The power of running

On Sunday I completed a half-marathon. This was a significant milestone because in my mind I was half way there. All I had to do was two of those back-to-back in April and I was home and dry! If only it were that easy ;-)

On the Saturday I found that I didn’t feel as anxious about the run as I had done in previous weeks. This was progress and I put this down to a couple of things. Firstly, I made sure that I had something enjoyable planned with friends on the Saturday evening. That way I had something to look forward to and something else to focus on other than the run. Secondly, I had already participated in some organised runs during the previous two weeks and therefore faced some of my fears already.

However, I hadn’t expected the anxiety to hit me the next morning once I’d arrived at the run. That was completely new. I can only put this down to a combination of different factors. Firstly, it was a freezing cold morning which really didn’t help. I’d much rather have been in my bed enjoying a Sunday morning lie-in like most other people! Secondly, I turned up to the registration tent to discover that there were lots more people running than I realised and it was a much bigger event than those I had done in the previous weeks. I wasn’t used to this and my OCD mind started working overtime. Thirdly, no matter how hard I tried I could not get my timing chip tied to my running shoe and I could feel the frustration and tears building. In the end a lovely man saw me struggling and tied it for me – my hero! And finally everyone seemed to be with someone they knew – whether it was a fellow runner, friends or family who had come to cheer them on. Amongst such a large crowd I was feeling very lonely and sorry for myself on my own. I could feel the tears coming and I wanted to go home. Just at this point, they announced the start of the race so everyone made their way to the starting line and I decided in that instant that I was going to follow, no matter how difficult it felt.

And I’m so glad I did. I tried a new tactic which involved breaking down the run into individual miles and seeing each mile as a ‘mini-run’. I told myself that I only had to complete the next mile. Before I knew it I had done all 13.1 miles. This was clearly a tactic that worked for me and one that I will continue using. It was also the first run I had done without my mp3 player and I wondered how I would cope with no music to listen to. What I discovered was that I took more notice of my surroundings. We ran down quiet country lanes and through farms and I enjoyed looking around at the scenery. And everyone was so friendly and supportive – this included the runners, the marshals and the supporters. I have never heard so much encouragement as I did on that day, and that was loveliest part of the run.

Completing the run helped me change my perspective in so many ways within the space of a couple of hours! To me, that is the power running can have.

What I’ve learned so far…

In my last blog post, I wrote about the difficulties I was experiencing running outdoors due to my OCD anxieties. Since then I’m pleased to say that I have participated in two organised outdoor runs. The first was a 15km run and the second a 12 mile run.

Doing these runs taught me a few things, things I wouldn’t have otherwise known. I learned that if I’m going to run a marathon then I definitely needed to do more outdoor running. Running outdoors felt very different to running on a treadmill, and I realised that I wasn’t as prepared for it as I should have been. In my head I now have no choice – I am going to have to run outdoors if I want to fulfil my dream of completing the London marathon.

Secondly, I learned that coming last in a run isn’t as terrible as I’d previously thought – it just depends on how you look at it. In the second run I was the last person to reach the finish line, out of a couple of hundred people. But given my fears and anxieties, just reaching the finish line was a huge achievement for me. Many other runners aim to beat their Personal Best (PBs) and hope to continuously improve against their previous times, which is great. What I learned was that there are other ways I could reach my own personal best that fitted in with my particular circumstances – which is probably a good thing for me as I’m not particularly fast! At that point, just reaching the finish line was a personal best for me, given that a couple of weeks earlier I was avoiding running outdoors completely.

Finally, I noticed a pattern. The day before my runs I was experiencing a full day of anxiety. This was new for me as I previously ran outdoors all the time, with no concerns. Now during the whole of of the preceding day I felt lost in my own world. I was unable to do very much or even speak very much – everything felt like a real effort. Which was ironic given the miles I was planning to run the next day! So in future I can anticipate this and put in place some strategies to help me. I have also experienced that amazing feeling when finishing the two runs, and in future I will keep this at the front of my mind to motivate me.

Recent developments and difficulties

Firstly, I successfully completed the 80 mile month in December!! Woo hoo! This has helped me build a really solid foundation for my London marathon training which is the main reason I took up the challenge in the first place. In fact I felt so uncharacteristically confident that today I signed up for a second marathon! I realise this may sound absurd, but I thought long and hard before I made this decision. I made sure it was right for me and my health and took advice based on my personal circumstances. And I also thought that if, nearer the time, I didn’t feel able to run the second marathon then I can always pull out. But hopefully it won’t come to that!

One of the reasons I want to run another marathon is because I feel the need to capture more interest for the cause that I am running for – improving understanding of OCD. I need people to sit up and take notice and I’m hoping this will do the trick!

In other news, my training has taken an interesting turn. In the past all my running was done outdoors and I loved that. Recently however, I have found that my anxiety is trying its best to stop me from doing that and so far, I have had to do most of my running indoors on a treadmill (thankfully my sister-in-law has one!). I have even entered runs and dropped out at the last minute due to my OCD, and I am finding that worrying about it is taking up the whole of the preceding day, to the point where I am unable to do anything else. I need to find a way of managing this fairly quickly, and I am hoping this new challenge will give me an incentive. But for now, it certainly provides a whole new dimension to the mental challenge that marathon training brings!

Week 1 of my 80 mile month

After all the excitement of getting a place in the London Marathon, it was time to start thinking about my training. Easier said than done! I kept putting it off, telling myself that I should take it easy while I can. My official training plan didn’t start until after Christmas, so I convinced myself that I should make the most of my time now and just relax.

However, that clearly wasn’t the right attitude! I needed to build up a foundation well before then and whilst I did get out and run on occasions, it wasn’t consistent and it felt really hard. My lack of motivation and enthusiasm was starting to worry me.

Then I came across the ’80 mile month’ challenge led by Bangs and a Bun. The idea was to run a total of 80 miles (or any other appropriate target depending on the individual) throughout December, a time when our focus is usually on fun and food. I could sign up for a package that would get me a virtual training buddy as well as daily guidance sent to me by email. As a runner who was lacking motivation, it was just the thing I was looking for!

I initially thought that 80 miles would be too much for me, and that I would need to decrease my target. But I’m pleased to say that after one week I have completed 26.7 miles! I feel a lot better about the marathon, and am already starting to see the benefits both mentally and physically. There is still just over three weeks to go, but the difference is that both the challenge and the marathon has started to feel achievable.

‘You’re in’!!

At the beginning of October I got the exciting news that I had received a place in the London Marathon next year through the ballot. I never thought I would ever get so excited about getting a place in a run as I did on that day. I couldn’t concentrate at work (don’t tell my boss!) and in my lunchtime yoga class I was completely distracted during the relaxation session (don’t tell my yoga teacher!). I was telling anyone and everyone about my news, whether they were interested or not!

For me, this could not have come at a better time. On my way to work that morning I had been thinking about my OCD and depression and was concerned that, after a period of some improvement, symptoms were starting to rear their ugly head again. Running in the London Marathon has given me a goal to work towards as well as an opportunity to raise awareness for OCD, which for me is so important. Although I have run half-marathons and even a marathon previously, running in London was my ultimate ‘bucket list’ run. Each year I would either watch it on TV or go down and cheer the runners on in person. And after two years of trying to get a place, I am finally going to run it!