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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Hey! London Marathon, I’m Coming For Ya!!

Earlier this week, which day precisely escapes me, I had a sudden change of heart. I tried to defer my London Marathon entry until 2019. I had it in my head until this week that I was definitely going to cheer and not run this year. What I do remember about this decision making process is that it was at some odd hour of the night and I woke up friends and family to inform them of my sudden change in life choices.

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The next day, I honestly have no idea what day these events occured on, I decided to start pushing on the fundraising. I also dug around in my e-mails and realised my place hadn’t been officialy deferred. This seemed to be somewhat of a message from the nuiverse guiding me towards realising my personal legend (more about this later). It is my part in realising my personal legend to heed the signs laid before me – and so with confidence that the universe is colluding to guide me on the right path I decided to grab me confirmation email with my number on it and head over to the ExCel centre to collect my race pack and bib.

It’s been somewhat of a hectic week since. The excitment since going to the expo hasn’t really left me. I went back to my crew last week, another guiding message from the universe, and have been really welcomed back into the crew. (Honestly, there’s no love like crew love!). Everything was pointing me towards getting to that start line and that’s where I’m at right now. I have my race pack, bought a few essentials (read: high SPF bodyglide!!!) and everything is working out nicely. So what do I hope for on Sunday?

I hope I see more messages in the language of the universe because since embarking on my personal legend and listening to the language of the universe I feel more powerful than ever. I hope to enjoy the day and that it becomes the second day of 2018 to make the Top 10 of the year. I hope I am aligned with my feelings and let myself cry when i need to, laugh when i want to and generally have a bloody brilliant day. I hope I don’t cry so much that I can’t control my snot emissions. I hope I don’t get heat stroke and over heat. I hope I find the balance of hydration. I hope I can walk to the pub across from my home for the free Sunday Lunch they’re offering up.

Of course there are fears roaming around my brain’s white matter but right now I firmly believe that naivity is my friend. Let’s keep it that way until I hit the docklands part of the route notorious for breakdowns and seriously questioning life choices.

To sponsor me either follow this link;

virginmoneygiving.com/Monandthemarathon

Or text MVLM69 followed by the amount in £ to 70070

Example “MVLM69 £5” to 70070 to give £5

Thanks so much to everyone supporting me on this venture.

Medal Monday: CRUK Winter Run, London 2018

Sunday 4th February was World Cancer Day. To mark the event Cancer Research UK held their London event of their Winter Run 10k series. I ran this race for the first time last year, and it is a really great race. This year, my friend donated her place to me as she had signed up, forgotten so and couldn’t make it anymore, so that was really kind of her.

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I set off quite well in one of the final waves and remembered what I loved about this race so much. It’s not the size of the event, or the route – although it is a lovely route. It’s the inclusivity of the challenge. 10k is a significant distance to run. It isn’t a quick flash and it’s done for a lot of people. You have to mentally engage and push yourself to keep going. At this race there are runners of all shapes, sizes and levels of fitness, the brilliance of the event being that people are running not for times, but for a cause close to their hearts.

As I trundled behind some other trundlers (repping BackPackers!!) I couldn’t help read the signs adorning people’s backs remembering loved ones who had lost their fight to cancer, and celebrating those who survived because of research developments. More people currently survive cancer than ever. We still have a way to go but we’re progressing and that’s what feels so positive about this event. Developments have been made. There’s more work to do and fund to be raised by breakthroughs are happening and people are surviving.

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It was much colder this year than the last, but I’m not sure if that was because I layered more appropriately this year. Last year I was just getting back into running. I hadn’t managed to train much so it was a real achievement to even get to the start line because y’know, anxiety. I also wore way too many thick layers, like a running onion with them all tied around my waist by the finish line. So maybe experience made it feel colder because I was not a running onion this year.

Last year this race kick started my more frequent running. I do enjoy running, but when it’s cold, dark and wet it’s so hard to force yourself outside to run for the good of your mood, especially when you’re already in a ripe old funk. We all know this battle well, and it’s something that only sheer grit and determination is going to overcome until the nights get lighter and warmer: Yo! Spring, hurry up yeah?!?

7518843888_img_1553Hopefully this was the kick starter i needed, i hope *fingers crossed* to get back into running and exercising regularly as a way to stay well, mentally and physically. In fact it is a core pat of my current Wellness Action Plans, and I’m sick of letting myself sit in my bed for days at a time so let’s go! Everyone is saying that January was a trial month and that it doesn’t count right? I’m going to join that tribe. January isn’t a real.

 

 

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.

When Running, Motivation and Mental Illness Collide

When motivation and mental illness become intertwined and this makes it difficult to stick to any form of plan. Getting dressed can be difficult to organise in my head when I’m like this, so balancing study, running, fitness, friends, groups I like to go to and volunteering is just a dream again. I know I can, and that I will again but right now this can’t be my currently reality. I need to learn to navigate these times as best as I can, and I think that’s a long journey ahead of me.

The past few weeks have been quite scatty. I’m not sure quite what is going on, or why things have gone so awry again. They have, and that’s something I need to take in my stride as best as I can. That doesn’t mean I will always keep my strides even and steady during these times – in fact, far from it. I may jolt forward and fast in my moments of being able to organise in my head and utilise my motivation to meet my goals, then trudge slowly in an aching manner as everything I intended to do to make me feel better slips away. Time doesn’t stop for anyone and right now I could do with time stopping for me to, I don’t know, figure out what’s sending me stray and to get myself back on track.


I’m swaying quite quickly right now between able and unable, motivated and unmotivated, being able to hear my thoughts and it being just a chaos of mish-mashed noises, being able to organise myself and feeling at a loose end, thinking ahead and being stuck in trying to think at all. I’ll be honest, I fucking hate this.

It does add more fuel to my fire in that when I am able to get myself out running and climbing, or going to the gym – it propels my need to do this stuff to feel good and maintain feeling well about myself.

I don’t even know what else to say; my head is mush.

 

Future Self – A Letter I Wrote to My Future Me

Last year, in a bid to try and improve my life I bought The Daily Greatness Journal. I am a big fan of the self improvement trend that’s been going on because I believe that we can all always be better at something in our lives – and the tools out there for self improvement can help with reaching those goals. There is not such thing as perfection, but there is definitely always room to learn, improve and enhance our life experience.

When I did the prep activities in my Daily Greatness Journal I was quite low in mood; it took me about a month to get through all of the goal setting, action planning and writing letters of forgiveness, acceptance and missions to myself. One activity was to write a letter to yourself to open in a years time. I didn’t stick with using my Daily Greatness Journal for more than 3 months because the level of positivity in every question was too much for my winter depression brain to handle. I did however take from it that goal setting, and self reflection on a regular basis can help with achieving what we want from out lives.

I learned about self efficacy, about picking myself up after a blip, about accepting myself where I am right now in order to achieve the goals I want to, about the effect of practicing daily gratitude, daily mindfulness and the art of perseverance. I’m not saying I’ve mastered all of these qualities, and I am saying that this journal helped me focus in on my behaviours to initiate behaviour change and improve my ability to have and utilise these qualities within myself. It helped me dig deep to access my ability to achieve the goals I want.

It’s not wonder cure for a stressful life, and it is a useful tool in helping hone in to your behaviours that may be more or less efficient to change what you want to. There are plenty other tools, journals, books, apps, and sites out there with similar principles. The Daily Greatness Journal is the only one I have used so I cannot comment on comparisons of products – but there’s so much out there at the moment there is bound to be something suitable for your own style and needs if you want to find it.


Since writing down my goals in the way that The Daily Greatness Journal asked me to, I cemented them into my mind. So in this letter to myself, I wrote about what I wanted to achieve in the next year. I wrote it on the 22nd October 2016. I know yesterday was the 3rd, but the temptation grew too much seeing as I was so close to the date, but hey, it’s pretty much been a year. So here goes, here’s my Letter:

To Future Monica,

It is now late October 2016. A year ago I had big hopes for 2016 and lots of plans, but it hasn’t gone quite according to plan.

So far this year I don’t feel very accomplished, pleased or proud of myself. I am rather disappointed. My mood hasn’t levelled out as much as I’d have liked it to by now. I have better coping skills from DBT for not engaging in target behaviours but I don’t FEEL any better. Currently I am very angry and frustrated with my team and the majority of staff involved in working with me.

I have recently started university and I am finding this change difficult to cope with. I never finished my book. I didn’t go climbing much, and not at all with the club outdoors. I’ve stopped running. Exercise isn’t as much a part of my life which saddens me. I enjoyed it.

So I haven’t been admitted much. I’ve not been in contact with emergency services as much by far – and these are positives but it doesn’t mean I’m feeling or coping particularly better.

A lot of energy has gone into DBT and resisting target behaviours, and target behaviours that focus on my QUALITY of life have diminished. I want to change this within the next year, or at least move towards making this change for myself and my life. Things I would like to achieve working towards this are:

  • Exercising regularly
  • Run 10k race, maybe a half marathon
  • Climb regularly
  • Lead climb outside
  • Explore outdoors and nature more via walking, climbing, camping etc
  • Read for pleasure again
  • Keep writing
  • Have some good quality close friendships
  • Keep studying and do well at it
  • Eat healthier and cook more

and within myself:

  • Feel more stable and/or able to manage my mood better
  • Feel more energised, fit and healthy
  • Feel strong, mentally and physically
  • Believe in my own capabilities
  • Have a more positive outlook on my life and future

and finally, ENJOY myself more,

All the best,
Monica

When I read through this it helped me to reflect on a period of time that was longer than a week or day at a time – and it made me feel better about myself, and the changes that have occurred in the last year.

I have been quite aware recently that things had greatly improved. Recently, with thanks to Facebook memories and such, I can see snippets of where I was 1 and 2 years ago. I was in a very different place. 2 years ago to the day I was discharged from my longest stay in hospital at that time. I remember this as a very disturbing and quite traumatic time in my life. 1 year ago, I started University and I was trying really hard to get involved with running again with little success. I was low, and I wasn’t coping or enjoying going to uni. With help I managed to stick it out and I’m so glad that in those months of thinking I wouldn’t be able to do it that I did.

So where am I today? Today I am training for the London Marathon 2018. Today I am studying my 2nd year at university. Today I am functioning more, dressing more to my own taste and style as opposed to living in tracksuits because they’re basically pyjamas you can wear out and about. I signed up to the gym again and I actually use it. I speak to people more and have ever so slightly less anxiety about doing so. I believe that this degree if within my capabilities and I’m damn well going for it. I get up each morning and I’m able to. It’s not always easy but the main difference is that I can and I do.

I’ve achieved a lot of that list already, and perhaps some more than I ever imagined that I could back in October 2016:

  • I exercise a few times a week now. It has become a habit and when I miss to many days I miss it. At the moment, this is a definite lifestyle choice I am making and managing.
  • I’ve smashed 10k in February, a half in April, Tough Mudder Half, and I have a 10k this weekend that I’m excited for and not too nervous about.
  • I’ve been climbing more and am bordering on being better than I’ve ever been at climbing.
  • I’ve been on a few walks and outside ventures. I went to Sardinia and explored the nature in another country – and get this, I enjoyed it. I really really enjoyed it.
  • I’ve read about 6-7 books this year for pleasure.
  • I’m writing right now, so…
  • I’ve managed to make some friends and connections where I live, through running and am exposing myself to more situations where the possibilities to make friends and have human connection is more possible.
  • I’m still studying and I did well enough to feel pleased with myself in my 1st year despite the challenges I faced and the time I missed.
  • I cook every week at the moment and have been experimenting with recipes from all the books I’ve bought over the years.

and as a result:

  • I feel more able and capable of managing my mood and the associated problems
  • I feel more energised, fit and healthy. I’ve started to see muscle gains from my training too which is always a nice bonus.
  • I feel quite strong physically and stronger than I was mentally. I am more able to take the hurdles as they come and manage them more effectively than I could before.
  • I believe that I can more than I ever have.
  • My life feels very much worth living. I am making plans for the next 1-2 years and I can see myself being around to take part in those plans. For the first time in years I don’t think I won’t be around in the next 1-6 months.

I mean wow! I’m 99% sure I will be alive and well for the mid and long term of my life unless a catastrophic and freak accident happens. I’m not even praying for such an accident to happen because you know what? I am actually enjoying life at the moment – even with the ups and downs that happen to us all. It all, finally, feels very very worth it.

This exercise has been very useful for me – so I think in the next week I will write myself another one. Lets see where I am in a year’s time. Hopefully, I’m still doing well, enjoying my life, and happy to be alive. Some of it is pot luck with my illness. I doubt I will ever be free of being potentially knocked sideways by my illness – but that doesn’t mean I give up, sit around and wait for it to happen. It means instead that I try and give my life a damn good go. It means I make the most of the time that I have when I am feeling well. It means I am pro-active in creating the life I want so that when I am knocked off my feet that I have a life I love to get back to and a life I love that I feel is worth fighting for.


Why not give it a go? Write yourself a letter about where you’re at today, and in general and what you hope to achieve in the next year. They can be big or small goals, the only catch is to make them realistic. There was a set of tools that helped me reach deciding these goals, and they were focused on really answering questions to discover and realise what my values were, and what was important to me in my life. I recommend doing that so that the goals you set are really close to your heart.

Peace, love and DOMS,
Mon

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.