Pewsey Terminator

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55 days to go…

After a couple of decent but uneventful weeks of marathon training I thought I’d mix it up this weekend with a race.  Many of the training plans advise you to do a half marathon at around this time, but I thought I’d do something a bit different, so entered the Pewsey Terminator.

Although less than 12 miles, it’s definitely a much more challenging prospect than your average half marathon.  Two water crossings, four fairly brutal climbs and lots and lots of mud meant that it more than lived up to its name.

The race starts in the beautiful Wiltshire village of Pewsey, just south of Marlborough, known mainly for the White Horse cut out of chalk on a hill about a mile south of the village.

The first four miles were relatively flat and fast, starting on the roads then running alongside the Kennet and Avon Canal. Except, that is, for the bit where you crossed a stream and quagmire which had one unfortunate runner up to his waist in mud. I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or wade in and help him, but ever the team player I chose the former and forged on ahead (although annoyingly he did catch me up after a mile or so).

At almost exactly five miles in the first climb started, which because of the soft ground felt much more than the 77m elevation gain my Garmin says it was.  Just as it seemed to be levelling out, you were then made to go up a grass bank that was at least a one minute crawl to the top.

A very fast, and very slippy, downhill followed, and then another steep ascent and descent, shorter but also sharper than the last. After an undulating mile, the third climb came, which felt even steeper than the last two.  There was then a nice flattish section, before the aptly named “sting in the tail”.  Rather than head down and back towards Pewsey, the course went up another unfeasibly steep hill, around the White Horse (apparently, I was blowing too much to notice), then back down again at break-neck speed.

After the sting, the route home was fairly sedentary, except for one final bit of sadism.  Rather than let the runners cross the little bridge coming into the town, the route instead goes through the river below it, which was at about knee height.  Although tough on the legs, I actually found it quite refreshing, and saved me cleaning my shoes (Salomon Speedcross, in the unlikely event that you are interested).

It was a short squelch home after the river crossing, back to the village school which also hosted the start line and race HQ.

The race well supported given the grey, windy day, and the course was perfectly signposted and marshalled.    In fact, everything about the race organisation was impeccable, from registration, to bag drop, to start and finish.  In many ways it was far slicker than most of the big races I have done, but retained a friendly, homemade feel, which is some achievement given that there were over 400 runners on the course.

Adding to the homely atmosphere were the army of old ladies serving cakes and tea at the end.  Most things taste good after 12 miles, but I’m sure that the cakes were the best I have had for a while (I had three, just to be certain).

If you want to know more about the race, you can see the route map, elevation profile and my timings on my Garmin Connect page, or go to the Pewsey Vale Running Club website for pictures and the all-important results.

As you will be able to tell from the above, I would strongly recommend the race. I’ll be back*, that’s for sure.

*Sorry, couldn’t resist.

Up & Down (again)

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76 days to go…

As is befitting for someone with my condition, the last couple of weeks of training have been up and down. A 34 mile week, then 6 days off with a strained quad, then 30+ miles again, topped off by a fairly quick 15 miler yesterday.

The 34 mile week was a particularly good one, with a strong hill sprint session on Tuesday, and a beautiful, life-affirming Sunday morning run up into the Cotswolds.  Icy and clear, through a nature reserve, across fields and  on quiet country roads.  Along the way I spotted a muntjac (not my first running experience with a deer), and was worryingly followed overhead for a little while by a buzzard.

I also did part of the route with another runner, which never would have happened in London.  Like on the Tube, you don’t talk to strangers in the city while out running, whereas here it seems to be mandatory to talk, or at least say hello to others out on the road or trails.

Although that other runner was the cause of my six-day injury layoff.  We met near the bottom of a steep hill, and we were so busy chatting that I didn’t notice how fast we were going.  It was only after she revealed at the top of the hill that her next race was the National Cross Country Championships that I realised that I’d pushed it far to hard.  We went our separate ways not long after, but by then the damage had been done.

Still, the one benefit of the injury was that it allowed me to try out my new training strategy.  Unlike in previous years, where I had a meticulously structured training plan and obsessed over keeping to it, this time I’m just going to listen to my body, push it harder when I feel up to it, but also give myself time to rest if it’s not feeling right.  So far it’s working.

My fundraising has also started to gather pace. I’m now just under £900, with plenty of time left until race day.  If you would like to donate, please follow the link https://team-mq-london-marathon-2017.everydayhero.com/uk/updownrunner.

New Beginnings

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The splendid thing about falling apart silently…
is that you can start over as many times as you like

– A Thousand Flamingos, Sanober Khan

Despite promising (threatening?) to write more often in my previous post, it’s been six months since I even checked my blog.  Why? The short answer is that I’ve had a lot on, but never one to give a short answer, here goes.

Although I’m currently laid up with an injury after another epic stunt of mal-coordination (more on which later) I’ve just started an exciting new chapter in my life, which also marks a new era for my favourite hobby/obsession.

As a result of a change of job and a move to the Cotswolds, for the first time since I started running I have access to a wide variety of routes and terrains, and have the stability and time to commit to a running club.

Rather than the mean streets of Peckham, my closest route is along the unspeakably beautiful Thames Path, not far from the source.  I’m now dealing with stinging nettles and cows, rather than traffic and scallies with fighting dogs. My new employer also has a very active running club, including free fitness classes tailored for runners.

The change of lifestyle (including more sleep and regular routine), and finally getting my medication right, has made me feel better than I have in as long as I can remember.  Although it’s early days, and being all too aware that my condition means that I am always one very small step away from things seeming too great, or very very bad, life is good.

So far, so positive. However, the reason for the gap in writing is that things have been pretty bad, both in life and in terms of running, for the majority of the intervening period between posts.

In fact, as far as running is concerned, only a couple of months ago I was not sure that I wanted to run again.  I had completely lost the love, only putting my trainers on when I had no choice, mainly due to Southern Rail’s complete ineptitude.

As a result, I pulled out of the Pembrokeshire Coastal Trail and the Marato Dels Cims, despite being in the best physical shape than I had ever been, and just stopped running.

It all started so well.  The training plan from my coach, Robbie, was brilliant; I saw an improvement in my fitness and performance after pretty much every run.  I found the structure and flexibility of the personalised plan more beneficial than I thought I would, particularly the tempo sessions.  Doing sprint work was, for me, like a trip to the dentist – unpleasant, very likely painful but ultimately very good.

As the race got closer, however, I started to use training as a stick with which to beat myself. I became obsessed with running further and faster, so much so that even Robbie told me that I was doing most of my sessions too quickly.  And although he was on hand to adapt my training plan on a daily basis I convinced myself that I could not afford to miss a session.

As my mental health is so intertwined with running, it’s difficult to tell whether this was a cause or just a symptom of a wider problem.  It was certainly adding to the anxiety caused by a possible job and house move, and to the normal stresses of modern life, all of which I was not coping with very well.  I was becoming increasingly withdrawn, my moods erratic, and to be honest it almost proved too much for my incredibly understanding and supportive wife.

Thankfully, we did not let history repeat itself. Rather than let the problems spiral out of control we hit them head on, admitting that something drastic needed to be done. So we spent a lot of time overhauling the way that we worked together as a family, I left the only career that I have ever known, and we moved out of London for an altogether different life.  No less radically for me, I also took a break from running.

As will be evident from the above, it seems to have worked.  As with the rest of my life, I’m now enjoying every run. Well, almost.

On only my third run in the country, I was coming up to the final gate before heading back onto the short stretch of road to home.  Distracted by a large black and white animal that I think country folk call a “cow”, I put my foot on a loose rock, sprained my ankle and went head first into the metal gate.  I limped home, blood pouring from my head and knees, and my ankle swollen to about three times the size. A week later I’m still limping, and sporting a particularly fetching black eye, which would be embarrassing at the best of times, but being only two weeks into a new job I look particularly ridiculous.

But, despite the mishap, I’m now feeling super-motivated, and ready for the next challenge. Once I can walk again, of course.

Out of the Darkness

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So, that’s it.  I’ve just completed my last long run before Cappadocia – now it’s all about tapering and rest.  If I’m not ready now, I never will be.

As this week marked Bipolar Awareness Day, World Mental Health Day and National Poetry Week, I really wanted to write a post about all three, but have struggled.  Not that I didn’t have any ideas, I’ve just been wrestling over whether to share something very personal, and very difficult for me to write, but I’m going to as I think it illustrates how difficult living with mental illness can be, and why many people never get the help that they need. Particularly, the brutal wake-up call that I had at my last appointment with my psychiatrist shows that I, like most depression sufferers, am a terrible judge of my own mental state.

I mentioned a few weeks ago that things weren’t great for me for at least a couple of months after the race, but I had no idea how bad things were until just a few weeks ago when Dr. Craig read out an email that he received from my wife, in which she expressed her concerns about my behaviour. It turns out that this summer I probably experienced a hypomanic phase (a less serious form of full-blown mania); something I still don’t have much recollection of, although on the bright-side it supports my bipolar diagnosis. Listening to Camilla’s email was one of the most difficult things that I have ever had to do, mainly because I was so unaware of how bad things had become, and its taken a lot for both of us to decide to reproduce even a sentence of it on the blog, but here goes:

Over the last, I would say, two months or so, Russ has become increasingly erratic, irritable, aggressive and forgetful. Not in a very extreme way, but enough to worry me, and his temper has been putting a strain on me/our relationship…This really isn’t like Russ – he has a strong temper, but used to be a gentle and patient person….I hope you can see why this is hard to raise with him, because trying to discuss it usually leads to him being quite evasive / claiming I’m exaggerating or him simply not being aware of quite how angry he becomes in these situations – it is as if a kind of rage takes over. This makes it hard to reason with him, even though he seems very rational most of the time.
If I live until I’m 100 I don’t think that I will even begin to repay the debt I owe to Camilla for saving my life last year, and always believing that the “real” me was somewhere inside. To anyone reading this who may have been told, by people they trust, that their behaviour has been giving cause for concern, please do listen. It’s been hard for me to do, but I’m slowly learning that when dealing with mental illness, you really have to trust the instincts of those close to you.
I am determined to try and show Camilla that I will keep fighting this, starting by dedicating the below extract from a beautiful poem that appeared in this quarter’s Like the Wind Magazine, written by Alex Van Oostrum:
I run…
but never away from you
away from dark places
when life has me in a corner
with its hands around my neck
when thoughts start to choke me
and I need to breathe
so my mind isn’t a jigsaw of voices
that don’t fit together any more
to find a flame
when the candle is burnt out
away from fear
towards the light at the end of the tunnel
but never away from you…

P.S. if you would like to read more about Camilla’s experiences, you can read her article in the wonderful Standard Issue Magazine:

http://standardissuemagazine.com/voices/living-with-bipolar/.

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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

MdMB Part III: The Race of My Life

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“If you’re not pushing yourself beyond the comfort zone,
if you’re not demanding more from yourself – expanding
and learning as you go – you’re choosing a numb existence.
You’re denying yourself an extraordinary trip.”
– Dean Karnazes, Ultra-Marathon Man:
Confessions of an All Night Runner

Three weeks after completing Marathon du Mont Blanc, I’m still struggling to put the experience into words, but it’s about time that I gave it a go. To be honest, I’ve been struggling with a post-race downer, and I need to re-focus with Cappadocia only 12 weeks away. In fact, Alan has well and truly re-surfaced, although as I’m in Norwich this weekend (complete with incorrectly pedestrianised city centre, and giant Nazi-saluting copper “dogs”) that was inevitable.

In my last post (MdMB Part I) I described the festival atmosphere of the weekend, and some of the many reasons why I fell in love with Chamonix.  What was surprising though was that my favourite part of the weekend wasn’t the build-up, watching the other races, or the post-race celebrations, but the race itself.

Just in case it isn’t already clear, I love running, and spend most of my life doing or talking about it.  Mont Blanc is however the first race that I have enjoyed the whole way through. In every race before MdMB the negative side of my brain had at some point, no doubt egged on by my feet, legs, back and chest, ruined the fun for the rest of me.  It always started with polite questioning – “Are you sure you’re ok?” “Aren’t your legs starting to hurt? Haven’t those gels made you feel a bit sick?”, but then developed into recriminations, histrionics and threats of strike or reprisals. These questions were never even asked during MdMB.  In fact, when I finished I had exactly the same feeling as I did at the end of our wedding, that it ended too quickly and that I wanted to go back and do it all again.

The race started in the centre of Chamonix at 7am, just as the sun was rising above the mountains. The start area was packed with the 2000+ runners and their supporters, together with a surprising number of committed locals waking early on a Sunday to cheer on the runners.  With only a limited amount of faffing, we were off heading through the narrow streets of the town. It felt great to start, after three days of watching other people run and 8 months of build-up.

I tried to make the most of the flat pavements, but we were soon onto the gently undulating fire tracks and out towards Argentiere. Although uphill, the first few miles were fairly gentle.  Rather than stick to my original plan of taking it very easy, I took the advice of a MdMB veteran (more on which shortly) and tried to get as far forward as I could, to avoid the worst of the traffic when the course got narrower.

Actually, this was my only gripe of the weekend; there were just too many people on the course.  It was very difficult to keep to your own pace, as you were either stuck in a bottleneck or getting jostled from behind. It actually became dangerous at a couple of points where you had people trying to overtake on single-track paths where one wrong step could end your race, or in some places, your life.  Although it was great that there were so many people doing the race, in my humble opinion they have to start in waves next year, just as they did with the Vertical KM.

Apart from twisting my ankle on possibly the flattest section of the course, the first 11 miles flew by, and before I knew it I was at the aid station at the bottom of Aguillette des Posettes, faced with the 1km vertical climb that I had been dreading since I entered the race.

Thankfully, you could only see the start of it from the aid station, and because of the tree cover you did not at any point have to look from bottom to top.  It was undoubtedly the toughest hour or so of my running life, and every time I thought I was at the top there was another slope in front of me.  Bewilderingly though, I really enjoyed it.  There was no question of being able to run up it, so it was simply a matter of putting hands on knees and slowly edging up and diverting my attention from my burning glutes, quads and calves.

As this was the slowest part of the course, I could chat to the other “runners”, which definitely passed the time.  This was particularly the case with Charlotte, who I had met the day before at the Expo.  As well as being a veteran of the race and Chamonix resident, she is also one half of the team behind Sky Lines (http://www.sky-lines.eu), who had the simple but ingenious idea of making temporary tattoos containing all of the details of the race (see above, modelled by my puny forearms), so she quite literally knew the course like the back of her hand.

Indeed, just as I was starting to struggle up the hill Charlotte pointed out to me that once we were at the top, we were on the home stretch.  Seemed an odd thing to say with just under half of the race left, but with the hardest part over, it made sense at the time.  If that wasn’t enough of a kick, the view at the top, massive cliché alert, made all of the effort worthwhile.  The rolling green slopes, uninterrupted view of the Mont Blanc Massif, thin clear air, the snaking line of runners and the old man on top of a trailer playing an electric guitar is now the place I go to in my head when things start to get too much.

We then headed downhill, at the same steepness as we came up. It was absolutely petrifying, but also incredibly fun.  It felt great to be travelling fast, and because I was concentrating on every step, it made the time pass even quicker.

With the most challenging part of the run over with, we headed back to civilisation and through Le Tours. It felt very odd (and not in a good way) to be back on tarmac, but it wasn’t long before we doubled-back on ourselves into the tree line and to the very welcome aid station at Tré Les Champs. The station was buzzing, and I would have quite happily stayed and chatted to the crowds, eaten cheese and saucisson and listened to the band playing Bob Marley.

But I had a race to finish.  Next came a much shorter, but deceptively more technical peak than the first, with unstable rocks, twisted tree roots and other potential race-enders. Apparently, this section was included this year after previous complaints about the race not being technical enough. Thanks for that, last year’s runners.

With the tricky peak at Le Bechoz dispensed with, there was a long, slow climb to the final aid station at Le Flégére. This was the only part of the race that dragged.  There was less to look at, it was baking hot with no shade, and I’d run out of water.  But, near the top of the climb, I caught up with my cousin, mate, and Bear Grylls, James (he of the Rocky training regime), who I’d lost at mile 10.  We made it to the final aid station together, and after a quick coke (cola, to be clear), sit down and jug of water over the head, we went out together for the final 6km to the finish.

In previous races, I have been accused of abandoning previously made plans to finish as a team in search of personal glory.  But this time it really was by accident, honest. As James and I set out from the aid station we agreed that it would be brilliant to cross the line together.  James, for different reasons, also had a horrendous 2014, and it was just as much of an achievement as it was for me to be on the start line.

After a little time to let the coke go down, I gave James an inclined nod to the front of us, being the universal sign for, “let’s push on”.  I am pretty sure that James nodded back, so for the first time I took the lead and overtook a couple of people in front of us.  I’d suddenly got a massive burst of energy, buoyed by the fact that we could now see and hear the finish line in the distance, so kept overtaking at every opportunity.  I was concentrating on this so much, however, that I forgot to check behind me.  By the time that we got to the final switchback up to the line at Planpraz, I realised that I couldn’t see James anywhere.  The path was too narrow to stop, so I could do nothing else but push on.

Before the race, I’d warned Camilla that I’d be a mess, physically and mentally, when I crossed the line, and fully expected the last 18 months of awfulness to come flooding out. As is nearly always the case in life, it did not conform to expectations, and all I felt was elated, the only negative thought being a sense of disappointment that it was all over, 06:54:10 after it started.

Thankfully too, James crossed the line a couple of minutes later, so we were able to head into the recovery tent together, where some genius (in fact the geniuses at Micro Brasserie de Chamonix (http://www.mbchx.com)), put a beer tap at the end of the line of bottles of water and recovery drinks.  It was hands down the best beer I have ever tasted, although disappointingly they refused to fill up James’s 500ml flask, or my hydration pack with the stuff.

Charlotte, my race companion/pacer/coach also came in just after us, so hit her target of sub-7 hours.  Rev, the third member of the UDR trio, also had a great race and came in well below the time he was predicting, and loved the experience almost as much as I did.

I couldn’t find much about the race online, so here are the main questions that I had before the start:

  • Will road shoes do? NO. Even though it was dry this year there is no way that I would have stayed on my feet without my heavy duty Salomon Speedcross 3s.
  • What about poles?  A controversial subject. I have never tried them, and coped absolutely fine without. I was pretty fed up by the end of the race at being jabbed in the leg by them though, or by people turning a dual-track path into a single-track by spreading their arms as much as possible.  So if you get on with them, use them, but be prepared to be hated by the people that don’t (mainly at jealously during the uphills).
  • Should I do much hill training?  As I’ve mentioned before, I only did one real mountain run before the race, so you can cope without, but the more you do, the more confident you will be on both the up and downhills.
  • What about the altitude?  From our collective experience, it’s definitely a good idea to do some altitude training if you can.  James really struggled, and actually had to stop at some point. As I was lucky enough to work next to, and be supported by, The Altitude Centre, it didn’t bother me at all.
  • How hard is it? Very, particularly the first climb, but if you can do a flat marathon, and get some practice on hills, it’s definitely doable.
  • Should I do it?  If the answer is not obvious already, YES YES YES.

I’ll see you next year, although I may well be doing the 80km.

Next up – Cappadocia Trail 60k, T-12 weeks. It’s got a lot to live up to…

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MdMB Part I: Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

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“It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves”
Sir Edmund Hillary

As a kid, I was obsessed with Christmas.  I’d plan it for the family in February, invite Nan and Granddad in March, and then start my letter to FC by June at the latest.  By November it was all I could talk about, but every year, without fail, I would get sick the week before.  I normally spent the 22nd and 23rd in bed or throwing up, and the rest of the family would worry that I’d ruin Christmas.

I always made a miraculous recovery on the 24th, and by Christmas Day it was like I’d never been ill. I’d been so nervous and excited about the big day, that I made myself sick.

After all of that, you would think that 25 December would be the best day of the year for me. After the initial excitement it was actually when I was most miserable.  I’d built it up so much that it was always going to be an anti-climax, and by the time lunch was finished, I was already mourning the fact that it was over, and that by the time next Christmas came along everything would be different.

As you will know if you have read any of my previous posts, my approach to the Mont Blanc Marathon was very similar, so both Camilla and I were worried that the event would not live up to expectations, and that the comedown would be sharp and severe, as it was after my first Ultra in 2013 (Falling Feels Like Flying).

Thankfully, it went better than I ever could have imagined, and was one of the best experiences of my life.

As soon as we got close to the Alps I understood what Lizzy Hawker had said to me a few weeks before (Training Weeks 8-10), as I instantly fell in love with the mountains, and the only negative thought I had was to question why the hell it had taken me so long to get here. I was completely mesmerised by Mont Blanc, and could have quite happily sat and watched it for the whole weekend, if I had not found myself in a running geek’s paradise.

Every other shop in Chamonix seemed to be a sports shop, and it’s the only place where I haven’t had funny looks for wandering around in quad guards, calf guards and long socks, particularly as so many people were here for one of the races. There was also a good chance of bumping into an ultra-running legend with Seb Chaigneau, Max King, Emelie Forsberg and Killian Jornet, among others, in action.  I think I may have gone a little tweenager at a One Direction concert at one point, as Camilla threatened to make me an “I’d go gay for Killian Jornet” banner.

The events started at 4am on Friday with the 80km and the Vertical Kilometre in the afternoon. Saturday was the mini-cross (cutest race I have ever seen), 23km cross and the 10km, with the marathon finishing off the weekend on Sunday.  Every race was impeccably organised and incredibly well supported, even for the pack of 80km finishers running through the town at 10:30pm, the 7-year olds on Saturday morning and the start of our race at 7am on Sunday.

The six of us that made team Up & Down Runner (I got them t-shirts so they had no choice), were involved every day, with Charlotte and Charlie doing the Vertical Kilometre on Friday and joining Camilla in the 10km on Saturday, and with me, James and Andy doing the marathon on Sunday.  This helped my preparation greatly, as it not only kept me busy, but seeing the incredible support at each race and sharing the relief and elation of finishing made me even more excited, and less nervous about the challenge itself.

Admittedly I did let the nerves get the better of me on Saturday night, but when I woke up at 4.30 on Sunday to eat breakfast they had all gone.  Aided by an unexpected and touching note from our host for the weekend (who also happens to be my boss), I succeeded, possibly for the first time in my life, to block out all of the negative thoughts; the panic that I had not done enough training, the likelihood of breaking an ankle or falling off a ledge and the inevitable post-race crash.  Whatever had happened before, and whatever was going to happen during the day, was irrelevant, all I could do was start at the start, and keep going until I stopped, and try to enjoy myself while doing it.

I’m going to put a detailed race report in a separate post, as there is far too much to say here, but as many of you will know already, I completed the race in 6:54:10, a devilish 666th out of the 2012 finishers, and I enjoyed every single minute.  Me, the person that had never been near a mountain before, runs like a chicken, hated running up hills, consistently found new and more stupid ways to injure himself (Injury), that is scared of “mushrooms and Moomins and hedgehogs”, at least according to Freddie* and that, less than 18 months ago, would have ended his life if he was not a prisoner in his own bed.

I hope that this doesn’t come across as a lame attempt at false modesty, as I only mention these things to show that you should never underestimate yourself – if I can do this, imagine what you can do.

Admittedly, I could not have done any of this without the right medication, therapy, and the support of friends, family, and indeed all of you that are reading the blog.  But, on the start line and for those 7 hours, it was mainly just me against myself (or Alan, to be precise).  Have I beaten him? No. But with each step I was winning, and all that matters now is that I keep focusing on putting one foot in front of the other.

*He’s right about the Moomins.  What the hell are they, why does Little My live with them and what is the big-eyed fisherman all about?