Tuesday, 27 October 2020

Reigniting the Fire - Life is for Living

M 60 mins inc 20 mins Threshold @ 5:19mm (5:48mm), Easy/Moderate 30 mins (6:21mm) +6x10s hills
T Moderate 55 mins (6:03mm)
W 80 mins inc. 8x1k(200m), (1200m), 4X200(200), Easy 30 mins (6:47mm)
T Easy/Moderate 50 mins (6:10mm), Moderate 30 mins (6:00mm)
F 60 mins inc 20x30s Strides (6:07mm)
S 110 mins, inc 70 mins Moderate (6:05mm), 30 mins Threshold (5:22mm)
S Easy 70 mins (6:47mm)

Total  - 96 miles (6:09mm)
Total Training time - 9 hours, 50 minutes
Aerobic Efficiency - 930 beats per mile 
Weight - 143.13 lbs
Days sober - 126
Days since last Anti-Depressant medication - 8

Training is going well. In fact, really well. Quite possibly better than ever, judging by my sessions. This week was a cut back week, before two big weeks ahead of tapering for a marathon or ultra, I'm entered for that COVID-19 permitting I may or may not get to do! This week was also the first week that I have been completely off my medication. With the advice and support of my Doctor, I tapered down over a couple of weeks and took my last Sertraline tablet the day before my 40th birthday. I have suffered with quite a bit of withdrawal however, which has been tough but bearable. I suffer with insomnia at the best of times, but coming off the pills has certainly had an impact. Waking up in a cold sweat at 2:00am unable to go back to sleep crippled with stomach cramps normally reserved for a smackhead going cold turkey has been a regular occurrence. I have also had the brain zaps so often attributed to SSRI withdrawal. Lightening strikes in the brain that lead to a prolonged feelings of vertigo and nausea. I have had these frequently throughout the day and during training this past week which is a bit grim but running has still been going well despite these rather shitty side effects. I will get through it, I just have to ride it out.

As they say, Life begins at 40 and I mentioned in my last blog that I was ready to start living again. Life is for living. It sounds simple, but how can a concept so easily get lost? For over four and a half years I was living a 'half life'. There was of course joy in that time, pride in seeing my daughters growing up into wonderful, intelligent, independent and empathetic little humans. There was also sadness and grief. I have felt bad at how messed up the world seems to be at times, my Dad's declining health has been an ever present and all of this brings feelings that question the point of life. But that's what life is. It is beautiful, it is happy, it is painfully sad. It is magnificent, yet horrifically malevolent. Life is everything, it's all we really have.

The dwelling in one's own pit has been an all too frequent habitat. But the drugs helped moderate all that. I was neither experiencing the depths of the lows I should feel nor the highs to the extent that I know I could. Everything was moderated by the drugs. I don't want to suffer with depression, I don't want anyone to. It's a nasty ailment to have and I believe everyone sits on the spectrum somewhere and is susceptible to different degrees. Life is for living though, if we don't embrace it, what's the point?  As brutal a statement it is Life is a fatal disease, we are only here for a short and unknown finite amount of time. Life needs meaning, without it we are nothing. We may as well not be here. We need to have a purpose, we owe it to ourselves, our family, friends and communities to get after it. If we don't, nobody else will do it for us and all that will remain will be guilt, emptiness, and regret that we didn't pursue our dreams each and every day. 

Being a good man, father, husband, friend, runner and professionally successful are all things that matter to me. Perhaps the only things. They're things that are probably not dissimilar to the things most people reading this blog think of as important in their own lives. They're the things that give me (us) meaning, give us purpose. They are also the things I can directly influence. I can control to a large degree.  That to me says we all have the ability within ourselves, to chase our dreams, hell to excel our wildest dreams if we just start living and focusing on those things day after day. Doing the small bits that matter that add up and compound over time, to make our lives better individually and for those around us. It's a corny saying, but life is a journey. How eventful will yours be? How will I know I have been successful at chasing and finding my meaning? I probably never will, but I suspect that general contentment while experiencing the beauty and anger of life in all its glory will be a pretty good indicator.

Get after your dreams, life is for living.

Saturday, 10 October 2020

Reigniting the Fire - Well and truly lit.

So, not the blog I was planning or hoping for. Last Sunday I put my racing shoes on for the first time in over a year. I had managed to find myself a marathon just 45 minutes from home. Training had gone brilliantly, I had transformed myself from a fat, alcohol dependent sedentary being twenty weeks ago into an athlete. 

I was as fit as I have ever been. I was hoping I would surprise myself with the race of my life. It didn't happen. As I stood on the start line, I could feel I had no hunger, no desire. No want. Maybe it was just pre-race stress and once underway, I would settle into my rhythm and all would be good. I knew within the first couple of miles that I just didn't want to be there. I started searching for excuses. There must be some? Maybe it was the mild cold I'd had two weeks before? Maybe it was the news that Dad had had a fall and was in hospital awaiting an emergency hip replacement? Maybe I just don't like racing anymore? I ploughed on regardless and with motivation to compete continuing to dwindle, I finally stepped off the course just under eleven miles in.

People were asking if I was ok. I was, I was fine I just didn't care! I didn't even feel bad about dropping out. I was numb.

I have struggled with my mental health for years. I am sure many athletes do. It's the drive, the hunger to be better than we were. The continual search for that dopamine hit and endorphin rush we strive for. We are addicts, obsessives and down right a bit fucked up for the most part. Or at least I am! 

I took the decision back in March 2016 that I needed some help for my mental health and went to see my GP. He prescribed me Sertraline, an SSRI. Within a couple of weeks I felt better. I was less anxious, I could cope with the stresses and strains of life much better and the world didn't feel like such a grey place. I felt a weight had been lifted. The clouds cleared, the pressure in my head dissipated and life was good. Except it wasn't. I continued to have the same issues, just the drugs masked the pain. The drugs dealt with the symptoms and not the underlying causes of my depression. Meanwhile my running was incredibly volatile. I had spells of great training, but shocking races. I made my only performance for England in October 2016 and I raced hard. I raced well considering the conditions. I was a distance outside of my PB with 2:25:46 but I gave it my all on the day and I felt proud at what I had achieved. My feeling was that if I never run for England again, at least I have run once for England. I could be proud. My family and friends were proud. Dad was still aware of what was going on and that his boy had done it! It was job done.

I continued to train hard but less consistently, I suffered a couple of major injuries meanwhile I wasn't taking care of the elephant in the room. I still had massive issues with food and to a pretty big extent alcohol. This continued until well into lockdown this year where I had pretty much turned my back on trying to achieve things in running. My drinking was terrible. I had numerous all night benders. I was a disgrace. Yet the medication meant I felt little guilt. I reached rock bottom and finally made the decision; it needed to stop. I was going to ruin my life, I was going to ruin the lives of my amazing wife, Hania and my two incredible daughters if I didn't stop. On 20th June I had my last drink. I have been sober since. My life has turned around and I don't miss alcohol. It has helped me focus on the process of living healthily and training with purpose. I got my love for life back. I even managed to delete myfitnesspal off my phone and stopped obsessing about every calorie as I built back to fitness. I ate plenty, making sure I was fuelling my training. I was happy. I felt life was in balance. Training was more fun than it had ever been, I had no immediate racing goals, just to be fit and healthy again.

Did I need my medication any more? I thought about whether I should come off them but was worried of the spiral it could lead me on, so I kept taking my dose. And why would I run the risk of breaking the hard work I was putting in?

Briefly, SSRIs work by increasing the level of serotonin by inhibiting reuptake in the nerve cells in the brain which can help with mood, emotion and sleep. In short they have a very numbing effect. And then on Monday this week it dawned on me. They made me numb. They made me fucking numb. I was a zombie. I was living but mainly in body. Not with the spirit I know I have. Not with the heart I have had in races before. I couldn't dig deep. I couldn't experience the depths, the highs, the lows, the elation that happens in life. Everything felt much the same. That is why I had nothing on the start line last week. It wasn't over training. It wasn't that I wasn't as fit as I thought I was. It was the drugs. I then thought back over the past four and a half years.... I have raced well twice one of which was in Toronto that I mention above. Interestingly, I forgot to take my tablet that day. And the other time, I don't remember but I would guess I forgot that day too. As many people will know I tend to do my main run of the day first thing in the morning and have not suffered with a lack of motivation at all in the past few months. I have bounced out of bed ready to get the training done. I would then take my sertraline after training. Naturally because of the time of races, I would tend to take them three-four hours before race time. Arguably this is when the meds will be most prevalent in the system. It all adds up! 

I have since spoken to my doctor and we have agreed that I need to taper off them, not least because my mental health is very good at the moment. I am not against anti-depressants at all, I believe they can and do save countless lives. It may be that I have to go back on antidepressants again in the future and that is fine but I will need to find an alternative to sertraline, one that doesn't make me so numb. 

This may or may not be a cure for my terrible performance of recent years, but I know that I want to try to manage my mental health naturally. Focusing on dealing with the ups and downs in life as they arise and with the love and support of my family, friends and running mates, I know I can do this. This is just the start. I turn 40 in a week's time, and don't they say Life begins at 40? I'm ready to start living again.

Sunday, 3 May 2020

Reigniting the Fire - Week 3

M 70 mins (7:48mm), 40 mins TM Hike @ 15%
T 80 mins inc 60 mins Sub-Threshold (6:36mm), 30 mins TM Recovery (8:34mm)
W 70 mins (7:47mm), 30 mins TM Recovery (8:36mm)
T 60 mins (7:54mm), 40 mins TM Hike @ 15%
F 75 mins inc 7x1k(90s), 5x40s(120s) (6:57mm)
S 50 mins (8:42mm)
S 105 mins (7:30mm)

Total  - 75 miles (7:37mm) Vs 65 miles (7:52mm) last week
Total Training time, including TM Hikes! - 10hrs 51mins Vs 10hrs 32 mins
Aerobic Efficiency - 1121 beats per mile Vs 1226 bpm
Weight - 167.8lbs Vs 167.1lbs

Why do I run? Why does anyone run? One of Life's BIG questions. Allegedly.

About seven years ago, my wife, Hania's grandfather asked her when I was going to stop running. Hania said 'I don't know'. He then went on.. ' why does he run?'. Hania replied 'I don't know'. At this point you may be thinking that I dont speak with my wife at all and we're essentially strangers. That's not exactly true, but for a none runner the thought of running for more than trying to catch a bus does seem pretty alien. Hania is not a runner and nor is her grandfather, Edmund.

If you ask a runner why they run however, there will be a myriad of responses: 'to show I can do anything', 'to keep fit', ' to make friends', 'so I can eat cake', 'to compete', 'to win, 'for pleasure', 'for pain', 'for my health', 'for my mental health'.

I have been pondering the question myself this week, and whilst I will never do the question justice in the content of this blog I wanted to try and get some of my thoughts down in writing. Looking back to 2008 when I first started running regularly it was for health reasons. To be frank, I was a tubby little fucker and just needed to lose some weight. I had enjoyed running at school and so it was a natural decision to buy some trainers and get out again. Before long I start to dream about the next run, getting out there again, feeling the joy of the air moving over my body as I tap out a steady rhythm on the tarmac below my feet. I smile. This is pleasure. My passion grows, I enter races. I get quicker... I realise I can be competitive. The pain of racing and pushing to the absolute limit, feeling so close to death that paradoxically makes you feel so so alive. I cant imagine life without a hoard of running shoes. Running has not just become part of me, it has become what defines me. I run for England at the Marathon. An absolute dream. This pattern needs to continue, until... I break. I can no longer run. I feel lost. I can't chase times in races, my body has had enough. My mind has had enough. I cannot put my head through the stress of a big race again. Not with all that is going on in my busy life. Not with the pain that I feel about grieving for Dad, even though he's still technically here.

This is where I was until three weeks ago. Until I told myself enough is enough. I made the decision, that I was going to comeback... but what for? Was it for times? Races? That may have been my initial motivation, but strangely, it feels exactly the same as those very first steps I took 12 years ago. No expectations, just a will to be healthy again. I am getting healthier and fitter every day, and that makes me feel good. In fact, better than I have for a very very long time.

Why do I run? Because it's ace.

Sunday, 26 April 2020

Reigniting the Fire - Week 2

M 70 mins (8:26mm), 40 mins TM Hike @ 15%
T 70 mins inc 50 mins Sub-Threshold (7:14mm), 40 mins TM Hike @ 15%
W 70 mins (8:21mm)
T 70 mins (8:14mm), 40 mins TM Hike
F 80 mins inc 60 mins Sub-Threshold (6:59mm), 40 mins TM (8:37mm)
S Rest
S Long Run - 60 mins Easy, 45 mins Sub-Threshold (7:04mm), 5 mins Easy (7:38mm)

Total  - 64.6miles (7:52mm)
Aerobic Efficiency - 1226 beats per mile.
Weight - 167.1lbs

Dear Dad,

It's London Marathon Day today. Except it isn't. The virus has put the world on hold for a while. That's why I haven't been to see you for over two months. I miss you. I miss telling you what I've been up to. I miss taking you for a coffee and a cake at Booths and telling you all about your beautiful granddaughters and how they are growing into amazing young ladies. I will come and see you again. I promise, as soon as I am allowed, I will be there. I want to see that glint in your eye when you find something amusing, or you are inspired by something I have said.

Why did it have to be you? Why did life have to deal you that shitty hand, firstly with the Parkinson's and then with the dementia? You are a great man, the person I want to be. The person I will always aspire to be. The person I will always fall short of being. You are a man with the kindest of hearts, the gentlest of manners and the passion of a lion.

It's five years ago today since you last saw me race a marathon. It was at London in 2015 and I had a stormer. 2:22:12. It was a PB at the time and I gave it everything. I gave it everything, not just for me but for you Dad. All I wanted to do that day was make you proud. I know I did. It inspires me to think I could inspire my hero.  The tears in your eyes as we met up after the race, having witnessed your son running the race of his life. Deep down, I think I knew you wouldn't be able to watch me at a marathon again and so I had to make it a good one!

I am just getting back into running again having really let myself go. I wish I could tell you about it. I know your words of reassurance would be there. You would tell me that I just have to keep going, keep putting in the work and I will get there. 'All you can do is your best, Jay'. I hear your voice every morning when I put my kit on. It's what gets me out of the door. It's what makes me run with a smile on my face as I work my way back from this state of 'fitness'. I will get back to where I was and I hope with all my heart that I can tell you every gory detail of how I came back from nowhere to realize my dreams.

With love always,


Sunday, 19 April 2020

Reigniting the Fire - Week 1

M 60 mins (9:22mm), 40 mins TM Hike @15%
T 65 mins (8:45mm), 40 mins TM Hike @15%
W 70 mins (8:41mm), 40 mins TM Hike @15%
T 80 mins (8:38mm), 40 mins TM HIke @15%
F 70 mins (8:23mm)
S 70 mins (8:23mm)
S 90 mins (8:08mm)

Total 59 miles (8:34mm avg)
Aerobic (in)efficiency 1353 beats per mile
Weight 165.9lbs

Last week I talked about acceptance of the situation I was in and only I could make the decision to get back on track. It wont come from anywhere or anyone else. The drive to get fit and healthy and hopefully competitive again will come from the fire in my belly. The fire had pretty much gone out if truth be told. It was like a smouldering bonfire on November 6th. I had to add some more firewood. I took the first step to doing that this week. I am motivated, if unfit. Incredibly unfit. I cant remember being so unfit!

I think part of the reason why I have been in such a rut for the past twelve months is that I couldn't see the point in it all. I had beaten myself up when my running wasn't going how I wanted it to be going. Quite frankly, I chucked my teddies out of the pram. The more folks would tell me to keep at it, the less I would want to do it. The more people said that I was a good runner, the more of a fraud I felt. I know I am at a decent level, when fit but I am by no means exceptional. Having thought about things a bit more objectively and reflected on how I like to train, I realise that I was being way too hard on myself. If I saw someone else doing what I have historically put my body through from a training perspective, not only would I be really impressed but I would be inspired in equal measure. I trained bloody hard, I also loved it, I was in love with running, the whole process. And yet it had become such a chore. I was mentally in a bad place, small issues seemed insurmountable, molehills became mountains, slight set-backs seemed like disasters.

I think I had got into a position where no matter how much I did I didn't value how much effort I was putting in. Looking back now, I can be proud of how hard I trained. Perhaps I trained too hard. In fact, I almost certainly did which is why some results were below what should have been expected. I will not train as hard in the future and I will always focus on what I have achieved rather than what I have not. I will, where it is warranted praise myself for doing less. Sometimes less is more. This time I will be smarter.

Good first week, slow but consistent. And the best bit? I've loved every step.

Monday, 13 April 2020

Enough is Enough. The comeback starts here.

I need to sort my life out. For the past few months I haven't been looking after myself at all. Seldom exercising, terribly poor diet, occasionally smoking, drinking way too much and generally being the pre-2007 me. Thankfully I haven't quite got to the size I was then, but I was a very chunky 12 stone this morning (my race weight is under 10 stone). My clothes don't fit anymore. I had to buy a new suit a couple of months ago as I could no longer close the fastener. My t-shirts now embarrassingly rise up around my midriff as I have expanded so quickly.

I now get out of breath climbing the stairs. I look at old photos of me running, running fast, feeling fit, feeling like I was unstoppable. I want those days to return. But they wont if I don't turn my life around and sort my shit out. This spiral has the potential to ruin my life, because I understand myself. I am an obsessive, I am an addict. These traits help as well as hinder me in life. These are the traits that give me the motivation and drive to succeed. These are the traits that also pull me down to the depths of despair and depression. I want to be a success again. Yes I know I will never be the best athlete in the world. But I can be a good runner, I can inspire people, I can help people. I can be a healthier, happier me. Again.

It all starts with the acceptance that 'enough is enough'. Nobody can do this for me. I have to do it for myself. Just like I have done before. I cant set any race or time goals just yet, not least because we obviously have no idea when racing will be back on the scene! I am however on the waiting list for Valencia Marathon on 6th December. 231 days away. Lets see how far I can get!

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Santander 100k

I feel like a fraud, setting out my dreams for all to see only to fall massively short. I'm sad to say that I picked up a double dose of tendinitis a few weeks ago which meant a big block of missed running. Just as I was starting to believe again that I could do something respectable at the 100k distance.

Santander is not going to happen. Yes one can never have a perfect build up to any race but if I am to run well at a race so far I need to go in confident that my body will hold up. Unfortunately, I just don't have that confidence.

I am now in a position where I have compacted my issues by seriously falling off the waggon with my diet and my fitness has returned to a very low level. I'm really rather down about the whole thing. This year promised to be great and things had been going so well, I'm just gutted that I have absolutely nothing to show for my hard work earlier this year.

It's going to be difficult to get back on the horse and get going again knowing where I was just a few short weeks ago. Part of me wants to give up. Is it all really worth it? I love to train and I love to feel myself get fitter, I love to race but the heartbreak of not even coming close to my goals is starting to bite. Maybe I'm just never going to be good enough.

It may be a long time before I blog about my running again. For now I hate it and love it in equal measure. My best friend, my greatest foe, my lover, my nemesis. I cant bring myself to put my running shoes on but I also cant imagine never running again. Time will tell and hopefully heal. I want to be able to accept that I may never be as good as I wanted to be. But for now that's quite a hard pill to swallow.