Q: When is a race not a race?

A: When I couldn’t give a Fat Rascal about anything other than finishing it.

‘I think I want to enter into a race again, Gav.’ I said. ‘It’s time to get over the fear.’

What’s the worst that could happen?

We chose the Ilkley Trail race on Bank Holiday Monday. It worked around the delicate orchestrating of childcare arrangements courtesy of two broken homes (sob*) having successfully amalgamated into one complete madhouse**

Regardless, it wasn’t an obvious choice for a tentative first race back since the debacle of the Dewsbury 10k back in February, during which I’d been forced to make the Walk of Shame back to the start after only 1.5 miles of purgatory (before being picked up by the Unfortunate Bastards Sweeper Bus.) That was my last race: it hurt my legs, my Achilles, and my pride.

I’ve written a lot recently about race anxiety. I’ve been known to have sleepless night before Parkrun. Yes, seriously. I’ve woken up with palpitations in a goose-bumped, fuzzy-headed clammy sweat, cleaned the fridge, and set off a good two hours before the marshals have even pressed ‘SNOOZE’ on their teasmade.

And why? I have no answer. It doesn’t really matter: none of it does. Nobody ultimately cares how I do, or what time I drag my carcass across the finish line. I used to think that it matters, and that it proved something about who I was, and who I could be. But it doesn’t. Successes are fleeting. They’re like the yellow marzipan around a Battenberg: a nice-to-have. Would you still enjoy the pink and yellow sponge cake squares without the yellow marzipan encasement? Yes, you would. Or I would, at least.

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A loss of form, however, separates the ego from the true self. It strips away the protective marzipan comfort of glory, and the pseudo almondy mask of acknowledgement. Injury; illness; life events. Any one of them can suddenly derail even the most cock-sure of egos, and have it tumble from the gilded perch on which it has merrily swung.

Q: What’s left then?

A: The pink and yellow sponge cake squares.

I woke on the Bank Holiday Monday having thoroughly processed and digested my ‘who am I?’ Battenberg analogy (I can only apologise for inadvertently stumbling across this clumsy pun.) I’d slept, and I’d slept well. PHEW! This was a good start. No heart racing, no palpitations, and no reaching for the proverbial mushroom bag. It’s all under control, Rach. And it was.

Resting heart rate: 54.

Kit on, bags packed, myself and the other half of me, commonly known as ‘Gav Dodd Fax’, headed out under a heavy sky in the direction of Ilkley. ‘I don’t feel nervous, Gav. Do you?’ I ventured.

‘No, not a bit,’ he replied. And he meant it.

‘But I don’t feel anything! No butterflies, no adrenalin, no tension. No nothing! I slept like a baby and haven’t taken to grinding my teeth, or cleaning out the fridge at 6am. It feels strange, that’s all.’ I continued, talking to myself as much as I was to him.

‘It’s the furthest we’ve run in months, Rach’ he replied matter-of-factly in his pre-8am tired tone, ‘And we’re only just starting to build our fitness back up. What can we expect?’

He was right.

We were – true to form – a good hour too early on arrival at the Ilkley Lido. With the heated seats on low, I slurped the remnants of cold coffee from my favourite Heisenberg travel mug, whilst Gav took half a dozen attempts to pin a small square of paper onto the front of a vest. It felt like coming home.

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Do these look like faces that could give a fat rascal?

‘Are you feeling nervous yet, Gav?’ I asked, as he stabbed his thumb yet again with a pin.

‘Nope. Not at all,’ he replied, shortly followed by, ‘is my number straight?’

And then the already slate-grey heavens must have remembered that it was a national Bank Holiday, and so began to spew relentlessly. For fuck’s sake.

‘I guess we’d better warm up, then’ we appeared to say in unison as the car clock nonchalantly indicated that it was a quarter past the hour.

Once our trainers had been replaced by the more unfamiliar off-roadies, we stepped out into the incessant shower pouring from a monochrome sky, and began to jog – no, hobble – up the grassy banking towards the start of the race. We continued slowly up the offensive hill in some kind of torturous pre-race dress rehearsal of what was about to come.

It’s quite possibly the worst start to any race. A measly hundred metres of flat followed by up, up, and then some more up.

‘Jesus, Gav. I’m fucked.’ I panted, stopping my pathetic attempt at a warm-up jog only a quarter of the way up the offensive hill, and stared at him, blankly. ‘And this is just the warm up!’ I could tell from his expression that my words echoed his exact thoughts.

Back down at the start line, we hung around at the back like a pair of shy teenagers trying to smoke menthols behind the bike sheds. ‘Start off slowly, Rach. And remember – it doesn’t matter. None of it matters.’

He was right.

We set off slowly, as Gav suggested, towards the back of the pack. My legs relaxed thanks to the entire absence of any pressure, and they took off slowly up the hillside. Steadily inching past a fair number of runners, they made it to the top. What had seemed incredulous whilst tottering about on our anxiety-inducing warm up was – in fact – perfectly feasible. My legs handled it: they were (just about) up to the job.  The climb continued, and – unbelievably – my legs were still turning over. A couple of miles in, and I’d pulled ahead. But lack of racing fitness kicked in, and I took the opportunity to pull over and wait for my Gav Dodd Fax who was sticking to his guns and approaching at a consistent, steady pace. I was thankful for the rest.

I’ll spare you the minutiae: I stopped a bit, and I started again. I felt temporarily beaten, and then mildly triumphant for fighting back. The rain was cold and cleansing, washing away any worries about performance, PBs or lack of form. I’m here, and I’m back running… No, I’m back RACING! Only racing in a different way. Free from heaviness and pressure; stress and worry. Racing on my terms, and running as well – or not – as my body could, on this day, today.

Crossing the finish line I was 5 minutes slower than the last time I’d tackled the very same beast back in 2015, when – entirely without injury, illness, life event or force majeure – I was happily swinging away on my merry little perch. But I didn’t care. I’d happily nibble on the pink and yellow sponge cake squares – minus the (admittedly delicious) yellow marzipan. Today, I was grateful for the squares.

Gav came over the line shortly afterwards, visibility having been an issue whilst having no wipers on his face furniture.

‘Bloody hell, that was tough, wasn’t it?’ he said, attempting to peer through his now entirely opaque spectacles.

‘No shit it was. Do you fancy going to Betty’s for a Fat Rascal?’

They don’t sell Battenberg.

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*not really

**hashtag smiley face

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…

 

 

 

 

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

Fri 24th Feb – Rest Days ROCK!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rest days ROCK!!

 *** 

Tues 28th FebThe Magic of Yoga

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you, thank you ,thank you.

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

To be continued…

 

 

 

 

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…

London Marathon Diary 2017, Sunday 5th Feb 2017: Who am I when I can’t run?

London Marathon Diary 2017

Sunday, 5th Feb 2017

Who am I when I can’t run?

Today is Sunday, 5th Feb, and it’s exactly 11 weeks – or 77 days – until the 2017 London Marathon.

How’s my training going? It’s going shit. I’ve already vented my frustration at having two weeks’ worth of KFC family-bucket sized, ‘Do you wanna go large with that?’ flu rampaging through our house, knocking me sideways, off my feet and away from any semblance of ‘real’ marathon training (ref. ‘Lemsips and Race Disasters’ Blog post.)

And then. AND THEN it got worse. I kicked my own arse so hard on the bastard treadmill playing some misconceived game of ‘catch up’ that I brought on an injury to my lower calf/Achilles area. This caused me to go all E.T and Phone Home on Thursday morning, as I stood by a wet, lonely bench high on Norland Moor with wide, sad eyes waiting for my long-suffering Other Half to pick me up 3 miles from my own front door (ref. ‘Beware: The Dreaded Treadmill Overkill’ Blog post.)

It is now Sunday. By my basic calculations, that is a mere THREE DAYS after the E.T Phone Home incident, and subsequent emergency Physio appointment at which he (Magician Dave) said – and I quote – ‘So, you WON’T be racing on Sunday then, Rach, will you?’

I didn’t answer.

I did believe in miracles, and I did turn up to the start line of the Dewsbury 10k race this morning. I knew it was a gamble: my leg would either handle it, or it wouldn’t.

It wouldn’t.

I set off knowing the grumblings were still there, and by only ONE MILE into the race, the pain was intensifying. At 1.7 miles, there was nowhere to go, and so I limped off the course and made an about-turn, facing the Walk of Shame back to the start.

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Runners stared at me as though witnessing a resurrection, as I trudged slowly down the street in the wrong direction, back to the centre of the toilet bowl that is Dewsbury.

‘Are you OK?’ A kind marshall asked, as I hobbled by, pathetically.

‘Injured.’ I said, feigning a sorry smile, whilst hobbling and pointing to my leg.

A St. John’s Ambulance pulled up, and a kind chap shouted out of the window ‘Do you want a lift back to the start, love?’

‘Yes. Yes, please, I do’ I shouted back, as the prospect of a 1.7 mile shuffle back down the Dewsbury U-bend wasn’t altogether appealing – certainly not in (short) shorts and a thin running top. I hopped in the van and made polite chatter with the crew, who looked grateful to have something to do. I turned down their kind offer of emergency Lucozade, having barely broken a sweat, and confirmed that I didn’t need bandaging or carrying anywhere, which seemed to dampen the mood slightly.

Once safely dropped off back at the Dewsbury bidet, I conveniently bumped into Andy, a lovely runner also hampered by injury, and a true gentleman. I stood with Andy, still slightly stunned from the wilful disobedience of my left leg, whilst wrapped up in his warm, winter coat with the oversized arms hanging down around my knees like a homespun Mr Tickle costume. We chatted about our recent running experiences and respective misfortunes, whilst my very own Hero in Human Form Cheryl (#FlyHighEdie) and baby Annie joined us. She hugged me with a warmth to challenge Andy’s overcoat, and the world seemed just that little bit brighter.

We waited for our respective Running Other Halves to cross the finish line – which they did in 41 and 43 minutes respectively (well done Tom & Dodd) and hobbled off to Weatherspoons, where I dunked my emergency non-branded digestives into a refill coffee to ease my running sorrows (I brought them along from home… just in case.)

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It’s all smiles… then RICE

And once back at home, it got me thinking. Two things:

Firstly: Who am I if I can’t run? How does it make me feel? What is my state of mind? And how does it– and will it – impact on the rest of my days, until I am free to bounce around the hills and vales once more in serotonin-enhanced bliss?

This may seem a little melodramatic (it has been known to be a particular penchant of mine) and also rather hasty, as I don’t yet know the full extent of my lower limb’s blatant refusal to play along with my marathon hopes and aspirations.

But these are questions that I will ponder, as the coming days of cross-training, rehab and ‘rest’ (NO! NOT THAT WORD) are on the menu. It already makes me shrink and recoil in my own skin to think that I am ALREADY struggling with this as a concept, whilst there are

  1. a) PLENTY of other people who are experiencing similar minor irritations like warts on an otherwise peachy arse; and
  2. b) there REALLY ARE FAR bigger problems to be facing in the world (and I know plenty of lovely, incredible people personally who are having those daily battles right here, and right now.)

I will put some more thought to this, and to the glaring flaws this highlights in my own ability to handle even mild adversity (of which I have had a reasonably generous dollop across my 38 years of spinning around like some preoccupied Tasmanian Devil on this oversized revolving marble, I must confess.)

Secondly: This is the start of my NEW Virgin London Marathon 2017 journal. It came to me in a lightbulb moment. For the next 77 days, I will document the ups and downs, the triumphs and disasters and the bumps in the road that will see me to the start of the VLM 2017… or not. I last did this on the run up to the VLM 2015, and – hell – it ended up being the very first chapter of my book ‘Running For My Life’ (which will be published Jan ’18 by @BlinkPublishing with signed copies also available on the free table at Tesco’s shortly after.)

 So, on Instagram* (Cullen_Rachel) I will post a photo EVERY DAY for the next 77 days to document that journey. Some days, it might be a photo of a bar of Dairy Milk and a Foam Roller, but it will all be a part of my journey to VLM 2017.

The question is: Will I make it?

*I still don’t quite ‘get’ Instagram; the whole hashtag thing, or the fact that I only have about 7 followers (you know who you are, and I love every single one of you :-D)

But my Mum loves me.

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Instagram?? Hashtag? Mum – Are you there?

BEWARE: THE DREADED TREADMILL OVERKILL

Last month I was busy crowing about ‘the realities of marathon training’ and my virtuous early morning speed session. YAY ME! (I would have used ‘sessions’ in the plural, but it only happened the once.)

January was a bastard of a month. We all had flu, passing it around various family members like a gravy boat at Sunday lunch.

“Here you go, Mum”

 “Thanks, Till. Gav, it’s all yours…”

 “Cheers, Rach. You want a bit more? There’s plenty left.”

 “Yeah, why not. Pour it over the Yorkshires.”

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This was the best gravy boat I could find.

Once the gravy boat flu was well and truly exhausted, we tried to return to some kind of normality… and then mild panic set in.

 ALERT. BEGIN MARATHON TRAINING. ALERT. BEGIN MARATHON TRAINING.

After all, that’s what we DO in the New Year isn’t it? A spring marathon means only one thing – get all the bullshit of Christmas out of the way and it’s Game On… Or it should be, if you’re not treading water in some virus-infested quagmire, watching the rest of the Running World upping their mileage on Strava, that is.

A N Other Runner: “We’re upping our long run to 16 miles today”

 ME: “But it’s still twelve weeks to go to the marathon!”

 A N Other Runner: “Yeah, but we’re already ahead of the plan.”

 ME: “Oh. Right.” (I reply, thinking I’ll be lucky to get 16 fucking miles in THIS WEEK!)

 Once just about back in the land of the living, it’s return to normality. Work; kids; there’s even some evidence of a world outside the front door again, and it’s CATCH UP TIME.

MONDAY: school run / work / school run. I’m already behind schedule.

I KNOW! We’ve got a gym at work. I’ll jump onto the treadmill at lunch time, and I’ll do my speed sets then. Yep. I’ll get STRAIGHT back into it. Snooze, you lose, and all that!

 Job done; box ticked. Nice one, squirrel.

TUESDAY: Speed session done, and I’m virtuous again, but I feel like I’m still playing catch up. I’m down on my mileage and I’ve missed a week’s decent training whilst drowning in Bisto.

I KNOW! We’ve STILL got a gym at work. I’ll jump onto the treadmill at lunch time again and do a steady 10k. I was on it yesterday, but if I take it STEADY today, it’ll be fine.

WEDNESDAY: I fucking hate the treadmill. I’m going to take my OUTDOOR running kit to work today, and I plan to run OUTSIDE in my lunch break. [At 12 noon, reality hits and it’s not pretty: not only is it pissing down but there’s a pea-souper out of my office window. With little/no visibility and nothing to be gained by running outdoors and falling down potholes and/or getting mugged by opportunistic weather-enthused petty criminals of North Halifax, I think again.]

…I KNOW! There’s a gym at work and I can do a few miles on the Dreadmill. What harm can it do?

 [Later]

 Work Mate Dave: ‘Rach, are you limping?’

 ME: ‘Yep. Yes I friggin am limping, Dave. It’s that bastard treadmill. I knew I’d done something to my leg earlier. It hurts to walk.’

 Work Mate Dave: ‘Bloody hell, it looks like you’ve crapped your pants.’

 ME: ‘Thanks, Dave.’

This is precisely what the first three days of my week have looked like. Other options for training quickly evaporated around school runs, pick-ups/drop offs, after school clubs and other activities, including an evening spent traipsing around Lidl’s whilst my child was busy having a life.

THURSDAY: I’M WORKING FROM HOME. YAYYYY! I WANTED to do a nine-miler from dropping Tills at school, but there’s fat chance of that. Shit. My leg still hurts when I walk. I’ll set off early doors and see how I go. I can ring Gav if I need to bail out.

 ME: ‘Gav. Please can you pick me up? I’ve done 3 miles and my leg’s killing me.’

 Gav: ‘We need to get you in with Dave (the Physio, not Work Mate Dave.)’

 And so, that very afternoon I am in with Dave (the Physio, not Work Mate Dave.)

In summary:

  • I have pushed myself to come back from the Sunday lunch family-bucket Flu too soon, being entirely panicked at ‘falling behind’ my purported marathon training schedule, and obsessing over how many miles Billy Bobbins has run in his Marathon Training Plan on Strava (I don’t even LIKE Billy Bobbins, so why am I even following him on Strava?)
  • I have – like some naïve fourteen-year-old cramming for pointless Economics mocks – tried to shoehorn miles in wherever the hell I could. The madness and logistics of the rest of my day/week thrown out the water, I’ve steam-rollered another layer of whoop-ass onto ALREADY dangerously high levels of cortisol. Any why? To keep up with Billy Bobbins on Strava?
  • Treadmill Dreadmill Overkill (which it will.) Once a week it’s a necessary evil. The greatly revered speed session is firmly on my ‘Must Do’ weekly task list. BUT some limp, half-arsed, dribbly-cocked, and ENTIRELY pointless 10k pounding on a revolving belt? Why? For what? Just to wreck my legs a bit more? Or to put something next to Billy Bobbins who’s been out for a sub-7 min/mile twenty-miler on Strava (the Wanker.)

And so it’s this. I am (only slightly) injured as a result of my own impatience / stupidity / inability to consider the full consequence and purpose of ALL my training, and select carefully. I have rehab exercises, I can do yoga (which I love, so this is one very positive thing) and I MIGHT miss out on a race this Sunday (which will upset me greatly because that is a part of my Marathon Training Plan and I want to be on the start line.)

I am avoiding treadmills like the plague, and if anyone locally spots me on one in the near future (unless I am quite clearly killing myself with speed sets which will be cruelly obvious) then please ask the nearest Gym Attendant to remove me immediately from the machine. Either that, or just go and pull the plug.

I’ll thank you for it, later.

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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…)