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.

13315319_10154051901741488_3117058541793639544_n

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.)

 

Advertisements

London Calling – Vitality London 10,000

Oh hi there readers, long time no see. The eagle eyed amongst you will have noticed there have been very few (read, zero) posts for a while now. I haven’t been running and I also haven’t been feeling too anxious, so there’s not been much to write about. Never fear, that’s all about to change.

Remember that time I was really sick at Bath Half? My running never really recovered from it. It turned into a couple of months  of misery, feeling breathless, sick, faint, and slow every time I ran and after several doctor’s appointments was diagnosed as an arrhythmia. So that explains a lot. This had not been the case when I signed up for a bank holiday weekend of racing, and convinced several friends they really wanted to do that too, and so I turned up to run a 10k, having not covered the distance in weeks on end and having lost a lot of (read, nearly all) aerobic fitness.

I was supposed to run the Westminster Mile on the Sunday but ended up staying out on the Saturday night so promptly wrote that off. I still love wine more than running. At 7am on a bank holiday Monday – an hour earlier than I get up for work – I was struggling to eat some toast and commiserating with friends via text about being awake. Thankfully, nobody seemed to quite remember at this point that it was entirely my fault we were doing this.

I met TeamPaella (or, friends I’m running in Valencia with this winter, to the uninitiated) in Green Park and was immediately a bit surprised by the scale of the operation.

13315319_10154051901741488_3117058541793639544_n

TeamPaella

I live in London but hadn’t appreciated what a large event the Vitality London 10,000 is. As a side note, just how many races do Vitality want to sponsor? It feels like a lot of my year was supposed to be sponsored by Vitality until I had to miss a couple of races. It was a surprisingly chilly day (although I still nearly boiled while running, as is my way, despite shorts) and so we delayed heading to bag drop and having to cast off layers for as long as possible. And that’s how we ended up with a lot of pre-race selfies.

I actually found it to be a relatively bland route. It’s essentially a narrow loop from Pall Mall to the City and back, and aside from running through Trafalgar Square close to the beginning, and the last km starting with the Houses of Parliament and finishing with Buckingham Palace, I don’t find it very inspiring. I suspect some of the London magic is lost on me considering the City end of the loop is really just my lunchtime wanderings (we in fact were within <100m of my office at one point). I can’t fault the support and entertainment all the way along the route however, I don’t think there was a quiet point on the course.

I crossed the finish line in 1:04:30, which is a good 8 minutes away from my PB. A lot of me is sad and frustrated. A smaller part of me recognises that this really is fairly reasonable, given how much time I’ve had off. I was purposefully very cautious during the race both in terms of my pacing and building in a lot of walking because I was concerned about actually finishing, so I’m hoping13315358_10154282147228307_934729089664403536_n now that I’ve broken through the psychological barrier of completing the distance again, I can start picking up some speed. I was rewarded for my efforts with some fairly excellent supersize bling, a finisher’s shirt that I actually like and might use (rarity!) and a goodie bag which included food and suncream (those who follow me on Twitter will know I’m militant about the sun). I sped through the most efficient bag collection I’ve known, and returned to Green Park to meet everyone who helpfully loitered despite all finishing about 15 minutes before me. It’s okay, they passed the time taking photos with their medals, they were happily occupied. Didn’t even notice I was gone.

We eventually met some of the others of the ukrunchat crowd (after much milling around letter B of the charity stands desperately trying to spot people in the crowd) and headed to the pub; a happy end a delightful bank holiday weekend.

13267792_10156939337570075_3337062041732079906_n.jpg

 

Comfort Food: Sputnik Sweetheart

And it came to me then. That we were wonderful traveling companions but in the end no more than lonely lumps of metal in their own separate orbits. From far off they look like beautiful shooting stars, but in reality they’re nothing more than prisons, where each of us is locked up alone, going nowhere. When the orbits of these two satellites of ours happened to cross paths, we could be together. Maybe even open our hearts to each other. But that was only for the briefest moment. In the next instant we’d be in absolute solitude. Until we burned up and became nothing. – Haruki Murakami: Sputnik Sweetheart

Parklife (part deux), or; Now I’m ready to start

Do you remember the time I achieved some limited blog notoriety by writing about how parkrun was a great initiative for mental health? I had already been planning a follow up, and then Stoke Gifford Parish Council ignorantly decided they should charge for Little Stoke parkrun. Twitter is abuzz and the running community is quite rightly outraged.

Let us forget for a moment, that parkrun manages to successfully organise 850 events, across 12 countries without a single one charging anything. Actually, no. Let’s remember that. 850 parkruns. 12 countries. 932,917 runners. Truly staggering statistics and nobody pays to participate. Yet Stoke Gifford Parish Council say it is “unfair” to expect non-running residents to pay for path maintenance. There has been discussion about how fair this is – whether the park is already being subsidised by council tax, whether the runners are (not) so local that it’s (not) their taxes contributing etc. Ultimately, that’s not how tax works. Whilst I love to believe my taxes solely fund libraries, I suspect large amounts of it goes towards all sorts of unsavoury things I dislike and have no need for.

So let us turn our attention to a more pertinent issue, the rather dodgy accounting skills and lack of common sense of Stoke Gifford Parish Council. Little Stoke Parkrun has been running (no pun intended) for over 3 years and given the parish council’s position, you would expect that a lot of maintenance must have occurred in that time. Here is Stoke Gifford Parish Council’s expenditure for the FY2015/16. This is public information, freely available on their website; you can easily find it for yourself by visiting their homepage. Go nose through the month-by-month itemised account of the parish council’s expenditure. No really, go ahead. I’ll wait, I’m not even really here. Take your time.

Back? Stoke Gifford Parish Council initially proposed that each adult runner pay £1. I can’t find details of the proposal but if anyone has a link, please drop it in the comments or let me know on Twitter, and I’ll update this. The BBC article says that there are “about 300” runners at Little Stoke parkrun each weekend. If the council planned to charge 300 runners, £1/week, that would amount to a grand total of £15,600 each year in the parish council coffers. Let’s be benevolent and say half those runners are at junior parkrun on Sunday and exempt from the charge on account of being 6 years old. That’s still a total of £7,800. How much did Stoke Gifford Parish Council spend on “path maintenance” at Little Stoke in FY2015/6? £0. Nothing at all. Presumably thousands of pounds of damage is being done to the paths to justify this course of action and yet the parish council have spent nothing. I will leave you to draw your own conclusions and return to why I originally planned this follow-up.

Not long after my original post, I ended up talking to Mind about their Get Set to Go campaign, focusing on the (perceived) barriers that those experiencing mental illness may feel prevent them from taking part in activity. They were already speaking to a number of runners but read the parkrun blog and asked how I would feel about them coming to film me running one Saturday morning and taking part in a short interview.

I messaged Mike, the event director at Southwark parkrun who partially prompted me to write that first post and is an all-round good egg, as the whole team at Southwark are. He liaised at length with both the team at Mind and with parkrun HQ to get the approval we needed. This wasn’t a straightforward task and I’m immensely grateful to all at Southwark who have been so very supportive of me and this blog.

southwark parkrun

Southwark. ❤ (Photo credit to whoever I nabbed this from!!)

On a chilly, grey March morning, I was the tailrunner at Southwark parkrun. I caught up with a few people, had a delightful leisurely run (after too much tequila the night before) and met the lovely Louise Jones at her first ever parkrun (she is now a convert) who was also filming, about her experience of the Couch to 5k app. Filming the run was surprisingly fun with a member of the Mind team repeatedly whizzing past me on roller blades. Filming the interview was less so because an awful lot of helicopters fly over SE London which meant standing about waiting for noise levels to drop every few minutes.

You can watch the finished product below, or on the Get Set to Go mini-site. I am assured, unprompted, by friends that the camera has added at least 10lbs and that I don’t actually sound like that in real life. I haven’t actually watched it the final version as yet because ironically I think it may bring on a bout of anxiety and self-loathing.

It’s truly sad that Stoke Gifford Parish Council feel they can put a price on the life-changing effects that parkrun can have on their community. I’m proud of the stance that parkrun have taken and sorry for all those at Little Stoke who have lost their parkrun home. I’m sure they will find a new home soon enough and they will all remain a much-loved part of the greater parkrun family regardless.

 

It is the hollow month of March now sweeping in

March is sweeping out, actually. But I don’t write the lyrics, I just pilfer them for blog titles. When I wrote my round up of February, I ended by saying it would be a big month. It was, but in ways I never expected.

I started the month by turning 27 on the 2nd. Birthdays are ace; I don’t usually like mine much but this year I was truly happy and calm on it for the first time in a few years. The problem with birthdays is that there’s a lot of eat/drink/be merry which doesn’t leave much time for running. Ho hum, I don’t pretend to be a paragon of virtue, running or otherwise. The night before my birthday, I went out for (many) drinks and some dinner with a friend. Wine, whisky and I think 12798908_10154028832863307_1160822745085107067_n.jpgthere was a meat board at some point. The next day was my birthday and so I went out and did it all again, having dim sum and large amounts of prosecco with some of my nearest and dearest in London and a super time was had by all. London gets so lonely at times and it really helps to have memories like this, knowing that people are around. I’ve been more cautious about drinking the past few months; I’m aware of the effect that both being drunk, and being hungover has on my anxiety levels so I’m really glad that I had a few days of having fun and not worrying about repercussions, and there being no repercussions.

That week was a write off for running for obvious reasons. On the Saturday I was back at home for birthday CcxmmPxWwAApKhkcelebrations with the parents, and dragged myself down to Lee-on-the-Solent parkrun. Yay! Parkrun! Yay! The seaside! I wasn’t trying to push it too hard with only a week left until the Bath Half but ended up with a time of 28:04 which while not a PB isn’t too shabby a time for me. I also pleasingly managed almost perfect splits. As pacing has been a bugbear for me, this was huge for me and I was on a real high, feeling like my running was finally progressing. My heart rate had been reasonably good, the whole run hadn’t felt too bad until I started my sprint finish too early; I think if I hadn’t mistimed that it would have easily been in the 27:5xs. Everything was good.

Then everything went wrong. So wrong.

On the Monday, I lost my job. I won’t rehash it all here but it was unexpected and dramatic. I phoned my mama and asked her to come to London, I phoned recruiters en route to the train station, I phoned a couple of friends to try and stay level while I awaited my mama’s arrival. Packed some bags. Came home to the coast for sea air and home cooking and awaited my inevitable meltdown. Except it never happened. Tears and panic attacks have come so easily, over the tiniest inconsequential things but in a real crisis, it seems I cope. I was stressed and sad but I coped. That’s worth knowing. If I can get through this, then that strength is also there to be utilised in my sillier moments.

I had grand plans for rest and running. This was going to be my highest mileage month ever! (Un)fortunately, the phone started ringing very quickly and my first two weeks at home were actually spent on trains to/from London, attending interviews. Thankfully, I received an offer a mere nine working days after losing my job.

The Bath Half came at the end of my first week of unemployment. 10169185_10154070677308307_5339933511251828_nIn hindsight, I suspect the stress I was under probably played its part in it being a bad race for me. I thought I was just thrown off track by the unexpectedly nice conditions but looking back at the data from my Garmin, it seems to have been the start of some heart rate issues that I’ve been having ever since. I had no motivation to run after Bath; disheartened by a truly miserable race and a lack of routine without work meant a lot of napping and Netflix. When I did get back out there after 10 days or so without a proper run, my heart and lungs felt like they would explode. I chalked it up as a bad run and tried again a few days later but to no avail. My heart rate was way up near its max despite running significantly slower than my usual 5k pace. I rested some more, kept an eye on my resting heart rate and stared mournfully at the data. Following those bad runs my resting heart rate was high 70s/low 80s for a couple of days before returning to its normal level of high 50s/low 60s. I’ll see how things are when I get back to work and having routine and a normal life – impossible to know if this problem is physical or mental as the two are so closely linked for me.

The other run of note this month was at Southwark Parkrun. I know, those babes again. If you’re ever in south London, Southwark is a particularly wonderful parkrun and I can’t recommend it enough. This month, they very graciously agreed for a team from Mind to come and film me (tail)running as part of an upcoming campaign about exercise and mental health. Expect a more detailed post when the campaign launches. I had a delightful morning leisurely running at the back of the pack while a cameraman on inline skates whizzed past me before I stood in the park repeatedly waiting for helicopters to pass over and spoke about why parkrun is a great way to get into sport and its many benefits. I also got to meet the very lovely Louise and her boyfriend Ryan who experienced my near-evangelical ranting about why parkrun is the best but hey, we follow each other on Twitter now so I can’t have seemed too mad. Or maybe they enjoy madness. Thank you so much to the ever-wonderful team at Southwark for agreeing to the filming, and especially their event director Mike who was instrumental in making it happen. You are all stars. Finished product coming soon; expect repeated wails of “am I really that ginger?” (yes), “am  I really that pale?” (also yes), and “do I really make those faces when I run/speak?” (another yes).

April. The return to the London. A new job, again. Cheering as part of Team Mind at the London Marathon. (N.B. If you’re running the London Marathon, I’ll be the ginger one wearing a VERY fetching Mind t-shirt at Mile 25 at Embankment, send me your race number, I’ll track you and then high 5 you because you’ll be so close to finishing). Lighter evenings. Putting my life back together again.