I ran my first official half-marathon last Friday (23 February 2018).
From a physical and mental low point some years ago to crossing the finish line on Friday, it has been quite a journey, a journey which has taught me an immense amount about myself but I believe – believe from the bottom of my heart – that the lessons I have learned are applicable to everyone.
I hope that my story empowers you just as it has empowered me!
BEFORE I GO ON, BE ASSURED THAT YOU DO NOT NEED TO BE A RUNNER TO ‘GET’ THIS…
A pal of mine, a cyclist, said to me, a few hours after I finished the run, that he found running “boring”, which echoes what most non-runners say to me.
The opposite of ‘boring’ is ‘interesting’ – I don’t run because I find it ‘interesting’.
People ask me, “Do you “enjoy” running?”
I guess it depends on what they mean by ‘enjoy’.
What is for me ‘enjoyment’, what gives me a sense, the feeling of, ‘enjoyment’, what I recognise as ‘enjoyment’, it might all differ from what the questioners understand as ‘enjoyment’.
On the whole – most of time – when I’m running, I’m not thinking, “this is fantastic, I am loving this!!” I am in it for the challenge, for the personal challenge, that’s what I enjoy – it is also part of my weekly medication. If I don’t run, if, for some reason, I miss a day (does not happen often!), I feel tired, tetchy and stale.
My meds (see below) don’t live my life for me – they allow me to live my life.
Running has changed my life.
About 3 years ago, I was gaining so much weight that it was worrying my family.
I was eating like there was no tomorrow, my investment in exercise was zero.
I remember saying to those around me, “I’ll cut down on the cr#p I eat, I’ll do some exercise…anything but running!!”
A bit more context:
some months before it dawned on me that I should ‘get a grip’, I was in hospital with kidney stones, one large enough to necessitate an operation to remove it. Whatever the cause was – perhaps not drinking enough water, not maintaining the necessary level of hydration – I look back on it now as a symptom of my way of life, my lifestyle, my having let myself go, so to speak, a symptom of a bad, a negative, of a self-destructive state of mind.
Depression and Panic Attacks:
Some more context:
I take SSRI (Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitor) meds for depression and beta blockers for panic attacks.
To cut an immensely long story short, I was the proverbial train wreck before my ‘crash’ in 2001 which, literally, almost killed me – the toll of the life-sapping depression and panic attacks, my ‘surrender’/ ‘resignation’, a quack of a psychiatrist, too many of the wrong meds, it all led to a cardiac arrest.
I survived (quite clearly).
I’m a different person now, to most intents and purposes.
I got off those meds and jettisoned the quack – I was ‘saved’ by a fantastic psychiatrist (Dr. Mary-Jane Tacchi).
MJT prescribed the right meds and though life is still a mental rollercoaster, the downs aren’t nearly as severe or debilitating as they were pre-crash, they are manageable (thanks, also, to the support of my incredible wife, children, parents, sister, extended family and friends), I recognise the symptoms, I accept them, I sit them out, I wait for them to pass….the black dog comes, the black dog goes…. The symptoms of depression which I experience today must be put in context: pre-‘crash’, I could not function and, in that respect, all in all, on balance, I’m massively improved!
However, another element to my complex character and personality, is
chronic low self-esteem,
chronic low self belief,
chronic low self-construct
and I’m an obsessive (yes, I know, my poor family!!!).
Prior to fixing onto, or locking into, my positive mindset, I was, to say the least, ‘not in a good place’.
I was anchored to negativity, to the thought and belief that:
My inherent character/personality condition – default condition, I guess you could call it – is ‘passive’.
Over the course of my 51 years of life, yes, I have set myself goals and achieved them, driving test, law degree, qualifying as a lawyer (solicitor) – my wife and children are my biggest achievement – but I have always shunned the plaudits, always responded along the lines of “It wasn’t anything I did…it just happened” or “I was in the right place at the right time” or “Anyone could have done it – it’s no big deal”– I find it hard to accept credit where and when it’s due, to accept praise, to accept that I have achieved something ‘worth writing home about’….anything I have managed to do has been achieved against the odds because my mindset has always been locked on the negative, I have always said to myself “I can’t” – and, in that, of course, I have nearly always been right, spot on…
I said “I can’t” and, as it has usually turned out, of course, I couldn’t (or I didn’t even try!).
“Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right”
Ok, so that’s the background….
Fast forward to April 2015 (there or there abouts):
Eating, eating, eating, biscuits, cakes, sweets, desserts by the ton, no ‘real’ exercise to speak of, a bit of cycling but, looking back, no real exertion, I wasn’t pushing myself. I did run a bit about 8 years ago but, again, nothing much.
I wasn’t really drinking alcohol during the week, the odd glass of red, nothing much, but weekends witnessed a good downing of wine and whisk(e)y, no smoking (of anything!).
At my heaviest, around 2014, I was approximately 97kg
I lost 28kg (62lbs/4st6lbs), got down to 69kg (152lbs/10st 13lbs).
I was, at that point, too thin!
I’m now about 72kg (158lbs/11st 4lbs).
As an obsessive, I “can’t do” moderation – for me, it’s all or nothing.
That can be good at times but, more often than not, it’s not a good thing.
My obsessive personality drives everyone round the bend and, for me personally, it means that I won’t do something unless I feel that I can do it brilliantly (so I tend to do ‘nothing’).
The good side of my obsessive personality means that when I do do something, I focus, I really commit (but, again, it’s to the point of such intensity that it’s often hard for people to be around me – it’s often hard for ME to be around ME!) – that said, I can, and I do, relax as well, at times [thank you, music!!]).
Around April 2015, I stopped eating biscuits, sweets, cakes and I completely cut out the alcohol. Not a crumb, nothing, for almost 3 years. Processed food, added sugar, basic carbs etc – very, very little! I count the calories ‘religiously’. My daily calorie intake 2015/6 was FAR too low, less than 1,000 (even when I was running!), but that’s increased to between 1,500 and 2,750 depending on the day’s exercise.
I really cannot remember what the trigger was – the thing is, for me, there doesn’t have to be a big event to trigger a change in my routine…I’m impulsive…I probably just looked in the mirror one morning, didn’t like what I saw and that was that – I flicked a switch in my head or, rather, it flicked itself, and my course/direction changed.
The fact that you might not be impulsive/obsessive, please don’t let that stop you reading this blog – what I want to do in telling you my story is show you the life-changing effects of:
getting out of your comfort zone.
Summer of 2015, my eldest son (then 16 years old) suggested that I start running. I donned some appropriate attire, put on some trainers, stepped out of my front door and started to run. My mindset, before I started, was completely negative, I was saying to myself “I can’t” so, obviously, I couldn’t – I managed about 300m (less than a fifth of a mile!). I’m sure that, physically, I could have run a lot further but, mentally, I was shot which meant that my attempt at running was akin to my trying to drive a car with an empty fuel tank or a dead battery.
I believe that running (endurance exercise), for instance what I did on Friday morning in the half-marathon, is:
That is not to say that the physical element of running is minimal – it’s not, it is a large part of it but the mental side and, even more, what’s in your heart, that dwarfs the physical element – I’ll go further:
the necessary drive comes from your soul (that is not a religious reference), it comes from the very foundations of your essence, your being, it comes from the very deepest recesses of your consciousness!
I want to quickly move forward, through the training, to the half marathon so I’ll be brief on 2015 through 2018:
After that first dismal outing and another slightly more successful attempt (about 1k), my son accompanied me on a run (he can run!!) – I can’t remember the distance but it was probably about 2k and I took it onwards and upwards from there….5k, 10k, 12k….I plateaued at the 12k ish distance, running 3 times per week, eg a couple of 10’s and a 12.
My wife, a few weeks ago, started upping her distances, from 10’s to the half-marathon target. She trained with a friend. I said it ain’t for me, that I was happy at 12k, that that was what I was, a 12k MAX runner and that I had no interest in upping it to a half-marathon.
This, I believe, is most people’s default position, that where they are, that what they are currently doing, that that, in their minds, is what they do, it’s what they are, it is, they believe, their max.
The human condition, that which has developed, evolved, since the beginning of the ‘technological age’, it is to make life as easy for ourselves as we can, to live a life with as little in the way of challenge as possible (of course, there are many people who are exceptions!).
Technological development is creating a society in which those of us in the so-called ‘developed world’ can sit at home and do more and more without moving an inch – we can do so much, communicate with people, ‘communicate’ with our household appliances, just by pressing buttons on our iPhones – soon (technologically/technically now), we’ll be able to get from A to B in our cars with our eyes closed!
This is not all good!! We’re becoming lazy!!
How prescient H.G. Wells was….check out ‘The Time Machine’, published in 1895!!!
As if I could ignore Yaf’s training…
The following week, Yaf came home from a training session, ecstatic – she had run the half-marthon distance, 21.1k (13.2 miles). I set my bar higher than my then max, 12k – the following week, I had the half-marathon in my sights, with only 4 or 5 weeks to train up to the 21.1k.
About 10 days later, I ran 21.1k and felt great! For me, a colossal achievement!
10 days later, I set out on a 16k training run but my heart fired me on, fired me beyond 21.1k….
….at 22k, I experienced, for the very first time whilst running, a sense of euphoria…it was as if someone was operating me by remote control, the running was effortless, I was on a high….I ended up running 26k!
I was deliriously happy!
I got home, Yaf got back from work half an hour later, she asked me how the run went, I told her….to this day, I don’t know if she was proud of me or angry/envious – do we inspire each other or are we competitive against each other? Maybe a bit of both but, either way, we end up pushing each other!
So, let’s fast forward to the day of the half-marathon…NO, make that the night before:
The night before the half-marathon:
A mixture of emotions…
apprehension….as you’d expect after so much hard work – physical and mental,
and, remember, there was the ‘unknown’ – I hadn’t run the course before.
I was desperate to do well…I didn’t want to let myself down!
I wanted to get a good night’s sleep, minimum 7 hours, but as I had to get up at 4.30am, that meant being asleep by 9.30pm – no chance!
I lay in bed, buzzing…managed to get about 5 hours sleep.
4.30am, alarm, into the shower, out the shower, gear on, some food – a banana, a humus sandwich, granola/oats/branflakes with milk, drink of water, trainers on, ready to go…
Yaf and I got a lift to the central hub of the event – we were all in a group with a 6.30am start time but all the runners wore ‘chips’ and our times only started when we crossed the starting line, which we did at about 6.40am.
Before our starts, we milled about, soaked up the atmosphere, had a coffee (a diuretic so not wise but it was a great wake-up boost!). Looking at and being in amongst the runners certainly got me increasingly revved up!
….and towards the starting line…
…I felt like a boxer about to walk out into the arena and climb into the ring but this boxing match was me against me….ear phones in place, music on, Nike app start button pressed, tunnel vision locked on…
…I felt good, ready to run…in was crowded, the starters who went across the line with me, we were all bunched together a bit, it was hard to find the space to push forward…I had to meander into open space…that went on for about 2k and then the road ahead opened up and I found my space….
…it felt very different…this was no ordinary run even though I take all my running seriously – all of my runs are in the spirit of a challenge…
….When the app ‘told’ me that I had run 1k, I felt that I was well and truly in the run…I visualised the road, the journey, ahead.
…2k…3k…the app was telling me that I was dispensing with a kilometre every 5mins 6 secs, give or take a second, but it turned out that, officially, it was 5m 13s per k (the app was anything but precise!) – I knew that, to finish sub 2hrs, which was my goal, I needed to be kilometre killing at a rate of one every 5m 30s, no slower. I wanted to slow down a bit, conserve energy but it wasn’t happening….it was as if, in terms of my pace being locked in at 5m 13s, as if I was on cruise control….
….4k…5k…not easy at this point, I wasn’t comfortable…I was ok physically or, rather, despite my body telling me it was tired, I knew it couldn’t be….I had to get my mind more in focus….bottles of water were being handed out along the route, a ‘service’ I was glad of, and at around the 5k mark, I had the first of my two nutrition booster sachets….
….6k…7k…8k…I was getting into my stride, getting more comfortable…it felt great to get to 10.55k, half way, very good, but I had to maintain the focus – there was still a long way to go but I knew that, at least up to that point, I was doing well, I was ahead of time.
I think it was at about the 12k/13k stage that I had another booster sachet of nutrients. I was, more and more, having to fight against myself – my body was trying to tell me to stop, was trying to tell me I was tired but I knew that I was more than capable of carrying on – I’d run the distance, and more, during the training. I saw the runners next to me – many were older than me, many were ‘out of shape’, many were quite clearly struggling but they kept going – if they could, I could….besides, quitting was simply not an option!
….at 18k, a rousing song hit me through my ear phones: John Miles’ ‘Music (Was My First Love)’…a whirlwind of emotions…the increasing physical fatigue, the mental battle, the sense that I was getting there (although each second was now lasting an eternity!), the music…I burst into tears! I don’t mean a tear or two rolled down my cheek – I mean I literally burst into tears and was running, crying…I’m pretty sure that evidence of that emotional eruption is caught in one of the official photographs of my running:
…19k, I knew I was still ahead on time but even the last 2.1k seemed mountainous in the effort required. I knew that a large incline must be ahead as there was an up and down at the start of the run and we were running back along the road on which we started.
Suddenly, there it was, a few hundred metres away – it looked like Everest to me. I was almost – almost – overcome with self-doubt. I saw, on the side of the road, a runner who had collapsed and who was being tended by medical personnel.
I was willing myself on, saying to myself that there was no alternative other than to carry on,
that I had trained so hard that I couldn’t let myself down,
that I’d be so, so upset and angry with myself if I were to drop.
That ‘talking to’, from the lectern in my heart, that stage in my soul, it stoked the fire in my belly, it nourished my mental strength which, in turn, silenced the negative voices in my head which were telling me that I was too tired to go on….
…onto the incline…it wasn’t as steep as it looked – or I found the strength to take it on in such a way that I convinced myself that it wasn’t so steep. I got over the summit and saw the finishing line a few hundred metres ahead of me, a few hundred metres but it felt as if it was miles away!
….and making it more of a struggle, before I reached the finish line, my Nike app told me that I had completed the distance but I had to carry on, of course, I had to cross the official finish line to get an official run time – obviously, the app wasn’t spot on! I kept running towards the line but I didn’t seem to be getting any closer…it was as if I was running on the spot!! Even at that point, I just couldn’t imagine getting across the line!
I DID IT!!
….finally, I did cross the line…I was disoriented, delirious….I wobbled forward and collapsed in a heap at the side of the road, conscious, overjoyed, but wrecked! I had never put myself through such a physical wringer, had never challenged myself like that before – NEVER!
Medical personnel approached me and asked if I was ok, if I needed help but I assured them that I was ok. A couple of minutes later, they asked me again but I managed to persuade them that I was just about ok.
My ‘recovery’ was, I think, relatively (considering how wrecked I was when I crossed the finish line) quick – after about 10 minutes, I was walking around and talking to people.
I’d done it – I wasn’t sure of my exact time. My Nike app recorded a time of 1hr 47mins and some seconds but I didn’t know if it was correct. Later in the day, an unofficial time was texted to the runners – mine was
1hr 53mins 15 secs.
The official – revised – time: 1hr 50mins 11secs (5mins 13secs per k).
My goal had been to clock sub 2hrs – I’d done it!
Just 5 weeks before this run, I told my wife – I told MYSELF – that I was a 12k runner, 12k max. I could not conceive of running a half-marathon, certainly not 5 weeks later!
We’ve all heard/read this quote – I quoted it before and I’ll quote it again:
“Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right” (Henry Ford).
He’s right, to a large extent.
If you say you can’t, you are probably right:
If I had started that run whilst telling myself that I couldn’t do it, there’s no doubt about it, I would not have been able to do it! I had to keep telling myself, throughout the run:
“Yes, I can!”
“I will do it!”
“I must do it!”
Without that self-encouragement – and if I hadn’t meant it and believed it – I would not have made it.
I said “I can”,
I meant it,
I felt it,
I ate and I drank it
and I dreamt it….
I lived it – so I COULD do it – and I DID do it!
Back to that pal of mine who said that “running’s boring” – there’s nothing boring about challenging yourself like this, if you’re up for it.
The experience has been colossally empowering and liberating. It has taught me so much about myself, it has infused me with positivity and given me an appetite for living, a hunger to keep stepping outside my comfort zone…
It has been 4 days since I finished the run and I’m still buzzing. I ran yesterday morning (Monday), thought I’d take it easy, 6k, but did 8k with, all things considered, relative ease. I cannot wait to do another half-marathon and, of course, I’m thinking, further down the road (no pun intended), “marathon”.
I know that we all hear it from people, that line,
“If I can do it, you can do it”
and we often think “yeah, yeah” and we dismiss it
but, please, believe me when I say to you – to YOU:
“If I can do it, you can do it!!”
We can always do more than we think we can.
I hope that my story, my journey to this point in my life, inspires others to raise their bars,
to push themselves,
to get out of their comfort zones,
to experience that sense of euphoria which I experienced when I was training,
to taste the success of reaching a goal which once seemed unattainable but which becomes a reality by virtue of positive thinking and hard work,
I hope that others read my story and that it puts them on the road to empowerment and liberation!