So here’s a thing: I am running phenomenally well. Yep, I am. I am running with ease, I am running without walk breaks for far longer distances than ever before (including a 10 miler last weekend which was grumpy but easy) and I feel fitter and stronger than ever. I ran over 100 miles in January and I enjoyed most of them.
Here’s another thing: I am hanging on and only just about keeping my shit together. I don’t know why. There was no obvious trigger. I got pummelled by jet lag when we arrived back from Florida two weeks ago. It took me the week to feel vaguely normal again. I slept lots. I went to London for work last Saturday and that was the first day I felt like the jet lag might be lifting. But maybe it wasn’t all jet lag. This last week wasn’t better. I stopped being hungry at random times and was just always hungry and I stopped being tired at random times and was instead just a general, heavy and dark sort of tired. I liked the sofa, I spent a lot of time on it. Too much time. I struggled to work to anything like capacity. I spent a week maybe doing 2 easy days of work. I got annoyed with myself.
So as I do battle with my black puppy I can’t really be bothered to do anything much and I can’t think. I’ve had lots of stuff to do that is either already late or with very imminent deadlines. I’ve been a grumpy sort of indifferent about all of this. Irritated by the existence of obligations, deadlines and things to do. When I’m busy or have to do things, I want to run, when I have the time to run, I can’t be bothered. But yet I have. In the same way that you might not really want to take a tablet but you just do, I have just run. I have clung to the marathon training plan like it is the one thing that might just pull me out of the darkness and help me regain my ability to think. And maybe it will.
I ran today. I didn’t want to really. I’m scared of slippery surfaces but driven on by something, by wanting to feel better and not foggy, by wanting my little grey cells to whirr round and have ideas and make connections which I can express in gorgeously crafted sentences which make sense… anyway, driven by something…. As I plodded along trying to stick to the least compacted snow I tried to encourage my mind to heal and just go where it wanted to. This is where it went. There was a definite shift around a mile in.
You’re a bit crap at this
You’ve got too much to do, just give up now
oooh you’re super slow today
Your work stuff isn’t going well is it
What’s the point of your sabbatical – you’re just going to mess it up anyway
Bloody hell sooo slow
What, what was that – 1 mile beep? Hm
Breathing a bit heavy there? Oh no actually you’re not
Still got 5 miles to go – can you do that?
So that work stuff? What do you mean not now?
What do you mean it’s pretty
What? You’re running and taking a picture? – You’ll fall
Oh you didn’t fall
2 miles. What. Oh.
You finished that article
Still slow – oh yes, it’s meant to be slow. Plan says slow
In fact you could slow down
3 miles. Wow. Nice running
Look how lovely it is
*No idea where it went for a while then
Hill. Oh goodness, hill
Yay, top of hill. Not far now
So where does that leave things? No idea. The fog lifts a little when I run. I can appreciate the beauty of the snowy hills. It also lifts as I sit and watch the birds coming to our bird feeders. The long tailed tits are my current favourites. It also lifts a little as I sit on the bed and fuss the cats and feel more than hear their purr. But mostly it lifts when I run. When I run I feel like thoughts process normally. So stick with me while this works itself out, keep encouraging me to run, be patient if there are no posts for a while. I’ll get there, little step by little step.
I don’t know about you but I have, for at least the second year running, not really managed a Christmas wind down. The first semester has once again been brutal, I finished work on Friday with a mountain of stuff still left on the to-do list and I feel like I have dragged myself to the end of the term just sort of hanging on. Running has been lovely for headspace and to give me some time to not think and let my brain do its thing and it has been good to work physically somewhere near as hard as I’ve been working mentally. But I can’t say I’ve managed to unwind yet. The second Dopey Challenge Simulation which we finished yesterday shows, I think, just how wiped out I am. I went to bed just after 9pm last night and slept until 8am and then had another 2 hour kip at lunch time. I could go back to bed now (it’s not even 6pm).
But slowly I am beginning to feel Christmass-y. The silly music is on, I’ve had a mince pie or two, the fridge is full of Christmas (and birthday) food, the tree looks lovely and I’ve just lit some candles. Dad is here, arrangements are made for Christmas Day and I have a plan for my birthday (read – do nothing). I’m starting to feel calmer and a little more settled and a little more like I might be able to ignore the work list. I realise that I am one of the lucky ones though. Overall the Christmas break is a good time, a time I like and a time for reflection, cuddles, being together and a good measure of silliness. It’s a time to help my mental health re-balance.
I am pleased to see more recognition on social media that Christmas can be really tough for people for all sorts of reasons so this post has two purposes (yes I know I’ve taken while to get to this point):
To remind you that it is absolutely ok not to be ok. You don’t have to be jolly and loud and extrovert and festive. You do whatever you need and remember that there are people you can reach out to. Mind has some links/numbers for us on their website.
To let you know that Kath and I will be running the London Marathon for Mind and to ask for your support. We’ve had some really lovely and generous sponsorship already and we really appreciate it.
I’ve been lucky I guess. I’ve never needed Mind’s services as such. I’ve had one amazing doctor and a therapist who is incredible and ‘gets me’. I’m making progress and have far more good days than bad days. Sometimes I can even laugh at the bad days. I’m mostly in a good place and certainly feel like I understand my mental health and ill-health more now. Mind helps with this journey for so many people directly through support services and indirectly by providing information and education. I really want them to be able to keep doing what they do because one day that phone number, that online community or that information leaflet might be a lifeline for any of us. So when Kath was offered a place to run the London Marathon for Mind, I jumped at the chance to link my ballot place and also officially run for them.
Running will be my life-line over the next couple of weeks. I get irritated with the Christmas thing and people and the forced, fake cheerfulness all around and don’t even get me started on New Year and resolutions and the huge damage the fitness and diet industry will inflict in January. Running will be my me-time and headspace. It will make Christmas positive and fun because this is how I roll (sometimes literally) and as I run I often think back to the days when getting out of bed was impossible – running is a win, a huge one. So the Dopey Challenge which starts on 10th January and the London Marathon in April are for those of you who are currently facing your own impossible. If any of you can support mine and Kath’s efforts and sponsor us, you can do so here. I know it sounds cliched but it really does mean a lot to be able to do this!
For those of you who don’t know what the #FinishForMatt title is all about, Matt Campbell collapsed at mile 22.5 of the London Marathon and died. Almost immediately after, the #FinishForMatt hashtag sprung up and people started running the 3.7 miles that were left of his marathon. I didn’t know him. I didn’t know that he was a chef or that he had appeared on TV, on Master Chef the Professionals, not until I saw the news stories anyway. In many ways he is nobody at all to me and it took me a little while to realise that his story was pulling at my heartstrings. It’s hard to explain.
Initially #FinishForMatt seemed a little bit like a gimmick. Like something people do for effect on social media. I didn’t really want to be anywhere near that. But as the week went on and I saw more posts, mainly from people in groups I am already part of my perception of what the hashtag means began to change. Sure, for some it’s a way to get social media attention but mostly it’s the running community coming together to honour and remember Matt Campbell, a runner, one of us. It’s about running because we can, for all those who can’t. It’s about not taking running, anything, for granted and to show solidarity to all those who knew him. So over the course of the last week I began to want to do it.
Before lunch today we pulled on our running gear. I had to borrow Kath’s London Marathon T-shirt because mine is in my gym bag at work and we set off – me in the (rather snug) finisher’s t-shirt and Kath in the #OneInAMillion T-shirt. I really wanted to run the 3.7 miles without a walk break. I did. Steadily but comfortably and easily. The run was quiet and I think we were both lost in our own thoughts most of the way. The different shades of green are coming out more and more strongly, the goslings seemed a bright lime green almost, the yellow on the ducklings we saw seemed to stand out and the squirrel on a gate post we passed seemed to bow it’s head in acknowledgement of the symbolic gesture of our efforts. I guess in the end it is meaningless really but today we did finish for Matt and for our own reasons and we didn’t take the run for granted, or our ability to move along the canal bank at pace or each other because although mostly silent, the run was definitely a together sort of run, in comfortable silence with just the odd words of encouragement. It’s alway always worth remembering that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed, make today count.
It’s London Marathon Day and I am back where I belong – on the sofa watching it on television. I’m not sorry I deferred to next year. I’m not ready but somehow watching the scenes from the start – watching the women run consistent 16 minute 5ks and the men just do a ‘pedestrian 4.37 mile’ for the 4th mile is pulling at my heart strings. I definitely have unfinished business on that course. I want to run across tower bridge. I couldn’t do it last time, I felt faint and poorly. So next year I have a date with that bridge and I will run it all even if I walk lots of the rest of the course! I like seeing the marathon on tv, it’s just a reminder that the impossible is possible.
We’ve just been talking about how much stronger we are now than we were before we started Dopey training in summer 2015 and how that puts us in a great position for having another go in 2019. I have no real after effects from yesterday’s 10 mile adventure. I just have tired knees and tired ankles. I meant to write about this yesterday but somehow it didn’t fit into the blog post. It’s an odd sensation. They are not at all painful or even niggly, they are just tired. I have obviously had tired legs before but never so specifically tired knees and ankles. Odd. We wanted to do our second weekend run before the marathon started today so we got up and headed out – after yesterday’s joint adventure, we went separately this morning. Kath set off before me and I got going a few minutes later.
After yesterday I thought I’d go relatively flat and not technical. I went the long way through the estate and then dropped onto the canal. I had turned off my run/walk intervals because I wanted to run by feel and enjoy being out and not have the beeps interrupt the gorgeous morning. I felt a bit sluggish and my legs felt heavy. I had no fixed idea of what I would do and as I set off I thought ‘Oh hell, this might involve more walking than I wanted’. As I kept plodding downhill I started to move better and settle in so I thought I would run the first mile and then see how I was. The first mile came and I still felt pretty good. I decided to keep going to 1.5 and then maybe walk a little. 1.5 came and I was fine so I thought that actually getting to 2 miles would be nice and take me to
my favourite stretch of canal where I could walk a little and see if there were more ducklings. Just before I hit the 2 miles I started to feel it a bit but then I saw Kath coming the other way on the opposite side of the canal and she signalled for me to keep going and she’d catch up and we could run the rest together. She caught me just as I started walking. We looked around, saw some pretty new lambs, more ducklings and lots of different shades of green.
After a few minutes we started jogging again and my aim was to run the rest of mile 3 – did it, just. But was now feeling the warmth of the sun and the 10 miles in my legs. We walked a few minutes, picked up the barrier placed to block the canal towpath for the section they are working on this summer – it must have fallen over – turned round and jogged back to the golf course bridge and then walked up the golf course, jogged down the track to our old sheep fields and then walked a bit more. So miles 1 and 2 were about consistent running, mile 3 was about seeing who was around on the canal and saying hi to lambs and ducklings, mile 4 was about walking up and enjoying the views and mile 5 and the final stretch, to be honest, was just about nursing tired legs and niggly hips home. I am however very excited to have recorded over 70 miles for April so far – 3rd highest monthly mileage ever and still 8 days left. I’m enjoying my running and I am looking forward to building on this. My fitness is definitely improving, my endurance is improving, I’m getting physically and mentally stronger. I’m also getting slower it seems but I’m not concerned about pace at the moment. It’ll come, or not. I’m just happy to be enjoying it.
So, Sod has been at work implementing her laws again. Yep, I got a place in the London Marathon. Back in May I entered the ballot having got caught up in the excitement and just wanting to be part of the whole London Marathon cycle. Goodness knows why. I am actually far from convinced that I want to run another marathon. So of course I got a place. Sod’s law. If I actually really really wanted a place I’d never get one! We’re still waiting for Kath to get her notification.
I giggled and swore at the same time when I opened my magazine. A wave of excitement washed over me quickly followed by the terror inducing realisation of what ‘You’re in’ actually means. I wanted to do it. Or rather I wanted to be able to do it. I really did. Kath’s immediate reaction was: Defer. I think I shot her a look. ‘Don’t wanna!’ was my (silent) reaction to that. I have a place, I bloody well want to run in 2018. It would just be awesome… ….. …. …. …. (no it wouldn’t)
Through the rest of the afternoon little doubts crept in:
April 2018 isn’t that far off. 7 months to get from where I am to marathon level. Hm, tough.
Winter marathon training – urgh. I’ve already committed to doing this 2018/19, do I really want to add another winter of long miles?
I have a plan, one that challenges me but one that I am comfortable with, one that’s doable. I’d have to re-think all of that and add a considerable amount of training
I don’t want to just drag my butt round. I’ve done that. I want to give it a really positive go. I know a marathon for me is always going to be on the limit and there will be pain and it will be awful and almost impossible in places but I’d like fewer of those places and for the pain to set in a little later
I struggle with the pressure of training and having to do something. I can do this but I think I need a more gentle run in and more time to get my head into this – this is mental more than it is physical
I have a few little niggles that pop up when I increase distance or intensity and they need sorting (it’s a fairly easy case of doing the strength exercises – easy but also easy to ‘forget’ or not bother) – working on that would massively help
If I can get fitter and a little faster over the next year marathon training won’t be quite as hard because I won’t be out for quite as long on long run days
I run because I want to and because I want to enjoy it – getting ready for London 2018 doesn’t sound like fun, it sounds like pressure. Getting ready for 2019 sounds like fun (and not just because it is a long way away but because I can see a training schedule that starts now, with my current plan, and builds, with plenty of downtime, recovery and rest to a positive 26.2).
And here’s the clincher. I honestly honestly do not know if I have another 2 marathons in me. It’s hard to explain what they take out of me. It’s an emotional roller coaster, it’s lost weekends, it’s discipline and digging deep and facing every bloody fear over and over again and dealing with every emotion. It’s battling being the fat kid always picked last in PE, always coming last on the school track, never making it to the end of the cross country run… every single run becomes that battle, the battle to prove that I can do it while not really believing that I can. I have crossed two marathon finish lines but I don’t believe I can do it. Asking myself to do this two more times is a lot to ask of myself. I really want to do Dopey 2019. That’s the goal, the main aim, my ‘must do’ event. I don’t really see that as ‘a marathon’, I see it as the whole thing and somehow that’s different but it does of course mean doing a marathon. I am scared that doing London 2018 would break me (mentally more than physically) and that I wouldn’t be able to get back in the game for Dopey. If I can do Dopey in January 2019, I can recover fully and then build again for London. I can see how that would work and if it turns out that Dopey is the last marathon I have in me, then so be it. That one means more to me than London.
So, there you are. I’ll withdraw from London 2018 and take my place at the start line in 2019. I’m quite settled in that decision now and I’ve had a couple of little run outs to think about it. In fact I’ve run/walked a total of 17.68 miles in the first 3 days of October – that’s more than in all of February. I’m sure come next April I will feel a few pangs of disappointment that I’m not there. A few ‘what ifs’ will go through my head, particularly if my training has gone to plan but I know it’s the right call. Just waiting for Kath’s Yes or more likely No now!