Monthly Archives: October 2014

This one might hurt…

photo 1


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.

photo 2

Keep hoping I’ll get 24601.

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.

Olympic Stadium with 26.2 miles to go.

Olympic Stadium with 26.2 miles to go.

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.


Who remembers Pompey?

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.

Keep smiling.




Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

58 kilometres to happiness…



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.

Attempting to sprint from this point was a mistake.

Attempting to sprint from this point was a mistake.

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 hope to collect enough to these to make an entire tree.

I hope to collect enough to these to make an entire tree.

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.




Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Amsterdam Marathon 2014


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:



Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized