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.

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2016 REVIEW PART DEUX: JUNE – SEPTEMBER 2016… AND A NEW YEAR’S DAY (AHEM) ‘FUN RUN’

I’m sitting here on New Year’s Day morning, 2017. I can’t stop eating Quality Street, and I’m already having nervous palpitations about a local NYD ‘Fun Run’ we’re taking part in later today. It’s the worst possible combination for me:

  • It’s local. Cue unsuccessfully trying to dodge the Playground Mum who makes a bee-line for me and commences at full throttle with pre-run chatter around ‘Did you have a good one, then?’ and ‘When are you back to work?’. Hmmmff.
  • It’s supposed to be ‘Fun’. This concerns me greatly, as most things in life that are promoted as being fun, in fact aren’t. Not at all. And vice-versa. Why can’t they call it a ‘turn up if you can be arsed, and you never know, you might even enjoy it’ run? Far more accurate.
  • On both previous occasions when I’ve done said (ahem) ‘Fun Run’, I’ve loathed it. In 2015, for example, it was blowing a gale so hard in weather so utterly vicious, that I couldn’t distinguish between my own (genuine) tears and those streaming from my eyes by the cutting, spiteful wind. That year, both children and adults wept in unison – I’m guessing for the same wind/self-induced misery combo.

But I’ll be back again this year, and will no doubt hob-nob with the fully made-up School Mum, and joke with Competitive Dad about how it’s ‘only a bit of fun’ … but he’ll be secretly hoping his Little Johnny kicks my ass up windy hill.

Anyway, back to my round-up of LAST year. Bloody hell, what a year it was. We’re up to early summer, so here goes.

JUNE – THE GOOLE RIVERBANK CHALLENGE & HELLO CROSS TRAINING

It’s the strangest race, over the oddest distance, in the most bizarre location: Goole. Hmmm… Yes, I know. It’s not quite 9 miles, so neither a 10k nor a 10 miler; and it’s along a riverbank. There’s a small section of road, but otherwise it’s grassy banking and (usually) at least half the course is against a headwind. You can rock up and pretty much guarantee yourself a PB. There are NO OTHER COMPARABLE RACES. ANYWHERE. It’s strange, and odd and a good hour’s drive away from home. But it’s also unique, intriguing, and under the radar. So, just my bag.

I found myself running neck & neck with a delightful, friendly lady who MADE me work for my 2nd place position right up to the finish line. I made a nemesis friend! Both of us would have been entirely happy with 2nd or 3rd place (1st was out of reach right from the off) but we pushed each other hard right to the finish. Lovely lady.

I escaped looking a twat in a Viking helmet – a fate suffered by both the male and female winners, and subsequently posted in the Goole Times (or its equivalent.) For that, I am eternally grateful.  Second place was still a lovely thing, and I beat my time from the previous year… without having to wear a nobber of a helmet. Result!

This was also the month I discovered cross-training. Static bike at the gym? What? Yes. I sat on it, and I peddled. Resigned to the notions of ‘running: perhaps less is more?’ and having danced with the devil of overtraining for too long, I decided that a change in tack were needed. And I’ve never sweated as much in my life, whilst realising that there may be something to be gained by partaking in training OTHER THAN running. YES! REALLY! (Do you hear the sound of the penny dropping?)

JULY – HILLS & WIND: THE HALIFAX HALF MARATHON & THE WINDMILL HALF.

The Halifax Half Marathon: I was shitting myself about this one. It’s a nightmare. A half marathon on my doorstep that is 80% up hill, with the last downhill 20% being run on legs so tired you can barely stand up. It is a BASTARD of a half marathon course (and this comes from someone who, over the years, has probably completed close to 80 half marathons in all possible locations and guises.) When I say it’s a bastard, I mean it’s a motherfucker of a route which only gets worse, and never quite manages to get any better. A hard, endless climb followed by… precious little downhill. It’s an uphill, gasping trek to the pub mid-summer, to find the pub closed.

But maybe that brings out the fight in me. I battled with the early, piss-taking hills and they annoyed me to such an extent that I was fired up for the remaining unappetising lumpy miles. I battled and fought with myself and every ounce of my being, and I came in 2nd place. WOO fucking HOO! I was elated. By virtue of the fact that I’d pulled something out of a course that was as likely to break me as any conceivably could.

We stood on a little crappy wooden podium, and – despite the shite medals and absolute lack of fanfare – it felt like a real, personal mini-victory.

The Windmill Half was a funny one. Only a fortnight after the beasting of the Halifax Half, and made infinitely worse by a training run only two days before leading to insanely tired legs. On the Thursday night before Sunday’s Half marathon we joined a Halifax Harriers group to see how we liked it. They shot off like bats out of merry hell, and myself & Gav hung on like limpets to a rock face in absolute shock at the pace and route of said ‘training run’. Whether this was entirely for our benefit, I’ve no idea. But either way, it completely fucked my legs two days before a half marathon. Not clever.

The price I paid? A not entirely disgraceful 1:35, but on fresher legs of course I could have done better. A great day out none-the-less, and I took home a prize in my age category. The prize? An XXXL (male) Slazenger white T-shirt. Possibly the worst prize in the entire world… for a small-framed female runner. Or just anyone, actually.

 

AUGUST – Askern 10 mile and Arthur’s Seat

I was thick into marathon training now, and sandwiching races in between long weekend training runs. 16 miles; Race; 18 miles; Race. It was a pretty tough schedule starting in early August and it would remain tough until the Yorkshire Marathon in mid-October.

So, Askern 10. I ran hard, and I ran well. I’ve blogged about most of these races already so I won’t go into the weather conditions and other pedantics. I (just) managed to bag myself a 10 mile PB (71:12) and came away a happy girl.

Arthur’s Seat was a real treat (no rhyming intended). Piggy-backing Gav’s business trip to Edinburgh, I greedily helped myself to a double-lap of the famous landmark whilst he was busy being paid to impress some folk, somewhere. What a place; what a run! Thanks, Gav (and Lloyd’s bank) for the opportunity J

SEPTEMBER – GOLDEN BALLS AND GREAT NORTH RUN… AND BURNED OUT GREAT BALLS OF FIRE

Golden Balls 20 miler. This was a classic. It was legendary in the Cullo/Dodd book of racing adventures. It had everything: I could write a BOOK about this race, but a mere blog post had to do. I struggled, yet won; Gav struggled, and had to stop & walk. I cried waiting for him at the end, thinking Is it Dubai all over again? as I wept into my newly acquired smoothie maker and cheap bottle of Blossom Hill. But, I WON THE RACE! So what – there wasn’t a massive field, and so what – I didn’t get a 20 mile PB, and I was actually a couple of minutes outside of where I should have been. And yes – I’d struggled. I stopped at one point, thinking, ‘oh, fuck this’ but then somehow dug deep enough to get me through the final 6 miles. AND I BLOODY WON IT! This was a soap opera of a race for all of the above reasons, but (thankfully) had a happy ending.

It was always a big ask to run the Great North the following weekend. My legs were shot from the Golden Balls 20 miler, and I ran the risk of blowing up or pulling out. But, I desperately wanted to do this one. It was ten years since I’d taken part in the GNR, and I wanted to feel the magic of the race a decade on. I was a different runner; a different person.

I’ve already written blog posts about pretty much all of these races, so will spare those with more pressing things to do (like pretty much anything) the minutiae of my mile-by-mile recollections.

It is also with you – the lovely reader – in mind that I have pressed ‘pause’ on this 2016 recap, here. I could bleat on right through until the end of December, but why rush the job? If Back to The Future could stretch its plot so thinly, then I can surely spin out a Part Three to my yearly review.

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Besides, I wanted to update you on today’s ironically titled ‘Fun Run’ as I am now at the other side of said adventure. I know you’re willing for me to tell you of being cornered by the entirely unavoidable School Mum, and the tiresome Competitive Dad with Little Johnny; and the Kansas winds that blew not only my cobwebs away, but also my will to live in one endless onslaught. I know it would be FAR more joyous reading about the calamities of this local non-fun racing spectacular than the honest truth which is that… I LOVED IT.

OH BORE OFF!  – I’m sorry – I hear you. I feel in some small way disappointed that I can’t recount a horrific, saccharine fake-fun ‘family’ event with all the unfortunate trappings, as I, myself had predicted. It didn’t happen that way. Not today. My fear had taken a hold and tried to tell me it would be this horrible, painful, socially awkward experience to endure. But that’s what fear does. Even silly, daft irrational fears like those about A BLOODY 5K FUN RUN (FFS!)

We saw people up there who we really like (I know! Can you imagine?); Family came up to watch and cheer us on; Close friends (and heroes) turned up to both run and support; we chatted to new friends, and caught up with those whose paths we routinely cross on the running circuit, including those whose arses we dream of kicking on any given race day.

I ran hard, and I ran strong. Gav did the same. The Kansas winds stayed away, and we both raced our 5k Fun Run as if it were just that.

I’m so relieved I didn’t let my little Bastard Chimp convince me not to turn up today. But I still have an uncomfortable relationship with the notion of a ‘fun run’. Ask me after any race, and pretty much ten times out of ten I’m in an endorphin-fuelled happy place and would agree whole heartedly with this descriptive precursor.

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POST-RACE HAPPY FACE

Ask me beforehand, and it’s likely you’d be met with a couple of words. One of which rhymes with duck; the other one is ‘off’.