SUN, SEA, AND SANITY

SUN, SEA, AND SANITY 

We’re on a family holiday in Puerta Pollensa, and I need to run. I need to run even more with the prospect of being marooned amongst demanding Brits Abroad and German Sunbed-Warriors. Not to mention the thought of having two overly excited five-year-old girls to entertain and manage throughout their travel tiredness and heat-induced tantrums.

I’m a strict mum. I know that about myself. I also know that I need my own space. I need a place where I can go to which is free from ridiculous pink yappy dogs (no, I don’t think they’re cute), You Tube video clips showing some nasal-sounding American Mum opening up the latest Season 5 Shopkins (plastic tat to you and I), and incessant nags for – yet another – ice-cream.

For me, that place is running.

We arrived quite late on Sunday night. After a few grumbles about having to change from an initially unsuitable room, we finally put two overtired, tearful children to bed. But I didn’t sleep. Tills insisted that we keep a light on, and I was too tired to argue the point or upset her any more. My sleepless first night on holiday may as well have been during summer solstice at the Arctic Circle: it had no darkness.

I woke early and – in spite of the sizeable luggage bags which seemed reluctant to shift from beneath my eyes – I went for a run. My legs felt heavy and tired. I felt heavy and tired. I know the area and it was a straightforward run: three miles out to Puerta Pollensa; three miles back. My legs didn’t want to know, and neither did the rest of me if I’m honest. But if nothing else, it was a head-straightener, and allowed me a brief reprieve from the yappy dog/Shopkins scenario back at Toyland Villa.

 

 

Day two and we all woke up naturally from a blissful, deep sleep. Once we’d battled with the Germans over the all-you-can-eat unnecessary breakfast (how many crepes can one person actually eat? A lot, as it happens) we headed for the beach. But my head was busy whirring away whilst Gav was pontificating over the logistical plans out loud. My thought process was this: WHY CATCH THE BUS WHEN I CAN RUN? Three miles in to meet Gav & the girls off the bus. I’d be all of 25 mins max. Done deal.

So the bus came and once I’d piled them all on safely, complete with dual buckets & spades (‘I wanted the Hello Kitty one, not Minnie Mouse! WHAAAAA!’) I legged it even before the bus had set off. My next thought: Why not race the bus? Surely it would take a good while for other overly stuffed post-breakfast mums & dads to waddle their way onboard with their delightful offspring and unnecessary plastic tat?

So the race was on. I set off hard and kept going. But bloody hell it was hot. We’re talking 11am-ish in the height of Mallorcan mid-summer. Redders doesn’t even come close. I stopped after 1.5 fast miles for a drink, and could quite easily have thrown myself into the sea at that point. It felt like running through a ring of fire, with my mouth as dry as a scorched carpet. I pulled over again at 2.5 miles and just managed to stop myself from grabbing a full juice bottle out of the hands of a small child walking past. It was close.

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I made it to meet the crew just in time for ice creams, and all was well with the world. Or my world, anyway. I was a nicer, more patient, tolerant mother. I enjoyed building sand castles and trying to explain to five year olds that they wouldn’t be able to catch fish in their Minnie Mouse buckets… fifteen times. They still tried to, regardless.

Gav turned to me and said, ‘You made quite an impression on the bus, you know! One woman asked if you were a marathon runner.

I laughed out loud. ‘And did you tell her that in reality, I’m just a mother who’s trying to keep herself from going insane?

Because in reality, any marathon running I do is simply a by-product of that: The incessant quest for sanity.

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AM I RUNNING FOR TIMES & PBs, OR FOR SANITY?

AM I RUNNING FOR TIMES & PBs, OR FOR SANITY?

I spent most of my 20s on a potent cocktail of Prozac and rosé wine. I feigned false happiness; I went to parties where I didn’t belong; I worked in legal offices that chipped away a little bit more of my soul day after day; I got married when I shouldn’t have done. In fact, I dropped bollocks left, right and centre. I don’t know how I navigated my way through the emotional landmines that threatened to explode around every corner. I spent an entire decade tip-toeing around my own life, trying to at least make sure there were minimal casualties in amongst the many explosions. Despite my best efforts, quite a few got hit.

And I relied on my Happy Pills to keep me safe. I didn’t believe I could be OK without them. I panicked at the mere thought of running out of my daily dose of sanity. A bit like the Everlasting Gobstopper in Wonka’s factory: these little tiny pills contained ALL of the answers. They never let me down. Likewise with the rosé wine. I needed it to function. What do you mean there isn’t any in the fridge? Well I’ll have to go out and bloody get some then! I lived in a constant head-fog of bemused fumbling from one day to the next, with crocheted, patchwork thoughts attempting to steer a rudderless raft far out at sea. That was me. That was my life.

I became a parent, and then everything changed. (There is quite a bit more to that story, but it’s for another time.) My Happy Pills were taken away from me, and I had to learn how to stay aboard my raft all by myself. I discovered running, and the rest – as they say – is history. I’ve not been near a Happy Pill since.

Last weekend, me & Gav did the Windmill Half Marathon over on the coast in beautiful St Anne’s. It was pretty windy, and the race felt quite tough given a particularly bad ass training run on the Thursday evening beforehand, which we could have well done without! (Those responsible know who they are!)

Anyway, we did it and I finished in 6th place overall in the ladies, coming 1st in my F35 age category. I felt pretty chuffed – I hadn’t got a PB and didn’t feel to have run a particularly smart race, if truth be told. Plus, my legs were tired. I wondered if I should be ‘happy’ with my performance. I was nowhere near my PB (still stands at 1:30. I finished in 1:35, today.) ‘Did I do OK today, Gav?’ I asked him. ‘You did ace, Rach!’ He reassured me, kindly. ‘You know our legs were battered after Thursday and we’ve done a lot of quality stuff lately. They’re bound to be tired!’ But my inner stick with which I tend to like beating myself has selective hearing, and it wasn’t so keen to let me off the hook.

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I’ve got to say, the F35 prize was absolute pants: an XL Slazenger men’s T-shirt! DO BETTER NEXT TIME, GUYS.

That was last weekend. Since then, I’ve not managed to get much running in at all – not only because of tired post-race legs, but also the endless parade of work and other Motherly Duties all hanging around me, grappling for my attention like Donkey from Shrek. Pick me! PICK ME!

I realised that I’ve been clinging on to my raft again.

And so this morning, I dropped my Mini Me Donkey from Shrek Daughter off at school, and I ran. I didn’t plan on running 10 miles, but I wanted to. It dawned on me momentarily, ‘I’m buggering up our plan for a 15-miler tomorrow!’ but I couldn’t care less. Why? Because I needed this morning’s run so I can stay afloat for a little while longer, on board my tiny raft bobbing about on the high seas. I needed to look around and take in the view; I needed to think my thoughts, and to not think any of them in equal measure. I needed to run past the fat toothless old farmer sitting on a wall in nothing but his pants up Barkisland (yes, he actually was) and smile to myself at the absolute lunacy and yet the indescribable simplicity of his semi-naked wall-sitting. Why not? Why not, indeed.

So today, bollocks to times and PB’s. I ran for my sanity, and I loved every minute.

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And breathe…

If curiosity killed the cat, did anxiety not cripple it first? The tale of the Halifax Half Marathon 3rd July 2016

If curiosity killed the cat, did anxiety not cripple it first?

The tale of the Halifax Half Marathon 3rd July 2016

Anxiety is a horrible thing. It can take a hold and spread like wild fire throughout an arid, scorched woodland. It can – and it will – use anything to fuel itself: like oxygen in plentiful supply feeding greedy, burning flames. This weekend’s Halifax Half marathon race was easy fodder for my fire. It skulked around me for weeks; it ravaged otherwise peaceful parts of my mind, and littered it with torched, fearful thoughts. You’re no good at hills. There’s no way you can do anything like what you did here last year. You’ll crash & burn. Mark my words – you’ll fall flat on your face this time, Rach. Honestly, just wait and see…

I’ve had melodramatic, sleepless nights. I’ve tossed and turned. I’ve woken in the early hours contemplating outcomes, wondering how my pathetic ego would deal with whatever insignificant eventuality may occur. But hang on a minute… THIS IS ONLY A FLIPPIN’ RACE. It isn’t life or death. It is ONLY a DAFT little PIFFLING local race. Why could my constantly whirring mind not register and compute the fact? Why did it taunt me so?

I couldn’t understand.

It’s been a horrible run up to this particular race. It’s played on my mind like an incessant, annoying soundtrack… Do I, don’t I? Can I, can’t I? Will I, won’t I? It’s been truly awful (think Frozen’s ‘Let it Go’ on repeat. For two solid months.)

Gav innocently threw it into the mix quite randomly a month or so back. ‘The Halifax Half marathon is on Sunday 3rd July, Rach. I’m going to do it. Do you fancy it?’

Shit. Shit. Shit. NO! I DON’T FANCY IT. IT’S A BASTARD OF A COURSE AND I HATE IT!

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It’s not a ‘fast, flat one!’

But he’d sewn the seed. A couple of weeks went by, and it still loomed on my mind. ‘Do I, don’t I? Can I, can’t I? Will I, won’t I?’ I just didn’t know if I could, would, or even wanted to tackle it. And then, ‘Ahh bollocks, I’ll enter online anyway just on the off chance that I can bring myself to turn up on the day.’ It was booked. I was in.

The truth is, I was terrified. Of the race, the course, and the fact that it’s on my home turf. It all simply terrified me beyond comprehension, and beyond explanation.

We both ran it last year, and I’d raced it as hard as I was able to. I’d battled my way around the 13.1 miles and 1,300 ft of climbing, and I’d fought hard for my place as 3rd lady. Right to the bitter end, I scrapped with my nemesis from the running club, and with myself. I dug deep, and it hurt. A lot.

Gav was in a pretty bad way after last year’s race. It knocked him sideways for a day or so – and he’s the hill runner out of the two of us. But he was up for it this year: he wanted comeuppance for the bastard course that had kicked his arse in 2015 (some would say he’d set off too fast!), and so he planned his revenge. I, on the other hand, wasn’t so inclined to rouse the slumbering beast.

The sleepless nights continued. Daily conversations in our household sounded a bit like this:

            ‘I just feel so tired, Gav. I’m working longer hours, and I’m shattered. I don’t know if I’ve got the energy to do this. I don’t know if I’ve got any fight in me at all.’

He frequently placated me.

‘You don’t need to decide now, Rach. Just try to relax about it and see how you feel on the day.’

Meanwhile, I’d volunteered to be a guide runner for the lovely Chris Vaughan at Halifax Parkrun the day before the race: I had no excuse not to. With his visual impairment, he needs assistance to run. How on earth could I not offer to help? I can see. I can run. I can help… and so I did. I still felt shattered after yet another night of semi-insomnia. I told Chris I was running the Halifax Half Marathon the following day, and as the words left my lips, I couldn’t bring myself to even consider some feeble excuse as to why I would possibly opt out. Being terrified of failing and looking for the easy way out seemed utterly pathetic.

I processed a few of my fearful thoughts, and realised that I was still plagued by the Leeds Half disaster a month or so earlier, where everything had gone wrong and I’d simply blown up. This would be my first half marathon since then, and I had to prove to myself that I could get over the upset of that failure, and put myself on the start line.

The morning of the race came. I’d had yet another restless night, and I was shattered. I’d woken in the early hours, and once again couldn’t extinguish my raging inferno of anxious flames. Why? What the hell am I so afraid of?

One question appeared to eclipse all others: How would I feel knowing I’d been too afraid to even try?

Regardless of any outcome – even if I DO crash & burn, or blow up, or get overtaken by Barry the Banana (there weren’t any on route, as it happens, but it seemed like a perfectly rational fear.) THAT would be my definition of failure: To be so utterly consumed with anxiety, fear and ‘what if’s’ that I didn’t even make it to the start line. No matter how ludicrous those fears may sound now, in retrospect – I know that my anxiety was real. Even irrational thoughts can present themselves as being perfectly valid. They are, perhaps, the original wolves in sheep’s clothing.

I wouldn’t be beaten back by the flames of incessant, fearful thoughts, and so I turned up. I turned up and I ran. I knew it would be tough; I knew exactly where ALL the hills were; I knew precisely where I would struggle and want to walk; I knew I was tired after ridiculous, turbulent nights; I knew that my potential for failure was huge. These were collectively all of the reasons why I HAD to put myself on the start line, because the alternative was simply out of the question.

And so we were off. It was a relief to stop thinking and to start running. The anxiety stopped dead in its tracks. I had Gav in my sights for the first 8 miles, and then, whilst he had a bust-up with an unwelcome gel, I ran past. I just kept on running until I crossed the line.

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And we’re off…

I saw our lovely friend Cheryl with baby Annie just next to the finish line, and felt insanely proud that I hadn’t let them down. I was 2nd female over the line this year. Gav and Tom weren’t too far behind, along with the lovely Jim and Kezzy of Halifax Harriers.

I had my mini small-fry moment of glory, standing on the makeshift, clumsily hand-painted podium whilst we were handed our little wooden trophies.

But for me, the real victory was in taming the beast that was my anxiety, and caging it: I’d already won my own race when I stood on the start line.

Feeling valued…

We took the lads out for a Belly Buster Brekky to the local greasy spoon.

Bloody hell! It’s Snow White and her seven dwarves!’ the woman serving us hollered, laughing at the sight of me sitting with my Tupperware salad box in my primly pressed M&S blue and white striped shirt with my sensible trousers and shiny, corporate shoes.

She had a point.

 

The belly-buster plates came out: they were the size of dustbin lids. Simon, Dave and our band of merry men began tucking into their individual portions of 10,000 coagulated calories. ‘Thanks very much for this, Simon!’ One of our volunteers shouts across the table. ‘We won’t be able to move this afternoon, never mind do any work!

I glance over at the other table where Callum is breaking out into a food-induced sweat as he ploughs his way deliberately though an enormous spam fritter.

We had a chat about all sorts. Travel, work, cooking, one of the guy’s impending nuptials, and the challenges of being caught up in the DWP merry-go-round.

These are talented guys. One has worked for 35 years in the printing industry. He’s only a relative newcomer to the whole ‘JSA’  (Jobseeker’s’ Allowance) thing. His industry barely exists anymore. He tells us of his sixteen years on night shifts, whilst tackling the generous slice of black pudding on his dustbin lid plate. I can’t believe he’s out of work. I can’t understand why he’s not being paid a fortune to do what he does best: graft and be a part of something.

But he is a part of something. He feels like he’s a part of something. He is a valued part of our crew. We are collectively making something from nothing up at the old school now turned into Threeways; a place where ambition and vision exceeds any budget or capacity. It happens regardless, thanks to a few good (and very clever) people and guys just like him. We are grateful for him, and for them all.

Back in the office, I’ve cobbled together some certificate for Simon’s latest idea in recognising effort, and saying thank you to our volunteers. It’s our monthly ‘Health & Safety Award’ nominated by the Project Team (i.e. those of us who are lucky enough to be PAID to be there.)

This month, Sean has won it hands down. I hold up his certificate, and we inform him of his award, together with the crumpled tenner which accompanies the lowly accolade. We say thank you, and he is visibly moved. ‘I can honestly say I never got anything like this in all my 35 years of paid work,’ he says, with a pride I can’t quite put into words. ‘I’ve never felt so valued. It means a lot, thanks so much guys.’ He walks out of our office like a puffed up pigeon who’s just pulled. In fact, he doesn’t walk – he BOUNCES out of our office.

It was a certificate, a tenner, and a thank you; that is all. And it’s MORE than he ever received in all those years of hard graft, over sixteen years of night shifts. It’s made his day, and it’s also made mine.

Once they’ve gone back outside to the building site, to burn off the double fried eggs and four rashers, I turn to Dave and Simon, and I say, ‘Wow. This is why we do this. This is our reason.’ We all agree, and somehow we all seem happier.

Funny that, isn’t it?