It was 5:30 when I decided to finally roll myself out of bed and get the running gear on.
This Sunday morning, still in the cover of darkness, I began my first long run on the pavement since I completed sports therapy for a persistently painful and inflamed knee (among other things). Pulse Therapy are a godsend.
As I start off on my run I do what my mind always naturally wants to do – I head to the sea. Big mistake.
The temperature is 4 degrees Celsius or lower and wind speed is at 27. When I was a child my mother told me that the white edges of waves were like a horse’s hair and, as I glance out at them this morning, they are raging with all the wild fury of a stallion’s untameable mane. I concede and head further away from the sea but I keep on going.
Why would I bounce along in the blustering wind at 6:00 in the morning? The answer is simple: I have a marathon to train for and Mind, the charity for mental health, are relying on me.
I have, in my life, experiences abuse, trauma, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, depression, and (as the icing on the cake that I would have once probably either refused or devoured in a single bite) an eating disorder, and I am not alone in having struggled mentally in life.
Every year 1 in 4 individuals will experience a mental health problem every year and Mind is there to support each and every one of them.
Mind provide information and support for those who might be struggling in the current system. They have descriptions for any struggle one might face, ways for friends and family to provide support, helpline information for those moments when it all gets to much, a search engine to help locate local services, and so much more.
Mind’s core ethos is that no-one should have to face a mental health problem alone. To quote them directly:
We won’t give up until everyone experiencing a mental health problem gets support and respect.
And they never gave up on me.
So I find myself running along the path from Paignton to Torquay, The Gymwits podcast playing through my headphones and my mind trying to focus on the two most important aspects of running – breath and stride. It’s going well, but I feel a twinge in my little toe. A blister most likely: You get a lot of them training for a marathon and my shoes aren’t technically the best.
As I come over one of the hills on my path, the South Devon railway to the right of me, I glance off the edge of the cliff side and see the sea crashing against the cliffs and upturning the sand on its bed. Nature is its own master and, in that moment of primordial awe, I wonder if I can truly master my second marathon too.
Yes, second – I have done one before and I was amazed to have reached the finish line. It was perhaps, at the time, one of the biggest accomplishments of my life (and was, again, for charity). When I finished I was in tears. My feet throbbed with blood blisters that had developed unbeknownst to me and my side seethed due to a rookie water-carrying error.
I will always be proud of that experience but, as I ran this morning, I was deftly aware that my time was dangerously close to the cut-off time for the Brighton marathon that I will be running for. I have also been informed by other runners in the vegan running community (a godsend, I might add) that Brighton add a hill to their trail that is soul-crushing for some. I’m scared just thinking about it and I won’t lie when I say that I’m terrified of falling short.
Thus, this time, I won’t be the same casual trainer that I was for my first marathon. The goal is still completion but, to reach it, I need to be better.
There are other challenges too: My first marathon took place in a forest and was a mostly solitary journey. Once we’d all crossed the finish line we soon scattered intermittently along the trail at our own paces and there were some bouts of 20-40 minutes or so where you would see no one. In Brighton it will be different. All eyes will be on me and the other amazing runners for large segments of the course, and I don’t know how that will affect my performance.
Trail running is also very different to running on hard pavement, as my knee can attest to. I practice daily and weekly rehabilitation to try and keep myself in good running form, but what if I can’t cut it for 26.2 miles of pounding my body weight down hard on concrete with every step? I have no clue.
These are the thoughts that cross my mind, and that only during an hour’s run with a podcast playing in my ears. Brighton doesn’t like music and the marathon will span over hours. Where will my own mind go as I run for Mind in those conditions? What demons will I face? (And, trust me – you do face every single demon and experience every possible emotion when running those 26.2 miles).
Still, I know that there are people supporting me and I know that I have Mind behind me 100%. I’m also fortunate: I love running. When I leave the house and run for the sea it feels as natural to me as breathing. If I’m in the woods, autumn leaves falling around me and a long orange path blazing like fire ahead, I can’t resist answering the call of the horizon and breaking in to a jog. In short, when I run I don’t want to stop, and I have faith that my body can take me to where I need to be.
That sense of trust in my body – that self-assurance I can muster in my mind – is what I want to help foster in every single person who is struggling with mental health right now, and it’s why I’m willing to confront those 26.2 miles again in order to help Mind get people to that state of complete mental fortitude.
What I do along the way might not be perfect, but I will try my damned hardest.
I get to the end of Torquay harbor and turn tail back to Paignton. As I look up at yet more cliffs to my side my eyes are instantly drawn to the staircase that scales them. It has been lit for safety with luminescent blue lighting. The brilliant majesty of it hypnotizes me as I jog past it, keeping pace.
When I get home stretching is the priority, followed by hot/cold treatment on my knee and a well deserved breakfast. I check my Fitbit – 12.73km. I let out a happy sigh and enjoy the moment.
This is the first in My Mindathon Marathon series. Every week I’ll update you on my long run, my thoughts along the way, and anything else that might be relevant or useful for my fellow runners.
If you want to support me please do get in touch via email@example.com.
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