I’m a bit late to this blog, we’re actually more than halfway through Week 14 now. But this will be a long one (ooh-err, etc), so let’s crack on, shall we…
Last week I did my second, and final, very long training run. When on earth did running 18 miles become a thing I semi-matter-of-factly did?! And when did runs only start becoming enjoyable after two hours? I’d planned to go up to 20 miles but only did another 18 in the end, because The Internet says there isn’t much point going above 18 in training unless you’re aiming for a sub-three or four hour finish, which, no. The first 10K felt like a Marathon in itself. One, I needed the loo not long in and it took me ages to find one I had the right coin denomination for. Secondly, I started without music to practice rationing my phone’s battery for Marathon day, which was quite tedious (and it still died after three hours). Thirdly, I extended the run from Hyde Park through to Green Park, which meant crossing the heaving roads at Hyde Park corner. Boo! And, I tried fruit-flavoured energy gels, which taste of fruit in the way Dairylea Triangles taste of cheese. Their sheer repulsiveness makes you gag thinking you’ve swallowed one of those silica packets from new handbags with Do Not Eat written on them. They also spurt out of the tube in a most unbecoming fashion, just to make your repulsed gagging look even more dignified (I much prefer Cliff’s Shot Bloks, which I discovered while training for the Oxford Half. They’re like jelly sweets and much more flavoursome). Outside the loos, a child pointed to the water bottles in my belt and asked why I needed them: “Because they make you run faster,” I said, snorting wryly to myself at my shuffling. The best part of the run was probably the 2-3 miles in the middle, when I ran up and down the banks of the Serpentine River in the sunshine. I think Don’t Give Up came on then, too. Also, at about 17K, a man gestured towards my Mind vest and gave me the thumbs up. Thank you, Random Man, you made my day.
Other recent happenings…
- Publicity! Ooh, shiny!
Dunelm, the Durham University alumni magazine (formerly Durham First), printed a segment about me doing the Marathon, which was lovely of them. Thank you to Liz Stephen, for sponsoring me having read it, even though they didn’t actually print the URL to my fundraising page (which is here, BTW)
- Mental Health Mates
I went to the first weekday evening meetup of Mental Health Mates, which normally meets in Hyde Park on Sundays (I’m the red-trousered one on the left of the photo – insert political gag here). The reasons why this group is such an amazing and important thing deserve a whole blog post to themselves (which I will get around to, hopefully within the next couple of weeks). But, briefly for the moment: Every MMH meeting I go to just gets better. They have been wonderfully supportive about my Marathon and everything else, and I’m incredibly lucky to have found them.
- Collecting for Mind. SO. MANY. FEELINGS…
If you want your faith in humanity restored, a la Hugh Grant’s airport speech in Love Actually, I’d recommend doing a supermarket collection for charity. On Sunday I collected for Mind to add to my Marathon sponsorship total, and people were so generous I nearly cried (The last time I nearly cried in a supermarket was when I tried to work in one, when I was 17 and didn’t know I was dyspraxic…). The donations barely stopped rolling in all day. I wasn’t allowed to call people over or shake the tin so I relied on a keen smile, the Mind t-shirt I got from carol singing, and a lot of blue eye-makeup. I got good at reading body language to work out who was going to stop. Most people acknowledged me and smiled even if they didn’t donate; a few apologised for not having change. Ironically I rarely carry much change myself because it’s too fiddly, so I was astonished by the effort people went to, pulling over heavy trolleys and faffing through coats and bags for coins. I admired people’s outfits, bags and purses to fill the silences, wondering what each person’s “story” was. Some clearly weren’t sure what they were donating to (one man said “I’ve got mental elf – nah, only joking!”, as if he was taking the piss, then carefully handed me his change…) but most people clearly knew and expressed their admiration for Mind’s work. A middle-aged man spoke to me candidly for a good couple of minutes about his breakdown forty years ago. Another middle-aged man called out: “Mind helped me through my schooldays. They didn’t help much, but at least they were there!” I smiled a bit too hard at an attached guy in a Deep Purple t-shirt, who was clearly thinking: “Is she clocking me or have I got breakfast on my face?” Parents often gave the money to their excited children to drop into my tin. Some also tried to explain to them what the money was for and why it was important, which was very touching. During a quiet moment, I nipped away to get some bread. When I came back, the security guard told me a lady had been looking for me with notes in her hands. “Sod’s law,” I thought. Later on, she found me, relieved: “I went to the cashpoint especially for you. They told me you’d gone home!” She had three little boys with her, who were being boisterous. She hadn’t quite done all her shopping. “Wait til I’ve finished; I’ll come back,” she said. She was last to the checkout before closing, the boys were still playing up. Then I saw her put something in each boy’s hand and point to me. They came and handed me the money: £20 in notes. I went over to her. “Can I just say, you’re wonderful,” I said, my voice cracking. “No I’m not,” she dismissed. “You’re the wonderful one for doing something. Not me doing nothing.”
In five hours, I raised a bloody marvellous £185. Thank you to Sainsburys for having me. I’m doing another one next week, at Waitrose, in Gerrards Cross. And now I’m welling up again…
- My stomach trying to kill me
Ways Marathoning is like pregnancy, aside from fatigue, not drinking, and becoming a single-minded bore: Discussing gross bodily functions with strangers… Two days after Long Run I started getting persistent stomach cramps and feeling apathetic and useless. Going for a relaxing swim to try to ease it and having to get my locker bolt-cut open because I couldn’t work the padlock did not help. I suspected a slightly early visit from Aunty Flo (Marathoning can do that), but hours went by and nothing happened. The Internet told me it might be from all the glucose in energy drinks, and the solution was plain rice. I’m not sure whether it was, but a vegetable broth with plain rice and Quorn makes lovely comfort food anyway.
- Stupid dreams
Everyone in the Mind runners Facebook group seems to be having scary “Marathon dreams,” lately; like the ones students get during exam time: standing at the start line naked or otherwise unprepared, etc. My 5am nightmares aren’t about the Marathon. Mine are mainly just a ridiculous mashup of dead people and dyspraxic panic. Terribly dull, really. Brains; who’d ‘ave ’em?
- High drama – fictional and real
The media is slightly surreal for me at the moment. The husband of someone I used to know, and interviewed for my first big piece of journalism when I was 18, is involved in a big soap storyline which is currently all over Twitter/Radio 4/the papers. I’ve never actually met him, but my relationship with her was what you’d generously call a learning experience. She influenced several of my most important formative decisions, some good, some bad, many somewhere between the two. Basically, it was a long, painful, one-sided hero-worship situation where I held her up as a example of how I ought to be versus how variously inadequate I felt I was. I’ve since learned this is classic behaviour for young women with disabilities and/or mental health problems: most I hear from seem to have had some equivalent to her in their lives at a similar age, which is both sad and reassuring. I was surprised (bless my naivety…) to see her named and photographed with her husband and kids in a Sunday paper recently, given her concerns about privacy and the horror-anecdotes she told me about the press when I knew her. During our interview, she said some rather impolite things about someone who, nine years later, became my friend, and then – sadly – late friend. I pledged some time ago not to devote any more unpaid words to her, so you’ll just have to wait for the book. But, in a weird upside-down way, I have her to thank. If it wasn’t for her, none of this would be happening…
- A very relatable sentiment
I’ve been terrible at long-reads recently. By long-read I mean anything longer than a tweet which I’m not being paid to look at. But, a line from a typically-thought-provoking post at Superlatively Rude, on using writing to deal with bad experiences, jumped out at me. “No-one wants to believe they hurt for no reason.” My public writing is often driven by that sentiment: I can cope with any amount of adversity as long as I can turn it into something good. Unfortunately, trying to do this before has often led me to more pain: from one slightly awkward, ambiguous relationship to another, and so on and on. With the Marathon, I wanted to do something that would actually help me more than just hurt. That I could give something to others with, as well as learn and grow from. And that was as much for me as anyone else. It’s the closest I’ve come yet to compensating for years of mental rubbish, and it is, hands down, the best decision I’ve made in the decade since university.
TWO AND A HALF WEEKS until race day, Sunday 24th! I’ve now raised £1,148 for Mind – that’s nearly 70% of my £1,750 fundraising target (Maths not mine). Thank you so so much to all my lovely sponsors so far: friends, family and strangers alike (“Neil Tarrant”, I’m not sure whether we’ve met – Google suggests you’re a footballer or a Scottish science lecturer and I don’t meet many of those, but if you’re reading this, thank you!).