Shameless

I’ll apologise up front that this week’s blog isn’t up to my usual standard and actually it is pretty much going to be a series of thank yous and shameless plugs, feel free to dip out now if you want, normal service will resume next week with a preview of a certain race that you might have heard me wittering on about.

Firstly, a massive thank you to every single one of you who has supported my fundraising efforts. At the point of writing this I have received 52 donations totaling over £600 for my two charities, Macmillan Cancer Support and the Plastic Surgery & Burns Research Unit in Bradford. Donations have been received from family, friends, colleagues, former colleagues and complete strangers. You are all wonderful and I cannot thank you enough. If you would like to donate all the details are on my Sponsorship page.

Secondly, I love writing this blog, thank you to everyone who has ever read even a single word of it. I started it as a bit of a diary for myself but it has quickly become much more than that and something I’m really proud of and hope to maintain in the future, it is a labour of love and an opportunity to express myself. If you have enjoyed anything you have read then please can I ask that you take a minute to vote for me in the 2018 Running Awards.

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Finally, there are many, many people to thank for getting me to this stage in my running journey. The York Marathon will most certainly not be the final stage, if anything it might just be the prologue. I am not going to name check everyone here, mainly because I am likely to forget and miss someone out! From simple words of encouragement, to ridiculous banter, to creating time and space for me to actually get out and run, you have all been amazing, you know who you are and you will all be with me either in person or in spirit in 13 days’ time, particularly when my mind and body are asking me what the hell I am doing!

Thank you for indulging me.

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Taper Time

Tick tock, tick tock, countdown is progressing. It’s now under three weeks until my first marathon and over the weekend I completed my last long slow run (LSR) and now it is time for the taper.

As I have progressed along this literal and figurative road towards York I have experienced new things, met some amazing people, pushed myself to new limits and started to talk a different language. If you’d asked me 9 months ago what a taper was I would have thought it was something to do with the foot end of your trousers or those animals with the long noses!

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Tapir Not Taper

In April I blogged about running terminology and back then my uneducated summary of tapering read as follows, “kind of guilt free putting your feet up and doing not very much in the knowledge that you’re not going to become a sloth and you will soon be getting yourself back in gear to do something amazing”. When that blog was posted I received feeback from those more experienced than me that there was nothing guilt free about it and that the period between your last LSR and the marathon start gun was a time of tantrums, self doubt and the dreaded maranoia.

IMG_20170918_183336I am currently only on my third day of tapering and I am already understanding what they mean. I’ve meticulously built up my training to this point and I’m now already sitting here typing this and almost feeling the fitness oozing out of my muscles and the devil on my shoulder jabbing me and telling me to get out and run some more miles.

Rationally I know the reality is very different. In the 6 days up to and including my last LSR I ran just shy of 55 miles. I stopped writing this then for a second to let that sink in as for me that is an achievement in itself. I have a friend, Rick, who I’ve mentioned before who is a seasoned runner. He ran at school under the guidance of Mr Kingham, “who’s he?”, I hear you ask, he’s the man who trained the Brownlee brothers when they attended the same school, that’s who! When I was fathoming out my marathon training plan Rick sent me one he used previously and towards the end of his plan he ran a 62 mile week. I scoffed that I would never get anywhere near that and my mind boggled at just how you would actually get that mileage in and yet a couple of months later and I was just 7 miles short of matching him.Screenshot_20170915-193831

What I am trying to say is that I have put the work in, people have said to me, “you’re marathon ready”, and mentally and physically I think I am. I’ve still got some miles on my plan to get through to keep my legs ticking over but the bulk of my work here is done, I just need to survive now until I reach the start line and if I bite your head off between now and then please forgive me, it’s not me it’s the taper.

 

 

The loneliness of the long distance runner

Last week I posted about taking part in the fantastic Marathon In A Day event which supported Mind and I commented on the importance of people feeling able to talk about any mental health issues they may have. Having read my post back I started to think about mental health and how unique running, and in particular long distance running, is when it comes to having a lot of time to yourself to think.

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I have played team sports in the past (yes one of those handsome young men is me 20 years ago!!) and they are generally pretty fast and furious, you react largely to what is happening around you and you are utterly immersed in the game. Likewise there are individual sports where you compete against someone but your focus is the game in hand. Running is a different beast though. Most people train on their own and even during a race unless you are super fast and chasing a podium you are only really competing against yourself and the clock. This leaves you with a lot of time to think and how you fill that time is I believe really important to keep your mind healthy.

For some people thinking time is fine, you take in the view, a nice hill, some wildlife, maybe the odd dual carriageway or industrial estate but on the whole you switch off and just run. Others, and I include myself to a degree here, need some form of distraction and for most that is listening to music or perhaps a podcast or talking book, these distractions help to pass the time and some people also use them as a means to increase motivation. There are also runners though who use their time on the highways and byways as thinking time and again I fall into this category. Running helps me to clear my head, I work in a school and last Monday was the first day of term, it was hectic to say the least and I came home with what can best be described as head fog. I knew that I needed to run, I spent the first few miles or so going through the events of the day in my head and rationalising them, I then banked that in my brain, the fog cleared and I gave over my thoughts to more pressing matters, what was I having for tea, how would my daughter get on with her first day at primary school the following day and how many chat group messages with goat gifs would I return home to? This run was less than two hours but as I have progressed in my marathon training I have been running for over five hours in total most weeks and so I have a lot of time to think.

On some longer runs when a mixture of delirium and pain set in, mental fatigue can take over and the need to dig deep and find something from within I find really tests my mind. I know I have it in me to push on but sometimes the legs aren’t always as willing, I have used various techniques to overcome this, as I said above the distraction of music is one and a favourite of mine especially in races is to have the names of my wife and children written on my arm along with other motivators so they are right there clear in front of me. I smile, I think of funny things and I do everything I can to keep my mental state as positive as possible, the worst thing I can do is to get down, think negatively and beat myself up.

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Taking my own advice was essential on Sunday when I completed my first ever run of over 20 miles, ok it was only 20.03 miles as I lapped the cul de sac to edge the distance over the .00, but for me it was a real milestone in my marathon training. It was a tough three hours, it wasn’t pretty at times but I used all of the above to stay positive as the wind howled, the rain soaked me and my calf muscles screamed at me to stop.

If you are reading this and struggling have a think about what I have written, use your running time as head space time, gain some clarity in whatever way suits you and if you need to, never be afraid to share with someone else.

Marathon In A Day

This past weekend was the first running on the virtual Marathon In A Day (MIAD) event. MIAD was the brainchild of Clare () and Kev () and I must first of all thank Kev for providing me with some great information to help me with my write up. The aims of the event were to support the charity Mind, to make running more accessible and break down the marathon distance into something less scary. Kev and Clare wanted to encourage people to take park in a virtual event that was fun, interesting, different and inclusive, they wanted to get people talking about mental health and supporting each other and boy have they succeeded!!

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Runners from across the globe joined together to support the event and each other and a big shout out must go to Melissa Kahn from the fabulous Run Heifer Run community in the USA who galvanised her herd to participate and put in some stunning performances. Some people took on the full distance themselves either all in one go or by breaking the 26.2 miles down into a number of shorter runs throughout a 24 hour period. Many runners though took up the option of joining together and supporting each other in pairs or small teams, a word of thanks must go here to Antony Hughes who took it upon himself to create a giant spreadsheet so that people and the distances they wanted to run could be matched up. Some of these runners actually met up to run the virtual event in real life as it were which I also think is fabulous as it brought people firmly together who otherwise may never have met, friendships have been formed which hopefully will last.

I was paired with Laura (@ladyseamus) and as I already had 18 miles on my marathon training plan for the weekend I volunteered to bank that for the team with Laura taking on the remainder. It seems like an age passed from signing up until actually taking part but this gave time for a fantastic Twitter group to form, everyone got behind each other, we had plenty of banter, we ribbed Melissa about many things, we created team names and importantly we talked about mental health, everything Kev and Clare wanted to achieve happened and is still carrying on.

I am the first to recognise that I am not good at talking about my mental health. I have experienced some pretty dark times in my life as a result of bullying at school, the loss of relatives in tragic circumstances, the breakdown of a previous marriage and being diagnosed with cancer. I understand when I am low and I have learned to put coping strategies in place, running being one of them, but the group of people I have met through this event have been immensely supportive and I have shared some really personal stuff with them because I felt like they all understood and it was a safe environment for me to express myself, thank you everyone, you have made a real difference for me.

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Anyway back to the running. On Friday last week Laura and I hit the streets of our respective neighbourhoods to do our bit. We ran an impressive 26.5 miles in 3 hours 43 mins 14 secs, in the process I ran the furthest I have ever run and Laura ran a 10k PB, needless to say the rest of the weekend included lots of eating and resting. I also did a couple of vlogs as I ran which I have edited together and you can watch here.

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MIAD has been a huge success, the original 200 places were massively oversubscribed and Kev and Clare will be putting on another event before the end of the year. The working title for the event is The Run Up to Christmas, plans are currently being finalised, it will again support Mind and will be about people racking up miles during the period of 1st – 24th December, with different rewards for covering different total distances. I would really encourage anyone who hasn’t done a virtual event to get involved. This was my first and while there were no cheering crowds at the end I knew that I had the full support of the online running community, not just in my running but in my wellbeing.

As I ran this evening one of the last songs that came on my MP3 player before I arrived home was Time After Time and one of the lyrics really stuck in my head as being particularly pertinent here. Being able to talk about mental health is hugely important, it should not and must not be stigmatised, everyone should have a forum where they feel safe and supported, it is ok to not be ok, if you are feeling down find people you are happy to talk to and comfortable with and they will listen, whenever, wherever, as the song goes; “if you fall I will catch you, I’ll be waiting, time after time”.