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.

07/02

“a man devoid of hope and conscious of being so has
ceased to belong to the future”
– Albert Camus, the Myth of Sisyphus and other Essays

Friday 7 February 2014, around 18:00.
Sitting at my desk (not unusual), staring at my screen.
Looked around, surrounded by piles of paper and coffee cups (also not unusual).
Photos of my wife and two boys looking back at me.
Got to focus. But on what?
Why are my hands so cold?
Right, no more messing around, just get this done and then go home.
Why is my hair wet, and what the hell is wrong with my hands?

Trying to get myself to concentrate, or think about anything at all, was like trying to start my first car (an H-reg Vauxhall Nova Flair). Turning the key pumping the accelerator, adjusting the choke, a splutter, then silence.  Try again, still no luck. Panic setting in, what if it never starts?

Like my beloved Nova, all of a sudden my brain kicked into life with a roar.  As soon as the noise died down it hit me, I had just come back to the office, but had no idea where I had been, or for how long.

It was at that point that I was forced to admit, for the first time, that something was very wrong, although I would only fully understand how wrong when I eventually worked out where I had been, and what I nearly did.

Up until 18:00, 7 February 2014, I had been convinced that I was a perfectly healthy, and very lucky person, the only problem being that I was too weak, too stupid and too selfish to function as a normal human.

And so it was, after 36 hours of blind panic, I found myself in bed, violently shaking but otherwise convinced that I could not move, even if the bed spontaneously combusted.

One of the best descriptions I have read of depression is that it is not the presence of sadness, but the absence of hope. For me though, at this point, it was the absence of anything at all, except for alternating feelings of panic and exhilaration that I had completely lost control of my own mind.

There has been a lot written about the state of mental health care on the NHS, but for me there is no better illustration than the conversation I had with NHS Direct, while I was lying in bed, shaking and terrified.  I was really only asked one question by the nurse and the doctor, and that was whether I was imminently going to harm myself or my family.  My honest answer to this was no, but this was not because I did not want to, in fact hurting myself was all I could think about, but because I felt incapable of getting out of bed.

I was thus informed by the doctor, and these words will stay with me forever, that NHS Direct “can only deal with urgent cases, and yours is not a priority…”. I was told to that I would have to wait to see my GP, despite the fact that my appointment was nearly two weeks away, and my wife had already asked for urgent help due to her concerns about my mental state and my denial of the situation.

From that point on, thanks to a swift intervention from my incredibly compassionate employer, and Bupa’s fantastic mental health team, my “non-urgent” case was taken out of the NHS system altogether.

I am painfully aware how lucky I am for this, and for the unerring support of everyone around me, particularly as many who suffer from mental health issues, particularly men of my generation, are not so lucky.  I am prone to melodrama, but in this case I do not think that it is in any way an exaggeration to say that it saved my life.

In addition to lots of running geekery, I am going to write a bit more about how I got to this point, and what I am doing now to stop myself from getting there again, which is really unavoidable, as running and my mental state are now fully intertwined.