Life’s Funny Lessons Found In My Pre-Marathon Journey: You. Fucking. Got. This!

Sunday 22nd April 2018 – the day I ran my first marathon. Wow. It still sounds pretty surreal. I hadn’t trained for it properly and consequently, the goal was to cross the finish line in one piece, uninjured, and within the 8 hour cut off time. Regardless of training, I think these are pretty decent goals for a first marathon.

I’ve lived in London for nearly 9 years now. I first got the “It would be amazing to do that one day” was in 2010. I was in town for a photoshoot for a site I was writing for at the time and the marathon happened to be on. We caught a glimpse of it by chance at the north embankment, which is in the final stretches of the marathon route. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to do it within the decade; at the time, I didn’t run. I toyed with it but never kept it up. I didn’t do any formal exercise anymore and when I did it wasn’t for good reason. I wanted to lose weight; exercise was another form of self punishment.

I only really delved into the possibility that I could do it, actually for real, once I started running with Backpackers where I’d hear stories of other people running marathons, and see them with their medals. They survived and often had a smile on their face at their achievement and you know what? They were normal people. They had normal lives, weren’t necassarily highlighted as a running ‘talent’ from a young age but they ran marathons. Not only did they run marathons, they enjoyed them. It was at that point I thought that maybe one day I could possibly do that too.

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As an adult in my twenties I also thought that for a long time my mental health would prevent me from doing anything like this for a long time to come. Then Mind Over Marathon on the BBC happened. I heard of the project via Backpackers (original founder being Chevy Rough) and I heard him talk at the Backpackers launch. I watched the documentary and saw other people with mental health difficulties managing to take the challenge on, and amazingly, it helped them with their mental health. My focus shifted from I can’t do that until I have mastered my mental health issues sometime, in the distant future or maybe never.

I stopped viewing my mental health as an obstacle to what I wanted to achieve and do. I learned that actually running could become another tool in the big box of tricks for managing and living with, not fighting, my menta health difficulties. It was shown to be, very blatantly, that actually you can live alongside your mental health. You can work with it. Sometimes it may dominate your life, every waking moment for periods of time even but I had a new fire in my belly to make sure that I was going to learn to live with my issues and not in constant headlock with them. In the wake of 2017’s race I sined up to run for a chairty place. Shit. Wow.

In the wake of this enthused decision I was questioned. Are you still hypomanic? That’s crazy, that’s what people do after years of running consistently! Well wow, it’s good you’re doing things and aiming high but you don’t have to run a marathon, that’s…that’s…what? Crazy? Maybe it is but sometimes in life we gotta be a bit “crazy”. Life isn’t all that sane. Life isn’t calculated or linear or predictable. So I chose to embrace this and signed up. By winter I was doubting myself. I was depressed. I was barely coping. I wasn’t ready to train for a marathon like everyone else was. I wasn’t going to manage to raise the money. I couldn’t handle a big race because of my start line anxiety, as proven by my opting out of The Big Half for the virtual option.

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Then the hype for 2018 began. The countdown began. I stopped fighting myself and coming down on myself. I listened to the language of the universe and the ultimate summary was to go for it. I had come to the conclusion that I needed to listen to my body, listen to the universe, and ultimately trust in my body that it could manage to complete 26.2 miles. Together, my body and my mind crossed the finish line of The London Marathon 2018. I finished in 6:42:44 without a cut off time panic dash.

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The take home message? If you have a desire to do something and you believe that your life circumstances, or your mental health, or anxiety is a reason to not do it then stop that shit. right. now! I know it’s not easy and I wont say “if i can, anyone can” because we are all different. Our journeys are all different and maybe you have no desire to run a marathon. Maybe you want to paint, or go to art school, or play tennis. Whatever it is, as cheesy as this is about to get, if you don’t try you 100% won’t do it. Maybe it will take a long time to get there, but as long as you’re trying to live with your illness or whatever  it is you face in your life, and you know deep down that you really are trying then you won’t remain stagnated where you are for eternity. I promise you that.

Finally, if you on an impulse whim want to do something – stop doubting and just go. Just do it even if other people think you’re crazy or weird or being unstable. Sometimes, these decisions will retrieve terrible consequences, and other times they will be a major lesson that shows you just how much more you are capable of than you or anyone else ever previously thought. You’re in charge of you. You find you, and you do you – even if it is sometimes clinically diagnosable, trust me, the majority of people are in some way and you may find some doors you didn’t even know existed in life for you – you never know unless you try.

You fucking got this!

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Good Bye January, Hello Time to Talk Day 2018

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January is over. I never considered January to be too bad of a month but everyone constantly goes on about how it’s a bit of a shit month. This year it was a shit month for me. The weather probably didn’t help but I can’t blame the weather for everything because even in summer, if the mood strikes I can spend days in bed on the most beautiful of days. With this in mind as January became another month of lost days, it is somewhat timely that Time to Talk day is today.

Time to Talk, for anyone who isn’t aware, is a day where talking about mental health is actively campaigned for by Time to Change. Time to Change is a charity that campaigns to try to end mental health discrimination by encouraging conversation to harness positivity in the evolving attitudes towards mental health that we are seeing at the moment. In doing so, the hope I suppose is to move towards one of more balance, openness and create a culture in which everyone can develop a better understanding of mental illness and that one can’t just pull their hypothetical socks up.

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The campaign says there is no wrong place to talk about mental health, at the gym, over coffee, or even on a run. I think sometimes just being accepted and given the space to crack on in any way you know how without judgement can be a very welcome break. Most people in my life know I have mental health difficulties. It’s been somewhat of a long-standing issue for me, and one that I have a somewhat fraught relationship with.

When I’m doing well I can reflect and be grateful for everything my challenges have taught me, and how my path has shaped who I am today. I would almost certainly not be as non-judgmental and open-minded had I not had some of the experiences that I have. When I’m not feeling so chipper and dandy however, I cuss every moment of my life wasted on feeling shit, every lost opportunity because I let anxiety win, and every bad decision I’ve made due to my illness. I generally cuss the fact that mental health even exists a lot of the time, and how so debilitating your mind can become.

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I think being open about our mental health can only be positive. I try to be as honest as possible with those around me when I’m not feeling so great, so they know and can know not to take me being an arsehole personally. Let’s face it, mental health can get very gritty. It gets dark, it gets scary and it gets pretty fucked up at times. I don’t think shying away from this is helpful, however, maybe at the gym isn’t the best place to talk about the darkest parts of our psyche. I do think there are times and places that are more suited to certain conversations because even if you’ve finally accepted that you have or have had a mental health condition, there is still judgement.

I think closer, and more intimate conversations are best for challenging any stigma, prejudice or discrimination that may or may not be happening around us. People judge strangers very quickly, and sometimes you might not want everyone to know about your mental health struggles at first because hey, it’s nice to be known for your personality and not an illness that you have to manage. Kind of just like you might not want everyone to know about your bowel movements or sexual health. That’s ok.

Having said that, I’ll probably end up talking about mental health at some point because of my living and general situation, and that fact that a lot of my life still, unfortunately, remains largely oriented around managing my mental health. It’s not all roses and shortbread and that’s ok, for me, for you and for everyone. We all struggle at some point and I don’t think anyone can get through life without being tried, tested or even tortured by our minds albeit to differing degrees.

So let’s talk. This evening I will be heading to Crystal Palace park for a Time to Talk fun run. There’s some useful lists on their sites:
Events nationwide can be found here
Resources that can be found and used here
Tips on starting a conversation here

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Cancer Research UK Tough 10, Box Hill

I was looking for some trail races a while ago. I like running. I love natural environments so it feels like a natural progression for me to take my running from the city to the trails.

For me personally there’s only so much city running you can do and feel inspired. There’s also the niggles you have to take into account like traffic lights, pedestrians that are waking, cars, bin bags, lamp posts… it’s a concrete jungle that leaves me feeling lack lustre at times.

To me my relationship with running feels like I would like it to progress as a way to get in nature, a method by which to explore the world and an experience that makes me feel very alive. Sometimes pollution fumes and sirens don’t quite do that for me. So I looked for some trail races and found the Tough 10 series by CRUK.

They rate the difficulty of their races by the number of trainers, 1-3. This race took part on Box Hill And was rated three trainers tough. Box Hill is known by cyclists and was one of the steepest ascents in the 2012 Olympic cycling events. The steepness of the ascent is quite brutal.

On the first ascent we climbed the steps by the stepping-stones. 270 stairs but not equal stairs, these are slippy woodland stairs which tend to be much more of a step than your average stairwell. I walked up and felt every breath and tiny oxygen atom mattered. Once at the top there were some flatter stretches, some down hill and a few more uphill.

I really enjoyed the variation of the terrain. I loved the views even though I’ve been and seen them before – there’s nothing more rewarding for climbing something than taking a breather to look around and admire the views you earned from the climb. The ground was quite slippy and I didn’t lose my footing.

I rolled my ankle once and didn’t go over or injure myself thanks, I think, to the ankle wiggling exercises I do before a run. Running on the slope down hill felt amazing when it was a gentle gradient. I felt like I could relax and my legs just carried me along. I felt so free and alive just running through the woodland. My legs just carried me and I breathed easy.

I honestly feel like I’m starting to get the going for a run to relax and unwind thing. It’s not always super hard work anymore – and it now is very enjoyable. I’m definitely going to be hitting up some more trails – it wasn’t as hard for me mentally as I expected it to be.

This race was 10k and I feel like I’m finally comfortable with than distance so now it feels like the right time to started increasing my distance up to 15/20km. Bring it!

I went to Kobox yesterday and although that was a 50 minute class it felt much harder mentally to stay in the class and push through despite being less time – I think this was because we did exercises by the wall as well as punching the bag and the exercises were weighted so I struggled quite a lot with them. Whereas I’ve been running more consistently for a few months now so my body is quite used to t by comparison to weighted squats, trunk twists and mountain climbers.

I mean I already established last week that my core isn’t strong enough and that I’ve lost some of the core strength I did have – and this class confirmed my thoughts further.

So here’s to getting my mojo back. Here’s to trail running being bloody fabulous. Here’s to increasing the distance and getting stronger in order to do this.

Running Through a Low Mood Swing

I’ve been quiet lately. I have been running, although not as much as I would have liked to. I haven’t been doing my conditioning as much as I would have liked to either. I said it. I’ve started to drag my feet, and it feels like, I’ve already started to drag my feet.

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The biggest hurdle for me with achieving my goals and training as much and hard as I would like to is my mental health. I have mood swings and I’m on a low swing – although a mild one. This means a number of things, but most importantly in relation to my training, this means that I’m quite unmotivated. It means I’m anxious about lacing up and going out of my front door because you never know, I may collapse and die from severe sudden onset dehydration. I could collapse from hyperventilating because I’m all of a sudden unfit. It’s a slight possibility that I could die if I lace up. You just never know.

I feel like all of these concerns flood me every time I consider going out. Then I also consider the potential heckles, the likelihood of my not meeting my expectations, or maybe the off chance I’m going to shit myself whilst running having not seen it coming at all. Just, out the blue, shit myself.

With all that in mind, it is absolutely no wonder that I am anxious about going out. I have a 0% rate of any of these things happening to me. I have a 100% success rate at finishing a run and feeling better than when I started out the door. Yet somehow, every, single, bloody time… there is a pit of dread in my stomach that is screaming at me to, no, don’t do this to me again, like a child throwing a tantrum about not getting that lego set they asked for in Tesco that costs £60 again. Nooooo! Don’t say no to me agaiinnnnnn!!!!! and all the kicks, screams and hollers that that entails in an average 2-5 year old, or spoilt any-year-old.

When I manage to subside the anxiety down with rationalisations, there’s the real lack of energy to motivate myself any further that sets in around about then too. This is a heavy weight amongst my limbs and body that makes me feel like moving is an impossible feat. I KNOW it’s not, but it FEELS like it is.

Living with mental health issues is annoying for getting in the way of my running goals and plans. The things is though, that I have a choice. I can let it win over me again. When I say again, I really mean again because so many times in my life does my mental illness batter and destroy me. The other choice is to embrace it and to use this as my chance to really really fight it. I can use this opportunity to put my brilliant personality trait of being a stubborn little shit into good use. So instead of being stubborn in being right about something, or not listening to someone, or refusing to do something I don’t want to do I’m going to throw a new idea out there for myself: I could be stubborn about doing something. That something being running the marathon. I’m not going to defer it. I’m making the whole hearted decision to be as stubborn as fuck about training and meeting my goals.

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I know everyone has days when they don’t want to. I know a lot of people manage to do anyway, even when they don’t want to. I want to be one of those people, regardless of my mental illness when it comes to running. At the moment, the longest length of time I’ll have to endure training and running for is 1 1/2 hours. I’ve sulked through longer time commitments, I’m quite sure I can make myself sulk through a run or training session. I’m a pro sulker, so why not expand my horizons of activities to do whilst sulking?

This is a particular challenge I face in training for a marathon. We are all going to have our own particular challenges, and instead of letting them loom over me and defeat me I’m going to do my damned hardest at knuckling through.

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One saying I’ve lived by since I was at school is that if I try my best, even if I fail, I’m not letting myself down. I can only try my best, and I can only fail knowing I tried my best. If I don’t try my best, I’m only letting myself down – and that’s a much more bitter pill to swallow. I can blame. I can wallow in self pity. I can also scowl, clench my teeth and give it a bloody good shot of what I’ve got.