Ripley

The first time I met Ripley, she was about six weeks old. I went to their old house in Epsom for the day and not being particularly comfortable around babies, mostly observed her with fascinated terror from a safe distance – from the other side of the room. After some time, I asked quite seriously, how they had known they wanted a baby instead of, say, a kitten. Fiona laughed and told me that they weren’t exclusive, you could have a baby AND a kitten. I asked why – in that scenario – you would not just get two kittens. I think we played this game up to five kittens.

I did become increasingly fond of her each time I saw her, although she largely remained entirely indifferent to me. Ripley was the first baby born to people I really consider friends, and I’m lucky that both her parents are friends I’ve now had for well over half my life. And I say lucky because it meant I had the privilege of seeing just how much they both contributed to the small person she became. I grew up with Fiona wanting any excuse to try on her mum’s old dresses from naval balls, and then watched as Ripley tottered about in her mum’s shoes that lit up or were covered in applique ducks. She’d already settled on a boldly alternative style, wanting to wear a princess dress with a Batman nappy, or a head to toe Minnie Mouse outfit with ears and a tutu just because it was Tuesday and she could. She had this tremendous attitude sometimes where you could tell she didn’t care what you thought of her, and in those moments all I could ever see was Ben. She had more books, and far more words than you would expect of a child of her age, until you looked to her parents and realised she was them. There were a collection of expressions on her tiny face that I’d seen play out on Fiona and Ben’s own faces a hundred times over the years.

And for 24 years I have found Fiona’s stubbornness hugely frustrating but now I forgive you it all, because it was another quality passed on to Ripley. That stubbornness, determination and refusal to ever fail or let anything go, meant that over the past 9 months we all continued to know a Ripley so full of personality, rather than her ever fading to a shadow of herself. Ripley who even at her most sick, you would call a monkey only for her to protest – almost insulted – that she wasn’t a monkey; who insisted on creating a castle within her hospital room for her incredibly grand wedding to her new toy koala; and who when she would only eat a few bites of food a day, was still all too happy to be bribed with chocolate buttons. And that is how on a cold wet night in January, I ended up running down the streets of Bristol in completely inappropriate shoes, searching for somewhere to source her third packet for the day, because she had promised us she would eat a little more pizza if only Auntie Alix could buy more buttons. And she had the audacity to claim she wasn’t a monkey.

During her time at Bristol Children’s Hospital, it became clear that Ripley would need a stem cell transplant. A lot of people here today immediately joined the various donation registers. That’s not surprising; any of us would have done anything we could to help and it was an easy gesture when we were all feeling helpless. What has surprised me is that number of people that I’ve talked about Ripley to this year, who have then told me later that they signed up to a process that many have misconceptions about. People who never met her. People who have never met Fiona, or Ben. Signing up for something that they thought might be scary or painful. Doing that for a toddler they had no connection to. I don’t know what the exact probability is of being picked off the register over the course of your eligible years, but it seems likely that with the number of people Ripley inspired and educated about donation, that eventually she’ll be the direct catalyst for saving someone’s life – or multiple people’s lives. Ripley, an overachiever, even now.

I do still feel that kittens are an entirely valid, and possibly superior, alternative to babies – but I am incredibly glad that Fiona and Ben felt differently. Because as excellent as kittens are they probably won’t go on to save anyone’s life, and they haven’t had near as much of an effect on my life as Ripley.


Ripley was the daughter of my oldest friend, and her husband, himself an old friend. She passed away on October 14th 2017, at the age of 2 years 8 months, exactly 9 months after she was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia. I wrote and read the above at her funeral and managed not to cry even though my heart is a little bit broken.

If you’re between 16-30 and in good health, you can join the Anthony Nolan stem cell donation register here. DKMS UK will accept new donor registrations until age 55, and you can register here.

“And will I tell you that these three lived happily ever after? I will not, for no one ever does. But there was happiness. And they did live.”
― Stephen King, The Dark Tower

Bad things coming, we are safe

Having recently been signed off work due to my anxiety, I thought I should probably start writing again. I remain overly-open about being quite mad on social media, but 140 characters sometimes just isn’t enough. I had purposefully let this blog go quiet for a long time. This was ostensibly because I’m not really running much and am rather less mad these days. And that, dear friends, is what we call hubris.

Towards the end of January, I had a serious panic attack at work. It’s the first I’ve had in this role, triggered by a specific event rather than my general state of mind. Panic attacks aren’t new. Unfortunately, this one happened in front of my manager; to her, it was new. Before I knew it, there was a whole paragraph in my appraisal concerning my mental health. Notes made that I had been medicated, that I had received therapy, that perhaps I felt too muddled for the role. (Nobody, but nobody who has ever met would say I come across as “muddled”.)

A selection of our trustees read our appraisals. I was, understandably, I think, rather unhappy (read: really fucking angry) that people were going to be told that I have been dealing with this since my teens. Since I was legally a child. Telling them this, without my consent. Cue phone calls to Mind’s Legal Line,  to ACAS, to the ICO, anybody who might be able to confirm I should put a stop to this. Having a law degree really helps with knowing what not to stand for. The advice was yes, it was unreasonable but there was little I could do except ask for it to be removed from the report. When that request failed, repeatedly, I gave up.

I phoned my mother in tears who immediately drove to Surrey, to have lunch with her finally beaten daughter. Poor woman, I think she’d hoped to be free of me by almost 28. Hurrah for being signed off work and back on drugs!Over lunch, I phoned my GP.  When he asked what I wanted, I begged he declare me unfit for work for a fortnight. He wrote the certificate immediately, without even seeing me (quote: “well, we can close our eyes and pretend we’re in the same room if you like…”). It was that easy, from that moment I was signed off work. I went back to the office, packed my bag and went home for the next two weeks. Before those two weeks were up, I resignedly phoned my GP again and asked for a prescription for any drugs to get me through my return.

Being signed off work sounds serious…

It does, but the severity of it is somewhat negated by the fact that I chose it. My problem for a long time was that I didn’t recognise how ill I was until it was too late. Now I can recognise that bursting into tears at work isn’t normal. That having a meltdown because I can’t bear to answer my phone or open a letter is no way to live a life. Anxiety is going to be a part of my life forever. There isn’t going to be a day where I wake up and finally, I’m over it. What I can do is mitigate the damage and removing myself from damaging situations is part of that.

My day to day mental health is probably the best it has been for years but that doesn’t render me immune. I still struggle to find enough resilience in difficult situations. True crisis and I’m fine, something deep in my brain kicks in when I know that I simply have to cope. The rest of the time, I’ve worked out a finely tuned balance of various triggers to keep me level. I need to account elsewhere in my lifestyle for each little slip.

The 5 Pillars of Mental Health
  • Exercise: The first pillar to crumble when I’m starting to struggle but it probably has the most pronounced effect. It doesn’t need to be running, a walk will do. But at least twice a week, preferably three times, ideally four. More than four and a different sort of burnout takes hold which in turn affects…
  • Sleep: Seven hours. Functional on six. Five and under and we’re really struggling. Don’t try to make up any deficit at weekends, too much sleep is no better. Nap if needed, but don’t use sleep to escape the way you’re feeling. Try not to need…
  • Caffeine: Minimised. The occasional cup of Earl Grey. I can’t have coffee despite adoring it.
  • Diet: Low carb, high fat.Lots of oily fish, lots of avocado. Running friends are currently gasping at the idea of not eating all the pasta the night before a race. My body can’t handle the blood sugar/insulin changes. It converts me to a toddler on a sugar crash.  Similar to…
  • Alcohol: Despite being famed amongst my friends for my love of a drink (and a correlating talent for spilling them), my boozing days are now largely over. Partly because I’ve always been a lousy drunk. The classic drunk crying girl, a lot of parties have ended with me wailing on the kitchen floor. These days, it’s that my resilience suffers for days afterwards like a lingering after effect to my hangover.

I think this is how everyone’s mind works. Plenty of runners start to feel antsy when injured. Caffeine leaves many of us too wired. We’ve all spent mornings hungover and fragile. Mental health is a spectrum and I’m further along it than others. Life requires balance and mine has always been notoriously bad. Seriously, I fall over a lot. Can’t be surprising that my mind falls over too.

Race Report: Romsey 5 Mile Run (2017 edition)

The Romsey 5 Mile Run seems to be my traditional first race of the year. Organised by Offbeat Events, the race consists of three short laps (plus an additional straight out and back section halfway through the third lap) on the Broadlands estate in Romsey, Hampshire. It’s where the Queen spent her honeymoon (Broadlands, not the race) and it is a very pleasant, if somewhat uninspiring race. Whilst I’m not a fan of laps, it does at least breed familiarity.

I haven’t really “run” since the Valencia 10k in November when a hip injury meant I limped around the course and then took several weeks out after. Since then, I’ve turned up for a few tracks sessions with Guildford & Godalming AC and have steadily subjected myself to a mix of swimming, strength and conditioning work, and a number of treadmill runs. I haven’t been out and run, though.

My plan was to bimble along and see what I could do.  A field of 672 made for a slow start and the first two miles were spent trapped in small crowds and dashing around people. It did mean that I couldn’t misjudge my starting pace which allowed a steady increase as I progressed. The second half of each lap has a more uneven surface and a noticeable camber, possibly only because the course feels so perfectly flat for the most part that you notice very slight changes! This made for trying to overtake slightly more annoying during this part of the course.

By the time I was completing the second lap, the frontrunners were speeding past us, the winner finishing in 25:42. Despite repeated shouts, a lot of runners didn’t really seem to comprehend instructions to “keep left” and hampered faster runners. Shortly after the 3-mile marker, I attempted to have some water at the first water station and promptly poured most of it down myself (cannot wait to see my race photos…).  As I wasn’t concerned about time, I took the opportunity to pause at the second water station. Cups, they somehow baffle and outwit me every time. With only the second half of the final lap to go, I tried to keep my pace fairly measured until the finish line was in sight. Looking at watch data, it seems I really reigned myself in before a steady acceleration with a few hundred metres to go.

My chip time was 51:13, so somewhere between 3:30 and 4 minutes slower than last year. Despite that, I think I ran better today than last year. I’m currently about 14lbs heavier than I was for this race in 2016 and I am uncomfortably aware of the excess. Last year I was midway through a dedicated regimen of Sunday long slow runs in the approach to Bath Half; a practice that has been dropped while I desperately try to rehabilitate my hip. In 2016 I raced, struggled to hold a steady pace and found it difficult. This year I held back, purposefully keeping my breath steady and controlled throughout. I tried to stay aware of my hip and my form.

Could I have run faster today; almost certainly, but gains made in running aren’t just about speed. All in all, I’m happy with today’s performance. I think I mitigated a surprising amount of damage to my result given how different my circumstances are from last year.

Romsey 5 Mile Run – Is it worth it?

Offbeat Events must be given huge credit; they have only improved a race I already thought of fondly. A greatly improved medal, a new finisher’s t-shirt, a near automatic text with my chip time, live web results. It all made the event feel bigger than it is. At the same time, it hasn’t lost anything that makes it feel such a local, homely event.  Local clubs still play a prominent part. A man with a microphone still shouts your number as you finish and enthuses about how well you’ve done. The goodie bag is reassuringly standard and devoid of rubbish: water, banana, Haribo, medal, t-shirt; a flyer to the Romsey 5 Mile Beer race handed to you separately. Should that appeal, there are still places in their Winchester 10km Road Race in February.

I have every intention to keep up my tradition of making Romsey 5 Mile my first race of the year and will drag more people with me each year.

But if you’re all about the destination, then take a f*cking flight

I am injured again. No saga, it wasn’t even a running injury. I’m just a grown woman who manages to fall down the stairs with alarming frequency and on this occasion, rolled her ankle in the process. screen-shot-2016-09-11-at-19-36-40It took a couple of days for reasonably severe swelling and bruising to show but almost two weeks later that swelling is still refusing to fully recede. I’m not in pain but am occasionally getting odd twinges of shooting discomfort through my foot. It’s going to be a while longer before I risk running.

All runners despise being injured don’t they? Injuries cause stress and complaints and we think of nothing but when will we be able to run again. HA, no, not this girl! I’m ace at being injured; I practically revel in it. Lazing around in the warm, watching Netflix instead of putting in the miles in the cold? I’m amazed more of us aren’t self-sabotaging; I probably subconsciously throw myself down the stairs so I can justify not running.

I’m (mostly) joking but we do have a tendency to catastrophize and treat injury as a death knoll instead of an inevitable part of our journey as runners. Considering it’s likely to come to us all, I try to view injury as a detour rather than a delay. I do wonder if several years of shoddy mental health has helped me develop this attitude. Running is usually my coping mechanism for anxiety and so you would expect me to fall apart without it. The thing is, I’ve had years of not being able to do the things I ought to, or want to do. The days of not being able to get out of bed, of missing work, of flaking on social commitments because leaving the house is too terrifying a prospect. It’s frustrating and misery-inducing but it’s also a part of my life and so I’m bizarrely calm and practical about not running. Would I like to have run today? Yes, but what’s one more thing that I can’t do because of my health? It’s an odd sort of resilience that I wish I didn’t have but it saves me that additional layer of angst.

“I’m awful at not doing anything” is a common refrain from injured runners but there’s still a lot you can be doing whilst injured. Here are five things contributing to my running during any period where I can’t physically run (because remember, it’s only a detour to your journey):

1. RELAXING

I know, it’s difficult. You’re terrible at doing nothing. Sometimes it can be beneficial to take the pressure off of ourselves. There’s a physical toll that comes from the endless procession of races. Not only that, but I find that I experience an emotional toll of constantly training for something, of constantly feeling that I should be aiming for a PB. This mindset matches up with when injuries induced by running seem to occur. I suspect lacking motivation and feeling tired means I neglect strength work and let my form slip and before long, I’m injured and have taken myself out of contention.

With the pressure of racing or attempting a PB gone, I then tend to do my best running. My favourite races and PBs, they’ve come on days when I expected nothing. A good chunk of running is mental exercise – the will to carry on when it hurts, dragging ourselves out in bad weather, and yes, not caving to pressure on race day. That last one is a particular weakpoint for me and so being set back by injury and thinking there’s no chance of getting a PB? That can be just what I need to prosper.

2. TRYING

Running gets to be a reasonably intensive process, doesn’t it? We’re training 3-4 times a week, if not more frequently. Throw in the odd bit of cross-training and the strength work that we all know we should be doing and you find that you’ve run out of time to pick up anything new. I’ll admit to being resolutely unimaginative with my cross-training; you’ll find me in the pool. The majority of friends supplement their running with a bit of cycling. Very few of us are venturing out of that box of triathlon components.

Unless you’ve had surgery and are waiting for stitches to heal, there are reasonably few injuries that are going to fully put you out of action. Throwing yourself into something new can distract you from the frustration of not running, keep your cardiovascular fitness up, and strengthen muscle groups that perhaps you’ve unknowingly neglected with your standard routine. Try something new and it could become an important part of your running routine.

In the past year I’ve been bouldering, rowing and kayaking and on one particualrly ridiculous day attempted aerial yoga, but I’m blessed enough to have lived in London and had the capital’s resources at my feet. There are still far more activities that I’d like to dip a toe into when running isn’t taking up my time. And that is how I very recently signed up for a course that is legitimately titled “Ballet For Grown Ups”. Hilarity to follow.

3. VOLUNTEERING

I’ve written before about the benefits I experience from volunteering at parkrun. I definitely don’t volunteer often enough; when I get into a good rhythm with my running it’s too satisfying to watch the times fall week on week.

southwark parkrun

Volunteering at Southwark Park

Injury is a good reason to fit in a block of volunteering and do your good deed for the year. We all know that parkrun can’t take place without the volunteers who selflessly give up their chance to run that week and we’re all incredibly thankful for them. Yet every week, emails and twitter appeals go out from parkruns up and down the country in search of more volunteers just so that events can take place.

Similarly, if injury keeps you from a planned race, then races also need volunteers. They are huge logistical events and we should give more thought to the people who hand us water and push shiny medals into our sweaty little hands. An increasing number of races offer a free race place for the following year if you volunteer in some capacity so you can console yourself that you’re just delaying the race rather than missing it.

It’s also a sneaky way to watch other runners. How often do we do that? Stand back and properly take in what other runners are doing, how they hold themselves, how they move. You’ll spot behaviours that you think look awkward – for me it’s always how other runners use their arms – and give more thought to what you do yourself.

Volunteering has kept me actively involved in the running community when I could easily curl up at home and isolate myself. Friends deserve my support even though I can’t run, and it makes you all the more appreciative of what goes on behind the scenes to allow you to run at these amazing events. Next Saturday I still won’t be running but I will be volunteering at Guildford parkrun, my new local.

4. LEARNING

Most of what I know about the human mind, chemistry and happiness has been discovered through anxiety, depression and sobbing in my therapist’s office. Similarly, most of what I know about physiology and how running “works” is from physio appointments, trying not to scream during sports massages and staring at diagrams of muscles, trying desperately to understand exactly why pain is occurring. We only look at the mechanics behind something once it’s broken and we need to work out how to fix it. This is why I’m repeatedly amazed every time that an injury is actually caused by a weakness elsewhere.

The human foot has 26 bones, 33 joints, 107 ligaments, 19 muscles and tendons. The 52 bones in your feet make up about 25 percent of all the bones in your body. That’s an awful lot of numbers without even considering your legs, what your arms are doing, how your core is supporting all that. There is so much happening with every step we run and we don’t necessarily give that any consideration. Maybe we don’t need to, but I do think that the more I learn, the more self-awareness I gain. That now when a niggle hits, I (vaguely!) understand what’s happening and as a result I can counteract it and prevent more serious problems from developing. It doesn’t always work and it will never be foolproof but I’m still learning.

5. APPRECIATING

The moment I most want to go for a run is precisely 25 seconds after I’ve realised an injury is going to stop me running. I’m contrary like that. The human body is an incredible, terrifying, wondrous thing and we should applaud it and revel in it, even when it’s not behaving quite as we’d like. I’m spending a lot of this current injury period trying to be thankful that I’m just being set back from something amazing that I’m capable of doing 90% of the time.

When I finally get back to running, I know that my fitness will have been annihilated and all the speed progress I was making will be lost. Again. But that first run back is going to be glorious and freeing and I hope I can capture that feeling for a while longer. Appreciate what your body can do, because it may not always be able to do it.

Well God knows I’ve failed but He knows that I’ve tried

The blog has been on hold of late. As some of you know, I made some fairly drastic changes to my life this summer. After spending my entire career so far working in law in varying capacities, and a couple of years in London, I finally accepted that I wasn’t happy and that no job, boyfriend or any amount of running was going to fix that. I tried so hard to make it work because I was afraid that leaving law and/or London would mean that I’d failed but neither of those is right for me at present and that’s okay.

I’ve moved to Surrey, CsFbAxjWIAAn0lA.jpgabout halfway between my life in London and my beloved south coast in Hampshire. I’m only 40 minutes on the train from Waterloo (as opposed to 20 when I lived in Wimbledon, so hardly the ends of the earth!). I have easy access to so many beautiful trails and the North Downs Way is only a few miles from my front door. I’m now the Marketing & Development Manager of a charitable organisation just outside Guildford, only months after questioning why I wasn’t doing just that. It’s tough starting again. I don’t have friends here and there have been a few nights of crying about feeling lonely and worrying that I’ve done the wrong thing but that will settle.

So, to running. I must be doing loads of it, what with my newly found work/life balance and access to beautiful countryside. Actually, no, much like this blog, the running has also been on hold partly because I’ve been questioning my participation in the running community and its effect on me. I recently reread a piece that Gary wrote for Run247 about Strava and whether it influences the hows and whys of our running. Are we upping the distance, the pace, the elevation, because of how it will be perceived on Strava, rather than because that’s what we want or because it’s a sensible approach to our running? It’s called the Hawthorne Effect, in which we modify our behaviour in response to being observed.

Running is supposed to help control my anxiety but of late I’ve found that anxiety is controlling my running. I worry that people are seeing my uploads to Strava and judging me for not running further, for not running more frequently, for not running faster, for how high my heart rate is. That isn’t true of course, it’s a mixture of severe anxiety and a touch of narcissism to think anybody cares. Still, I stroll back from failed runs wondering: what will make me more of a #stravawanker, auto-uploading the 1km run where I cried and didn’t have the heart to carry on, or deleting it and presenting a curated perspective of my running? I’m finding it hard to run well when I’m devoting precious energy to a cycle of self-obsessed worrying.

All of social media gets a bit narcissistic though, doesn’t it? Blogs and tweets eventually morph from ways to engage and share content, to becoming attention-seeking extremes. Perhaps because all runners have a slightly competitive nature whether against each other or themselves. Runs suddenly become brilliant or terrible; there are some who seemingly never experience an average run. “I went for a run today and it was absolutely fine” doesn’t make a story, and if you’re shouting into a void of millions, it’s stories that get picked up. That tiny niggle following a couple of miles becomes DOMS or requires ice and KT tape. The next run is a comeback and is carefully documented as such on Strava, and Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Run, report, repeat.

It’s easy to get addicted to the attention that comes to those stories and so it self-perpetuates which is why we all know people who now can’t get home from a run without uploading 4 posed-but-natural selfies over every channel available. If you don’t share what is essentially the exact same photo of your face, in your living room, every time you run, how will anybody know that you’re a dedicated runner? Even though the photo doesn’t involve the people you ran with, the place you were running or indeed anything else that documents that time/day/run in any way whatsoever. If your run is spent wondering how you’ll present it to the masses on Twitter and Instagram, it becomes less about enjoying running and more about enjoying your own narcissism. Which is fine, you do you, but I don’t particularly want to follow you and don’t pretend that you’re talking about running instead of “look at me! look at me!”

It’s all left me feeling uneasy of late and I’ve had to curate who I follow and who I allow to follow me because the way that some people use social media to talk about running brings out the worst in me. Anxiety leaves me overly introspective. I am prone to catastrophise. I worry a lot. I seek validation and praise (honestly, try working with me, I thrive on praise). Seeing that unhealthy behaviour endorsed in others is not a good example to me and is harming my running and my mental health.

This isn’t to disparage the use of social media or the blog community as a whole. I still think it’s ace and 98% of the people I have met through it, aren’t affected by this post.

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Acceptable selfie, because it commemorates a time and place and people. It is not me alone in my living room.

I would never have met two of my absolute favourite girls if it weren’t for Twitter and now Fiona and Jodie are the first people I’ll go to about great runs and terrible runs, about boy problems and career moves, and the day won’t come where I see them and don’t take 20 photos. I love reading Carl’s reasonably new blog because it’s so refreshing to read something so measured and to see enduring positivity when faced with injuries. I haven’t seen my friend Owen in person since the year after university, but when I was first contemplating leaving London, it was envying the photos he takes while running on the South Downs and the south coast that really started to sway me. I could go on and on with recommendations of great accounts to follow. I adore every one of you who checks up on me to see how my new life is going, how injuries have healed and how races went. I still want to see every single photo of every medal you all get, all the beautiful views you see on your runs (preferably location tagged!), and your gloriously sweaty faces beaming in delight on trails and by landmarks. I’m just bored of people who use running as a way to indulge their need for attention and who tenuously connect unrelated content in order to tap into the running community.

When I moved house I read Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying which encourages you to discard items that don’t “spark joy” and I’m trying to apply that approach to running and how I talk about it. From here on, I want to post more photos that spark joy in my followers (so expect a lot more views of the Surrey Hills). I want to write content that people enjoy, although I accept that this blog is partially about mental health and isn’t always easy to enjoy. On those days, I hope it’s helping someone. And I want to be honest with what I say, no more catastrophizing, or exaggerating. So to end, this week I went for a run and it was absolutely fine.

(N.B. If you’re seething because you think this post is about you, then it probably is. I make no apology for that; if you decide that a post about narcissism is about you then you’ve proven my point with delicious irony.)