Just a Marketing Gimmick?

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“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

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“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…

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Injury

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“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

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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.

Running

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““Cowardice was undoubtedly one of the most terrible vices” – thus spoke Yeshua Ha-Nozri. “No philosopher, I disagree with you: it is the most terrible vice””

Conversation between Yeshua and Pontius Pilot. Master & the Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov

I would love to say that running has always been part of my life, that I was a junior cross-country champion, or did my first marathon at 16, but actually that could not be further from the truth. I really only discovered running as a sporting activity in my 20th year, because, to be honest, it was the only sport that my supreme lack of co-ordination was not too much of an impediment to, although my action has been described as “chicken-like”.  Even then, the first time I could honestly call myself “a runner” was when I was 29, after completing my second ever race, the 2009 Great North Run. In fact, I can even pinpoint the exact moment I became a runner. It was just under a mile from the gloriously sunny finish, after a laboured couple of miles, that I spotted him – a guy, no older than myself, watching the race with his little boy. I probably should have said earlier, but four weeks before race day I found out that I was going to be a father.  It’s fair to say that to that point I had not handled the news very well, in that I did not speak at all for four days after I found out.  It was not that I was disappointed or upset by the news, just that I could not see how I could ever look after another person. I would love to say that it was at this point that I realised that it was the best thing that could have happened to me, and that I sprinted to the finish as if on air, sure in the knowledge that I would make a great father.  However, this could not be further from the truth. What actually happened was that I stopped, and did everything I could not to throw up on the course, and/or curl up in a ball and cry. When the worst of the nausea passed I started running again, and the further I went, the better I felt, so much so that when I got to the finish line, I felt the way I should have done when I first got the news. Except of course for the sweating. From that point I was hooked, and since then I have completed 8 half, 3 full and 1 ultra marathon, as well as a 20 mile race and numerous 5 and 10kms.  This may not sound like a lot, but with a wedding, two children, two house moves, a breakdown and countless injuries (more on which later), it has certainly felt like a lot. When someone asks me why I run, I generally have a list of things that I love about the sport: the simplicity (although to be honest this isn’t that much of a driver for me as I have pretty much every running gadget there is); the way it lets me explore new places and improve my terrible sense of direction; the fact that if you stick at it you continue to make progress; being able to eat extra guilt-free calories; because it is the only time that I am left alone; to acquire Marukami’s runner’s void; the stats; the competition and the  fact that I do not have to rely on Southern Rail to get into the office.  But really, the main reason for me is that it allows me to run away from the person that I am, and towards the person I would rather be. As I mentioned above, and no doubt will do again, I have always been a cowardly person, shying away from confrontation and being paralysed by the fear of failure, and to an extent that is still the case.  What running has taught me is that it is possible to fight my natural urges, ignore the dominant negative side of my personality, and that I am capable of doing things that I feel I am not built for. The quote at the start of this post is from one of my favourite books, but this exchange only properly clicked with me after I had read Murakami on running mantras (What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, one of the best books about the love of running).  I tried out a few phrases, but the one that stuck, and the one that I now try to use every time I face something difficult, is “cowardice is the most terrible vice”.  It has become so much of a part of my life, that I have had it tattooed on my arm, in Russian for extra pretentiousness.  Mine is the slightly less puny of the arms pictured above, the other arm is my eldest son’s, who made mummy write a less poncy version on his arm (in felt tip, we have not given our four year old a tattoo), to be like daddy. Running CV:

  • First Race – Silverstone Half Marathon 2004 – not the most picturesque introduction to distance running, although I was able to amuse myself by making racing car noises when going round corners
  • Best Race Royal Parks Ultra 2013 – my (gentle) introduction to the world of ultra running: beautiful course, my only perfectly paced race, coming face-to-face with a stag in Bushy Park and a surprisingly decent finish Runner-up – Shakespeare Marathon 2013 – well organised, well supported, pretty, flat 2 lap course and comfortably my marathon PB
  • Worst Race – Marathon du Paris 2012 – nothing to do with the race itself (although I could have done without the bananas in skins at the aid stations), but running my first marathon five days after having food poisoning, with a fractured ankle, was never going to be a good idea Runner-up – Great City Race 2012 – torrential rain and a partially caved-in road surface on the first corner made for a very slow 5km
  • Greatest Achievement – Great City Race 2013 – beating Paula Radcliffe by 15 minutes.  She was leading a blind person around, but I am claiming it as a win. Runner-up – Marathon du Paris 2012 – getting to the finish (see above)

Like many addicts, I am now itching to try the hard stuff – mountain and ultra running, starting with the Mont Blanc Marathon at the end of June, and then to the Cappadocia Ultra Trail 60k in October.