Making sense of modern life

I’m writing this on an early morning train from London to Birmingham.  The train is passing the misty Buckinghamshire greenbelt and, just a moment ago, a man standing in the middle of a field.

He isn’t running, and neither am I, so technically he doesn’t belong in my early morning running blog.  It would have made an amazing photo though, and the image struck me for the same reason that I’m inspired by early morning running.

The field is a very ordinary, flat, featureless, open expanse.  At a distance, in all directions, are housing estates and small communities, and he might have walked early this morning from any one of them. 

Within his house, wherever it is and whatever his life is, there are dramas and crises and challenges and stresses and elations and disappointments and relationships and hopes and fears and dreams, and there will be a whole set more at his office.

But just for a moment, there’s open space and sky and grass and fresh morning air and November mist and silence (shattered briefly by the passing 07.43 to Birmingham).

The above with thanks to Rich Gibbs Photography http://www.richgibbs.co.uk/index.html because I don’t have my camera and anyway couldn’t take a photo from a speeding train, but I found this image of a misty morning field and it’s very nice 🙂

Early one Sunday…

Okay, not that early.  Not 6am anyway, more like twenty past seven, but most of London was not yet awake.  Or in the case of the man trying fervently to scale a lamppost in Primrose Hill, maybe not yet gone to bed!

I used to be a champion sleeper at the weekends, frequently still fast asleep at 9, 10 or sometimes even 11am.  That was until I started running, and until the person who inspired me to start also showed me how important it is to stick to a good routine at the weekends.

It makes sense.  Our bodies don’t understand that we ascribe five days out of seven to “work”, and then come the other two, throw our regimen out the window.

If you change your routine dramatically at the weekend (stay up late, get up late, stop moving), it’s very difficult to start the new week well.  6am Monday becomes very painful!

That’s not to say that it isn’t important to rest.  (Or occasionally to go crazy, stay up til dawn and try and climb a lamppost in the park.)  Most training and exercise schedules advocate a weekly rest day.  But if you build activity and rest into a good sustainable routine during the week, there’s no need to slump at the weekend.  In fact, I find now that if I “treat” myself to a lazy day and a late start (I tried this yesterday, for the purposes of research!), I feel rubbish!

Plus, if you love early morning running, and I do, then why would you want to stop?

A morning run on World Mental Health Day

A moment of calm

When I stopped here on my sunrise jog this morning, I didn’t know that today is World Mental Health Day.  I stood to take this photo thinking that it hadn’t been a daft idea after all to set up this blog (this is only Day 2!) because this was a moment worth sharing.

My snapshot is a very poor substitute for the reality of being outside in the freshness of dawn and being present to witness a moment that only a few others will see today.
 
I’m fortunate not to currently be one of the 25% of people (at a minimum) who are struggling with mental health issues, however I know I’ve benefitted enormously from a habit of morning running.  I’ve been running only for a couple of years, and I haven’t always managed to stick to my routine, but the difference to my outlook and energy is immeasurable.
 
There is no shortage of evidence on the benefits of running on mental health.  This document from the Mental Health Foundation answers some useful questions: http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/content/assets/PDF/publications/up_running.pdf.  And a quick search will turn up lots of examples of people who credit running with having helped them through a period of depression.
 
I think there is a particular benefit to getting out and running in the morning.  It takes a while to get accustomed to early morning exercise (I always forget how wiped out I’ll feel to begin with!) but once I do, I find I’m brighter and more energetic during the day, and I sleep better at night.  There’s no time to lie awake worrying about what might happen today.
 
Routine is key, and I also think it’s much easier to stick to a morning routine.  Your time first thing is more likely to be yours, before anything else can stake a claim on it.
 
It’s hard but it’s worth it, and you won’t be alone!