Run #30 Reflection: 2 little ducks 🦆🦆

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It was as if the stars and planets aligned, the various Gods of this world were all smiling down on me, or I’d simply got out of the right side of bed (which, ironically, is the only side of the bed I can get out of in my new flat for lack of space in the bedroom). I can’t really describe to you what this run felt like other than, well, glorious. And I can’t believe I’m using that word to describe a run! But it really was. The night before I’d had a decent dinner (salmon, broccoli and sweet potato), had a decent night’s sleep, got up feeling relatively refreshed and had a good breakfast (my usual porridge, seeds, almonds, cinnamon and honey) as well as a bagel and coffee. A friend of a friend who’s run the London marathon before suggested I had a plan for my race day run, something I hadn’t yet considered. And so in preparation for the day itself, I thought it was worth putting my plan in to action to see how well it played out before I did it for real…

So, as above for preparation. I set off late (I’m always late – better change that for April 23rd!) but it was only by an hour; I was trying to mimic what it *might* be like on marathon day so I felt adequately prepared. So I set off in my shorts, vest, running belt (I look like Lara Croft of Runners World, just not as hot or fit) and my new runners (I’m in love with them, sorry old Asics). The sun was shining proudly against a clear blue spring sky. It happened to be the weekend that there was a mini-kind-of-heat-wave in England. Not ideal although I guess helpful just in case the end of April throws up some lovely weather for everyone but runners (well, I don’t like running in the heat, anyway). At least there was a bit of a cool breeze. But unlike my last long run – the failed – 20 mile attempt – today, I was in the zone.

In. The. Zone.

My music was pumping (thanks to a friend for putting together a unique Spotify playlist for me – old school hip hop with some power ballads!). I was focussed. I just kept on visualising the London marathon. My mind wasn’t wondering, my legs weren’t aching and I didn’t feel sick. The only thing that was a slight discomfort around mile 15 was the fact that I needed a wee, and then the added agony of trying to decide whether or not to have a pee in the bushes (I decided no – I just wanted to keep on running). I was doing 3 loops of a route I’ve come to really enjoy in Swindon, my new home. Running out towards Coate Water Park – a favourite childhood place and actually, still one of my favourite places as an adult – felt so good. A mix of hills and flat running and then, when you get to the park itself, opportunities to shelter from the sun in the shade of the woodlands and the chance to enjoy the view of the lake – not to mention the challenge of darting out of the way of children on scooters at the play area! I’m sure some people in the park had a serious case of déjà vu throughout the afternoon. But it was glorious. Absolutely glorious. It just didn’t feel like that much of a challenge. How can that be, when Monday was so tumultuous and trying?

In fact, this was such a glorious run that not only did I meet my 20 mile target, but I went for another 2 miles. TWO MILES! That was like another half an hour (my pace had slowed by then!). I was chuffed. So bloody chuffed. Not only had I reached my target, but I’d surpassed it. It was so important for me to try to reach 20 miles before the marathon; mentally, I needed to know that physically (and mentally) I can do the bulk of it. I should have started tapering at this point, doing a 15 mile run today but I just simply had to do at least 20 miles. And I did, and then some. 22 miles. I can’t quite believe it. And yet, I can. I now believe in myself. And that is the best feeling of all of this.

So come on April 23rd and the additional 4.2 miles – I’m coming for you.

Run #30 Rating & Reflection

Achievement = 5

Enjoyment = 5

The Cotswold Way Reflection: I did it my way😊

After a bit of an emotional and tiring day on day 4 I actually took the decision to come home instead of going to the B&B for what was supposed to be my last overnight stop on the route. The 4 days ultimately served their purpose: I got fresh air, peace and quiet and time to reflect on things and because of that I returned much calmer. I also feel good for challenging myself, doing some exercise and spending time in the outdoors. Slightly annoyed I didn’t complete the whole thing but I gave it a go and considering how the reality of it all panned out, I think I did myself proud.

I know it must be scary reading some of my posts; I really don’t mean to upset anyone but I want to be honest because it’s helping me recover and I hope it’s helping in a wider sense in contributing to an honest, no-bullshit conversation about dealing with a mental health illness. Showing the ups and downs all at once shows how not so black and white depression is. You can feel elated yet down at the same time; motivated and disinterested all at once; brave and scared in the same instance. It really is bloody confusing! And I know it must be like that for people on the outside looking in, not knowing how I (or others with depression) are feeling. But I can tell you one thing: support, no matter how big or small, makes the world of difference. I don’t expect anyone to understand this illness – especially when I don’t myself – but knowing there are people who care about you along the way despite not understanding is what really matters.

Run #12 Reflection aka Day 4 of The Cotswold Way

3.17m walked, and probably cried the equivalent distance in tears.  This was a tough day.

The pain in my feet was bearable but not the pain in my head. I had a panic attack in the middle of some really pretty woodlands and then I broke down in tears. I realised it was all to do with the break-up I’d been trying to deal with rather than my depression but I also realise that these things are interrelated. So I took the decision to walk to the nearest village, pop in to a pub to warm up by a fire, have a cider and then check in to the B&B as soon as I could to relax, recuperate and re-centre. The whole point of this walk was to give me space, peace and time to think which it really did. It was also supposed to be part of a healing process. While a challenge is good (God knows I love a good challenge), knowing my limits in any given time is good, too. It was on this day that I realised I’d reached my pain threshold physically, mentally and emotionally. And the fact I realised that is a MASSIVE improvement on where I’ve been with managing my emotions and feelings in the past few years. Every cloud…

While updating my journey on Instagram, I shared the above photo of me crying after my panic attack. I felt so alone, so scared, so lost. But I wanted to share that feeling because I know I’m not the only to have felt that way. And I wanted to show that I’m not ashamed of feeling like that, either. I’m not ashamed of my tears. I’m not ashamed of my heart breaking. I’m not ashamed of pushing myself to the edge and feeling like that’s about as much as I can take. I’m not ashamed of having anxiety and depression. I’m not ashamed of being open about my true feelings. And I’m simply not ashamed of being me, like I may have been in the past.

I am not ashamed.

Run #12 Rating & Reflection

Achievement = 2

I just could not go on today. I didn’t give up, but I barely persevered, either.

Enjoyment = 0.5

Today was one of the lowest points I’d had for a while. My entire body and soul ached. How I longed for it all just to stop.

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Run #11 Reflection aka Day 3 of The Cotswold Way

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I very VERY nearly took this day as a rest day – I even checked the bus times from Painswick to Dursley so I could just get to my B&B and chill. But something in my head just said ‘give it a go, see what happens then make the decision’. My blisters and right ankle were painful and uncomfortable, but bearable – just. I decided to take a slightly different route to help ease the pain – no fields today but a mix of the Cotswold Way, A roads, B roads, a common and some woodlands. With Jack Garratt’s phenomenal debut album buzzing in my ears, I plodded on. The weather was changeable, so too was my mood. I stopped off at a Sainsbury’s cafe to warm up and fuel up. Unfortunately my phone had conked out again and so for the latter half of the day it was just me and my thoughts. As the day got on, my feet got worse. The blisters were half the size of my palms and I had three of them – one on each heel and one on the inside of the ball of my right foot. I was wearing my trusty walking boots and proper walking socks so I’m not sure how they happened, but happen they did. When I finally saw the bright lights (yes, it got dark again) of Dursley, I slumped off to a pub to warm up and treat myself to a well-deserved G&T. And again, I got help from a 4 wheeled friend to get me over to Stinchcombe, my stop for the night. I was just so exhausted, in so much pain and I frankly, just fed up by the end of the day. I had had enough. At least getting sandwiched between my backpack and a gate – twice – had brought a smile to my face that day!

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Run #11 Rating & Reflection

Achievement = 3

Well, full marks for me for getting on with things initially. But I have to knock down the score for getting a taxi again. Maybe I’m being too hard on myself – something I’m trying to work on!

Enjoyment = 3

The pain certainly tarnished the day. And the weather turning didn’t help. Some moments were really enjoyable but a lot of the day felt like a slog. I would’ve scored it a 2 but a visit from a good friend at my B&B in Stinchcombe massively lifted my mood… thanks Heather 🙂 x

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Run #10 Reflection aka Day 2 of The Cotswold Way

Screenshot_20170421-091415Not as many animals today nor as many people. A little bit lonely at times but still peaceful. There was another near-spectacular fall as this time I decided to imitate Bambi on ice! Fortunately I just about kept my balance. With my phone having enough battery, I finished an audio book along the walk (“Grit: The Power of Passion and Persistence” by Angela Duckworth – it’s really interesting!). I also did A LOT of map reading as I decided to take a mix of different routes since many of the locations on the route were ones I’ve visited numerous times back when I lived in Gloucestershire. It was lovely having the sun and lovely to get to my B&B in sunlight. Although I did have help from a 4-wheeled friend… For about an hour I was deliberating over whether to carry on today or not, as I was supposed to have walked twice today’s distance.Screenshot_20170421-091458 But it got to the point where I was slowing down so much from painful ankles that I knew I’d end up walking in the dark again – something I really didn’t want to do. So I took the decision to cut the walk short, get to my B&B to rest up and start afresh tomorrow. Part of me feels like I’ve let myself down but then I’m trying to see the bigger picture and why I’m doing this walk. It’s not to do with racing the clock or walking the furthest for the sake of it. It’s about taking time to be in the present, focus on me for a bit and look after my health – plus to enjoy the beautiful countryside. So when I think of things like that, actually I don’t feel like I’ve let myself down after all.

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Run #10 Rating & Reflection

Achievement = 2

While I can put it all in to context and try to be kinder to myself and not beat myself up, I can’t move away from the fact that I didn’t walk as far as planned and also got a lift – one thing I really didn’t want to have to do.

Enjoyment = 3

Was much quieter on today’s walk although I appreciated the time to listen to an interesting book and just be.

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Run #28 Reflection: well that didn’t quite go to plan…

20 miles. That was the aim for what would be my longest run in my London Marathon training. But I fell short of my target. At least I didn’t literally fall over, though – every silver cloud and all that…

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Well, things started off pretty positively. I was motivated for the run but that feeling soon evaporated. I decided to take a different route which I thought would be a good idea just to shake things up a bit but it actually meant I became quite distracted on the run, and not in a helpful way; while the weather conditions were perfect and I love running in the countryside, I was too aware I was running an unfamiliar route and with the roads being a bit busier than what I’m used to, I spent half my time jumping up on to the grass verge with stinging nettles and all to make sure I didn’t get squashed on the country lanes. Then, my thighs started to seize up around mile 7, something that’s not happened before. Another thing that’s not happened before is me getting a stitch. I had no idea what to do except to squeeze away the pain. So with my stinging ankles, my tight, heavy thighs and my pained stomach, my body really wasn’t in the best shape.

Neither was my head.

Barely an ounce of sleep the night before mixed with a stressful and unexpected start to the day had left me in a bit of a fog. With the help of my therapy sessions in recent months and just simple good old practice, I’ve learnt how to clear foggy days. Often when I’m running I’ll either put negative thoughts on hold and deal with them later or I use my running time as a sort of therapy session to sort some things in my head out. I was unable to do either on this run. I couldn’t silence the unhelpful thoughts and I couldn’t concentrate enough to manage them, either. So much so I turned off my music just so I could have a bit of peace and quiet. At least it was a beautiful day, with the sun shining aided by a breeze to keep me cool. And the Wiltshire countryside really is something; trees, green fields, daffodils, pretty little villages – perfection. Just a shame my run didn’t reflect the scenery.

As my legs and head became heavier and heavier, my running became slower and slower. I needed to be back by 7.45pm as I was going to the cinema with my sister. Another unhelpful pressure playing on my mind I realised after. Ahhhhhh, the power of hindsight. So I kept on checking the time, more so than I usually would on a run. And then suddenly I was about to lose the ability to tell the time. My phone battery had plummeted to 2%. Bugger. I was 10.43 miles in to my run (thanks Runkeeper). Half way. It was 6pm. There was no way I was going to make it back in time for the cinema. Panic set in. I haven’t had a panic attack for a couple of months now but the warning signs were all too familiar. But despite all the above, I managed to take a deep breath (well, many deep breaths as I was pretty knackered from running 10.43 miles non-stop!) and work out what to do which turned out to be something I really didn’t want to do and something that I’m still kicking myself for for even considering.

It had already started to play on my mind to calling it a day on the run. I was trying to battle that thought but the thing with having negative thoughts and being in a low mood is that everything becomes a vicious cycle. I was beating myself up for even contemplating giving up. Then I was getting stressed with myself for being so hard on myself – something I’ve actively been trying to do less of through my therapy sessions. My thoughts soon escalated to questioning why I had even bothered entering the marathon and thinking I could do a challenge like this. I was telling myself that I won’t be able to do it, that I haven’t done enough preparation, that if I’m having a breakdown now at 10.43 miles then what will the rest of the race be like?! What was the point?

As I walked to the nearest town – Brinkworth – to pick up a cab from the nearest pub or shop, I realised what the point was.

This.

I’ve had a string of good runs recently. Even better, I’ve had a string of good days mental health wise. It feels great to make progress and take on challenges when you’re feeling positive, encouraged, motivated and energised. When you feel the opposite it can be difficult to see any progress made and everything feels like a challenge. But that’s one of the reasons why I decided to do this. I wanted to be able to achieve something despite my mental health condition. I wanted to challenge the stigma attached to depression and anxiety, showing the different sides, challenges and consequences of the illnesses. I wanted to raise awareness and raise money by being open and honest about my training as I knew it wasn’t going to be easy in and of itself, let alone adding the dark stormy days.

So this training session was just part of the whole experience. It wasn’t ideal, it wasn’t enjoyable and it wasn’t reassuring. But when I placed it in the context of remembering why I was out in the middle of the countryside in my shorts and t-shirt, running belt around my waist stocked up with gels and water, I felt *marginally* better about things. And it was at this moment that I saw assign for my home town stating it was *just* 4.5 miles away. 4.5 miles. I could briskly walk that in an hour at worst. I could manage that. That would be better than getting a cab. I’d still be falling short of my target, but not by as much.

And so with the calming reflection and realisation along with the encouraging sign – literally – I continued to put one foot in front of the other through Brinkworth, on towards my destination. I may not have achieved my initial goal, but I achieved something else along the way which, in hindsight, is far more important. And it turns out not all was lost anyway; my heavy legs were able to manage a bit more than a brisk walk. It’s funny what you can achieve when you think you can’t.

Run #28 Rating & Reflection

Achievement = 3

This is tricky because technically I should be scoring this ‘0’ having not accomplished 20 miles. On the other hand, maybe I should be scoring it 5 for not giving up, managing the situation and seeing the bigger picture? So with both of those in mind, I’m going bang slap in the middle.

Enjoyment = 0.5

The sun was shining and the countryside was beautiful; the only saving grace.

Run #9 Reflection aka Day 1 of The Cotswold Way: 100 miles in 5 days (well, that was the plan!)…

“Where you going to love?”, said the taxi driver as I wriggled across the back of his car with my heaving rucksack. “Chipping Campden please. I need to go to the start of the Cotswold Way”, I reply as my cold breath fills the warm, cosy car with condensation.

The quintessential English countryside looked glorious as we rolled on by in the sunshine, talking about the work I do in BBC local radio. That would be the last time I would talk – even think – about work for the next few days. That part is true. But to say that the absence of thinking about work was bliss, as I expected, would not be true. Little did I know that the rest of the walk would be more blister-full than blissful, literally and figuratively speaking.

As mentioned in a previous blog, I’ve recently gone through a break up. I’ve been here before, just like many millions of others have. My situation isn’t unique nor is it special. But it’s my situation. It’s my experience. And I’ve been before. Many times, actually. But the last time I was here, the dark, grey days turned in to a storm full of raging gales strong enough to knock me over and relentless rain, turning everything miserable; my last breakup was the proverbial straw which essentially triggered 3 long years of living with depression.

So I spotted the warning signs. I mean, at least this time I could prepare for what might come and attempt to circumnavigate the inevitable rocky patch. And this was one of the ways I decided to do that. Fresh air. Alone time. Exercise. The countryside. And of course, a challenge. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I knew some parts wouldn’t be all that enjoyable. I knew I’d cry, I knew I’d hurt – inside and out – but I also knew that this is what I needed to do. I needed to start the healing process and I needed to prevent any further damage. So off I set: 100 miles in 5 days. “Let’s do this”, I thought…

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The first day was energising, liberating, tiring, painful, and, as the sun went down and I realised I was still hours from my B&B in the pitch black dark but for my little head torch, bloody terrifying. Energising because it felt so good to feel the crisp wind fill my lungs and the result of my body producing and pumping around happy hormones. Liberating because my phone had died and so it was just me, the sights, sounds and smells of the countryside. Tiring because I walked 20.35 miles miles with 2o kilograms on my back, which wasn’t helped by me forgetting just how hilly Gloucestershire is. Painful because on day one I gained 3 little friends in the form of expanding skin filled with liquid on the inner side of each foot – typical. And bloody terrifying because my over imaginative mind convinced the part of me that’s a scaredy-cat that I was being followed through the woods every time I head owls – ok, more likely pigeons – sound and flutter away as I walked by (sorry to the people whose garden I trespassed through with all of 5 metres – I just had to get out of the woods and on to the road and when I saw my chance I took it… I promise I was careful and just nipped around the edge once I jumped the barbed wire fence – not an easy thing to do when carrying a third of your body weight on your back!).

What I noticed the most from the first day’s walking was just how often I would stop and be in the moment. I know very little about plants and wildlife but what I did come across I’d stop, look, study and take in what was in front of me in that very instance. I’d notice the tiny leaves on flowers, the eyelashes on a horse that followed me through a field or the shapes of the clouds in the sky as they merged in to the mist in the distance, making the landscape looking something more reminiscent of Lord of the Rings than Gloucestershire. In fact, I was so in the moment throughout the day that I really did take in everything, and for once I managed to remember it all, too:

11 villages. 8.5 hours of walking. 3 blisters. 2 pheasants. 1 pony. 1 breed of cow I’d never seen before (turns out it was Belted Galloway). 1 squirrel. 1 man and his dog (that got lost and I helped to find… the dog by the way, not the man!). 1 dead phone. 1 castle-esque tower. 1 near spectacular fall (I was trying to skid down some mud!). 1 incredibly stunning sunset that distracted me, resulting in 1 missed turn. Numerous ‘diversions’ in the dark, resulting in 1 slightly scared and paranoid walker (I watch too many psycho-thrillers). 1 lost hat. 1 found hat. Tonnes of clumpy, sticky mud. Tonnes of Deep Heat. Too many hills. Too many scary looking sheep. And 1 lovely B&B (once I could get in!).

So with day 1 under my layers of warm clothing and waterproof jackets done, I turned to think about day 2 as my head hit the pillow of my luxurious bed. The sun had been shining all day and, despite the inevitable ups and downs, the sun was still shining inside of me.

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Run #9 Rating & Reflection

Achievement = 5

I survived!

Enjoyment = 3

A mixed bag of emotions for the day.

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Run #4 Reflection: Well, I turned up at least!

A short post because I got distracted writing another post I’m yet to finish and only just realised the time – I need my beauty sleep!

As you’ll soon find out in the pending post, I haven’t ran for a couple of weeks. I won’t wang on about why here. And I won’t wang on about how crap today’s run was either. Essentially, I was too warm, too slow and too unfit. Oh, and I lost a glove… twice! But as the vibrations on my wrist reverberated signals to my brain (my Fitbit telling me I’d reached 10,000 steps) I at least realised that today I showed up to my run and gave it a go. I know as time goes on I’ll need to be tougher with myself if I’m actually to run any part of the London Marathon but for now, with still 4 long wintry months to go, I think it’s enough to give myself a pat on the back for at least going out for a run / jog / walk / wander. Next time though, I need to do a bit more to get a pat on the back.

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Run #4 Rating & Reflection

Achievement = 3

Bit disappointed in how much I’ve lost in 2 weeks in terms of habit, fitness, stamina and just sheer grit. I know if I put it all in to context given the past 2 weeks the achievement rating should probably be higher but I know I can do better than today.

Enjoyment = 1

As I said, too warm, too slow and too unfit. Although I did run across my favourite part of Bristol: the suspension bridge. Still not enough to lift the run’s enjoyment rating. Onwards and upwards…