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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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.

I know what a Hero looks like… Halifax Parkrun 20th Feb 2016 #FlyHighEdie

I KNOW WHAT A HERO LOOKS LIKE – Halifax parkrun 20th Feb 2016

Today, I know what a hero looks like: I ran with one.

As you may (or may not) know, Gav and I ran the Dubai Marathon recently (“Did you? You should have said!”) We raised funds for our friends – Tom & Cheryl – who lost their beautiful daughter Edie back in October. Through their #FlyHighEdie campaign, they’re now raising funds for Edinburgh Sick Kids, who helped them through the worst imaginable pain.

Now, we’ve all got our crosses to bear, and some mornings, the mere fact that Tilly takes ten minutes to decide what shoes she’ll wear is enough to drive me to distraction (in fact, that’s most mornings.) I’m well aware of my own shortcomings – the trivialities and miniscule frustrations of life can sometimes tip me over the edge, to the point where I have a Kevin Spacey American Beauty meltdown if I get asked one more time to enter my Apple ID password, which I’ve already had to reset ten times that week. Or, hollers of “Gav! This bloody Suunto won’t sync again and I’ve been trying for the past friggin half hour. It’s just crap! Aaarrrgghhhh” ring out across our apartment, frequently. It shames me to be able to think of a million other examples of my ‘daily stresses’…

Today, Cheryl Murphy ran the Halifax Parkrun. We met her and Tom (and their beautiful baby Annie) at Shroggs Park. Cheryl has committed to running the Yorkshire Marathon in October this year in memory of her Edie, and for their campaign in support of Edinburgh Sick Kids. The most she has run in years is 3 miles. But, the heroism doesn’t stop there. I offered to run with her today – in fact I PLEADED to run with her – my own pathetic way of trying to avoid the pain of a distance I hate, on a tough Parkrun course, in abysmal weather conditions. She was having none of it. “Nope – thanks all the same but I’m fine. Really! I’ll be OK. You go ahead. No, seriously…” And so, without any good excuse not to, I sloped off and ran my own race.

My legs were (predictably) tired after a decent 9 miler yesterday, and still possibly feeling the effects of last weekend’s Village bakery Half Marathon – which was only 3 weeks after Dubai. I focused on the task in hand, and came away with an unremarkable time of 22:14 (in my head, I have a voice which frequently tells me I ‘should have done better’) but actually, today I couldn’t have done any better. I crossed the finishing line, and immediately set off back around the course to find Cheryl. One marshal looked at me quizzically, and said “Haven’t you already finished?!” I smiled and replied that I had, but was on a mission to find someone and run in with them.

And then I saw Cheryl. With about ¾ of a mile still to go, including two hill climbs (it’s hardly a PB course), she was working hard. Really hard. I ran alongside her and said “Right. We’re going to run in together. Stay with me, and we’ll pace it to the end.” She could have walked – I know she wanted to. She could have let that voice inside her which was screaming “WHAT ARE YOU DOING? YOU CAN’T DO THIS” win. She didn’t. I could hear the effort she was putting in. I could feel her determination to keep going and push through the pain. And in that moment, I realised – I was running with a hero. Nobody there knew her story, her loss, or her pain. Nobody knew how hard it was for her to put those trainers on and walk out of her front door – let alone battle her way through that 5k Parkrun.

When she finished, I wanted to throw my arms around her and scream at the top of my voice “LOOK WHAT YOU’VE JUST DONE! LOOK HOW MUCH YOU’VE JUST ACHIEVED!” I didn’t, because it’s a bit freaky weird, and could have appeared ever so slightly bipolar. But, in that moment, I realised what true strength and courage was. If she had walked in that last mile, she could still have held her head high, but she chose to fight harder than that.

And, ladies and gentleman, if that isn’t what a true hero is, then I don’t know what is.

Cheryl, you are my hero. #FlyHighEdie