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I’ve DNF’d twice (Thames Gateway 100 and Winter 100) and DNS’d twice (North Downs Way 100 and Race to the Stones), all were for very different reasons and all in my mind perfectly valid but at the time it really mattered to me that I hadn’t raced or worse had failed to complete the distance.

I really struggled to overcome the negative outcome of these events and it haunted me for quite some time – especially the W100 which I was angry and upset about.

Then I was chatting with a fellow runner via Twitter a few days ago and she was incredibly worried and panicked about her big 2015 challenge – so much so that I was concerned she was going to miss out on the pre-event highs as you prepare to face your road to euphoria. This got me thinking about the times I’ve stopped or failed to start, had I panicked too much, had I ruined my own experience and convinced myself I was doomed to failure? Probably.

But what was important was how I have evolved the mental attitude I have to (endurance) running.

I get nervous in the weeks coming up to a big event – sleep deprivation, over eating, starvation, my bowels do weird of wonderful stuff and I flap around like a headless chicken.

But with 2015 now well into the second half of the year I’m on a drive to my final events which include five ultra marathons – two of which are in France (my first foreign race forays) –  I’ve had to spend a lot of the last few months building up my mental strength for these events. I’m very conscious I’m doing things that I’m not 100% convinced my old knackered body is ready for and basically I’ve been working to prepare for the possibility of the DNF and ensuring I don’t hit dark and gloomy places in the aftermath of such an event.

You might ask ‘isn’t that defeatist?’

The answer to that is ‘no’ and the reason is that a year ago I was in a properly bad way, the injuries I was ignoring were getting progressively worse and the events I was running were going badly. It’s taken a long time to get to a point were those injuries and problems are intermittent rather than constant and that’s why I’m much more sanguine about my race day prospects.

When I line up at the start of the CCC in a couple of weeks time I know absolutely that if on the day I can’t make to the finish I will stop. The harsh realities are that I haven’t been near a mountain in training for the CCC and so if my body refuses (it’s inclines it struggles with) then I have worked on my capacity to say ‘that’s enough’ and I won’t beat myself up about it or eat a years worth of Dominos pizza.

So does it matter if I DNF a race? Very much so, because if I DNF I’m making a choice and listening to my body.

So how have I been improving my mental run strength?

  1. Distraction: When I’m not running I do something else entirely different, it stops me thinking about aspects of running I can’t control.
  2. Avoid too much social media: social media is awesome but it can add a level of peer pressure that won’t help any anxiety you’re feeling and so I’ve been avoiding it a little bit more than I usually might – dipping in rather than giving it too much attention.
  3. Train consistently: staying focused on me! I don’t be try to beat anyone but myself and I feel better about what I’m doing because I’m reducing the competitive element and saving that for race day.
  4. Make lists: ordering myself helps me feel more relaxed about my event – they can be in my head lists but they allow me to check off aspects of an event.
  5. Don’t compare: I used to compare myself to my peers now I just look on at them in awe and congratulate them on their achievements because we are all uniquely gifted and we all do very different things. If I get caught up in worrying what other people are doing (either generally or on a race day) then I’m not focusing on my own efforts.

And what of the constant need to panic and ruin my own pre event experience? Has this all helped? Is my pre CCC party started?
Well my mental (and physical) training is yielding some decent results and I have faith in myself. And let’s not forget if I were going to have faith in a fictional character to get me round a mountain it wouldn’t be God it’d be Batman. Ultimately I’m enjoying running and the pre-amble and I’m ready. Well as ready as I ever get.

Happy running

I was reading a blog post some months ago about running and depression and how running can’t solve depression, further it talked extensively about the attitude of some runners who claimed that going for a run could clear the mists that cloud the mind of one who is depressed, it was a fascinating piece written by someone whose partner did/does have depression and at the time it really got under my skin. I’d meant to write something at the time but as with all things you get caught up in life, etc. but as I’m sat on the unmoving train this evening I was thinking about this very topic again and so I’m writing and I’m writing about two particular periods in my life when running was the thing that probably made the difference between surviving and not.

I go back to 2002 when I was at the end of a relationship, this was fine, I’d been upset but actually had moved on rather easily – met a new girl, was having a jolly old time in London and I’d started running again, not much but about 5 miles every couple of days and feeling really positive about it. I was running around the country lanes of Surrey like a man possessed some days, I remember the exhilarating feeling of having the wind in my hair and a good feeling all around me.

When the ex returned to the scene needing some emotional support it threw things into chaos, my whole life was, to put it mildly, flushed down the shitter.

I found myself in a situation of reliance, something I hadn’t been in since before I was at university. I found getting up in the morning, I had no motivation to do anything, even running had turned to crap and I couldn’t see beyond the end of the day, this was one of the darkest parts of my adult life. I had nothing positive to hold onto and wasn’t quite sure what was going to become of me and at that point I’m not convinced I cared. Even had I been able to run during this period nothing could have alleviated the despair.

Seeing the serious nature of things I joined my uncle in North Yorkshire for a little while to help remove me from the rat race and just let the wind beat against my face. It was a combination of him (a bit of a running legend in his home town) and later my father (just a legend) that coaxed me back into picking my life back up.

What they both knew was that the thing we all shared was a love of running and by making me join them on the road or in a field, in the cold and the rain that I could be forced to think about my physical condition rather than mope about my mental one. The running returned to me a sense of normality and strangely self worth. I eventually started going out on my own and running along the Yorkshire coast, often starting up in Scarborough and ending up 20 miles away somewhere new. The running invigorated me and as I would pound the deep, long hills of the north I was able to come to terms what I felt, at the time, had been treachery, deceit and my own stupidity. The running gave me the space to open up to myself and regain my self reliance. The running certainly hadn’t cured me of the issues I was going through but it did offer respite from the downward spiral and also gave me a goal.

However, it wasn’t until incident 2 that I realised that I can never give up running.

The second incident involved a relationship with a very particular lady – you perhaps are seeing a pattern here (although not all of my relationships have ended up being bonkers)? Anyway… my two year relationship was pretty damn rosy, we enjoyed each other’s company, had a couple of cats and even bought furniture together, we saw lots of RomComs, ate out at all you can eat buffets, played Nintendo Wii, dieting when not eating buffet, saw lots of Lloyd Webber musicals and lived in the east end of London.

When I look back at this time I realise I’m not a fan of Lloyd Webber musicals, I prefer dogs to cats, I don’t like all you can eat buffets, nor Pizza Hut, I’m not a big fan of computer games, didn’t need to see so many RomComs and never really got into the swing of East London, always preferring the south and most importantly I really hate diets.

It wasn’t until she had started cutting me off from my friends, had me going to bed by 10pm (the witching hour) and insisting that I give up running that I realised I wasn’t in a relationship I was a slave to somebody else’s personal tastes.

Funnily though it was really over the fact that I loved running that the relationship was ended, looking back both then and now I realise I would go for longer and longer runs because I was at peace hammering the streets of Ilford, Barking and West Ham. The thought of having running taken away from me showed to me how low my spirit had become around her because it was all I had left. You don’t see it until you are free but I was being turned into something she thought she wanted and what she neglected to remember was the me she originally met she liked because I was active, I ran, I watched foreign movies, I read classic books as well as absurd ones and I looked good in a pair of short shorts 😉 When she stripped away all the things that she did she removed my personality and I’m not sure she even liked the end product.

So one insignificant evening I left behind the furniture, the cats and a woman that wanted to take away me from me. I spent a lot of running time afterwards wondering if I had done the right thing and never once did i look back on it as a mistake. After the first incident I knew that if I wanted to avoid losing myself again then I should continue just the way I had been.

So running saved me mentally

Now, before anyone talks about personal responsibility, in both of these cases I am 100% aware that I had some very serious faults – most of which I shan’t be publishing here.

I’m also very pleased that both the people involved have gone on to find love, success and happiness and I’m pleased for them. These were complex situations though that left me emotionally and mentally drained and without the continuous presence of running I’m not sure what I would have turned to. Drink? Sex? Overeating? I have a over developed sense of anger and so maybe I’d have been violent? But running played a very major part in me surviving and so we come to today, why have I not fallen into a pit of my own self angst? is that down to running?

Simply put, yes.

Today I’m lucky my partner understands why I run, understands the phrase ‘I run to keep me balanced’. She comes to the races and sees my beaming face on the finish line, she appreciates that the occasional Sunday morning sacrifice stops me tipping over some imaginary edge. I don’t drink, don’t do drugs, nor do I smoke. I don’t even regularly attend nightclubs anymore (just occasionally). I run because it makes me happy.

Running is my vice and my friend, it offers both solitude and listening and I’ve been heard to say that if I ever declare ‘I’m giving up running’ that there is something seriously wrong or there soon will be. Running can’t cure depression but in my case, a man who is deeply emotionally charged, it keeps the possibility of depression and mania at bay.

Running makes me a better person, I’m 100% convinced of that.

So, when you find yourself in a difficult situation you must find and do whatever it takes to get yourself out of it but don’t be afraid to find crutches to ensure you make those first steps to a better life. I chose running and running chose me and I’m glad it did, what did you choose?

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