Thursday, 24 October 2019

Equinox24 '19 - I knew she knew!

Equinox was hard. Really hard. In my head it always seems relatively straightforward and at 4mph (fast walk) 100 miles in 24 hrs is possible. In reality a lot of things have to fall in your favour to hit 100 miles (17 laps).
Good prep - mine was awful.
High level of fitness - couldn't be further from it.
Good training - in my dreams.
Free of injuries - not even close.
Stress free week build up with plenty of sleep - not a fuckin' chance.

Against the odds we did make it on Friday and Mich literally ran straight on stage to front The Detroits only 5 mins late at 8:05pm. Having been discharged from Hospital after a 2 day stay at 5:40pm. She had a 2 hr stress free adrenalin fuelled gig.

She hid her disappointment at not being able to run really well and we were both relieved we didn't have to put up a tent. The chaos of the day meant that instead of being in bed by 7pm it was nearer midnight. 
The following day I was stood on the start line, Gangster Morph, Trilby, no plan. Even by my standards I was ill prepared. I was thinking I'd be happy with my calves allowing one lap before the event. As it turned out it was a challenge just to make the start line. Once there and after being given the 'I'll be fine and you'll be fine' hug from Mich, I set off with the intention of doing one lap and see how it goes.

Powered almost entirely by the shared strength of those alongside me and the generous encouragement from those supporting I managed 7 laps, 3 sleeps, lots of laughs and some swearing. Unfortunately, decent mileage was never gonna happen as by lap 3 the heat had got to me, I was pissing creasote and I was ridiculously tired. I've fallen asleep in the Morphsuit whilst walking at Equinox before but it usually happens during the early hours of the morning or towards the end. I was worried this was happening 4 hrs in! Lap 4 was better after a Jacket Spud and 40 mins with Mich but fatigue was overwhelming. I had a break then lap 5 was a night lap. Then a sleep on a food bench. Another break and then lap 6 and 7 completed up to mid day arriving back to Johnny at 12:03pm missing the offer of #onemorelap by 3 mins. 7 laps is not to be sniffed at. My personal goals are ludicrously unrealistic but the reality is you can only do what you can do based on the circumstances you face on the day. The truth is I simply didn't have the strength of mind to endure. To push through the pain and fatigue. On reflection I'm happy with 7. It's better than 4 which it very nearly was and it's a world away from 3 which the whole of my body and the waffling space where my brain should be wanted it to be, teasing me to stop. It was like the devil himself, whilst sat comfortably on my shoulder, was offering comfort and respite and it could all stop if I just took his hand.

The people I run with make it possible. Not just the solos but everyone. We're all busting a gut out there. From flashes of Dennis the Menaces passing by with supportive shouts, to putting the world to rights with Wendy, to being humbled to tears by Rosemary (the Morphsuit hides a world of emotion 😜), to photo opportunities and hugs with fellow Equinoxers, to a shared hatred of That Hill, to teams whizzing by with a word of encouragement Aldridge, Simon Heroes, Shabbas, Poppyfields, to the lady sobbing her way down the back straight as part of a team who, when asked if she was OK, said "it just means so much to me". I could do no more than give her a hug and tell her I was proud of her before finishing the last 500 metres of that lap with tears streaming down my face, to laps catching up with old pals with great stories and personal triumphs, to having to take a moment to gather myself after a runner said they'd done Outlaw because of my Bmx exploits and from that had seen me tackle Equinox and thought it seemed like a good idea to have a crack at it too.

The supporters make it a joy. The power up signs that I can't read through the Morphsuit, the comments made that they think I can't hear because of the suit, the banter, the "see you in 40 mins", the shared fire pits, the hi fives and the low ones from the little ones, the kids running alongside in their Ironman suits (I had suit envy) and the constant bombardment of encouragement. 

Then of course family make it complete. The hugs, the tears, the crewing, the winks and the knowing looks. I got one from Mich as I started the back straight for the last time. She knew, I knew, she knew I knew and I knew that she knew too. A mental challenge of mine is to always run the field. Always. She hugged me as I went by and then got across to the finish to be there for my finish. Her strength is unimaginable at times. I take from her as much as I can to do the best I can. I was so pleased to fall into her arms at the end I nearly forgot my medal.

I've gotta shout out Johnny and Laura and their crew as well as Glenn and his and the shops, massage and food outlets. I called on all of them to get me through this at various stages. Matt from Pop Top Kitchen who fed me all weekend (apart from the spud) finally broke me at 12:30 Sunday when, having just finished and sat down, he brought my food over to me instead of me going to collect it and within the wrap (which was the Paul McGrath of breakfast wraps) were some ££'s for the charities.
I've said it before and I'll say it again its the best way to spend a weekend. I don't know how Johnny and Laura do it but just keep doing it.
I'm done with fundraising after 9 years. During that time you lot have raised shed loads. You lot have changed lives for the better. You've almost certainly saved lives. Thank you, sincerely, for your generosity of both hard earned cash and of spirit. I'm taking a break. I've stuff to deal with and a body to repair. I'll be back at Equinox in some capacity for sure but I won't be running again unless I've trained injury free. Thank you.
To those that don't like my sponsorship requests, my begging, or the way I tackle challenges (apparently its disrespectful to the sport) you can rest easy your timeline will be free......for now! 👍 Morph out. 

Thursday, 6 June 2019

We see the sun go down in your eyes

I'm in a pub - on my own. Many years ago that would not be an unusual thing to hear me say but the outcome would be quite different. Perhaps not the thought process but definitely the alcohol intake, the drunkeness, the aggressiveness, waste of money and wondering around somewhere trying to self destruct. Anyway, tomorrow, as I have for about 10 years, I am safe in the knowledge I won't have a hangover. 

While Mich rehearses with her band and because they’ve no milk behind the bar for me to have a cuppa whilst watching the footie I played some solo pool. It’s amazing how poor you can become at something you used to be so good at. To be fair I was playing pool every day and every night as a kid as my parents had got me a pool table one Christmas. 35 years on and the belly gets in the way for positioning, the failing eye sight means the end of the cue is about as far as I can clearly see and that gut instinct on positioning, lines and angles has long since departed. My mind wanders as I play. The odd shot flickers back to a less complicated time. The deep red sunset sears through the misted pub glass reinforcing a loss suffered nearly 32 years ago. A loss that weighs a heavy grief that I carry with me constantly. 

"The sun so bright it leaves no shadows only scars carved into stone"

I recently blogged about stress and anxiety and it’s talent for exacerbating grief. I mentioned in a video after a miserable run that as time ticks by and memories fade it gets harder and harder to remember my mom’s face. I can look at the few pics I have and of course I know what she looks like but as a real memory, an actual mental visualisation I can recall whenever I want, it’s becoming harder and harder. She appears in the odd dream. I don’t know, when I wake up, just how clear she was but it always leaves me so utterly devastated that it was only a dream and it is always so brief and unlasting. Often ruined by me being late for a job somewhere important like Buckingham Palace which will inevitably be set in somewhere weird like a football stadium or the local chippy and I’ll have lost my teeth or I’ll be naked trying to fry a mars bar and daffodil. That kind of dream! That brief moment though, where she comes in to order a battered Corgi or Swan, she’s in the queue talking to me and I have to ask her to hang on a sec while I serve the customer before, who could be Kevin Pietersen or Sport Billy, but she gets served by Richard Prior instead and leaves before KP’s pitta has popped for me to make his kebab! Of course I wake as I chase after her. Usually getting pretty close.

"Dress torn in ribbons and in bows like a siren she calls to me"

The last time I saw my mom was 27th June 1987. I’m sure it was a Saturday and it was bloody hot. I’ve no recollection of any part of the day until about 5:30pm ish. I had been out doing my paperounds. During that time my only moments of clarity, moments entirely devoid of stress and worry, were on the rugby pitch or whilst doing my rounds. I’d finished my rounds and had cycled the last couple of miles home no handed. A common challenge I set myself. There were only two tricky junctions to negotiate. Tricky when no handed that is. A right turn off Walsall Road into Little Aston lane being particularly hazardous and therefore all the more satisfying to complete without face planting onto the tarmac, because it’s a downhill build up and no handed means no braking so swinging a right at speed. The last turn was a more sedate right into The Grove which only became complicated if there was a car approaching and disrupting my window of opportunity to turn, again without braking. That day it was clear and I leant into the turn and set myself to power to the top of the hill with the aim to not fail by touching the handlebars. I remember the sun was shining through the spokes of my Raleigh 10 speed. I powered up the hill only looking up as I passed The Goldstones. Instead of a clear view to our house, at the top just to the left, I saw my Auntie Sue stood outside the Prices’. My heart sank and I dropped down onto the bars. My challenge suddenly entirely irrelevant as I was ripped, abruptly, back to reality. I pulled up and walked the last couple of houses up to Auntie Sue. 

I took out my ear phones and switched off my Walkman. I don’t remember what I was listening to although it was almost certainly Clapton or Hendrix. If I was a betting man I would say it was probably Hendrix Live at Winterland. I struggled to ever get past Red House and constantly rewound the tape to listen to it over and over again. There was something magical about Hendrix. A sound that I was transfixed by. I think The Cry of Love gripped me as much as any of his albums (most released posthumously!) and I would often seek solace in the emotion of his guitar and his delivery.

"Drifting on a sea of forgotten teardrops"

The Joshua Tree had been released 3 months earlier on 9th March ‘87 and whilst that album has held my hand throughout my life and all of it is associated with love, loss and grief, I don’t think I had been captured by it just yet. In fact whilst I know exactly how I can’t pin down when I discovered it. The how was down to Gavin Wade who gave me a taped recording of the album he had made. I can picture now quite clearly, in Gav’s very individualistic writing style, the label read ‘ The Joshua Tree & Unavailable B Sides ‘. Each letter styled with a flourish that covered just about anything he could doodle on! Since that day, whenever it was, The Joshua Tree has consoled me, accompanied me, comforted me and acted as an instant reference to my mom. Which is strange as I don’t think I listened to it until after she died. Similarly though, I remember a few years earlier, probably ‘83 or ‘84 ish, whenever I hear Night Swimming by REM (an absolute favourite of mine). I am taken back to sitting in the back of my Dad’s company car travelling back from The Priory Hospital in Edgbaston after visiting Mom and I’m looking out the window watching the street lights whizz by trying to light the dark. It’s weird because Night Swimming wasn’t released until Automatic For The People in 1992! In fact I can tell you the actual song that should spark that memory and it was The Flying Pickets - Only You! The mind has a funny way of dealing with things.

"Every streetlight reveals the picture in reverse"

Anyway, whatever I was listening to I turned off. My Auntie Sue sat me down on the corner wall of No 7. She put her arm around me allowing a momentary respite from the glaring sun on my neck. “It’s time” she said as she gave me a hug. “It’s time”. If ever my world stopped spinning it was probably then. I knew, we all knew, that it was any day now that mom would die. What had started as breast cancer 4 years earlier had returned as an inoperable brain tumour with a vengeance. It had sucked the life out of her pretty quickly. I don’t think she had been ‘with it’ for a while but certainly she hadn’t come round for a couple of days. It had stolen everything from her. Her movement her figure her looks her wit her love her care.

I know we didn’t get up and go to our house straight away but I’ve no idea how long we sat there for. It could have been an eternity encapsulated in a second. It could have been a fleeting moment that dragged out forever. Everything that had ever happened in that street over the previous 8 years played out in front of me. Every game of volleys and headers, hedge hopping, knock and run, fights, tantrums, threats, laughs and stunts sliced through time to pause for a second as if to offer a moment of support or to unravel and fall away at the end. Eventually we did go in and the house was full, or at least appeared to be. Aunties and Uncles, friends and neighbours. Tears and silence mixing uncomfortably. My little brother was with Dad and I joined them. It might have been hours but I remember it as minutes. I said goodbye (she couldn't hear me) and I kissed her on the head. She took her last breath and in our dining room, converted to a bedroom, she died surrounded by us all. In that moment I was hit by every failing, every weakness, every time I let her down and acutely, so acutely, how much I still had to learn about her and from her. You don’t get a chance to right any wrongs. There’s no final words. No goodbyes. No last exchange. Just loss.

"Sleight of hand and twist of fate"

The sunset was deep red that evening. It trawled the horizon sucking in the odd wisp of cloud along with the last ounce of daylight. The Grove stood still and took it in. The world held it's breath as if in shock. I watched from my bedroom window in a house full of grief, sadness, loss and love. I took myself away - physically and emotionally. 

There’s nothing afterwards. No comfort. No gravestone chatter enjoyed by  Ricky Gervais in After Life. No videos to watch with prepared monologues to get you through the aftermath. No Post It Notes dotted about as a guide to how to live your life without. There’s no conversation you can have. Someone once suggested I write a letter to her as a way to help with the grieving process. It’s not for me. I’ll be waiting an eternity for a reply! We just die. We burn or rot and that’s that. We don’t rise. We don’t return as an animal. We don’t float about visiting. We don’t talk through old wrinkly women who can only deliver the message if we pay. We grasp at straws. At glimpses of comfort. We’re vulnerable and there for the taking. We accept the con in the hope it makes us feel better. It’s no coincidence the biggest con of all is the richest con of all.

"I'll see you again when the stars fall from the sky

and the moon has turned red over one tree hill"

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Where The Streets Have No Name

I drive a lot in my day to day. If sport is on the radio I will listen to it. If not I will listen to Kermode and Mayo Film Review on the podcast and if I am up to date with that I will listen to U2. The other day I searched U2 on the BBC Podcast thingy and listened to a Radio 4 interview with them. The Edge was on about the simplicity of his chords and how he writes music with the idea that notes and chords are very expensive so he uses as few as he can. He keeps it as simple as possible. Of course he than adds the effects which give it the unmistakable Edge sound.

He played the opening notes to Streets without effects and the impact was immense. It's purity and simplicity was unnervingly beautiful. The impact was physical. The result is a sound that can fill stadiums borne out of simple notes in a box room bedroom. I played it back about 50 times whilst trawling through the mechanical wasteland known as the M42. Tears streamed down my face - a reaction I am having to get more and more used to as I have less and less control over my emotions.

You can listen to it here 10:38 into the interview

The point or link or reference I am trying to make is that something so simple and pure can rock the world and last week (I started this blog on the 5th February 2019) this was brilliantly exampled at The Spirit of Tamworth Awards night. Mich had been nominated as Coach of the Year. Something she has been doing for a relatively short space of time but which she throws all her effort into. Now, anyone can get nominated and if enough people nominate you then you're likely to get noticed but the panel look at the 150 word nomination messages sent in with each nomination. Mich, like so many of the other nominations in all the categories, didn't expect the nominations and didn't expect to win. Indeed notification of her being short listed surprised her to bits. The nomination they read out when announcing Mich as the winner was from a run club member who is recovering from a brain tumour and who had lost all her confidence. She explained how through Mich's run club and as a result of Mich's support she had regained her confidence and belief in herself. Whether she runs 5km or a marathon seemed irrelevant it was the belief that Mich had instilled in her. Mich will tell you that she doesn't really do anything other than get people together and make them run. Thankfully it's not up to Mich to nominate herself or give a reason because she entirely undervalues her impact on so many of us and just how much of a positive influence she is. Thankfully we know. Something as simple as "getting people together for a run" can rock the world.

Many of the other nominees in all categories and their associated stories were a real inspiration. Youngsters battling life threatening illnesses with a smile, fundraisers making a difference to others, people giving their time, money and effort to make someone else's life a little better. None of them doing it for recognition but doing it because they have a selfless sense of community. The room was buzzing with positivity. Humbling and inspiring. A lesson on how, tomorrow, to be a better man.

Friday, 8 February 2019

Black Dog Running

Today I ran with my Black Dog. The Black Dog. Side by side through the howling wind and stinging rain. So together I absorbed his anxieties, his panic, his fear and his loathing. I couldn’t shake him off. We were Siamese like. Joined at the hip. Through the woods he dragged me haunched to the ground. Labouring through the leaf mulch and ever deepening mud, rocks and stones shredding my hands and knees. Dodging falling branches becoming harder as the mud became thicker. Sometimes I’d begin to rise, to straighten to get free only for a sideways gust to whip a branch up into my face and drop me again to my knees. A salty mix of sweat and blood flowing into my mouth from my nose or the sting of red leaking into my eye from a split above. Either way enough to instantly put me down and gasp for breath. Every moment of relief, every burden offloaded, just a momentary pause. I ran today searching for a clarity that seemed impossible to find. There were glimmers. Miko and Chief tried to draw me away from the Black Dog, tried to free me, but a sharp ‘no’ called them away before I could be free. A wondering thought to something more snowflakey would see me almost straight, almost breathing free, almost in reach of the unobtainable light at the end of the tree lined tunnel. Every step became a chore, a reason to stop. Extra laps added as punishment for weakness increasing the frustration. Hips taking the brunt of each laboured effort up the hill. It wasn’t until the last lap that I took control, found a moment of clarity, tamed the dog constantly lurking in the background. Successfully dodged the remaining branches and skipped over the mud with a lighter feel. I’d gone out for 8 miles of control. I’d finished with nearly 12 and a resolve to try again. To be a better man.

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Every Breaking Wave

A blog a little out of sync with my usual spoutings. Its a blog you may never get to read. Over the past 12 months I have written it about 100 times and deleted it each time. Sometimes it has acted as an outlet and other times it has acted as a frustration. It's entirely nothing to do with you and so in many ways, like social media, I question why i should write it at all? On the other hand we're encouraged to 'talk'. It's a serious subject that the media has made fashionable to talk about. Joe Marler being the latest to 'go public'. A rock of a man crushed by anxiety. Doesn't make sense does it?

I am kinda torn between getting it down, getting it written, publishing it - the click of the 'publish' button being the last act of total control - and not. After all its personal, the failings are personal, they're only in my control, they're harboured by me, protected. To publish is both an admission and a selfish attention seeking act. It also smacks of jumping on the bandwagon myself if indeed there is such a bandwagon - which there probably isn't. I would also question the validity of how i feel. To be able to rationalise it, break it down, get it down suggests, to me, its a falsity. A bit like when you're staggering around age 17 after two pints of Fools Gold telling everyone you're drunk. If you're aware you're drunk you're not yet drunk. Right? In the same way if you know you're losing it you can't actually be losing it. So I am inclined to take everything here with a pinch of salt. You, if you get to see it, should too.

'Sometimes I feel like I don't know
Sometimes I feel like checkin' out
I want to get it wrong
Can't always be strong
And love it won't be long'

I am often chronically sad and utterly consumed by grief and within the same moment I can be totally happy and full of joy. Don't get me wrong, in many ways I am the luckiest man alive. I am overwhelmed with love from Michelle and my two wonderful kids. I live vicariously through them. All the good, the joy, comes from them. Everything I wish I was I see in them. I see people every day in my job who literally have the world on their shoulders. They're crushed by immobility. Some of them have known nothing but the restrictions they live by and some have had their previous freedoms taken away by illness or accident.They are without choice. Their situation is beyond their control. I'm crushed by choice. By a weight of grief and sadness exacerbated by stress brought on by failure and excuses. My failure and excuses. I'm even failing in my attempts to stop failing and yes I have excuses for that too. I've always had excuses for my failures.

I've unraveled before. A couple of times. The last time was 2006 when I tried to get myself out of debt that only led to more intense debt that magnified the stress that exacerbated the sadness and grief. Thoughts darken, solutions less clear. Anxiety constant and panic instant and prolonged. Exhaustion unavoidable and the nightmares keep sleep a fleeting visitor. Bankruptcy a brief relief but resulting in a subsequent constant battle to stay afloat, to provide the basics, to breathe.

I'm here again, losing the battle. Unraveling. I'm trying to make the right decisions, facing my mistakes but I am being tested. Severely tested. My home is no longer a sanctuary. It's a noose, a weight, a restriction. I have no voice, no place. Fear is palpable, stunning in it's impact, inducing a sudden spike in heart rate, uncontrollable shakes and quivering voice. It's brought on by the simplest of things. One of the kids asking if they can have a couple of quid to top up their Xbox account or for a spot of lunch while out. Nothing major, they rarely ask for anything and certainly nothing unreasonable. The biggest fear is using a debit card. Even on pay day before the direct debits go out it's the scariest of moments placing it on a contact less pay unit with the wait to see 'approved' lasting an instant eternity. The post and the calls and deciding which bill we do or don't pay each month and the rapid escalation of cost in penalties for missing this and missing that.

I've battled debt for as long as I can remember. When I first got pocket money I bought a football in advance of the pocket money over the next 6 weeks. From then on I have been in debt. My paper round money came to me as a fraction of my pay after all the sweets and Coke through the week were taken off. My bar money would be non existent on pay day after the Strongbows were deducted. I then became a prized customer of Barclaycard, MBNA, EGG and whoever else. Almost tripping over themselves to give me credit I would never be able to repay, it would be easy to look at them and pass the blame. I could blame being part of a credit generation, the immediate generation. Of course that's not the case and it doesn't help to pretend otherwise.

I have allowed myself to become affected by the negativity of others. It's surprising just how much of an effect a negative influence can have. Negativity chips away. It doesn't hit in one impact, it doesn't overwhelm in an instant. It's a gradual stripping of defenses. A little bit here and a little bit there. It pushes down with a steady increase in pressure until your own outlook becomes negative. It doesn't even need to be aimed directly at me although some of it is. It's being around it, witnessing it, others laziness, reluctance to help themselves, their selfishness, their lack of respect for themselves and those around them, seeing negativity being inflicted on others.

Staying strong and positive is hard. In many ways I am surrounded by it and I am often relying on the positivity of others, leeching off it, stealing it, however it does become harder to do. Moments of clarity can become few and far between but with each one the relief, the release, the weightlessness is wonderful. Equinox 24 provided a whole weekend of being surrounded by positivity. 48 hours of being in a happy place with kind souls, no judgement just support. The determination, strength, kindness and achievement of others is infectious, healing, necessary.

I am mocked, lovingly, for my tears. Often they're entirely reasonable. Everyone wells up when Doc appears on the pit wall in Cars right? Or when Matt Dawson breaks to set up Johnny Wilkinson's World Cup winning drop goal? When it becomes more than that though. Uncontrollable. It might be a story on the news or the radio, a radio presenters husband talking about her last days battling breast cancer, a policeman describing his efforts to save a colleague, a story of a brief awakening from dementia brought on by a TMS commentary or the presenter thanking the nation for a deluge of well wishes for his wife's recent cancer battle, a moment after an assessment that brings everything home. Often something without explanation, an exceptional song, an exceptional sporting moment, a reminder or a memory. It's not always tears. It can be a freezing, a solid grip that takes hold in a moment that becomes prolonged, locked in.

'You know I need you to be strong
And the day is as dark as the night is long
Feel like trash, you make me feel clean
I'm in the black, can't see or be seen

Baby, baby, baby light my way'

I am lucky to come home each day to Michelle and the kids. It might be a dig in the arm from George or an introduction to the indecipherable language of a teenager from Ellie that snaps me back but more often than not it's a hug from Michelle, a look, a smile, a glint that says everything in absolute silence. She has a knack of timing a text, singing a song, stealing a glance or a touch, to perfection. She carries, she inspires, she loves unconditionally, selfless.

I don't intend to unravel completely, I don't think I will. The joy and happiness and love I absorb will always outweigh the fear, sadness and grief. Whilst the grief is constant it wavers in intensity and is directly linked to pressure and stress. Sometimes I can be grieving without any impact on the moment whilst in the next I can be floored by it. Reduced to a wreck.

'Sleight of hand and twist of fate
On a bed of nails she makes me wait
And I wait without you'

If I can rationalise it I can control it. If I can control it I can see through it and grow from it. The weight isn't physical but it's no less crushing. The battle is constant, the extremes instant and constantly switching. The Facebook Smile is always a con. Too often we hear of a suicide of someone behind the smiling profile picture. The perfect social media life. It's considered the cowards way out by many (probably those who haven't considered it) but in reality it's the ultimate bravery, the final selfless act when someone can't see a way out. Perhaps considered the only rational conclusion to an entirely irrational process. To erase the problem blighting the lives of everyone else. Freeing them to live.

Nothing is perfect in life or in a virtual world. The restrictions are too great. I can't truly speak my mind. I can't be honest for fear of impacting someone else's sensitivities, upsetting the narcissistic sociopaths that cling to a connection, a tenuous tedious link to someone they don't like, to monitor, to Big Brother, so they can be outraged, so they can choose to take offence, to be the victim they long to be, when the meme pops up that they deem to be about them, to be a slight or a virtual attack, because the world (despite science suggesting otherwise) rotates around them. I've stepped away to do whats right, face my failings, take stock of my mistakes that cause the pressure, that lead to the stress, that create the weight. Make things right.

'And drowning is no sin'

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

EQ24 '18 - Nowhere to Hide

On the Friday night we were all calmed with a two hour set of Motown and Northern Soul. The Detroits gave us a set of energy and smiles and for those two hours - with a quick break for the Beer Mile - we could all relax and forget about weather, trainers, nutrition, how many laps, That Hill, chaffing, blisters, lack of training and injuries. Equinox is special to me, to many of us and I am not going to bang on again as to why, but this year it got a little bit more special. The Detroits are Roger on drums, Craig on lead guitar, Scott on bass guitar, Kevin on sax and Paul up front as lead singer. The other lead singer is our very own Michelle. She was taking her first step into the world of solo running. I've never seen her smile as much as when she is singing. She is truly free. At Equinox she was the most relaxed at the front of The Detroits as I have ever seen her. Afterwards, her comment was "it was like performing for a tent full of family and friends". For me, the energy in the marquee, particularly during the second set (they build it deliberately) was palpable, absorbent and infectious. I've talked in the past about the millionaires we would all be if we could bottle the essence of Equinox24. Bottling whatever was in the air that night would have been 'it'.

We set up site that afternoon. Team Poppyfields were in place. A wonder around the site throughout the afternoon allows a catch up with fellow Equinoxers both new and old. Attempts to give away the morphsuits failed. Discussions about injuries, training or lack of and the important "how many laps you going for?" were the main topics of conversation. Everyone is lovely. Bemused sometimes about what some of us would be doing, but always lovely and entirely supportive.

Race day dawned. I slept in until about 9am. Nick, the Team Poppyfields one man support crew, dished me up two bacon and egg cobs and I meandered up to seek out the physio team. It seems it's becoming a pre race tradition of mine. I told them the story, eyes roll as if to question the sanity of starting, then they get to work. Immediately the exact two spots in my calf giving me a problem are found and wow did it make me jump. She ironed out my calf as best she could, taped me up to give me the best chance and sent me on my way. I left Flamingo Lady on the table next to me and wished her luck. The next runner in line stepped forward to explain their niggles in the hope she would have the answer they needed. A quick lucky poo (obviously), the trial of popping in contact lenses, a full greasing of the underscrote and some fuel and water and, as much as anyone can be, I was ready for my 5th attempt at Equinox. My 3rd real attempt at 100 miles.

On the subject of 100 miles don't think I thought I could run 100 miles. With 8 weeks to go I was feeling strong and I was gaining fitness. All this really did was give me the confidence to have a real good go at 17 laps. To run 100 miles you have to be up a fair few levels of talent from 'fat winger' no matter how mentally strong you think you might be. The problem at 8 weeks out was a calf injury that required complete rest and then another tweak in a different spot of the same calf a week before. What that did was dampen my confidence and leave me with a more conservative approach. More of a just try and keep going for 24 hours and see what that brings in laps. 10 would be nice, 13 a PB, anything above pretty much wonderland territory.

I lined up with Ellie going out first in a team of 5, Mich & Georgina (soon to be known as the Singing Solos) and Ken, all virgin solos and Neil who was tackling his second Equinox as a solo but without the weight of dragging a fat Morph around the course with him.

Lap 1 and 2 were fine. Slow and steady, walk the hills, run the flat and downhills, fuel at the end of lap 2. The problem was it hammered it down during lap 2. Now I agree rain isn't normally a problem, after all skin is waterproof and all that, but in the morphsuit it gives me real issues with controlling my temperature and visibility. Many people were caught out by the rain. My temperature immediately dropped and my vision became more and more cloudy as the suit reached maximum soakage capacity. I ran in to the end of Lap 2 at about 2hrs 40mins on the clock. As long as I was out by 3hrs that was fine. I changed my under layers, dried out the top of the morphsuit over the fire pit, inhaled a jacket spud with cheese and beans and set off on lap 3 coincidentally with Ken and Neil.

We trudged off the ever muddening field together. Ken made an emergency stop at the crossroads portaloos and they both caught me up before we turned onto The Shitty Bit.

It was on the upflat start to The Shitty Bit I felt my calf go. It was a vicious little pop. I looked round for the sniper but the morphsuit meant I couldn't see my hands let alone an American Sniper 1000m away. So, within the first km of lap 3 I had had enough. Ken and Neil cracked on thankfully. Neil had learnt from last year that solo is an entirely selfish enterprise. He sacrificed an easy 10 laps last year to worry about me whereas this year, with my absolute blessing, he had his own race to run. I walked to the bottom of Not That Hill and I was ready to jack it in. The decision, the sensible and justifiable decision, was to give up and walk back to camp. Two runners then went past and said something nice. Lots and lots of runners were utterly lovely to me throughout the weekend but these two bestowed their loveliness at exactly the right time. I can't remember what they said I just remember thinking that it was a pivotal moment. I had just decided to walk back to the camp and instead I found myself walking up Not That Hill and most of the way to Hi 5 kid before I had a drink at the feed station. The calf was as painful to run on as it was to walk so I ran the rest of the lap in (apart from walking up That Hill of course).

Lap 4 was ace. I've no idea why but I was back to my strategy of run/walk. The calf was painful but I weirdly felt strong. Chatting with other runners helps massively and i am nosy so i am quite happy to hear their stories as to what brings them to be walking up a steep tarmac hill chatting to a morphsuited gangster!

The pain was manageable and again I ran the last 3km in feeling strong while chatting to a fellow runner who felt she should say hello as she had seen me in previous years but not had chance to speak. Whilst in my head I had whizzed round in about 1hr 15mins the reality was probably 1hr 40mins. That didn't matter as i felt good. Positive.

For lap 5 I had changed into the polka morphsuit and as I was concerned I could get caught out by the loss of light towards the end I went out with my head torch. I should explain that last year I made the decision to run in an unaltered morphsuit whereas in my first 3 attempts I had cut eye holes in the night morpshuit. I had adapted the morphsuits previously because I could't see anything in the dark no matter how good the torch was. It just lights up the inside of the morphsuit. Last year I worked a system of head torch on cap and the peak of the cap kept the light off the suit which allowed me to see a tiny tiny bit of light. Enough to get round but I would say that vision is down to about 25%. Think of being your most drunk, in the dark, with a rolling fog and looking through an ever shrinking tube with a piece of gauze over the end!

The lap went well and again I felt strong. At the time I felt that lap 4 & 5 were my strongest. The finish was much the same as 4 and again a runner kindly ran the last 3km with me making it so much easier. She was telling me about The Singing Solos who were apparently doing a full rendition of The Greatest Showman while running the course. From the description I am pretty sure I know who they were and it transpires Michelle and Georgina were easing their way around their first Equinox Solo attempt by entertaining themselves and others with their vocal talents.

I had one other to worry about while on course which was my eldest, Ellie. It seems I needn't have worried. She smashed lap 1 in 53 minutes which was a near 20 minute personal best. The pics captured by Glenn and his team brilliantly capture Ellie making running look as easy as I wish it was!

I finished lap 5 but I made the mistake of stopping and sitting for a while. I got cold and changed a few under layers but I used this an excuse to sit by the fire pit to warm up. I had a snooze and kept delaying going out. I think I was fearful of temperature issues on the course but I delayed too long. I did eventually go back out for lap 6 but I had by then probably lost the mental battle with myself.

I don't really remember much about lap 6 other than the fact it was so difficult to see where I was going. I don't remember chatting with people although i am sure I did. I don't remember That Hill in the dark. I do remember lots of bobbing lights and a support team down the back straight letting me warm my ass over their fire pit. I finished the lap and waited for Michelle to come in from her lap and i would then assess whether to go out again at all. What I had done through that lap was convince myself I was unable to carry on much further and I justified this through the pain in my leg and now right knee. The slips in the mud, the turned ankles in the invisible pot holes and the overall tiredness becoming too much.

We had a chat when she got back from her lap. It was 1 am or 2 am and we decided to walk a lap together and see how we felt afterwards. Had Michelle not made me go out on that lap I would have finished at 6 as I had the year before. Physically, probably, able to continue but mentally, probably, just not up to the challenge. She quite literally dragged me round the first 5km. I was now sure this would be my last lap and my body was responding accordingly by emphasising pain and tiredness. I stumbled whilst dozing a few times only for Michelle to keep me going. We made it to the feed station and i sat for a few minutes. This was definitely my last lap so i removed the hood of the morphsuit. I have done this in the past to either drink or eat but my rule is that I don't move without the hood on. This time I left it off. Cheating yes but my day was done so I justified it to myself as reasonable. Michelle put her back out going down the dip on the grass after the feed station. She had no real choice but to get through the lap. As she had done for me for the first 5km I supported her through the last 5km. It's nothing new for us. Whatever challenges we take on we always take on as a team. Lap 7 was our final lap. 17.5 hours and 45 miles was our solo efforts for 2018.

Being able to see for the last 5km was a revelation. The course is so beautiful and being able to see the ground ahead, the trees, fellow runners made it so much easier. This has raised the question of whether I should adapt the morphsuits for future attempts. To make the attempt at 100 Morph miles easier. The problem with that is that I have my own rules. The challenge is 100 Morph miles which requires 100 miles fully morphed. Hood and all. So, its staying as it is.

Ellie stayed awake for the full 24 hours. She was so out of it on the drive home as exhaustion set in. For a girl who claims not to like running, does a couple of 5km runs per week she blasted 4 laps in a team of 5 runners. Her quickest? An insane 53 mins! She is so much a better runner than she realises and tougher than I can ever be. It's easy for me to live vicariously through Michelle, Ellie and George. They're all everything I aspire to become.

I was disappointed with my effort because I expected better but I was thrilled with Georgina's 6, Michelle's 7, Ken's 8 and Neil's 10. How can I be thrilled for them and disappointed with myself? It's due to the pressure and expectation I place on myself. Fully fit or niggly injury I always have high expectations for myself and disappointment kicks in when I know I can and should have done better.

I learned a lot from EQ18 that I will take forward to next year. The most simple change being the addition of a weather proof running jacket. My fueling was better, no nasty visits to poo corner, and to a point I felt strong. The calf situation is a bit of a red herring. Yes it hampered my preparation, yes it hurt like a bastard initially but the truth is it didn't stop me. I stopped myself and failed to keep going for 24 hours. Next year things will be different.

Anyway, I had a kip for 3 or 4 hours with an intermittent cramp on and off in my right calf. I finally dragged myself out of bed and then supported runners up the finish straight. Some I got to talk to, have a hug with, pat on the back. Others were clearly unapproachable at that stage but I like to think that every shout of encouragement helps even when you're just too knackered to acknowledge it.

As the Poppyfields Teams finished we crossed the line together twice so ignore the official results suggesting I did 9 or 10 whatever it says. Whilst my own fundraising got nowhere near my target and as a result I was never at risk of having a Unicorn tattoo despite my poor performance, Team Poppyfields raised a fantastic £2000 and thank you to everyone that helped with that. After all that's why we do it. Over the weekend a figure in the region of £3500 in total was raised for Birmingham Children's Hospital and their research and treatment of child brain tumours.

A huge thank you to all of you out there that weekend particularly Michelle and Ellie, George and Nick, Johnny and Laura, their crew, volunteers, Glenn and his photographers, Matt and the caterers, physio, medics and supporters. To you fellow runners for the laughs, the camaraderie, the kindness, the strength, the one liners, the belief and the love. From the minute I pull up at Belvoir Castle to the minute I leave its my happy place, a stress free weekend of intensity, discomfort, moaning, laughs, hugs, high fives, disappointment and joy. See you all in 2019 when I am no longer fucking about, I will be fully morphed and I will be doing 17 laps even if Johnny has to stay out until it's dark!

Thank you. 

Friday, 29 September 2017

The idiot that turned up to Equinox 2017

I've tried to write this all week. It's important to get it down for me to look back on. It's memory capture. There's two parts to it really, My poor effort as a competitor and then my joy from other people's awesome. Blimey there was some serious awesome. One thing I can say, without hesitation, is that it was another brilliant weekend at Equinox. Big. So much bigger than before but absolutely retaining, enhancing even, it's wonderfully friendly, inclusive, humorous, kind, inspirational atmosphere. That is down to Johnny and Laura, their crew, the volunteers. Glenn and his team of photographers, Matthew Peaker of Pop Top, the caterers, physios and tape people. Obviously most important of all are you lot running it. Big team or small team, pairs or solo. Such ace people.
I'll tell you about a couple of them and they made Equinox for me and then I'll share the nitty gritty of why I got it wrong so there are bail points in the blog when you've had enough.

I am very lucky to be surrounded by great characters. Obviously I know Mich is ace. My strength is drawn from her. She smashed out 5 laps in a team all sub 75 mins, while crewing me, watching the kids, helping her team and supporting everyone else. I love it when someone tells me how lucky I am and how she kept them company on a lap, or they run past and ask after her or ask me to pass on a hug. She's the best thing about me and I'm the kind of trouble that she enjoys!

18 months ago Neil Taylor didn't run. After helping me on numerous challenges he laced up himself and he bit the solo bullet as his first competitive trip to Equinox. Despite me being an absolute arse throughout he ran ahead and told me about every trough in the field, every pot hole on the road, every puddle, every hazard. He tried so hard to keep me moving. He ruined his own solo attempt to help me and despite my protestations he wouldn't just crack on. The fact that in the morning he smashed two sub 80 mins laps being his 7th and 8th, goes to show just how capable a runner he is and, if left to his own devices, a silver pin is entirely within his reach. I can't wait to see him realise his potential. Neil, sincerely thank you.

My daughter Ellie was in a team for the first time. She doesn't run. Never runs. She did two laps. The first was on her own and she smashed it in 1hr 10 mins! The second a walking lap with others. She has big plans for next year!

Did you have your hair French plaited before the race? You gave a donation to a charity? You won't remember the details as you'll have pre race brain but that was Belinda Bryant who again gave up her time again to help raise money.
Team Poppyfields were great and supported throughout. Like so many groups and teams around the field we never run more than a few steps without a shout of encouragement.

Then there are the usual suspects and it was a privilege to give a bit back in support on the finish straight after I had given up. Too many to mention but you all know who you are. You've run round those grounds for 4 years with me now and as friends go my Equinox friends are the best around. Some of us may have failed to reach a goal, some will have achieved more than they had hoped for but all of them make Equinox what it is.
As do all the people new to Equinox. Some of whom turned up unannounced in the hope they could help me get round 24 hours, some had entered last minute without prep to run in memory of a fellow Equinoxer who passed away just a few weeks earlier. Some were running with serious injuries but were determined to at least get in a lap, some were running with a podium place in mind.
A special mention to Team Walker - running in memory of Colin Walker who many of us have shared laps with at past Equinox and who died just a few weeks ago after a battle with cancer. Throughout I think we all had Colin in our hearts. #RunByMySide

Personally, my challenge finished at around 4am. It took me a while to sort myself out but once I had I spent the last 6 hours or so cheering people up the home straight, I had to chase some with poles to keep them moving, encourage others with a shout, a pat on the back or a hug.

It sounds a bit much but the last 6 hours supporting up and down the finish straight was an awesome buzz for me. To see people push on, grind it out or simple fly past was inspirational. To share a flicker of that with a return thumb up, or nod, or a hug or a chat meant everything. I was so happy being there doing that and I apologise to anyone who found it a bit much. Because I've been there I feel I can have the banter but I'll always back off if I get the look of death or a 'you can fuck off!' in response to me suggesting #onemorelap.
Thank you, everyone, sincerely for everything.

So how did I go from competitor to supporter?
Equinox is tougher than you think. In theory running 10km laps say a lap in an hour and then rest an hour then run an hour and so on should be relatively achievable and would get you 12 laps in 24hrs. Equally, in theory, you can relatively easily (by easily I mean not die during) run/walk 10km laps in 90 mins and keep going which would get you to 100 miles. A sort of Holy Grail of mine for a 24hr run. The problem with Equinox is that theory counts for nothing. Fatigue, both mental and physical, can take you out. Good runners, and I mean seriously good proper runners, can be derailed.
The course is challenging. The first bit, The Shitty Bit, is a couple of km up and across a nobbly ankle turning muddy field and then along a muddy soggy gooey track. The next 3.5km along tarmac and up a long steep hill that is 'not that hill'. It's followed by 2.5km off road including the awful knee wrenching downhill before the energy sapping 'that hill', some more nobbly ankle turny bits. The last 2km is a tarmac 1km back to the field and then the final 1km around the field.

It's the continuity, the repetitive nature of lapping that takes its toll. It has to be taken km by km and you have to avoid looking ahead, of fearing 'not that hill' or 'that hill' or wishing the water station would arrive quicker or wishing for the end of the field. Once the negative thoughts creep in it is very difficult to get it back together.....and that's where it went wrong for me.
By 10pm I was done because I had lost the mental battle. Yes the knee was niggly, yes the legs ached and the feet hurt, yes the morphsuit was pissing me off from the start, yes it was hard to see through but all of these things, all of them can be overcome if mentally I was positive. Sadly, annoyingly, frustratingly (is that a word) I simply couldn't turn it around. I couldn't make it positive. I can deal with pain but I beat myself mentally.
I had done 5 laps I think. I hid under a coat and dozed. I rested too long and eventually went out for another lap at about 2am. It was awfully slow, fatigue was too much. Well, actually, I allowed fatigue to be too much. I was falling asleep while walking and I could not grasp positivity. I simply couldn't reach within and pull something out of the bag to get it done. By the time I got back I knew I was done. I had made the decision to give up. Yes, bits hurt but no more than usual and not enough to stop me physically but mentally I had kicked the shit out of myself. That's where I rested, recovered and switched to supporter.

So, ultimately I gave up. I've made peace with myself. I felt redeemed to give a bit back supporting. It is hard and there is disappointment. If you had spoken to me at 4.30am on Sunday I hated myself. If you spoke to me at midday I was buzzing.
It's the ultimate rollercoaster. Within a lap, light to dark, dark to light, start of straight to end you can go from sky high to desperate low.
Overall, it's the best way I can think of spending a weekend. It's made by you, all of you. Your kindness and your strength.

I'll see you next year, it will be my only focus. I'm going for gold in the Morphsuit.
Thank you for raising over £4500 for Team Poppyfields. Thank you.
It was another awesome Equinox weekend despite only 6 laps and, personally, it was something else to support the amazing efforts of everyone else.