More Marathon Musings…

“If my life is a marathon, how far have I come? How much further have I got to go? And is this course going to get easier or more difficult?”

They’re questions I sometimes ask myself, as a way of aligning struggles in life to the struggles you face on a 26.2 mile challenge.

At the age of 51, it’s probably likely that my distance is more than halfway. Have I just crossed that milestone, am I in the last 10km or is the final straight already looming close?

And if we were aware of our own mortality in the same way we know how far a race is, would we run it any better?

One thing I definitely have learnt from the marathon are the ups and downs, the times when the going is tough, when you hit the wall – but how you keep going, you get through it, over it, out the other side and the road is easier again.

But when you’re standing looking at that red brick-face in front of you – garishly painted, graffiti style with whatever your particular challenge is – it can be hard to imagine there’s anything to look forward to the other side, let alone how to get there.

Yet we do it, time after time – jump over small hurdles, scale dizzying heights, to keep going.

And no one person’s race is the same: for some it’s an all too short sprint; others go the full ultra-distance; some get the ideal 10km, level course, perfect conditions, gliding easily towards a stunning PB; and there are those who battle through Tough Mudder-style obstacles, placed by a course director, who’s a sadistic bully.

We all have our own distance. And each race has its own challenges.

I’ve felt recently as if I’ve hit a bit of wall in life. In comparison to other walls out there, it’s not huge or insurmountable – it’s just that I’ve been choosing to slump one side of it, feeling stripped of the energy to climb over, make progress.

I’m getting there. And running helps, it really does. Running marathons – I’m on 51 now – has benefitted me so much in the last 11 years, I can’t imagine not doing it.

And as someone who’s believed at difficult times in the past that I couldn’t make it to the finish line, considered pulling out of the race, running has enabled me to see I can keep going, that yes, at times it is hard, but you get there one step at a time, you climb over the wall and feel a sense of relief and achievement.

My marathons have varied enormously. The first one I approached with over-optimistic enthusiasm, paying for it with a devastatingly hard final 6 miles. Sometimes I get the pacing just right, am race fit with ideal conditions and breeze to the finish line. You don’t get many like that!

Marathons are a challenge, but they can be a joy too – a wondrous journey, where you learn so much on the way. It’s about giving it your best shot, making the most of it, whatever race you’re in, whatever stage you’re at and whatever the ups and downs of the course.

I’m running my 52nd marathon on Saturday, 3rd September, the City to Sea Marathon from Exeter to Babbacombe, Torquay.

It’s a flat first half, with lots of steep climbs towards the end – I guess I’ll just have to take those hills as they come and enjoy the down bits.

My Sidmouth Folk Week

Sidmouth Folk Week is underway just down the road from me – one of the most colourful, vibrant, creative and exciting events of the local calendar.

After three months without writing, it seems as good a time as any for a catch-up post.

I first bumped into this crazy maelstrom of Morris dancers and music 30 years ago, when in July 1986 I started work as a trainee reporter on the Sidmouth Herald.

As a 21-year-old, desperate for a foot on the journalism ladder, I’d taken the job offered in this sedate, seaside town, thinking it would be a start, even though there was a bigger world out there waiting to be discovered.

I remember my shock, awed surprise, the first day of the festival. The noise – music, singing, the jangling of the Morris dancers bells. The people – everywhere, every open space, every corner, every chair in every pub, walking along every back street. The smell – food, drink, bodies all mixed in together. The colour – costumes, instruments, crafts, tents, painted faces.

In those days visiting teams of dancers came from the across the globe, fantastic, and a real privilege, to see such a broad display of different cultures, whilst sitting under the stars of a damp August evening at the open-air arena.

There were performers and artistes at the top of the folk world and more, and they still return today.

It was as if every pore of the place was alive. It was thrilling.

Sitting at the Ham, one of the main hubs, on Sunday lunchtime I reflected how the festival has been a reference point.

It was in this particular week 25 years ago that I first bought my own house. The couple who’d sold were also great festival goers. I remember a hasty handover of the keys. Unpacking of boxes could wait till the dancing was over.

In a strange repeat of that, my mum also moved during festival week, to a flat in Sidmouth last year – a new start after the death of my father.

In work, I moved on from the Sidmouth Herald after a couple of years, but as a reporter with the regional newspaper and then local BBC radio I continued to “cover” the festival year after special year.

It was just before festival week five years ago that I made a fairly momentous decision to leave work, abandon my journalism career and do something else with my life.

It hasn’t turned out quite as I imagined. But then I could never have imagined how it would turn out: fifty marathons completed, £6,500 raised for dementia; several community events organised, locally marking the Queen’s Jubilee, the Olympics, and annual fundraisers for village charities; writing and publishing a children’s story; planning a marathon celebrating 50 years of women’s endurance running (more of that another day).

Through it all, the festival has been a constant, like an exciting best friend returning to visit year after year.

I never did seek those bright city lights as a young reporter I’d dreamed of.

Now I never will. Nor do I want to.

Despite not “working” I’ve never stopped doing and I’ve never stopped writing. And it was nice to discover (having just looked at the stats) that some of my old blogs are still being read.

I’m happy to reach out to our global community in other ways, and for the first week in August every year, to let it come to my door.

Thank you Sidmouth Festival. You mean the world to me.20150801_131634

My dog Freddie – his first visit to the festival last year.

 

 

A Turtle-Tastic Day

It’s a Turtle-tastic day for this blog, which I began almost 3 years ago.

In that time I’ve written about marathon running, dementia, mental health and a lot more besides.

MCS logo hi resToday, on World Turtle Day, I’m thrilled to write that my children’s story book, Tuamor the Turtle, is to be an official charity partner to the UK’s leading marine charity, the Marine Conservation Society.

 

It’s been an incredible journey from first writing a much shortened version of the story for a primary class environmental project, to deciding to commission illustrations and publish, which was completed only six months ago.

Now I’m about to order a second print run of the book, there’s a fabulous video on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dJVej9A852Q, created by the book’s illustrator Mark Hannon, and the website has been brilliantly redesigned at http://www.tuamortheturtle.com by Laura Joint.

Best of all, in the last six months I’ve thoroughly enjoyed talking to children at schools across Devon about this story and why Tuamor’s “love our world” message is so important. The enthusiasm, genuine concern and creative imagination they’ve shown to try and help raise awareness has been memorable, inspiring and gives me great hope for the future.

I’d say that’s pretty turtle-tastic!

 

 

 

Defeating Dementia

fur tor 2016.jpg

Defeat Dementia #UseYourHead – that’s one of the current campaigns of dementia research charity BRACE.

Yesterday (5th April 2016) I set off, using de-feet – well, my feet actually – to do my bit for the campaign and to remember my dad, Bernard, who died on the 5th April 2015.

It’s a 12 mile or so circular walk from Postbridge to Fur Tor, on Dartmoor, where this picture was taken, using a route dad and I have taken many times.

Twelve miles of happy memories, sad memories, 12 miles of thinking about dad, and how much I always enjoyed just walking with him in our great outdoors.

Whether it was on Dartmoor, around the South West Coast Path, in Scotland, Wales, or just our local footpaths – de-feet were very much a part of what we enjoyed doing together.

For every £10 spent on dementia health and social care in the UK, just 8 pence is spent on research. This has to change. BRACE is campaigning to raise vital funds.

Our world class scientists here in the South West use their heads to defeat dementia – please use yours to support them.

Tweet a ‘headband-wearing selfie’ or ‘group/team pic’ to @AlzheimersBRACE using the hashtag #UseYourHead. Please share on Facebook, Instagram and other social media. Thank you!

To DONATE text CURE24 £3 to 70070 or visit the BRACE campaign page

Easter Memories

It was an Easter weekend many years ago – when I was aged around nine or ten – that I first went off on a camping and walking expedition with my dad on our own.

We wild camped on Dartmoor, near Princetown, in a two-person, single layer small green tent. I remember how excited I was to be staying out on the moor overnight. I remember how cold it was, temperatures below freezing overnight, a bucket of water left outside forming a layer of ice on the top.

I remember lying in my sleeping bag the next morning, playing noughts and crosses with dad in the dew on the side of the tent.

I remember being tired, walking 25 miles or so in two days – and dad’s advice to put my foot where his had been, literally following his footsteps, and that way we’d keep pace together.

I remember the adventure of it all like it was yesterday, that Easter weekend of 40 plus years ago.

As I remember, like it was yesterday, Easter last year – visiting dad in his care home on the Saturday, giving him an Easter egg and a banana, waving goodbye, not realizing it would be the last time I’d ever see him, not knowing that he would die from a heart attack less than 24 hours later.

I can’t believe that was 12 months ago, that dad has been gone all this time, as life goes on, moves on.

I’ll miss you tomorrow dad, as I do every day. Though you may be gone I still have my memories…so many happy memories.

Supporting BRACE dementia research – so we can all keep remembering.

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One of our last walk’s together – Tipton Following Footsteps Memory Walk September 2014 – with my nephew Huw and my brother Jules.

 

Inspiration

The April edition of Runner’s World has an article about my OCD, and how running helps.

It’s not always easy to be open about having a mental health condition, but anyone who reads my blog, or knows me personally will already know that about me, so I figured the extra exposure in RW wasn’t something to be scared of, and it may help someone else.

I haven’t had a chance to read the whole magazine properly yet, but picking up my copy today, to write this post, it fell open on page 55 – “Outrunning the Demons”, written by Greg O’Brien. from America. His personal account of what it’s like to live with Alzheimer’s.

Much of what Greg writes about resonates with me. My own family – grandparents and my dad – and their struggle with dementia, my fears about how my own mind works, and how both running and writing help to combat some of the anxiety.

Greg’s story is inspiring – he pushes himself mentally and physically, in a determined refusal to give in to the gradual erosion of his mental capability, which he describes as: “Like a death in slow motion, like having a sliver of your brain shaved every day”.

Running, he says, restores mental as well as physical stamina: “It flicks the lights back on. It reboots my mind, provides a reprieve, so I can do what I love most – write, think and focus.”

As I said, inspiring stuff.

The whole article is well worth a read, being informative and beautifully and intelligently written.

I felt chuffed that things I’ve done have been called inspiring recently – a former colleague having read the RW article said I was their inspiration to become a runner. And at a school presentation, where I was reading my children’s story “Tuamor the Turtle”, one of the 10-year-olds said it was inspirational.

What a thrill to make such a strong connection, gain positive endorsement.

I’ve been into several schools in recent weeks and had great feedback from the children and teachers alike. It’s been incredibly rewarding and sparked wonderful creativity and imagination. This is some artwork done by children at Cranbrook Primary School, near Exeter.

And exciting news today, I had confirmation from a national marine conservation organisation that they will become a main charity partner for the book

For a while after I gave up work, I felt rather uninspired and as if I had nothing much to give.

Greg was worried when his Alzheimer’s was diagnosed that it would rob him of his creativity, but he now devotes his time to speaking and writing about it and has won numerous awards.

I’ve used my OCD as the basis to write this blog for nearly three years now, and it’s helped give me the confidence to publish my first book, which is already leading to other things.

Creativity comes from within – and it’s in all of us – all you need is to find your inspiration.

 

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.

sunset