I’ve been debating with myself over the past few weeks as to what the subject of this particular entry would be. I’ve got a few ideas rattling round that I’ll hopefully explore over future entries, but I noticed that there were particular areas that I wanted to reflect on as part of this blog thing, but was holding back from. The reasons why I was holding back can basically be summed up in the question, “what might other people think”? In fact, by the time I’ve made this public, I’m pretty sure I’ll have edited and re-edited over and over.
In my last blog, you might remember that I wrote about our “values” relating to running. One of the basic premises being that if we run according to our running-based values, we tend to enjoy our running more. Behind this, then, is the necessity to know our reasons for running. What is it that drives us to get out the door, to pound the pavements (or track, or field) for mile, after mile, after mile…
For me (and hopefully others can relate to this too), my reasons for running can be broadly broken down into two categories: things I run to get away from; and things I run to move towards. This week, I thought I’d write about the first of these. The things I run away from. To give you a fuller sense of this it’s probably worth telling you a wee bit about me… (this is the “what might other people think part”).
So, I started running to get fitter to be able to play football and so forth with my then, soon to be born, son (who is now 7 years old and also has a 5 year old brother). But, really, if that was the case, getting to the point were I could run a mile or two would have been adequate. Something else that was going on while I was beginning my running journey was my father’s illness. Running became a great distraction, and helped cope with the emotional pain. So I ran further and further and pushed myself harder and harder. Physical pain is much easier to bear than emotional pain.
My Dad, Denis, was a smoker all his life and developed COPD. At the time that I started running his health was really starting to go downhill. He was frequently struggling to just breathe, was taking oxygen and his life was severely limited. He could no longer go to his local pub for a pint, couldn’t go for a walk. Actually, he couldn’t leave the house. Probably not coincidental (although I hadn’t consciously considered it) that at this point I started to take part in an activity that would improve my lung functioning, fitness and ability not only to get out, but to go far. I remember really struggling to breathe while running and thinking, “I wonder if this is what my Da feels like” (I still think about this sometimes when I’m struggling to breathe when running).
After a very long illness which really took it’s toll on him, my Dad died in November 2011. My running at this stage was on/off, up/down and “up the left” (is this an Irish saying?). But I was trying to keep active and push on. One day, maybe two or three weeks after my Dad had died I went to the gym to run on the treadmill for a half hour (this would have been relatively easy for me at this point). I stopped after five minutes because of chest pains. I thought I was having a heart attack…genuinely. I rang my GP and got an emergency appointment for an hour later. By then the pain had stopped but I got an ECG, was sent to hospital for a chest X-ray and had some blood tests. Everything was clear. But, this was to be the start of my ongoing relationship with issues related to health anxiety.
To Make Matters Worse…
Less than a year after my dad died, my Mum passed away. Totally unexpected and after being diagnosed with cancer about two weeks beforehand. Totally out of the blue. It’ll be five years now in October and it still breaks my heart. I don’t think I can bring myself to write much more about this part of my story. For anyone reading this who may not know me – I come from a city in Ireland called Derry. Derry mothers (Mammies) are famous for being the best mothers in the world and very protective of their sons. And Derry sons are known for their idealisation of their mothers (“Mammy’s boys”). I am (I deliberately use the present tense) most definitely, a Mammy’s boy. In fact, to anyone who would listen, I’d make a pretty good case for the reason why my mum (Sylvia) should be made a saint! The death of St. Sylvia of Derry broke my heart in two…and I am literally running from it till this day.
So…One set of reasons for my running is to try to out run grief, pain and anxiety. To be clear, running has not cured any of these issues. I still struggle with the loss of my parents quite a bit and I still struggle with anxiety at times. In fact, anxiety sometimes interferes with my running. I’ve found that I’ll hold back and maybe not push myself as hard as I could because I’m scared! And it’s getting to the stage with my GP that I feel like taking some wine, candles and Barry White to every appointment because the nature of the examinations has become so intimate (no details necessary, you all have imaginations!).
Sometimes…maybe more than I’d care to admit, some of these issues get into my head too much. I’ve found myself on a long run, just giving up. Just stopping and saying to myself : “what’s the point”; “I can’t do this”; “You’ll never be good enough/ fast enough/fit enough”… For me, these are all related in one way or another to anxiety and fear. Fear that I can’t do it; fear of not being good enough; fear of being miles from home and really having to do a poo… When this happens it’s like there’s a battle going on in my head:
“No you’re not, you’re grand… come on, keep going”
“No honestly, I’m buggered…I’m just going to stop here”
“Will ye wise up! You’ve only run a mile”
“No, I think I need to poo”
“You do not need to poo – you went before you came out…and you’ve 14 Imodium in you”
“Well… fair point, but I can’t do it…I may as well just give up”…
Sometimes I win, sometimes I don’t… I think I win more times than not… I think. And, at times, running can help me to connect with my parents and with myself in a beneficial way. Running can help me feel accepting and provide me with space to consider and connect with the memory of my parents in a nice way…it’s not all bad!
And, I’m very lucky…not only do I have running, but I have the support of a loving wife, two great children and an amazing, amazing (I’ll say it a third time for emphasis), AMAZING running club full of supportive, kind and caring people. STARS…each and every one!! And this links into the topic of my next blog…what we run towards (it’s not all doom and glum!).
We cannot outrun our pain or our demons. But with the help of running, our running partners and running clubs, maybe we can learn to look our demons in the eye and let them know that they will not defeat us. That we are tough, strong and determined. And if we have to…we’ll run 26.2 miles just to show the bastards!!