Running to face down fear: Runs #6-8 and the Greater Manchester Run 2017

The events in Manchester last week have changed me in ways I can’t quite put in to words yet. This attack occurred in my city, my home – I feel a cluster of many emotions, some are more difficult to pin down than others. It’s been a week since the terrorist attack and while we return to going about our days, there is no going back to normal-normal. Sure, I’ve gone to work, I’ve met up with friends in a pub – all the usual things I do in a week. It’s just not the same. My city is not the same, at all, and I’m trying to process it in the best way I can, by running.

The day after the attack was run #6. I woke up early that day to a ton of messages on my phone asking if I’m safe. My first instinct was “eh?” (that is the extent of my conversational skills before coffee at 6am). It was several minutes of frantic scrolling that made me realise what had happened.

I wasn’t sure how to react and the next few minutes I think I just went into autopilot, texting replies to my family and friends abroad. I didn’t realise I was dressed in my running gear until it came to putting on my shoes. That’s when the fear hit me. Different to the reaction of reading news updates. This fear was new.  Unlike anything I’ve felt, ever.  This fear was immobilising and I sat for a good while, unable to move.

When I realised I couldn’t move, that’s when I got angry.

Why am I not moving?
Am I afraid?
WTF? No. NO.
I don’t want this. I don’t want to live in fear.
Make it stop! What can I do? What can I DO?

I got rightly pissed off. Somehow, in my anger, was able to tie my shoes and find the will to step outside my front door.

Run 6Run #6 (2km in 12:00)
: I can’t quite explain how I got myself out to run that awful morning. All I remember was feeling that I needed to run. To start dealing with the fear? To feel a little more ‘normal’, knowing that Manchester will change because of this? To give myself something to focus on? I don’t know really.

Run #7 (3km in 18:00): The run later that week was much of the same kind of emotional daze, just less of the initial shock from the news and more of the anger and sadness present.

28 May 2017 - Finisher's MedalRace day (10km in 1:01:25)
: Then came Sunday, the Greater Manchester 10K Run. I love this event. I really do. I’ve run every year for the past 5 years and it’s become a permanent fixture in my calendar. It’s a race that is so alive – not just because of the sheer amount of spectators but the energy along the track! The singing, the bands, the DJs, all the people along the sidelines cheering your on – it’s just so much fun! For me, this event represents everything great about Manchester.

So when I did ask myself if I should take part in a race that sees around 40,000 people running (my purple wave alone is 4000 runners), part of me crumbled, but then another part of me got really, really angry. I decided I had to run this race to face down my fears. I suppose I wanted to be there, to see first hand that my city was going to recover.

It was a subdued, yet positive atmosphere throughout. After our wave assembled at the start time, we began with 1 minute silence to remember the victims. It’s hard to imagine the city centre falling silent (and in Manchester of all places) but it was a powerful moment that made everything more real, more “here” for me. The silence ended with a reading of the poem “Do Something” by Tony Walsh, a stirring tribute that puts into words the spirit of this city. It was a kind of reassurance for me, that I was suppose to be here.

Run 8 - last one for MayFinal run, #8 (4km in 25:30)
: Today was my final run for #mymarathon. I’ve run a total of 47km / 29 miles this month for The British Heart Foundation. Although I’ve completed #mymarathon I’ll keep running. There are more races to run!

Thanks to all for your love, support and encouragement! If can, do consider making a donation to The British Heart Foundation: 

Marathon running and writing a thesis: Same kinda hell

As you might of noticed on the right-hand side of my website, there are a few pictures of me and my running adventures. I completed the Greater Manchester Marathon (#runasicsmcr) last April 2015. I decided to sign up to this race last summer, around the time I was finishing my thesis. I suppose making decisions in a state of quiet desperation isn’t exactly wise, but I remember thinking that if I could submit this thesis then surely I had it in me to deal with a running a marathon.

Several months (and miles) later, I believe there is something to this thesis-marathon-mentality. It’s been said that running a marathon is as much a physical endeavour as it is a mental game (e.g. Runner’s World has written some interesting articles on this topic). In my weird and twisted logic, I figured that the mental discipline it takes to finish writing a thesis is similar to focusing one’s energy on finishing the race. The main difference between the two would be the physical demands a marathon event would place on the body (e.g. sore legs, tired feet, constant need for food), versus the physical reaction to the stress caused by writing a thesis (e.g. high blood pressure, hair loss, constant need for coffee).

So while I was running the marathon I found myself comparing my thesis experiences with what I was feeling during the race.

Here’s what I found:

Experiencing a new kind of hell

Writing a thesis and running a marathon is a new kind of experience, or rather, it’s an experience that challenges your limits: physical, mental and emotional. It’s one thing to talk about writing a thesis/running a marathon, it’s another thing to actually do it. Then, and only then, can you really ask yourself “WTF was I thinking?!”

Wanting to quit when the finish line is just…a little…further

In both cases I wanted to quit just as I was coming to the end. I think it was two months to my submission date when I started to draft an “I quit” email. It was around mile 21 when I felt it I must stop running, because those 5 more miles was just too much.

“Just a little further” felt like a lie

It was during those serious moments of self-doubt that I had the most support, but I didn’t always realise (or appreciate) the encouragement. During the last few miles there were crowds of people cheering me on, telling me that there’s “not long to go”. I remember thinking “Not long to go?! YOU’RE LYING! LYING!” when someone told me, at mile 24, that the finish line was just a little further. Yes, at mile 24 there wasn’t long to go but at that point the phrase “mind over body” was a very real reality.

Thesis wise I remember feeling completely overwhelmed with what I had left to do. However, it was also around this time that I received the most messages of encouragement from the people around me, who believed that I could finish this thesis. Despite my misgivings, I developed a kind of “mind over emotion”, a kind of last push to the end. It’s a little difficult to put into words, but I suppose I took a very task-orientated approach to what was left to do with my thesis. Some might call it that point beyond stress where sometimes writing becomes more mechanical. A kind of “get it finished, get it done” kind of mentality.

Everything hurts

For anyone who has run a marathon this is the truth. Like my eyeballs hurt. Ok maybe my feet hurt more than my eyes but at the time, every cell in my body was like “Nope, we’re done here” while I was like “C’MON!”. Thesis wise I remember being in this weird cyclical haze made of physical and mental exhaustion, feeling hyper-alert and simultaneously wanting to nap, but feeling guilty when I wasn’t working. That kind of haze.

That “I have to finish this” kind of feeling

Throughout all of this (race and thesis writing) there was this feeling of “I have to finish this” despite my misgivings. A deep-seated kind of determination that no matter what, I was going to see this through. I remember becoming even more focused the closer my submission date approached, feeling less “OMFG WHY” and more “GO GO GO”. During the race there was this point where I decided that I was going to finish this marathon, that I was going cross that finish line, and that I was going to get my medal dammit! I can’t explain when that happened, only that the feeling was always there, somewhere.

Those endorphins during the last 200 yards…

Physically seeing the finish line gave me this incredible mad rush of joy. I don’t think I have ever been that happy to see the end of a race. EVER. Thesis-wise, I remember this incredible feeling of relief when I held the final hard copy of my thesis. The product of several years of work in my hands. It was a very good moment.

The immediate aftermath

I felt similar emotions just after I submitted my thesis, and in the immediate moments after I crossed the finish line. I remember feeling a wave of “Whew” – relief, gratitude, sadness, joy – it was all there. Very raw and very real.

Celebratory drinks and naps

Post-thesis submission and post-marathon was more of a quiet affair. I had a drink, which was then closely followed by the best nap ever.

Has any event or experience felt “like” finishing your thesis? Please share your experiences in the comments below!

Marathon Prep and The Weather

I’ve been quiet these last few weeks, mostly concentrating on completing all the other academic related bits and bobs I’ve been juggling, like teaching, tutorials and the post-PhD job hunt. Oh, and running. A lot.

So here I am, the day before the Greater Manchester Marathon (#runasicsmcr) feeling a little jittery. I think the change in weather has really thrown me off proper. I’ve been training in mostly cold weather conditions (between -4C and 10C in the wind and rain) then suddenly there sun! Lots of it. Argh.

Attempting to control my rising sense of panic I dug through my closet and started trying on running clothes to see what warm weather alternative I could muster. Then I reminded myself of the old running rule: “nothing new on race day” which helped bring back my sanity.

So I’m sticking with my original plan (see photo, just missing my watch), and with a little luck the weather will stay cloudy, cool and dry tomorrow!

My marathon running 'plan'
My marathon running ‘plan’