Going back in time… the University of Hull 1998 vs 2018

It’s a ‘meh’ Tuesday morning in March 2018 (* ‘Meh’ now being a thing, and having full emoji status, of course.) But it isn’t any old Tuesday morning for me. I’m on my way across the M62 to Hull – the University of Hull, to be more precise – and back to the place where my mental health began to unravel so spectacularly some twenty years ago.

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This is one of the very few photos that exist of me, in the years shortly before commencing at Hull University.

When I took myself away from the University, aged just 19, I was so utterly broken, damaged and scarred (literally) that I swore I would never go back to that place. Not under any circumstances. But here I am.

I’m on my way back.

I’ve been invited to go and talk to a bunch of current students about some of my experiences which I’ve written about in my book, ”Running For My Life”. Naturally I say, ‘YES! I’d LOVE to come over and do that!’ But what they don’t know is that I am saying ‘yes’ in spite of myself. I’m saying ‘yes’ because I refuse to give in to the terror welling up inside me, trying to convince me to think of any excuse at all to say NO.

I can’t let that happen: I WON’T let that happen.

I’ve spent some time preparing for my talk. I’ve written a short introduction, and have repeatedly forced it upon my nearest and dearest (although my 7-year-old’s opinion is admittedly dubious) But the emotions I feel during the process of writing and rehearsing it have taken me by surprise. I sit in a coffee shop with silent tears streaming down my face as the memories are allowed to enter a space which has been strictly off limits for two decades; I burst into uncontrollable tears during one opportunistic lunchtime rendition at work. I find it hard to gather myself, and struggle to battle through the final few words. I look up, and I see that Steph, my good friend and work mate is crying, too.

Shit. I wasn’t expecting this.

As Gav and I drive along the M62, the sight of the Humber Bridge causes the frayed circuits in my brain to reconnect. Shortly followed by Princes Quay and the waterfront. I have flashes of that same journey from another time. “Crikey! You see over there? That’s the pub where I bumped into Paul Heaton of The Beautiful South,” I say to Gav, who has already been subjected to similar reminiscences for well over an hour. His love knows no bounds. The closer we get to the University, the flashes increase in both frequency and intensity. That’s the hairdressers who once bodged my highlights… Over there was a small supermarket on the corner, but it’s a Chinese take-away, now… There’s the park a burglar disappeared into who I disturbed as he’d just cleaned out my housemate’s bedroom… The memories crash into each other as my brain struggles to keep up with the tidal wave of visual stimuli.

The University entrance suddenly appears on the right. I remember it being grand, and feeling slightly cheated that ABSOLUTELY NONE of my lectures, seminars, or tutorials would be held in the impressive, listed building that greets newbies on arrival. Nope! We were based in the shit breeze-block 1960s car park around the back of the campus. Perhaps they could have mentioned this in the prospectus?? But I’m once again wowed by the Venn building. It looks spectacular and glamorous. It feels spectacular and glamorous. I feel spectacular and glamorous just standing on the steps outside.

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The Venn Building: Spectacular and glamorous.

I go inside to pick up our pre-arranged parking permit, and nearly burst with excitement as the lovely lady behind the desk talks to me in her genuine Humberside accent. It strikes me that some of the current Hull University students weren’t even born the last time I heard it.

I ask her to say ‘five [“farve”]’ and ‘nine’ [“narn”] again, explaining to her that I’m here for the first time since the turn of the millennium. Her eyes light up as I tell her the reason for my visit after such a long absence. I glance over my shoulder and realise that just around the corner is where I queued to fill out student loan application forms before anybody had to entertain the prospect of paying for their higher education. I only wanted a student loan so I could afford to buy a fancy raincoat from Ted Baker’s. Maybe that was the catalyst of my demise…

We visit the Waterstone’s bookshop on the University campus, and almost immediately I spot Running For My Life faking it amongst the Joe Wicks & Fearne Cottons. What on earth is my book doing hobnobbing with the stars? I wonder, before my mind is jolted back two decades on sight of the entire wall of ‘Law Study Guides’. I remember so vividly standing and facing that very same tower of ‘Short Cuts to Tort’ and ‘Pocket Book of Contract law’. I get a distinct feeling of déjà vu, of being in that exact same spot armed with a scribbled list of compulsory and expensive legal study materials I would be required to buy in order to eek my way through the ridiculous law degree (*it always felt ridiculous, to me.) It does however give me some small comfort to know that today’s law students are still required to hand over vast wads of cash in exchange for doorstop volumes of legal texts, so there is definitely evidence of karma in action.

I have a mooch around the bookshop, and eventually I pluck up the courage to go and introduce myself to John, the lovely sales assistant. I explain who I am, trying hard not to sound like an Author Wanker, and I tell him that I am reminiscing. I wonder if I’m rambling, but I’m enjoying talking to him. He is kind, and the bookshop feels like home to me, in a place that never did.

Eventually, we head over to the main hall where the ‘Hull University Alumni Careers, Health and Wellness’ event will shortly be taking place. ‘People are looking at you as though you’re famous!’ Gav says. I laugh, and assure him that it’s probably because my stripy jacket looks like a deck chair. We’re a little bit early to go into the large conference room, and so I find a comfy seat to settle down in just outside the ‘Rossetti’ canteen whilst Gav goes for an explore. It looks more like a posh service station following the mistimed arrival of several coach parties, or a British Airways domestic flights VIP lounge packed full of well-to-do travellers who can’t get to Edinburgh because of fog.

It didn’t look like this twenty years ago.

I observe people as they meander past. ID badges swing clumsily around necks, and I wonder if this is the only distinction between the students and A N Others on campus. Words like ‘dissertation’ jump out of the otherwise blended pool of chatter I can hear from surrounding conversations, and I wonder where I would be, if I were a student here, now. Would I be standing outside the Rossetti cafeteria, chatting and laughing with my friends about some dissertation I have no intention of starting until the eleventh hour, and complaining about the hundreds of pounds I’m obliged to spend at the Waterstone’s bookshop on dry, uninspiring legal texts? Or would I be stuck in my tiny bedroom facing a mostly unfrequented back street, staring at a disordered image of myself in a small, frameless mirror?

I think I know the answer.

It’s time to head up the stairs to the conference room and listen to the first group of speakers. Four confident, unblemished, successful, and proud Hull University Alumni stand up and talk to the room about their career paths, giving advice to the young audience who are lapping up their every word. Gav and I are seated in one of the front rows, and I simply marvel at the fact that these people appear to be entirely ‘baggage free.’ No issues here!!! Not a single whiff of any mental health disorder. It’s a place of SUCCESS and ACHIEVEMENT. This is about those guys and girls for whom things lined up and made sense; those who didn’t familiarise themselves with the intricacies of their own face at the expense of dream-chasing; who weren’t required to expend inordinate amounts of energy in preparation for leaving the house to go and buy a pint of milk. These were the movers & shakers of their respective academic years.

I momentarily wonder how that might have felt.

Following a short break, it’s time for the ‘wellbeing’ part of the day. We hear from some amazing young people who volunteer their time to look out for the likes of me – back in the day – as ‘Wellbeing Champions’ and ‘Hull University Angels’. I can only imagine what kind of difference this might have made to me, and how different my story might look, had the signs of distress been spotted by a kind, intuitive stranger.

Soon enough, it’s my turn. I walk to the front with my interviewee – John – and sit in my chair. And I read out the introduction that I have written. I am proud that the 2018 version of myself said ‘YES’ to coming back to a place which the 1998 Rachel struggled to be a part of; I am so proud to have been able to sit and talk to the young(er) people about my struggles, and to let them know that not all ‘success stories’ start out that way.

And if my purpose is to be the example of that, then it was worth driving over to Hull back in 1998, and again in 2018.

***

Introduction 

I first came to Hull University as a shy, naive, overweight, introverted, 18-year-old back in 1998. 

It was twenty years ago when I moved in to my student house on Marlborough Avenue with a random and eclectic bunch of strangers, and into a shared bedroom with a horse- lover named Bethany Barnes who had an unfamiliar west county accent, and a (significantly older) death-metal loving, biker boyfriend. 

My heart sank!

It was twenty years ago when I started out on a journey that I could never have predicted.

I came here to study for a 3-year Law Degree. Was it my dream to become a lawyer? Nope. Not at all! Did I have a dream to become anything, back then?? Sadly not. So, I followed the dreams that others had for me, instead. 

I didn’t know what challenges would lie ahead for me as I carried my super woofer CD player together with a god-awful selection of (mostly scratched) compact discs from my dad’s car into the ground floor bedroom I would share with a complete stranger.

I thought I’d just come here to study Law, but how wrong I was.

  • Mental health issues? What are those??
  • Clinical depression? How? When? Why?
  • Eating disorders? Who? Me?!
  • Body dysmorphia? Really? What on earth is that?

I would soon find out about them all.

I was blissfully unaware that I would be about to undergo a major operation to “fix” my delinquent body, or that I would soon suffer the cruel effects of increasingly worrying mental health disorders, including clinical depression and Body Dysmorphia.

I would become imprisoned inside my own mind, inside my own body, and – quite literally – inside my own bedroom – with no idea how to get out.

And as I stand here now, twenty years later, a happy and healthy 39-year-old woman, mum of a 7-year-old mini version of myself, a marathon runner, author of a book “Running For My Life”; and – most importantly – a woman who has wrestled with those bastard inner chimps and won, I’m happy to be able to share part of that journey with you.

I hope you enjoy listening to more about my story… 

Thank you

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Doctor, doctor, I can’t sit down!

Doctor, doctor, I can’t sit down! I think I’ve got ADHD…

… No, Rachel. You’re just neurotic.

Let’s begin with a flashback to my ill-conceived legal career and a good old fashioned caveat: there is no intention whatsoever on my part to make light of the ADHD condition, its symptoms or its sufferers. The same goes for neurosis. I may – or may not – have traces of both. If I were a food product requiring labelling as being ‘free from’ on the Gluten Free supermarket shelf, I fear that I wouldn’t make the grade. I would simply be unable to declare myself to be entirely ‘free from’ either, or both. And so, I would be placed back on the regular shelf with all the other shit full of MSG, wheat, lactose, fructose, traces of brazil nuts and bee pollen. Think Mr Kipling’s Fondant Fancies. They were never fussed about neon icing and E-numbers back in the 80s, were they?

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It’s me in cake form.

Either way, and whatever shelf I’m placed on in Tesco’s – I can’t sit still. I can’t – and won’t – ‘REST’. I HATE THE WORD. I have an allergy to the word itself which would rival most nut allergies on the planet: my head feels woozy and begins to throb; I start to sweat and my HR increases at the mere thought of doing… fuck all. I can’t do it. I’ve tried. *I was even convinced that my tongue swelled up, but that was just a pseudo symptom: my coffee was too hot.

And recently I’ve been doing a little experiment. In a literal sense, I am ‘back running again’ (although that in itself requires another caveat, which we won’t explore just now.) My experiment was this:

I wanted to find out how much ‘rest’ do I really give myself? How much ‘recovery time’ do my legs honestly get?

The facts are these:

Ever since my extended period of non-running from the first part of this year, I have had many weeks of NO weekly mileage, and now quite a few weeks of ridiculously LOW weekly mileage. According to Strava, I’m currently averaging 8 miles of running a week. Down from an average of 50 miles a week in 2015, so a bit of a drop, then. Surely this would help my legs to recover? Hmmmm.

 I’ve also been upping my cross-training activities, including:

  • Interval sessions on the static bike in the gym (a necessary evil)
  • Riding my bike (badly)
  • Attending yoga class 2-3 times per week (lengthening, stretching, and strengthening whilst assisting with my traces of neurosis)
  • Aqua jogging (well, it lasted a few weeks)
  • Walking (Sounds innocent enough, doesn’t it? We’ll come back to this…)

So, this should surely be the recipe for a miraculous recovery, resulting in legs so fresh I could skip over stiles in buttercup-spattered fields with the (minimal) effort of the nimblest spring lamb, or Ben Mounsey.

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That’s me in the middle.

Has that happened? No. It hasn’t.

WHY?

This, dear readers, is what my experiment has been designed to try and find out. Why are my legs simply not responding, given all the above straight-from-the-Captain-Sensible-book-of-recovery advisable steps?

THE ANSWER?

BECAUSE I CAN’T SIT DOWN.

I bought a Fitbit Alta HR and I wore it for one week. In that week – from Monday 15th May to Sunday 21st May – I walked a total of 75,668 steps (that’s 38.08 miles) without taking into account ANY of the other ‘cross training’ activities OR the fact that we’d done a 16-mile off road hilly walk with over 3,000 feet of climbing the day before this weekly experiment began.

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So, no shit, Sherlock. My legs are not akin to those of the sprightly spring lamb, or to the human/mountain goat cross species that is Mr Mounsey.

Here is what a NON-Rest diary looks like:

Monday 15th May

Speed walk up to the supermarket from work in my lunch hour to pick up 2 x variety packs of Magnums for my boss. I also buy a large bag of ice, so said Magnums don’t melt on the 3-mile round trip back to the office. My rucksack weighs a tonne, and I’m already on tired legs from hiking 16 hard miles the day before. But how could I resist? It’s nice out, and only up the road, and it’s a breath of fresh air, and a break from my desk, and…

Total: 9,095 steps

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I daren’t even imagine how many ‘steps’ this required. Enough to melt a Fitbit Alta HR, I would imagine.

Tuesday 16th May

Walk/jog back home from school drop off… But why go the most direct route home? It’s lovely out, beautiful on the moors, and only adds a couple of extra miles onto the journey. I’ll still be back in time for yoga. What’s the harm in that?

Total: 11,791 steps

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But honestly, how could I resist?

Wednesday 17th May

God knows how I managed it, but I somehow clock up 12,309 steps for the day traipsing up and down the stairs at work from my desk to the kettle and back… 50 times (*oh, on closer analysis of the data, it appears that the 5-mile balls-out run after work was logged here, so this is running and not walking, it would appear. Slight cheat, but you get the point.)

Total: 12,309 steps

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Before, during, and after.

Thursday 18th May

I must have ants in my pants. Or ADHD. Or Neurosis (most likely.)

Walk (the long way) back home from school drop off, and then – after actually sitting down and doing some work – a walk down into town. I could drive there in half the time, or possibly a quarter, but why would I? I get wolf-whistled on the way in, which temporarily makes me feel like I’m clinging onto my youth, and we see an old gentleman in town from years gone by, who asks my Mum, ‘Is your girl [pointing to me] at school, now?’ I am thrilled and immediately dismiss any possibility of dementia, Alzheimer’s, or a sight-degenerative condition that may have caused him to be SO far off the mark. He was undoubtedly fully compos mentis, with perfect vision. I had a brightly coloured baseball cap on: maybe that was it?

Total: 16,972 steps

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Well, would you have missed being out in this?

 

Friday 19th May

Ahh, at last. I have a rest day. Phew! But it’s not absolute rest. There’s yoga. Only I don’t walk / run / cycle / hop or pogo-stick there. I drive there, like any other sane, normal person would do. And I feel lazy. Why? I have no idea.

Total: 4,790 steps (and I feel like a sloth because my Fitbit tells me that I haven’t reached my aspirational ‘daily target’.

Oh, fuck off, Fitbit.

So, you get the gist. Since my experimental week, I’ve realised that I honestly, literally, can’t sit down. I need to move; I am compelled to feel my heart beating in my chest and my muscle fibres twitching, because the alternative frightens me. It’s sedentary and silent; it’s a feeling of non-aliveness that I can remember so vividly from all those years ago when I didn’t know how it felt to move; when my daily step count was a return trip to the fridge for yet another oversize portion of Viennetta, and then back to slump in front of my telly to try and guess the price of a 1994 top-of-the-range caravette and a fully refurbed kitchen (inc. white goods) in The Price is Right.

I never knew how it felt, back then, to feel truly alive. But I do now, and I can’t let that go. Not ever – even if my legs are screaming at me for a rest.

It’s hard to have lived at both ends of the scale, but I have to believe that I can make my way tentatively back along to the middle, where I can still feel the joy of movement and of being alive, and also revel in the beauty of rest and recovery. It feels like I’m being asked to walk along a very high tightrope – it’s easy standing at either end, but wobbly and vulnerable in the middle.

Just don’t look down.

*At this point I’ve been sitting down for far too long. I’m off for a walk…

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Laters…

 

 

 

 

Keeping the faith: The Bastard Chimp of Anxiety comes to Parkrun

If only it were as easy as Jon Bon Jovi purported it to be back in 1992, when I used to listen through my crackly Walkman headphones how he had suffered for his anger and there were wars that couldn’t be won. Shit, I thought to myself whilst screeching tunelessly along to the ruggedly sexy New Jersey-born soft rocker: he must have been through a really tough time – although when I saw him perform live that same year, he did look to have been melted down and poured into his canary yellow leather pants, so maybe that was the catalyst for his angst? (I wore elasticated waist jeans: it was a much easier option.)

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What a spectacular metallic number. Crown jewels, you say?

Keep the faith; keep the faith. Lord we got to keep the faith.

Saturday morning was looming once again, and I’d made the same mental bargaining with myself as the previous weekend:

Get up (early),

Go to Parkrun,

Run my arse off,

Recover,

Come home – entirely thankful for it to be over – and resume normal activities.

So what? What’s the big deal about that? Thousands of people up and down the land – and far beyond this egocentric little rock – turn up to Parkrun every Saturday morning. Vast armies of fantastic folk push their backsides out the front door and challenge themselves, seeing where personal limits can be thrashed, bashed and smashed week, after week, after week.

I’m no different.

I woke several times during Friday night riddled with fearful, anxious, stomach-churning thoughts. I was terrified. What if I can’t do it? What if I’m shit?

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What if I have NOTHING to bring to the kick-ass PB-chasing party? What if all I can do is to get myself around the godforsaken 5k course?

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Where have I gone? Why am I panic-stricken about a bloody Parkrun? And why am I eating bourbons at 4am?

 Keep the faith; keep the faith. Lord we got to keep the faith.

6.30am came, and I woke to the sound of birds having a brawl outside my bedroom window like two drunken youths having been kicked out of a nightclub in the early hours scrapping over a kebab.

Tiredness from my broken sleep meant that my eyes took longer than normal to focus. I wasn’t even sure they were looking in the same direction, or at the same time. My bleary-eyes clocked and eventually focused on the small pile of shorts / vest / socks laid out neatly on the chair and I knew – there was no way out. Fucking hell.

‘Right. I’m heading off, Gav,‘ I declared, after creeping about the house at some ungodly hour doing goodness-knows-what for an indecipherable length of time. I looked at my watch with my heavy, unfocused bog-eyes. It was Saturday morning. The time? 7.30am.

I pulled up into the entirely desolate Oakwell Hall Parkrun carpark. It was 8.10am (only 50 minutes early, then.) There were no marshals, no hi-vis vests, no runners, and no other overly-anxious, bleary-eyed nervous freaks anywhere to be seen. Just me, sitting in my car having audible heart palpitations whilst playing Pet Shop Boys greatest hits on repeat. Fast forward half an hour, and it would be a very different scene. The place would be swarming with hi-vis race marshals, regulars adorned in ‘I’ve completed 50 Parkruns!’ apricot T-shirts, and little old me, going nowhere other than pacing around in ever-decreasing circles wondering how I could tame the Bastard Chimp of Anxiety who’d accompanied me to Oakwell Hall Parkrun.

Once all of the above crew had arrived and were predictably swirling around the carpark in small, high-visibility clumps, I decided to head out of my car for a token gesture warm-up.

Oh fuck. My legs feel stiff like two bread sticks left out on the side overnight. They won’t bend. How can I do this?

Keep the faith; keep the faith. Lord we got to keep the faith.

After congratulating Betty for her 50th birthday, and Ken for his 100th Parkrun (‘There’s CAKE afterwards, Parkrunners!’) one final nervous gulp and we were off. My stale breadstick legs powered off up the slightly uphill start, and – unlike last week – I managed to overtake the offensively fit nine-year-old boy who was (thankfully) too young to appreciate how crippled with anxiety this bog-eyed lady running next to him had been only moments earlier.

The first mile was fast: too fast. As the course undulates around the beautiful – if challenging – Oakwell Hall grounds, it turns into a series of mini obstacles. Sharp corners force a sudden drop in pace, as does slaloming down a descending-level zigzag path. The faster downhill section is loose under foot, and is only too soon replaced by a gravelly uphill pull. Once at the top, the sinking reality of facing it twice suddenly seems daunting.

Halfway round the second lap and the classic nauseating 5k sensations rose in my throat, accompanied by burning in my chest, as though if I breathed out hard enough flames would shoot out of my mouth like Zog, the accident-prone dragon.*

Shit. I can’t do this. It’s 5k and I can’t do it. How can I not do this? Why is this so fucking hard? I pulled over for a millisecond as the Bastard Inner Chimp of Doom temporarily beat me, and I willed the entire thing to be over… But, I CAN do this. I can keep putting one foot in front of the other, and I CAN finish this. Fuck the time. Fuck the outcome. I’m trying my bastard best, and I can finish this. I’ve done MARATHONS that have felt easier than this.

Keep the faith; keep the faith. Lord we got to keep the faith.

As I began to run again, I felt the anxiety, the fear, and all the other entirely disproportionate and melodramatic nervous chatter disappear as I focused only on getting myself over the finish line. Despite the temporary ‘blip’ which caused me to pull over in discomfort and despair, I beat the chimp. Coming 12th overall, I was the 1st lady over the finish line, and I beat my time from the previous week by 20 seconds.

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But the real victory came in wrestling with my own anxiety, pinning it down in some Hulk Hogan-style** headlock making it squirm and thrash around whilst I raised one arm to the crowd, shouting ‘EAT DIRT, LOSER!’ to my ungracious opponent.

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Victory ride on the ram

You see, the Bastard Chimp of Fear can – and does – accompany all runners, at all stages, over all distances, and at all levels. It came along for the ride with me on Saturday morning, and almost chundered all over my trainers (and no doubt it will do so again, and again after that.)

But the comforting words of my favourite 1990s soft rock band came back to save me:

Keep the faith; keep the faith. Lord we got to keep the faith.

*A reference perhaps only familiar to parents running away from young children. It’s worth a read even without kids, to be fair.

**Yes, I was a teenager of the early ‘90s… I also have no idea what kind of insult would have been appropriate in 1990s professional wrestling circles.

Getting back on the horse: Well, riding along on a donkey…

It’s Saturday morning, and I’m sitting in bed with a cup of tea and a cluster of custard creams (is there a collective noun for custard creams?) after completing my first Parkrun in over 4 months.

When the wheels fell so spectacularly off my running at the beginning of this year, I knew that I’d gone from a Volvo S60 (nothing too flashy, but extremely good economy and a decent performer) to cruising around town in a Flintstone-mobile. It happened, and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. So, I decided to take my arguably small-fry, mini dollop of adversity and turn it into a positive: I decided to Get a Life. I could barely remember what else I did other than running. Where do I go? What do I do? And… why?

And here’s how I went about proving to myself that there was a life for me over and above the endless miles trudging up and down the valley and gearing up for A N Other race for the already over-trained-yet-in-denial runner that I had somehow morphed into.

  • Becoming sociable (within reason.)

Do you fancy coming for a walk sometime, Rach? Normally, my answer would have been ‘Oh, erm I’d love to (gulps hard), but… [cue list of endless excuses]’ Running was my priority. If I wasn’t racing I would be chasing miles on Strava and simply unable to excuse myself from any given opportunity to thrash my own arse. So, I would politely decline such invitations. Friends? Who needs those? I’ve got my trainers, and my race medals. Hmmmm…

  • Being brave (i.e. doing things I know I’m shit at.)

Right, Gav. I’m off out on my bike.’ Really? Really? My inner bastard chimp (“IBC”) would bleat. But you’re shit on a bike! And not even just a little bit shit. You’re absolutely shit! You can’t take one hand off the handlebars to indicate, and have no traffic awareness whatsoever. You’ve fallen off at a roundabout before, narrowly missing a Nissan Micra. Are you even safe to be on the roads?

And IBC is right: I am thoroughly shit on two wheels. But if you take my four-wheel-luxury Volvo S60 away from me, then of course I’ll take two shit wheels over a Flintstone-mobile.

But wait…

Can I cycle half a mile uphill from my house and remember how to change gear without falling down a pot hole?

Turns out that I can.

Can I navigate my way down the main road and avoid getting flattened by passing a heavy hauler?

Unbelievably – as it happens – I can do that, too.

Can I RIDE to my mum’s instead of driving over there, successfully traversing the nasty little cobbled bridge crossing the canal?

Against the convincing protests of my IBC, Yes…Yes! – I bloody well can!

  • Experimenting

I’ve already written about my aqua running exploits, and my experience of jogging in the deep end of the pool wearing a ‘special belt’ whilst old ladies float about, gazing at me with a combined look of pity and intrigue. It’s character building stuff.

There’s a water aerobics class on a Monday evening, love, if you’d be interested?’ one kind OAP suggested as I ran like fuck whilst going absolutely nowhere in Sowerby Bridge pool.

‘Ahh, thanks! I might give that a go!’ was my enthusiastic reply: the truth of the matter being that I’d rather drink the entire contents of the overly-chlorinated pool through a straw.

  • Doing more of what I love

YOGA YOGA YOGA! Yoga has nurtured me when nothing else could. It has calmed my mind when the IBC threatened to run rampant like a ferocious case of foot & mouth disease amongst otherwise happy livestock. And it has strengthened my body: not in some kick-ass high dramatic display of epic proportions, but in an intelligent, and mindful* way.

*Both of these may be buzz words for ‘Fitness Bullshit Bingo’, but they’re true, nonetheless.

  • Setting *new* goals… other than [the next] half marathon (my default race distance of choice.)

Fancy the Three Yorkshire Peaks in June, Gav? We could walk / run / hobble / clamber / trudge / slide it?’

You see, we don’t need to run it. We can hike. We can walk. YES, WALK! And still experience something amazing, in a beautiful part of the world. IT IS POSSIBLE!

And so, all of the above things have brought with them many brilliant, funny, beautiful – and at times, entirely unexpected – experiences. They have enriched my life. I’ve made new friends; I’ve discovered new ‘fun’; I’ve found my balls, and I’ve discovered that I am – in fact – enjoying the journey. Hell, I even managed to navigate my mental state through the #VLM2017 preamble and race day whilst not even being tempted to go and lock myself away in my car and lick the windows in a solitary protest of self-pity. I succeeded in NOT GIVING A SHIT about being unable to take part in this year’s VLM. I’ve had some amazing experiences crossing that finishing line, but this year, others needed to experience it – it simply wasn’t my turn.

But now, like an ex-boyfriend from 1992, running is lurking around the corner again, throwing stones up at my bedroom window and asking me if I want to go down the park. It’s said ‘sorry’ for dumping me so rudely and abruptly. It thinks we can make it work. Initially, I gave it the V’s and pulled my bedroom curtains shut, but it’s since written me a little love letter and has posted it through the front door: I still really like you, Rach. Can’t we just go out a few times and see what happens? I’ll be at the park if you want to come down.

Well, today I skulked down to the park in my hooded top and dungarees, armed with my skateboard. I turned up at the Oakwell Hall Parkrun. I smiled nervously at the equivalent of my teenage ex, and he – kind of – smiled back.

‘I’m sorry’ he mumbled, as I willed myself through 5km of hard work.

I felt awful. Cumbersome and heavy-legged, with breathing to match. Are my Achilles hurting? I couldn’t tell. I wondered if I did still want to do this. ‘Great pace!’ some nice bloke shouted as I ran past him. ‘Good lass. Keep it up!’ another one yelled. ‘Third lady! KEEP GOING!’ a ridiculously over-excited marshal bellowed as I dragged my tired self around the twisty-turny Parkrun course.

And then, I knew. Yes – I can do this again. I can learn how to do this again. I WILL learn how to do this again, because – as much as all the other stuff has enriched my life – I still love running. My 1992 boyfriend is back.

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So, I guess I’m officially ‘back on the horse’ Although, to be fair, it felt more like riding a donkey through the streets of Nazareth, today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s a party in Limassol… but you’re not invited.

THURSDAY

We’re on the plane to Limassol. We are supposed to be running the Limassol half marathon on Sunday – but we’re not. Because I can’t run.

Last week, we emailed the organisers and asked if we could swap events to the 10k race. In this ever-changing sea of ‘revising my expectations’ (the word ‘revising’ being a handy euphemism for ‘lowering’), our thinking is that there is infinitely more likelihood of my running 10k (6.2 miles) than 21k (13.1 of the bastards.) This seems to be a reasonable conclusion to make, and, in line with the constant requirement for me to ‘revise my expectations’*, notice that the simple completion of said distance would be some achievement at this moment in time. We’re no longer discussing ‘going for a time’ (it was only 3 months ago that I achieved my 10k PB of 42.11. A lot can happen in 12 weeks.)

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All set for the race then? Erm, nope.

I’ve already processed as many thoughts as it’s possible to process around the why’s and how’s and the other myriad questions I have surrounding my inescapable and irrefutable loss of running. I’ve asked all the questions, and I’ve cried in frustration at the apparent lack of answers. I have none.

Did I push myself too hard, too soon, for too long? Yes, I did.

Did I balance my running with other activities to strengthen and support my body in allowing progressive overreaching, and yet prevent overtraining? No. Not really. Or at all, actually.

Did I rest adequately, making an effort to refuel properly after hard training sessions and races? No. I didn’t.

Did I race too much? Yes, I did.

Did running feed my demanding and incessant egotistical bastard inner chimp as it bounced up and down in front of me shouting “You’re still not good enough, or fast enough, or just… enough! TRY HARDER,” Yes. It did.

Did I manage to tame the bastard chimp as it bullied me into bashing out more miles and races than my body wanted to run? No. I didn’t.

The chimp won.

Is this the result? Yes. I’m pretty sure that it is.

So now, as I sit here in my airplane seat, my legs fizzing with unexplained, endless aches, I am on my way to a race that I can’t run.

Two guys sitting behind us are (purportedly) discussing all things running / training related. They’ve been talking shit whilst barely pausing for breath for the best part of two hours. Me and Gav sit with our headphone on. We’re not arsed about listening to music, only drowning out the dulcet Mancunian tones of Arsewipe in the row behind who’s intent on telling the entire plane about his *expert tips* for treadmill running. Except no one – including his poor travelling companion I would hazard a guess – gives even a tiny bit of a shit. I feel like telling him.

As we walked through the airport earlier today, I had flashbacks to some of our previous running adventures.

  • Exploring Barcelona on broken legs the week after the Yorkshire Marathon in 2014 after a dream race and probably my greatest ever personal running achievement (after achieving a marathon PB of 3:16, we ran over 50 miles across Barcelona in the subsequent days. I ran on legs made of glass. How did I do that? I have no idea.)
  • Running up hills in Font Romeu with ease on the best birthday I’ve ever had; discovering the Paula Radcliffe trail, and exploring 5k flat routes around Lake Matemale; spotting Mo Farah and watching him fly round the otherwise empty track at the Altitude Training Centre; Sitting down to watch him chat to Gav whilst inhaling an obscene Danish pastry (we had just run 12 miles…)
  • Our 6 x half mile nauseating speed sets along the sea front in Mallorca, and the time Gav took the girls on a bus whilst I set off running alongside like a bat out of hell, to the fascination / amusement of the other passengers. “Is she really running into Porta Pollenca?” A mystified lady asked Gav. “ Yes she is,” he replied. It wasn’t a big deal at the time – only a part of mine – and our – normality. We just run: we just ran.
  • Taking on the Dubai Marathon last January, and its endless highways. Still precisely how we managed it after a long-haul flight and a 2.30am get-up escapes me, but we did, and we emerged victorious over the 26.2 miles, whilst running under what felt like a repressive heat lamp with a dodgy thermostat.

They have all been a part of our running adventures. And yet, here we are on the plane to Limassol and I don’t even know if I can run anywhere, over any distance. Let alone enjoy it. And I continue to ask myself, how? And why? The tape begins to whirr yet again with the questions listed above. It’s on ‘random shuffle’ at least, which makes it marginally less mind numbing than it would otherwise be.

How will I cope? What will I do? How will I feel? What will this next few days be like? Why am I so melodramatic and egotistical? But why does it feel so real, and like something has been taken from me that I want back? How will Gav put up with me? Will I ruin his break? Will he wish we were running when I can only walk along like some youthful pensioner, ambling along the front without purpose? What about the hotel? Will it be swarming with keen, excitable marathon runners? Will they ask if we’re running on Sunday, and how can I respond without emotional trauma or flat-lining as though I’m a shell of a person who should have been there at the party, but wasn’t invited to this one?

 Will we walk for miles? Will we cross train? Will the gym feel like some soulless pit that I have to crawl in to execute my cardiovascular training, whilst my heart pines to be outside, running by the sea? Will I spontaneously combust into frustrated tears on the sad recumbent bike, or will I feel happy that I’ve done SOME training, at least?

 I simply don’t know. I’m becoming increasingly familiar with not knowing…

***

FRIDAY

WE’VE WOKEN UP IN 1985. WHERE’S DOC? MARTY?

The place is a shit hole – I won’t lie. We discuss how it feels like we’re on board The Love Boat from 1988. People are wearing shell suits. I look up and see what I believe to be ‘Minge Topless Bar’ across the street, but the swirly, neon letters don’t quite work and it actually says ‘Mirage.’ Minge works far better.

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That’s a big nut your beaver’s holding.

We set off walking, and chatting. ‘Let’s walk a mile, then run a mile,’ Gav sensibly suggests, after we’ve allowed our eyes to adjust from BEIGE BLINDNESS.

‘Ok, but I can’t promise I can even ‘run’ for a mile,’ I respond, like a broken record. Every time I’ve tried to run over the past eight weeks it’s felt like my legs could burst into flames, my Achilles pop, and both calf muscles roll up to my knees like overly-keen kitchen blinds. ‘But I’ll try…’ I say, DESPERATE not to be in this state.

After a mile of walking and talking (mainly about the Minge bar), and having counted at least 35 diseased cats all slinking around the 1980s Love Boat set, we begin to jog. Not run – that’s too strong a word. We jog. I’m talking ten-minute-miles *no offence intended. It’s all relative…

One mile comes to an end, and I am a) (relatively) pleased to have completed one single, measly mile; and b) even more pleased to have stopped jogging.

We walk and talk again. ‘Why does the sand look like a badly tarmacked car-park?’ we ponder. A second mile commences, and – again – we jog. At the very least my legs will allow me this concession. They wouldn’t let me run 50 metres only a few weeks ago, at the sea front in St. Anne’s. Maybe they feel happier out here in the 80s?

This time, they feel slightly free-er, as though some clamp has been marginally loosened. For the first time in eight weeks I feel as though my body isn’t battling with me. GAV! MY LEGS ARE FEELING A BIT… LIGHTER… THEY’RE LETTING ME RUN! I shout to him, as I feel my pace pick up to more of a trot and less of a hobble.

‘That’s ACE, Rach!’ He shouts back, ‘But you’re still stopping after this mile.’

 He’s right. I can’t get giddy about it.

When will I be back? I simply don’t know. I’m becoming increasingly familiar with not knowing…

*and in line with my constant revising of expectations, I decide I’m unable to put myself in to Sunday’s 10k race without risking further injury.

 So, we’ve walked over 25 miles over the past two days, mainly tracksuit-spotting instead. It’s been ace.

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***

SUNDAY

It’s race day. Real-life heroes will be waking up offensively early in this 1980s Minge Topless Bar sunshine resort to carb-load before their monumental efforts. We’ve had a lovely few days, and my inner bastard chimp has finally been put in his box. I’m now excited at the prospect of going and supporting the runners racing today.

Feeling eternally grateful that our alarms didn’t need to be set for a 5:30am start, we head out onto the course. There is no sign of any marathon happening from where we are, only a distinct absence of the usual stream of endless traffic, and a few water stations dotted around with enough water to supply, well, perhaps thirteen runners, not the 13,000 as it’s claimed are in today’s race. ‘Have we got the right day, Gav?’ I ask him, as we begin to walk away from our hotel and in the direction of the race epicentre. To be fair, we are located some distance from the hub of the action, but still – where is everybody?

A few miles of ambling along, past the jubilant youths manning the pop-up mini water stations, and we see the turnaround point for the half marathon. Brilliant! Here’s where the action is! There are runners! It’s all happening down here! But this is also the place where those tackling the full marathon break away and head out along the long, lonely road to a place where the only supporters will be… themselves – and me & Gav, apparently.

 We stand at the half-marathon turnaround point and WHOOP! as the first two men approach the clumsily-placed cones. They shout and hold their hands up at the officials, clearly unsure where to go. Have these two elite Kenyan men really just had to weave their way through the packed field of half marathon runners? They are LEADING in a full marathon race!

We can’t believe it.

The marshalls are just standing around. They don’t clap, or cheer, or whoop! They are about to move the cones and allow a small car to drive through the half marathon course full of runners just because they shouted enough obscenities.

We can’t believe it.

A third male runner approaches and we WHOOP! again. He is not a Kenyan, and is some way behind the leading two men. He motors on at a terrifying pace and out to the lonely part of the marathon course. He is very much on his own. Some while later he is still in THIRD PLACE as he returns to the marshalled area on his way back in. We whoop! again. But wait! One of the marshalls shouts at him, angrily. He stupidly thinks this guy is a very average marathon runner who has turned at the cones by mistake (taking the half-marathon route, when in fact he should have continued on the full marathon course.) He shouts back to the ignorant official. THIS GUY IS IN THIRD PLACE IN A FULL MARATHON! Me and Gav are speechless.

We can’t believe what we’ve just seen.

We see some runners we kind-of recognise from the virtual world of Twitter. My hands ache from clapping, but I don’t want to stop. Every single runner deserves those claps and whoops! For some, unknown reason, I have been hollering ‘Allez, ALLEZ!’ to runners as they go past. I have no idea why. Gav laughs at me. I can tell that for some folk, our excitable whoop-ing and numbing hand-claps matter. They make a difference. And so I keep on clapping and whooping.

After an hour and a half, we start to amble back towards our hotel. We’re still whoop-ing and clapping, only we’ve called in at an off-licence and both now have the most ridiculously large Cornettoes. It feels offensive to draw attention to this fact whilst runners are going through some of the most painful, desolate marathon miles.

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I’ll swap my Cornetto for your pain… No, seriously.

But I’d swap places with them. I’d trade my XXL Cornetto for their pain in a second.

I feel myself go quiet, and I turn to Gav. ‘Do you think I’ll ever be back, Gav?’ I ask him, like some insecure child seeking reassurance. ‘OF COURSE you will, Rach! You’ll be back stronger than ever!’ he replies.

I smile at him, but I simply don’t know the answer myself. I’m becoming increasingly familiar with not knowing…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Injured Runner’s Non-Running Diary … Rest Days ROCK!!

Fri 24th Feb – Rest Days ROCK!!

Today is a ‘rest day’ in the traditional sense. I have no structured activities planned, and instead have an entire day to spend with Mini Me. And I’m excited about it.

I make our days together as active as possible. I’m heading over to her Dad’s on the train early this morning, and taking her for breakfast in our favourite Hebden Bridge café. We love walking together. Even little jaunts from his house to the café, then on to the train station. We love the fresh air and the feeling of movement. Her little legs have been used to walking perhaps further than is entirely normal ever since she was three, when I would power-walk up the hill to collect her from pre-school, and we would amble the mile and a half back down, sometimes stopping on a bench to have a sandwich or read part of a story book. Her legs grew strong, and three years later she can now walk for miles without fuss or fanfare (not to mention Junior Parkrun – we’re on #31 and heading towards her Ultra Marathon Band :-D)

We chat in the café as she waits patiently for her fruit toast. One of her front teeth came out whilst she was at her Grandma’s. She looks like a cross between an angel and Steptoe. She grins at me, poking her tongue through the new gap. ‘I can fit a straw through this, Mum!’ she giggles to herself.

My beautifully prepared flat white has a heart shape in the foam, and I smile as every cell in my body floods with warmth. I feel happy… REST DAYS ROCK!!

Ahh, that’s great, Rach. It’s lovely and sweet and every other sycophantic sentiment felt by most mothers most of the time, but what’s any of this got to do with running / not running?

I hear you. And it’s a funny, because it feels as though now running has been forced to shrink back to fill a smaller place in my heart, there is more room for other joys to come flooding back in. I’m noticing that my enjoyment and appreciation of other things, people, and experiences is growing. I’m feeling grateful for them – and I’m feeling happier. My days are filled with other lovely things that my head and my heart now have the space to appreciate. I’ve found this happening a lot over the last month. Tiny, insignificant things I’m beginning to notice. Perhaps before, I was either focusing on my ‘next’ run/race, or still pondering the last one. Maybe I was caught in the ‘What’s happening on Strava’ bandwagon instead of enjoying a simple walk with my Angelic Steptoe. But all these things are coming to me, and I feel them as strongly as the taste of ground coffee beans in my flat white. Why has it taken this for me to see it?

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We enjoy our train journey and have a mini adventure getting home. I’m having a quick flick through The Metro whilst she sucks on a foam banana penny sweet at Hebden Bridge station. I’m not one for reading my stars, but I glance at mine for today. ‘An activity that had seemed stable may not be. Having poured energy into a key goal, you could feel your efforts might come to nothing but it may simply be time for a rethink as new options could unlock a fresh door for you.’ CRIKEY. Bloody hell! I take a picture of the small paragraph and send it through to Gav. ‘You’re not reading your stars, are you! HA HA HA’ is his reply.

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Hmmm… I ponder for a moment: I wonder if the message is there. It could have been WRITTEN for me; about me. Running was my activity that seemed stable; the #vlm2017 WAS my key goal. Both of those have now gone to shit, so maybe I need to rethink my options? Maybe I already am? I get Gav’s point about the horoscopes, though. ‘You may or may not come into money, and a relative may or may not let you down…’ THAT’S MOST PEOPLE, MOST DAYS!

I put the paper down and remind myself that Russell Grant isn’t in fact the next Messiah.

Anyway, me & Tills have a full day planned, including bike rides, farm shops & baking.

Rest days ROCK!!

 *** 

Tues 28th FebThe Magic of Yoga

I’m not sure if my mind is adapting to not running, or my body is enjoying the change (I would say ‘rest’ but that isn’t strictly true), or a bit of both, but something inside me appears to have given up the fight. Not in terms of not wanting to run (I always will), but perhaps simply not wanting to run right now. As if my body knows it’s not meant to be doing that. Perhaps the change of routine is suiting me, and I’m enjoying the newness of my cross-training activities, and both my body and my mind are now convinced that, Hey, you’re right! There ARE other things we can do! And these things feel good, challenging and interesting! I’m beginning to believe that is the case. Something is feeling far more positive and beneficial in my new regime than it was before – perhaps even prior to the ‘leg issue’. Had my running become stale? Was my body tired of it long before my mind realised, and joined in the party? Did I simply ignore the signs? (I know I’ve done this – arguably quite successfully – many, many times.) Anyway, I’m on a new course – following a new route map, and it feels good. Well, TODAY it feels good, anyway.

 I go and wait upstairs about ten minutes before my yoga class, and take my usual spot on the virtually floor-level windowsill overlooking the canal. I feel happy. One of Lianne’s regulars turns up and comes to sit with me. I find myself more open to a bit of mindless chatter than normal, and we discuss how a change of routine is sometimes exactly what we need.

‘I honestly don’t think I’m missing running just now,’ I tell beautiful curly-haired lady. But am I instead telling myself? ‘I’m really enjoying doing some cross training and getting back into yoga,’ I continue. She tells me that things became a bit stale for her, and that she’d become too regimented about the classes she goes to. ‘I’m enjoying mixing it up a bit, too,’ she replies, smiling. I feel happy that I’m in a more sociable mood. What has lifted my spirits? Would I feel like this if I’d been out running – or trying to – today? I can’t help but think not. I’d have felt dejected, heavy-legged and burdensome. Instead, I feel free and light and – well – happy!

Another one of Lianne’s regulars turns up and joins in our pre-class banter. She’s a fitness addict herself, and I know that she completely understands my running. I’ve seen more of her just recently with attending almost every yoga class that I can shoehorn into my diary. It’s been nice to have some human interaction. It’s good for me, and – I’m even enjoying the occasional banal chit chat.

The curly-haired lady interjects our conversation. We somehow get onto the subject of weddings. ‘Did I hear somewhere that you’re running a marathon for your honeymoon?’ she asks. It takes me back a little, and my ego feels slightly flattered, but then she qualifies it. ‘I just overheard you chatting with one of the other ladies – Debbie – I think it was, last week. Maybe that’s where I heard it?’ I tell her about our (ambitious) plans to run the very first Tanzanian marathon in October for our honeymoon. ‘That’s if I’m even ABLE to run, by then.’ I gulp as I struggle to comprehend my statement. HOW will I get there, from where I am, right now?

During the yoga class, I feel strong. I know I feel strong. My body works hard holding the poses, it straightens itself up and lengthens otherwise limp, unused muscles. This is EXACTLY what my body needs! I think to myself. I feel the moves filling me with strength as I breathe in, and then back out again with focus. I’m getting used to the effort. The moves are as easy or as hard as you make them. I try hard (no shit). I think about the areas I’m working. I feel the contraction in the muscles in my upper back. Prior to this current circumstance, when was the last time I even gave a shit about my back, or my core strength? I look at my arms in the mirror as I work to hold them taught and long, pushing my fingertips away from my body. I can see definition. SINCE WHEN! Really, since WHEN do I even HAVE any muscles in my arms? But now, I do. And I love the feeling.

On the downsize, I am still mithered by my runners’ legs. My hamstrings are so overdeveloped that I struggle to straighten them for certain moves. They shake like a shitting dog when I push them into a ‘flatter’ line. I look around the room. 9/10 of the class aren’t having such difficulties. This is a by-product of the years of hammering mileage. Stretching wasn’t for me. I knew better. Hmmmm. Lianne looks over and gives me a wry smile after the worst of the hamstring tracks. I lie back on my mat and sigh with the effort I’ve put in to even attempt the moves. It has exhausted me. And she knows it.

The relaxation at the end of the class comes like a cold beer after a hard day. It is soothing, relaxing, and makes me convinced – if I wasn’t already – that this class is sent to touch the parts that others just can’t reach. I always say ‘thankyou’ in my relaxation. I don’t try to – it just comes naturally. I am always thankful to be there, and to have that moment. It feels like a gift. Every time.

Thanks, Lianne,’ I say, once we’re all back in the room and no longer in our zen-like state. I never leave without thanking her, but I’m not sure she understands how grateful I am to her. She is like a serene, spiritual, Amazonian warrior who has descended on Sowerby Bridge to make it a happier place. I am so thankful that she’s been plopped here, with us.

Thank you, thank you ,thank you.

 [LATER] I still feel entirely light-hearted, and it’s now 4pm. Normally, I’m a right grumpy bastard by now. Yoga must actually work miracles. It’s official.

To be continued…

 

 

 

 

Rehab, Recovery, and… Aqua Running??!

Friday 24th Feb

Today has got REHAB and RECOVERY written all over it. Firstly, I’m (fortunately) not working today. Secondly, I have no childcare worries within school hours. Woo Hoo! I’m FREE! And so, I have the following scheduled:

  • Yoga 11-12pm
  • Physio sports massage 1-2pm
  • Aqua swimming (first ever attempt) 4pm

Yoga – once again – is unspeakably therapeutic for me. I chat to my friend Pam as we wait outside the studio. Pam has followed my journey from back in 2014 and the start of my crazy marathon training/ running obsession. She feels for me just now. She knows what running means to me, and she senses my feelings of loss. I enjoy our chat and laughs before the class. It’s made me feel ever so slightly less insular and self-absorbed, as earlier this morning it was a struggle to take myself out of the house – I simply wanted to hide under the covers and wallow in my leg-aching self-pity. I’m so pleased I didn’t do that.

At the end of the class, I say my usual ‘Thanks, Lianne!’ to the best yoga teacher in the world, and added ‘… I’ll probably see you tomorrow!’ She laughs, as we both know she’s seen more of me in the last month than she has in the previous two years.

Then it’s off to Physio. The receptionist seems more friendly today. Perhaps she’s getting used to the frequency of my visits. We have a pleasant – if pointless – chat about the undefinable mystery that is my current non-running condition. I feel myself giving the same tired answers to the same old questions.

‘So, it’s not really a localised pain, then? More of a general feeling in both legs, you say?’ she enquires, as though she may have any kind of helpful answer / comment with which to furnish me.

‘Yes. It’s way more than fatigue, more like fire or electricity shooting down the back of both legs. They literally won’t let me run!’ I reply, managing to control the frustration and emotion building up inside at the difficulty in even explaining how it feels. ‘Not even one mile. Not half a mile. They won’t let me run – it’s as simple as that!’ I conclude, before the sports therapist blunders in through the glass doors and invites me into the treatment room. Shit! I didn’t even have my usual pre-treatment latte! I suddenly realise, feeling slightly done out of possibly the most enjoyable part of my treatment.

He pummels and kneads; digs in and wrings out my leg muscles so it feels like actual bodily harm. I try and get clues as to how my hamstrings and calves seem to him. I’m looking for ANY clue to ascertain what the hell is wrong with them, but he can’t give me much. ‘The lateral aspects (of my hammies) are definitely hardened, but the inner lines are softer. You may well get some bruising,’ he offers, oblivious to my disappointment that he can’t define PRECISELY what the fuck is the matter with my legs. We chat, but I have to pause whilst eating my fist during several tortuous manoeuvres. I leave after 40 minutes of manipulation (euphemism for being physically assaulted) and inhale my lunch in the car park. It’s now 2pm and I’ve been on Mission Rehab since 10.30am.

[LATER]

It’s now 3.30pm. I’ve arranged to meet Gav down at the local pool in half an hour to try my hand at this newly suggested ‘zero impact’ activity I’ve been told about. I’m off AQUA RUNNING! Part of me is as excited as if I’m heading off to a local knitting convention; the other part of me is (bizarrely) semi smug for even being prepared to give it a go. I don’t DO swimming; I’m NOT a water baby. I HATE getting cold and lugging around bags of sodden towels, only to find them in the boot of the car three days later. Which part of that is fun? There is a reason I love(d) running (actually, there are a multitude of reasons) but one of them is the simplicity – the lack of fuss. Got a pair of trainers, pants and a top? Then I can run. I can set off from EXACTLY where I am. I don’t need to drive anywhere (although it’s great to see different places and have mini adventures) but it is possible for me to… just run. Swimming? Not quite. When is the pool open? When is it mental kids’ hour? What about the serious lane swimmers? When should I avoid feeling their wrath as I try to keep myself buoyant whilst making an about turn from their God-awful attempt at butterfly stroke? These are all questions I’ve had to ask in order to prepare for my one initial visit to the pool.

I head into the reception, arms laden full of required kit. I trip over the long, dangly buckle strap on my buoyancy belt as it waves around in front of me like an annoying toddler.

‘Erm, one to swim, please.’ I say to the miserable receptionist, feeling entirely odd as the words come out of my mouth. I’ve been a member of the gym/pool since 2011 and I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve said those words. Every other time has been solely for the purpose of taking my daughter into the baby pool six years earlier. I’d fake-coo as she looked at me blankly, bobbing about thoroughly bemused in her baby ring whilst I’d feel the early onset of hypothermia. Fortunately, we worked out or respective strengths. Tilly’s Dad took on the swim/cycle rota whilst I focused on Junior Parkrun and hiking Mini Me for miles up and down local hills. It works well.

We’re not even in the changing room and already I realise what a farce it is. ‘You can’t go thorough there in your shoes, Gav’ I say to him, like a smart arse as I take off my trainers and push them neatly underneath a plastic chair. ‘Really? Oh, right.’ He replies and follows suit.

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Once changed, we wade out towards the main pool. I’m carrying my aqua trainers, fearing that a whistle will be blown at me whilst I walk towards the pool in footwear (I’m unfamiliar with the etiquette.) I put my enormous blue buoyancy belt on and fasten it like a tourniquet on a severed limb. I’ve slipped my water pumps on, and once in the water I immediately try out a running action. My feet are still touching the floor as I ‘run’ in some kind of sub-aqua moonwalk (all I need is a single diamante glove) but I soon get into my stride, and build up enough confidence to nudge up into the deep end. The belt comes into its own and maintains my position whilst I run more freely and my legs pump around in circles rather than slide around Michael Jackson-esq on the pool bottom.

My suggested session is a ten-minute steady warm-up followed by some VO2 intervals.

‘God, it’s hard is this, Gav!’ I say to him as he bobs around by the side of me looking fascinated, wondering what it feels like. I’m only four minutes into my warm-up. Fucking hell, this session’s gonna last a lifetime I think to myself as I ease off some effort on my weightless jogging and leave something for my purported ‘intervals’. Two young girls are swimming / messing around in the pool nearby. They are about Tilly’s age, perhaps a year or so older. One of them looks and smiles at me pitifully. I suddenly think, maybe they think I can’t swim! She looks across at her friend and they giggle, unable to establish quite what the hell I’m doing. I beam at them both as I run fast, but go nowhere in the water. I don’t care what I look like. I’m here, I’m training, and that’s all I’m bothered about.

After ten minutes’ warm up, the intervals begin.

10 x 15 sec on/off

4 mins steady rec

5 x 30 sec on/off

4 mins steady rec

2 x 45 sec on/off

10 min cool down.

15 second intervals? Sounds like a piece of piss! I say to myself, thinking I’ve chosen an easy session to begin with. After 4 x sets I’m buggered, and have all on keeping track of the seconds as I’m ‘on’ again after what feels like hardly any recovery time at all. My legs still ache under the water, but they’re only tired, they-know-they’re-working-hard aches, and not the fire-breathing shooting pains on raw nerve ending ones I’ve been so debilitated by.

Eventually, I finish my set and we both haul ourselves out of the pool. ‘I quite enjoyed that, Gav’ I say to him as we wring out our towels and decide how best to manoeuvre the dripping buoyancy aid back to the car.

I feel a general sense of satisfaction at my efforts, today. I’ve filled my day with various good and productive things, and I’m doing all I can to clamber up, over, around, and underneath this obstacle I’m presented with.

Mentally it’s helping me to be in a peaceful place, as the (hopefully temporary) loss of my running has threatened to pull the rug from underneath my mental health stability. Without any way of knowing how long my safety blanket will be removed, I’m doing everything in my power to cling on to my rock face whilst the waves continue to bash against it. It’s giving me a sense of control over the situation to put these things in place.

I think I’m turning a corner with this… I’ll sleep well tonight.

TO BE CONTINUED…