The Ghost of Christmas Past… helped by a run in Storm Barbara

This year, I was visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past.

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It was Christmas 1999. I stood and watched as my Mum collapsed into a heap onto our kitchen floor, her tiny body unable to carry the weight of her sadness anymore. It was the big build up to a new, exciting millennium, with talk of parties and possible technological meltdowns.  ‘… And tonight we’re gonna party like it’s 1999…’  blared out from every pseudo virtual-party radio station, and I wondered what all the excitement was about. My Mum was sad. She was infinitely worse than sad, and yet the whole of the rest of the world was ‘partying.’ Like it was 1999, apparently.

Traditionally, she hadn’t coped well with Christmas, albeit she’d put on a ‘good show’ for us – her sponge-like kids who would invariably soak up her sadness like an Amaretti biscuit floating in a flat white. Christmas parties didn’t exist in our world, because they couldn’t exist in hers. She was unable to be in that place, to laugh at a 1990s battery-operated Talking Santa or pose gormlessly in front of Dad’s Kodak camera wearing a party hat and a fake moustache from a cracker. She couldn’t do any of those things. Not because she didn’t want to (although I’m sure she made an active choice over the fake moustache), but because her mental health demons wouldn’t let her.

During my earlier childhood, we all knew of her Christmas Party Active Avoidance Zone, but we pretended otherwise. Even she pretended otherwise. We went to family parties and she sat in the quietest corner waiting… waiting for it all to end. A few of the perhaps more intuitive and sensitive family members would make gentle conversation with her. Nothing to force an Emergency Stop for her social anxiety internal warning system. Just enough for her to feel visible, included, and worthy of a conversation.

She showered us with gifts to try and mask her sadness. My little red 1980s Christmas Post Office set was my pride and joy (it had a counter that opened out to all of my teddy customers, and more stamps than I could ever dream of) but it was no substitute for my mum’s smile. I’d have given it back in a heartbeat.

This year, by virtue of my own family circumstances – both an imperfect and a perfect ‘Cut & Paste’ reworking of failed relationships – Tilly would spend Christmas Eve with her dad and his partner. She would wake up on Christmas morning in their house with their half-eaten mince pie and their talcum powder Santa footprints. I had no need to bother rushing around shortly before midnight to leave the necessary evidence of His visit, although I’ve done the talcum footprints for the previous five years.

I woke up on Christmas Day morning to no Tilly, no excited squeals of ‘He’s Been!!’ Just silence. Me, and Gav, and silence. And then Gav went out early to see his daughter open her presents, like he does every year. He waits outside her mum’s house until she’s awake, and he is there. Every year.

And as lovely as my silence was, it drew me back into my Mum’s muted Christmases gone by. Because they were my muted Christmases, too. Tilly would be back with us later on Christmas afternoon, and so I was left pacing around our house… waiting.

I made the mistake of picking up my phone and scrolling briefly through the Happy Family pages on social media. “Little bobby LOVES his new bike!” CLICK! “Here’s the recently extended Ned Flanders family enjoying a Christmas dinner together, wearing fake moustaches! HOW MUCH FUN!” CLICK! And it took me back to all those years I spent with the wrong people, in the wrong places trying to find my extended Ned Flanders family so I could share in their Christmases (complete with party hats and fake moustaches); and to all those years I spent searching for this elusive party I’d heard of that felt like it was 1999 (not my 1999, god forbid – someone else’s.) The Flanders family Christmas wasn’t mine, and neither was the party.

I put my phone down, and paced around our silent living room. My Mum had chosen to entirely avoid Christmas and go to the gym on Christmas Day this year, whilst I was left pacing up and down remembering the endless, searching Christmases gone by, and my daughter who was waking up with someone else’s fake Santa footprints. I picked my phone straight back up again.

I’m heading out for a run. I need to get out.’ Was the text I sent to Gav. He understood my need to run. Fuck it. I AM going to wear my Santa hat.

I set off out the door and within quarter of a mile, headed straight up a stinking  great hill. Why am I doing this? I almost shouted out loud as I tried to will my body forwards and upwards at the same time. Why am I out here and not at some Flanders family Christmas present opening session? I pulled over and almost threw my Santa hat over a wall.

Am I running away from my own Christmas Day, or my Ghosts of Christmas Past, or my lack of comprehension of any of it? I started chugging up the bastard hill again. Or am I running away from myself? Is that all I’ve ever been doing?

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The Bastard Hill

I wanted to turn around, and go home.

And then Gav texted me, and said ‘I’ve parked up by Sammomden dam. I’m coming to find you.’

He did, and we ran together around the dam, as Storm Barbara did her best to wrestle with us, and tossed us around like a couple of empty Seabrook crisp packets in her wrath. At times, we could barely move forward as her wall of wind stood in our way. The damp air then turned entirely sodden and the fur around my Santa hat dripped slowly down my ears.

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We got back to Gav’s car, and drove home. Barbara’s efforts had been spectacular. She had both beaten me and fixed me in some juxtaposed, therapeutic display of nature. As much as I’d battled and berated her, angrily yelling ‘I don’t want to fight this, today!’ whilst her wall of wind held me back, she also cleansed me. Blowing the cobwebs away: cobwebs hanging from the ghosts of Christmas past.

Back home, and the silence was no longer deafening. The turkey didn’t look over-facing, and the presents under the tree finally looked enticing. “It’s a chess set! Ace!”

We didn’t have a Flanders extended family Christmas dinner, but we loved our day, grateful for the absence of dreaded 1999 parties, or witnessing the social discomfort of my Mum as she once struggled to wrestle herself into a Christmas that wasn’t hers.

Tilly came home and she made the lights on our Christmas tree sparkle infinitely brighter. She got a bike, we played Pickin Chickens, and I went to bed knowing that next year, the only thing I’ll do differently is the talcum Santa footprints – regardless of where Tilly wakes up. They just make me smile.

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Happy Christmas, Mum! (And this card actually did make her laugh…)

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2016 Review: The Revolving Door of Running

2016 Yearly review:

Having spun another 365 times around the revolving door of life, and now about to be propelled unceremoniously out into the pavement of a New Year (think Elf when he does this very thing, and then goes and vomits in the bin), we’ve all – just about – survived another entire Vista Print Family Photo Desk Calendar – don’t worry, you’ll be getting another one on Sunday.

 

It’s time to reflect on a year that has thrown insane highs, and some melodramatic ‘it doesn’t really matter in the big scheme of things’ lows. And that’s just running.

But it’s more than that – running reflects life: running IS life! Running has all the emotional ups and downs of our daily vomit-inducing revolving door/rollercoaster ride, and perhaps it reflects it right back at us, if we let it. It shows us where we’re somehow out of balance, or not taking the hint. Do I need more rest? Running will tell me that. Am I stressed? It will mercilessly demonstrate that, too. Am I happy and burden-free? My body shows me what running ‘light’ really feels like, and it isn’t all down to the latest ‘improved bounce-mechanics’ footwear, either.

So, I’ve looked back at my year of running 2016. It looks a bit like this:

In summary:

According to our favourite data-gimp tool Strava, (as at today’s date – 21st Dec) I have:

Run 1,371 miles (this will be rounded up to 1400 before the New Year to satisfy my OCD compulsions);

Climbed 76,722 ft.

Clocked up 195 hours (and 4 minutes) running. Across all terrains, surfaces, countries, races, and treadmills.

And then there are the races. I have completed:

2 x full marathons (winter and autumn)

1 x 20 miler

4 x half marathons

3 x 10 milers (including a new PB of 71:12)

1 x 9 miler (odd distance alert)

2 x 10ks (including a new PB of 42:11)

4 x 5ks (excluding parkruns)

More importantly, I’ve looked closely at my year, and have tried to take from 2016 the necessary lessons. I’ve broken these down into convenient, Vista Print Desk Calendar-size bites. Taking one month at a time, here is how my running – and my life – have evolved over the last twelve months.

PART 1: JANUARY – MAY 2016

JANUARY – THE DUBAI MARATHON

Is that really only eleven months ago? And why? Just WHY? (I jest, of course.)

I wrote a couple of blogs about this madness at the time, (insert links) and so I won’t repeat what is already documented, but there are a few learning points I will take from one of the most amazing – and amazingly tough – experiences of the last year:

  • It is GOD AWFUL marathon training throughout the autumn and winter in the UK, and over the Christmas / New Year period… especially for a VERY HOT JANUARY MARATHON. Do I want to do yet another long training run on Boxing Day, during the worst floods the region has seen for decades? No. I don’t. I get that now.
  • The heat is unaccountable for. The marathon starts in the dark, but feels like a slow cooker warming up as the sun rises: you can’t believe the chicken will cook overnight ‘it’s not even warm!’, but don’t be fooled: by morning it’s bone dry and has stuck to the bottom, with a distinctly charred aroma. It’s like that, only you are the chicken.
  • I learned that I need MORE THAN 2 DAYS REST after a marathon. What a fool; a complete idiot. I’ve done marathons before. WHY DID I NEED TO LEARN THIS LESSON? It cost me my London Marathon as I fucked my legs up so much I couldn’t recover in the twelve weeks between the two. LESSON LEARNED.
  • Here, I began writing my blog. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. I found my ‘flow’ and I’ve had so much joy writing about the ups and downs of my running journey throughout this year. And who’d have thought it would play a HUGE part in getting my book published? Yes, that. It began way before the Dubai marathon or the blog, but this opened up the door to creating my writing ‘voice’… long may it continue.

 

FEBRUARY – THE VILLAGE BAKERY HALF

The Dubai marathon had virtually killed me (see point (3) above) but back then, I HADN’T learned my lesson.

‘Shall we do the village bakery half again, Gav?’ I stupidly asked.

When is it?’

                  ‘14th Feb’

                  ‘That’s only three weeks after Dubai, Rach. Are you sure?’

                  ‘Yeah. I’ll be fine. Oh, and happy Valentine’s Day!’

 Guess what? I wasn’t fine. My legs hadn’t recovered. They hurt throughout every bastard mile.

LESSON: I shouldn’t have done it. I shouldn’t have even considered running a half marathon so soon after the full, having failed miserably to rest. I was six minutes slower than my 2015 time, and every step felt to be damaging me even more.

MARCH – THE BLACK HOLE

Running ceased to be a joy to me. Nothing ‘flowed’; there was not one single bouncy step. I still ran, but it all fell apart. I picked up an injury, and spent more time doing yoga and Physio whilst berating myself for having fucked everything up.

I dreaded the London Marathon which loomed around the corner and hung over me like a dark fog. And then it dawned on me: I’d have to pull out. And I was gutted.

LESSON: There are consequences for failing to learn anything from the cock-ups during the months of January and February. This is one of those.

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BURNT. OUT. MAKE. IT. STOP.

APRIL – THE NON-VIRGIN LONDON MARATHON, and the VALE OF YORK TEN MILER

I had to pull out of VLM, and I was heartbroken. BUT I started to learn my lessons, and put in place the changes I SHOULD have made earlier in the year.

I found my balls and did the first race since the disaster that was the Village Bakery Half back in February, and I loved it. ‘I’m coming back!! Yayyyy!’ My confidence felt to be inching its way back in the right direction, and it was a glimmer of Rach the runner I knew I could be. I began to put the divorce papers away, and reconsider my future relationship with running: We can still make it work!

 

MAY – WEDNESDAY NIGHTS DRIVING THROUGH HELL, THE DISASTER OF THE LEEDS HALF AND THE JOY OF THE RIPON TEN MILER

Two weekends, two changes in fortune.

Leeds half was an unmitigated, egotistical disaster. I flunked it badly. Why? Because my ego got in the way. Setting off like a bat out of hell on the back of ONLY JUST getting my confidence (and fitness) back was a HUGE mistake. I died at mile four, having entirely run out of gas (oh, and I hadn’t eaten adequately before the race, just to add insult to injury.) This one hurt my pride, knocked my confidence and made me feel stupid. I WAS stupid!

LESSON: Pace myself!

Rational Mind: ‘Choose your pace, stick with it, and DON’T let your insecure, glory-seeking ego get in the way!’

Ego: ‘But I can run sub-7 minute miles in a half marathon! I’ve done it before.’

Rational Mind: ‘Yeah, when you’re on top form, fully fit, and well-fuelled. You were NONE of those things. Nob head.’

What a howler.

Ripon 10 miler – reminded me of the WHY. I LOVED that race. Setting off feeling bouncy and light, I got over the previous weekend’s disaster in style, and came away with a good time, beating my previous year’s performance. This was me on the way back. Me and Running no longer required Relate counselling. And we’d moved back into the same bed.

And the Wednesday nights driving through Hell?

The journey from home to the John Carr 5k Race Series in Eccup is like navigating through war-torn Beirut. In rush hour. After work. With the hassle of school pick-up child care madness. Nose to tail with pissed off, commuting Corporate Wankers all trying to escape from their own version of Merry Hell. Through the arse hole of West Yorkshire. For a 5k race. That no longer has a justifiable claim for a 5k PB potential.

LESSON: NEVER AGAIN. NOT EVER.

To be continued…

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Tenerife December 2016 Run 1/4: The M1

Tenerife December 2016  Run 1/4: The M1

 ‘Jesus, Gav. Where are we staying? Next to the M1?‘ I jibed as we pulled up at the resort.

‘Ahh… is someone overtired?‘ He asked, mocking my clear anxiety at the prospect of spending four days running on Tenerife’s equivalent of both the M1 hard shoulder and Snake Pass.

As it happens, I was also overtired.

After almost missing the plane from the least glamorous airport in the U.K., and almost passing out with hunger on the least glamorous flight to take off from the least glamorous airport in the UK, our day of travel hadn’t been without stress.

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WE JUST MADE IT… ‘is this a direct flight to God’s waiting room, Gav?’

I am the worst combination of traveller: I don’t do tired, hungry and cooped up on a plane very well. I’m also one with high expectations, having been spoilt in a previous life as a Corporate Wanker and, thus having experienced some degree of middle class travelling luxury. Despite being a REFORMED corporate wanker, I’m still not easily pleased.

Like a dog laughing at a fearful kitten, the lady behind reception sensed my travel anxiety. No, I don’t want to chat about the fog in the UK, or how good/bad/indifferent our journey over here was. I just want to see our room and know that we won’t be sleeping in bunk beds over the top of an 18-20s disco for the next 4 nights. Thank you. My smart responses to her pigeon English chit chat were bum-clenchingly short.

Right, let’s dump our bags and head out for a run’ Gav said, sensing my need to move. ‘We’ll head out from the hotel and have a little explore. Let’s head for the sea.

Ok‘ I grumped back, wishing I could share in his optimism as we headed off trotting down the wrong side of Tenerife’s M1. ‘There’s nothing like a game of Russian roulette to start the holiday, is there Gav?’ I sniped. He couldn’t hear me, as a heavy-hauler truck flew past us, just missing his left ear.

At least it was downhill.

We reached the major junction connecting various highways, and pulled over like two people who had just escaped from a local high security institution and would have buried their way through solid earth to find freedom. We were, in fact, two naïve / simple runners from Yorkshire wanting to have an explore / adventure. Well, that’s one box ticked.

‘I’m not running across a bloody motorway to get to the sea, Gav.’ I said, now thoroughly pissed off. A car randomly pulled over, and Gav went over to ask them for something. It could have been a) advice on the safest route down to the sea; b) a lift to somewhere safe, down by the sea; c) a lift back to the hotel 1.3 miles up the (steep) hill; or d) to see if they were OK. Knowing Gav, it will have been option D.

They sped off before he reached the window – I’d have done the same.

‘Right, well I’m turning round and running back up to the hotel. This is bollocks.’ I said, in my (still) overtired, ex-Corporate Wanker, grump.

He conceded, and we turned to run back up the 1.3 miles we’d just run down.

A pro-looking cyclist came whizzing past and gave me a wry smile as she descended the hill at break-neck speed. ‘Oh, fuck off’ I thought, knowing full well we must have looked a right pair of chumpers (incidentally, I don’t even know what a ‘chumper’ is, but it sounds appropriate for this occasion.)

We got back to the hotel after 1.3 miles of HARD EFFORT grappling our way back up the Canary Island’s M1 travellator.

‘Jesus, that was tough going,’ I gasped at the entrance to the resort, once we were safely out of Road Kill zone.

We trudged back to the room, and hoped for better things on Day #2.

At least we’d live to see another day…

(It was a good hill session, though.)

When Scrooge turns into Mrs Santa, courtesy of the Percy Pud 10k

I woke up feeling more like Scrooge than Mrs Santa at 6am this morning.

‘Are we doing it, then?’ Gav mumbled, quite understandably still half asleep, and quite clearly opening the door for any excuse-filled reason to opt out.

‘Yep. We’re doing it.’ I replied curtly, as if minimising my own window of opportunity to bail.

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Bahhh Humbug!

It was pitch black outside, and Tilly was still fast asleep in bed (along with most other sensible folk on a cold, dark Sunday morning, I mused.)

07:00 hours – We shoe-horned her out of her bed;

07:10 hours – Dressed her in the dark;

07:30 hours – Delivered her to Grandma’s.

07:31 hours – Phew. We’re off.

I was a particularly grumpy driver this morning. ‘This bloody sat nav. It’s taking us the wrong way, Gav!’ I groaned, as I felt my anxiety well up inside me at the prospect of getting lost and/or arriving late at the unknown start, 30 miles away.

As we meandered up hill and down dale – passing Mrs Goggins’ Post Office, and keeping an eye out for Postman Pat’s van en route – the sky turned varying shades of pink. I felt my anxiety ease a little, as the girly pink sky simply made me smile.

We pulled up in the car, and were both stunned by the scenery. ‘I wasn’t expecting this. Were you, Gav?’ We clearly hadn’t done our research, or pondered why the Percy Pud 10k  race sells out within minutes every year. AHHH… THIS IS WHY!

            Rachel Meldrew/Steptoe then made a sudden and miraculous transformation. I put on my race number… and nothing happened. Then, I PUT ON MY SANTA HAT and an amazing thing occurred. I actually smiled! ‘I’m going to enjoy this,’ I thought as I took yet another gormless selfie, and was laughed at by a sensible-looking woman as she walked past the car. CLICK!

Medders! Medders! Is that you?’ I hollered as I saw my girl-crush / favourite Twitter stalker walking up the road. It was like the time when I ran after Boris Becker at Wimbledon, only she didn’t ignore me. We exchanged pleasantries, whilst Gav had gone AWOL looking for a place to wee.

It looked like a large, well-organised event. We’d heard there were some top-level athletes taking part, and I recognised the girl who’d won the Yorkshire Marathon back in October whilst warming up. ‘Harry Gration’s here!’ Gav said, as he came back from relieving himself.

‘Bloody hell. It must be a pretty serious event, then,’ I replied. We’re both big Look North fans.

         And then a blast from the past. ‘Ken! It’s me!’ (she’s called Amy, but to me, she’ll always be Ken.)

          ‘Ahhh Rach! Look at you! You look like a REAL runner!’ my old friend Amy said, as I spotted her on the start line. A more beautiful, wholesome and gorgeous person you couldn’t meet. I haven’t seen much of her since we went skiing together in 2006, when I was busy popping Prozac and spent more on Self-Help books than on race entries. I’ve come on a bit, since then.

We set off, and I tried to go for consistency. Don’t blow up in the first few miles, Rach. You don’t want to die part-way through today. Pace yourself.

            Mile one clocked in at 6:39m/m. That’s OK. Don’t push it any harder, though.

The route was beautiful – a real treat. If anything was going to make it do-able today, this course would do the trick. Heading to Damflask Reservoir, a simple – and stunning – out-and-back route. Pretty, pretty, pretty.

We saw the fast boys and girls as they were on the way back in. The eventual winner was way ahead of the second placed male (he won in 29:57!!); Eilish McColgan led for the women, and ended up finishing in a course record-breaking 32:32. I saw her legs and hair. That is all.

And back to the rest of us.

‘Go on, Cullen!’ Medders (girl crush Twitter stalker) hollered as she was running the opposite way, heading to the half-way turn. I smiled and upped my pace.

Jesus. It’s getting hard. I know I’m working now. Admittedly, the climb around 7k killed my spirit a little. I looked down at my watch, and I’d still managed to clock a 6:43 m/m. I dug in. Back home now, Rach. Just get back home. I pushed on, and willed my legs to stay with me. They didn’t want to, but today, I won the battle.

Almost dead by the finish line, I clocked in at 42:11. It’s a new 10k PB. I was 5th F35 out of 180, and 23rd female out of 1014 who ran today.

I hung around for Gav. He came in a minute or so later, and we both collected our MAHOOSIVE Christmas puddings. ‘There’s custard, too! This is possibly the best race EVER!’ I said, simply unable to believe our luck.

 

 

Whilst slowly ambling out of the pudding collection area, a friendly Sheffield Star reporter approached us, and asked if we had a few words about the race. ‘Yes, Sure! Look around. This is a scene of pure happiness!’ I said, and went on to say a few words about my book (yes, that) and how taking part in races like this has made Prozac simply an unnecessary, old memory for me.

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We headed back to the car, and took more selfies, including ones of me holding the two Christmas puddings to look like a pair of boobs. Yes, we are that immature.

Back in the car, I turned the radio on. It was playing Bill Withers, Lovely Day. ‘Ha ha – this is apt, Gav!’

I looked at the clock: It was only half ten. WHAT a start to a thoroughly lovely day.