Running again

It’s been a while since I’ve hit the trails for a run. It was September last year I ran a Half Marathon on the remote and rugged island of Lundy. But since then? Nothing. Zilch. Nada.

I’ve been wondering why…

It’s not because it was hard. (I mean, obviously it was challenging and I always knew it would be!!). But I think I shocked myself at how hard I was on MYSELF more than anything. What was required of me physically nearly broke me! The terrain was difficult and precarious in places, and despite the wild beauty of the island it was an unforgiving landscape to run across. But I would not let myself give up. There were points where I didn’t think I could make it, but like the landscape I found that I was also unforgiving! So I made myself crawl, climb and run the course until I’d finished.. even if it made me sick.

I was immensely happy that I completed it, and amazed that my body and mind had been capable of getting me across that finish line. It DID make me feel like anything was possible, and this IS a massive positive to experience. But over the next few months I lost all desire to run. I began to question my motivation. Did I really need to do these extreme challenges. Ok, I’d been interested to see how far I could go. To test “mind over matter” but WAS it good for my mental health?. Or was I just beating myself up?

In the months after Lundy Island, I decided to be kinder to myself. As the days grew shorter, I found myself moving slower, walking and sleeping. I gave myself permission to rest. I entered these dark, cold months of Winter with a warmth in my heart as a result. I’ve been rising at dawn to greet the sunrise at the beach, slipping silently beneath the waves has been the only movement and wild remedy I’ve needed. I’ve been recharging.

But now I feel something is shifting. As first light comes earlier and lasts longer every day, I feel the need to move more, to breathe the air deep in to my lungs. To stretch. To reach a little further. To feel what my body is capable of again.

I don’t mean setting myself goals, or challenges in terms of distances or frequency, I’ve just felt that “spark” to want to feel more physically active.

So this morning I asked the dogs if they’d take me for a run. Their joy and enthusiasm for their two (sometimes three) daily outings is utterly boundless. They are born to run after all! It is fun for them! I said to my son I was going for a run for the first time in a long time and he said “you can stop if you want mum. Maybe 3 or 4 times if you want to”. I couldn’t help laughing as this is the same advice I give him when he has to run the daily mile at primary school! So with permission to stop if I want to, me and the dogs set off early, running together up the muddy tracks, between hedgerows and out into the misty fields.

And all of a sudden, I remember what it is I love about trail running! Moving through nature, the air firing up my lungs as my cheeks glow and my heart pounds. The blur of greens and browns and blue as I move through the landscape beneath the vast sky. Noticing the lay of the land with each step, my energy connecting and colliding with the ground; earth, stone, grass, rain, mud, frost. Looking for signs of the seasons as they change and transform, seeing these as metaphors for life.

I remember how I enjoyed the feeling of growing in strength. The progress. The improvement and development. The shifting from one form to another. That last year, over time, I moved faster, and further, my body and mind always in transit. I remember that it is transformational.

I am on that journey. Again

This by no means looks like a 21km distance right now. But then it never did. Not when I first started running. I certainly never imagined running around Lundy Island!

Perhaps I will always want to challenge myself. Perhaps I need extremes. By reaching as far as my outer edges will possibly allow, then retreating safely back to centre. Maybe these are the limits I need to go to in order to truly know the expanse of my self and to understand my mental health. By swinging between these counterpoints, over and over, perhaps my inner pendulum will one day reach an equilibrium.

I would rather stop and start, then stop and start again, than never begin at all.

Running Wild; Lundy Island Half Marathon

Earlier this year I ran my first half marathon. (see previous post “Running For Mental Health”). It was a 21km trail run following a stunning route in Devon along canals and estuaries towards the sea. I was curious to see whether I could complete the 21km route – knowing that my trail running experiences to date had been varying distances and terrain and all totally dependent on how I was feeling mentally. I’ve often heard that with any physical challenge, it is your mind that gives up before your body does and with my mind often working against me, I wanted to push the boundaries and find what was there.

I completed that run. I showed up, and completed it. I wasn’t going to win any prizes for my time, but my personal win was that I did it, despite the usual negative thinking that threatened to sabotage my attempt. This surprised me and left me wondering what else I could try.

And so. When I saw that PureTrail Running would be organising a half marathon event on Lundy Island (a wild and remote place I’ve always wanted to visit but isn’t easily accessible), I knew I would be going.

Now, it is here that I admit to perhaps being somewhat over confident”.

Having completed one half marathon distance, I assumed that I would be capable of completing another. I gave little thought to the fact that Lundy Island would be entirely different (and much more challenging) terrain. But the knowledge that my relationship with trail running has always been about the landscape, and how it influences my mental atmosphere while moving through it, encouraged me to sign up. Surely the experience of running around a wild island would be enough movitivation to get me through?

It is my love of wild spaces that inspires me to run through it. I’m not a treadmill fan, or keen on running on pavements. It is the scenery, the space, the sounds, the smells that feed the soul. I am rewarded with an energy that comes from the land. This energy converts into a desire to move, and the result is undeniably a positive output; the “holy grail” of happiness endorphins. But even more than this, the experience leaves me feeling connected to the wild around me, the seasons, the weather, the wildlife; and it ignites something wild and liberating inside me.

We were due to board the ferry to Lundy island at 08:25 on a Sunday morning in September. This meant getting up at 05:30 to drive from Dorset to Ilfracombe, Devon in time to board. The 2 hour crossing was fully booked with over 200 runners travelling to Lundy. It was a damp misty morning and with a reasonable swell in the channel it meant that sea sickness was a risk. A few unlucky entrants were struck with it, retreating below deck to try and find a place to quietly die, or sleep.

The scenery is simply stunning as you get closer to the island. On arrival, the dramatic rocky cliffs and sheer drops that plunge into the sea seem quite imposing. No glimpse of the overall landscape is revealed here, just a harsh wall of cliff. Seals appear in the harbour, inquisitive and playful with their dark eyes surveying the crowd as we disembark and begin the steep 1mile climb up to the starting line. Once at the top of the island we are blessed with blue sky and unusually hot autumnal sunshine. A welcome breeze reassuringly whips around us we prepare to start.

Lundy Island 21km Route

The route is essentially made up of 3 loops, incorporating a fairly level central granite trail which runs south to north, 2 x lengths of the west and east precipitous coastal paths and a final smaller loop to bring us back to the village to finish. As we set off up a narrow track, we are a slow moving colourful crowd. I run for a while with a lady I chatted to on the ferry until she picks up pace and moves off gracefully picking her way further to the front. I’m greeted by highland cows, horses, butterflies and heather and I’m enjoying the scenery and steady pace until we come across the first challenging route which takes in the West coast path. This narrow path is nothing more than a wild goat track with deep bracken either side. A sheer drop to your left leads to certain death on the rocks below and with this sheletered side of the island yet to have warmed up in the sunshine, it is a fairly wet and slippy path. We are reduced to walking pace. With rocks and boulders to scramble over there are times when I am on all fours to steady myself, this is slow going and tacticle, nothing like my previous half marathon experience along the level estuary trail!

And here is where the unhelpful naysayer of my mind decides to contribute to the situation;

This is dangerous, “I’m going to slip”

I think “I might have under-estimated the terrain”, “I’m getting too used to walking, I’ll never be able to get going again”. “I’m holding up the other runners behind me”, and most frequently “What the actual fuck am I doing here – you’ve never done ANYTHING this hard before!!”….

After a good half an hour of this relentless obstacle course and mental arrest, I am utterly relieved to finally find our way onto a wider path. Although this bit of the course is a steep gradient I am using less mental energy and more leg power. (this sounds more professional than “head first staggering”). At this point we reach the first “cut-off” point. It’s been 7 miles so far and I’m in good time so with a quick drink and slice of orange I’m back on the trail feeling relatively hopeful.

This next loop takes in the east coast path. It is a wide open space with little shelter and the elements take you hostage as the wind and sea comes in from the atlantic ocean and batters the island with it’s full force. The winds are fairly tame today given the mild weather, and I’m grateful for a breeze to accompany the overall drama of the landscape; it inspires me to run and I like to think that I make up time for the cautious slow approach earlier.

Here is the point where I miraculously manage to find the one and only bog on the entire island. Despite there being a helpful stone path through it, I misnavigate and my left foot plunges into the dark wet stench, reappearing with a black wet trail shoe, and leg glistening like tar. Cursing at my foolishness I tackle the ascent up the cliff from the bog of stench only to be greeted by a full view of the island which literally takes my breathe away! This is an incredible moment, I feel a real sense of my geographical location and it hits me that I’m “actually here, doing it”. So much so that I have to do a double-take when I see the end of the island, and realise how far I need to run in order to reach the 2nd cut-off which takes place at the infamous Lighthouse (and it’s many many steep steps).

Feeling a little deflated about the distance still to cover, I am also aware that there are runners now coming up behind me. This unsettles me. Not necessarily because I am competitive, but I just find it really pressurising! I find myself trying to imagine eyes in the back of my head, like the game “What’s the time Mr Wolf”. I’m wondering how close they are now, should I slow down so they can over take, or push on and use it as a motivator? I can hear their casual conversation and I’m reminded that I am here alone. No friend, no running group, not even a familiar face as I’m a newcomer to these kinds of events.

I push on, their conversation becoming less audible in the wind and I just plough on until eventually I see the point where I need to make the descent down to the lighthouse (and back). The steps down are narrow and steep, the path carves it’s way through large boulders of rock. It is with mixed feelings that I am obligated to hang back while other runners who’ve arrived before me tackle their return climb up the steps. I’m relieved to stop a while, but also terrified by the look of sheer strain and determination on their faces as they pass, unable to speak.

“How the hell am I going to do this? This is going to be brutal… oh god, I feel sick”.

The descent
The ascent

Let’s just say, it took every ounce of anything that was left in my body to make it back up to the top of those steps. My lungs on fire, my head pounding, my legs screaming, I stumbled onto level ground and felt a sickness that you only ever experienced from over exertion. A deep, lower body nausea that has you feeling heavy and unable to move. I clumsily wobble to the aid station, unable to speak or even gesture towards the refreshments. My peripheral vision blurred, like on the spinning Waltzers at a fairground, everything was rushing past in long streaks of colour while all I could do was focus on what was immediately in front of me.

Other runners arrive at the aid station jovial, managing to find funny things to say to their co-runners, upbeat, quite chipper even. I however, am sensing a dark realisation that this is WAY beyond my ability. That I have been totally stupid to think that this would be doable. It was sheer madness to think I could complete this based on a “love of wild places” and a whimsicle belief in “mind over matter”. Quite simply; You are either physically fit enough. Or you are not.

I tentatively begin to consider my options. I am at the north of the island and I need to return to the South in order to finish. Even if I don’t run it, I still need to get to the South of the island to catch the ferry home. Could I walk? Should I tell the aid station that I want to exit the race? Could I somehow carry on, maybe just crawl the last 5km back? Perhaps I could take a shortcut?

I am convinced that everyone else is far fitter, far more experienced than I am. I am SURE that I’m at the back of the race, and not far from last and that I’m falling further behind the longer I stand (wobble) here on the spot. There are so many indicators that I have bitten off more than I can chew of this island. I am simply not physically capable of running any further.

And then, a number of things happened…

I see her. The girl that parked in the same car park as me back on mainland. She’s beautiful, well toned and wearing exactly the right combo of expensive gear for a proper trail run. I’d assumed she was a pro, and that she must do this kind of race as a regular Sunday outing. But perhaps I was wrong? She is, after all, a good 1/4 mile behind me, coming along the east coast path that I’ve already covered, slowing to a walk just as often as I need to. I know this sounds utterly shallow, but it made me feel better!! Is that bad?? It’s just; this girl (I’m sorry whoever you are) made me feel a bit intimidated, jealous even. She represented all of the imaginery reasons why someone like me would never be as good, or able, or fit enough to finish a run like this. Ridiculous as it sounds, the truth is that how someone LOOKED threatened to mess with my confidence enough to feel I couldn’t do something I wanted to do. And here she was…. no further ahead, no quicker, no less tired in her appropriate attire, on those well toned legs looking wildly beautiful. She was battling as much as me to keep going. The only difference between her and me being able to complete a run like this, is that she was showing up, and getting on with it, just like I was, but she wasn’t giving up.

At this precise moment in time something caught my eye. I span round just as a bird of prey shot past me at what seemed to be a million miles an hour

As I fixed my gaze on the outline against the sky I realised it was a peregrine falcon. It turned expertly and returned, shooting past me and out along the wide open ground. It was a magical sight to watch, full of freedom, yet naturally in control. In that moment I was in awe of it’s ability, at how lucky I had been to witness it’s performance. It was also the boost I needed.

As I gathered my spirit, I began to run, one foot in front of the other. I was joined by a small group of runners. I couldn’t help but notice that they were wearing ‘Plymouth Trail Runners’ vests. “A running club” I thought… “that MUST bode well for me; we’re all running at the same pace”. I also realised that one of the runners was wearing a Happy Birthday Banner! I absolutely loved that she was choosing to run a half marathon on Lundy Island for her birthday, and their comoraderie and banter brought a fun vibe to the next few kilometres. I realised that they’d been behind me for a while, and recognised their voices as the runners I’d allowed myself to feel pressurised by. They commented on the (many) ocassions that things kept dropping out of my (non) trail running rucksack!! Embarassed, I admitted that I hadn’t invested in any proper kit and that the rucksack was literally held together by bungies and clips. They gently teased me saying “you do realise that “trail running” isn’t leaving a trail of your belongings as you run!??”. I laughed. I don’t know how I managed to find the energy, but I laughed.

Somehow, something shifted mentally as a result of these things. I stopped being hard on myself. I began to take it all a little less seriously and I even managed to tell myself there was every chance that I could make it to the end. That it didn’t matter if I walked, or came last, or didn’t finish even. It was ok to feel utterly exhausted and sick from exerting myself, it was an epic half marathon and I was giving it my best shot! I’d come to an island, I’d seen every inch of it, witnessed it’s brutal beauty, it’s harsh side and it’s wild side. I hadn’t come here for the people, or a place in a long list of times but it WAS a part of the experience, and I needed to accept that somewhere in all of that, I was included, and I was part of it too. This is something I struggle to get my head aroud… PTSD and Social anxiety doesn’t usually encourage me to feel “part” of things. It is usually a case of feeling “apart” from things.

Despite the odds, I had got this far. And just as I thought it would never end, I crossed the finish line. It had taken 3hours and 22minutes to complete the 21km route of the island. I had run, walked, climbed and crawled my way to that finish line, and came 157th out of a total of 197 runners that finished. (Some did not). I’m telling you this because I want you to realise that I am not fast, not uber fit, and perhaps this further illustrates this.

I received a shiny medal of a puffin (the island’s famous for this seabird) but, too tired to wait in line for the BBQ, I grabbed a packet of salt & vinegar crisps and a sausage roll and collapsed in a quiet spot in the sun against a stone wall.

I’m not going to lie; Aside from giving birth, I have never felt so utterly exhausted in all my life. Every part of my body was screaming. I felt so sick I was unsure if I’d be able to make it back to mainland on the ferry. I lay on my back in the grass, looking up at the drifting clouds as I stretched my muscles. Every time I closed my eyes it felt as if the world around me was all at sea. But in amongst the sickness and the soreness, there was a deep sense of satisfaction. I’d done it. It nearly killed me. But I’d finished.

“I still wonder if it was beyond my ability”.

My doubts creep in even though I finished it! I can hear the voice of the naysayer telling me “I was lucky I didn’t do any serious damage to my body”. “You’re like a cat with nine lives”. As I watch the last of the runners coming in to finish I am amazed at the determination and spirit of these people. How, if we can push ourselves to do these things that maybe it can unlock the secret to how we can make it through life unscathed. I cheer and clap as two runners finish together, both must be somewhere in their 60’s and as they cross the finish line. I see them as their younger selves, the look on their faces reveal something close to mischief. Defiance even.

On the ferry home, I bump into the lady who I’d chatted to at the beginning of the run. Also there alone, she had completed it in good time but had also felt really ill afterwards. We ended up drinking tea together and discovered we shared a whole load of common interests including our obsession with sea swimming. A happy bonus to the day and again, showing me how pushing yourself out of your comfort zone can bring unexpected rewards.

Tired and weary after a long day, we are rewarded with an incredible sunset. There is something quite ethereal about witnessing a setting sun while out at sea, it’s as if you are between worlds somehow. It felt something like freedom. To have escaped the “norm” of feeling anxious about the future, to have experienced something wild and crazy, and to have survived certainly felt otherworldly to me.

There are days when I simply can’t face the world at all, let alone run a half marathon on a remote island.

As I stand on the deck steadying myself as we ride the waves, the colours in the sky reflecting on the surface of the water seem to intensify this sentiment. I breathe it in. Grateful for being alive, here in this moment.

It was only later that I discovered that the Plymouth Trail Runners that I’d been running at the same pace with, and had encouraged me that I was “keeping up” with the professionals, were in fact doing a recovery run after having completed a 100km run the previous weekend!!

Running With Wolves…

Ok, so maybe not wolves, but running with Lurchers. I’m discovering it brings a whole new experience to trail running!

My husband is the dog fanatic. He grew up with dogs, breeding his first Border Terrier at just 8 years old. Later he developed a passion for Lurchers. Not a breed in it’s own right, but a cross between a sighthound (greyhound, saluki, deerhound etc) with something else. (Collie, Retriever, Bull Terrier).

We’ve had several amazing Lurchers over the years, all from a long line of running dogs with a history of agility, intelligence and speed. At the moment we have two; Yanto and Spook. Yanto being the senior at 8 years old, and Spook the latest recruit who is now 11 months old. They are completely different in character. Yanto (below right) is sensitive and gentle in nature. Spook (below left) is fearless, bold and a bit feral right now!

I started running with Yanto a few years ago. It seemed crazy that I was out on trail runs in the fields and off road but not taking him with me. I’d come home covered in mud with brambles in my hair and he’d sniff my trainers with great interest. But I guess I was “in the zone” when I first started trail running. I was finding my feet and testing my endurance, getting slightly obsessed with my times and distances. I didn’t want anything to distract me from my progress. And I knew there was a lot to consider when out in the countryside with our dogs.

Lurchers are natural born hunters. Anyone that owns one will know that rabbits, squirrels, deer (cats!) will never go unnoticed. A sight hound, with incredible speed and agility they are designed to be predators. And they know it. My husband has trained them around livestock. They’re steady as anything with sheep, horses and cattle, and their recall is spot on. But if I’m walking our dogs, I am always alert to the possibility they might catch sight, or scent of quarry and be off. They have trained ME to be aware of our environment, wind direction, certain times of day, what season we’re in, what wildlife is likely to be in the vicinity. They are instinctively assessing all of this silently, and I need to be aware of all of these things if I want to try and be one step ahead, and prevent a catch.

So running with a Lurcher comes with the risk that you’ll end up running AFTER him, rather than WITH him!

I began running with Yanto a few years ago. Initially on a lead, I thought I’d need to get him used to me running, and that I’d need to “desensitize” him. My thinking being that the change in dynamic from walking to running might send a signal that there’s something to get excited about (and I didn’t want him to think we were “game on”!). I just wanted him to get used to my movement and pace.

We did the same route, a 5km loop our across fields and tracks for a few weeks. But he was used to being off a lead for long walks and his etiquette on a lead when running didn’t improve. He would often suddenly stop to smell something of interest (and yank my shoulder out of it’s socket), or randomly cross over in front of me and trip me up. I was constantly stopping and starting and found myself head first in hedges and muddy ditches on more than one ocassion!

The time had come to let him run free with me…… THIS is where it got interesting!……

I smile now when I say I’m taking the dogs for a run. I’m not sure when it changed, but at some point I realised that I’m not “taking them”…… WE are going together.

You see, when you run with a dog there are a two major shifts that take place. The first is that all of those things that you need to be aware of; the conditions that dictate whether there is a hunt afoot, (wind direction, the time of day etc) that is all still relevant, but somehow you are IN it, you become a part of that. You’re not observing it, you ARE it. Your impact on the environment and how it responds to YOU is much more noticeable.

The second shift is that of the relationship between you and the dog. There seems to be a sense that you are now a team. That ancestral instinct kicks in and you’re alpha male/female, part of the pack. You are running wild together. We instinctively stop as we enter a field and survey the land, we push on when we’re tackling a steep track, and most incredibly, this creates a deeper connection to the land, to the wildlife, to the wilderness on a level that I’ve never experienced when just walking the dogs, or running on my own.

I wonder if this is how it feels to be a wolf, running with wolves!?? This is what I think when we’re out there together.

My obsession with how far we’ve traveled, and how long it’s taken us, isn’t there anymore. I have a rough idea and that’s mainly just for practicality. The experience is more important, and we go at our own pace. If the dogs stop and take interest in something, I might stop too, or I might push on and they catch up. But on the whole we are training together as a team, practicing our skills and communication and deepening our understanding of the land.

The difference being of course that I am a human, running on two legs! Generally seen wearing flourescent lycra, sweating profusely and whistling loudly to make sure any wildlife around has a head start or can go to ground. Just. In. Case!

For brilliant advice and tips on running with dogs click on the link below.

Running for Mental Health

It was with significant doubt in my mind that I arrived at the start line of the South West Coast2Coast challenge on an overcast Sunday morning in July.

Earlier in the year I signed up to run an off road half marathon to raise money for Dorset Mind, the local branch of the MIND mental health charity.

Having been a “wannabe” trail runner for the past few years I felt that perhaps I could push myself a bit further. I’ve been curious about what happens mentally when I run. How the mind often begs to give up long before the body does. How my mood can either improve or sabotage my efforts.

I’m not one of these runners that is pushing for a best time, or to lose weight, or to compete. I run because I’m learning about how my mind behaves, how I cope with the challenge, but also because it’s another way to spend time in nature. Connecting with the seasons, the weather and the wildlife when I’m running off road gives me such nourishment. It can almost feel primitive, and I imagine how our earliest ancestors must have run as far as the eye could see, to hunt, survive and navigate the land. I love to run wild, get covered in mud, have brambles in my hair and feel the fresh air in my lungs.

But standing at the start line in Exeter, I am feeling like a fool. My naive curiosity has morphed into crippling doubt as I watch what appear to be well toned athletes, in all the latest sports gear, casually chatting about the last Ultra challenge they smashed, and how they’re looking for a sub 2hr time today.

All the reasons I shouldn’t be attempting this are loudly shouting at me.

“I haven’t trained enough. I haven’t followed a nutrition plan. I am not a ‘proper exercise’ person. I am stupid”.

It is fair to say that no-one in their right mind should attempt a half marathon without having trained. I know this. I’ve read all about it. So why on earth was I attempting it?

Perhaps I am not in my right mind! But the intensely annoying fact about most mental health conditions is that it attempts to thwart your efforts and sabotage success. I hate this SO much, it somehow gives me the determination to fight.

I’ll be honest. I did begin training. I printed out a schedule. I put it on the fridge. I ran all the distances and days I was supposed to. I reached my fundraising target. I was on track. But then it changed.

The last training run I did was a few months ago. A 16km run that made me physically sick. I pushed myself SO hard that it made me ill. I felt like a failure. I wondered what the hell I was doing to myself. Had none of the self compassion based mindfulness I’d been taught in recovery even sunk in? Was I being too hard on myself. Was I just deluding myself? Was I simply using exercise as another way to badly manage my problems, a healthy ‘disguise’ for badly treating myself.

I became so depressed that I wasn’t able to keep going. I doubted my own judgement. Doubted my motivation. I began feeling like a failure before I’d even got to the start line. I felt SO under pressure and anxious about what I’d signed up for. I’d simply backed myself into a corner. Even worse was knowing the irony that I’d raised this money for a mental health charity, but probably wouldn’t be able to complete the run because of my mental health!

I considered cancelling. I didn’t HAVE to do it did I?

But here I am at the start line. Just showing up.

I’ve had enough of the stories running riot in my head. They are not helping me in any way. I need to focus on the positives. So I start to tell myself a new story;

It is a Sunday morning, I’ve nothing better to do. I’m just following a route from Exeter to the South Coast along a beautiful canal, river and estuary to the sea. I can quit if I want to, no one knows I’m here other than my husband. (I deliberately didn’t remind anyone of the date). There’s a lovely cool breeze on my skin, and I am willing and able to run a while. Due to COVID we can start whenever we like so as not to be running on mass. I give myself permission to walk if I need to. To stop every 30 minutes, drink some water, have a jelly bean and look at the view. Most importantly, even if it takes me ALL day then at least all the money raised will be validated. All I have to do is try and finish it. I might even enjoy it.

I won’t bore you with the run itself, and how I managed my thoughts. Let’s just say that I was shocked at how hard it was NOT to let my mind spiral into negative thinking. It was like a wild animal and I was gaining it’s trust. But what did make it endurable was the scenery, the wildlife, the breeze. Being mindful of my breathing, my body and the way I was moving, I was in the moment, DOING it.

When I saw the finish line and heard people cheering it was slightly surreal. I didn’t feel a part of it. I was watching myself cross over the line hardly believing it was happening. My husband had got lost with Sat Nav and wasn’t there to see me finish. But I was quietly pleased. I didn’t want cheers, or pats on the back. I wanted a moment to witness how it felt to feel free of negativity, free of fear. To stand in the middle of a field, feeling alive and like anything is possible.

Needless to say I am relieved I completed it. I’m glad that I raised money for a charity that I truly believe in, I’m pleased that my body was able to withstand the challenge and that I didn’t injure myself. But what I’m really happy about is that I didn’t let my mental health prevent me from starting it, let alone finishing.

PTSD, anxiety and depression can be debilitating at times. All I want to do is hide away from the world and be left alone. Any kind of pressure or stress and I begin to panic. But the pressure I put on myself is the most evil, unkind and unhelpful type of pressure.

It’s so frustrating when you want to achieve, and you want to reach your goals. But sometimes it just feels impossible, and we can’t seem to get there. But what I am learning is that in order to do these things, I must practice a bit of self compassion. I must be kinder to myself. Tell myself a the more gentle version of the story, that enables me to feel the courage to try.

The story I told myself of the space, freedom and nature I could invite into my journey to the finish line is what helped me to get there. I will never forget that and every time I look at the medal, it will speak to me of mental freedom. A reminder that the journey is as much a part of the destination, and you can’t have one with out the other.