Valley of Desolation (Bolton Abbey Trail Marathon)

March 6, 2016

Last Saturday I ran my second marathon of the year, 31st marathon ever but perhaps most importantly it was my 20th in the blue vest of Mind. Sixteen months ago I made the decision to start running marathons in support of Mind and began blogging openly about my mental health in hope of raising awareness of depression. Whilst I’ll admit to getting a little bit frustrated about writing how each week has been a ‘bad’ one and noticing how my depression seems to be getting worse, rather than better, I’m yet to get sick of the running and last weekend it was the turn of the inaugural Bolton Abbey Trail Marathon.

This year I have a new policy, if a marathon is within an hour’s drive then it would be rude to not attend. At 17 miles (or 36 minutes) the Bolton Abbey Trail Marathon more than fit the bill. Organised by the team behind a local favourite, the Kirkstall Abbey Trail Marathon, Bolton Abbey promised 3 undulating 8 and a bit  mile laps. It was an area of Yorkshire I’ve wanted to visit for a long time and last weekend’s marathon seemed like a good opportunity to take in the sights whilst having the added benefit of running 26.2 miles.

River Wharfe

The beautiful grounds of Bolton Abbey

Anxiety can be a dick in the most unexpected and inconvenient of ways. Half an hour before the race I accidentally started listening to a voicemail I had received a few weeks ago. Not being able to answer the phone probably isn’t a particularly uncommon thing, but recently I’ve found myself too anxious to even listen to voicemails that have been left. It turns out two weeks ago I was contacted by the BBC in response to the fundraising I did last year for Mind as they were planning on featuring me on their breakfast show as part of their Mental Health week. The plan was for the interviewer to go on a run with me and to interview me on how I use running to combat my mental health. The opportunity had passed as I had to reply to him the following day and I was now left with not just a feeling of frustration, but also guilt that I missed a great opportunity to help raise awareness.

(Un)fortunately I now had 26.2 miles to work through and try to deal with these feelings. Marathons can be as much a battle for the mind as they are the body, and on Saturday it was definitely a case of both.

After spending too long hiding in the warmth of the car, when the starting klaxon sounded I was still riffling through my race vest trying to grab my energy gels and sort my bottles of water. Half sorted I threw my vest on and began running up the slow, gentle climb. The course looped around the River Wharfe, sticking mainly to paths with the occasional diversion across a field. There was a short stretch where the drop from the side of the path back down to the river was quite steep, so we were warned of this section in the briefing and not to overtake as it was too dangerous.

The course generally felt to be always climbing until around the 5th mile when Bolton Priory came into view beneath us between the trees. Soon enough there was a short, sharp descent towards the Priory and across a footbridge over the River Wharfe. On the other side of the River a marshal ushered us left across a field where I could see runners running back towards us on the other side of the river. The next couple of miles were some of the toughest and muddiest of the race, whilst the weather had been kinder than it could have been, the transition of going from running on even paths to slippery, muddy hills wasn’t a smooth one.

After clearing these fields, two miles later I found myself again on top a hill looking down at Bolton Priory. A runner ahead of me turned back with the same confused look I had on my face, were we still going the right way? I hadn’t thoroughly checked the route beforehand, but I was confident enough that there hadn’t been a wrong turn. After crossing the bridge for the second time the same marshal directed us right, past the Priory and back along the road before heading down into the car park and onto the next lap.

Somewhere there is a Black Metal band writing lyrics to this song

Somewhere there is a Black Metal band writing lyrics to this song

On the second lap my Achilles started to feel a bit tight so I took a more steady approach with the hills, conscious of the marathons I have in the upcoming months. Having spent the tail end of last year nursing an Achilles tendon injury I’m a lot more cautious as soon as there is even a hint of it complaining. My pace slowed a bit for the second lap, I had no real plans or targets for this race, it was a marathon that I wanted to finish rather than set a good time at. A rough 4 hours 30 target was in my head as a steady paced trail marathon and for the most part it looked like a decent shout.

By the final lap the Achilles was still angry so I opted to take safety first and stopped and walked up any hills that it was being a big niggly on. I’ve learnt my lesson having stubbornly ignored it warning me last year at Hamsterley, with 4 marathons in the next couple of months I wasn’t going to put them at risk for the sake of crossing the finish line a couple of minutes earlier. I crossed the finish line in 4 hours 35, a little over the loose target I had set myself, but feeling comfortable and still in one piece.

I mentioned earlier in the year about how I’ve started taking up Yoga in a bid to keep my body in better conditioning and to help with all the running. At the moment I’m attended classes at my local gym twice a week and whilst I’m typically fine on the sessions on Sunday, every Wednesday the sight of those blue mats turns me into a quivering wreck. Something about the combination of having my therapy sessions a few hours before yoga means I can’t quite focus myself.

Blue mats of doom

On Wednesday the morning started off well, I woke up early and prepared my dinner for later and the day’s therapy session had barely crossed my mind. When I remembered what day it was I began feeling that I was perhaps going to waste a session as I couldn’t particularly think of anything to talk through. I’ve felt that before and then after a gentle nudge the floodgates opened, but I felt relatively peaceful. I was barely out of the door before I got a message to say that the session was cancelled. Given how I was feeling moments earlier this should have been a relief, instead it turned my day upside down into an absolute shit show.

Before I even got to work I was struggling, massively. It was touch and go throughout the day until eventually at 5pm I broke. I nearly survived the whole day, but 5 minutes of listening to Anathema and I was sinking. For the next couple of hours I was exhausted, completely fucking gone mentally and physically. Knowing how much I can struggle to focus with yoga I was debating even bothering, added to the fact that they were recording the session for some promotional video my anxiety was likely to be off it’s tits.

I think in the mess that was that day I had manage to use up all the negative energy so I was just left with the husk. Thankfully I still went and ended up having one of my most focussed sessions to date. After leaving my therapy sessions I typically spend the next couple of hours trying to play them back in my head, making notes about what came up and occasionally trying to explore them a little further. It means that by the time 7pm rolls around everything is at the forefront and I haven’t had chance to put these thoughts away. I’m considering asking if I can start physically taking notes whilst the session is taking place to prevent me from reliving it over the course of the following couple of hours. Hopefully between doing that and meditating before I go to Yoga I will be able to start getting through the Wednesday sessions a lot easier.

The week didn’t get much better, on Friday I had an even worse day. I was barely 20 minutes into the day before I already noticed I was struggling, I tried to correct myself by taking 10 minutes out to meditate but that only very temporarily delayed the inevitable. Whilst I feel that I do my best to wear a mask at work, apparently I wasn’t wearing it well enough. My manager took me aside for a ‘quick 5 minutes’, but made the mistake of asking how I was, as it had been clear to her that I had been struggling all week.

“How are you?”

One simple question, three innocent words was it all took for me to come crashing down. It didn’t need to say anything, the 20 minutes of uncontrollable crying that followed was the answer it needed. It’s been no secret that I’ve been slowly getting worse, it feels that the more I do to try and help myself the more the depression fights back and I’m really struggling at the moment to deal with that fact. It took about two hours until I was able to face people again, the rest of the day was a complete blur. Those two hours completely exhausted me both physically and mentally and I could probably have gone straight to bed there and then.

I already know how next week will go. My therapist will apologise for having to cancel Wednesday’s session and I will say “That’s OK”.

But it wasn’t.


I allowed myself to be consumed by the sadness and frustration of not having that therapy session. I felt let down, I felt that I was having something taken away from me that I needed more than I realised. If my head is in the right place I’ll use it as an opportunity to see if she has any advice for how to deal with those situations, rather than ignoring it happened and trying to not place the guilt of the past few days on her.


Feeding the goats at Calverley Cemetery

Next weekend is the Leeds & Liverpool Double Marathon weekend. If ever there was a time for my head and body to be in the right place, it’s going to be then. If I can get through the week with Goat Therapy, then the two marathons might be all I need.


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