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.