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!
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.
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.