There’s going to be no dramatic build up to this post, I just need to say it how it is.
For the last three months I have struggled with my mental health and usually running is my medicine. I can run for three miles or eight miles and forget about everything or equally I can sort my whole head out with just one run.
Only when I hit a particular low spot recently, I couldn’t even put one foot in front of the other. I was struggling to eat, concentrate and just live and when I did attempt to run, it resulted in me having to walk the last two miles home because I just couldn’t manage it. My head was too full to be able to sort anything or even cast it aside.
I felt a failure
I needed to seek professional help (and I don’t mean for running) to be able to deal with the depression and anxiety that was stopping me from functioning.
Despite me starting this post off about my mental health, I can’t actually go any further with that aspect at the moment; I’m just not ready. I suppose all I can say is that with help, I managed to get back out running which in turn has helped me deal with the issues I have faced.
For anyone who had the pleasure of reading my Great North Run posts you will have some background to what I go through in the lead up and during a race and I have to be honest, it takes out some of the fulfilment I receive from running. Which was why, when I decided to enter the Sheffield Half Marathon (a race that I thought only crazy people entered) two weeks ago, I only told a handful of people.
Whilst some people thrive on the build up (and support) I think it actually does the opposite to me. I don’t like the pressure and I impose all sorts of self made rules upon myself. It gets a bit bloody ridiculous if I’m honest and doesn’t happen when I’m just going out on a training run. So all I needed to do was treat this as a training run.
Those people who did know, purposely didn’t go overboard in asking me about any preparations and simply wished me ‘Good Luck’ on the morning. One friend actually text me and said,
“Are you doing the Sheffield Half”
I wondered why she would send me that. Had someone told her? What should I say?
“No, why?” was the response.
She was asking a simple question because she thought it might have been something I would do and wanted to wish me luck if I was, but that question seemed to send me into a panic.
So yes, I have told a few lies over the last few weeks and if lies are ever justifiable my reason was this – self preservation.
Usually when I go out for a training run, I simply get my gear on and go. Ok yes I may plan my route and what I’m eating/drinking before but it doesn’t get any more complex than that. But as soon as race day is here, I can see myself forming various rituals that would be considered ‘normal’ in Joseph’s life.
I panic whether I have put the right top on. Will I be too hot, too cold? I panic whether I have taken on enough water. Will there be a long queue for the toilets? Will I have started my period by that morning (Yes guys we are in 2019 and it’s ok to talk publicly to something that happens to most women!!) Will I be able to find somewhere to park? Will I have the right music on. As you can imagine, it’s a joy to be in my head!
I managed to tell myself to calm the fuck down (and no this doesn’t usually work) but on this occasion it helped.
I had broken my garmin before I had left the house but managed to fix it. I had emergency supplies of everything in my running belt so there was no need for any stress.
Until I got to the start line and I realised I was frozen. And I tried to fasten my overpriced wrap around wireless powerbeat earphones in my ear. One wouldn’t keep in place and I could see there was an earbud missing from the other. Would I be able to run without the music for 13.1 miles? Of course I could, music can’t prevent me from completing it.
I quickly undid my running belt and shoved the earphones in, along with my emergency tampon (no I don’t know where I was going to change it before you ask), phone and keys. Only, I shoved them in that hard I broke the catch for the zip. I initially thought all my emergency items would fall out on the way round but no, better than that. They were unable to be retrieved. So I guess that I was crossing my fingers that I wouldn’t need any of these items.
But still I managed to remain calm. Despite having my pre-race wee I convinced myself I needed another but there wasn’t time as we were being led to the start. I was hopeful that it was just a nervous wee and I would forget about it when I was climbing the first 5.5 miles of hills (yes that’s right, 5.5 miles of uphill).
I’d actually had a practice run of the course two weeks previously but took a wrong turning on the way back (groan) so mainly knew what to expect. I decided to keep it very steady until I had got to that 5.5 mile mark and then free-wheel it back to the finish.
I didn’t get over-excited with the water and had already decided at which points I would take on drink. I even felt quite ok after that first section of hills. What I didn’t account for was my little legs trying to make up for the slow start I’d had would be knackered by the time it got to the flatter parts.
I saw some familiar faces along the way (despite it being a secret half), old work colleagues, new work colleagues and it was encouraging to hear them call my name.
I was still desperate for the toilet and after the portaloos that were seen in the earlier part of the race were no longer visible, I did consider asking friendly looking local people if I could use their toilet. I soon decided that maybe that is crossing the metaphoric line and I would just have to contain myself and not do a Paula Radcliffe.
At mile 10 I knew water should be available and when I passed the marker, I had a little panic and asked the guy running at the side of me if he knew where the next water station would be. He hadn’t a clue and I was beginning to regret not taking it at mile 7. Had I got the timings of the water stations wrong? I shouted to a marshal, “Where is the water?”, she replied “What?” and I thought I was going into some irrational meltdown when I shouted rather abruptly “WATER”. Fortunately, it was just over the brow of the next hill (yes slightly duped when they said it would all be down hill after mile 5).
I became irritated with spectators crossing the route. Did they not realise I had run 11
bastard miles? *disclaimer: spectators were on the whole bloody brilliant and for those who wanted it there was an abundance of jelly babies en route.
I realised my legs and my head was gone and I needed to get my shit together. I received a pep talk just after mile 11 and was reminded that it was all downhill from there. Downhill as in failing? Downhill back to the finish? What about that last 500 metres though which isn’t actually downhill and you’re knackered? How do you make it?
Don’t over analyse it Tina, most of the two miles back is downhill. You’ve got this. It’s downhill from here.
My legs were getting slower and slower and I could hardly pick them up and I tried to calculate how much further (in minutes) it would be before I crossed the line. In the grand scheme of things, it wouldn’t be long and if I compared it to how long I had already run for, it was nothing.
In the final 500 metres I saw..the friend I lied to…I heard her husband saying “told you she would be doing it” whilst she was doing a double take. I love how I am so crazily predictable. I saw a new work colleague who gave me a shout and I realised I hadn’t got far to go.
I managed to sprint to the line and mentally fist-pumped the air. I didn’t have the energy to actually do it and my arm was chafing. I walked over to the barrier and put my head into my hands and sobbed. There was a medic who quickly came over to tell me to take deep breaths. I was sobbing because of not just the physical journey I had been on that day, but the mental journey in the weeks preceding the run.
I pulled myself together, collected my medal whilst the official photographer took another photo at the point that I was wailing again. I collected my non-alcoholic pint and reflected on everything my mind and body had been through.
Despite the pint, I was frozen and the chills had well and truly set in. I have never been more relieved to lay in a bath than the one I had today. I was rewarded with a carvery dinner and I considered sitting there with the medal on, as I really felt like the Dog’s Bollocks.
The last three (and only three) half marathons I’ve done (and swore each time, I would never do one again), I’ve been disappointed with my race but today, I have a sense of achievement. Not just because I managed to beat my PB on a gruelling course but because I have managed to see some light at the end of the dark tunnel I’ve been immersed in.
Running really is my lifeline and despite sometimes telling myself (and others), I have fallen out of love with it, we always end up back together. What is it they say? “If you love something let it go, if it’s meant to be it will come back to you”…or words to that effect.
We all face our personal challenges and I’m no different. I know today was just a sign that I will get through this.
I can and I will.
I just need to get over the chafing first.