Weekly RUNdown 12/02/18

Er, so it’s been two weeks. Oops. With quite a bit to update you on, I guess I’d better get on with it!

This week’s mantra: keep it short!

30/1 Went to what has become my usual spin class. Sweated buckets, as usual. Came home and raided the fridge like a ravenous beast, as usual!

31/1 I had 5 miles on the plan for today, with the idea being to do an easy-steady-fast-steady-easy pyramid. So off I went at lunchtime, trying to focus on keeping easy easy and with the goal of not quitting on the fast mile! I managed an 8:45, which included a Big. Damn. Hill so I was absolutely chuffed! Had a sports massage in the evening and got a bit of bonus K-tape to help my slightly sore ankles.

1/2 Today marked 4 weeks since I started overhauling my eating and so I did a weigh-in to check on my progress. I was quite stunned to find that I’d lost 10 lbs! I can also see quite a big difference in my waist and hips, and I feel a whole lot better too, so all-in-all this is a big win!

2/2 – 5/2 Matt and I headed to Center Parcs for the weekend to celebrate the end of the longest month of the year and just to spend some time just the two of us. It was a weird and wonderful weekend full of moments of powerful nostalgia (I went to Center Parcs quite a few times as a child!) and lots of new memory making with my Fiance. We went climbing on the Saturday morning, and it was really hard work (which I was expecting) and also pretty scary (which I was not). The climbing walls had these counterweight things at the top and you had to trust that they’d catch you and help you descend gently. For some reason I really struggled with it, and it took a lot of cajoling from Matt and the instructor to get me to keep trying!

On Sunday we had our 10 mile long run in the schedule so we valiantly set out to tackle the hills and get the miles in. One thing you don’t appreciate when you stick to the main parts of the village is that Longleat forest is hilly. Every direction we could have chosen to run was either up or down a steep hill, and so we had to suck it up! Honestly it was one of my toughest runs in recent memory, especially at the start. I hated everything for those first few miles. Everything hurt, I grumbled and whined and swore under my breath. But we stuck it out (well, I stuck out the run from hell, and Matt stuck out my bad mood – sorry honey!) and somehow, the second half sucked a whole lot less. In fact we finished on a 9:30 ish mile because I wanted to squeak in under the 2 hour mark.

In what has to be the ultimate run recovery method we spent the afternoon in the spa enjoying the steam rooms and sauna and the big cosy armchairs in front of the fire. If you’ve never tried a spa (and it could just be a sauna and swimming pool, it doesn’t have to be as fancy as Aqua Sana) can I take a moment to say DO IT! I would never have thought it would be my kind of thing, but the intense heat of the sauna relaxes me in a way nothing else does, and being in a place dedicated to relaxation really does prompt me to let go of a lot of my tension and go with the flow (literally).

All in all the weekend was absolutely brilliant, and we really, really didn’t want it to be over!

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6/2 Tuesday spin class again, although this time with a different instructor because my usual one was on holiday. This instructor had a completely different style, with a lot more focus on strength and pushing through the higher gears rather than aiming for lots of speedwork. I couldn’t choose which was my favourite and I honestly think both are important parts of cross-training, so next week I’ve signed up for both! An hour of spin – yikes!

7/2 I had hill repeats on the schedule today, but the weather was so horrible I decided to use the treadmill to get it done. Work got on top of me a bit and I didn’t have as much time as I’d have liked, but I managed 30 minutes of running at a minimum of 2% incline, with some faster intervals at 4 or 5% incline. I worked up a good sweat and had to focus on pushing my legs “up the hills” with decent form. After the run I finished off the evening with a stretching-focused yogalates class, which felt soooooo good. I’m sure I was a few inches taller after it!

11/2 We did 12 sunny miles today, and although we were expecting it my mile 2 mood didn’t happen! Somehow we found that often illusive conversational pace and I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed those miles jogging happily through the countryside playing “spot the red kite” (final count: at least 10) and chatting about nothing in particular. The only rough patch came at around mile 10 when a wrong turn took us down a rough, muddy farm track that was terrifyingly slippery and energy draining. That made miles 11 and 12 a lot harder than they would have otherwise been. But it was probably what I deserved, having piped up earlier how much I liked runs that included “mixed terrain”!!

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I read a discussion on Reddit the other day about what moment led people to feel like “real runners”, and I think I’ve got one to contribute today! I feel like a real runner because I can say honestly and without irony that I am really looking forward to running 14 miles next weekend!

 

 

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Anxiety and Parkrun

So like I said in my rundown post I thought I would write a separate post to talk about my experience at Parkrun this weekend, and to share some more general thoughts about anxiety and running.

When Matt and I got home after Saturday’s run I was edgy and upset because I hadn’t been able to complete the course in the time I wanted to. And it was then that he said something that inspired this whole post. Telling me that I shouldn’t be hard on myself, he said:

“It’s like you’re fighting two battles. The physical one and the mental one. It’s twice as hard!”

And you know, he’s exactly right. Quite apart from the physical effort required to complete a 5km run, my anxiety demands so much extra energy that sometimes it’s all too easy to get demoralised or tired and to stop running.

The winter course at Cheltenham is quite narrow, and as it is a very popular event it can be extremely crowded. While crowds don’t always bother me, the jostling and pushing and shoving that are unavoidable at the start of a busy run do really upset me when I’m on my own. Without a specific running buddy to focus on and to help block out the crowd my instincts are either to freeze, cover my face with my hands and let the mayhem happen around me, or to flee. I have never run (sorry) into this problem at big races (even in London) because the roads are generally wide enough to allow even the large volume of people to keep moving, and because it’s easy just to hang back a little at the start to avoid the masses.

But once the run director at Parkrun says “Go!” the clock is ticking. I’m competitive enough not to want to “waste” precious seconds by hanging back, so off I go with everybody else, at a slow walk at first, trying to negotiate benches, trees, dogs and other park users and not allow the panic to rise up from my stomach to my throat. At the narrow bridge we have to stop while the folks in front navigate its bollards, and my heart, already amped up from both the anxiety and the first few hundred yards of the run, feels like it’s going to leap out of my chest. I feel light headed, dizzy. My legs are unwilling to pick up the pace, even though I know they can. I start to catastrophize (another of my anxious tendencies), assuming that a slow start will become a slow first mile, and a slow first mile will become a slow 5km, and I won’t get a PB and I’m a terrible runner and I’m unfit and useless and awful and really when you look at it like that… what’s the point?

And there I am, walking angrily with my arms folded across my chest, resenting everyone jogging happily past me and feeling attacked by the kind words of the marshals. Anxiety-wise, I’m on high alert, my fight-or-flight response in a battle of wills with my stubbornness. Everything is amplified by my overactive brain: someone overtaking unexpectedly is panic-inducing, having to overtake myself even more so. A barking dog, a bicycle bell, someone shouting encouragement, a tap on the shoulder; all become inordinately shocking to me.

After a while the anxiety starts to dissipate, and I am acutely embarrassed by my performance. I want redemption, I want to run hard for however much of the course I have left. But, I’m exhausted. My anxious brain has just put me through a pretty intense workout. To gather enough physical strength to finish strong after a start like that would require a mammoth effort that I’m just not capable of in that moment. I finish, in a time which belies the effort involved. I’m not happy with it. I’m never happy when my anxiety makes simple things really, really difficult.

Reading this you might think that the simplest solution would either be to avoid Parkrun altogether, or to find a quieter one to attend. Trouble is, the first would feel like defeat, and the second wouldn’t always work.

The Didcot event that we attend when we’re in Oxfordshire for the weekend is much smaller and while this does make it less likely that I will have an anxiety attack, by its very nature anxiety is unpredictable and it can still happen. Almost anything can set it off (case in point: we had a very tiny road rage incident on the way one Saturday, nothing more than some strong words shouted out of a car window, and it turned out that the other driver was headed to Parkrun too. I became convinced that there would be more strong words, or worse, and I had visions of us being thrown out for messing with the wrong person. Long story short this led to a panic attack, and having to quit the run after the first lap and be taken home in floods of tears).

Don’t get me wrong, I would never judge a fellow anxiety-sufferer for choosing to avoid certain things. Everyone deals with challenges in their own way. But for me, the only way to deal with anxiety and Parkrun is to keep showing up. The more I can teach my brain that anxiety is short-lived and that there are plenty of “good” runs to balance out the “bad”, the more I gain control over that anxiety.

To other Parkrunners reading this and wondering if they can help, I say a sincere thank you. For me, when I am in a highly anxious state, I need space. I can’t talk, can’t explain what’s happening. If you see me walking along the course looking, for want of a better word, tense, please try not to startle me. Don’t touch me, don’t push past me and don’t shout at me (even if it’s encouragement). If something does set me off, I’m liable to jump, shout, cry or possibly even run away! If I do any of those things, please know it’s not your fault. And if you see me again later and I look entirely normal, don’t be offended by my earlier weirdness. In the midst of an anxiety attack I’m not capable of acting rationally!

To any anxious folks wondering if they should give Parkrun a go, I say absolutely! Although certain aspects of the event can trigger my anxiety attacks, they might not for you. And if they do, I hope, and I have every reason to believe, that you’ll receive the same kindness and compassion that I have from fellow runners and volunteers alike. Everyone there wants you to succeed, and they are far more interested in celebrating you crossing the finish line than in judging you when you’re suffering.

Weekly RUNdown 29/01/18

Good grief, it’s Monday!

After a very enjoyable Friday night making tacos, we woke up bright and early Saturday morning for Parkrun. Now I know I said I wouldn’t be participating for the time being, wanting to save my legs for the Sunday long runs, but this week was a cut-back week and with only 5 miles on the chart I wanted to give it a try.

One of the main reasons for wanting to Parkrun was so that Matt could go on ahead to see what kind of time he could get on the Cheltenham course, and so that I could see how I got on dealing with the crowds “on my own”. Matt absolutely smashed it, setting a new PB of 23:36, and as for me… well I’ve got a fair bit to say about how it went so I will make that into its own post. Look out for that later in the week!

The rest of Saturday was spent refueling in style (just look at the glory that was brunch), clocking up 23,000 steps wandering around town, catching an hour’s nap on the sofa (I keep reading that napping is an important part of marathon training and it’s one I certainly plan to embrace!), and then heading out with some of the extended family for a meal as a belated Christmas present from us to them. In a slightly surreal twist we ended the night setting fire to a giant, rum-soaked sugar lump, but that’s a whole other story!

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This absolute beauty is cheesy jalapeno cornbread with fried egg, salsa and smoky chipotle maple syrup. I didn’t know this was a thing I needed in my life until now. 

Predictably after a late night we did NOT want to get up on Sunday morning but somehow managed to throw ourselves out from under the covers and into our trainers. The plan was a quick jaunt to and from the railway station along the cycle track, followed by a lap of Pittville park to end right by a cafe (convenient, right?).

At about the 2 mile mark I was well and truly on the struggle bus and could not figure out why it was so hard. Then I realised that my new shoes felt like lumps of lead attached to my feet. While they were not exactly uncomfortable, nor noticeably heavier than any other shoes I own, I was getting absolutely no bounce from them, and every step felt heavy. My trusty Mizunos are springy and I get a lot of feedback from the road below. I guess a good analogy would be the difference between the dull thud of dropping a brick on the floor and the pleasing sproingggg of dropping a bouncy tennis ball….

…okay so I may be exaggerating slightly, but I’m sure that there is some truth to this new theory. I will put my scientist hat on, conduct some appropriate tests and report back!!

To add insult to injury one of my little toes kept going numb! At the turn around point we actually swapped shoes to see if that would help, and while Matt’s slightly larger pair definitely helped the toe situation, they were no more springy, and I don’t think he appreciated the toe-pinching of my smaller pair! Inspired by the rubber chicken cover of Camila Cabello’s “Havana” (if you have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m telling you to stop what you’re doing and Google it. Seriously, you’ll thank me later) we made light of the aches and pains by singing our own version, entitled “Havana ow ow ow”. Musical geniuses, both of us! In the end we did manage to finish the 5 miles, but I was too desperate for water and a shower to contemplate a coffee stop. Instead, it was home for a quick change, lunch at the local carvery and then the endless excitement of a trip to the supermarket, before taking up residence on the sofa for a cozy, snoozy evening and pizza for dinner!

This week I’ve got Spin on Tuesday, and then 5 lunchtime miles and a trip to see Adam the physio on Wednesday. Next weekend we’re heading to Center Parcs at Longleat for a short break, and I can’t wait to do lots of walking, cycling and swimming (as well as our 10 miler on Sunday of course).

Weekly RUNdown 24/01/18

So the astute among you will have noticed that this post follows the previous one by only 6 days, however I am trying to get back to posting on Mondays so consider this the first step in that direction!

I signed up to volunteer at Didcot Parkrun on Saturday and was assigned the role of barcode scanner. I hadn’t really appreciated how much setting up went on behind the scenes, so it was really good to be involved in that. I enjoyed chatting to the other volunteers and getting to see all the smiling runners after they’d finished their runs. Unfortunately I had completely underestimated the number of layers required to stay warm in the cold and wet and ended up getting completely chilled and coming over feeling dizzy and nauseated. Luckily I’d done most of my job by that point and the run director sent me off a little early to get warmed up. Next time I will be better prepared!

 

Yes, my waterproof coat clashed horribly with the high vis jacket! 

On Sunday we headed down to Dorney Lake near Windsor for a 10km race. Thinking about it the night before I realised that I hadn’t raced 10km since a Race For Life back in 2013, so I was excited to give it a try!

The weather did its best to stop the race from even happening! We woke up to heavy snow and over the course of the morning that gave way to icy, horizontal rain. The horrible weather also really highlighted some of the organisational problems at the race venue – nowhere near enough portaloos, no shelter and so no way to stay warm-ish and dry-ish before the race, and general chaos in a muddy car park! Still we were there in good time and determined to make the most of it.

During the first mile I focused on staying relaxed and running easily (we were cold and stiff and I figured shooting off too fast could have led to badness). When my Garmin bleeped and showed a 9:36 mile I was astonished. “Great pace!” I said to Matt. “Let’s keep it up.” After mile 2, which I swear felt easier than mile 1, I saw 9:16 flash up on my watch face. Whaaaa? “Ok this is good but we really don’t need to go any faster!” I said.

After that I concentrated on keeping up with Matt and I was sure he was keeping a nice steady pace. The goal was a 59:something after all! It was hard and I pushed to keep with him but it wasn’t impossible hard, if that makes sense? I wasn’t really aware of the mile splits as we ran. At this venue you run down a very straight path in between the two halves of the lake and I just set my sights on the finish line and kept on trucking!

When we crossed the line and I saw 57:20 on my watch I nearly fainted! How…?

Turns out my mischievous fiancé had kept increasing the pace, keeping me at 9:00 miles on the second half of the race! He’d sensed I was feeling strong and made the most of it, but on the sly because he guessed (correctly) that I would have considered a 57:something impossible! He even told me I needed a sprint finish to come in under an hour! B*****d!!!

I was thrilled with how the race went and I’m feeling pretty damn positive about the progress I’m making with my training! Yesterday I went to Spin class and today was a treadmill 5km followed by Pilates. I’m going to ride this momentum as long as I can!

 

Weekly RUNdown 18/01/18

Please allow me to bend your ear for a few minutes while I bring you up to date on what’s been going on since the start of the new year!

  • Running

The first week of marathon training went well, our Sunday long run was “only” 6 miles and was awesome. We were lucky to get bright, sunny and relatively mild weather and had an epic home-cooked roast chicken dinner to look forward to when it was done and dusted.

The second week was ok. I started off feeling full of beans, and pulled out all the stops to hit an 8:36 mile during my midweek sort-of-tempo run. But then after a very crowded Cheltenham parkrun and an impromptu bike ride on the Saturday, we were 4 miles into Sunday long run #2 when I broke down sobbing by the side of the road. I was exhausted, my legs HURT and we’d just slogged up what felt like the longest hill in the world. We hobbled for home at that point and I spent most of the afternoon fast asleep on the sofa.

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Hello randomly quick mile that I didn’t know I had in me!

  • Not running

This time around my marathon training involves far less running than it did last year. In fact it involves far less running than most people’s, with only 2-3 scheduled runs per week. I know that seems slightly crazy, with most plans stipulating 4-5 runs at an absolute minimum. I know that my body can’t handle that many, at least not right now, so I’m incorporating cross-training to build fitness and endurance. The goal for race day is mostly just to enjoy it and jog our way around the course one way or another. We have no real pace in mind, because we’ve chosen to run together and our natural speeds are very different! Who knows what time we’ll run, that’ll all be part of the fun on race day…

Initially I had intended to run Parkrun most Saturdays during training. Not as an official training run but because it’s fun, gets us out of bed and I enjoy pushing myself both physically (to run faster) and mentally (because the crowds can make me extremely anxious). But after having to pull out of one, and then completing one only to fall over the next day, I’ve decided to park Parkrun for the time being. It will be the perfect opportunity to volunteer, which I’ve been meaning to do for ages. I’ll be barcode scanning this coming Saturday at Didcot! 🙂

This month so far has also seen me heading to the gym at least twice a week, sometimes doing my trainer-prescribed routine, sometimes taking classes. I got up the nerve to go to Spin for the first time, and it was amazing! I can see why people get so into it, it’s exhilarating and an excellent workout. The hard saddle on the bikes might be an issue though… can I be the weirdo wearing padded shorts in Spin class? I don’t know! I have also done some Pilates, which left me feeling incredibly relaxed and was a great core workout, and some treadmill running to test out some new shoes (more on that coming soon). It’s been years and years since I ran on a treadmill and boy was it tough! I don’t remember it being that tough, but at a pace I can hold relatively easy outside I was breathing hard and sweating buckets!

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We didn’t quite close the loop on this one. Better luck next time!

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Buzzing after my first Spin class!

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After 45 minutes on the treadmill. Dead is an understatement!

  • Eating

I made the conscious decision to try and improve my eating habits at the start of the year. My relationship with food tends to veer towards the unhealthy in that I have a tendency to view some foods as “reward” foods, ones which are usually full of fat and sugar and which I use to elevate my mood when feeling low or very anxious. At the other end of the spectrum are the foods that I put in the “punishment” category, which are the lowest-calorie options. “I have to eat a salad today because I’ve been bad and greedy and therefore I only deserve a salad.”

Yeah… believe me writing it out like that is as jarring to me as it probably is to you! It’s especially weird because I’m generally someone who enjoys traditionally “healthy” foods. I love salads! I enjoy pretty much all food, most of the time. So, this month I’m trying to focus on nutrition, I’m tracking calories with My Fitness Pal to ensure I’m keeping in a sensible range, and I’m limiting (but NOT excluding) the high-fat, high-sugar options as much as possible. I want treats to regain their position in my brain as treats – things to be enjoyed sometimes, when I fancy them – rather than things that I sometimes eat in excess and other times ban from my life in a fit of self-hatred.

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A well deserved (and delicious, and nutritious!) treat after a long run. Roast potatoes are the best!

I’ve lost about 3 kg so far with this not-at-all-new-but-new-to-me eating routine, which is a definite plus. I’ve recently been creeping too far into the “overweight” category on the BMI scale, and I want to get back to being at the upper end of normal. I’m above average height, and my waist measurement is entirely within the healthy range so I have no desire to go any lower than that. I have a fabulous Karen Millen dress that Matt bought me for my birthday last year (!) which I’ve not yet worn because it was ever so slightly too tight. Fingers crossed that in the near future that will cease to be true and I can strut my stuff in it!

 

December RUNdown!

So, about that weekly update thing…

All I can say is that life happened, I had a really annoying couple of weeks with an on-again-off-again bug that made me feel pretty crappy, and I wasn’t at all motivated to write!

So now it’s early January, and I thought I would start the new year with a December recap then try to get back to weekly posts as of next Monday.

At the very end of November, I had my goal setting appointment at the gym. I was slightly terrified when they told me it would begin with a fitness test, but it turned out only to involve walking on a treadmill on an incline. The results were a little bit strange, though, as the trainer, Alex, said they were indicative of someone who did no exercise at all. My heart rate tends to run higher-than-average though, and the machine was using the simple “220 – age” formula to calculate my maximum HR, and I know from using my Garmin that I can get up to that number on a steady-to-tempo effort. Anyway, that aside it was a good appointment and I planned to go back the next week to go over the plan that the trainer would devise for me!

December got off to a great start with a trip to the BBC Good Food Show with Matt and his dad. It’s the only event I can think of where it’s totally acceptable, if not encouraged, for otherwise responsible adults to be completely and utterly sloshed by 10:30 in the morning! While they may only give you small samples at each alcohol-based stand, there are a LOT of stands. Still, there are plenty of stands offering solid food (mostly sausages, cheese & cake) to soak it all up!

Parkrun on the 2nd ranks as one of my soggiest ever runs, I even had to run without my glasses on for a while after they steamed up completely. Still it was a good one, my first time coming in under 29 minutes at Cheltenham, with a time of 28:54!

It was back to the gym the next week to find out what Alex had put together for me. It was a series of strengthening exercises designed to work on my core and glutes, including some bodyweight stuff like walking lunges and some simple weights, like kettlebell deadlifts. There were also a few exercises to work on shoulder mobility and upper body strength, to round things out! It was simple to follow and included a good mixture of things so as not to be boring. In fact I was planning to return just two days later to get started…

But then… I woke up the following morning feeling atrocious. I had a fever, earache and a sore throat, as well as epic DOMS from the new to me exercises the previous evening! I dragged myself to work feeling dutiful but ended up crying in the carpark because I felt so miserable. One look at me and the boss sent me straight home again. And the sofa was where I stayed for the rest of the week!

Feeling only slightly better by Saturday I skipped Parkrun and instead watched Matt absolutely storm round and get yet another PB (24:03, in case you’re wondering) so at least one of us was fit and well!

The next week was uneventful, I did go to the GP to check that I didn’t have anything that needed antibiotics, and while he sympathised that I felt crummy he assured me it was “just a virus” and that I should get better in time. Sigh…

That weekend I shared with Matt that I was feeling very anxious about my fitness and the fact that I hadn’t run further than 5km in months, so he concocted a plan to do a pre-parkrun run on Saturday to round me up to 10km for the day. Although this did involve getting up even earlier, I’m so glad he convinced me to do it. Not only did everything happen just as it should, I’m sure it actually helped shake a lot of the lingering ick that was hanging out in my chest and sinuses.

I finally made it back to the gym, a mere 2 weeks since the last time, and worked through my routine. Weirdly the hardest out of all the exercises are the walking lunges! Not only do I struggle to balance (especially with my left leg leading) but after a few my legs are absolutely burning. I guess that just means that I really need to keep doing them!

December 23rd was a festive Parkrun, though relatively few people wore anything special! That probably had something to do with the frigid temperature, but hey, I rocked the Rudolf leggings and Matt sported a very fetching “Santa’s legs in a chimney” hat!

Christmas was a brilliant day filled with family, food and fabulous gifts. And Boxing Day was mainly spent eating leftovers and lounging about. As we went to bed that night the weather forecast showed heavy snow further north, and things didn’t seem promising with the torrential rain we were currently experiencing!

About midnight, I woke to an excited voice: “It’s really white out there!” I was still 99% asleep and the meaning of Matt’s words didn’t register at all.

5am, and this time the voice is louder: “Oh my god, my tree looks really strange!” This time I managed to regain consciousness, and padded into the dining room where Matt was staring out into the garden. To my astonishment the whole place was covered with a thick layer of snow, and the branches of the yew tree at the back of the garden were sagging almost to the ground under the weight. It looked kind of like a banana with ribbons of mostly-peeled skin dangling down around it. After agreeing that the tree did indeed look really strange, I went back to sleep. I love snow as much as anyone, but 5am is 5am!

At a more reasonable hour we get up and decide to attempt to drive up Cleeve Hill to go sledging. Matt was extremely distressed when I told him a few weeks ago that I had never sledged, so it seemed like an opportunity too good to pass up! We dug the sledge, a beautiful wooden creation made for an 8-year-old Matt by his father, out of storage, wrapped up in as many layers as we could, and drove up the hill. We got lucky and found a perfect parking spot, and excitedly headed up to where dozens of others, young and old, were already out enjoying the snow! Up here the temperature was a few degrees colder and the snow had drifted in places to several feet deep. It was incredible. Not only did I enjoy the actual sledging immensely, I got an excellent workout pulling it around, AND I discovered that I’m a natural at snowboarding, or at least “sledgeboarding” wherein I rode the sledge standing sideways!

I could talk for hours about that fabulous day out in the snow, but this post is already novel length so I’ll move on!

The snow was still crisp and thick the next morning, and the sun was out, so we decided to wrap up warm and take our new trail running shoes for a trip up the other hill in Cheltenham – Leckhampton. If you’ve ever explored the woodland up there you’ll know that the first part of the main footpath follows what used to be the railway that got stone from the quarry at the top down to the town below. As you might imagine it’s quite steep! I couldn’t jog the whole thing, and my heart rate was sky high by the top. Nevertheless we carried on, jogging where possible and walking where necessary, enjoying the fabulous, fairytale views and the sunlight on our faces. Right at the top of the hill on the common the snow was flat and pristine, and I’m not good enough with words to adequately express the joy that filled my heart when we ran through it. The very low temperatures overnight had left it powdery and crisp, and every footstep sent little clouds of glitter into the air. We spent a good while there, finding places to run through fresh snow, under the brilliant blue sky, and feeling completely and totally happy. As we headed reluctantly back down, the light was rapidly fading and the temperatures plummeted as we ran through the shadier woodland. We absolutely tore down the railway path, enjoying the smooth slope, and then rounded our 3.5 mile run up to 4 by heading up the road a little way. As the sun set we were in a cafe, cold hands wrapped around steaming mugs of coffee, feeling that perfect kind of tiredness that comes from physical exertion.

The snow didn’t hang around much longer, but it had felled a couple of trees in the park so Parkrun on the 30th was cancelled. Ignoring the urge to stay in bed we went out anyway, for a brisk 4 miles to the railway station and back. The weather for new year was mild (ish) and windy. After a brilliant 1920s themed NYE party, at my request we spent the 1st (my birthday) at Weston Super Mare, enjoying a walk on the bleakly beautiful and windswept beach, feeding 2p coins into the slots at the arcade on the pier, and eating fish and chips in the kind of seaside cafe that has red and white checked tablecloths and serves battered fish fillets the size of whales.

Our 16 week countdown to the London Marathon began on January 1st, although I didn’t do my first official training run until the 3rd. But that’s another story!

All in all, December was a busy month full of great experiences, and the Christmas holiday was just brilliant!

Here’s to a wonderful 2018! Let’s get running…

 

Weekly RUNdown 27/11/17

Good evening! It’s actually Monday as I write this, so that’s a good start.

I would start out by saying that I’ll try not to ramble too much, but we all know that’s not going to happen, so…

On Tuesday I finally made a decision I’ve been dithering about for a while and signed up for a gym membership. I chose the gym that my physio is based at, partly because the familiarity I’ve already developed with the place helps it seem less scary to go there, but mainly because it offers a rolling membership so I’m not tied in to paying for it for 12 months.

After work on Wednesday I went for an induction and got a tour of the facilities, which were rather impressive! The gym is bright and open and split over two levels, with the  cardio and resistance machines on the top level and the free weights downstairs. There are two big studios for group classes, a spin studio, a dance studio (I think they even offer cardio barre-type classes – will I be brave enough?) and something called a Kinesis studio which was full of inexplicable ropes and levers. After I’d stared at it confusedly for a minute or two the woman showed me around said: “Yeah, I’d definitely suggest taking a class or two.” Intriguing… Oh, and there’s a swimming pool too, but it’s kind of a water treadmill. You set a flow-rate and then just have to swim against it! It looked slightly terrifying but I must try it some time.

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Sweaty gym selfie is sweaty. Also trying to take pictures without anyone noticing requires a surprising amount of concentration!

Before I could change my mind I went straight to the gym after I left work on Thursday. Since I’d basically not done any cardio except for running for years, I wasn’t at all sure what kind of workout I was planning, but I headed to the least scary machine, the elliptical trainer, hopped on, and went for it. After warming up I went for a hard effort for 15 minutes, and then switched to the bike and then the rowing machine for 10 minutes each. I ended up in an unintentional competition  with a guy on the next rower, as I noticed he was matching my speed and couldn’t resist upping it. I finished up with 10 minutes brisk uphill walk on the treadmill and called it a night. I was Sweaty with a capital S and badly wanted some dinner! Before I left I booked in with a trainer for a “goal setting” session next week, which will be the first time I’ve done any such thing so that will be interesting.

On Saturday morning Matt and I dragged ourselves out of bed for Parkrun, although to be fair it is far less of a struggle than it used to be! Cheltenham was celebrating its 250th Parkrun so it was extra busy, and I couldn’t help but be amused at the way we all huddled together like penguins in the bitterly cold air. I was super determined to crack the 30 minute barrier for the first time in Cheltenham, so at the whistle I took off pretty swiftly, in fact it was swift enough to leave Matt behind for a few yards (sorry darling!)

After the first two laps something happened in the backs of my legs, right at that point where the butt ends and the thigh begins. Honestly it felt like someone with really long nails jabbed their fingers into me and squeezed. I gasped and just sort of… stopped. Matt glanced over his shoulder, doubled back and grabbed me, absolutely insisting that I keep going. So, with gritted teeth, I did. It took a lot of focus to ignore the pain and carry on, and I guess some might argue that it wasn’t a good idea. But I think over time I’ve developed a good sense for when these sorts of pains have sinister origins and when they are more innocent. In this case I knew my hamstrings were tight because (a) they pretty much always are and (b) because my physio commented on it last time I saw him. Add this to the fact that I’ve been consciously trying to change and improve my running form recently and I wasn’t that surprised that part of me was complaining!

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My pace profile from Saturday’s Parkrun. Can you spot the place where my hamstrings complained?!

With a fair bit of encouragement from Matt and only a tiny bit of swearing under my breath I got to the finish in 29:39. HECK YES!

Boy was I tired though, and when one of the volunteers spoke to me I could not for the life of me understand what she wanted. For some reason my brain decided I was being told off and I just burst into tears right there, crying into Matt’s shoulder. The RD came over to check that I was okay, which I thought was really lovely of him and just shows the supportive environment that Parkrun offers. Of course I was fine once the moment of anxiety had passed, and I could start to feel the satisfaction of a run well done.

Saturday evening was a friend’s birthday bash in Bristol and we went to one of these “escape room” games, where you get locked in a room full of puzzles and have to work as a team to get out within a certain amount of time. This has nothing whatsoever to do with running, but I am a massive fan of these things – if there’s one near you and you haven’t tried it you must! They are great fun, and you get a real sense of achievement if you make it out in time. The best part is that the most successful teams are the ones with a mix of different types of people. I’m the nerdy academic type, and Matt’s the practical engineer type, and put together with some of our friends who add patience, lateral thinking or an eye for detail into the mix we make a formidable team. For me it’s an excellent metaphor for the way that a mix of different types of training and fitness activities make me as a whole a better runner and a more well-rounded person.

And after that completely smooth and not at all forced segue I will sign off for now. This week will be a busy one at work, but the reward will be a long weekend for me as I’m on leave on Friday, whoop! See you next Monday.

 

 

Weekly RUNdown 22/11/17

Ok so I’m a little late with this one, given that I had intended to write it on Monday and it is now Wednesday. To be honest I completely forgot until Matt mentioned it on the phone just now… oops.

On Tuesday I came home from work full of beans and cooked up a plan to get up early and run a few miles along the Ridgeway at sunrise on Wednesday. I even got all my running gear ready and laid out on the sofa. But as the evening wore on I could feel a sore throat creeping up on me. Trying to pretend I hadn’t noticed it I went to bed early still feeling optimistic about my running plans. But it wasn’t to be. I was awake at 3 in the morning feeling feverish with a painful throat and hadn’t improved after a few more hours sleep. I spent the day on the sofa feeling extremely sorry for myself, not even able to muster up the energy to watch TV. Still feeling atrocious the next morning I guiltily called in sick once again and parked my bum on the sofa. That evening Matt arrived (we’d both booked Friday off to go Christmas shopping) and persuaded me to leave the house for a while for a quick trip up to Bicester Village to get a head-start on the shopping. The trip was successful (read: expensive) and it was good to see something other than my living-room walls! I also managed to score some Lululemon leggings for £30, which I am dead chuffed about as I’ve been wanting to try them for a while but couldn’t have brought myself to pay £100 for a pair.

Friday was an interesting day to say the least. We started it at a car dealership, where I mostly just sat and nodded while Matt did some damn fine haggling and we ended up shaking hands with the saleslady on what I think was a pretty good deal for a new car! We will have to wait a few months as we’ve ordered a new model, but nevertheless I am super excited! After starting our day of shopping doing what felt like some pretty epic shopping we drove down to London to the massive Westfield shopping centre and spent a happy few hours wandering round choosing presents for our loved ones. It was late when we got back, and we’d amassed an impressive collection of bags, but I’d hardly noticed my cold all day and it was a lovely, festive occasion! Left to my own devices I would likely leave shopping much more to the last minute, but I will admit that I can see the benefits of Matt’s organisational skills!

Saturday I could tell my cold was settling on my chest so I opted not to Parkrun, which left Matt free to go for a PB, although I don’t think that was his plan initially. I thoroughly enjoyed cheering him and the other runners on, chatting to the Run Director about keeping ones hands warm and getting to watch the whole thing from the other side. In case you’re wondering, I didn’t officially volunteer because (a) I wasn’t sure if I would have enough voice for all the cheering, and (b) I knew I needed to be able to head back to the car if I got too cold and sniffly. Anyway, to cut a long story short Matt ran magnificently and came in at 23:40 ish which was a PB by at least a minute, and I couldn’t have been prouder! It’s hard to believe this time last year he was pretty much a non-runner, and now he can outpace me by miles (literally).

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Go Parkrunners go!

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Racing the final few yards at Parkrun.

Sunday was one of those days that will stick with me for a long while. We got bundled up and headed over to Uffington to meet up with some of my colleagues to celebrate a retirement. The retiree had opted out of a traditional party and instead arranged a scenic hike in his local area, finishing with cream teas at a nearby cafe. It was thrilling for me to introduce my man to my colleagues, and I also got to catch up with people who I’d not seen in forever. The walk was challenging, especially as we had only 2 hours to cover 6 miles and the area is not exactly known for being flat! But oh my goodness the weather and the views were incredible. It felt like we were walking along in a bubble filled with golden light and the sound of laughter. I know that sounds incredibly soppy but it’s entirely genuine – the atmosphere was truly special. Arriving at the tea shop, rosy cheeked and exhilarated, to be greeted by a host of twinkling fairy lights, hot coffee and scones piled high with jam and cream, was the perfect way to end a perfect autumnal day.

Thanks for reading my ramblings, and hopefully next week’s edition will be a little more timely!

 

 

Weekly RUNdown 13/11/17

In an effort to post a little bit more frequently to this blog, I thought I’d start trying to do a weekly recap post where I talk a little bit about what I’ve been up to in the preceding week. I’ll mainly talk about running and related things, but I hope to be able to include some other life stuff and general chat too.

This past week has been a rather busy one! At the beginning of the week I was in charge of my group’s annual conference (which has been my baby for the last 8 months or so) and it was a bit of a whirlwind of introducing guest speakers, dealing with technology and preparing for my own presentation on the Tuesday morning. Happily I think everything went well, and most of the attendees enjoyed themselves. I’ve enjoyed being at the helm of the meeting for the last 2 years but I’m going to be glad to pass the baton to someone else and just be an attendee myself next time!

I managed to get out for a run on Thursday morning, and for some reason I decided to do some hill repeats (my first ever, in fact) of a nearby hill that I knew was about a quarter of a mile in length. I jogged the mile to the top of the hill and charged down, enjoying myself immensely (I love running downhill!) and then turned and with a determined, if naive, attitude and back up I went. I had arbitrarily decided that 6 repeats was my magic number but on the first climb I realised two things – 1) that the hill was a lot steeper that I had remembered and 2) that quarter of a mile is quite far when you’re not used to running uphill!

3 hill repeats and a mile’s cooldown later I started my workday with a funky elevation profile for my Strava feed and a general sense of accomplishment! I don’t often make it out for early morning runs, but I really must try harder – it feels so good afterwards!

Saturday marked our tenth Parkrun, and honestly I was more than a little bit nervous. We’d heard that it would use the narrower and less spacious winter route for the first time this year, and after my panic attack a few weeks ago I was worried that I wouldn’t cope well with the crowds. The first (of five) laps of the lake was extremely crowded, so much so that I couldn’t get into my stride, but Matt stayed close to me and tried to block anyone from coming up my right-hand-side so that I wouldn’t feel boxed in and panic. But after that I felt okay and we were able to run more naturally and started to enjoy ourselves as the field spread out. We rarely overtake on the longer laps of the summer course, but this time we picked off people left, right and centre! One of the course bottlenecks is a narrow bridge with a couple of bollards in the middle, followed by a sharp (and muddy) right hand turn. On one of the laps I got completely stuck behind some folks on the bridge and could sense one of the faster runners trying to come past me as well, but managed to bypass the rising panic, do a weird pause-step-sideways shuffle and tuck my elbows in, and avoid everyone! Matt told me later he was on high alert when he saw me get boxed in and was proud that I sorted my self out! I’m definitely counting it as a win.

Sunday was a weird day. I’d realised on Saturday that I’d left my medication at home in Didcot, and even though I knew that within 24 hours I’d start to feel really pretty awful as it left my system, I was terrified that speaking up would “spoil” the weekend, so I said nothing. By Sunday morning I was feeling quite unwell, but I was determined to try and push through (I know, I know, so silly!) but by the time we came back from our traditional Sunday carvery I couldn’t hang on any longer. I was dizzy, nauseated and unable to focus. How could I possibly expect to drive myself home the following day feeling like this, or worse?

So, with what would probably have looked like overacting even on the set of Eastenders, I said to Matt that I had something to tell him and confessed to my crime. There were many tears, and you’ve probably never heard the word “sorry” uttered so often or so passionately as it was in those 10 minutes.

See, part of me believes that mistakes that would be eminently forgiveable and worthy of compassion in others are, when made by me, horrendous transgressions that Ruin Everything Forever and Ever and are evidence of me being a No Good, Terrible, Bad person.

Luckily, Matt doesn’t subscribe to the rules of the mean part of my brain, and so he simply saw a problem which was easily solved. I was loaded into the car with a blanket and a pillow and off we went to fetch the much needed tablets. It was a pleasantly sunny afternoon and the roads were clear, so it was an easy round trip, and by the time we were back in Cheltenham I was starting to feel better. The day ended cosily with chicken and mashed potato, David Attenborough on the telly and a sofa piled high with blankets. As I mulled over the events of the afternoon I felt intensely grateful that Matt was there to be nice to me when I couldn’t be nice to myself. I guess events like this are part of the ill-defined and probably indefinite process of recovery, but it’s comforting to know that I do now have the self awareness to recognise (albeit slightly belatedly) my faulty beliefs for what they are.

I hope this was an enjoyable read! Stay tuned for another edition next Monday (hopefully).

Virgin Money London Marathon 2017

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I’ve decided I’m going to call this post “the least timely race report of all time”.

It’s a post I’ve nearly written a few times and almost finished once, but after a hard drive failure this is a whole new piece of writing…

As you might have guessed, I went into the race weekend feeling somewhat underprepared. The weekend before Matt & I were up in the Lake District and my knee was fine on our climb up Scafell Pike, so I was hopeful that it would hold up in London too. My overall fitness on the other hand… not so much!

We got to London late on the Saturday morning and intended to head straight to the hotel before going to the Expo to collect my race number. Unfortunately (and I put this entirely down to nerves as I’m usually very good at London navigation) I managed to get us to the wrong tube station and a couple of miles walk away from the hotel. Given that my anxiety levels were already pretty high, this was not helpful. The weasels were enjoying pointing out all of the ways everything could go horribly wrong, and I only just managed to hold it together.

Sufficiently warmed up, we dropped bags at the hotel and headed to the Expo, which was another short walk and a cable car ride from the hotel. I’d ridden on the Skyline before, but it was new for Matt, and evidently for the ladies who we shared a car with, all on their way to the Expo as well and chattering nervously about being so high up and hoping the “rope” didn’t break.

The Expo itself was… beyond my powers of description, honestly. The enormous hall was seething with people, it was hot, sweaty, loud and absolutely buzzing with excitement. I collected my race number and chip without incident (and somehow also without a queue – massive kudos to the organisers, it was truly impressive). It was immediately clear that we would not be able to see everything the Expo had to offer. Already tired from an early start, standing on the train into London and walking halfway across the city to the hotel, I was fading fast and knew that I really needed to rest. That said, I loved all of the official merchandise, and could easily have spent an absolute fortune there! The charity section where you could enter little contests to win extra sponsorship and have your photo taken was our only other stop, and then it was back outside to the relative calm and to the hotel to rest. I spent the remainder of the afternoon resting, eating pasta and laying out what felt like a mountain of kit for the morning. This was it…

As I was getting ready on race morning I checked on my sponsorship page and found that it had just ticked over my £2000 target, which seemed like a good sign! By this point my nerves had died right down (for some reason, I’m always worse the day before a Thing than the day of the Thing) and breakfast was uneventful, although I was amused at the sheer amount of porridge, Weetabix and bananas the runners were going through! You could spot a spectator a mile off – they were the ones loading up on the bacon and eggs!

The hotel was a short walk from the race start, and as we approached I watched so many other runners and wondered what their stories were. Were they prepared? Nervous? Was this their first marathon or their tenth? Who was walking beside them this morning? As we headed into the park I said to Matt “my ankle hurts”, and although I was dead serious, we both laughed at the clear manifestation of pre-race paranoia… (insert ominous music here).

I said my goodbyes to Matt and headed into the start area, which much like the Expo was impeccably organised and absolutely full of people. It was warmer than I expected so I ditched my kit bag early and grabbed a coffee to drink while I queued for the portaloos (and yes, those queues were just as epic as everyone says they are). I tried to absorb as much of the atmosphere as possible, listening to the buzz of chatter from other runners, looking out for other Team Mind members and enjoying spotting the more ridiculous costumes.

In the crowded huddle of the starting pens I checked my watch, started the GPS tracking, tried to ignore the fact that I needed a wee again, and ran my fingers around the 5 hour pace band on my wrist. I had to stand on tiptoes to see over the crowd, but the 5 hour pacers were a good way behind me. Good, I thought. My mission is to keep them there for as long as possible. With some rather distant sounding fanfare, we started gradually shuffling forward and then finally broke into a trot as we came round a corner to the start line. I fought back the urge to burst into tears, hit start on the Garmin and started to jog.

I don’t remember much of the early parts of the race. I remember the point where the runners from the other start merged with us, and what already seemed like an impossible number of people became twice that many. I remember thinking “hey, my knee doesn’t hurt” and a creeping sense of dread because “hey, my ankle really hurts”.

I got a boost around mile 8 where the main charity cheering station was, and was focused on mile 10 as I knew that’s where Matt would be. Sure enough, there he was, waving madly. I charged over for a hug and a gel, and was stunned and delighted to see that two of our friends – Suzy and Chris – were with him. At this point I was still ahead of the 5 hour pacer, and my friends sent me on my way with a renewed spring in my step!

Just before halfway, the route crosses Tower Bridge, and I can’t imagine a more iconic moment. So many people were stopping to take selfies on the bridge, and I just laughed and accelerated round them, such was the energy there. It was just a tunnel of noise and colour, completely overwhelming. I thought back a few years when I crossed the bridge as a spectator wondering how the runners felt. Well, now I know.

I was expecting to see Matt at mile 14, and by that point I really, really needed him. My ankle was excruciating, I was tired and hot and my mind was beginning to wander. As you can imagine I was gutted when I didn’t see him, and had to fight back the tears at the thought of having to face the lonely miles round the Isle of Dogs without a boost from him. By some miracle, though, he’d found himself at mile 15 instead, and when I saw him I think some more tears may have happened! And Suzy and Chris were still with him! I was ecstatic. “How are you doing?” They said. “I’m slow.” I said, “And hot.” I took more water, another gel, and Matt cheekily hopped over the barrier to give my ankle a bit of a rub. They told me my parents were stuck on the tube somewhere and would see me at mile 23. Mile 23, I thought. Will I ever actually get there?

As I had expected the next few miles were hellish. By mile 18 I couldn’t run more than a few hundred yards without having to stop and walk. This was partly due to my lack of fitness, of course (my longest training run having been 14 miles, nearly 2 months earlier), but also my ankle. It was hot, stiff, swollen and hurt to put weight on. But I’m nothing if not stubborn, and I plodded on.

Somehow the miles passed, we went through Canary Wharf, and I was on the home stretch, going back along the Highway and towards the Tower of London. I was having to run/hobble a little way, and then stop completely for a few seconds to breathe through the pain in my ankle. It was like nothing I’d ever felt before. I saw Matt, Suzy and Chris as planned at mile 22. While I’d been occupied plodding round the City, they’d acquired coffee and sweets, and though poor Matt still looked on edge, they were in good spirits and seemed to be enjoying the atmosphere. I turned down more gel “I’m not lacking in energy” I think I said (!) “it’s just my ankle!” They gave me paracetamol and hugs, and told me that my parents were somewhere between miles 23 and 24. This spurred me on and I ran the next mile-and-a-bit without stopping. I spotted my parents before they spotted me, I could see them peering worriedly at a phone. They’d had quite a day, poor things, fighting with transportation! I got more hugs but didn’t stop for long, I’d got something of a second wind at this point.

Along the embankment the noise of the spectators increased again, and oh my goodness was it something! I passed another Mind cheering station, and their whoops and cheers as I jogged past were amazing. As I passed Big Ben I was just starting to reflect on the fact that I had pretty much completed a marathon, when I heard my name being shouted from the side of the road. This had been happening all day, since I had it written on my vest, but not with this much urgency. I looked over and saw Matt, Suzy, Chris, and a bunch of random strangers all waving madly at me! I bounded over beaming from ear to ear and got some bonus hugs and kisses which propelled me into the final half mile with unexpected vigour!

I will never, ever forget the finishing straight. As I turned the corner the voice of the emcee came over the PA system and said “the next song is up to the people in the finishing straight” and then said that we should raise one hand for some rubbish song or two hands for “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen. Obviously everybody raised two hands and so I got the thrill of crossing the finish line accompanied by one of my favourite songs of all time!

I was in a bit of a daze after I crossed the line. I hope I thanked the volunteer who gave me my medal, I certainly meant to. I wobbled round to collect my bag and somehow went to the wrong truck, but luckily another volunteer spotted me and called me over to the right one! I finally got my phone out and checked through the messages that had been coming in. A couple of speedy folks, who must have been watching me on the tracker, texted their congratulations before I’d even left the finish area.

I made my way over to the meet and greet area and, after a brief worry about whether I could remember the alphabet I found our agreed upon letter and to my delight, Matt, Suzy and Chris were standing there waiting for me. Many excited hugs were exchanged, tears were shed and the impressively heavy medal admired. I parked myself on the ground as standing up any more was out of the question! My parents found us a little while later, and I sat in the sunshine surrounded by love and feeling just a wee bit dazed.

After Suzy and Chris took their leave, it was a long, slooooow journey back to the hotel for the rest of us. I could barely put any weight on my ankle, so spent most of the time leaning on whichever of my family members were closest. My parents couldn’t stay for dinner as they had a train to catch, so we said goodbye to them, grabbed a quick shower and headed out for dinner. I had been craving Nandos, so that’s what we had. I was too tired to be very hungry, though, and we ended up back at the hotel for a reasonably early night.

I was utterly exhausted and slept pretty soundly, although I did wake up at about 3am absolutely ravenous. I made Matt fetch me a cereal bar (because my ankle hurt too much to contemplate getting up myself) and devoured it in bed – crumbs be damned! Apparently this hunger carried through to the next morning, too, as I scoffed an enormous amount of breakfast. It didn’t feel that much to me at the time, but thinking back there were at least 3 empty plates by the end of it!

We splurged on a taxi back to Paddington Station, as I couldn’t face the ankle-hurting shuffle that using the tube would require, but it actually turned out really well as the taxi followed a goodly portion of the race route and it was incredible to sit and watch the sights go by, being able to reflect on what had happened the day before. I was a marathoner.

Oh, my time? It was 6 hours, 13 minutes and some change. I lost the 5 hour pacer around the halfway point, and that was the end of that. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit disappointed with my time, but really all that matters is that I did it. For my friends, family, colleagues and everyone out there dealing with mental illness, I did it.

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