A Darkness Coming (Manvers Dusk Till Dawn)

August 13, 2016

The spectre of October’s Dusk till Dawn 50 mile Ultramarathon has been looming over me since signing up for the race a few months ago. The 100K in June had a big knock on my confidence, and even though I’ll be armed with a headtorch in a few months time, it taught me that I will need to become a lot more comfortable running in the dark. The Manvers 12HR Dusk till Dawn presented me with a great opportunity to deal with some of these issues head on, but things aren’t always as easy as they seem.

In the month since my last blog post I have run not one, not two but three more marathons, firstly, the Hamsterley Marathon followed by the Canal Canter Take 2 the following day. The Hamsterley Marathon was a race that I had a particular axe to grind with, last year it came two-thirds of the way into my planned 15 marathons for Mind and left me with two busted up Achilles tendons that would go on to the plague me for much of the rest of the year. This year I took a much more tentative approach to it, hoping to have learnt my lessons from last year and trying to make sure that my body was still left in a state to be able to run a marathon the following day.

The next day I would run the Canal Canter Take Two Marathon, which would actually be the third time that I had run the course after running both days back in March. After surviving the 2,000+ft of elevation in Hamsterley Forest, I planned to run a gentle sub 5-hour marathon and to try and finish both of them in less than a combined 10 hours. However, the smugness I had after having two pain-free Achilles tendons came back to bite me in the arse 8 miles in when a sharp pain hit me in the calf and would seem to bounce between my knee and hamstring for the remainder of the race. Whilst I still managed to sneak in under the 5 hours, the injury slowed me down too much to get the combined sub 10-hour target.

Manvers Dusk till Dawn

Running a 12 hour (or even 24 hours) event solo had been on my to-do list for a while, and at just £10 to enter the Manvers race offered me a great opportunity to scratch this particular itch. My training for the Norfolk 100K wasn’t just poor, it was practically non-existent and it was a mistake I’m very, very anxious not to make again so I was keen to make the most of the race. The set up of the race was as follows; the 3.21 mile course started at the Manvers Waterfront Boat Club house running around the lake and through woodland, temporarily joining the Trans Pennine Trail before heading back to the clubhouse. Starting at 6pm, you would run through the night, completing as many laps as you chose to before 6am the following morning.

My plan from the start was quite simple, I had 12 hours to run 16 laps, averaging just over 4 miles an hour to reach my target of 50 miles. A few weeks on from the double marathons at the beginning of July the knee injury I had picked up was still giving me the occasional issue, despite doing what I could to try and shake it off. It meant, once again I was going into a race short of confidence, this time in my body’s ability to hold up to 12 hours of running. As a bare minimum, I wanted to run 30 miles and chalk up another ultramarathon but I was unsure just how possible that would be, and how much potential damage I could be doing in the long term.

manvers_briefing

With the race being my first solo 12 hour event I had no idea what to pack food wise, and so I ended up getting somewhat carried away and bought everything I could think of, bananas, blueberries, strawberries, Oreos, fizzy sweets, flapjacks, Cliff bars and more. I felt like I needed to have a little bit of everything as who knew whether at 2am I would want to eat some blueberries or Oreos? The answer is Oreos, it’s always Oreos. As each lap passed the car park I wouldn’t have to worry about carrying any of this food with me, for the first time in a while I could run without carrying food and drink and enjoy it. The first few laps went by without much concern, and I used the opportunity to try and memorise as much of the course as I could as within just a few hours I would be spending most of the rest of the race running it in the dark.

When night fell, things started to change. I had spent the first half of the race running without my headphones, as per the race instructions, but as the Norfolk 100K taught me, I have become overly reliant on running with headphones to keep me going both physically and mentally. The sun began to set at around 9pm, shortly after my 5th lap. I grabbed some more food from the car and my headtorch and began what would be my toughest lap of the entire night.
Running under moonlight

For some reason, I thought that when the night fell the laps would get easier, that not being able to see the course would stop the mental struggle of running the same course over and over. My legs were feeling heavy and were showing no signs of warming up, my knee was beginning to play up, occasionally feeling like it was about to fall out sideways and I was unsure whether all the heavy supporting I was wearing was the only thing keeping it in one place, or if it was responsible for the pain.

But the biggest struggle I was facing was a mental one. The race had started to feel symbolic of my current psychological state, I was going round and round in circles, never really feeling like I’m making any progress, unable to see where I was heading and feeling like I keep ending up in the same place. I was coming to the end of my therapy sessions, and after going three weeks without having one I was struggling a lot more than I realised. I ended up spending 20 minutes in the car before ticking off the 7th lap trying to get my head back in the right place, I was only 23 miles in, a long way from my initial 50 mile target, and at that point I just wanted to give up and go home.

car

I grabbed some pasta from my bag, which I had initially planned to eat at midnight, but I figured now was as good a time as any, changed my trainers and put on my headphones. I wasn’t looking forward to getting out of the car, I had lost vital time, nearly lost my mind and knew that when I started running again I would have to start rethinking my race plan. The next few laps went by a lot easier, being able to listen to music helped provide a well-needed distraction and allowed me to worry solely about the physical struggle and not the mental one, and changing into my more supportive Hokas, for a few miles at least, made my legs feel a lot fresher.

Three laps later and I had reached my minimum target of 30 miles (10 laps) and I was feeling a lot comfortable than I was a few hours ago. The 50 mile target was now most likely out of reach, and I would only be risking further injury by trying to reach it, so I decided to compromise and finish off at 43 miles or 13 laps. I missed the sunset because I was around the other side of the lake and realised that if I finished before 5am I would be able to sit back and watch the sunrise over the lake. After 10 and 1/2 hours of running, I entered the clubhouse and made a mark next to my name for the last time.

There was still time for me to comfortably complete another two laps, but as that would leave me agonisingly short of my initial 50 mile target I saw little point. Earlier in the night my mind had been feeling very fragile, but I had recovered, another 6 and a bit miles might be a stretch too far for my knee. With a few big races coming up it seemed pointless risking further injury for the sake of an extra couple of ticks next to my name, I had run an acceptable 43 miles, scraped through with my knee still in one piece and for me that was more than enough.

Sunrise over Manvers Lake

Now I could enjoy the sunrise, safe in the knowledge that I didn’t have to run any more laps and cheer on those who continued running right until the final minute.

A quick health update

Last week I had what I initially thought to be my penultimate therapy session,  a long 3 weeks after my last one. With nearly a month in between sessions I wasn’t expecting much, the previous session was spent talking about how I often hold back and generally take a while to get going, struggling to fully let myself go in the session. The main reason for this being that I know that if I fall apart in the session then that is essentially the day written off. Sure I can try and do my best to recover, but there will still be this fragility surrounding me for the rest of the day and if someone even so little as innocently asks if I’m OK then I’ll crack.

There has been a general underlying sadness for much of the past few weeks, an almost overwhelming, constant need to cry but never finding the ability to release. An emotional blue-ballsing if you will. There hasn’t even been any obvious reasons for it, it’s just been….there and it’s something that I experience with a frustrating regularity. The longer I go without flushing it out of my system by breaking down in tears, the more intense it is. I like to feel that it’s something I can control, sometimes choosing to try and force it out, but it doesn’t always work.

This storm that had been brewing finally came last Friday when I was far, far from ready for it. I guess in many ways it was my fault, I had been pushing and pushing it back, trying to ignore it, trying to be ‘normal’, but it really doesn’t work like that. It can go away for a bit, but when it comes back it, it comes back twice as strong with a certain ‘Fuck You’ attitude. From the minute I woke up I was already a bit ‘wobbly’, but that only got worse as the day went on. I’ve recently taken to hiding away at work in a meeting room when my senses were taking too much of a beating, choosing to fashion myself a ‘panic room’ where I can hide away in quiet and get on with my work without all the energy of others around me.

In hindsight locking myself away in a room for a long period of time, with little to distract me from what’s going on inside my head probably wasn’t the wisest of strategies. The door that had served me well a couple of weeks ago, failed to protect me from the problems I had brought in with me. I broke a couple of times throughout the day, but the true storm hit at the end of the day when most people had gone home, I was just massively overwhelmed and spent the next hour uncontrollably in tears.

For the past two weeks I've spent a lot of time hiding behind this door. There is a certain level of security it provides when I feel a storm brewing, it has been a panic room protecting me against my own head. And for the most part it's has worked. But today, today the storm got too strong, the door blew off and the walls came crashing down. It has been coming for a while, and in many ways I'm glad it finally happened. It's never easy spending hours with only your own tears for company, but sometimes it feels refreshing. The anxiety I've felt about it hitting should now hopefully subside and allow me to get back on track for a while. #depression #mentalhealth #mentalillness #mentalhealthawareness #anxiety #calm #itsoktotalk #awareness

A photo posted by Shane Nicholl (@thatmoonrunner) on

I started last week fairly optimistic after watching Challenge Sophie’s Ted Talk, my general lack of direction in life and vagueness of what I want/where I want to go is something that is a common thread in my therapy sessions, but that video gave me the inspiration to start asking myself those questions, and to try and take control of my own life. That’s what I thought at least, instead what happened is my head took that as an opportunity to focus on everything that I’m not happy with and repeatedly smack me in the face with them.

Your life sucks! You’ll never be happy!

Five solid days of hearing that in my head and you get a Friday, hours of tears and being unable to face people. I’m still reeling from it, I could have spent the entire evening locked in that room losing my shit, but I had to force myself to leave. That underlying sadness that was present throughout the majority of last week is still there, all the crying that happened on Friday has done little to relieve that pressure and I’m very surprised I managed to get through the rest of this week without a repeat of the same events.

Next week, after 8 months, my therapy sessions come to an end and whilst I’m not necessarily willing to forgo the traditional format, I’m hoping there will be an in-depth discussion as to what my options are for the next stage of treatment. It was touched upon briefly before, but next week I am hoping it will be the focus. I’ve typically been very against taking the medication route, knowing how it can be a struggle to find the right type that works for each person and how it can accentuate your depression if you’re taking the wrong ones. It has also previously felt like an admission of defeat, like I am accepting that depression is something that I’m going to have to live with permanently and that I would have to be taking medication to try and feel ‘normal’ for the rest of my life.

It seemed like an easy option at the beginning of the process to take medication, I didn’t want a simple fix, I wanted to know what was actually going on with me, to explore why I was depressed and to identify what, if anything I could do about it. Over 20 hours later and I have dug deeper and uncovered more than I was expecting, and as many warn the darker times feel much darker than they did a year ago. I’ve still got a long way to go, but it’s time now, more than ever to start taking steps, even small ones to do what I can to help myself.

Walking barefoot through the Chevin

Today I was invited to do something far out of my comfort zone, barefoot walking through Otley Chevin, a monthly event organised by a local wellbeing group. It’s something I would never have done by myself, after two and a bit years of living in Leeds it was the first time I’ve ever been to the Chevin, but I enjoyed those few hours this morning more than I have anything else for quite a while.

To end on a slightly more cheerful note I’ll spin it back around to running. There is now a long wait until my next race, almost two months until the Robin Hood Marathon at the end of September. I’ve found a couple of races that I may be able to fill that gap with, but it might be handy just to take a bit of a longer rest between races and to spend the time forming a strategic plan for the 50 mile Ultra in October.

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