Running For My Life… the birth of the baby elephant, 11th Jan 2018

It finally happened. After a 22-month gestation period, and some early complications -including a routine scan when it was questioned whether the elephant was in fact a giraffe (*ref earlier blog) – at 00:01 on Thursday 11th January 2018 I gave birth to a healthy, bouncing baby elephant. Or, to cut my now slightly overstretched analogy short – my book, “Running For My Life” was finally published.

The anticipation and build up to this event has been something akin to that of the European Space Station’s £80m investment into the human space programme. Weeks, months, and years in the living, writing, editing, re-writing and re-editing… and some more writing. Oh, and then a bit more editing…

And that was the easy part. Honestly.

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You see, back in 2015 when I began writing the book, and for the subsequent two years, I hadn’t quite factored in what might happen if and when my literary masterpiece ever made it out of the slush pile, and onto the shelves. That wasn’t anywhere on my radar. Simply writing and telling my story in the best way that I possibly could was my only goal / obsession. That was my focus and, it’s fair to say, it was my only focus.

So, in the very early meetings with my (admittedly amazing) publishing team, where there was some vague notion of a ‘marketing and PR plan’ closer to the publication date, I paid little attention. ‘Oh, that’s MILES off!’ I would reassure myself, and ‘We’ve got AGES until we’re anywhere close to all that stuff kicking off.’ Whatever “that stuff” was…

But just as day follows night, we crept ever closer to the Big Day. And as that happened, my levels of sheer terror began to build. I looked forward to Christmas, whilst at the same time waiting for it like Cinders counting down the seconds until the clock strikes 12 and her fancy glass slippers turn themselves back into God-awful Crocs. Christmas 2017 was my midnight hour. No more frolicking around with Prince Charming in an expensive little number from LK Bennett (ref. Prima magazine photo shoot); No more time to muse on these so-called ‘marketing and PR plans’ from afar. Along with the birth of Christ came the birth of all my fears: putting myself out there… whilst wearing Crocs.

I write in the book about introversion, and my natural tendencies towards this, and away from drawing any attention upon myself. That is, I’d suggest, reasonably understandable given the nature of my own experiences, and the gladiatorial inner battle with self-doubt vs self-acceptance I have warred over the past twenty years.

The whole idea, then, of going against my natural inclination and putting myself in myriad different guises of feigned self-confidence is as grotesquely warped as it is comical, considering the increasing levels of ‘social media whoring’ I may well be accused of over recent weeks and months. Like when Dustin Hoffman’s failing character actor Michael reinvents himself as ‘Tootsie’, the all-American female television actress, and then hits the big time with her fake teeth, tits, and dazzling red dress.

This is me. I am now Tootsie.

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PR:       “Right. We’ve got a photo shoot in London, Rach. Late November. You OK with that?”

Me:      ‘Yeah! Sure!” [I do a quick Google search for therapists within a 10-mile radius, whilst praying for the scabs to heal on both knees and elbows from Costa Rica, and the cold sores to vanish from my face…]

***

PR:       ‘Can you do a live interview on Radio Leeds next Tuesday, Rach?’

Me:      ‘Yeah! Sure!’ [I run across to the sink and think I may vomit the Vienetta I had as a post-run treat over an hour since]

***

PR: ‘Look North want to interview you live on the day of publication, Rach. Are you OK with that?’

Me: ‘Yeah! Sure!’ [I run across to the sink and actually vomit, just as soon as I’ve pressed ‘send’ on the email confirmation.]

***

PR: ‘Radio 2 have asked you to come down for a live radio interview, Rach… That OK?’

Me: ‘Yeah! Sure!’ [I don’t even get to the sink before vomiting, this time.]

***

I have sleepless nights. One day, the fear consumes me, and I send Gav a text. It simply says, ‘I think I’m going to pull out of Look North. Can’t do it.’ He tries to ring me, but I don’t answer the phone. The fear consumes me, because I am still that person who looks in the mirror and wants to hide away. I am Part 1 of my book – the 4-year-old little girl in the wretched pink ballet leotard who feels like a round shape amongst the rectangles.

But then I think of all the times when I’ve felt exactly the same trepidation and terror. I think back to the start lines of the hundreds of races when I’ve lined up questioning my right to be there, or my sanity in possibly making a monumental fool of myself. And then I know – I can do it again. This time, it isn’t on a start line of a race, but this is just another kind of start line. And running has given me the strength and the courage to know that I can – and I will – push myself out of my introverted, introspective comfort zone again. Because I’ve done so many, many times before.

‘So, Rachel. What’s the main message you’d like to give people, from reading your book?’ the glamorous female Look North presenter asks me, as we reach the conclusion of the live television interview.

‘It’s to be brave enough to try,’ I reply, as all my fears have now gone, melted away in a heady combination of adrenalin and hairspray fumes. ‘And not to worry about making a fool of yourself,’ I continue, on a roll. ‘Because we all have done, at one time.’

The live television interview is over, and I can’t believe that I even enjoyed it! I watch it back, and I realise – I have running to thank for giving me the strength to do this. Not only that, but I’ve had the most incredible experiences over the past week, and I have felt as proud of myself as I have running in any marathon.

Perhaps there’s another book in this, somewhere…

“Running For My Life” is available to buy now on Amazon, in paperback or kindle… Link here.

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Giving birth to an elephant Part 2… or is it a giraffe?? #writingabook

It’s a Tuesday morning in early March 2016. I’ve just come off the treadmill at the gym, as I need to keep even the smallest amount of headspace from my attractive bull elephant other half. It was very intense at the beginning of our courtship, but this relationship needs to be sustainable – we’re both in it for the long-haul – and so normality resumes as best it can.

I stroll back to the changing room with the slightest whiff of smugness, having ticked off my dreaded speed session. Phew! Thank God that’s over. Job done. I reach for my IPhone from inside the locker, and without thinking, I click on the ‘mail’ icon in the bottom right hand corner. I find myself doing this on average ten times every fifteen minutes over any 23-hour period (I leave one hour for uninterrupted sleep), just to see how the universe is responding – or not – to the story of me and my elephant. I don’t honestly expect to see anything different from the other 160 times I have already checked since 6am this morning, but this is how habits are formed (having undertaken some light research, I discover that this process is called ‘chunking’ – where the brain converts a sequence of actions into an automatic routine.)

I am now a chunker. I chunk.

And there it is. The Email. It reads:

Dear Rachel

We’re attracted to this submission. It has a lot of promise but it also needs some re-writing and re-ordering. On the plus side, it has a fierce energy and a raw honesty, absolutely no preaching, and we relate to a woman who finds and saves herself by running.”

WHAT? FUCKING WHAT?? I take a screen shot of The Email and, with shaking hands, I ping it over to Gav. But I can’t wait the ten nanoseconds for his reply, and so I immediately pick up the phone.

‘They like it!’ I scream to him down the phone, as the woman drying her crotch in front of me with what appears to be a shrunken tea-towel no longer exists in my reality: it is just me, Gav, my bull elephant, and The Email. ‘They fucking like it!’ I repeat, as if to begin the whole process of opening the euphoric email again, just to indulge myself, and relive the precise moment when my relationship with the attractive bull elephant was at least acknowledged by the universe as existing – like it mattered.

I can feel the adrenaline coursing through my body as the prospect that somebody, somewhere, sees some vague potential in my beloved bull elephant, and that they may think he’s beautiful, too.

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This isn’t the actual selfie, but you get the gist…

Outside the gym, I take a selfie as evidence to Gav, and myself, of this monumental turning point. I check the selfie once more before pinging it across to Gav on WhatsApp. But my ridiculous, euphoric smile isn’t what I see. Instead, an ethereal glow radiates from the photograph. It is the unadulterated joy of potential: of what might be. This person – the one who has typed out the precise words expressing their ‘attraction’ to my submission – is now The Gatekeeper: the gatekeeper to my dreams.

Emails are exchanged, and over the coming weeks and months, a dialogue develops between the two of us.

‘Dear Rachel. We think that maybe your elephant might benefit from a slight makeover. Would it be possible, do you think, for him to work out a little, and to lose a small amount of weight?

Yes, I guess that’s possible. Although I do like his chunky thighs…

‘And he seems a little… grey to us. Would you consider adorning him in some brighter, funkier outfits, perhaps?’

I look over at my elephant who is sitting quietly, reading a book about self-acceptance on the sofa. Hmmmm, I think to myself, imagining my bull elephant dressed up like Timmy Mallet. I happen to quite like that shade of grey…

‘And finally, if we are to proceed with your submission, we will need you to take drastic action with your elephant’s ears. They are too flappy, and there is a small, misshapen chunk missing from the left lobe. Without a doubt, comprehensive reconstructive surgery will be required.’

I look again, and my heart sinks. I love my elephant. I love his colour, and his misshapen, flappy ears. I love the essence of him, and I don’t want him to undergo major cosmetic surgery to morph into a non-grey, neon version of himself that I no longer recognise. That’s not to say that certain improvements can’t be made and aren’t necessary, even (I totally know that they are) but I suddenly realise: it’s not my elephant they want at all. In fact, they don’t even want an elephant.

They want a giraffe dressed up as Timmy Mallet.

With the heartbreak of this realisation, we part ways, and they wish me and my beautiful bull elephant the best of luck on our continuing journey. I sit in the car and cry, because fleetingly I wonder, ‘Why couldn’t you be a giraffe who looks like Timmy Mallet? Why do you have to be a big old lump of grey elephant with misshapen ears?’ I think about the point of our relationship. Where are we going? And why? Do I really love him like I once thought I did? Do I believe in him – and in myself – enough to think that we could make it work? Salty tears roll down my cheeks and plop onto my hi-vis jacket as I ponder our future together. And then my self-indulgent woe is broken by the voice of a small child sitting in the back of the car.

‘Don’t cry, Mummy,’ she says. ‘It’ll be OK. Please don’t cry.’

You see, we have just finished Junior Parkrun, and only now – sitting in MacDonald’s car park at 10am on a drizzly Sunday morning – have I allowed the weight of emotion to wash over me and to temporarily break me, whilst my daughter sits and watches, draining the contents of a blackcurrant Fruit Shoot, from her booster seat in the back.

‘It’s OK, Tills,’ I tell her, half laughing at the ridiculousness of the scene. ‘I’m OK. Honestly I am.’

How can I possibly explain to her how much this means to me; about the Joy of Potential, and the Gatekeeper to my Dreams? She frequently sees me sitting and tapping away on my MacBook Pro keyboard. She sees the Writers & Artists Yearbook 2016 take permanent residency on the small colouring table in our front room, and yet she has no idea that this is all for her. This is her story as much as it is mine; this is her elephant, and she will inherit all of it – whether she likes it or not.

I dry my exhausted tears and I commit once again to finding a home for my beautifully imperfect bull elephant.

We’re back to square one. Each submission is a masterpiece in itself: carefully crafted to the idiosyncrasies of the respective gatekeepers. I haven’t been through this process for a good few months, whilst I tried to bend and shape, flex and contort my bull elephant into the ill-fitting guise of a fluorescent giraffe. But I haven’t sold him out, and I haven’t sold my soul. For that, I am at least grateful.

I’m only at ‘B’ in my Encyclopedia of Hope, and I happen across a publishing house called ‘Blink Publishing’. I do my usual research on the internet, and I am unable to cross this off my list of potentials despite being overwhelmed with magnitude. These are big hitters – the real deal. They publish many incredible non-fiction, autobiographical books for the rich and famous, but I won’t be intimidated. I dig a bit deeper, and I discover a wealth of evidence to support this being a potential loving and nurturing home for my bull elephant. I swallow hard at the prospect of sending a snap-shot of my blundering, grey, scraggy-eared, unpolished bull to the appointed gatekeeper of said publishing house. But I think back to the encouraging words of Giraffe Random House and the early indications I have received of our potential, and I know I must.

It is now early August 2016, and I send my very best effort – an entirely filtered portrait of my bull elephant to the fancy publishing house. He is standing at an angle, thereby disguising the misshapen left earlobe, and the filter I have selected makes him appear to be more of a silvery grey than the miserable, rainy day, murky colour that he is.

I press ‘send’ and I know I couldn’t have done any more. The rest is down to good fortune, and the will of the universe.

One week goes by, and I hear nothing. I’ve hardened up emotionally since the trauma of the MacDonald’s car park pathetic fallacy scene. I simply must accept that this might be a long, or even endless journey. There may be another thousand condescending rejections to contend with, and I may be met with an insurmountable wall of silence (the slush pile is an over-populated, hostile place) so best I get my head around those realities now, before I fall foul of the ‘joy of potential’ honey trap again.

My newly emotionally-resilient self sends a politely worded chase-up email to the faceless gatekeeper at Blink Publishing. I feel nothing as I send the email. My task is now purely pragmatic, and I cannot afford to become too emotionally involved.

But then, I receive it. Another Email. It pings into my inbox, and once again the joy of potential dances around, flirting with me.

‘Dear Rachel

I have indeed received your submission, and I have been reading it for the past few days. I am really enjoying it, and will be able to give some more detailed feedback once finished. Please expect a fuller response by the end of the week!’

I show Gav, and he hops about it the living room, whilst I remain seated.

I just hope they want an elephant, I think to myself, as I look across the room at my bull who is lifting weights over in the corner. He’s just come back from the local tanning salon. What shade of grey is that? I wonder.

He’s already beginning to look rather different…

TO BE CONTINUED…

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Junior Parkrun Birthday Party – an antidote to Play Gyms

What on earth can we do for her birthday?” I asked Gav, willing for some flash of inspiration to help us avoid the dreaded Play Gym Party scenario.

Not being one for orchestrated, indoor fun courtesy of those expensive padded cells that have become commonplace amongst the Playground Mums, I was desperate for an alternative. “What’s more ‘us’?” I pondered? “What do we do together, with the girls, and how can we make that a part of Tilly’s birthday celebrations?

And then the lightning bolt struck me very late one night: THAT’S IT! WE’LL HAVE A JUNIOR PARKRUN PARTY!

It was a risky plan.

Many Sundays, Tills seems riddled with pre-parkrun apprehension. She puts undue pressure on herself to work hard and aim for a PB. We’ve spoken about that – I’ve bored her to death with “it’s the taking part and enjoying it that counts” reassuring blurb. Not to Tilly it isn’t – she’s one for self-imposed striving of a 6-year-old’s insanely high standards. Most weeks, I can see her push herself, and I know it hurts. The little lungs burn; the chicken drummer quads prickle with lactic. It’s the start of a long journey – those ‘hurts’ feel just the same in adult turkey thighs.

So, my plan to combine this ‘fun’ with her birthday party seemed at first insane. Would she be mortified at the prospect of propelling herself around the usual 2km of hard work in full view of her classmates? Would she secretly be hankering after the sugary-coated play gym party, with a rainbow of plastic climbing frames and ropes, in full view of the latte mums and reluctant corporate dads? Maybe she quite enjoyed the sickly pink slide and the wipe-clean climbing mats with just a hint of vomit on overly warm days. Perhaps it’s just me who struggles to know how we all came to fall in love with this as a concept.

And what about the other kids? Would they even want to come to a Junior Parkrun party? Would the playground parents really want to be up and off at 8.15am on a grumbling Sunday morning to head for a local park? The Plastic Slide parties are usually at a more forgiving Sunday morning hour: time enough to look beyond Saturday night’s wine splurge that was never meant to end in opening that third bottle…

Not to mention the weather. Last night, I was awoken with dread at 2:30am by the unwelcome rattle of swollen raindrops on our velux window. “Ahh shit. What do I do now? What if it’s like this in five hours time? Do I even have all the contact details for those parents who’ve been bothered to reply? How would it look if we bailed on our own child’s party due to British weather? The play gym would seem like a dream then, smart arse, wouldn’t it?” I berated myself for not having a Plan B.

I’d made a valiant attempt to cover most bases: We’d ordered a cake, complete with the Junior Parkrun logo. They’d missed the photo of Tills off it, but it looked great nonetheless *it should do at that price. I’d ordered some kids’ sandwich boxes from the Cafe at Greenhead Park. Knowing how ravenous most of them are on crossing the finish line, it was a no-brainer. If in doubt, feed them!

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And then there was the issue of presents. A second thunder bolt had struck and convinced me that there was an alternative to the reams of plastic tat suddenly needing a second home on the back end of a child’s birthday celebration. Without wanting to sound like a tight arse, or some holier-than-though tree-hugger whose daughter is made to do without ‘for the greater good’, I had a plan. Having an approximation of the levels of brick-a-brac already destined for residence with us, I decided we didn’t need any more encouragement for ingenious storage options – I hate IKEA at the best of times. And so I wrote to the parents and simply asked that instead of buying Tills a gift, we would greatly appreciate a small donation to our friend’s fund-raising efforts since losing their daughter last year – #FlyHighEdie. This seemed to hit a number of objectives, and we were over the moon that Cheryl, Tom and baby Annie were able to come over for the occasion, too.

And so, with the overnight downpour having just about abated, we headed off at 8am to see what this purportedly inspired Parkrun Party would deliver.

As we parked up, a couple of the Playground Mums meandered into Greenhead park, and I breathed a sigh of relief knowing that at least some of her classmates had turned up to give this left-field party idea a try. Phew! A few more arrived in dribs and drabs, and before we knew it, we were hobnobbing with many familiar faces. It was exciting to be able to share a little bit of what our family likes to do. Some of the parents had never heard of Junior Parkrun before. This was their first introduction to the world of Alternative Sunday Mornings.

We moved outside to the start area, and all around us Tilly’s classmates and friends were dotted in amongst the regular runners. Tills got a lovely birthday shout out, and before long we were off. At full capacity with a child gripped firmly in either hand, I looked down to either side of me. I saw giggling faces, full of laughter as novelty combined with the excitement of suddenly legging it for no apparent reason washed over the pair of them. And I thought to myself, “You’ve pulled a blinder here, Rach. This is ace!”

 

Once all the newbies had come in to the finish, and had the ‘you can register your little Johnny online...’ spiel from the lady with the clipboard, we congregated in the cafe. Within minutes, all little bodies were happily ingesting jam sandwiches, Pom Bear crisps and a Penguin chocolate biscuit. Hungry chatter was soon replaced by contented munches, and a mini wave of smug, self-satisfaction washed over me, as I knew it had worked – my random party plan had actually come off!

The cake was done and dusted within a few minutes, and then all children exited stage left to go and throw themselves around the play area outside. Back to the fresh air which is – I believe – the antidote most of us need to the centrally-heated, plastic-seated, overly-orchestrated world in which we find ourselves looking for the nearest Emergency Exit sign, most days.

The kids loved it; “It’s the best party, EVER!” one little girl said to me. I asked her what she’d said, just to hear it again for my own egotistical purposes. Back of the net!

We got home, and I received a text from a previously unknown School Mum who’d turned up with her little boy AND a 3 week old baby (how did she even get out of bed?) It said “Thank you again for the great time Oliver had this morning.

Then – just when it couldn’t get any better – Cheryl sent me through a screen shot of the #FlyHighEdie donation page. She was made up with the few extra pounds adding to the impressive amount they’ve already raised to help Edinburgh Sick Kids.

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…And finally, although we couldn’t escape the plastic tat completely, it could have been a lot, lot worse.

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Thanks to all who donated to #FlyHighEdie, supporting Edinburgh Sick Kids. 

 

 

 

 

 

I know what happiness is to me.

I ran the Woodhouse Moor Parkrun today in Leeds, hosted by Leeds Frontrunners. It was a celebration of everything fun, colourful, positive and bright. And it got me thinking…

I know what happiness is to me. 

It’s waking up on a Saturday morning at 7.15am and creeping around the house like an out-of-season Santa trying not to wake anyone;
It’s packing my kit bag up silently, amidst the sound of weekend silence and young children’s snores;
It’s filing my Heisenberg travel mug with coffee without clumsily clattering the spoon on the ceramic sides, and grabbing a couple of chocolate digestives from Gav’s gingerbread man biscuit tin for the journey;
It’s wrestling into my 2XU compression socks without falling over – the first metamorphosis into “Runner”, not unlike Eric when he eats that banana;
It’s tip-toeing out of the door and hearing the muted ‘click’ of the front door as it closes ever so quietly behind me, as if I’m just about to enter a secret kingdom;
It’s settling in my Juke with the heated seats warming my goosebumped thighs, or cold air blasting at my feet, depending on the mood of the weather gods;
It’s pressing ‘PLAY’ on my iPhone playlist and still marvelling at the fact that I don’t need a CD player in the car – music can be played telepathically nowadays, don’t you know;
It’s having my unashamedly out of date tunes on too loud, and singing along to Jane Wiedlin’s Rush Hour as if it’s he best song I’ve ever heard. And then again, and again until the x-factor thrill turns into mild irritation;
It’s driving across to join the M62 and marvelling at the beauty of the rolling Yorkshire hills as they become drenched in the morning sunlight;
It’s hitting the motorway and cruising effortlessly along, enabling me to concentrate more on my talentless singing than on other wanker drivers;
It’s parking up and suddenly needing a wee, but having no idea where to go, and so making do with a brief squat inbetween my two open car doors; (yes I really do that.)
It’s the dread of the warmup trot when I – yet again – wonder how the hell my legs will go any faster than Tilly’s 5-year old Junior Parkrun pace;
It’s standing on the start line and looking around me at the other runners, wondering how they’re feeling, and catching someone’s eye for a mutually knowing smile;
It’s setting off and running faster than I believed I could, and gulping back the fears which threaten to invade my imminently flatlining positive mantra;
It’s keeping going when everything hurts and burns and aches;
It’s the feeling of relief on passing the finish line, and knowing I’ve once again successfully wrestled my anxiety into a head lock from which it can’t escape;
It’s taking my first post-race gormless selfie, when I can’t help but look like an overexcited meerkat;
It’s getting back in my car and ONCE AGAIN singing along to Jane Wiedlin’s Rush Hour as if it’s the best song I’ve ever heard. I am Bill Murray in Groundhog Day – it’s as if the earlier morning journey never even happened.
It’s arriving home and knowing that my family love me for all of the above reasons.
So today, this was my day. And that’s what’s made me so utterly, absolutely and insanely happy. Thank you Parkrun, and @LFrontrunners, for making my day.

If curiosity killed the cat, did anxiety not cripple it first? The tale of the Halifax Half Marathon 3rd July 2016

If curiosity killed the cat, did anxiety not cripple it first?

The tale of the Halifax Half Marathon 3rd July 2016

Anxiety is a horrible thing. It can take a hold and spread like wild fire throughout an arid, scorched woodland. It can – and it will – use anything to fuel itself: like oxygen in plentiful supply feeding greedy, burning flames. This weekend’s Halifax Half marathon race was easy fodder for my fire. It skulked around me for weeks; it ravaged otherwise peaceful parts of my mind, and littered it with torched, fearful thoughts. You’re no good at hills. There’s no way you can do anything like what you did here last year. You’ll crash & burn. Mark my words – you’ll fall flat on your face this time, Rach. Honestly, just wait and see…

I’ve had melodramatic, sleepless nights. I’ve tossed and turned. I’ve woken in the early hours contemplating outcomes, wondering how my pathetic ego would deal with whatever insignificant eventuality may occur. But hang on a minute… THIS IS ONLY A FLIPPIN’ RACE. It isn’t life or death. It is ONLY a DAFT little PIFFLING local race. Why could my constantly whirring mind not register and compute the fact? Why did it taunt me so?

I couldn’t understand.

It’s been a horrible run up to this particular race. It’s played on my mind like an incessant, annoying soundtrack… Do I, don’t I? Can I, can’t I? Will I, won’t I? It’s been truly awful (think Frozen’s ‘Let it Go’ on repeat. For two solid months.)

Gav innocently threw it into the mix quite randomly a month or so back. ‘The Halifax Half marathon is on Sunday 3rd July, Rach. I’m going to do it. Do you fancy it?’

Shit. Shit. Shit. NO! I DON’T FANCY IT. IT’S A BASTARD OF A COURSE AND I HATE IT!

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It’s not a ‘fast, flat one!’

But he’d sewn the seed. A couple of weeks went by, and it still loomed on my mind. ‘Do I, don’t I? Can I, can’t I? Will I, won’t I?’ I just didn’t know if I could, would, or even wanted to tackle it. And then, ‘Ahh bollocks, I’ll enter online anyway just on the off chance that I can bring myself to turn up on the day.’ It was booked. I was in.

The truth is, I was terrified. Of the race, the course, and the fact that it’s on my home turf. It all simply terrified me beyond comprehension, and beyond explanation.

We both ran it last year, and I’d raced it as hard as I was able to. I’d battled my way around the 13.1 miles and 1,300 ft of climbing, and I’d fought hard for my place as 3rd lady. Right to the bitter end, I scrapped with my nemesis from the running club, and with myself. I dug deep, and it hurt. A lot.

Gav was in a pretty bad way after last year’s race. It knocked him sideways for a day or so – and he’s the hill runner out of the two of us. But he was up for it this year: he wanted comeuppance for the bastard course that had kicked his arse in 2015 (some would say he’d set off too fast!), and so he planned his revenge. I, on the other hand, wasn’t so inclined to rouse the slumbering beast.

The sleepless nights continued. Daily conversations in our household sounded a bit like this:

            ‘I just feel so tired, Gav. I’m working longer hours, and I’m shattered. I don’t know if I’ve got the energy to do this. I don’t know if I’ve got any fight in me at all.’

He frequently placated me.

‘You don’t need to decide now, Rach. Just try to relax about it and see how you feel on the day.’

Meanwhile, I’d volunteered to be a guide runner for the lovely Chris Vaughan at Halifax Parkrun the day before the race: I had no excuse not to. With his visual impairment, he needs assistance to run. How on earth could I not offer to help? I can see. I can run. I can help… and so I did. I still felt shattered after yet another night of semi-insomnia. I told Chris I was running the Halifax Half Marathon the following day, and as the words left my lips, I couldn’t bring myself to even consider some feeble excuse as to why I would possibly opt out. Being terrified of failing and looking for the easy way out seemed utterly pathetic.

I processed a few of my fearful thoughts, and realised that I was still plagued by the Leeds Half disaster a month or so earlier, where everything had gone wrong and I’d simply blown up. This would be my first half marathon since then, and I had to prove to myself that I could get over the upset of that failure, and put myself on the start line.

The morning of the race came. I’d had yet another restless night, and I was shattered. I’d woken in the early hours, and once again couldn’t extinguish my raging inferno of anxious flames. Why? What the hell am I so afraid of?

One question appeared to eclipse all others: How would I feel knowing I’d been too afraid to even try?

Regardless of any outcome – even if I DO crash & burn, or blow up, or get overtaken by Barry the Banana (there weren’t any on route, as it happens, but it seemed like a perfectly rational fear.) THAT would be my definition of failure: To be so utterly consumed with anxiety, fear and ‘what if’s’ that I didn’t even make it to the start line. No matter how ludicrous those fears may sound now, in retrospect – I know that my anxiety was real. Even irrational thoughts can present themselves as being perfectly valid. They are, perhaps, the original wolves in sheep’s clothing.

I wouldn’t be beaten back by the flames of incessant, fearful thoughts, and so I turned up. I turned up and I ran. I knew it would be tough; I knew exactly where ALL the hills were; I knew precisely where I would struggle and want to walk; I knew I was tired after ridiculous, turbulent nights; I knew that my potential for failure was huge. These were collectively all of the reasons why I HAD to put myself on the start line, because the alternative was simply out of the question.

And so we were off. It was a relief to stop thinking and to start running. The anxiety stopped dead in its tracks. I had Gav in my sights for the first 8 miles, and then, whilst he had a bust-up with an unwelcome gel, I ran past. I just kept on running until I crossed the line.

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And we’re off…

I saw our lovely friend Cheryl with baby Annie just next to the finish line, and felt insanely proud that I hadn’t let them down. I was 2nd female over the line this year. Gav and Tom weren’t too far behind, along with the lovely Jim and Kezzy of Halifax Harriers.

I had my mini small-fry moment of glory, standing on the makeshift, clumsily hand-painted podium whilst we were handed our little wooden trophies.

But for me, the real victory was in taming the beast that was my anxiety, and caging it: I’d already won my own race when I stood on the start line.