Source: 3. All In Your Head
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For nearly three years I’ve written a blog about running and mental health, and in particularly the impact of exercise on mental health, and vice versa. I’ve gone from a non-runner seeing everyone else do it, to a seasoned marathon runner, who alas is still beaten by the unprepared drunk smoker. I’ve raced alongside men and women of every height, shape, size and disability and have had every sense of ego beaten out of me. More importantly, I hope my blogs have opened up a discussion about mental health, which still leaves millions suffering in silence due to the stigma attached, and the lack of government support for what is a huge problem in the UK and globally. Through running, sales and various other events online and offline, I’ve managed to raise around £5000 for Mind and it is without doubt the best thing I’ve done, except perhaps for inventing…
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For nearly three years I’ve written a blog about running and mental health, and in particularly the impact of exercise on mental health, and vice versa. I’ve gone from a non-runner seeing everyone else do it, to a seasoned marathon runner, who alas is still beaten by the unprepared drunk smoker. I’ve raced alongside men and women of every height, shape, size and disability and have had every sense of ego beaten out of me. More importantly, I hope my blogs have opened up a discussion about mental health, which still leaves millions suffering in silence due to the stigma attached, and the lack of government support for what is a huge problem in the UK and globally. Through running, sales and various other events online and offline, I’ve managed to raise around £5000 for Mind and it is without doubt the best thing I’ve done, except perhaps for inventing the Snickers bagel.
However, I feel the need to apologise. I’ve written in depth of my own story, usually trying to use humour to keep people reading, thinking and supporting the cause. I’ve admitted my own battles with depression which have taken over much of my life, and which I’m aware will always be there. Sometimes it’s the only way I see my life ending, but then something comes along and gives you hope. It does always get better, we all hang on to that fact, but battling year after year can take its toll on anyone. All any of us can do is keep talking, listening, trying to understand and realising that whatever problem someone has, physical, mental or just a difficult time in life, we’re all here together.
So why am I apologising? Well, I’ve held back a lot in what I’ve wanted to write about. I don’t just suffer from depression although it’s been a huge part of my life. I find that easier to write about because it impacts more people and helps more people relate, Mind is big enough charity to make real positive change and needs our help. I wanted to fight stigma, and it remains slightly cool because Stephen Fry has it. I’m half joking.
Yet I have Tourette Syndrome. I hate the words. The sound of them, the sight of them, even grammatically, is it Tourette’s Syndrome? I suggest so given it’s named after someone called Tourette. Why couldn’t he have been called Gilles de la Awesome. I’ve got awesome syndrome. Or as the public seem to know it, hilarious swearing disease. The butt of many jokes in TV and films, always the same with someone swearing inappropriately at a person or quiet location. I’m yet to see a genuinely funny Tourette’s joke. Perhaps that’s my main problem with it. I’m more offended as a comedy fanboy than I am as a Tourette’s sufferer. I once mocked someone drunkenly walking into a lamppost and several seconds later twitched myself into the same lamppost and fell over. Tourettic retribution. The public perception has meant many people would have no idea I have it, some might not believe me now, some haven’t in the past. Sometimes I’ll be controlling it very well, maybe for months, but it is very much still there. More of you will of course be thinking, yeah, we knew all that you twitchy freak. And I have no problem with that.
The swearing or foot-in-mouth nature of Tourette’s is so ingrained is society that even the ever unpopular David Cameron could get away with using Tourette’s as a joke about someone talking too much. This attracted a couple of news stories that promptly disappeared with some even warming to him more for the joke. Imagine how long the story would have run if he’d make a joke about more physical disability. I’ve lost count of the number of comedians doing jokes about Tourette’s always with the same emphasis. Ricky Gervais caused controversy over the use of the word mong causing Scope to complain and other comedians such as Richard Herring to condemn him. Yet when Gervais found Tourette’s funny, there was no hint of a backlash. My main problem with his tweet about Tourette’s and laughing at THIS tshirt, is that unfortunately, some small part of me does find it mildly amusing. But at no point have I denied being childish.
Somehow, there are two volumes of a book called ‘Pets with Tourette’s’, indicating the first collection of animal drawings swearing was sufficiently popular. I can’t claim to have read both books, so perhaps I am the ignorant one this time and it truly is the elegant prose you would expect from The Daily Sport’s ‘most hilarious book on the planet’. That should come as no surprise, given author Mark Leigh claims to have worked with luminaries including Rolf Harris AND Roy Chubby Brown.
Gervais once said racist jokes aren’t funny because they aren’t true, and he is absolutely correct. So why are Tourette’s jokes alright when they show nothing but ignorance? I’ve lost count of the number of references to Tourette’s in TV and film just using it as a by-word for saying something unfortunate or offensive. Even the sympathetic documentaries on the subject focus on coprolalia cases. Having worked for five years as a TV analyst, trust me, it’s ratings before education, research and equality. This also explains the quantity of time the BBC give Nigel Farage.
The act of involuntarily shouting words and swearing is known as coprolalia and around 10% of Tourette’s sufferers endure it. So, to all the comedians out there, 90% do not, including me. My biggest complaint is your inability to write vaguely original authentic well-researched comedy. We can complicate it further by talking about echolalia, where you repeat words and noises of others, or indeed yourself. Copropraxia where you make involuntary obscene gestures, or the range of associated sleep disorders, anxiety, depressive conditions and mental health problems. Anyone wanting a more detailed picture of the illness and all its intricacies should visit http://www.tourettes-actionuk.org. All I can offer you is my own experience.
I recall it beginning around age 9 and making noises for no apparent reason. I wasn’t seeking attention as people assumed at the time, and why wouldn’t they? I was hyperactive, loud, struggled to focus and struggled to sleep. It could describe a lot of children without Tourette’s if we’re honest and I don’t believe we need to label everything. The noises didn’t disappear but were overtaken by movements, primarily involving my neck and eyes, which didn’t go unnoticed at school. Again, while hurtful I think my main disappointment was the lack of originality in the insults. Look at the kid nodding all the time, ha, noddy. To the best of my knowledge, my school produced no comedians.
In many cases it does subside with age, but I can’t say that has been the case for me, although it has definitely changed and evolved. There have been times when I’ve been more settled, in particular relationships or homes that I’ve found it more manageable. That’s not to say the condition has diminished, just that my capacity for suppressing it and coping is markedly higher. This also works vice versa and at 33, single and without somewhere I would call home, it remains challenging. Form an orderly queue ladies.
It has been with me so long and interweaved into the fabric of so many days I could write a book on it, but I’d like to try and keep this to a length that a few people have a chance of actually reading.
As an adult, I have experienced ‘tics’ (another word I hate, let’s go with twitches) in every part of my body imaginable. You can be looking at me, talking to me, yet see nothing. Beneath the surface there may be toes, ankles, calves, stomach muscles, fingers, arms all fighting to move, or me fighting back to constrain it. When successful, I find myself very low on energy, yet to ‘let it all out’ in my experience makes me feel far worse and exacerbates most the twitches. It’s not surprising such an experience can lead to severe depression, but that’s something I think might be there regardless, although it’s impossible to know for sure.
There are endless contradictions about what makes it better or worse. I have tried all sorts of diets, medications, therapies or just avoiding some situations with mixed results. Sometimes I can cope with crowds, cope with pressured situations and show no nerves with public speaking, interviews and so on. Other times I can’t walk down the street without going half blind. Generally, I don’t like really crowded places, yet I live in London and worked for years by Oxford Street. Sometimes you just have to cope with it regardless. While I can be shy sometimes, overall having been stared at in the street and abused fairly regularly there’s not much that fazes me anymore. There’s nothing quite like accidentally making inappropriate facial gestures in London. It has very different consequences if its staring at angry drunk people on the tube, or the friendly folk of Old Compton Street.
Try not to blink for as long as possible. You will feel a strong urge that technically, you can control for some time. Now try it again while thinking about blinking, or reading the word ‘blink’ on the piece of paper. That urge will give you an insight into Tourette’s. Now imagine it’s not just blinking, but a dozen different urges, some contradictory, some more dominant and some just painful.
An interesting development of recent years has been certain twitches teaming up in coordinated attack. The eye movements will take place alongside neck movements, or throw in an arm twist or stomach clench that either gives me a hernia or makes people think I’m really enjoying the music in HMV. The toughest side of this is the impact on my breathing. It’s something I and most of us take for granted. Yet breathing twitches, often combined with all other twitches can be completely consuming, sometimes leading to panic attacks. Just having to think about your breathing, the rate and depth of it makes it somewhat challenging to go about the tasks of the day or enjoy any moment. It’s as if your subconscious is demanding a more leading role and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Someone recently told me they noticed some of the twitching on the very first date. Yet it still turned out to be the best first date I’d ever had, so there is hope when I can control it to any extent, and of course, people such as her who wouldn’t let it stop them giving someone a chance anyway. Because it isn’t me. It has shaped me, affected me, but every person on the planet has experiences that will do that. Perhaps I’ve become more of an observer, sitting back and thinking more, I’ve definitely been given more empathy with it and hate any form of discrimination. Yet I don’t judge people too harshly for mocking it, especially at school as I can’t say for sure I wouldn’t have been joining in had it been someone else. Although clearly I’d have come up with a better joke.
In case you hadn’t noticed, this blog has been about running, and mental health, but mainly running, and mental health. I started running for the physical and mental benefits as I’ve previously talked about. What I haven’t mentioned however, is the impact of Tourette’s on running, particularly in events. I never wanted this to become some excuse about my finish times, I have no ego about that having run against every age, shape and size of person imaginable. I imagine running could help with the condition for some people. Walking often does for me, although somewhat ironically and unfairly, depression is the best cure of the twitching. I’m yet to decide which is the short straw.
When I run I suffer a lot of neck twitching, while my eyes are often screwed up making vision somewhat, well…impaired, leading to anxiety and the impact of breathing. That is a normal training run. It says a lot about my planning and foresight that only when faced with 38,000 people in front of my at the start of the London Marathon did I think ‘this could be a problem’. Anyone would find it difficult having to navigate those crowds and it does impact your time, but for me it was a case of trying not to trip over anyone, trying not to send a sprawling arm into a face, the constant battle to keep my eyes open long enough to avoid collision. I would say in each event the Tourette’s has taken half my energy. I have no idea what that means in terms of my ability, and I don’t particularly care. All that’s important to me is that I kept doing it, and always finished whatever hell I was in. During one training run I screwed my eyes up long enough to sprint into the back of a police van. Unfortunately due to popular culture, these days when you say ‘sorry I have Tourette’s’ it’s widely assumed you’re taking the piss.
While we’re on the theme of sports and me making a tit of myself: football. I read an interesting piece by Tim Howard in the Guardian today describing his experience with Tourette’s which is well worth reading. Although as I’ve said, it’s such an individual condition I have no idea what he really goes through compared to me. That’s partly why this article by the BBC was a little annoying (does TS make him a better goalkeeper?) Well, no probably not. For a start, you’d need to study a huge number of Tourette’s suffering goalkeepers wouldn’t you. To the best of my knowledge, there is only one playing professional football. I find it far more likely that Tim Howard is actually just a ridiculously good goalkeeper, Tourette’s is just part of his story and what he’s dealt with.
Having spent a lot of time as a goalkeeper, I have great respect for him. I struggle with fast movement so the notion of sport improving concentration and reducing twitches certainly isn’t true in my case. Given that, it probably says something about me that I enjoy it anyway. Do I have better reactions because I’m used to so many sudden violent movements? I doubt it. All I’ve found is impaired vision, anxiety and blind panic when I play with people I don’t know. This once culminated in having my eyes closed as a slow long shot rolled past my food. It still amuses me to recall the cries of ‘shoot, he’s rubbish’, rather than ‘shoot, he’s got Tourette’s!’
I would love to play more sport but quite simply the pace and movement makes it very difficult, my ability will never be what it could and I don’t like the idea of letting down teammates. That is partly why running appealed, just focusing on my own project, not letting anyone down, improving my times and being proud of what I could achieve. Whatever limits you, and it’s different for us all, there will always be something else you can turn your attention to and thrive.
I have found in the past that when I tell someone about it, my condition becomes worse around them. This isn’t their fault, it’s just an unfortunate aspect of the illness. For many other people thankfully they find sharing is a huge help, and today at age 33 I have reached a point where I no longer care what anyone thinks, and want to try and at least educate a few people on the condition. What it will mean for the future, we shall see.
Work has been a major source of struggle. Despite gaining a degree and masters I have found focus very difficult, both mentally and physically. I have a constant feeling of not having done quite as well as I should have, but who is to say I wouldn’t have that without Tourette’s and depression. In the big world of employment I found sitting still performing unchallenging tasks repetitively to be the biggest obstacle. Sheer frustration met with cramped social anxiety have produced quite the twitchy cocktail…although at no point in my career have I been anywhere near the weirdest person in the office! Around the right people, performing work I care about, I have no doubts I would be fine and I’m not about to give up on my ambitions anytime soon.
An estimated 300,000 people in the UK suffer from Tourette’s, in its many forms. The emphasis of research looks towards children and behaviour at school, which I can understand. However, the assumption it alleviates with age can leave you feeling stranded and lone when it doesn’t. Many doctors have little information or focus on the depression, anxiety or OCD, offering antidepressants. Antidepressants which can of course, increase anxiety and twitching. Awesome. There are support groups and forums of course, but again I’ve found them dominated by worried parents wanting more information. Perhaps it’s such a diverse condition affecting so relatively few that there aren’t many to share stories with, but ultimately it doesn’t matter, because I can share my story with you. A story that basically boils down to one person’s perspective on life, and we all have one to share. Given the complexity of the condition I don’t have any black and white advice for parents, other than patience, not attributing everything to the condition and never doubting that there’s a real person with well-informed ideas in there. Well, sometimes, of course many of us can still be morons regardless of medical history. So it goes.
Too often I have been left feeling unwell, out of energy and having to cancel things, letting down my friends and probably losing a few along the way. I’m a constant contradiction having too much energy, not enough, being overconfident, then terrified and anxious. I can be everything, and yet all too often nothing. I suffer a lot of neck pain and wonder what the future holds both physically and mentally. Yet every year whatever is thrown at me I feel more capable of dealing with it. These blogs have helped me understand the many aspects of depression and I hope increasing numbers of people are talking about it and seeking help. Now, although not such a severe problem across the UK, I hope we can reduce discrimination and at least spread a little education on another subject.
If you would like more information on Tourette’s Syndrome, how to get a diagnosis, support groups and treatments, please visit Tourettes Action or find them on Twitter @TourettesAction
There you go then, something to mull over with your…mulled wine. Merry Christmas and a very happy 2015 to everyone who has continued to read this and support the fundraising, and generally the work of Mind, Time to Change and Tourettes Action UK. You can donate to Tourette’s Action UK via the below link.
Sincerely, thank you.
It turns out a half marathon event the weekend before a marathon can be quite tiring. Who’d have thought? It also turns out running another half marathon with no water doesn’t make you feel too good. I’m not sure whose idea it was to have no water bottles at the Amsterdam marathon. In fact, no bottles of anything. A Dutch energy drink sponsored the race. There were giant inflatable sports drinks around the course, adverts for it, but no actual bottles. At ten miles the inflatable bottles either started to mock me, or I was hallucinating.
The first refreshments stand I came to at 5km consisted of three empty benches and two people handing out small cups of water to a long queue of people. Conscious of my time, and assuming bottles would be around the corner, I kept going. By thirteen miles, I’d managed to get my hands on about two shots of water. I think it may be a tactic to boost the performance of locals, who seemed to have strategically placed friends handing out drinks along the route.
When I realised no bottles would be forthcoming, I knew it was a choice between a good time, or making sure I definitely finished/stayed alive. I felt so unwell at this stage I stopped, looked for water, found none, and had a nice lie down. Nowhere in my marathon training did I anticipate lying in a field staring at a windmill, although it’s lovely to take in the scenery. Running near ten miles up and down the Amstel river adds insult to dehydrated injury, staring at water the whole time, and thinking of beer. At least the Dutch seem to have a sense of humour.
The second half of the marathon seemed to go on forever. One you’ve had a lie down with aching legs, getting up deserves a medal in itself. At this point I have to thank everyone for their support, donations and encouraging messages, because without that, I’m not sure I would have made it round. It was always going to be a challenge with limited training, but a lot went wrong and it took everything I had to keep going.
Like many other people, I temporarily opted for the walking with exaggerated arm swinging to give the illusion of running. The perfect crime. At this stage I was just hoping I’d be able I finish. By 35km I knew I would, but knew there was another hour of pain left. There was also a trip off course into Lidl to buy a drink and some chocolate. Again, not something I had planned in training, but it’s an interesting experience to see the faces of locals doing their shopping as a delirious limping marathon runner pops in mid-race.
The finish of the marathon in the Olympic stadium was a relief, and a great atmosphere, with the crowd the best part of the event. There’s nothing quite like crossing the line and finding your friend waiting for you. Your friend who started after you, did no training and spent the week smoking. I may adopt this strategy for future training. The key to Simon’s success seemed to be not thinking about it like I did. Some people seem able to maintain a very consistent pace throughout. I suppose there’s no reason this can’t be done, but in my mind it’s about minimising the inevitable slowing down for the second half. Simon did himself proud though, and you can sponsor him through the same page as me, with all the funds going to Mind.
While I would never complain about it, my preparation was confused by Saints winning 8-0 the day before the marathon, with ill-advised jumping around with every goal. Since I started running events in 2010 Saints have gone from the bottom of League 1 to 2nd in the Premier League. I’ll be honest, I’m afraid to stop running. Saints fans, if ever there was a reason to donate, this is it. Although research shows this could lead to an increase in depression around the Portsmouth area, so please drop off any unwanted items at the Portsmouth Mind shop. I’d especially like to see it filled up with Saints shirts.
When finally at the finish, I planned never to do another marathon. The following day, unable to walk, I definitely wouldn’t do another marathon. Back home on Wednesday and still hobbling, the motivation still wasn’t there. On Thursday, I signed up for the Brighton marathon. There clearly is a reason I fundraise for Mind.
There remains one more part to this year’s challenge though. You wouldn’t think doing the Great South Run again would be much of a challenge, but I haven’t put my running shoes on since I finished the marathon on Sunday. I also haven’t walked properly. So if you can’t sponsor me for the Royal Parks Half or Amsterdam Marathon, sponsor me for choosing to trek to Portsmouth early on a Sunday morning and force myself around an agonising ten miles. It’s due to your support and sponsorship that I’ll be out there trying to move my legs tomorrow. Whether commendable or just plain stupid, I will finish.
My marathon time of 4:20 wasn’t too bad given the preparation, and I was just delighted to finish in the end. Still, I did feel I was beaten by my mind as much as my body. I’d been determined to push through it but it remains a constant battle. A lot went wrong but if there’s one thing I could change it would be the voice telling me to slow down and stop, stressing about everything that could go wrong. Switching off and running for 4 hours is a hell of a talent in itself but one I’m determined to master. My physical fitness has improved infinitely, my mental health has improved a lot, or certainly become more manageable anyway. Still, the biggest benefit I hope has been this, merely talking about the experience, raising awareness, funds and starting conversations. Over 70,000 people have pledged on the Time to Change website, so if you’re not one of them please take a few seconds to do that.
Thanks again to everyone for reading this and all the support. If anyone wants to ask anything more about my experience, or just about mental health in general, please get in touch anytime. Also please remind me to stop carb-loading after tomorrow.
The first of three events is out of the way, with the Royal Parks Half done in 1:46. I was reasonably happy with this time, three minutes from my personal best, until discovering Richard Herring, a far older, shorter and still slightly fatter man, was just a minute behind me. I’m rarely competitive about times, but seriously. Apparently even a half marathon can now send me slightly delirious, and an hour later you find yourself excitedly talking to the Christmas biscuits in M&S. Although to be fair, that also happens without distance running.
As always, however early you get there, the thirty minutes before the start will be spent queuing for the toilets. With every passing minute, increasing numbers of people give up and disappear into the bushes…on a bright Sunday morning with around 50,000 people in Hyde Park.
With just seven days before a full marathon, the main focus was on not getting injured. Besides getting tripped up by the crowds in the first few minutes, the closest I came to serious injury was a runner taking a couple of sips from a water bottle then blindly launching it off the course…at least I assume that was his plan, as in reality it just smacked into my face. I decided to find it funny, although it would have been more amusing if I’d been running for Water Aid.
Overall, that was probably my best run in well over a year despite training not having been great. Around a year ago I began taking antidepressants, partly hoping I’d be running happier and faster. Although, obviously knocking a few minutes off my running times wasn’t the main priority when making such a decision. What I hadn’t considered was a bad reaction to them, and struggling to run or exercise at all for a few months. I’m sure they help many people, and there are many versions that can work. It’s such an individual thing the side effects included fatigue and insomnia, weight loss and weight gain, vomiting and…what’s the opposite of vomiting? I wouldn’t discourage anyone from taking them if they feel it could help, it takes time and and persistent, plus a bit of luck. I completely understand why someone would need to try them, and anything that can improve life has to be worth a go. Ok now it just sounds like I’m pushing drugs.
Anyway, after a rough time on those, I was pretty happy to come off them, which was a relative cure for depression in itself. It has been quite an effort to get back to previous fitness levels but it’s also been worth it. Hopefully I can still complete a marathon, regardless of time and more importantly raise more awareness of mental health issues. A lot of people suffer in silence, get treatment in silence and fear others won’t understand. With the wondrous cocktail of unpredictable side effects it’s not easy to explain if you are hiding it either, adding another layer of stress and anxiety to the mix. If nothing else, increased awareness can remove that.
I’ve spoken to more people about mental health in the past few years since starting this than the rest of my life put together. Not just my own, in fact usually not, rather other people opening up, asking advice or just needing someone to listen and understand. In the past I’ve found some people use mental health issues as a way to silence you, your opinions don’t matter as it’s an illness talking. It’s a lazy, ignorant way to write someone off, and a hell of a lot of the world’s population to stop listening to. In reality it’s just one more thing that shapes a person’s personality, we all have a million factors contributing to who we are and some of the most intelligent people I know, and many of the most intelligent people I don’t know, have suffered from mental health problems at some point. Without wanting to generalise too much, I’ve noticed a lot more empathy, understanding and willingness to listen and learn from these people.
While I hope my own perspective provides some insight, or encourages others to talk about these issues, I watched a far better series of talks on mental illness this week, coinciding with World Mental Health Day. I recommend everyone take the time to watch a few of these Ted Talks. I mean, if you’re here reading this, you clearly have at least some interest/too much time on your hands/severe work avoidance. It’s normally the latter, but regardless, take a look.
I’ve said before that running can help you zone out, or conversely provide useful thinking time. Yet, during running events I know my mind doesn’t exactly help me. Besides the huge crowds and anxiety issues, or trying not to trip over someone’s squirrel costume, you have constant negative thoughts on a loop trying to slow you down. How can I keep going? It’s so far, you won’t keep up this pace. There’s a hidden battle going on for many people that feels more draining than each stride. On Sunday after an hour or so, I couldn’t work out why I would slow down, yet was sure I would. I wasn’t tired, I couldn’t notice any pain in my feet, knees, legs, I was breathing fine. My only problem was my brain. Did it slow me down? Yes, a little, but I’m getting better at ignoring it…although I’m not quite sure who is ignoring who in that context. I’d advise anyone doing distance running to avoid thinking about the running too much. It’s fine to check your pace, not go too fast, but if you must focus on it, look at the distance you’ve already covered, not what is left. Look around you, enjoy the event, the surroundings and what you’re achieving. I’m hoping to take this advice on board any day now.
You don’t even need to have suffered from depression, anxiety or any other mental health problem to understand, or at least make an attempt to understand more. With over a quarter of us suffering, you will have friends, family and colleagues that experience these problems. It can be hard to see people you care about suffering in this way, not knowing how you can help. But just making an effort to understand, to listen and not judge them for it, and realise it doesn’t change them, it’s just part of who they are, you can help. It’s a form of help that basically just involves being more honest, open-minded and being closer to that person. You’ll help someone you care about, and almost certainly yourself.
Thanks to those who’ve donated so far, and those who’ve said they will! No doubt I’m on many people’s ignore list already but even if I can’t raise much at the moment I’m not going to stop trying, or writing about the experience. If just a couple of people feel more able to talk about mental health then I’ll do this every year. Overall I’ve found destroying/perfecting my body to help people’s minds is definitely worth the effort.
So it’s on to Amsterdam and 26.1 miles. Hopefully I’ll be reporting back on a successful run next week. Even more hopefully, plenty more donations. Thanks for your support, you’re all awesome. Yes, even you.
Here we are again, another poorly prepared for marathon and a blog that hasn’t been updated in over a year. I hope everyone has coped alright without it. So in the next few weeks, I’ll be doing the following events to raise money for Mind:
Sunday 12th October – Royal Parks Half Marathon
Sunday 19th October – Amsterdam Marathon
Sunday 26th October – BUPA Great South Run
I hate Sundays. I appreciate it’s been a busy year for charity fundraising and no doubt you’ve all donated to a lot of people already. If pouring another bucket of icey water on my head helps then I’m happy to do that. Or anything else you might want to pour on my head.
Rather than being ready to set new personal bests in all these events, I’ve found myself injured, out of form and at times in the past year or so, ironically struggling to run for Mind due to depression. Or struggling to run well anyway. Running tends to help with mental health, but if you do manage to push yourself into doing it, it still slows you down. That’s going to remain my excuse anyway. I’ll attempt running this marathon smiling with upbeat music but the likely outcome is a similar time and worse photos.
Marathon training hasn’t exactly gone well, so it’s once again a big challenge to complete it. But I’m not sure I’d enjoy it if it wasn’t a challenge anyway. I think I’m stubborn enough to get round it, and hoping Amsterdam will be even more exciting than the endless roundabouts and car parks of the Milton Keynes marathon. Maybe that’s a tad optimistic.
Mental health stories have been in the news a lot this year and Mind’s work is more prominent than ever. I know lots of people have sponsored me before, but even a small donation would be fantastic. Not only does every extra pound help me keep running, it helps Mind keep providing vital support to millions of people.
If you can’t afford to donate anything, you can still help. Go on the Mind or Time to Change websites, follow them on Facebook or Twitter, read about other people’s experiences and encourage more people to talk about it. With the amount of misconception and discrimination still evident today, this is one area we can improve without donating anything (although I’d rather you did both).
I’m proud to have run many events for Mind and raised money, but over the past few years I’ve spoken to countless people about mental health issues of all levels of severity. Many people still don’t realise how prevalent it is so if nothing else I appreciate it if you’ve read this blog, shared it with others or just thought more about it yourself.
For anyone that does want to donate, here is the link:
Not another blog update asking for money, haven’t we cured mental illness yet? Well, not quite but don’t worry there’s no need to keep donating every time. Of course if you can and want to that’s brilliant. I’ve had several people ask about my fundraising in the last few months so thought it was time to update this and get started.
My fundraising page covers several events this year, starting with the Milton Keynes marathon on May 6th. I can’t say training has been as sensible as last year, with the 6-month winter more conducive to staying in bed. I have no idea how the race will go, but I know how much the donations helped me keep running last year so would really appreciate any further generosity. Plus, I’ve spent much of the last year meeting lots of new people…not solely with the purpose of squeezing charity donations out of them, but it all helps. If it works I may be recycling my friends each year, no offence.
Assuming I make it through Milton Keynes, I’ll be doing the Run to the Beat Half Marathon, the Royal Parks Ultra (yes ultra) and the Great South Run for the third year running, with improvement becoming increasingly difficult. I will probably add some other events along the way and my fundraising will last until the end of 2013. There’s no target other than to raise as much as possible and I’ll keep going regardless. If anyone wants to recommend any other events and challenges they’d be happy to sponsor me to endure then please go ahead.
The ultra-marathon is around 32 miles, which doesn’t sound much further than a marathon, but the last 5 miles of a normal marathon is painful enough. I just thought it would be nice to extend the distance again and have a new challenge. Anything to avoid actually having to worry about running fast and beat a specific time. I’m a lazy runner at heart.
Most events should seem easier after the Grim run in December (see below). It’s never a good sign when they have to spend the days before smashing up all the ice in the lakes and puddles. Running/wading through what feels like frozen glass isn’t pleasant. It was up to my neck after about 10 minutes and I just about froze to death. Worse still, I got stuck in such thick mud to my waist that my shorts became so heavy they fell down. You can’t run with shorts around your ankles, but you also can’t pull them up with frozen hands you can’t feel. That might not sound like an ideal relaxing way to spend a Sunday, but you do end up feeling more alive than in everyday life and never regret doing it by the end. That said, I’m much happier to consider warmer challenges.
Basically I’m just going to keep running until Mind have too much money. Then I’ll keep running anyway. People think I’m crazy for running so far…particularly when I’m wearing my mental health t-shirt. I’m sure I used to view it the same way and it can sound boring. I hate running at the gym, primarily because I don’t have the attention span to not fall off the treadmill. Exercise is great for mental health anyway, but even better when getting outside. It can be boring if you’re just running around the same routes in circles, just focusing solely on the exercise. I prefer distance running partly for the thinking time but most for exploring new areas, getting lost and being surprised where you end up. Particularly in London you can see a lot of interesting things out running for a few hours. Last week I ran past street magicians, several live bands, a man juggling fire, a car crash, and many animals at Mudchute farm, some of which I stopped to have a delusional 18 mile-mark chat with. Throw in amazing parks, buildings and famous sights and it’s hard to be bored. Then yesterday’s painfully slow and scarily final big training run took me out towards Richmond which could have been the countryside anywhere and feels like you’re getting out of London for the day.
It’s the London marathon on Sunday and sadly I won’t be taking part this year. After the great support I received last year I’ll be going along to watch and cheer people on though and I urge everyone in London to do the same. It really doesn’t feel like a year since I ran it. I can still remember the feeling 5 minutes in of realising quite what I’d signed up to and how unprepared I was. Running around much of the route last week for the first time since I could again feel the pain of the seemingly endless hours around Canary Wharf. Good luck to anyone taking part this year!
There was so much effort involved in taking part last year, the training, the fundraising and even writing this blog that it was quite difficult in the month or so after the race. Much like any big events I suppose, but I didn’t run at all for a few weeks and didn’t have a lot to focus on. The irony of post-marathon for Mind depression didn’t make it feel much better but coming through it increased my desire to take part in more events and keep fundraising. I think it’s important to have new challenges on the horizon in any aspect of life after such a big event. Running in general continues to help. It may not be a cure for anything but it’s a great start and it’s helped me immensely. Fundraising for Mind helps raise awareness, get people talking about important issues and fight prejudice, and that’s before even spending the money.
Thanks again for all donations in the past, all future generosity and to everyone for just reading the blog. It’s great just to know people are reading it. Obviously I like to think Anne Frank would have been a fan.
That’s not a threat. And yes I’m aware the site’s title is no longer relevant.
I hope the Olympics provided some distraction from the tedious summer without my blog. I know at least two fans who have been waiting anxiously for it. A blog described by some as ‘a distraction from work I suppose’ and others as ‘better than Prometheus’. Suddenly it’s time for the Royal Parks half-marathon on Sunday and obviously with plenty of training time since the marathon I’m entirely ready. That was the plan anyway but with work, moving and generally a ridiculously tiring few months training has been poor. I haven’t even practiced avoiding swans and stray crowns or palaces so it could be tricky.
It’s a half-marathon, so appropriately this blog will be half as good as last time. My average pace still hasn’t got near pre-marathon training levels yet. Having reflected on the race for a while it seems obvious the problem was. I trained well and knew what pace I could run the distance at, yet on the day with 35,000 people in front me, it was a couple of hours of walk/sprint with little in between. By the halfway point I was frustrated and exhausted, and my 4-hour marathon hopes went out the window.
I’m not quite sure what the solution is. Train with 35,000 people? Alternatively become fast enough to actually be put near the front….or become famous enough to get my own start point. I’ll be sure to work on both of those, but my other tactic is to try a different marathon. Not least because I failed to get in the London marathon for 2013. Does anyone get in without a charity place, really? I may still decide to do it and raise more funds although I won’t be pestering the same people every year or I’ll end up friendless, depressed and writing blogs to myself. Then sponsoring myself to run around the room.
I’ll be taking part in the Milton Keynes marathon next year, partly because it’s not as busy, it’s very flat and I’ve always dreamed of seeing Milton Keynes. I’ll also be applying for Berlin and Paris so it might be a busy year. It makes up for spending the majority of life sat in an office though. I have the Great South Run in a few weeks too, so I’ll need some severe training as I brace myself for a trip to Portsmouth.
Don’t worry, there is a chance to sponsor me again, I know many of you were hoping there would be. I’m still raising funds for Mind for this race and the Great South Run. It’s all together on one page and my target is £350. The good news is, I already have £300, so it’s not exactly the same stress as last time, although I’d still have written this if I needed a pound.
If you are one of the many, many people who sponsored me for the marathon don’t feel you have to give more. If anyone didn’t get round to sponsoring last time, or simply hasn’t known what to do with all their money all summer then a couple of quid would be great. As always I’ll be trying to raise as much as possible for a good cause regardless of the target. For some reason my blog hasn’t yet managed to cure all mental illness so it has to keep going. Fortunately as a TV analyst I forecast depression will be eradicated by 2017 when mass-exposure to mind-numbing TV kills off the capacity for introspection.
Like me I’m sure many of you were inspired by the Olympics. Inspired not to go out running because the Olympics were on TV. Inspired to stay in, watch the entertainment unfold and have some chips. So far from the summer of training I’d planned, I still haven’t recovered from the first half of the marathon, and have put on weight. Don’t keep up the 4,000 calories a day once you’ve stopped running. It’ll all be fine though because I bought some Team GB shorts.
Still, I very much enjoyed the summer of sport and quasi-racist generalisations. ‘Why are white people so much better at equestrian?’ etc. Clearly Kenyan tribes have little talent for sailing either. And of course, white 100 metre Olympians are only faster than 99.998% of the planet, rather than the 99.999% of the final. Another victory for logic. I’ve always wondered whether the ‘black people are faster’ geniuses believe it’s a case of the blacker you are, the faster you are. Odd really because Darth Vader was pretty slow.
My only recommendations for next time would be merging equestrian and archery to liven things up a bit. And of course, that all the people taking a few weeks off to avoid the Olympics didn’t bother coming back. It was a happier place.
The highlight was a Somali immigrant winning a gold medal for Great Britain in an event that couldn’t have confused the Daily Mail more.
What else has happened since the marathon………Saints secured promotion to the Promised Land of higher ticket prices and weekly defeats. That was good. England lost on penalties because they spend every year emphasising the fact that they’ll lose on penalties. Matt Le Tissier with a 50 ft goal and no keeper would still miss once he’d seen that pizza advert for the tenthtime. But perhaps it’s best for the country to come together and rejoice in that precious moment when John Terry and Ashley Cole are really unhappy. Even the racists were a bit concerned about having Terry linked to them. He’s not anyway. For years he’s clearly demonstrated aggressive, unhinged, unsportsmanlike lunacy irrespective of race, nationality or religion. He’s like Joey Barton before he learned to read.
It was famously said that if you had an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite number of typewriters they’d eventually write the complete works of Shakespeare. Sadly thus far they’ve only managed 50 Shades of Grey, The World According to Clarkson and Joey Barton’s Twitter account.
I think we can all agree it’s comforting to get away from the spirit of the Olympics and back to the good old fashioned world of multi-millionaire Twitterers kicking a ball. And more annoyingly friends demanding sponsorship for choosing to run around a field for a few hours in the name of charity. I’m yet to be convinced of the benefits of Twitter, although Mind provides helpful advice on there. It’s probably the only place where people seem to be more paranoid about not being followed.
What else has happened….the French press retaliated to disturbing rumours of Britain sending them Joey Barton, by making the outlandish claim that members of the monarchy may have nipples like the rest of us. Some people were outraged; the right wing press complained about media intrusion and irony died forever. Others anticipated how Pippa might upstage her this time and pondered if sending Ashley Cole to Paris St Germain might raise the stakes.
Having moved to Clapham recently I can’t even complain about a lack of opportunity to train. At least not for future events. I may have to cut down the late night runs around Clapham Common before I get a reputation though. I’ve even experimented with running in the morning before work so events aren’t such a shock. Increasingly I find myself late for work despite having an easier journey than ever. I say easy, but it does involve rush hour Northern Line. I’d like to know what people do in the 1 or 2 minutes gained by defying the laws of physics to clinically insert themselves into the packed carriage. This morning one attempted the vertical Twister technique while holding a ‘Venti ‘Americano. Disregard for tube behaviour only eclipsed by Roy Hodgson.
Right, as usual my blog has gone on 25% longer than is fun. Sunday morning, 930am, Hyde Park. Think of me, and if you’re feeling generous, donate some money.
I thought I’d leave it a few days to sink in before writing the final blog as it was a bit of a blur on the day. Plus I’ve only just found the energy to get anything done! The photo above is me crossing the finish line, although unfortunately you can’t really see the finish line. That was 4 hours and 28 minutes after crossing the start line, and 11 weeks after getting my place in the marathon. While the weeks have gone by quickly, I have squeezed in a lot of training and was surprised how far I’d come. In fact after completing one marathon in training and finishing a half-marathon in 1:48 the week before, I thought I might have an outside chance of a sub-4 hour marathon. I realise just how difficult that is now, especially in London.
The days before the marathon were tough enough, sticking to the tapering and carb-loading, but not exactly feeling fresh and fit. I was looking forward to getting started, but just couldn’t sleep the two nights before the race. That’s pretty much been the way with every vaguely important event, be it exams, sport, holidays, interviews, so I usually go into these things half asleep. I didn’t feel worried the night before, I wasn’t even thinking about the marathon, but as each hour went by I realised it was one hour less sleep…until it was 6am and I gave up. I partly blame Saints for sending me to bed angry.
I don’t know if that had an impact or not, hopefully with a few more events and more experience I’ll be able to rest more effectively. I spent 20 minutes on the train to Greenwich with my eyes closed and marched like a zombie through the crowds towards the park. Uphill too, with a surprising number of people looking fairly worn out. As an late entrant due to someone else dropping out, I never got to give an estimated finish time, so I was starting in pen 9 of the red zone. That’s the back for anyone not familiar with the system! The 9th and final pen, appropriately named given that this is where most the people dressed as animals start. Also, while nice to see the 101 year-old runner in real life, it wasn’t a beacon of hope for my finishing time.
Prior to the race I’d worried about not being able to run through such big crowds and seeing just how many people were in front of me suggested I was right. It was slightly surreal, hearing the race start at 9.45am for our zone, then very slowly edging forward knowing we were still a long way from the start line. I nearly drifted off in this time, while hundreds seized the chance for another toilet break. Suddenly without much warning or announcement because we were just ‘the rest’, the start line was in sight and people began to jog. That was a full 20 minutes after the ‘start’.
Immediately I tried to overtake as many people as possible, running off course several times. It’s frustrating having a lot of energy and not being able to use it. In training you learn to understand your pacing, when you can push it and when to hold back, but you never experience having your pace controlled by others. The pen system is far from perfect, with many people starting a long way in front walking after a few minutes. In fact there seemed to be quite a queue for the toilets in the first mile too. I’m proud to say I made it through the whole marathon with no toilet breaks, although did have to endure the long queue for the temporary toilets at the start line.
Being so focused on the time that first hour or so is quite hazy. I didn’t notice where I was, each street looking the same packed with crowds. Mainly, my eyes were just so fixed on people in front, ensuring I didn’t run into anyone, looking where I could overtake and so on. I’ve never been very good in crowds; something that stupidly didn’t hit me until the day before the marathon. I’ve found all busy events mentally draining and felt quite twitchy the whole time. It can put you off events, and at times I start to think this isn’t for me, I shouldn’t put myself through it, but I don’t want to miss out and there’s still a chance it will improve with experience. I think it’s having to focus mixed with fast movement, crowds of people, lots of distractions; my brain doesn’t seem able to handle it! That’s why I’ve always struggled to play football in proper games and avoided it most the time. I’d be quite good when relaxed but poor in matches and unable to cope visually with the fast movements in so many directions. It’s not an easy one to explain so I’ll get back to the marathon now!
The extent of my weaving in and out became clear when my watch register 10 miles 5 minutes before I crossed the 10-mile line. At that point I was just eager to get halfway and see what sort of time I had managed. Getting to Tower Bridge just before that was a nice moment as I hadn’t been paying much attention to my surroundings. The crowds grew bigger and louder, and I didn’t even notice the uphill running. It is quite daunting to know you have 10 miles just to get all the way back to that position again, and it felt like a lifetime, although just having half the marathon behind you can be quite comforting. The Mind cheering points always helped, especially just after half way, but even more so on the way back. I’m not sure if the below picture is at 13 miles or 22 miles, and you’re probably not sure what the hell I’m doing with my hands. Try to hold a bottle of water, clap, wave and run all at the same time, you’ll see. It also appears like I can’t spell my own name, but I assure you the ‘I’ is just hiding.
Besides the weaving around people and spectators, the main hazard was the several hundred thousand bottles on the roads throughout the course. I’ve never seen anything quite like it, and while you can be careful and avoid most, I imagine everyone nearly went flying at some stage. There’s probably no better system when hydration is so important, although far too many people take a sip then throw the bottle aside nearly full. I did that myself when needing water and receiving Lucozade late on. I’ve trained with the stuff for months, yet on the day it was tasting fairly terrible. The energy gels too didn’t have the desired effect either despite training with them for so long. Perhaps I didn’t use enough or used them at the wrong times, but I never received that helpful burst of energy from the caffeine! Perhaps the weather made it more difficult. While I’d been hoping the wind and rain would stop, I wasn’t expecting 5 hours of sun! It did brighten up the atmosphere and crowds, made for better photos and kept people smiling, but I could have done with some drizzle a couple of times!
I was going to suggest slipping on a bottle of water and crashing into a fence was the closest I came to injury during the race, but actually like many other people that was probably the moment I spent running directly in front of the guys in rhino costumes. One sudden stop from the person in front and I’d have been skewered by a precariously placed horn. The quickest I ran all day was probably when I saw a chance to get out the way.
Reaching the half way point in just over 2 hours felt frustrating at the time as I knew I could be a lot faster. I’d had the energy to do it but just struggled through the crowds, which showed little sign of spreading out. If I had any chance of 4 hours, I needed a confidence boost there of knowing I could slow a little late on. Although I maintained my pace for a couple of miles, I began to tire quite a lot. After some slow miles I declined to near walking pace and really struggled around Canary Wharf, where I seemed to be for hours and don’t especially want to see again until next year! In fact I think 18-20 miles was the most difficult section of the entire race. Just knowing how much I’d slowed made it feel worse, seeing that finish time grow more and more. My mindset changed soon after halfway though and I stopped worrying about speed, focusing on merely keeping going. I probably took a lot more in at this stage and enjoyed it more despite the pain.
I chatted to a few runners, listened to the crowds more and soaked up the atmosphere. I’d always thought 4 or 5 hours of music would be too much and I quickly tired of it. In fact, upbeat music just seems to be mocking you when you’re hobbling along at 3 miles per hour. Although a few crowd members shouting ‘you’re nearly there’ at 16 miles while sat holding a beer didn’t do much for motivation either. 10.2 miles to go is never ‘nearly there’. There was a surprisingly number of people cooking on the side of the streets too. Running through barbecue smoke wasn’t something I’d trained for, or burger vans. I noticed the Guardian picked an appropriately harsh photo to capture such moments (see below).
My slightly injured knee was never an issue during the marathon; nor was my broken toe. Those two problems had caused pain on the longest training runs and were the only suffering when I ran a full practice marathon. So I wasn’t ready for the immense pain in my feet, from the sole going right through the centre, hurting more with every stride. It might sound obvious, pounding the pavements for hours, yet I’ve never had any foot pain despite running further, faster and in the same shoes. After two hours it was agony and I just had to put it out my mind, but I’m still confused as to why it happened.
By 22 miles and seeing the Mind supporters again I felt like the end was in sight. At least it’s pretty much a straight line to the finish from that point. Blackfriars Underpass was particularly memorable, with almost everyone taking a break and walking while the crowds couldn’t see. It was dark, quiet and with hundreds of people struggling to walk, a bit like Shaun of the Dead.
Those last few miles I kept checking my watch, keen to beat 4 hours 30 and aware it was going to be close. That helped me to keep running and pick up the pace slightly, especially towards the very end. The main thought was just to keep moving and that every stride was one nearer the finish line. I recall being 5km from the finish and thinking how quickly I normally run that distance. Despite never slowing from this point, it was my slowest 5km of all time! Seeing Parliament and turning onto the final stretch was a huge relief. I couldn’t believe it when I saw the finish line; it comes up round the corner from Birdcage Walk quicker than I’d expected. As with most my running events, I sprinted towards the line proving I hadn’t used up all my energy and am clearly a lazy runner! I finished in 4:28:03, which despite my struggles I was delighted with for a first marathon with such a short training period. If anyone doesn’t believe me, here’s the certificate!
I struggled to take it all in at that stage, spending the next 15 minutes queuing for the tags to come off, medals and then getting out the finishers zone. Helpfully they make you walk up a ramp to cut the tag off your shoes, which took some effort. In my mind I’d spend the hour or so after the finish celebrating, taking photos, soaking up the atmosphere and talking to other runners. In reality I was shepherded away from the finish area, stood at the side of the road in a daze and failed to get a signal on my phone. I then stumbled like a drunk snail to Trafalgar Square, where I sat on the floor by a statue and had kids climbing over me for 20 minutes as they tried to reach the lion. It wasn’t the relaxing quiet time I needed, but my legs decided to stay put. I closed my eyes and heard a lady shout at her son ‘don’t kick the man’s head he’s just run a marathon’.
As with some other events my intention to never ever run again didn’t last long and I’m eager to take part in the marathon again. I can definitely improve on my time, which is one motivation, but having experience of the day and less stress would help me make the most of it. If I can’t take part I’ll certainly go along and watch, maybe at a charity cheering point, which you really appreciate when you’re running. It’s an event worth being part of in any way you can, so even better if you can support a charity.
I struggled to walk most of Monday and Tuesday, but almost feel ready to run again now. Despite my pain on the day, throughout the whole training regime and marathon I had no blisters, no broken toenails and no chaffing at all, so I’ve been quite lucky. Besides being pleased with the marathon itself, I’m delighted to have raised £1,930 for Mind. It’s still not too late to donate if you haven’t yet, or if you just want to reward my wonderful efforts even more! The Saints Foundation kindly donated a signed pennant to auction so I may yet get over £2000, but it would be great if you could help me get there too. I have until 22nd May to keep the total rising if you do want to help. The money will do a lot of good supporting people with mental health problems and hopefully raising awareness further. I’ve only brushed the surface of mental health throughout this blog, but I hope just regularly writing about it has raised awareness a little and made a few people think.
Appropriately, given my cause and post-marathon blues, this is National Depression Awareness Week. What better time to bring my blog to an end and again highlight the benefits of exercise in fighting depression. Well over 200 people ran for Mind in the marathon, raising vital funds and helping to fight mental health stigma. You won’t see a better example of the stigma and bewildering ignorance surrounding mental health than Channel 4 this week helpfully broadcasting the views of dark-age lunatic Malcolm Bowden. He tells us depression and all other mental illnesses is a ‘behavioural problem, rooted in pride, self-centeredness and self-pity’ and that ‘true Christians should not be depressed’. I’ve made it through 11 weeks of blog without swearing (a big achievement in itself) so I won’t start now. Thankfully most people aren’t as relentlessly moronic as Malcolm, but while idiots are given such a platform, more idiots will follow and stigma will remain. Depression isn’t about being selfish; it’s not even often about something specific related to your life. Life can be going well or terribly, you might be rich or poor, employed or not but depression can still strike you down. You’re more likely to just feel numb and unable to imagine being happy, rather than bemoaning what you don’t have. It may be tough, a dark lonely place, but it can be the price of consciousness, introspection and complexity. When it comes to the likes of Malcolm, ignorance is definitely bliss. Rethink did complain to Ofcom, but that probably just leads to further publicity for Channel 4, which is its primary focus. The main way to fight it is to increase awareness of the facts, to help mental health charities with funds, support and time and to discuss your own problems and experiences.
Let’s end on a more positive note at least. Training for the marathon and raising money for Mind has been a brilliant opportunity for me, boosting my physical and mental health, providing an important goal to aim for and something to be proud of. Many of you have offered advice, support and donated so thank you one last time. That’s one last time after the crudely drawn effort above as I thought everyone deserved another individual mention. Plus it’s a chance to see my lovely medal, which felt even heavier after 26.2 miles of running. Additional thanks to those working at Mind for their support and help in the build-up to the big day, in fundraising and at the various cheering points.
I’m not sure what my next running event will be but I have plenty of goals to aim for: 1:45 in a half marathon; 1:20 in the Great South Run; and of course, a sub-4 hour marathon. I’m not especially trying to impress anyone with my times, I love the sport because you can compete against yourself, making it an accessible challenge for people of all levels. I’m so far behind the top runners I can’t even be jealous so much as amazed…and slightly suspicious they may be a different species. I’d recommend running and the London marathon to anyone, and any other challenge for charity for that matter.
Registration for the 2013 London marathon opens on Monday 30th April if anyone wants to join in next year. I’ll happily read your blog all about it.
Rain on your marathon day, that’s ironic isn’t it. No Alanis…it definitely isn’t. I can hear thunder as I write this, so things are looking good for Sunday. At least I’ve done all I can with the aspects I can control. Training is over, now I’m in the difficult stage of resting and eating lots, which luckily I have years of experience in. You can see my race number below and track my progress on the marathon site I believe. Give me a ring if there’s no movement for a while after 20 miles. You can look out for me wearing the above kit too, although I may yet add a waterproof jacket depending on how brave I feel on the day.
After my slight injury concerns last week I tested the knee on Sunday with my final long run. Minor discomfort disappeared after a few miles and I managed a decent half marathon time; one I’d be very happy replicating on Sunday…although there’s no chance of doing it twice in a row! In two shorter runs I felt no injury concerns, so I suppose I’ll only find out during the marathon now after a couple of hours running. The weather is more concerning at the moment, especially the prospect of waiting around at the start in the cold rain. Actually running in it might prove quite refreshing, so long as it’s not combined with strong winds, but I’d rather not face 4 or 5 hours of depressing weather. Hopefully the crowds will still turn out to cheer everyone on, even though it’s probably even less fun standing around getting soaked. If any of you are coming to watch the race do let me know roughly where you’ll be and I’ll try to look out for you.
This week also saw the London Marathon Expo, which I attended yesterday. The main photo was the only one without me blinking, but probably better than the drowned rat race photos on Sunday. I thought I’d go along on a weekday to avoid the queues, but still anticipated waiting quite a while to register as others had warned me. In reality it took about 3 minutes. I’m really hoping Sunday goes just as smoothly. So I have my running number (43114 in case you haven’t noticed it above!) and start with the red group in Greenwich Park at 9.45am. I imagine it might take a while to get across the start line, so I’m hoping to finish the marathon between 2-3pm. If you’re tracking my progress and that doesn’t look likely, feel free to send a text telling me to speed up. If my iPhone hasn’t drowned, I’ll try to read them. The Expo was really enjoyable; like a conference but where everyone actually understands what they’re doing there, finds it useful and doesn’t leave before clients ask them difficult questions. So not like any conference really…and they had a giant trainer.
Even the pasta bar meal was slightly better than expected. Fair enough, I had very low expectations, but still, more carbs in the bank. I definitely wouldn’t recommend attending on the Saturday and spending hours strolling around though. It’s big, there’s a lot to see and it’s pretty tiring. Also, there are hundreds of free samples for drinks, gels, protein bars and so on. While that seems logical at a running event, there are also people giving good advice such as ‘don’t try anything new at this stage’, which doesn’t quite fit in with stuffing your face with all the latest new products. In fact, the presenter I saw talked about resting the day before, so I’ve no idea what he’ll be saying on Saturday when it is the day before and thousands of people are walking miles eating new protein bars. You’re supposed to cut down a lot of protein before the event anyway; part of the reason my week or so of eating lots hasn’t been as enjoyable as it sounds. I also wasn’t too sure about the wisdom of putting beer in the marathon runner’s goodie bag. If that’s your main source of carbs, you may be in trouble.
In an earlier blog I wrote about the world’s oldest marathon runner, completing the Toronto marathon last year at the age of 100. Now at 101, he has announced the London marathon on Sunday will be his last. There’s a nice article on him here. Good luck to him, but if I see him during the race, I’m clearly not doing very well. I noticed another inspiring running story this week, perhaps a more bewildering achievement reported on here. It tells the story of an ultra-marathon runner who has been blind since the age of 18, but has taken part in events with guide runners and taught himself to run solo on the streets, memorising routes near his home. These stories make my efforts seem far less impressive, but importantly at this stage, it also makes Sunday seem infinitely more achievable and adds some perspective.
According to William Hill, the three favourites for the marathon are Patrick Makau, Emmanuel Mutai and Abel Kirui. I couldn’t find anyone quoting a price on me sadly. The three favourites are all from Kenya, supporting many of the generalisations about distance running. It’s not so simplistic when looking at the reasons behind it though. While Kenya has won 21 gold medals in 800m and above events since 1968, it’s not necessarily logical to conclude Kenyans are good at running. The majority of Kenyan winners have been from a small region of the Rift Valley called Nandi. It quickly becomes clear it’s ludicrous to think of distance running as a Kenyan phenomenon when so many of the country are underrepresented. Likewise, with the wider continent’s success based on the smallest pinpricks on the map, the notion of Africans in general being good distance runners becomes fairly ignorant.
A recent Guardian article also highlights the success of Kenya’s Rift Valley and sheds some light on why the top 20 fastest marathon runners are all from Kenya. Unfortunately for those looking for some grand secret, it appears to be a unique dedication and commitment to running from an early age. Poverty exists in many other countries, as does the will to escape it, yet in these small regions of Kenya every last drop of energy is channeled into running. Despite scientific research, there is no evidence at all to suggest Kenyan running ability has anything to do with genetics. Right, that’s racism sorted out then. Next week homophobia, where we learn if you have something important to say, it’s definitely best to stick it on the side of a bus.
Clearly I’ve been reading too many articles this week, because I also saw a study by the University of Exeter that highlighted the benefits of exercise and particularly walking, in fighting depression. I think time spent outdoors is part of the benefit, while walking is accessible to most people. It does provide mental health benefits, although exercise that raises the heart rate further is likely to have an even greater impact. The key is probably to find exercise you enjoy and focus on that, as slogging away on activities that feel like a chore all the time may not be the most motivating solution. Mixing a physical challenge with an activity you really enjoy or find cathartic can be a great help.
However, merely knowing what can help fight depression isn’t always enough. Sometimes it’s difficult to imagine a brighter future and find the energy to help yourself; it can be simultaneously numbing and exhausting. I’m sure it can feel different to everyone, increasing the feeling of isolation, but hopefully increasing awareness and encouraging people to talk as Mind strive towards will continue to benefit people more and more. This blog has been enjoyable to write and veered off in many directions, but I hope it’s at least made a few people think about mental health and the benefits of exercise.
One thing it has helped with is fundraising, keeping people interested in my training and bringing in donations from a huge number of unexpected sources. I passed my target this week, which was a great boost so close to the marathon. I wouldn’t have felt so focused on the race if I still had a huge amount left so raise, so thank you once again to everyone who has sponsored me. The total now stands at £1,755 and I’d love to get near £2,000 if possible, so keep passing the blog on and if you haven’t donated yet, there is still time! Perhaps you’re waiting to see if I actually finish the race first. Understandable, and all donations are welcome at any time, but I’d love to have that support from as many people as possible going into the marathon. The larger the amount raised, the more determined I’ll be on the day. Feel free to guess my marathon time if you’ve sponsored me. Closest guess may win a prize.
This is the penultimate blog and obviously the last before the big day. It seems like a lot more than 10 weeks since I found out I was running the marathon, with so much training behind me and having come so far with the fundraising. Thank you again for all your support, help and advice over the weeks. All I have to do now is relax and get some rest. And of course avoid celebrating too much due to Saints inconveniently timed return to the Premier League on Saturday evening.
Wish me luck.