It’s oh so quiet

I don’t appear to be writing much do I? There’s a multitude of half written posts sat in my drafts but I’m lacking the words to finish any of them.

Everything is a bit…blank at the moment. I wouldn’t necessarily say I feel bad; I’ve certainly felt much worse. But I’m not feeling great either. I’m not feeling much of anything at all. Never quite sure if I find the indifference worse than the pain. It’s the prolonged nature of this lack of anything that I hate. At least pain spikes.

Probably not a coincidence that running isn’t going well. I was written off with lurgy last week and easing back into it is proving difficult. My inability to give myself a break either physically or mentally is a bit of a downfall. Trying to force too much on myself too soon and expecting myself to be brilliant because nothing less will do. I’m needlessly frustrating myself and smashing my confidence in the process.

Keep moving slowly forward, this too will pass soon. Normal service resuming shortly.

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Parklife

[Written as part of Time to Talk Day, part of the anti-stigma campaign Time to Change, led by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness. As part of this, England Athletics have worked on #runandtalk, which seemed apt given the content of this blog. A friend from Southwark parkrun asked if I had anything suitable to share for the occasion. “No,” I said “But I’ll write something”]

One in four people will experience a mental health problem this year. Four in four people have mental health. Just like physical health, we all vary in how “well” we are and that wellness varies dependent on more factors than I can list. Sometimes you’re the picture of health. Sometimes you feel fine but problems are lurking, the mental equivalent of bad cholesterol. Sometimes you’re aware of a niggle, the emotional version of a bad knee or a slight cold. Once in a while, the devastating life changing illness or injury comes along. That’s exactly like a physical devastating life changing illness or injury except nobody can see it and nobody offers tests or scans that prove “You’re Sick”.

I’ve spent most of the past 10 years with a mixture of anxiety and depression, dancing back and forth over the line of niggly problems and devastating illness. Just as it improves physical fitness, running has done wonders for my mental health. We don’t wait to need a filling before we head to the dentist (not strictly true, I do); we shouldn’t wait for a problem before considering our mental health. So this post is for the four in four.

At 9am on a Saturday, in various parks, you will find hundreds of people running a 5km course. Across the country this number adds up to several tens of thousands. Welcome to parkrun. Your Saturday mornings just changed forever.

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The view from Lee on Solent parkrun

For the uninitiated, parkrun is a free, weekly, timed 5km run that happens at venues primarily in the UK but across the globe. All you need is a pair of trainers, to sign up on a website and print off a barcode that’s used to help determine your time. No further cost, no need for fancy gear. It’s a phenomenon and those of us who participate regularly can verge on evangelical about it. For the four in four, here are ways that parkrun has contributed to improving my mental health:

Exercise

The benefits of exercise to your mental health are well publicised, although nobody seems quite sure of the exact science behind it. When I first began running, I lost a little weight although I didn’t have much that I needed to lose. It improved my posture. It forced me to reassess my diet. I drank more water. I drank less alcohol and caffeine. I started sleeping better. My skin, hair and nails suddenly all looked healthier. It was the first step in completely overhauling my physical health and that has impacted on my mental health in an extreme way.

The key thing that exercise has granted me however, is confidence. As a 26 year old woman, I finally really like my body. That’s sadly, quite unusual. I’ve slimmed down and I eat whatever I like without (much) guilt. I have legs that are now strong enough to carry me for 10 miles at a reasonable speed and they’re about to make it to 13.1 miles. The best thing of all is seeing photos both during and after any run. My hair will be scraped back, I’ll be devoid of makeup, I’ll be exhausted, I’ll be decked head to toe in clashing neon. Despite all of that, I think some of these photos are the absolute best photos taken of me because it’s when you really see pure bright-eyed happiness in my face.

Sense of purpose

This came in two stages. First, the ability to run 5km. I could (just about) do this when I started attending parkrun but it was a bit of a struggle. Being able to run the full 5km without stopping was a massive achievement, as it is for a huge number of parkrunners. Parkrun is not just for “runners”, it’s for everyone. Sure, some people go sprinting round the course in an agonisingly fast time but there also plenty of people who walk/run it.

Once I could run that 5km, then came the relentless quest for PBs (personal bests). At the end of each parkrun, you receive a text with your timed result. Here begins a maddening relationship of trying to improve your PB. Every week you wait for that text; some weeks it disappoints you, some weeks it elates you. If it elates you, then you just try to beat it again the following week. It’s strangely futile because although you’re incredibly happy, you’re never quite happy enough. There’s always a new goal in mind, the next barrier to break through.

It’s interesting that no matter my lack of motivation or enthusiasm in other aspects of my life, the drive to be a better runner doesn’t fade. I don’t necessarily always back it up with the motivation to train enough to get there but the goal remains. Sometimes the only thing in my life I’m striving towards is a new PB. But that’s something at least. It’s a spark in the darkness.

 Community

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The start line at Southwark parkrun

Loneliness is a routine issue that’s brought up in connection with mental illness. It’s isolating. Loneliness extends well beyond that of course; to the old – as we all know from John Lewis’ Christmas advert in conjunction with Age UK, to parents who feel their life now revolves solely around their child, to young people surrounded by friends in the greatest cities on Earth. I never felt so lonely as when I moved to London. Strange, to feel alone with 8 million people around you.

The parkrun community is a) massive, b) wide ranging and c) welcoming. Constantly on the lookout for new participants, each parkrun begins with a new runner briefing where all new runners to that course have the concept and the route explained to them. No shame here in being the new kid. There is also no one demographic to parkrun. Children run it with their parents (and indeed it has proven so popular that there are number of junior parkruns springing up), parents run it pushing buggies with sleeping babies inside, the young and old alike run it. From people embarking on their first runs, to those who have run ultramarathons, they all flock to parkrun and that’s part of what makes it so great. Wherever you are in the pack, you’ll be cheered over the line. Fellow runners offer their support and advice. Eventually (and surprisingly quickly) you make friends. Recently, when some drama in my personal life made me nervous and reluctant to attend, it was that community who supported me and coaxed me back.

The community is such that no matter where I am in the country, I can turn up at the local parkrun and be welcomed readily as a parkrun “tourist”. I seem to pack my running shoes no matter where I am for the weekend and end up chatting to strangers about running and the other parkruns I’ve attended.

It’s also very easy to be involved through Twitter and Facebook. So many individual parkruns now engage through social media that there’s an extra layer of participation. Even outside the hour on Saturday mornings, the connection to the various parkruns I attend lingers on throughout the week because I continue talking to the people involved and the organisers. I see photos of friends and people I recognise, I see increasingly brilliant statistics about the number of participants and volunteers and PBs set that week. It’s a little like a club, that will have anyone as a member and that I’m incredibly proud to be part of.

Routine

There’s a lot to be said for routine, it brings some structure when perhaps the rest of your life feels like it’s crumbling away and being swallowed by a sinkhole. Personally, I am not a morning person and so really, parkrun is a fresh type of hell. Being somewhere by 9am? On a Saturday? Madness. Most weeks see me complaining about how early it is, especially on the weeks when I volunteer and I have to be there even earlier. As I pointed out in my most recent tweet on the subject, I actually get up earlier to volunteer at parkrun than I do for work. Arguably that’s because I have a dreamy commute but hush.

When ballerinas pirouette, they focus on a fixed point to fend off dizziness. That’s what parkrun has become to me, my fixed point and my anchor. No matter how bad work is going, no matter how much I’ve dreaded social commitments, no matter the other things falling apart, I know that 9am on a Saturday is there. The worst case scenario is that I have to get through 6 days until then. It’s amazing how much that can help, knowing there’s a glimmer of positivity on the horizon.

What’s more is that there is so much Saturday left afterwards. Did you know Saturday existed before midday? I didn’t. A day that was often previously lost to feeling sorry for myself is now wide open because I’m awake and I’ve conquered the hard part of getting out of bed and then out of the house.

Volunteering

It’s easy to feel like a burden when you struggle with mental health. People tiptoe around you. You screw up a lot. It gets tiring. You offer very little back to anyone in return. I know in my heart that I’m one of the most loving, supportive people available to the people I truly adore, I really am. It doesn’t stop me feeling like a leech every time I ask for help.

Parkrun is organised by volunteers, that’s one of the ways that it remains free. Every week, people drag themselves out of their warm beds to shiver on part of the course wearing hi-vis. Hi-vis is cool. Thank the volunteers when you run past them because they have no chance of a PB that week and a tiny bit of them is dying inside. Also they’re wearing hi-vis and it looks really stupid.

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Hi-vis is cool; I look exceptionally glamorous in it & I will not be told otherwise.

Without the volunteers, parkrun couldn’t happen and all things considered, it really is a staggering effort that is put in by people up and down the country to put on these events every single week, come rain or shine.

The idea is that for every five or so parkruns you participate in, you volunteer for one, giving back to the community that you’re now part of. There’s a wide range of roles available, from marshalling, to handing out finish tokens, to acting as a tail runner making sure there’s no man left behind. I do genuinely believe I get as much, if not more enjoyment out of volunteering as I do running. I have made friends through it but most importantly for me, I get a sense of self-worth. I know that parkrun needs my efforts to exist and seeing the huge amount of enjoyment it provides to literally hundreds of people running past me results in so much satisfaction.

After a long week of feeling useless, I can stand about on a drizzly Saturday morning and know that in that moment, I’m doing something on behalf of 300 other people. That has to make you feel a little better about yourself.

I’m sure there are more ways that parkrun has helped me feel “normal” again but I could lovingly ramble on forever. I encourage anyone, from any walk of life to attend your local parkrun which you can find here. I’ve never come across anything so welcoming and that provides so much benefit to so many people. Anyone in south/central London who would like to attend but is nervous about trying something new, give me a shout and I’m more than happy to come along with you some Saturday morning, I’m a very friendly creature and not all that fast so I’m the ideal running mate for newbies.

With thanks to all the parkruns who have hosted me, but mostly to Lee on the Solent, Wimbledon and finally Southwark, for providing inspiration. The nicest bunch of people you’d ever want to meet.

Links:

Time To Change: http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/

Mind: http://www.mind.org.uk/

Rethink Mental Illness: https://www.rethink.org/

Parkrun: http://www.parkrun.org.uk/

Southwark Parkrun on Facebook and Twitter

Wimbledon Parkrun on Facebook and Twitter

Lee on the Solent Parkrun on Facebook and Twitter

 

All these things that I’ve done

[Written as part of Time to Talk Day, part of the anti-stigma campaign Time to Change, led by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness]

Post #2 that I wish I didn’t have to write. Everything written so far has been leading up to it. This illness is ugly. It has led me to say terrible things that I never meant and do things that I’ve regretted every day since. I have left jobs, lost friends and destroyed people I love. My anxiety is not an excuse but it is part of an explanation. One of my best friends asked why I was doing this to myself, dragging up the past and putting myself through it all over again. Whilst every fibre of me hates writing this post, it’s important that people recognise the extent of the effect this illness has had on me, just how far I’ve fallen and how much I have lost (almost) entirely at my own hands.

And so, my absolute lowest moments, in chronological order. On a personal level, there were probably worse days than these but these were the destructive days where I broke hearts and lives. To all the players in these tales, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.

ONE

It’s summer 2007 and I’m in the middle of my A Levels. The night before a Classics exam, I get too drunk. I know I’m underprepared for the exam and so I’m creating an alternative excuse for everything going wrong. I come home and then leave again in the middle of the night determined to walk a friend home in the pouring rain.

My parents, realising that I’ve left, drive after me and pick me up soaked to the skin, seething at how drunk I am and how stupid I’m being, an exam that will shape my future only hours away. They have never been so angry. There is shouting and swearing and I, in a drunken panicked state become increasingly hysterical and scared about what I have done. In my hysteria, I convince myself that I cannot possibly stay at home. I phone a friend and beg him to pick me up at a ridiculous hour to drive the 20 miles to sixth form.

I wake at 5am, still drunk and sneak downstairs, packed bags in hand. She is leaving home, as The Beatles sang. My mother hears and follows; cue more fighting, more tears and desperate shrieks. I run out of the house and along the road as fast as I can go before darting down a cul-de-sac, sure she is following. She is, I see our car drive past minutes later. I hide in an alcove in a hedge and call my getaway driver.

I phone another friend once I arrive at sixth form, still panicking, but when she passes me over to her mother, I immediately hang up. Adults are the enemy. I receive a barrage of texts from my parents all day, threatening and pleading, desperate for me to take the exam and come home. It is my mother’s 50th birthday. It will be 3 days yet before I go home. This is my first serious episode.

I fail that exam. I don’t completely flunk my A Levels but I don’t do as well as originally expected. I miss my grades for university spectacularly; they let me in anyway. A new chapter of my life starts but it’s not adulthood, it’s vague awareness that something is wrong.

TWO

By summer 2012 I somehow have a law degree, a job as a paralegal, a long term boyfriend and we share a pretty little flat near the sea. We are almost 3 years into this relationship and on paper, our lives are everything we could ask for at 23. Paper and reality differ.

It’s late May and we are fighting. I don’t remember what first started it now. I doubt I remembered by the time we reached this point in the fight. I am hysterical and irrational, struggling for breath, running from room to room in our tiny flat. My boyfriend can’t calm or reason with me. This is by now beyond the realms of an argument. I am a hurricane, a girl possessed and there is nothing to be done but let me rage and wail until I’m so exhausted that I can’t continue. We’ve been here before. We’ve been here too many times before and I am losing him. Usually, I wear myself out and fall into a deep dreamless sleep until the following morning. Today is different though; the rage and confusion and terror are all stronger than they have ever been and I’m showing no signs of burning out.

Eventually, hours in, I collapse in the dark of our hallway, a desolate little figure huddled among coats and shoes. I have stormed out of the flat half a dozen times, returning within minutes, afraid of everything, desperate for my boyfriend to find a way to make this stop. He can’t, he doesn’t even know where to begin. He’s a 23 year old man, living alone with a seriously ill 23 year old girl who can’t provide a single reason as to why she’s in this awful state. How do you begin to fix her? We are both too young for how much pressure I am placing on us.

I sit on the floor of the hallway, still crying, still unable to breathe. I’m slouched against our front door, sapped of energy, knees drawn up to my chest, rocking and muttering like a madwoman. He stands in the doorway to the living room, equally exhausted, and asks what I’m doing. I learn in that moment that the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. Through the tears, I mumble in sheer desperation that I’m praying and resume muttering a plea to make it all stop. I am not religious but in that moment I truly believe that the only way I can be delivered out of the darkness is by way of a higher power. All other hope is gone.

He can’t make it stop and as expected, there’s no spiritual intervention that saves me. I don’t get better. We don’t know where to start in stopping any of this. We struggle through another unhappy year together. We break up in terrible acrimonious circumstances that end with us despising each other. We both behave badly. The man who was my best friend, who called me his little bear, who bought me what remains my favourite piece of jewellery, who wrote about Christmas in our first home together believing there was a future, is gone.

THREE

I move back home. I quit my job. I slowly start to improve. I move to London. I meet a boy. I have learnt from past experience and on our third date with the man who would become my boyfriend, I tell him absolutely everything. He tells me all his deepest darkest secrets that nobody else knows. A month in, I tell him not to get any more involved with me because I’m too much of a mess and I will end up breaking his heart. He tells me that I’m a beautiful mess and we’ll get through it together. I start falling in love with him in that moment; how can I not? Time passes. It is spring 2015 and we have been together for eight months.

I am better than I was three years ago. I recognise that there’s a problem. I know roughly what is needed to control it. I have a lot of happy days and I’m in love. I have been on an NHS waiting list for therapy for four months and I am two months away from being eligible for private medical insurance at work. I have contacted over 30 therapists in south London and the City, trying to find someone I can afford and with availability but it turns out that all of London needs therapy and my options are limited. We both prefer me off medication and I’m not convinced it helps but I keep experimenting, hoping to find something that will calm me for long enough that I can fix things. I need therapy and I can’t get it and I am despairing. My boyfriend is despairing of me.

We wake up in my flat one Sunday morning, both hungover. We have been at an engagement party the night before for his friend where he had spent the night ignoring me, I had felt alone and once again decided that gin is a coping mechanism. Hungover and sad, I ask him to leave then immediately know this isn’t what I mean to say. We fight, he storms out, I cry, ask him to stay, repeat repeat repeat. He says and does a lot in the space of an hour in that flat that means we are doomed and I can never forgive him. It wouldn’t matter if I could because his cards are then marked and certain of my friends are baying for blood. They still are.

I hate him and don’t want to see him but still I beg him to stay, I cannot be alone. If I’m left alone, I know I will die that afternoon. My brain is not controlling my actions anymore, my little demons of Pain and Panic are acting as puppet masters and I’m watching this all unfold as an out-of-body experience. Bad things are going to happen and I’m going to be helpless to stop them. I ask him to take me to hospital, this has all become too much and now I am afraid of everything and everyone. As soon as I say this, I’m immediately too scared to go to hospital and beg him not to make me go. He hates how indecisive I am when I get like this but he reluctantly stays with me until I calm down and give in to the exhaustion.

We keep trying to make it work and we manage a few more great months together which include some of the best days of my life but are interspersed with more bad moments, although never to the same extent. That awful day in the spring remains in his mind and he can’t quite forgive me for it (although I try my hardest to forgive him for his part in it all); it lingers over everything. We break up and manage two days without speaking to each other before being tearfully reunited. He clings to me that whole night, so glad to have me back and we promise each other we’ll be okay and find a way through this.

A week later, I have one final awful slow-burning panic attack and in having it, I break his heart. We break up. It breaks me. Another week later, I finally start that desperately wanted therapy but it’s too late to help us. I’m that beautiful mess and I get through it completely alone. We muddle through trying to find a way to some sort of friendship for a few months. It’s too hard for either of us and he cuts all contact. It takes that before he manages to break my heart. In the months following, he behaves abysmally on a sporadic basis and I desperately try to cling on to the new-found semblance of stability I have found because I can’t risk being dragged back under.

Fin. A decade of pain and regret. I’m not unique in that, we’ve all made regrettable decisions that have shaped our lives. It’s just that all of mine have the same root cause and I’ve felt powerless throughout. These don’t feel like choices or decisions I made, they feel like tsunamis. I’m too harsh on myself, after years of ruminating on the same disasters. Please know that the other players in these stories are not heroes and I am not the villain – although I’ve perhaps written them that way. I’m my biggest critic but nothing is black and white, we’re all terrible and murky. They did and said terrible, awful, hateful things themselves.

#1 is the story of youthful indiscretion and an only child who always felt too much pressure on her.

#2 is the tale of an incredibly insecure and confused girl who wanted love to be enough to save her. That boyfriend was, at one point, the best man I knew and I believe my mental health in the latter half of our relationship forced him to become a man I didn’t recognise. I hope the years apart from me have restored him. There was so much pain that I can’t remember loving him, yet I think he has a permanent piece of my medium-sized heart. It all remains steeped in hurt and regret. I fear it always will.

#3 isn’t a story about me. It’s about a man with issues of his own, partly projecting them on to me and how the combination of the two of us together amplified my problems to levels they shouldn’t have reached. I will always love him but ultimately he wasn’t happy enough in himself to be loved. Regardless of my mental state, there would have always been another problem he kept in reserve, ready to force on me and unfortunately, I don’t have the resilience to withstand that. I wish I did. I am sad that it happened but I don’t regret my actions in the way I do those first two anecdotes.

None of them the fault of mental illness alone, it has acted as a catalyst on all of them and without it, I suspect there was a very different path to be taken at the end of each these little tales of woe. My life has been subject to anxiety’s choices and I have hated writing this more than I can ever explain.

Sing oh January oh!

31st January already. 1/12 of another year gone. I thought I’d do a “month in review” style post, both of my running and my mental state.

I ran 70km in January. Far less than I was aiming to. January is a hard month to motivate yourself through anyway, it has been cold and wet and dark. I began a new job on 4th January and getting up to speed with everything it entails has left me exhausted. I made the decision to listen to my body and get as much rest as I could, I know my resilience is linked heavily to my energy levels. If I push myself too hard it will result in a meltdown and so I’m remaining cautious.

I started the year badly with a couple of reasonably severe panic attacks hitting me, most frequently on Sunday nights. Refusing to leave Hampshire to go back to London, tearful phone calls to friends and family, hyperventilating. I’m not being too harsh on myself about them, there’s more to be gained from being kind to myself. January is hard and new jobs are tiring and anxiety-inducing in the best of us. I seem to have settled a little as the month has gone on so I think a situational blip.

The new job is going well. I’ve now completed 4 weeks and managed not to have a panic attack in the office. It’s a dramatic change in attitude from my previous firm and I’m still adjusting to having a better work/life balance, to kinder people, to not feeling like I work in a pressure cooker. This was a big promotion for me and I’m trying not to put pressure on myself when nobody else is doing that. Last year I was regularly working until 8pm in the City, getting home at 9pm, leaving less time for running and my energy levels already depleted. I’m now back at my flat by 6.30pm most evenings. Over the course of the month I have gained hours back to my life and over time, I’m hoping that means I can factor a lot more running into my week. So far, so good. It all feels like the right decision and I am far happier.

I have slowly upped my long slow runs and with 7 weeks to go until Bath Half, I had run 15km, or 9.3 miles of the 13.1 I’ll need to do on the day. This weekend I have a slightly dodgy knee and a bout of tonsillitis which have kept me at home. Irritating and I was concerned that it would set me back but it’s better to rest now. I’ve been adding about 2km on to each long run so the distance will come to me, I’m almost there, there is still time.

I kicked off my year of running for Mind with the Romsey 5 Mile Road Race. No matter the race, I experience severe nerves and I spent most of the night before feeling a little sick and sleeping fitfully. Romsey is a fast flat course, 3 laps around a portion of the Broadlands estate with a run up and down an additional straight about halfway round the 3rd lap. Race day was grey and warmer than I would have liked but the rain thankfully held off. I ran 10km the day before which is unusual, IMG_20160124_162732I don’t tend to run on consecutive days. I was a bit worried that this would have left me slightly tired for the race but happily, my chip time came in at 47:17, meaning an average pace of around 9:27/mile. It was by no means fast but I’m aiming for 10 minute miles for Bath Half in March so this was a nice start. I started out too quickly and paid for it about halfway round the course so briefly slowed to a walk – I would be annoyed that it impacted on my overall time but I think really it will just have balanced out that early burst. I find the beginning of races difficult, the bustle of the crowd around me leaves me claustrophobic and I struggle to find my own pace instead of matching everyone else’s.

On to February. More writing. More running. The last push before Bath Half. A tiny holiday to Iceland all planned and booked. A shorter month.

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First medal of the year!

 

Comfort Food: Runner

“I can’t believe I chose the mountains every time you chose the sea” – Los Campesinos: Coda: A Burn Scar in the Shape of the Sooner State

I’m originally from the coast and still get desperately homesick from the sea. The coastline in Hampshire is very flat, no cliffs to be seen and yet last summer I fell hopelessly and unexpectedly in love with the mountains. At 26, I went on my first family holiday since I was 15. I found myself in the Pyrenees with nothing much to do but roam around the mountains with my parents. Ironically, this is exactly the sort of holiday that I hated so much in my teens that I was banned from the family holiday experience for a decade.

Ten years on, I loved it. For a week, I traded London and a job that was making me sick for scrabbling about on hillsides, breathe4648764-b81f-47cd-aa7e-bcf5c965a8d6ing mountain air and then immediately having that breath taken away by increasingly stupendous views. Even my parents were surprised by how easily I took to the mountains, galloping off ahead of them and then running back down to hurry them up. More mountain goat than girl. Making my poor retired mother pick her way across mountain streams so I could get a bit closer to icy waterfalls. All of this in a battered pair of old Converse which may well have been worn on that last family holiday.

Earlier this week I was browsing Stanfords (magical London travel book/map shop) while waiting to meet a friend and on a whim, ended up picking up a book with the silhouette of a woman running across the mountains. Runner, by Lizzy Hawker. Lizzy Hawker is, to me, the most ordinarily extraordinary woman. I still balk at the very idea of marathons. Lizzy is a previous 100km world champion. She has run from Everest base camp to Kathmandu more than once. She won the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB), 103 miles through the Alps, the first time she ran it and then went on to win the same race on four further occasions. There are other races and other records.

How is this Comfort Food material? How can it be reassuring to read about a truly incredible endurance athlete whose running is in such a different league to my own? I think it partly comes from my perceptions of my own running. I am not fast; I’m reasonably happy with my 10k+ times but the pace of these is barely different from my 5k time, quite slow and taking a long time to slowly improve. Distance however, I seem more naturally attuned to and week on week I find myself able to run longer distances more comfortably. Although the distances that Lizzy runs are staggering (and she runs them quickly!), I find this less difficult to comprehend than a champion sprinter. I find it hard to reconcile that I will get faster but it seems plausible just to keep running.

It is in part because Lizzy seems so ordinary. Remarkably relaxed about her achievements; Lizzy is a long way into that first UTMB before she realises just how far up in the field she is. She is someone who kept running Very Long Distances and through that eventually found that she was an endurance athlete. Of course, she suffers injuries (although her body is terrifyingly resilient), she runs despite pain, she suffers disappointments. That’s nice really, making what to a lot of us are superhuman feats suddenly resolutely human. There’s extreme inspiration in her determination. If anyone can will themselves to run another 30km through the mountains whilst in pain, what excuse can there be for me not heading out into the wintery London night?

It’s a point very early on the book that resonates most strongly. Lizzy is full of trepidation as she sets off on her first UTMB, when she stops worrying, realising “we just have to keep running”. I’ve been feeling despondent and anxious about my running the past couple of weeks. I’m not fast enough, not running far enough, I’m lacking enthusiasm about heading out on cold January nights when I know that I have to train for Bath in March and Run Hackney in May. I put too much pressure on myself. I’m doing well, I’m doing better than I could have possibly expected a year ago. Still, I’m self-critical. My schedule tends to be a couple of short runs in the week after work, 1 evening of hill sprints, a long slow run on the weekend. I enjoy the long slow run. Those weekday nights, I am desperate to finish. After reading Runner, I went out (reluctantly) with the aim of doing 5km with Lizzy’s words fresh in my mind. “What more do I need to do other than simply keep moving slowly forwards?” I came home having run around 8km, not a huge distance but more than I would ever usually run on a weeknight.

Via Lizzy, I am carrying Lewis Carroll’s words from Alice in Wonderland with me on every run:

‘”Begin at the beginning,” the King said very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop”‘

What else is there to do? It doesn’t matter if you’re running your first 5km or the 320km from Everest to Kathmandu; all you can do is begin, go on and when you finally come to the end, stop. True of life, as well as running. There have been days where getting out of bed seems too much. Where showering or making lunch is as much of an impossible feat as an ultra-marathon. But this is not the end, I know that. Finish lines have people cheering and medals and hopefully some Haribo. So I go on. Moving slowly forwards.

I am dreaming of the mountains again, they are waiting.

“Come on, come with me, the race is about to start. The mountains are waiting for us.” – Lizzy Hawker: Runner