach will hurt so much, but still you'll stand in your kitchen and eat the most random foods, essentially anything you can find in the cupboard. What'll hurt the most is that even though you'll still have a desire to be a skinny athlete , the fact you just can't seem to stop shoving food into your mouth will make you feel worthless and full of self hate and despair. 22 year old Heidi, I'm sorry to tell you but you're going to spend many nights crying yourself to sleep, your stomach like a balloon full of all the food you pushed into your body. You'll vow that tomorrow it'll be different.. you'll start to eat clean or you'll go on a diet, even a water fast... anything to make up for all the calories you've just put into your body. You don't realise how toxic this is and you'll always fail in your attempts to undo your binge episodes. You'll find yourself opening the fridge again trying to fill a gap - a hole in yourself that urges you to just eat and eat and eat until you can barely physically move. What you won't realise for a long time is that this hole cannot be filled with food and fueled by self hate... self love and acceptance is what you'll be lacking. The scary process of healing your relationship with food is much healthier for you than continuing this restriction and bingeing cycle... you'll just not see it yet.

You'll come out of lockdown and you'll start running again in the mountains... only it now hurts you how different your body feels, the fact that people in the street comment on your weight change will only make you feel so much worse. You'll constantly compare yourself to the lighter version of yourself, the successful athlete who could control herself around food. Essentially you'll put too much worth on the old version of yourself... the girl who was as light as a feather and could eat one biscuit without scoffing the whole pack. Even though you'll know that when you were suffering with RED-s you were in a toxic place and slowly shrinking yourself to a breaking point... at this point in time you'd actually rather be that girl. At least she didn't feel so full of self hate and shame all the time - at least when she could control herself around food she felt proud of it. Now you won't feel like you have anything to be proud of - you'll feel like a failure. You'll feel like you've let everyone down. The fact you won't be in any fit shape to run any races or to do any proper training thanks to ongoing hip problems will only add fuel to the raging fire of self hate. You'll try to restrict again, you'll try so hard, mapping out diet plans, even taking all the food out of the cupboards and locking it away in the garage - out of sight, out of mind as they say... but in the end you'll know it'll never work. You'll feel weak. Especially as the failed attempts at restricting will only lead to more and more bingeing. You'll feel like you have no strength left to fight anymore and you'll let go of any ideas to try and run properly again. Food has too much power over you. All you'll want is to be normal - to run wild and free in the mountains, but you'll feel so trapped inside yourself and your obsession with food that you won't be able to see a way out. 

You'll get to a breaking point, you should reach out for professional help but like before when you were suffering with RED-s you'll feel too proud to admit how much you are struggling. It'll hurt you so much that such a basic thing we humans need to do to survive is causing you so many issues and so much pain. Eventually, you'll send a message to your Dad saying you think you need to go back to Wales. You'll think running away from your kitchen in Malonno is the solution, but like your father will tell you... it's your habits around food that you need to change. Trying to restrict yourself in order to loose weight is only detrimental as it only leads to an inevitable binge... your mind will focus so much on food that you'll reach a point where you'll open the cupboard, pull out a packet of biscuits and just sit down and eat every last crumb... you'll open a tin of tuna and then two and then three and then even a fourth and feel so sick but you'll keep going... you'll take a spoon and the grated cheese in the fridge will be gone within seconds. And this is all because before you have been depriving your body of food - essential nutrients needed for your survival. It is only obvious that you'll reach a point where you'll have to eat. You're not weak... it's only a natural response. Your body is just trying to survive. 

It's then that you realise you need to find self love rather than self hate. That in fact this binge eating and your out of control feelings around food were probably only inevitable after a long period of restriction and that holding onto this superior image in your head of the athlete you used to be when you were suffering with RED-s is only doing lasting damage. Binge eating is a natural human response - It's just that nobody had ever talked to you about it. You'll feel broken, alone, full of despair and you won't be able to see a way out of it... you'll know in the back of your head that two or three times a week your body and mind are just going to tell you to eat everything in the kitchen and you'll feel powerless to stop putting the food in your mouth. 

You'll know something has to give... there has to be more to life than this. And it is there that you'll begin to realise you need to stop placing so much of your self worth on your weight - hating yourself and where you are right now is not the way out of this dark hole. The only way out is acceptance - even if right now you can't love yourself and your body - right now you just have to accept where you are and the journey you are on. You have to want to break the cycle and the only way to do that is with self compassion. 

And you'll have to come to terms with the fact that in order to get over this you need to completely change your relationship with food. You'll need to stop seeing food as the enemy and start seeing it as a friend. You know food is fuel, but you need to see it as more than that. It's something to be enjoyed and not feared. You'll have an appointment with a sports nutritionist who works within the same team as your coach and she'll help you map out a structure to shape your eating habits and take some healthy steps forward. Starting to eat three proper meals a day and a few snacks in between you'll slowly begin to hear the voice in your head that tells you to open the cupboard and eat everything get quieter and quieter with every passing day as you work hard to change your attitude around food. The urge to binge won't fully go away and you will find that sometimes even when you set out with good intentions to eat only a few squares of chocolate or just a slice of bread - you'll slip up and eat all of what's there. You'll have to learn to forgive yourself for this, it's all part of the process. You can't just go from bingeing three or four times a week to a completely healthy and normal relationship with food overnight. When you do find yourself in the middle of these less frequent binge eating episodes, you'll find yourself wanting to restrict the next day in order to try to compensate and be good again. But you'll know this isn't the way forward... this is what caused you the big problems in the first place. The most important thing to do after any binge eating is to move on. Accept what happened and tell yourself that it's okay to make mistakes sometimes. You are human after all. You should feel proud of yourself for how far you've come. Pay attention to those small wins, because they are the ones that matter. Nobody heals their relationship with food overnight. It's a series of changes that build up over time, until one day you'll realise you're capable of so much more than you thought. Food won't hold so much power over you anymore. 

Just before you turn 23, your relationship with food will have changed so much and you'll look back over the past year and see all that you've been through. You won't feel the need to follow a completely rigid meal plan from the nutritionist anymore and you're mostly able to eat three good meals a day and snacks without feeling the urge to binge all the time. You'll look back on the past year and see it as the most difficult of your life - living by yourself in a foreign country and struggling through all these problems mostly alone. You'll look back and know how strong you are. 22 year old Heidi hit rock bottom, well and truly - but rock bottom teaches us lessons that mountain tops never do.

23 year old Heidi will be ready to put all these problems of the past three or four years behind her and move forward even if she wonders whether she'll ever be fully healed. Here is 23 year old Heidi - speaking her truth - even if her voice shakes. 

No matter how hard it hurts, 23 year old Heidi knows how important it is to share these issues and to share her struggles over the past years - because this is the only way we can bring awareness and start conversations about these topics. The only way the next generations do not have to suffer in silence. The only way we can break down these walls - do you see how toxic these past four years have been for me? I don't want that for anyone else. I don't want the next generation of athletes - young girls to think that in order to run fast and strong they have to be super skinny, loose their period, become obsessed with their body and food and feel so alone in the process. I don't want people to think that in order to be a champion, they have to loose part of themselves. I've lived my own journey through these struggles and I've seen it far far too often in other athletes too. There has to be a better way, I'm sure of it. We have to be the people to help create this change. Because if not us and now ... then who and when? 



Saturday, 19 June 2021

Dear 21 year old Heidi

What a whirlwind of a year you're set up for now! In April you'll be jetting half way across the world to spend a life changing two weeks in Boulder, CO. It'll be a chance of a lifetime for you – to go out and explore some big mountains like you've always dreamed... however in the future you'll mostly remember your time in Boulder for the way it paved your path forward in recognising how unhealthy you were going about trying to be an athlete. The whole time you'll be there in Boulder you'll be so god-damn hungry but you won't allow yourself to satisfy your hunger, just nibbling on tiny portions of food whilst running big miles at altitude. You'll see all the athletes around you cooking nutritious meals, fueling their bodies in a healthy balanced way and being able to run fast and strong. Suddenly you'll begin to realise you want that too – to not be scared of every forkful you put in your mouth and to not be so tired, hungry and anxious around food all the time. Coming home to a result of a bone density scan which will tell you you're almost suffering from osteoporosis will be the final wake up call. Now you'll understand you need to stop over-analysing every forkful of food you put in your mouth and start finding some self love... 2019 Heidi – I can praise you for recognising you need to change, that it's time to focus on the shape of your mind rather than the shape of your body. Let me tell you this is just the start of your healing journey. You've got a hell of a long way to go from here and it's going to be pretty painful. 

Although it's something you should do - you're not going to reach out for professional help. You're just going to struggle along by yourself eating an extra few slices of toast and drinking a glass of milk before going to bed hoping that's going to help your bones get stronger. All well and good, but you're still going to be overanalysing and obsessing over your weight. You can't quite seem to come to terms with the fact that in order to recover you need to gain weight – that in order for your body to be healthy again you need your period back... because to you, you're happy believing that life without your period feels so much easier, not waiting for the red spots in your underwear every month. You'll cut back on your running volume but still go out for a long bike rides with inadequate fueling. Future Heidi writing this is wiser now and can see all the mistakes you'll be making. You won't give your body enough time to recover properly between April and the summer and you'll start running and pushing your body again way too soon - even before you've got your period back. Not that I can blame you... In July you'll fly over to Europe for the summer and settle into your au pair work in Malonno and be tempted by the big mountains.... You'll run PizTri Vertical and feel like you can float up the final wall to the finish effortlessly. You'll win FlettaTrail and cement your place in the Malonnese community – your heart belongs to the small town and you'll dream about making it your home. 21 year old Heidi you're onto something good – and slowly slowly, ever so slowly you'll begin to break down your anxious thoughts and fears around food. You'll realise how life is too short not to eat gelato or enjoy a pizza with your au-pair family after a race win. By the end of the summer you'll have qualified to run for GB at the World Mountain Running Championships in Patagonia and whilst you don't run the race you hoped, you'll feel happy because you feel free around food again. You have your period back and you feel like you've recovered from your obsession of trying to shrink yourself down into being the skinniest version of yourself. You'll sign for adidas TERREX and you'll feel so full of excitement for your future ahead as an athlete living in the mountains in your magic hometown of Malonno. You'll move into 2020 feeling alive and free and exactly where you need to be. You won't be prepared for what hits you next...




Friday, 18 June 2021

Dear 20 year old Heidi

So Heidi here we are in 2018. You've been on crutches for a while suffering with your first stress fracture and you're going to be feeling elated at the thought of being able to run again. You didn't treat yourself right in those dark winter months though did you? You began to think because you weren't running you didn't deserve to eat an extra serving of your mum's yummy dinners, or sometimes just drinking a coffee for lunch would be enough to fuel your body throughout the day. You were mistaken... you didn't realise how much your body needed food to repair itself. Oh 19 and 20 year old Heidi how I wish I could go back and change this downward spiral and stop what was coming next... As a younger runner, you'd be aware of your body and compare yourself to the other girls on the start line but you'd take pride in your strong legs and your strong body – in how your strength carried you to a bronze medal in the European Junior Mountain Running Championships and how it allowed you to run fast up and down mountains.... until you somehow got your first stress fracture, something you'd heard about but thought nothing of. Something you believed happened to other people and not to you. 

And so 20 year old Heidi - you'll feel betrayed by your body and so you'll start to want to control it. This level of control will slip in slowly, so much that you barely notice it. When you run your first 10km along the forest tracks you'll feel alive and so happy... but then you'll come home and look at the GoPro pictures afterwards and see nothing but your legs and how big you think they look... but no Heidi, you need to stop these thoughts - you should look at those pictures and see the big smile on your face and feel grateful you have a strong body that is able to run again. You do not need to change your body, you are a strong and happy runner as you are!

But instead you're going to fall into the trap of thinking that after your stress fracture in order to get fast and fit again and to make up for lost time you have to shrink yourself down and loose weight.

It will seem to happen gradually and then all at once. You'll feel yourself getting faster and lighter with each day and you'll feel a sense of satisfaction with the amount of control you seem to have around food. You'll show up to the GB trial for the European Mountain Running Championships and surprise yourself by qualifying for your first senior vest... you'll put your new found form down to your changed body composition and this'll only fuel the fire to make you restrict even further... you'll be making big mistakes – getting up at 6am to run 25km before coming home to a breakfast of just two slices of toast. Barely eating lunch, basically living your life on an empty stomach and feeling grumpy and tired all the time. This'll all come to a head... you may be able to run fast and finish second in the FlettaTrail race running over 10 minutes faster than the year before but the repercussions will be huge... You'll feel a nagging pain in your hip again - another stress fracture. You'll realise you did it to yourself... all because you wanted to be a good athlete, you wanted to run fast and win races and you fell into the trap of believing that skinny equals faster. You'll find yourself hopping around on crutches again unable to do the thing you love and wondering whether it's all worth it – the hunger pains, the sleepless nights, the pain of even just sitting down as your bones feel hard and sore against the chair with no flesh to protect them. You'll feel all this, you'll know how it isn't good for you, how it isn't helping you in your recovery from your stress fracture. But you are stuck in a viscous hunger cycle, unable to eat that slice of cake or put that extra spoonful of pasta on your plate... all because you are scared. You'll care so much about the shape of your body that you can't feel there is anyway out. Throughout your second stress fracture recovery you'll swim for at least an hour everyday and you'll feel some sort of success – you won't have had your period for a long time now but instead of feeling panic and recognising how unhealthy you are - you'll feel in control because as long as you can keep your body weight down – you'll feel worthy... even if deep down you know just how toxic it is. 

20 year old Heidi, you'll be in a dark place and you'll  know it... you just can't seem to see a way out. You'll keep pushing and pushing because you'll be scared of facing up to the reality of what you've done. You're scared of what'll happen if you stop. 





Thursday, 17 June 2021

Dear 19 year old Heidi

That shooting pain you feel in your hip during your shake out jog in Premana just before your last World Mountain Running Championships as a junior... I know you're not going to tell anyone about it, you're just going to ignore it and run the race anyway. You'll not worry about it too much - it'll carry you through to an eighth place, not quite what you were hoping for as you had your sights on a medal. Don't beat yourself up ... in a few years time you'll barely remember the race but you'll have fond memories with your teammates – you'll also remember Premana for the time someone commented on how much you heaped your plate up with food and for the first time you felt the beginnings of your first stress fracture. 


Just a week or so later you will fly out to Italy once more for the 21km FlettaTrail race. Perhaps you could do things differently, tell someone about the niggling pain in your hip before trying to run the furthest you've ever run in your life, let alone in a race. But you made it to Malonno and you will feel the magic of that special town. You wouldn't believe it if I told you in three years time you would have made Malonno your permanent home. That'll be a secret between you and me for now. Just keep dreaming and saying mamma mia to all the Italians. Everything will turn out all right even if your hip is playing up, because next week you'll be spending a few days in the heat at Lake Garda and then heading to Collina for the Tre Rifugi relay mountain race. The downhill leg is really going to hurt your hip and you're not going to feel great but at least you'll finally realise that once you get home, you need to get it checked out.  

And so 19 year old Heidi, you're going to fly home and see a number of doctors and physios. You're going to be given a lot of exercises to do for your painful hip. You're going to keep running and gritting your teeth through the pain. Probably not wise seeming as once an MRI scan is organised you will realise you have developed a stress fracture... and boom almost six months on crutches is waiting for you. And I'm sorry to say six months which will change your relationship with running, with food and with yourself for the worst. This is just the beginning. 




Wednesday, 16 June 2021

We need to talk...


Do you look at this picture and see a successful athlete winning a race? I guess most of you would.. But I don't. I look at this picture and see an unhealthy and unsustainable athlete. 

I look at this picture and see myself, but yet somehow the girl in the photo isn't me either. The girl in the photo doesn't exist - not any more. She's been through so much, she's changed, she's grown a lot too. The girl in the photo was the FlettaTrail champion in 2019 – but what created that champion? A completely messed up relationship with herself - with food, running and life in general. 

Yes - I look at this photo and I feel the joy I felt from winning that race. But the reason why I don't see a successful athlete is because most of all I look at this photo and I feel the pain and the despair of the aftermath I've been living over the last two years. I feel the pain of recovery, the pain of trying to heal myself. The pain which I have mostly kept to myself because yes I've been ashamed of all that I've been going through.

This is the part that nobody ever seems to talk about – after the restriction and underfueling, after the weight-loss, after the RED-s, after the short lived success, after the realisation that living your life on an empty stomach is so detrimental to your health and happiness. This is the part after you realise you have to change – that running on empty is slowly draining you, shrinking you down until you're not sure there will be anything left. Something had to break the cycle – I just didn't realise it would be such a long and painful journey. 

And so... we need to talk.

Over the next days I will publish a number of posts which will be letters to my younger self, detailing my journey and sharing my story throughout my struggle of living behind the lie of skinnier equals faster. I hope I can help to raise awareness of these issues and the struggles that unfortunately are not uncommon in the running world and the repercussions it causes in our sport. I want to help to create an environment where these issues are talked about and brought into the open and not just brushed under the carpet... so that the next generation don't have to ever go through anything like I did. We girls are women before we are athletes. We bleed every month in order to be strong. Girls – your time of the month is the most important part of your health. We should be proud of our flow. Period.

(Trigger Warning - In order to create a safe space for the readers of these posts, I would just like to highlight the fact that over the following few days I will be discussing sensitive issues around food and body image. If you feel like you might be triggered by these subjects then I gently advise you not to read my posts and reach out for professional help.)




Monday, 5 October 2020

Easy Like Sunday Morning...

Sunday morning. I wake up and feel for my watch in the dark, pressing the button to light up the screen. 8:13am - I've slept for almost 10 and a half hours. I swing my legs out of the bed, pad over to the window, open up the shutters and exclaim; "Ma, piove ancora!?" ("It's still raining!?") It's been raining since Friday. But then I remember the few hours of golden sunshine and clear skies late yesterday afternoon giving way to a starry evening. Life is full of deep contrasts - the good and the bad, rain and sun, day and night, summer and winter... running and injury.

It's a Sunday morning. I can hear the drip drip drop of the rain outside. The occasional splash and spin of wheels as a car navigates the bend on the street under my house, the hum of the fridge, the smell of freshly brewed coffee, the tick tick tock of the clock hanging on the wall. Time marching on. And here I am; a 22 year old girl, living in Malonno, Italy. My next door neighbour's kitten has climbed up over the roof and is following his usual morning routine; peering through my window watching my every move, meowing to be let in and purring like a tractor. He always puts a smile on my face. 

I glance up at the clouds hanging low over the mountain tops. A blanket of grey, that somehow seems to wrap it's arms around me too. This greyness, the stillness - a familiar friend this year. The lack of what I came here to do, the gaps, the missing. I'm so sick and tired of not being able to run. I want more than anything to be able to lace up my trainers and skip along the trails, feeling the rain drops on my skin and the mud sloshing under my feet. The breath ragged in my lungs. The energy and strength in my legs. But my body is telling me again it isn't ready. This year, I've rested more days than I've ran. Between lock down and persistent niggles, it seems like 2020 is a year to test not my running strength but instead my mental strength. Living alone in a foreign country, unable to do the thing I came here to do. Can I hold on? 

In my weakest moments, I'm learning how strong I can be. I've just got to keep believing... even if those days of running, fast, light, strong seem so so so far away. 

But for now, the church bells strike 9:30 and play a jolly tune, beckoning the community of Malonno to Sunday mass. My mind drifts along the melody towards a race I know I would've been running today if only my body had been cooperative. But then I breathe a sigh of acceptance. Acceptance can be a powerful thing - It lets you move forward even if with a slight twang of regret. 

And so... I lace up my trainers, shrug on my bright yellow adidas TERREX GORE-TEX jacket, leave the house and these thoughts of regret behind me. I think again about why I love to run. The freedom and the ability to explore. One foot in front of the other, one at a time until I can feel myself returning back to who I am. 

It's Sunday morning, it's raining. I'm experiencing my home trails by foot. Not running, but simply walking. Enjoying the slow movement of this simple life I've created for myself here... with the hope and belief that one day soon, my body will allow me to pick up the pace and run again. 

But for now I'm just walking. The woods are encompassed in a deep foggy cloud. There is no other human in sight. I move forward, one foot in front of the other. The rain drips through the trees. My hair is soaked and has turned into a soggy cushion of dampness on my head. I could've put my hood up I know, but like this I feel alive - closer to nature, closer to myself. I'm where I'm supposed to be, immersed in the natural world, just moving my body. I smile. I'm where I want to be. For now - this is enough. It has to be.