The 150th parkrun that wasn’t…

Today should have been my 150th parkrun, but I walked off the course halfway through.

Today, for the first time, my mental strength was just as poor as my physical fitness and I just couldn’t find a reason to keep shuffling around the course. This wasn’t how my 150th parkrun was meant to be; my 100th was under 24 minutes, I didn’t want my next milestone to be 40 minutes of pain and disappointment. I’d thought of going the distance and just avoiding the finish, but I didn’t want the questions that would come with it, so I quietly strolled off the course and hid in the crowds.

As I was heading home a little later I realised this was a culmination of a period of declining physical and mental health and had to pull the car over for a minute to gather myself.

At the turn of the year, knowing I couldn’t be setting any running goals for a while, I set myself a different target for 2018. In the very first conversation I had about it I was told it was impossible and I’d never do it. I believed them, and haven’t taken a single step forward since. This story has repeated several times over the last few months, a series of failures has set a level of expectancy that things will not go well, in any circumstance, and I’ve reacted by avoiding trying.

It’s manifested itself in many ways. I haven’t tried training because I’m so unhealthy I can’t do it. Now I know the idiocy behind that statement, faced with that as a coach I’d be going bonkers about self-limiting beliefs and the like, but I can’t be my own coach because my brain works quicker than I can and not only plants the seed of doubt but waters it, nurtures it, helps it grow and presents me with a beautiful big tree of doubt before I have the chance to try and argue with myself. This has spilled over in to other areas of self care. I am eating utter shit, day in, day out, because why shouldn’t I?

Can’t train? May as well get fat. Three stone overweight? Well you can’t train then. – 

As well as neglecting my physical wellbeing I really haven’t looked after my head. Without the mind-altering joy of exercise I’ve allowed the negativity, failure and disappointment to build until I no longer do any of the things I enjoy. Not only have I stopped reading things I like (replaced by a succession of self-help books that tell you page after page to “love yourself” and “be your best you” – fuck off mate, I can barely get out of bed some days), I’ve stopped writing, stopped exploring music, stopped getting outdoors and stopped socialising.

And then there’s my work; I get it, no one really likes going to work, but mine is destroying me or maybe it already has. My working situation is so ridiculous that in the last 12 months I’ve been chastised repeatedly for being too confident and now I’m chastised again because I’m not social enough. Just a small example of the constant chipping away at my self-worth and self-belief. What advice have I been given? “Just quit, something will come up”. Brilliant, I’m pretty sure being homeless and destitute isn’t going to do anything to improve my situation.

So where does all this leave me? How do I deal with the fear of waking up every morning and going through another day like the last? Well right now it leads me to this moment and writing it down for the first time. I’m sure I’ll be horrified when I look back and see what I’ve written about myself (I’m hitting publish without any editing) but I needed to make it real somehow, somewhere, so I can face it and have something to deal with. I’m scared of speaking to the doctor because if I told him what’s in my head I’m either ending up in a padded cell or addicted to happy pills, but that’s the first logical step. I’ve been avoiding it because even being signed off work for a few days is enough to make life very difficult (sick pay? no chance!) but after this morning I know I have to do something. When the one thing I could always rely on to be my saviour no longer works it’s not new running shoes I need, it’s professional help, so that’s where I’m headed.

Just to tone down the melodrama a touch, please rest assured that I’m not at risk of self-harming (unless it’s with another burger and chips), I’m staying one step ahead of that and dealing with things. I don’t need wrapping in cotton wool or watching and I certainly don’t need taking for a pint (alcohol is a depressant, don’t force it on people who are depressed!). I just need a little understanding that I’m not me right now, and I know that, and I’m trying to come back from it so please be patient and kind while I do.

x.

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Cheltenham parkrun Podcast

As part of the 5th birthday celebrations for Cheltenham parkrun I got together with Event Directors Malc and Simon to chat about the history of our event, the triumphs and challenges and what the future may hold. You can take a listen to the 30 minute broadcast below.

 

 

This was my first ever attempt at recording on this equipment and editing using Audacity, so apologies for the peaks and tweaks but it was great fun. There may even be a second episode!

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40 Before 40: #15 Take a yoga class

As a runner and coach I understand the benefits of being bendy, of maintaining flexibility and the role yoga can play in being a better athlete. I’d never really tried it though and certainly wasn’t any good!

I’d tried to follow a few online tutorials with varying results. It’s hard to watch YouTube when in “downward dog” and never knowing if you’re doing things right annoys me. My enthusiasm never lasts long, hence the challenge of attending an actual class, with other people, who can see me fall over.

This is NOT a beginners class.

I first tried a class at Fitness First gym. I was assured it was beginner friendly and the instructor would be helpful etc…don’t believe a word of it! It started okay, just me and 40 other people all of whom could contort themselves inside-out. For 30 minutes I eagerly followed every instruction, even if I wasn’t stretching as far as those around me I was looking something like they were at least. Lots of arms in the air and legs apart, breathing when told to, only losing balance a couple of times. Then all of a sudden the instructor mumbled something incoherent and the entire class snapped to attention in a pose that looked like the aftermath of a car crash, limbs in places limbs shouldn’t go. I tried to copy them, but they were already on the move swapping arms for legs and before I knew it some of them were upside-down! For the last 30 minutes I floundered, not being able to follow a single instruction and feeling like I’d stumbled in to my own version of purgatory. The end couldn’t come soon enough!

I could have left it there, challenge completed, class attended, lesson learned… but in January 2018 I was convinced to have another go, in a smaller class that had the word “beginners” in the title. It helped that the class was above a favourite pub, so if it all went wrong at least I could drown my sorrows!

This class was much better. It was far more my level with slow movements, proper explanation and guidance on how it should feel when done right. I learned things in that first hour that made sense of a lot of what I’d done before. I learned how to move my weight and focus my efforts, and how I should be pushing in to the floor or up to the sky to make the stretch more powerful. It felt totally different to every previous yoga experience, I felt accomplished and when we finished I felt great. Over the next few days I tried some of the asana (poses) at home and it felt great again, like I was properly working as opposed to just getting in an uncomfortable position. I even tried a yoga app and was able to get much more from it now I understood a bit more. My more experienced companion didn’t get as much from the class, but as a future instructor hopefully she took something away from it. Yoga is scary and difficult to beginners, especially blokes, so simplifying it is a great skill to possess.

I’ve actually been back twice since and learned a little more each time. I’m not running at the moment but it will be interesting to see how the yoga skills and stretches will influence my recovery when I do. I’m excited to find out.

You can learn more about the instructor and classes I attended HERE

Do you have a favourite yoga pose? Any simple yoga routines online you can recommend? Just comment below…

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40 before 40: #8 Go Vegetarian For 30 Days

I should probably start by explaining my motivation for this one…

It is not borne of any desire to stop eating meat. I am a committed omnivore, I love meat. I understand all the reasons others decide not to eat it, but I also understand that bacon is life. My decision wasn’t based on compassion, or wanting to free all the cows. In the past I have been vocal in my advocacy for meat. Nando’s is a reason to stay alive; birthday steak is something to look forward to for 364 days of the year. In fact, I have been less than kind about vegetarians and vegans and their choices, unnecessarily so, and for that reason I first thought about making amends in some small way. It also seemed like a good opportunity to reduce the amount of calories I was consuming! What swung it and got vegetarianism on the list was the idea that I could spend 30 days learning new recipes, really getting to know the veg aisles at the supermarkets and exploring alternatives to my twice a day, every day meat consumption. I hoped to come out of this not craving meat and happy to go without a few times a week. I decided not to avoid fish though, so technically I was a pescetarian I guess.

The reality was quite different. I successfully avoided meat, but I’m not sure I actually increased my vegetable consumption!

It all started in something of a rush, as I realised that by chance I was going two days without meat, so it seemed sensible to continue it and only have 28 other days to worry about. A trip to the supermarket though soon revealed that planning would have been a good idea. With no recipes in mind I ended up buying pretty much what I usually would only without any meat! Pasta sauces became roasted vegetable rather than carbonara, there was a vegetarian pizza, and LOTS of bread and beans. These things became the staple of my diet, as I struggled to find the time or motivation to experiment or learn. My diet became primarily tuna pasta or beans on toast, and lots and lots of prawn mayo sandwiches.

As well as my own shopping, I realised how much meat was always on offer wherever I go. I opted for a free fry-up without bacon at a breakfast event, turned down my favourite ham sandwich, bbq burgers and a roast dinner; pretty much every food I was offered for a month was meat based!

So I did it, I went for 30 days without eating meat, and it was relatively easy but far from enjoyable. I do have a new found appreciation for the struggles of vegetarians to eat out and avoid meat, it is in practically everything we eat and firmly ingrained in the culinary psyche of the country. Whilst I haven’t learned anything about cooking I am now a little more likely to eat a meat free meal which I suppose is something.

But I still bloody love a bloody steak.

Heaven.

 

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Who James Met: James Cracknell OBE

James Cracknell OBE is a double Olympic gold medallist and endurance athlete with credits including rowing across the Atlantic in 49 days (with presenter Ben Fogle), racing to the South Pole and being only narrowly beaten by Norwegians and being a GB age grade triathlete. He has run several marathons and finished 12th in the Marathon de Sables (making him the highest placed Brit in the event’s history). He now owns RunJOy Ltd who provide half marathons in Cheltenham, Exeter and Weston-Super-Mare.

James Cracknell OBE, Olympic and endurance hero.

NAME: James Cracknell

LOCATION: Prince of Wales Stadium, Almost Athletes track session

BEEN RUNNING FOR: I did some running as part of my rowing training, shuffling up and down the towpath, and then after the 2004 Athens Olympics when I retired from rowing I took on the London Marathon the following year. That’s when I learned, about halfway round, that there is more to it than just running. The speed work and training etc which I hadn’t done. That’s why I’m at the track now!

HOW DID YOU START: After the faff of rowing where you need a boat and water and other people who turn up late, the ease of running and time efficient manner made it the obvious choice. A pair of trainers and you’ve got all you need. When my eldest was born and sport wasn’t the only priority there were suddenly other time pressures, and running was the easiest way to fit in exercise.

FAVOURITE DISTANCE: Well I think as every runner knows, any race you do is always too long! I think I’m best suited to the half marathon, my 10k time and splits would suggest I’m better going longer but a marathon is too long.

FAVOURITE RUN/RACE: I enjoyed New York Marathon, because I could run it very differently. As an Englishman there I could do it very anonymously and just concentrate on my running. There wasn’t as much fancy dress and things, it was a very serious run, in fact in my starting pen people were discussing the weight of their trainers! I was like “they’re size 13, does that help?”. So I enjoyed New York although it is tough through the quiet sections on the way to Manhattan.

FAVE BIT OF KIT: I think a pair of shorts is the crucial thing. I have lots of kit and toys but a decent pair of shorts with inner shorts, not a net, and a singlet that isn’t too baggy are keys to happiness. Anything that doesn’t chaff! All chaffing is needless pain. (If you haven’t read James’ book about rowing the Atlantic “The Crossing” do so. That man knows about chaffing!)

DREAM RUN: I love running by the sea or by water, that’s always nice. In terms of races I’d like to do there’s an ultra marathon in Badwater, Death Valley which is a brutal test, you do it with your own support crew. It’s 135 miles in 50 degree heat all in one go, that would be interesting.

DREAM RUNNING PARTNER: I’m quite unsociable when I’m running, just head down going for it, I’m not one to chat. My East German coach used to tell me if you’re talking you aren’t working hard enough so maybe that’s why, although he wasn’t a track and field coach so not sure why I still listen to him!

RUNNING ASPIRATIONS: Well the aim of the race series is to get more people running, that’s what drives me. It’s not about getting runners to chip a few seconds off a time, it’s helping build more activity in to their lives and see the benefits of running. Then they can get more out of their children and grandchildren, I believe if we don’t bank some fitness in our thirties and forties, then you’ll start withdrawing in your sixties and there’s nothing there. You need to build up some credit so I’m hoping people take on the challenge of our half marathons and fitness becomes habitual and helps them through life as a result. For me personally, I’ll always want to chip a few seconds off my race times but that’s no longer my focus.

FAVOURITE INSPIRATIONAL QUOTE: Abraham Lincoln said a great thing, as well as abolishing slavery and many other accomplishments! “If I had six hours to chop down a tree I’d spend the first three sharpening the axe”. That’s perfect for endurance running as well, you can’t attack a marathon with a blunt axe so spend the time preparing!

Entries are now open for the Cheltenham Half Marathon on 30th September 2018. Click HERE to book your place.

 

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