High 5,000

IMG_1623
“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through
experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened,
ambition inspired and success achieved.” – Helen Keller

As you will know if you follow me on Facebook or Twitter (@updownrunner), on Monday I reached two milestones, both of which I am still struggling to get my head around.

Firstly, and most importantly, I hit and then quickly exceeded my £5,000 fundraising target.  To have raised this much for two incredible charities, CALM and Mind, which have been and continue to be instrumental in coping with my mental illness, makes me even more certain that the training has been all worthwhile.  To meet my target just two days before World Suicide Prevention Day made it all the more special.

Coincidently, on the very same day, updownrunner.com reached 5,000 hits. I didn’t expect to have 500 hits in 4 months, or even a year, when I first confessed to Camilla that I was thinking of starting a blog.  Honestly, I am about as shocked as I would be if my Dad told me he was pregnant (although to be fair he is a large man, sorry Dad).  This has come from 2,600 odd visitors, so nearly half of you have come back more than once, which is a relief.

So, if you’re reading this (you obviously are reading this), and/or have donated, you can be safe in the knowledge that you’ve helped my recovery more than I can express in words.

On the training front, I’ve managed to get some decent miles in, and also did a very enjoyable 13 miler on the trails up, down and around the Malvern Hills with James. The Malverns are ridiculously near to where I spent the first 18 years of my life, and are about as close to picture-perfect England as you can get, but shamefully it was only the second time that I had been to the tops.

Finally, without wishing to sound greedy, I’m now looking to hit £6,000, so if you’d like to help me get there, you can donate quickly and easily by following this link.

IMG_1481

Inside Out

inside-out

“Life isn’t just addition and subtraction. There’s also accumulation,
the multiplication, of loss, of failure.”

– Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending

It’s been another uneventful running week, which is mainly because I’ve been on a crash diet to shift a few pounds before the serious training starts. I’ve been doing the Clean 9 which, if you haven’t heard of it, is like a hardcore Slim-Fast, where you also drink shower gel (alright, aloe vera gel). You also have to cut out all caffeine, alcohol and refined sugar, the former being particularly difficult for a coffee-addict like me.

I don’t really need to lose that much weight but, as you may have noticed, I am very much an all-or-nothing person, so decided that a short-sharp shock would be the way to go.  Apart being extremely hangry for the first three days, it’s made me feel pretty good, and has definitely worked.

As it’s been quiet, I’ve decided to do my first and last movie review. We took the kids to see the new Disney/Pixar film Inside Out this weekend, which is set in the mind of Riley, an 11 year-old girl, the main characters being her five emotions – Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust and Fear.   The plot revolves around her family’s move to San Francisco, and how her emotions react to the upheaval.

I’m a massive Toy Story fan (genuinely and unashamedly think it is one of the best films ever made), but I think Inside Out may be as funny, exciting and moving, if not more.  It has a brilliant cast (including Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling and Bill Hader), is meticulously researched, gorgeously animated, intelligently written and, like Toy Story, has some great set-pieces and one-liners for adults as well as children.

Most impressively though, it expresses some of the most complex abstract concepts, such as the birth and development of human consciousness, personality and the self, explains how important emotions like sadness and fear are and why a person can’t be happy all of the time in an ingenious, simple and truly beautiful way.  If nothing else, it is hands-down the most thought provoking kids’ movie I have ever seen.

Although it seems like all of the reviewers agree that it is a fantastic film, it obviously struck a chord with me, and got me imagining what the inside of my mind would look like, compared to Riley and her parents’.  Each of the three had one controlling emotion, Joy for Riley, Anger for her dad, and Sadness for her mum, although in the adults’ brains all of the emotions had a lot more control over the body’s reactions. For me, I’m pretty sure that in my mind there is a constant power-struggle among Joy, Sadness and Fear, which regularly turns into a punch-up (sometimes allowing Anger to sneak in and take over).

Actually, not long after we first met, Camilla had an iPod case that had cartoon monkeys banging cymbals, dancing and playing drums and other instruments.  I used to tell Camilla that it was a depiction of the inside of her brain (jokingly, of course), so I am going to take some, if not all of the credit for the concept of the film.

One of the most interesting questions that I’ve been mulling over is whether everyone would start out with Joy as the dominant emotion, particularly as the things that make my two year-old Caspar happy include looking at dogs, smelling beer (don’t ask), anything to do with poo and Peppa Pig (don’t get me started on that knobhead Daddy Pig).  From speaking to my parents, however a mix of Fear and Sadness may have been in control of my young mind, and that is certainly true of the teenage me. Mind you, this is probably also the case for most 15 year olds.

As you only see Riley’s development, the film does not express whether sadness or anger had always been in charge of mum or dad’s mind, or whether it changed over time.  What is definitely clear from the film though, illustrated by the increased size of mum and dad’s “control consoles” as opposed to Riley’s rudimentary operating system, is that with maturity comes greater control and balance of all of the emotions.  Unfortunately, some of us just need a little bit of help to keep the status quo…

Gallery

Liguria

Ligurian Apennines

“Correr es la mejor medicina que existe”*
– Haile Gebrselassie

I’ve been on holiday with the family for the last couple of weeks in Italy, staying in a tiny village called Velva in the Ligurian Apennines. Unbeknownst to me (honest), the villa we were in was on the Giro d’Italia route, and had well signposted trails, perfect for a trail runner with no sense of direction. What’s more, the trails were as beautiful and challenging as Mont Blanc, particularly as they were overgrown with brambles and full of loose rocks.  In the six mile route I followed, I dropped down into the valley below Velva and back up to Missano, then back to Velva on the road. Velva itself doesn’t appear to have changed since it was built into the hillside in the 13th century, and until I got to Missano, the only semblance of human life I saw were a couple of long-abandoned buildings.  I also ran into a stag again, much more timid this time (still not a sign, you’re not getting me that easily). The photos really don’t do it justice.

Not sure whether it was the new medication working, the trails or being on holiday (probably a mix of the three), I’m feeling much better than when I last posted.  Far be it from me to question Haile, but although I’m not sure that running is the best medicine, it is definitely a very effective one.

Velva SunsetVelva, Liguria Velva, Liguria IMG_8872 Velva, Liguria Velva, Liguria Velva, Liguria Blackberries Velva, Liguria Grapes IMG_9015 Velva, Liguria IMG_9006 IMG_9010 IMG_9042IMG_9035 Ligurian Apennines Velva war heroes Ligurian Apennines Velva, Liguria Moon

* Running is the best medicine

Just a Marketing Gimmick?

616554_10151949388880635_1394301921_o

“Trails are like that: you’re floating along in a Shakespearean
Arden paradise and expect  to see nymphs and fluteboys, then
suddenly you’re struggling in a hot broiling sun of
hell and dust and nettles and poison oak…just like life”
– Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums

As you will have noticed, I’ve not posted for a while.  Alright, you probably haven’t, I’m not getting delusions of grandeur, at least not regularly.

After the race I took a training break, so apart from a run in Seattle (I only managed the one – the beer is too good there), and blacking-out in Sydenham while trying to run off a virus, not much has happened in the last few weeks.

I did do a sub-19 minute 5km race at the start of July (The Great City Race, again), which I should’ve been happy with, but as I missed out on a PB by 8 seconds, despite starting near the front, I’m still a bit annoyed about it.

I also won an entry into the Snowdonia Trail Marathon, and race gear from Scott (massive thanks to Scott and Climbers Shop in Cumbria), but annoyingly I forgot that I’d entered and couldn’t make the race, so gave the place to James and shared the kit with him.  I did keep the free shoes though, mainly because they were called “Trail Rocket”, and from what I’ve seen so far this is a fair description.  I wasn’t that sorry to miss the race, particularly because of the torrential rain (see picture of James below) and because James, as a former local, got a far better time than I ever could, which I’m claiming as a result for team Up & Down Runner, and therefore me.

To be honest though, the main reason for not writing is that I’ve not been feeling great recently; a combination of inevitable post-race comedown, not looking after myself properly and, well…if I knew exactly why then I wouldn’t need the drugs.

Talking of drugs, I was corralled by Camilla into seeing the psychiatrist again, because of my volatile moods, extreme forgetfulness (see above) and because I’ve developed a side-effect (whether of the meds or old age) of falling asleep at the slightest provocation.  Great on long haul flights, not so good in meetings, or while driving…

The outcome of my session was more medication on top of the two that I’m already taking, which I think now means I’m officially on a “cocktail” of drugs.  On the other hand, maybe I already was, as, after all, a martini, screwdriver and snakebite only have two ingredients. Perhaps the latter is stretching the definition of “cocktail” too far – can’t see Bond ordering it shaken or stirred, unless he was in a student bar Bristol in 2000, and it was my round (unless he fancied a Southern Comfort and Lemonade instead).

Sorry, got side-tracked.  Actually, the most important thing that came from my session with the doctor was that he has, CONFESSION ALERT, never definitely diagnosed me with bipolar disorder.

Although many of my symptoms support the diagnosis, and I am on medication used to treat bipolar, which seem to be working on the whole, I am not quite bipolar enough for a certain decision.

This is the story of my life – got the basics right, work hard and show a lot of promise, but don’t quite have the flair to get to the top.  As I said in my first post, if I do indeed have bipolar disorder, I am the most boring sufferer in history, unless my “Maserati moment”, as Dr. Craig calls it, is still to come.

The other issue, which is more general, and far more interesting, is that in many cases a definitive identification of a mental illness is very difficult, or even impossible.  There’s no test or scan that you can do for depression, so doctors may only have the testimony of others, or evidence of the most unreliable witness possible, the sufferer, on which to base the diagnosis. It also seems, at least to a psych-idiot like me, that very little is known about the workings of the brain compared to every other part of the body. A good example of this is that two out of the three drugs that I’ve been prescribed are predominantly used to treat other ailments (epilepsy and psychosis, respectively), and although there is apparently lots of evidence to prove that they ease bipolar symptoms, it’s not yet been fully established why this is so.

Maybe this is also why it can make mental illness difficult to understand; at times there can be no sign that anything’s wrong, and even when there is it can just seem like an over-the-top, but not completely unwarranted, reaction to an everyday situation.

Do I need a label?  It would certainly makes things easier, and I could pretend that I was a misunderstood creative genius, but it seems, at least medically, that it really only makes a difference in the drugs prescribed, and I’m fine with trying anything that works.

So, there you go, “Up & Down Runner” may be a complete fraud; a cheap marketing gimmick. Please forgive me, but “Up & Down, But Not Consistent with a Diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder, But Then Again Maybe It Is, Runner”, would not be quite as catchy, or fit on a t-shirt.

Right, I’m off to buy a Maserati.

NB: I know that the photo at the top does not really relate to the post, it’s just the best photo of me that I have…

James Hampton - Snowdonia Marathon finish

Falling Feels Like Flying

IMG_9163

“Falling feels like flying, until you hit the ground.
And everything is beautiful, until you take a look around.”
– Walking to Hawaii, Tom McRae

With only one week to go until Marathon Mont-Blanc, I’m in a reflective mood, so thought it was worth reminding myself, and everyone else, why I’m doing it in the first place.

On paper, 2013 was a pretty good year for me. My family was completed in November 2012 with the arrival of Caspar, who was thriving.  He’d arrived at the perfect time, as I was able to extend my paternity leave across Christmas and New Year, so for the first time in 7 years I’d had 5 weeks off work in a row. We were settled in our first proper house, and after falling out of love with it for a while, we had made the firm decision that London was the best place in the world for us to be.

In 2013 I also managed, after 7 months of interviews, tests and other complications, to get a new and very sought after job.  Because of the change in employment, I wangled an even longer 6 week break, and was Blackberry free for the first time since 2006 (it felt like I had lost a limb, but in a good way).

As far as running was concerned, I was in the form of my life.  I trounced the 2012 me by improving my marathon personal best by over 20 minutes, and scored half marathon, 10km and 5km PBs. In October I completed my first ever ultra marathon, on a beautiful day, in the greatest city in the world.

As I’ve said before, the Royal Parks Ultra is the best race I’ve taken part in.  Faultlessly organised, brilliantly supported and a gorgeous route through or alongside some of London’s best assets, the Royal Parks and the Thames Towpath.

My personal race also could not have been better; my only sensibly paced start, hydration and food just right, and an endorphin kick just when I needed it at 30 miles.  The only slowdown was the most, if not only, spiritual moment in my life.  Just after entering Bushy Park, I turned a corner and saw something blocking my path – a huge, magnificent stag.  I stopped dead.  Runner’s World has not yet covered what the hell to do in this situation, so I was a bit lost for ideas. He looked me straight in the eye, shook his head, and to my relief disappeared into the trees.

A sign? An omen? Did he know where my life was headed?  Of course not, this isn’t a bloody novel. But a powerful experience nonetheless.

After all of this, a free massage and getting to cross the finish line again, this time with Freddie (we finished last in the kids race, but they gave him a medal so he still insists that he won), it turned out that I finished 36th, which I am still very proud of.

So why wasn’t I happy?

Starting a new job the next day was definitely not the best idea, but it wasn’t nerves I was feeling, it was dread. Not about work, not because my legs were hurting, just a general feeling that something wasn’t right. Did I sense what was coming, at least subconsciously? Definitely not, but I should have.

At the time, I thought that I was in great shape, but looking back I was a stone underweight, and my eyes were blank. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but the weekend after the Ultra is when I should have admitted to myself that I was ill.

I’ve talked before about depression not being the presence of sadness but the absence of hope, and this is exactly how I felt. For the first time in my adult life, I had nothing to blame for being down. For as long as I can remember, I had a focal point for anxiety, bleakness, and intermittent lethargy and extreme energy: school, being a teenager, girls, moving away from home, girls, university, girls, getting a job, moving to London, girls, buying a house, proposing to and marrying girl, working abroad, marathons, being a parent, lack of sleep, moving job, moving house, being a parent again and family illness and death.

With nothing in particular to focus on or worry about, with the rest of my life in front of me, I felt nothing.

I had also become very intolerant and short-tempered, but denied it every time someone (usually Camilla) brought it up, making me even more intolerant and short-tempered. More worryingly, I had also been forgetting whole conversations, which led to more anger when the person I was speaking to (usually Camilla) insisted that I had already told her or she had already told me about whatever it was we had or hadn’t discussed.

Frankly, I can’t imagine why Camilla stayed.  Although at the time she was convinced that I had depression, I was still denying there was anything wrong, so refused to get help.  More than that, even if I was suffering from depression, I was, and still am at times, impossible to talk to calmly and rationally about myself.

Also, I guess it would have been difficult for her to recognise whether it was Alan talking, or me just being a dick.  Although I would hope that it was 80/20, it was probably more 50/50, and now 40/60 in favour of me being a dick…

As this is my last post before the race, I would like to ask you one last time to please donate to my fundraising efforts, in aid of CALM and Mind, by going to my fundraising page here. If you don’t know them already, you can read all about the fantastic work they do on their respective websites (hyperlinked above), or on my first post (Running, Hills and Bipolar).

 Wish me luck, I’m going to need it…

1377414_10153282888875234_1728677323_nIMG_8370

Injury

10714457_10155174938220635_1052429405880051043_o

“Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional”
Unknown (but definitely not Buddha)

Particularly if you are me (at least the first part)…

In addition to the idealistic reasons for writing this blog, one of the main drivers has been to stop me climbing the walls while recovering from the latest in a long line of injuries. Despite Mont Blanc Marathon only being 10 weeks away, I have managed no more than a dozen runs since October 2014, after giving myself capsulitis (basically a frozen hip), in a vain attempt to build a rudimentary level of upper body strength after slipping mid-way through a single-leg press up. The picture above is an x-ray of the cortisone injection that I had in my hip joint, on my birthday, earlier this year. It was by far the most pain I’ve ever experienced, at least physically. Hardened athlete that I am, I cried a little, almost passed out twice, and had to hold the nurse’s hand for most of the procedure.

In fact, this picture, or at least my attitude to it, was what finally made me start the blog. I happily posted the x-ray, of an intimate part of my body, during an incredibly painful procedure, on social media without a second thought.  However, at that stage I had not mentioned anything about my breakdown or struggles with depression. I felt compelled to share a great article by Yvonne Roberts about male suicide (http://gu.com/p/45t9n/sbl), particularly as it was written almost exactly a year after my breakdown, but it took me three hours to pluck up the courage to post it. As a strong believer that mental illness shouldn’t be talked about any differently to physical illness, I realised that not re-posting or telling people about my experiences would be hypocritical in the extreme.

Unfortunately, capsulitis was not my first injury, and definitely will not be my last. Except for an unavoidable IT band inflammation, and plantar fascitis, most of my injuries have been self-inflicted.  I have managed to do the following while exercising:

  • fracture my ankle and go face-first into a pavement while working out how to get past a slow moving bus (the bus was full so the embarrassment was as painful as the fall)
  • sprain my other ankle in confusion at seeing a parakeet on Peckham Rye Common
  • bruise my foot by kicking an umbrella on the sidelines after missing an open goal
  • hit myself in the face with a kettlebell
  • cut the bottom of both of my feet in an attempt to avoid a dropped milk bottle
  • trip over after being surprised by a family of racoons in Central Park
  • run crotch-first into a bollard after shouting at some teenagers for purposefully getting in my way

Like many amateur running obsessives, I am a terrible patient. I am grumpy, irritable and as soon as I am able to get back to it, I ignore doctor’s/physio’s/partner’s advice and try to pick up where I left off with my training.  One of the few advantages having an illness like bipolar disorder is that I can blame faults like this on the illness, rather than my own natural impatience and lack of discipline.

PS – I was tempted to write this week about a certain former Apprentice contestant and Hitler impersonator’s tweets about depression but: (1) I didn’t want to give her the satisfaction of mentioning her name, or by repeating her abhorrent and potentially dangerous opinions; and (2) Jenny Bede has already published a much better response than I ever could in her brilliant Marathon Woman blog in the equally brilliant Standard Issue magazine: http://standardissuemagazine.com/health/marathon-woman-weeks-11-12/.

This post is brought to you with massive thanks to Mike Davis and the rest of the team at HFS Clinics (http://www.hfs-clinics.co.uk/), for getting me back to running as quickly as possible on a regular basis.

Running, Hills and Bipolar

shutterstock_66661186

Welcome to Up & Down Runner, a blog about two of the three aspects of my life that have come to dominate all others, running and mental illness, and how I am learning to use the first to get control of the second, and indeed help me be better at the third, fatherhood.

After a disastrous 2014, I am determined to make the following years better, which for me means pushing myself to do things that I never believed myself to be capable of – running up mountains and writing honestly about my life.

The blog is part diary, part training log for my various running challenges, with the odd list, gear review, race report and rambling opinion piece.

NOTE: I do not profess to have any expertise in any of these two subjects, I am very much a middle of the road runner and bi-polar sufferer.  Indeed, the only prize I am likely to win is an award for most boring person with bipolar – the sensible and constantly petrified side of my nature has so far kept me away from spectacularly public displays of mania, or any sparks of creative brilliance (I’m no Byron, Fry, Cobain or even Kerry Katona), but perhaps this blog is my way of addressing the latter.