Feet don’t fail me now, take me to the finish line

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On Sunday morning, following not quite 5 hours of sleep, I woke up and headed to Bath for the Bath Half Marathon. I was incredibly nervous. This was my first ever half marathon and I hadn’t quite hit the distance in training. This was also the biggest race I’ve ever been part of. Sticking to 5ks, 5-milers and 10ks means I’ve never been part of a pack of 15,000 and I’m somewhat claustrophobic. Getting there early meant I was at the front of the final starting pen and had some breathing space for the hour pre-race. The only time the crowds really affected me was on the occasions where I looked back and saw the tide of people behind me, and then feeding back through into the runner’s village to collect medals at the very end. It’s safe to say that I prefer smaller races for my comfort levels but I’m also absolutely sure I wouldn’t have made it to the end had it not been for the crowd support.

12814144_10154063272878307_2090980128523154213_nIt was about 10 degrees and bright sunshine for the duration of the whole race. This isn’t hot weather by any means – it’s actually probably as close to my favoured running conditions as it’s possible to be, but it was decidedly more pleasant than I had been counting on in mid-March. My chest, upper arms and forehead are all showing a touch of sunburn (the perils of being ghostly pale) and plenty of people around the course were commiserating about being warmer than expected. The ultimate way to send my mind spinning off into meltdown? Diverge from my best laid plans.

During last summer’s heatwave in London, I ran 5km on the hottest day of the year when the temperatures hit 36C. I’m not averse to heat. But I wasn’t planning on it, and I’ve just trained through a long rainy winter. I drink a lot of water anyway – a lifetime of migraines has made me live in fear of dehydration – and I don’t even think about water for anything less than a 10km. Even for longer runs, I pop my credit card in my shorts pocket and get a drink if and when I feel I need it. On Sunday, I was unreasonably panicked by how hot I felt after only 3km, a mix of nerves and the glorious weather and at the first water station I practically inhaled a bottle of water I didn’t really need. Rookie error. I knew that. Shortly after the 6km mark, I was sick. Having never had much grace or dignity to start with, my main concern was that if I was seen, someone would tell me I had to stop running.

I picked myself up, cut my pace right down and trudged on. Around the 8km mark, my left hip flexor started to niggle. It’s been playing up a little bit on my longer runs recently but I’ve never known it to hurt so early on before, definitely something I need to address sooner rather than later. I suspect post-sickness my form was really suffering which probably didn’t help matters. By the end of race, picking my left leg up was agony and as soon as I crossed the finish line, I suddenly discovered I could barely walk. Funny what the body forces itself through when it knows it “has” to. It did make 2/3 of the race extremely uncomfortable and I didn’t really need any extra misery!

My 10km time was 1:15:03. I knew then just what dire straits I was in. Even on my long slow runs, I hit 10km at just under the hour mark. Not even halfway through and mentally I was just beaten. From there on, it was only about the very possibility of finishing. Any plans for a time were long destroyed and there was no hope of recovering. I really started to worry that I wouldn’t make it through the race.

At 12km, not long after starting the second loop of Bath, I spotted my friends in the crowd. Slightly over halfway through the worst run of my life, there’s a tiny blip in my Garmin data, where my pace suddenly and briefly hits 4:13/km as I sprinted across the course to high-five them both. The second loop was hard, I ran/walked the entire way. At 18km, I was sick again, I think probably just from exhaustion at that point. At 19km, I sat down at the side of the road and cried for a bit. At that moment, with only 2km left to run, it seemed so impossible that I would actually finish. I dragged my feet, alternating running and walking in about 300m bursts, I didn’t have enough left to manage anything more. As I rounded the corner on to Great Pulteney Street and saw the finish line, my pace climbed and climbed again. I saw my parents in the crowd, I spotted my friends slightly further along the straight and I ran.

After collecting my medal and finisher’s shirt, I phoned my parents and genuinely cried down the phone like a lost child as I tried to find my way back to the Abbey to meet them. I was really truly broken. Yet more proof that I can’t cope with exhaustion.

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Sprinting for the finish (out of sheer relief)

My chip time ended up being 2:38:34, a good 30 minutes slower than I had expected/hoped for. A lot of weaving about meant that I covered more additional distance than I usually manage over the course of a race and the Garmin clocked me hitting half marathon distance at 2:36:18. Either way, the whole thing was a hard knock. As I joked (not at all joking) to several friends yesterday, why be proud of what you’ve achieved when there’s the opportunity to relentlessly punish yourself for not being better? I’ve written before that this is a constant issue in my running (and life), and the worse the day, the harsher I am.

Cdc51bmWoAQkPYOThe key here is that I still ran it. Whilst it wasn’t a good time, it’s a bloody good time considering that it involves stopping to be sick twice, sitting down to cry, and running 15km of it on empty – no fuel, minimal hydration. If I can manage that, I should have no problems running the distance on a better day.

So. Bath was a bad race. They happen; the fact that it was my first half is sad, but they happen. I have 8 weeks until Run Hackney (with a 10km between now and then). Training for a half, from a half, should (theoretically) be reasonably straightforward. I know I can cover that distance now, even when I feel awful. I’ll be factoring in some glute strengthening to try and sort out this hip issue. Lighter, warmer evenings should result in a more positive attitude to training. At Hackney, I’ll be crossing the line in the time I know I’m capable of.

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Medal #2 of 2016

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The floors are falling out from everybody I know

This morning, I was sat at my desk when the phone rang from a meeting room downstairs. It was the head of our HR team, asking me to pop down. When I got there, I was quickly dismissed. I was still in my probationary period and it has been decided that the role and I are a bad fit. The wording in my explanatory letter is that I don’t exhibit “essential qualities for the role to the extent required”. Or something equally woolly sounding. The most blindsided I have ever felt. At my one month review, everything seemed fine and targets were set for me to work towards by the end of my 6 months probation. Certainly, at no point was I warned that I needed to be doing things so differently that my job was in danger.

4 weeks pay in lieu of notice. HR collected my bag and coat. I was walked out the office without saying goodbye to anyone. That’s that.

I don’t really object to the reasoning. Some matches are wrong. Employee and employer don’t always fit together in terms of culture and this was a total 180 from my previous firms. I do object to the lack of warning. Nothing mentioned was so significant that it couldn’t easily have been remedied if I had actually been made aware of a problem. But oh well, worse things happen at sea. So I’m told.

So what now? I’ve decamped to my parents’ house, for a few days at least. I’ve been in touch with recruiters straight away and the market for what I do seems buoyant. I now have the chance to reassess what I truly want out of my life. It was only very recently that I was wondering if any of this was right for me. The last few days before the Bath Half are now full of rest, of my mother’s cooking, of short runs in the sunshine. I’m reading Rod Junkins’ The Art of Creative Thinking and finally planning some time to invest in personal projects I’ve been talking about for years.

Out of all this, there has been serious positivity. In the most dire of circumstances, there was no panic attack. I sat through the meeting without breaking down. I scratched my arms in a desperate attempt to keep control while waiting for my possessions to be brought down, but recovered and a few hours later there’s no damage to be seen. I left the office, called my parents and walked back to Waterloo. I text and called various friends to try and keep calm; thank you to everyone who rallied in the middle of their working days. Throughout it, I stayed reasonably calm. The panic and the tears were there, looming, but for once they were shut behind a door. The best text in response, “to be honest, you should have quit last week the second you didn’t get the bacon roll you were promised”. I laughed.

It’s February again, we must get older

It’s time for the month in review! What’s been going on inside my head and where have my feet been taking me this month?

The month began on a serious high with my Time To Talk post going the smalltime blogger version of viral. I was asked in advance by the event director at Southwark parkrun if I had anything suitable for them to share as part of the day. I didn’t, but they’re good people so I wrote a piece on how parkrun has been more than just running to me. It ended up being retweeted a ridiculous number of times and being shared by so many parkruns, by parkrunners and by the founder, Paul Sinton-Hewitt. A bizarre day of people sending screenshots of my face as it popped up in their Facebook feeds via parkruns across the country.

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Sporting my parkrun performance shirt. A ginger in apricot. Bold.

That post has now been viewed well over 5000 times, in over 40 countries. Thank you to all who supported, shared and talked about mental health on that day. You know how much the cause means to me and to have had even the tiniest impact was fantastic. The blog will probably never reach such lofty heights again!

Running has been a mixed bag. Again, the month started well. I managed a couple of post-work 5 milers, as opposed to my usual 5km. I’m slowly trying to up my overall mileage and it’s reassuring to have broken the mental block I had of doing more than 5km on a school night. This will seem such a tiny breakthrough to so many of you but my running is plagued with arbitrary and nonsensical negative mental blocks of my own forming and it’s taking a lot of resolve to dismantle them.

The first weekend in February I once again smashed my longest run, taking the distance to 17.1km/10.6 miles. With 5 weeks to go until Bath Half, this was hugely reassuring. Thank you to everyone at #ukrunchat that evening who confirmed that yes, that was indeed completely on track when I was having a wobble! The other bonus of that run was my pacing was almost spot on; a little slower than usual but that led to consistency with a couple of (actually very small) blips that I think correlate to where I paused to stretch my niggling calves.

But then came the dreaded lurgy. Classic February cold/flu/misery had been doing the rounds at the office and I finally succumbed in the second week of February. Coincidentally, also set up to be the toughest week I’ve had at this job yet. Life, oh life.  A week of feeling terrible both physically and mentally and not being able to run at all, so once again a month where my mileage is nowhere near as high as I had hoped. I’ve actually only run about 50km all month which is appalling. I’m frustrated but I know how dangerous for my emotional resilience it is to push myself too hard. A lot of rest, a lot of cups of tea and watching Netflix in leggings and ratty old jumpers, a lot of envying everyone talking about their running. I attempted a long slow run exactly one week after having run 17km. I made it through 3km with legs and a stomach feeling like lead, went home and was promptly sick. Another attempt at 5km in the week was cut short at around the 3km mark again with burning lungs. Super disheartening.

The following weekend I made it out for my long run with minimal confidence after almost 2 weeks off. I put myself through 16km, although with a few short walks thrown in there (at 3km, 10km, 14km). I’ve already written about how negative I felt after that run. I’m trying to be objective about it and be a lot kinder to myself. I was on course to be only about 2-3 minutes slower than my 17km run 2 weeks earlier. Considering that there was a good 5+ minutes of walking involved, I was just coming back from illness, I’d had some time off and it was horrendously windy out there, that’s not at all bad going. Pain and Panic are whispering that I’m making excuses but they can hush. I ran 16km when I wasn’t at my best, having expected to struggle to hit 10km, and I didn’t run them that badly. I didn’t run them anywhere near as well as I would have liked but you can’t always get what you want.

Given the setback of illness, I now won’t run the full half marathon distance until race day but I’ve now comfortably hit 15km+ on several occasions in the past 6 weeks without any real ill effect and I think I could probably have kept going. I think the adrenaline and atmosphere on the day will carry me through without too much fuss. It’s “less than a parkrun” (a well-established unit of distance!) to be added on my longest run and that’s not too terrifying. I’ve just hit the initial fundraising target I set when I signed up for Bath but as I’ve now planned an entire year of running for Mind, I’m hoping to absolutely smash that amount. Anyone feeling kind and inclined to donate, you can do so here and it means the world to me.

I went back to work and had a panicked couple of days trying to progress various matters before putting the out of office on and heading to Iceland.

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Iceland was like Narnia

This actually prompted the biggest meltdown of the month, a severe 2 hour panic attack the night before my holiday and the first serious one I’ve had in a while. I can’t explain the terror that I experience knowing that emails are flooding into my inbox and not being able to deal with them. Holidays are more stress than they’re worth really. Anyway, Iceland. The highlight of my month and you can read about it in a lot more detail here. After recently wondering where I’m going in life, I’ve realised that maybe this is where I’m supposed to be right now, booking holidays on a near-whim with one of my best friends. Now we are home and I am planning our trip to Japan next year.

This morning I turned my work phone back on to be greeted with over 300 emails. I was only out the office for 3 days…A moment of inner panic, a couple of whiny messages to people, a tube journey spent sifting through the noise. By the time I stepped into the office, I knew where I stood, a huge number of emails had been deleted, more had been filed and I could start prioritising the relatively few that required any level of attention. That’s real progress. Once that scenario would have resulted in so much panic that I wouldn’t have made it to the office.

I’d hoped to pick the running back up tonight but leaving at gone 7pm and having to be back in for 7.30am is making that seem unlikely. Law is all kinds of fun.

That’s February done. On we march to March. In 2 days, I will be 27. In 13 days, I will be running my first half marathon for Mind. Work is set to be very busy (when is it not?). I have two incredibly exciting projects relating to this blog that I’m hoping to announce soon, I’m just waiting for confirmation on some details. It’s going to be a big month.

Are you satisfied with an average life?

I’m having a quarter-life crisis. Again. We shouldn’t worry, I’ve been having a quarter-life crisis approximately every 6 months for the past 5 years. This is not a symptom of anxiety, this is exacerbated by anxiety. Important distinction there – the way I feel is legitimate, the extremes I feel it to is not.

These crises are triggered by any milestones in life, personal or annual. At the moment, I’m not long into a new job, Valentine’s Day has just passed, and I’m about to turn 27. Triple whammy. All these things make me evaluate where I am with my life. I don’t think I’m where I want to be but at the same time, I’m not sure where it is that I want to be so I can’t plan how to get there.

I’m a Senior Business Development Executive at a law firm. This broadly means that I support lawyers in winning new business as well as advising them on how to maintain and strengthen their client relationships. I can’t pretend this is what I’ve dreamt of doing all my life. I’m good at it and I’ve progressed quickly but is this the dream? Shouldn’t there be something…more? Possibly not. I’m not a special snowflake and probably need to find happiness in mediocrity. It’s not that I had particularly grand aspirations. It’s that I’m 26 years old and I still have no ideas about what to be when I grow up.

I had vague aspirations to write. I suppose this counts to some extent. If you want to be a writer, write. My job involves writing (although arguably I did not mean that I wanted to write about why the firm I work for should be selected to give property law advice) and I like that. I’m not quite ignoring that dream, I’m just not realising it either.

Friends are settling into careers rather than jobs. Getting married. Having babies. I have a job I’m not entirely certain about and the rest of my life is equally fluid. I could jack it all in tomorrow and run away to Mexico if the whim struck me. There are days when I love that freedom and days when I despise the lack of things anchoring me while everyone else builds a life. It is of course foolish to compare yourself to others, the lives we portray are to an extent always curated. My ex used to complain that other couples didn’t have our problems. I used to point out that to other people, we didn’t have our problems. So yes, there are the days of desperately envying your gorgeous newborn children and wonderful relationships. But I also appreciate you’re up at 3am for a middle of the night feed while I’m either out dancing or fast asleep and in that instance, I’m happy with my lot.

It’s not wanting what other people have now, not really, it’s the crushing fear of not knowing what’s coming next. I’ve always had this impatient rampant perfectionism, a truly crushing need to be perfect and brilliant at everything and for that to be immediate. The better I naturally am at something, the greater the meltdown when I eventually (and inevitably) hit a challenge. I thought that running would temper the perfectionism. Old friends will confirm that I’m not a natural athlete, school was spent dodging PE lessons and I probably couldn’t run a mile until I was 25. An activity I would be forced to work at (and hard!) to improve was supposed to help me finally realise that not being brilliant immediately was fine, still worth it. I now don’t think too much of running 10 miles on a Sunday as part of my final efforts for Bath Half in March. Still, it all needs to be better and it needs to be now and that is unrealistic. Every bad run is, to me, a punishing failure.

There will always be bad days and they are frustrating and disheartening to everyone. Their effect on me is just too extreme. Today I ran 10 miles. I’ve barely run in 2 weeks (I think I racked up a grand total of about 6km in 14 days – my month in review post should be brief next week!) following a lingering bout of lurgy. Fitness is slightly down. Confidence is dented. I am still recovering. The conditions weren’t great with high winds on the coast so huge portions felt like a battle. I should be overwhelmingly pleased that I managed that distance. It was slow, a little painful but it’s more than I was really expecting to achieve given recent circumstances. But still, I came home and cried because it’s never enough and the more I achieve with my running, the harder it’s becoming for me to accept my current limitations. I need to be faster, to be running further, every bit of training needs to bring with it improvement.

That’s the worry. That nothing is ever enough for me. That I will never be satisfied because there’s always more out there. Most runners experience it to a degree, that need to take a few seconds more off each PB. To take your long run a mile further than ever before. I just don’t find much happiness from achieving those goals because there’s the immediate replacement with harder/better/faster/stronger. Then apply that to every single aspect of my life. If I could only learn to rein this way of thinking in, even the tiniest bit, it would probably flip and become one of my better qualities. There’s a lot of drive and a reasonable amount of ambition firing all this panic and it’s got me a lot of places in life.

It’s okay to feel a bit lost at 26, I know that. So what that I have a job that isn’t what I dreamt of and I now have a couple of very serious but catastrophically failed relationships behind me? So does almost everybody else. This isn’t full-blown panic, but it’s constant gnawing unease that is grating away and consuming a lot of my thoughts. There isn’t much to be done for it. Write more. Run more. Stop leaving jobs and purposefully destroying relationships because I’m worried they’re not quite right. Treat my friends better. Got to stop worrying about everything to the letter.

Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.

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.