Sleepless Nights (Leeds & Liverpool Canter)

March 22, 2016

Little over a week ago I ran my third and fourth marathons of the year as part of the inaugural Leeds & Liverpool Canal Canter, yet another event hosted by the team at ‘It’s Grim Up North Running’.

Having attempted my first back-to-back marathons in November last year I was feeling a little more prepared this time round. Last year’s double weekend came in the same week as running one of the toughest marathons in the country, and one of the two also included an Ultra. This time it was much simpler, much flatter and in general a much less complicated affair. True to form the night before the first marathon I found myself unable to sleep. With 30+ marathons under my belt now pre-race nerves should no longer be an issue, but every night before a marathon I always find myself in the same frustrating situation. Some bad(ish) news from work on the Friday afternoon wouldn’t have helped, but it feels that no matter what I do I’m slowly having to come to terms with the fact that I don’t sleep the night before a marathon.

The morning got off to a beautiful start and after some last minute rushing around I was off up the hill and onto the bus to the start at Kirkstall. At the registration I grabbed my race number and with half an hour to go until the start of the race I began the process of sorting out my bag for the race and trying to wake up. Once most had already left for the start line one of the organisers came over and introduced themselves, commending me on the blog and wished me luck for the race. It’s easy to get stuck within my own bubble when it comes to the blog and I forget that people do actually read it and her comments helped give me the boost I needed for the run.

Towards the end of last year, whilst struggling round a 50 mile Ultra, I swore to myself that in 2016 I would focus more on running faster, allow my body to recover more and focus my training towards single events by not entering as many marathons as I could. A few months into the year and that plan has very much been thrown out of the window. Once again I set a rough target of finishing in 4 hours 30, whilst I missed it at Bolton Abbey I knew that the course for this marathon was a lot more forgiving and that time would allow me to run at a relatively comfortable pace without feeling like I was pushing it too hard.

Starting in Kirkstall the marathon would take us West along the canal up into Saltaire, before turning round and running back towards the start of the 127 mile long canal in the centre of Leeds, ultimately finishing back in Kirkstall. I’ve mentioned before how I am hoping to attend any marathon within an hours drive, but the Canal Canter marathons are likely to hold the distinction of being the closest marathons to home I’ll ever run. Five and a half miles into the race I found myself running past my front door, just mere meters (albeit the other side of the canal) from the bed I was struggling to sleep in hours before. Perhaps it was for the best that I didn’t have my keys on me as it would have took a lot of mental strength to run past my flat not just once, but four times over the weekend and not pop in.

Since turning Vegan last year I’ve become more aware of how self sufficient you need to be as a long distance runner. Before it was easy to rely on the aid stations providing Jelly Babies or chocolate to help you through the race, but now I know that unless it’s fruit there is a good chance I can’t eat it, so often have to make sure I’m carrying all that I need. That said the bananas, blueberries and strawberries that were on hand at some of the aid stations proved to be very welcome and refreshing.

The loyal and often vocal local support

Shortly before the turnaround point in Saltaire I began to feel a little niggle in my right knee. Having had my Achilles tease me in last months marathon, I feared I was on the edge of another injury ruining the day. It was uncomfortable, but bearable and I felt I had little choice but to buckle down and try to run it off. At the time it felt simply like I had knocked my knee against something, I couldn’t remember doing anything that would cause the pain, but it didn’t feel like running on it would exacerbate it too much.

Crossing the finish line on day one

Crossing the finish line on day one

The pace dropped a fair bit for the last few miles, I had gone off too fast at the beginning of the race, getting my pace thrown off after being mixed in with the Half Marathon runners. Whilst I crossed the line in 4:24, quite comfortably under the 4 hours 30 target I had set it was because of heavily front loading the race and then hanging on, rather than any well controlled running. After catching the bus home I hopped into the bath, making sure to make every minute relaxing count as that would be it as far as my post race recovery would go as after getting out of the bath I would be heading back into Leeds for a long awaited gig that evening.

Spending 4 hours on your feet at a gig isn’t going to be found in the chapter on ideal post race recovery in any marathon book, less so is it recommended for the night before a marathon, but it was all my decision so I had no one to blame the following day. The slight knock I had naively, and perhaps optimistically, dismissed the pain in my knee to be, had revealed itself instead to be the dreaded runner’s knee. I taped her up as heavily as I could, put on a couple of knee supports and hoped for the best. I had no reservations about setting a good time on the Sunday, it was purely about finishing. The first time I tried running back to back marathons I ran over a minute per mile slower on the second day, despite the first day’s race being 6 miles longer, so I had no misconceptions about it being easy. My blasé approach to the second day led to me starting the race over a minute late as I stopped to talk to (and help escort) the eventual winner, whilst he sped off and easily caught most of the runners, I slowly took my place in the middle of the pack.

Day Two - Strapped up and still running

Day Two – Strapped up and still running

Typically I’m not a fan of out and back races. Marathons can be as much a battle for the mind as they are the body and out and back races typically stack the deck against you. There is something to be said however about how serene it can be running alongside that canal, away from the noise and chaos of the road. First few miles aside, as I pushed to try and catch up with the race, my pace felt a lot more controlled on the Sunday. At times it felt like I was running on one and a half legs, but I was running with the special type of determined stubbornness found in long distance runners. Against any of my most realistic of targets I finished just a mere 18 minutes slower behind my time the previous day in 4 hours 42 minutes.

A week or so on and my knee is still slowly recovering, plenty of time for it to recover before the Manchester Marathon in April. That’s as long as I don’t do anything stupid…



It has been a long, hard few weeks since I had my therapy session cancelled at the beginning of the month. As I mentioned in my previous post I knew that I would have difficulty approaching the topic of the cancellation in my next session, I was expecting myself simply to ignore the fact and try and brush past it. Instead, what I found myself doing was spending half an hour tip-toeing around the subject, trying to not make my therapist feel guilty. I didn’t want her to feel in anyway responsible for the cluster-fuck end to the week that I had, or perhaps more precisely I didn’t want to be responsible for projecting that negativity on someone else.

I was recommended Dr Windy Dryden’s book ‘Coping with guilt’ by my therapist a couple of weeks ago. The subject of guilt is something that has come up several times in my sessions, and how it prevents me from ever putting myself first as I’m more concerned about the feelings and needs of others. I’m hoping I can force myself to find the time to give this a read soon.

This week will be my eighth and originally final session, though thankfully this have been extended to twelve. It still feels way too early to say whether the therapy is working at all, whilst I’m not finding it difficult like the CBT, I’m yet to feel like I’m getting much benefit from it. Each session starts the same, I walk in and sit down and we both wait for me to say something. Sometimes it takes longer than others, but generally it’s always a struggle. I feel a lot of times that I’m desperately just trying to find things to discuss and I never really know where to start.

The big topic last week was apathy and how it has enveloped most of my life. I don’t know what I want from life. I don’t have enjoyable, positive experiences from things, not even slightly to give me a hint in which direction to go in. It’s just complete fucking apathy.

The satisfaction that I imagine people get from running a marathon I don’t get, running marathons has just become part of my routine. Often it’s simply a case of well, I survived, now let’s get home.

There is no satisfaction, no sense of achievement or happiness. Things are either dismissed as that’s simply what I do, or it’s something I can do better. Last weekend I ran two consecutive marathons, finishing the second in less than 20 minutes slower than the first, but I never allowed myself to revel in this fact. As I hobbled round work at the beginning of the week I dismissed it as ‘I ran too much on the weekend’ when asked for an explanation, instead of taking the opportunity to feel good about what I achieved or perhaps even inspire someone.

The fact that I even run so many marathons was born out of a need to find some kind of satisfaction in my running. Back when the presence of the black dog wasn’t a daily thing I found myself having to run every 2 to 3 days to keep the depression at bay. When that stopped working I found myself running further and longer, hoping that I would reach some magical mile where there would be an aid station not filled with cups of water and jelly babies, but with happiness and self worth.

If running is my main passion, then music is my next. I try to attend as many gigs as I can but I never really enjoy them. Almost from the minute I walk through the door I’m checking my phone for the time and to see when I can leave.

I’ve recently found myself looking for excuses to get as far away from it all as I can, standing at the back of the room, whilst still trying to take it all in. But still, I wouldn’t not go. Not going would mean I’d feel like I’m missing out, and that would be worse. Maybe that time would have been the time where I feel normal and enjoy something. Instead I actively pay money to do something I know is going to make me uncomfortable and that I’m not going to enjoy, just because the alternative would make me feel worse.

It’s disheartening to lose all passion for your main interests.

When people talk of illness there’s always an assumption that it’s physical, it’s a cold, or a stomach bug, people never think of the alternative. My depression and my anxiety are an illness and I’ve been ‘ill’ for about 10 years now. The severity of it comes and goes, but barely a day passes without me feeling it.

When I moved to Leeds two years ago I feared that the uplift in my mental well being was temporary and caused by the change of scenery and routine. Unfortunately it’s proved to be the case. Whilst the severity of my mental health has lessened, it’s more omnipresent. Before it felt like I could go a couple of days without being reminded that I was ill, but these days I can barely get out of bed without it being there.

It’s hard to really know how much I’m benefiting from these sessions as my memory is such an issue. From the minute I leave the room I struggle to recall what happens in these sessions, both what I said and what my therapist said. It makes it difficult to feel like I’m making any progress, I’m not sure whether I’m repeating myself as I simply can’t remember most of it.

When I’ve tried taking notes immediately following the session I use up so much energy digging back inside my head, trying to get all those thoughts and emotions out onto the screen that it completely sacrifices the rest of the day. If I wait until later I find that I’ve forgotten a good amount of the details and I still feel drained as it feels like I haven’t got it all out of my system.

I’ve mentioned before about the thinking of taking notes during the sessions. I might even ask for help next time, I’m assuming that my therapist takes notes after the session, even just a summary of the sessions so far might make me feel better about them. If someone can help walk me through the things that have been coming out of my head, to try and piece them together and make sense of them it might give me some hope that I’m making progress.

That’s what I need right now. Hope.



I’ve been sitting on this post for a while, not for any particular reason, I’ve just been struggling really hard to motivate myself to write it. Depression sucks away any enthusiasm to write blog posts, the longer I leave it the more my bad memory starts to take it’s toll until it reaches the stage where I can’t remember any of the points I wanted to make and it no longer seems relevant.

This afternoon, out of the blue, I received an email that helped kick me back into touch. Since completing my 15 in 2015 for Mind last November I’ve completely failed to pursue the fundraising front. Once again, I’d found myself feeling a disheartened by it and the fact no matter how loud I shout people will only listen if they want to. I still continued to wear the Blue Mind vest during every marathon I’ve ran since, but I was no longer promoting the JustGiving page in my blog posts or anywhere online.

What you’re doing is amazing! Love your photos mate. Keep it up.

It really felt like that email came out of the blue, but it helped give me solace that my efforts aren’t going unnoticed and I’m not shouting into an empty room. Some days the knowledge that what I’m doing, with the running and raising awareness, is reaching people helps give me that little bit of motivation I need to continue. In the darkest moments, or during the toughest miles, the thought that at some point either the words I’ve written on this blog or the money I’ve raised for the charity has helped someone in need helps push me through to the other side.

It’s a shameless plug, but if you do want to sponsor me you can visit my JustGiving page. If you suffer from depression or know someone that does and this blog has in anyway helped, please reach out and let me know…it really helps make it feel worthwhile.

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