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.

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…

Goodbye, #VLM2017, hello recovery…

It’s five weeks since I’ve been able to run.

I’ve only just acknowledged that I will have to pull out of this year’s Virgin London Marathon, and I’m clinging onto my sanity whilst the waves continually try to bash me from the rock face. And I’m keeping a diary: a diary of my rehab, my recovery, and the lessons I’m learning about myself as I wade through this mire. In the big scheme of things, it’s no biggie. People have real problems. But the thing is, running has been my Prozac, my therapy, my lifeline, my sanity, my solace, my friend, my quiet time, my escape route, my place-to-go, and my default setting for some six years now. I’ve written a book about it, don’t you know? ‘Running for my Life’ will be published in Jan ’18.

How ironic then, that for however long (and I honestly have no idea) – I can’t run. My body won’t let me. It’s a painful experience. I feel vulnerable; insecure; not quite right; off-kilter. I feel like a piece of me has – if not died – then been put into a deep coma. That piece of me brought me joy. And I want it back.

So what am I going to do with all of this? Am I going to wallow and wilt whilst sobbing on my sofa eating Pringles? (*yes, probably… I jest.) I’ve cried irrational, melodramatic tears. I’ve spontaneously combusted at the frustration of my running being taken from me without explanation; without cause (well, this isn’t entirely true… #overtraining)

I love running. I love MY running. It pulsates through my being and makes me feel alive. But this is a journey that I am going to learn from. This is one that – despite my tears of frustration, my ‘Tilly, you’ll have to help me to run Junior Parkrun today, because I don’t think I can run 2k’ pleas to my six-year-old daughter – I need to turn into something strong and positive; something that I can use to grow and build from, and as a fuel to propel me rocket-like into the next phase of my running life.

I am learning; I am evolving; I am trying. And I am going to share some of my daily diary entries of both my progress, and my setbacks. Some days I feel mentally strong and defiant. Others, I feel like at the slightest nudge, I could crumble into a pit of mental health woes and outrageously disproportionate fears.

All of this is now a part of my journey, and my reality. And at the very least, I can share the ride…

Thanks for your company. Hold on tight!

 Mon 13th Feb

I’ve been fixated on reading Amelia Boone’s blog ‘When it all comes crashing down’ and her subsequent recovery from no less than TWO fractures in her femur (the strongest bone in the body) whilst at the very peak of her elite obstacle racing career. In my own mini, pathetic soap opera of a personal disaster, it’s helped knowing that someone else has been hit a hundred times harder, has fallen from a far greater platform, and has managed to pick up the pieces from a broken heart of shattered racing dreams. It is possible. And here I am, with a slight niggle to my calf (plus permanently dead legs) from which I am – at times – inconsolable.

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Thanks for the hint, Amelia. Loving this book…

Today was bad. I did my rehab – first session at 6.15am whilst the rest of the house slept, and I was barely awake enough to work out my left from my right. Hoping beyond hope that what I was doing wasn’t entirely pointless, I gave it another shot whilst on my usual lunchtime gym visit at work.

But my BIG goal for today was to run… TWO MILES. Engineering logistics in place to make the whole debacle feasible, Gav duly collected Mini Me and her last remaining Chicken Pox scabs from school, whilst I planned to park up in Copley village next to the canal. I’d get changed surreptitiously whilst in the driver’s seat, making every effort not to reveal all to innocent passers-by, and head off one mile out, and one mile back. Sounded easy. Fucking hell, how hard can that be?

I parked up and was soon swamped by School Mums walking past my car pushing prams, whilst I sat in my pants, wrestling myself into SKINS. Others sat waiting for talented & gifted offspring in the comfort of their 4x4s. I deliberately avoided eye contact.

A few contortions later and I was ready to run. Nerves were building as I asked myself, ‘Am I ready for this? Is my leg ready?’ In my gut, I already knew the answer.

I set off. My left leg struggled to push itself off the ground, the right one having to do what it could to mitigate for its distinct lack of effort. Every step was laboured; the pain in my left calf now precisely that – no confusion with tightness.

Back at my car, I wept. ‘I think my running is over, Gav’ I sent him by Whatsapp, as I sobbed in solitude at the wheel. ‘Don’t be silly, Rach. You’re catastrophizing again. You know that…’ he replied, being as rational as he could without sounding offensive.

I knew I was being melodramatic, emotional, and lacking any sense of logical reasoning, but in that moment, it’s precisely how I felt: I felt to have lost a part of me, and I couldn’t even imagine getting it back.

Once mercifully back home, I pulled myself together for the sake of Tills who had made a successful return to school braving any comments about her remaining chicken pox scabs. A few well-timed sobs on Gav’s shoulder in the kitchen whilst out of earshot later, and I finally calmed down.

Later that evening, once Chicken Dipper was in bed, Gav decided to give me his Valentine’s day gift. I knew he’d planned something special, and he wanted to give it me when I wasn’t otherwise occupied making breakfast or finding clean pants for a scabby child. He made the right choice, but I was still emotionally fragile.

I opened the large A4 envelope, and inside was the most stunning card, dotted with our gormless selfies from the past few years. I looked again, and I felt my tears well up. ‘That photo was taken from XX race…’ ‘… and that one when we were running in Barcelona!’ RUNNING IS HAUNTING ME AGAIN! I felt a wave of anger as even my beautiful Valentine’s card taunted me that I can’t do the very thing that I – and we – love to do the most. Fucking hell, pull yourself together, Rach.

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Soppy Get 😉

‘It’s beautiful, Gav,’ I said, gulping. And I meant it.

Behind the card was another envelope. This time there was a typed letter informing me of a spa afternoon he’d arranged, prior to the half marathon race we had planned for Sunday. It also told of a consultation with an International elite athlete, who could advise me with tweaks to my training for coming marathon plans… Training? What fucking training? I can’t train! I can’t even run a mile! I wept again as running once again seemed to usurp the kindest, most thoughtful and generous gift and kibosh it PRECISELY at the time when I least of all needed a kicking.

‘I don’t know if I can go, Gav’ I sobbed. ‘I can’t even run, so what’s the use of me sitting down talking about VO2 max and marathon training drills with some elite athlete?’ My mind had a meltdown with the pity and the frustration of it all.

‘It’s OK, Rach. Just think about it and we’ll make a call tmrw,’ said the ever patient, long-suffering Gav, whose heart must have been breaking seeing all of his thoughtful plans come crashing down in front of him.

He slowly walked up the stairs to the bathroom. And then, at that moment I had an epiphany: FUCK IT! I’m not going to let this bloody injury rob me and Gav of our plans for the special day he’s planned. NO WAY! And, I’d LOVE to speak to a ‘real’ athlete about some of the times when she’s struggled with injury or illness. And she’s an elite athlete! What the hell must THAT pressure be like?

Almost instantly my tears dried up and I felt excited. Excited at the prospect of meeting some sage-like running guru, and – more importantly – excited about the prospect of spending some time with my gorgeous, thoughtful, infinitely patient Gav regardless of any running plans that may have, at one point, been involved. So, fuck you, leg. I can’t WAIT for Friday!

*PS today is the day that I put my trainers in the bin in a fit of rage. Gav took them out, but I’ve got a MAJOR grudge with them after my horrendous 2 miler, and so they quickly went back in the bin.

 Fret not, I have others.

TO BE CONTINUED…

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…)