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A Tale of Two T-shirts

Two T-shirts brought home to me this week just how much my life has changed in the last seven years. If not quite revolution, certainly revelation.

During May 2011 I took what was intended to be a three-month sabbatical from my 25 year career as a journalist. For various reasons I never returned.

I loved my job from the early beginnings on a busy local weekly, nine years writing for our daily regional newspaper, and learning a whole new set of skills reporting on BBC local radio for 12 happy years.

I covered every news item on my patch from sitting through parish council meetings to quizzing two Prime Ministers, from breaking emergencies to long thoroughly researched exclusives, from tragic deaths and sadness to comedic light-hearted hilarity, from telling the plight of homeless people in refuges to interviewing members of the nobility in castles.

It was a wonderful, rich, varied job that brought many privileges and insights. But I always had a sense that I was telling someone else’s story.

It was hard at first to carve out a new identity, to not have the comfort blanket of a big organisation, colleagues to share ideas with, no firm agenda to follow. Difficult to find something, which through my own efforts, I could directly connect with others.

Through running and writing – two of my passions in life, I’ve been fortunate to create original experiences that I know many have enjoyed – they are the Women Can Marathon and Relay and a children’s book about marine plastic pollution Tuamor the Turtle.

It was the T-shirts that made me smile and feel proud – I saw a woman in a sports shop on Monday wearing her 2017 Women Can finisher shirt and yesterday as I was doing a Tuamor reading, a passer-by who saw my shirt assumed I’d bought it after enjoying the book, and was very excited to learn I was the author.

Two T-shirts with a tale as originally told by me, but now taking on a life of their own.

*Women Can 2018 is on Sunday 27th May, enter/or sign up for marshalling through the website A thousand copies of Tuamor the Turtle have been sold in three years. The book is being used in schools as part of National Curriculum Key Stage 2 work and part of the proceeds go to support the Marine Conservation Society.






The Naked Elf

20171217_133331I intended to write this post two months ago, but the clock has kept marching on.

The nub of the story was that I exposed myself to a total stranger when sat on a toilet seat, dressed as an elf, or more correctly at that point, a naked elf.

I’m starting with that belated tale, because it’s scary how time flies. Three months today is the second Women Can Marathon and Relay, an event I’m once again heavily involved in and committed to.

Three months! Where have the previous six gone?!

These last few days I planned to spend working on the event, but fate dealt a new twist and instead I’ve been in and out of hospital, visiting my husband John, after he collapsed with what’s been diagnosed as a chest infection and low sodium levels, causing physical weakness and delirium.

Time can become suspended when a loved one is ill. It’s striking and painful to me that my mum became poorly during the end-planning for last year’s marathon. She was fighting sickness in my spare bedroom as I juggled emails and meetings. She died within four days and six weeks before the event.

Her death was sudden and unexpected, but for the last ten months I’ve been beating myself over the head about all the things I should have, could have, done differently.

It was only a few weeks ago, having started counselling with the wonderful Cruse Bereavement Charity, that I felt able to let go of some of the crushing, panic-attack inducing guilt.

It released a giddy, creative phase, in which I wrote a 6,000 word story on holiday about plastic pollution, as a follow-up to my 2015 children’s book, Tuamor the Turtle.

The books and the marathon, along with my own running training, are all vying for my time.

But with John being unwell, I’m determined to be there as and when he needs me.

So far that’s involved me wheel-chairing him around lots of hospital corridors for scans and tests, kindly-allowed brief puffs on his pipe and for dinner in the hospital restaurant when his meal was overlooked on the busy ward.

In between times I’ve been sitting on his hospital bed sending or replying to the odd email, but feeling oddly removed from life’s demands, with a kind of whatever will be, will be, attitude.

Which brings me back to where this belated blog post started. I was changing out of a sodden-wet elf fancy dress costume, having run a Christmas marathon in the rain, when a burly man opened the toilet door. A naked elf on the loo, still in pink cheek make-up but little else – I’ve never seen anyone close a door as fast!

I suffer recurring dreams about being caught short on the loo – that sense of exposure, a nightmare scenario in my subconscious. Instead, it was hilarious.

And it’s helped me learn to take life as it comes – keep smiling and laugh if possible, even  when I’m found making a naked elf of myself.








A natural high

My life this year has been a real roller-coaster – from spectacular highs to plunging lows.

Throughout this particularly gut-wrenching 2017 ride, running has been the constant solid support, the firm track, beneath my often shaky, worn out shell, a means by which I’ve found a way to climb back from the depths.

It’s been there at every twist and turn, every head-spinning sensation, bringing me a sense of peace and calm, amid the chaotic turbulence, saving me when the whole switch-back packed experience nearly broke me.

It’s also brought its own challenges, nausea-inducing anxiety, physical and mental pain to overcome.

2017 is the year that started with me being heavily involved in organising the first Women Can Marathon, a tribute to the incredible Kathrine Switzer and her trail-blazing 1967 Boston Marathon run.

We reached giddy heights, gaining the support of Olympian Jo Pavey, attracting 400 entries, generating massive enthusiasm and support, and many moments of euphoria in planning this major community event.

mumSix weeks away from the race taking place, my lovely mum died suddenly and unexpectedly, in what were traumatic circumstances. It was a devastating descent to some of the most wretched rock-bottom moments I’ve ever felt.

With the marathon so well received, I was elevated again to a strange elation, gripped within an overwhelming terror and desperate wish for everything to level out. The relentless ride to stop. Allow me in my sadness to just be still.

But this stomach-churning course had more loops to spin me through – my husband John was diagnosed with early signs of dementia and my own mental state became so fragile I felt at times I wanted to bail out completely.

Running – the simple act of one foot in front of the other – in fresh air, glorious scenery, below blue skies, under clouds of grey, with friends, with my dog Freddie, on my own, running is what kept me going.

Here and now moments of serenity. Lacing up my trainers and getting out the door, remained the constant levelling factor, literally the terra firma beneath my crazy spinning world. It brought me back to myself.

Taking part in the City to Sea Marathon, from Exeter to Torquay on Sunday, re-affirmed just how much running has helped me. It’s a devil of a route, the last six miles being a geographic version of a roller-coaster, packing in 2,000 feet of ascents. This year it was on slippery, muddy terrain, in wet, windy conditions. I loved every minute.

Thanks to Mary Hart, Brian Tilley and Matthew Clarke for these photos – and for standing in the rain all day, along with the many wonderful marshals, a great event!

In continuing to find solace and purpose in pounding the miles I’ve set myself a fundraising challenge Any Mile is Better  for dementia, involving 10 half-marathons in four weeks.

And, having seen a Facebook post in recent days that my heroine Kathrine Switzer is doing the double and taking on the New York Marathon, I thought what better way to ride out my own roller-coaster year. NYC here I come…!

You can’t replicate any of that at a man-made amusement park. Running is a natural high.

Another DoubleMarathon Challenge

A fabulous blog about an event I’m helping to organise. Time for me to write my own summary of this momentous and exciting event, I think!

Dr Juliet McGrattan

All of a sudden I find myself with two spring marathons in my diary this year. How did that happen? Well, I just couldn’t turn either one of them down, they’re both too good to miss. I mean, when you’re invited to run the Boston Marathon with Kathrine Switzer on her 50th anniversary race you simply don’t say no do you?! There’s quite literally a long road ahead but my training plan is well underway and is going well so far. I anticipated giving my absolute all in Boston and then not running another marathon until the autumn at the earliest….

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The turtle and the hair

This is the first time in a few weeks that I’ve sat down to write a blog.

That’s not to say that writing a blog hasn’t been in my head for ages, circling around with the myriad of other ideas for writing that I have, never mind the practical things of daily life, or the emotional.

We all have so many calls on our attention don’t we.

For me currently, my turtle story is demanding lots of mine – most of it packaged with a large dose of anxiety that goes with having OCD.

One of the stories I’ve been carrying around in my head, for over two years now, is about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or Out of Control Doubt as I refer to it.

I’ve managed to get 12,000 words down on paper – the rest, a few thousand more still to come, are like a swarm of bees in my head, buzzing at me, demanding to be set free.

They’re trapped inside with two more children’s stories, one written but demanding a mental re-edit, a full sequel to my turtle tale, and a two-act stage play. It’s a crazy old beehive in there, I can tell you.

I worry a lot whether I’ll ever get them all completed, if I do, who will read them, what will they think. I’m anticipating the critical rejection of my words before they’re even out there.

Worry, that’s another big thing that takes our attention, catches us in its grey-day trap.

For people with mental health issues worries are magnified, sometimes to overwhelming unbearable levels.

It’s good to see that the BBC is covering this hugely important topic over two weeks in its In the Mind series.

If we let our minds get clouded with grey, we sometimes fail to spot the sun.

This happened to me just now – I nearly missed this sunset by a hair’s breadth, because I was here writing, worrying about writing.

The hair that led me to the light was my dog Freddie, furry face poked in mine, demanding my attention, demanding a walk up the hill.

A red sky sunset in all its glory – that really puts my OCD beehive mind to rest.

And it shows how we can get trapped inside by worries that aren’t real or important and outside miss the spectacular.