Autumn (thought of on a run in Regent’s Park)

A scattered flurry of orange, auburn and bronze arrest a wandering glance, as lacquered carpet of ephemeral flakes spreads across the grass like spilt honey.

Forests exhale as they cast off their shimmering cloaks to embrace a winter of dwindling white.

Protean castes of leaf bearers mutter with colourful voices, yet the world pauses only to snatch at a fading moment with a thousand grasping lenses.

Each capturing face, unlistening, watches through silver eyes as they share the moment only with themselves.

Each autumn speaks quieter than the last, yet numberless more wait to arrive as hope carves a path for time, meandering along.

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Running and Health

I wrote this originally early in 2015: there’s quite a lot of old material waiting patiently to appear, so most of the upcoming posts will be from the proverbial desk pile, rather than penned for purpose here. On the plus side it means more content which you might enjoy, on the minus end there’s more content, which you might not enjoy. Swings and roundabouts…

 

A Health Problem / Injury 
If you say you’ve got “a health problem” most people’s initial assumption is that your physical condition is somewhat compromised. The idea of health, like happiness or success, is often simply understood: being in good working order, smiling a lot, or having a desirable job.

It’s important to view health more broadly, but especially so for runners (and sportspeople in general). We’re inclined to take better care of ourselves and be more concerned about how we’re performing, and what might stop us doing that well. There’s a lot more to it than that however, though it’s very easy to forget.

The key question for many runners is total mileage. Is it enough? Is it too much? “I’ve dropped off recently, and feel guilty”, “I pushed it a bit too much, my legs feel so heavy”. The quality of those miles and how they’re focussed is what makes training really work, or fall down.

I get the impression, just from personal experience, that health is viewed secondarily, simply as whether or not you can run. If you’re ok, great, fingers crossed it stays that way.

If not, frustrated thumb twiddling, disciplined aqua jogging and cross training (for the best of us!); more time spent in front of screens (I’m definitely in this boat…), numerous physio visits and stretching routines.

For me, the biggest barrier towards getting better is lifting myself (physically and mentally) to get out and train. For some people, it’s easy. For others, it’s not, but they’ll push through that difficulty with a determined focus on the end result.

A lot is written about the stigma around mental health, whether it’s mild depression, anxiety, or something more serious. As sportspeople, we’re generally acutely quite of our physical state, and pay great attention to our performances. The framework underlying an effective training regime, both getting the most out of your potential, and being sustainable, is keeping the rest of your life in balance.
Training and Anxiety

A few people have asked why I don’t get involved in much club training, and am rarely seen at the track. It’s certainly not because I don’t care, that I’m intrinsically lazy, take a laid back attitude to running or have an impossibly busy life. I just find it very difficult to pick myself up to do something I know I’d enjoy and benefit from.

I’ve always found races easy to motivate myself for. There’s a sense of responsibility to give something back to the club, and do my best for it. When it’s just a question of getting out by yourself, and setting some disciplined time aside to grind out some miles, most of the time, I’ve got nothing. It would be embarrassing to admit even if it was a lack of a desire, but it’s more than that.

I worry about what might happen if I push too hard and get injured again, I’m concerned that I won’t improve much, or might lose my love of running. I worry that I’ll get too tired during a longer run and lose the motivation to keep going well, with no one to be accountable to if I don’t.

I’m also a bit afraid with going out with a group, as I don’t want to say I’ll make it, then not be able to get out the door. Moreover, I’m uncomfortable with the pressure of living up to expectations of being a good runner all the time, and if I am feeling tired, giving the impression I don’t care or aren’t trying.

These sorts of things are part and parcel of the kind of anxiety I have; it always throws up reasons why it’s better to stay at home, whether it’s going out for a run, a drink, or just for lunch.

I’ve got a lot more respect for people who manage family commitments, a difficult job, or long term injuries, yet still make it, day in, day out, than the fastest club runners. Maybe they don’t have these kind of questions, maybe they answer them and move on, or just take it in their stride.

Making Progress?

Being part of such a friendly and welcoming club is something I’m really proud of, but I think running, and moreover sport in general, could take the lead in reducing some of the stigma around mental health issues, and give people an open and invaluable platform to make real differences to their whole health, not just the part everyone can see.

There’s some good material that’s been written on the subject: scrolling through the archives of running magazines, there are quite a few articles about how running helps with depression, and the psychology of sport in general has attracted a lot more interest since the work of people like Steve Peters.

For me, writing is one of the best ways of dealing with anxiety and depression, as it forces you to think about worries more rationally, and lets you take a step back and, in a way, have a look at your thinking. I’d encourage anyone who’s experienced something similar to have a go, even if it’s just a few sentences every now and then on how you feel, just to get a sense of awareness.

I’d be happy to put some useful reading together for anyone that’s interested, and there’s a few good general documentaries (radio and television) that are a useful way to think about these sorts of things more generally. Anyway, any thoughts or comments are greatly appreciated, and I’d be delighted anyone’s come away from reading this feeling more able to think about their own health.

Shoulder Injury: 1, Pandora’s Box

1: Pandora’s Box

‘Please stand clear of the closing doors, the next train will be along in two minutes, stand clear of the doors please’. The broadcast voice, seemingly disembodied, in fact emanated from an embattled station staffsperson; undaunted, the impatient crowds pushed determinedly into diminishing and non-existent spaces between compacted torsos.

 

I dutifully stood clear of the doors, watching as the unmistakably branded steel cylinder began its way along the tunnel. A habitual urge to join the human tide inside had been curtailed both by the unfailingly coercive tones of pain and concern for a damaged right arm supported by a friendly looking blue sling. The precious minutes were grudgingly sacrificed.

 

The next train did obligingly seem to be arriving as predicted, lights heralding its imminent arrival. ‘Just one more step matey’ – no terrifying stranger was behind me, this was, thankfully and less distressingly, the briefest of internal monologues. It signalled something I’d been keeping well clear of for a handful of months since I got back to running again: that spectre of depression and anxiety had returned rather determinedly.

 

I don’t know where such phantoms normally reside in the good times, I assume somewhere dark with a lot of soul… maybe a jazz club. I didn’t think about this riposte to my internal demons at the time, but to be fair they tend not to share my sense of humour about this sort of thing anyway.

 

Re-writing this nearly a year after the event in a bright room early in the morning, it’s hard to conjure to mind anything like the same fear, and I think that’s important. I’ve always felt when writing about my own mental health that there’s a real risk of over-dramatising, which is okay for something kept to myself, but if the point of the writing is to get a message across and encourage others to do the same, it fundamentally undermines it.

 

Looking back on this after really struggling through a shorter period of much less serious injury, the need to do more with it really hit hard. Despite having made a lot of progress with my running in the last six months, I feel like the mental health aspect hasn’t strengthened along with that, and I’d like to do something about it.

 

The reason for the title is that I use running largely not as a solution to these problems, but as a stopper, something to keep the anxiety and depression away. A deterrent rather than a solution. That’s not to say it hasn’t helped me make huge progress, but much of that tends to be short term, and I’d be very concerned about what would happen if something stopped me running for good, which could easily have been the case ten months ago.