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March started with such promise but ended in a failure from which there seems no escape. Below are the high and lowlights of my March running

  1. More than 200 miles run (mostly race miles)
  2. Completed the Hockley Woods Challenge despite injury early in the event
  3. Completed the outrageously fun Amersham Ultra
  4. Nasty bout of food poisoning gave me a week off running – that’ll teach me for eating slightly mouldy muffins!
  5. Withdrew from the UTBCN at the three-quarter point due to a kit failure in my brand new Petzl head torch
  6. The effect of a race failure caused by things outside of my control has meant I haven’t felt like running at all since
  7. Weight loss was slowed to allow me to eat more in preparation for the three races in March – 0.5kg dropped.
  8. I dumped Petzl in favour of Black Diamond head torches after the UTBCN. Fingers crossed my new choices don’t fail
  9. Kit tested my new Oxsitis Enduro and Ultimate Direction PB 3.0 both of which are outstanding pieces of kit – expect reviews in the coming months
  10. Yesterday UltraBaby told me we had to go for a run! Cool!

So it wasn’t a good March all in all – it’s not a disaster but after several months of geverally forward progress this feels like taking steps backwards and being unsure how to resolve it with a big race on the horizon doesn’t fill with me anything other than trepidation.

ho-hum.

Importantly though, for those that read this and feel I require a ‘man up’ or a ‘go for a run’ then please allow me to spare you those well meaning sentiments – they don’t help. I’ve already had quite a lot of well meaning but ultimately generic help from both real people and social media and actually this is just something you need to resolve yourself, or at least that’s how I need to do it.

I hope everyone else has had good running over the last month and that Apri is awesome too!

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Whilst this post seems like it’s going to be a never ending bag of ‘isn’t my running life shit’ I hope the ending for those of you who get there is worth it. This post was written in three sections over the last 3 weeks. And apologies for the moaning tone.

Day 1 of writing this post
My physiotherapist has been very generous and kind, she did all she could to keep me on the road until the end of my 2014 race calendar but with each medal won she gave me a gentle reminder that these races and in fact each run was making things worse. She advised me that while I was continuing to do long distance running I wasn’t giving my body the required amount of rest and therefore wouldn’t be injury free. Now though I’ve reached the end of my 2014 race calendar and she’s not being quite so nice.

Sat on her table at 1.30pm on a Sunday afternoon is quite a scary prospect. She listened as I explained about the explosion of pain at my last ultra, she listened as I highlighted the various points that have been troubling me and she grimaced as I went through the length of time I have been struggling with these things.

She told me the following; I’m not allowed to run for several months and that if I don’t want to be in pain for the rest of my days I need to sort myself out. She spoke to me in just the way I needed and deserved – like I’ve been being a child. She did say if I work hard I’ll get back to running – IF I work hard at it.

She’s known, as well I have, that this day was always coming and for me it wasn’t until she got really stern that I finally just went ‘ok’ and aort of just broke down. That was a week or so back and it’s been just over 10 days or so since I was halted in agony at my last ultra and I’ve been working like there’s no tomorrow to try and fix this but I’m not even sure why.

I feel more like giving up than making a comeback.

Stretching, core, strengthening, core, more core, more fecking core, did I mention fecking core? I’m told I’m not allowed to pass the point of pain because I’m pretty ruined and pain is bad in this instance. The only pain I’m allowed is when I jam either a tennis ball or the GingaNinjas elbow in my glutes (then I cry). I’m doing what I’m told but more because I’m being told and not because I want to. Have I lost my mojo or is this just how you feel post DNF?

Day 2 of writing this post
My motivation is zero to do other exercise and that’s now perhaps the worst thing, I can’t be bothered. I look at my epic amount of running kit I own and see nothing but failure, perhaps what I see is a great big eBay sale but ultimately I’m scared I’ll never run again, scared I’ll never run a Centurion hundred mile race, mostly I’m scared that I’m a failure. A chap I know (reportedly, I didn’t hear it directly) took great pleasure in announcing my failure at my last race, that hurt a lot because my aim has never been to say ‘I’m better than you’ it’s always been to say ‘look at what you can do too, let’s go’. So while my physiotherapist helps me put my body back together how do I put my head into the right space?

My partner has refused to let me cancel any of next years races, she says they are my targets and she’s insisting I enter the CCC when the ballot opens because she believes the lure of a big race will create in me the fight needed to break my lethargy. Maybe she’s right, maybe she isn’t. But right now I’m going through the motions to try and find some mojo, some anything if truth be told.

Day 3 of writing this post
18 months of stupidity have potentially ruined my favourite activity but last night as I lay down with UltraBaby in one arm and my iPad in the other watching Charley Boorman and Ewan McGregor heading through France in the excellent ‘Long Way Down’ I saw the mountain that originally inspired my love of ultra distances – the Mont Blanc – and although my desire to run that race has waned a little I felt all the desire to race to the top of it, through it, along it, around it. Even this morning as I feel the aching pain and sharpness running through my pelvis and right down into my foot I can hold on to that positive image of running once again up bitchingly steep elevations. As you can see I needed something and my glimmer of hope came from a most unexpected source at a most unexpected time and even if the end result is that I’ll never run properly again at least I’ll have tried which is a far cry from how I felt just a couple of weeks ago. Young Amy a wannabee ultra runner (SDW50 2015 entrant) told me only yesterday that time is a great healer – it seems she’s got a point.

On a final note I’ve been the recipient of some brilliant support. I’m not sure I appreciated it at the time as I was looking far too inward but I’m grateful and thankful for being a runner because we do support each other when things go wrong – so thank you.

We hear a lot about broken society, we hear a lot about obesity, a fattening culture, a lazy culture, we hear about a disenchanted youth and a disinterested electorate and then I saw a tweet from @jedirider asking how many ultra runners have been called mental for the kind of distances we run. And this got me thinking – who is the more mental, the one who pushes themselves or the one who asks why you would push yourself?

So I’m asking myself ‘am I mental’ or is there something else that is going on? I wonder why this seemed to grate on my nerves and and the answer was to do with my opinion that as a society not enough of us push the boundaries of our limits.

Let me start by telling you about my grandmother. My granny is 85 years of age, she’s from a generation that survived, from a generation that ‘got on with things’. She comes from a time and place where traditional stereotypes are still okay and whenever I speak to her and tell her I’ve just completed a race she tells me ‘you run too much’. This is a woman that has never done a days exercise in her life, she would say she’s been active – she isn’t. She’s from a time that thinks that cleaning the crockery counts as calorie burning. She finds exercise for pleasure abhorrent and rather than congratulate me, her grandson, on successes she berates me. She’s the kind of person that thinks because I didn’t become a doctor I wasted my life – she doesn’t consider that my work as a designer has in some projects helped save lives, communicated important messages or simply played pivotal roles in ensuring success. I pushed myself to become a designer, I forced my way through university at a time when it was not the norm in my family. I struggled to get to the place I needed to be in order to achieve – but I did do it. And despite my grandmothers assertions that I draw pictures for living I’ve actually been a reasonably successful, occasionally well profiled designer but she doesn’t see the value – I’m not a doctor or a lawyer.

She thinks I’m mental, bordering on a failure.

My answer to her suggestion is that what is ‘mental’ is on a Friday or Saturday night I could go out and drink myself so stupid that I’d think Hollyoaks was worth watching and then spend the rest of the weekend recovering from my own inability to handle my beer. Not only is it an incredibly time consuming and expensive past time but it also runs counter to my desires to be a better runner. So does the not drinking in favour of running make me mental? I don’t think so, in fact I think it makes me more sensible. The point though is lost on her and I can understand why, it just wasn’t her thing, but aspiring to better things shouldn’t be a concept beyond anyone – regardless of age or whatever the excuse. And to my career choices my answer has been that I’ve worked and profited for my entire career – even during some of the slumps I’ve always managed to work my way through it. She was wrong about and I find that culturally there is too much of this negative attitude. I should point out I do actually love my granny!

And so to our broken society and why runners aren’t mental.

I grew up reading Batman and Superman comics, I grew up dreaming that I could be a hero, make a difference, challenge perception, lead by example. I grew up knowing that I should reach as high as it was possible to imagine and then imagine further. So when I finished my first marathon I knew I could go further, longer and harder. I knew that I could imagine further and that instinct to achieve, to push myself, to see barriers and say ‘fuck you’ was very much intact.

So when someone says you’re mental that shouldn’t hurt because you can be smug in the knowledge that you are simply fulfilling your promise, striving to go beyond and never give up. You’ll fail sometimes but I’d rather fail than never try.

Maybe our society is broken because we don’t chase dreams as vigorously as we perhaps once did, or perhaps more accurately, not enough of us do. Perhaps it’s also that our dreams have been softened to account for a celebrity and technology based culture where we need instant gratification.

Rather ironically on the subject of instant gratification I look through my twitter feed and there I see so many ‘insane’ people. I see people who have started virtual running challenges because they couldn’t find a race in January, I see people who’ve started micro bakeries to make beautiful crumbles, I see people who challenge the MdS and come back conquerors, I see asthmatics challenging marathons, I see people running 10 marathons in 10 days or 26 marathons in a year, I see people battle back from injuries to startle themselves. These are the types of people who should be making up the future and in these people and those like them I am confident that the world will always dream, we will always dream of going further and I don’t just mean running, I mean in all aspects of society. I don’t just push myself in running but in all aspects of life and maybe I am an extremist but I’m an extremist with a streak of common sense, ain’t that a contradiction.

I once heard Stephen Fry say that he treasures curiosity, the need to be curious. What are we without that drive to find, discover, uncover, eek out. How very true Stephen and it’s something I’ve always promoted – curiosity. So, in ultra running I am curious about how far I can go, how far my body will take me and what would I do to earn that medal. With UltraBaby arriving later this year I am keen that this sense of curiosity, wonder and imagination are at the cornerstone of their childhood, I would hate for them to settle for a life less ordinary and if I achieve nothing else as a parent, runner and dreamer if I can ensure they are curious then I’ll be happy.

As a side note to all my ranting… I’m very conscious that we all have pressures that surround us, for some people it’s financial, for others family, work, health or whatever – but within each of our own individual bubbles shouldn’t we be looking to make the best of what we have and then make the push to do it better or more complete? Pushing yourself doesn’t mean you have to be doing big things, just trying is enough.

I wonder if a society en masse could learn a thing or three from people with a mental attitude, because bonkers or not – they’re awesome. Just a thought.

‘My legs still ache’
‘From?’
‘Bournemouth Marathon, not sure why I does these races…’

And that got me thinking, ‘why do I race?’ Which then brought me back to the cost of racing, the value of racing, the merits of racing versus running and mainly my own personal ambitions in running terms. It was pretty clear to me from a young age that I was never going to emulate my original running hero Steve Cram. Nor will I ever run a sub 10 second 100 metres – my 11.47 is the fastest I will ever get. So I’m clearly not running because I think I’m a potential champion, perhaps I’m running simply for something to do, let’s not forget that running is my primary hobby and quick fix when things go wrong. After my epic failure at the TG100 I came home and actually was really rather upset, more upset than I had to be over a race perhaps but this is hindsight showcases to me just how valuable racing has become to my personal wellbeing. The day after the race my running mojo had left me and showed no signs of returning, I removed my plethora of medals from their normal home and hid them away in a drawer, I stopped looking at races to sign up for and I didn’t even think about visiting a running shop just incase I was recognised as a fraudulent ultra runner or just fraudulent runner. The TG100 broke my runners heart.

But a stern talking to by a friend who is not a runner reminded me that the reason I run and the reason I race isn’t for the bling, it isn’t to be a champion, it’s to stave off the inevitable heart attack or piling the weight on after binging on all the chocolate in the world and I was told to ‘shut the fuck up and just get out there’. With the help of my lovely physio, Joe Rodgers I get back out on the trail and started running again! only shortish distances but then races started coming and my desire has been working its way back into my life and perhaps just in time.

When I ran the Royal Parks Half just over a week ago I still wasn’t buzzing with enthusiasm, infact I was a little bit too emotionless about it on reflection. But in the last week I’ve been hitting good times across 5km and noticing a general increase in pace – although there have been bad days too. Therefore I come into my next event Xtreme Beach, not filled with confidence, but filled at least with the desire to perform and that I hope will set me up for a better performance at the Snowdonia Marathon.

So what’s your reason to race?

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