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.

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 REALITIES OF MARATHON TRAINING

I rolled over and sleepily reached for my iPhone, but grabbed hold of a banana instead. It’s a sign, I said to myself, and set about eating the banana. When I DID eventually locate my phone, it informed me of the time. It was Tuesday, 10th Jan 6:15am. Shit.

The plan was this:

  • Creep about silently to avoid waking those in the house both under 7 yrs. and over 40 yrs. old;
  • Locate some training gear (in the dark) and put it on (also in the dark);
  • Drive to the gym, arriving at approx. 6:55am

[The gym opens at 7am. Max 5 mins allowed to walk from car to entrance, plus a further 3 mins to wait for shutters to lift, shuffle past early-bird pensioners, and get upstairs]

  • Arrive on the treadmill for 7.03am;
  • Execute speed set. This would be (ideally) 5 mins w/up, followed by 5 x 5 minutes @15kph (2 min rest in between)
  • Dive off treadmill
  • Race back home to:
    • get those under 7 ready for school;
    • allow those over 40 to go to work; and
    • try to make myself look like I hadn’t done any of the above, so I could glide into the office without resembling a panting dog.

That was my plan. It sounded semi feasible, until 6.15am on Tuesday morning when it needed to be translated into reality. Shit, shit shit.

With the under 7s and over 40s undisturbed, I crept downstairs and quietly clicked the front door shut behind me. I was on schedule: it was 6:45am.

Once parked up on the dark, dark street down the dark, dark hill* (is it too obvious that I’m both a parent and a geek?) I made a run for it out of the dismal, dreary rain and into the offensively bright CMBC leisure centre standard lighting.

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Down the dark, dark street in the dark, dark town was a… badly lit gym

Hang on – there’s a bloody queue! A group of mainly (nocturnal?) older folk were gathered around the gym entrance waiting for the shutters to lift. How long have they been here? And what the hell else are they busy doing for the REST of the day?! I wondered, as I took my place on a plastic seat near the vending machine and began eyeing-up the bags of Quavers.

We all scanned and bar-coded our way in, and most of the OAP Fitness Bus headed off to the pool, whilst I ventured up the stairs in hot pursuit of my treadmill (I have one treadmill I prefer to use in the gym, and can suffer from minor palpitations and awkward ticks if it’s taken.)

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Hey, Warren!

Time check: 7:02. Jumper off, headphones on. PRESS ‘QUICK START’; begin warm up.

Time check: 7:07 GO, GO GO! INCREASE SPEED & RUN LIKE THE FUCKING CLAPPERS!

Time check: 7:12 Walk. Don’t die, just walk. It’ll be OK.

Time check: 7:14 GO, GO, GO! INCREASE SPEED & RUN LIKE THE FUCKING CLAPPERS AGAIN… But hang on. There’s an elderly chap from the OAP Fitness Bus standing & staring. HE’S FRICKIN PERVING AT ME WHILST I’M TRYING TO FOCUS ON MY SPEED SET! He walked over to the nearest treadmill and stood still. Watching me running like the fucking clappers on the treadmill. Off putting? Just a bit. He might have stood a chance if it were 1962.

Other than the ageing perv, this pattern continued right through until 7:40am when I cooled down for all of 20 seconds and dived into the disabled loos to put my dry kit back on.

I looked in the mirror. No. I haven’t just trained with my gear on inside out. Referring back to point (2) of my plan (locating training gear in the dark and putting it on in the dark) THIS was the result. Maybe Old Man Perv was reading the washing instructions on my shorts and NOT actually fancying a bit? I could have got him all wrong.

Heading out of the fluorescent CMBC leisure centre and back out into the dark, dark street, it was… still dark.

My wacky races drive back home up silly, spindly hill was frustrated by a White Van Man blocking the way. Move over! I’ve got a child to get dressed! I had uncomfortable visions of Gav still sleeping whilst Tilly wiped jam over the entire kitchen, having broken both the toaster and the kettle trying to make herself a cup of tea.

Time check: 8:02

Tilly was sitting in the kitchen happily tucking into a Pain Au Chocolat. (We’re not posh. It was a treat.) YEEAAAHHHH! I’VE DONE IT! PLAN WORKED! I gave myself a virtual fist-bump at arriving home on schedule, still having time to dress child and disguise the fact that I was melting.

‘Tills, let me have a look at that you’re eating,’ I said, suddenly concerned at the particularly anaemic-looking pastry. On closer inspection, it resembled a sodden panty liner from a Tena Lady advert.

‘Gav. This is raw. She’s eating raw (uncooked) pastry.’

‘Actually, it does taste a bit soggy, Mummy…’

***

My speed set was hard, but I nailed it. My plan wasn’t easy. It was a ball-ache, and depended on my eternally supportive Doddy to child-watch whilst I shoehorned myself out of the front door in the dark, with my Lycra washing instructions on clear view for the Fitness OAPs to see.

THIS is the reality of marathon training, whilst navigating the *other* demands of life. My speed set was done by 7:40am on Tuesday, 10th January. I was buzzing for the rest of the day. Partially because I’d kicked ass on that – my – treadmill, but mainly because I’d STILL managed to feed, dress, and sort out my child, wash away the sweaty salt marks from the sides of my scalp, and float into the office (on time) looking like I HADN’T DONE A THING. (I’d even straightened my hair. It’s a newfound girliness I’ve recently discovered.)

*For those wondering, reference to children’s book ‘Funnybones’ by the Ahlbergs.

** Also for info, I was in bed and fast asleep for 8.45pm that night. You can’t have it all.