running blog

Clive Whaley

Mental Health

The End or The Beginning?

2 Days after the Marathon - Walk to West Bay

"At any point in our lives we find ourselves somewhere between the beginning and the end … the charm of the game of life is that we never know where we are along that voyage."*

The whole body is stiff and sore. My legs are particularly bad but it did help to walk and the further I walked the more they freed up. I walked down to West Bay, one of my favourite training grounds and, although dressed in my 'civvies' this time, recreated 'that pose' for one last photograph. And I also spent time reflecting on the marathon experience.
I got round in 3 hours 33 minutes. I managed to hold roughly 8 minute mile pace for the whole course until about 20 miles but I just couldn't maintain it right to the finish. I was slipping to 8 and a half minute miles and, although I was working much much harder and digging in all that I could, it wasn't having much effect. Of course it is in those last few miles that you find out what the marathon is all about. I DID find out what it is all about and, although it hurt, I'm sort of glad that I did. I was tested like never before and yet… I got through it and I'm SO proud of how hard I was able to run right to the end. With so much unfinished business at stake, it put a lot of pressure on me but I was able to handle it … just. (End of "I'm so proud" section.)

I experienced very little euphoria or joy on crossing the finish line - just a minor wave of relief that it was over and then major waves of pain - pain that somehow I had held back for the previous 3 hours or so. I staggered through a group of well meaning officials and volunteers who gently steered me in the right direction and one of them smiled and put a medal round my neck. I think some of them said, "Well done".

And then I headed for the medical tent.

The tent ran for what seemed like half a mile and was staffed by vast numbers of young men and women in green uniforms. The environment was not far off what I imagine a field hospital in a war zone to look like. I was led past other suffering runners, either laid out on stretchers or vomiting into bags. I then spent the next 20 minutes or so having two extremely painful toenails patched up. The fourth toe on each foot was a funny mix of red, purple and black colouring and the toenails were excruciating to the touch. They padded and patched them up so that I could hobble away to find my family.

I didn't think that my surname would add in any way to the pain of taking part in the marathon but it did. Having a name beginning with 'W' meant that I had the maximum distance to stagger and limp towards the family and friends meet and greet area in St James' Park. I had agreed to meet my wife Maia, and youngest daughter, Hannah by the letter 'W' but it felt like a letter too far. After leaving the medical tent, my feet were so sore I was not able to pull the laces tight on my trainers. This meant that amongst the throng of runners shuffling towards their loved ones, someone inadvertently stepped on the back of my right running shoe and flipped it off. I couldn't bend in any normal way to put it back on and I half collapsed onto the tarmac path, with people stepping over me, while I struggled on the ground to get it back on again. I honestly don't know how I got back up again without any help, but I do know that the effort involved set off the worst cramps I have ever experienced all down one side of my abdominal muscles - the weirdest and most intense pain. I just stood there in agony, breathing deeply and bending in different ways until eventually it subsided. This whole performance took place only centimetres away from a large crowd of anonymous (to me) friend and family supporters who were the other side of a temporary barrier. I didn't get any offers of support, thank god … I was embarrassed by my agony and just wanted to get away.

I wanted, more than anything, to see Maia, Rebecca and Hannah - to put my arms around them, to gain their approval and then I could allow myself to say I had finished.

And at that point I started to get emotional, very emotional. I knew that I wanted to share it with them. The whole stupid venture is absolutely pointless if you have no-one to share it with. What if I had crossed that line after ALL that training and ALL that hard work during the run itself and I was on my own. I would have felt suddenly very lonely and thought 'What the **** was all that about?'.
"Once we have built our secure egos, we have to learn to dissolve them and live from deeper selves"*

I think I have deluded myself for months now that this is a little story of personal pride and unfinished business and it is … but crossing the line just put the whole thing into perspective. The pointlessness and selfishness of it all came home to me in the recognition that all I really wanted was to have the respect and love of those closest to me and then to lie down and somebody say, "Rest now … it's all over."

I hugged them both and had a small sob. Maia had even bought me a present of a specially wrapped Mars Bar - something I had been denied by the sponsors in 1986 when I failed to cross the finish line. And now, 31 years later - a finisher's medal and a Mars Bar - life doesn't get much better than that!
Later that evening we met up with Rebecca too (my eldest daughter) and enjoyed a lovely family meal and the most amazing cold beer I have ever tasted. I ran a long way for that one.

Marathon Pace
Nobody but me cares about this stuff. My dream target of 3 hours 30 minutes would have meant eight successive 5K splits of 25 minutes plus a final 10 minutes of running. (A marathon is 42K). My actual 5K splits were:

The last tick on the 'To Do' list
I have put the final tick of 'Done' on my Training Plan but contrary to my blog entry of 6 Feb, I did not savour the moment at all. In fact I had to make a real effort to go back to the damn thing and do it. My 16 week spreadsheet suddenly had no meaning to me and I just opened it up and put in the last tick, simply because I said I would. It really worked for me while I was training; It was interesting and motivational but now … now I don't care.
Having studied the Guinness World Records that were set on the day, I feel somewhat ashamed that Mr Potato Head was nearly 10 minutes ahead of me. Although I am mightily relieved that Ben Blowes (great name) who broke the record for "Fastest Marathon carrying a Household Appliance" - was over 2 hours behind me. It did set me thinking, if I was anywhere near him as he approached the finish on The Mall and his legs started to give way - would I have been noble and selfless enough to help him carry his Tumble Dryer across the line? I hope I would do the right thing but until you are actually at that moment - faced with an exhausted man and his appliance, I don't think any of us can honestly answer what we would do.

*Quotes above from Anthony Seldon, "Beyond Happiness" published by Yellow Kite.

How Far I've Travelled

Day 100 - Marathon Training - Mixed intervals & Marathon Pace session
Plus Beard Removal and Haircut

YES - you read it correctly - DAY ONE HUNDRED of training so I thought it should be marked by a more significant event than just another training run. The beard has gone and the hair has been scalped. For athletes like myself - where the results are measured in 100th's of a second - the more streamlined contents of my head may make all the difference on the marathon course.
I don't normally have a beard. It somehow seemed the 'right look' for the training programme and now it's nearly over I've had enough of it.

The milestone of 100 days since I started training for the marathon has also got me thinking about how far I've come, not so much in miles of training over the last few months but in terms of mood, outlook, attitude to life and my place in the world since 2010. I may have run over 450 miles in training since 3 January this year but in recent years I have travelled thousands upon thousands of miles along the road from utter despair to the dawning of hope and have reached a slightly unnerving place called contentment every now and then.

Weds 24 November 2010:
"I sort of knew. I just knew that I was going to wallow in it today. That I was going to have a broken moment. That I was going to cry. But at this stage in the depression, when you have more awareness of what’s going on, you can almost plan for it. You can hold it off, almost schedule it, like an appointment or an exercise session - 'I’ll go for a run between 9 and 10' - 'I’ll have a mini breakdown between 9 and 10'.

And that makes it seem fraudulent. As though it’s on tap and you’re not experiencing it as some uncontrollable and awful condition. It’s a bit of play acting isn’t it? Something to make yourself feel a level of ‘controlled miserableness’ and to discretely let others know around you, just how bad things are. Like a child seeking attention, only because you’re an adult you do it in a slightly more subtle way.

It does feel a bit like this. But I don’t think it is fraudulent or contrived. I think in my case it’s due to ‘bottling up’ and ‘hiding’. For days and weeks I ‘bottle up’ an almost constant but nagging sense of shame and unhappiness and of life not being good – not being how it should be (Hah! I wear a t-shirt occasionally with the slogan ‘Life is good’). And the hiding is still mainly about keeping it from my daughters and to some extent my wife but the level of hiding to the outside world is almost total.

You can only bottle up and hide for so long before the low shaking and lurking in dark corners causes the cork to pop. I can hold the cork on the top while there is some fizzing and leaking until the girls have gone to school and I can sneak up to the bedroom and lie on the bed and then let it go.

I lie on the bed with my arms folded tightly across my chest. I feel shivery but I will not get under the covers. I have NEVER EVER got back into bed this whole time and it is a barrier that I do not want to cross. Laid out as though I’ve crawled into my own coffin I begin to silently cry. A trickle out of each eye. Two tiny streams competing to drip onto the duvet. I never actually fall fully asleep but partially doze my way through almost an hour before forcing myself to get up.

I would pay a lot of money for a Pull Myself Together switch. A little device that, with one press of a simple button, sends you out into a brave new world of opportunity where everyone is just waiting for you to walk by ‘Clive come here … you are just the man we need to take us in exciting new directions. We’ll pay you ridiculous amounts of money just to be yourself and to lead us to the promised land. No more worries for you my friend, come on down today’.

I knew I hadn’t had the full works. I hadn’t had the full wallow. I came down to the garden office. As soon as I had closed the door behind me it started. I sat on the office sofa with obligatory head in hands. Elbows resting on knees. I sobbed and sobbed. I wrenched it out. I not only need to cry. I need to make a sound. I need to produce a sort of rhythmic blub ‘huh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh… Huh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh …’ It is not at all therapeutic at the time but I think perhaps there is just a tiny smidgeon of help in the process a bit later. (I am writing this barely an hour after the event. Perhaps the small feeling of therapy is coming from this writing rather than the completion of the event.)

I have a desperate need to blow my nose. The ‘Mansize’ (Hah!) tissue in my pocket is already dirty and sodden so I pick up a bit of paper towel that was used yesterday as a ‘plate’ for a piece of cake. I tip nostril rivers of dribble and snot into the paper towel, scrunch it up and throw it in the bin. I sit back on the sofa. Silent now. Not better. Just blank. Or almost blank. I can feel the crusty dry stains of tears around my eyes on every slight movement of my face. Then I make exaggerated movements just to feel it again. To try and judge whether I can risk anyone seeing me without washing my face.

I almost feel nothing. But feeling nothing would be quite nice. There’s always a feeling of something. Something that you wish would go away."

I haven't over analysed it or over thought it but I guess running the London Marathon this year will be about so much more than completing 26 miles and 385 yards.

There will be the physical satisfaction, as a runner, in completing the ultimate challenge. There will be the banishing of demons that have been with me for more than 30 years - having started, but not finished, the race in 1986. There will be the pride that comes from representing my club (Bridport Runners) and from raising money to tackle the stigma attached to mental illness (for the charity Heads Together). There will be the even bigger pride of running for my family (my wife and both daughters are going to be there). But more than anything it feels like I am closing a chapter in my life in order to move on to a new and more deeply satisfying one - maybe several new chapters!

So the finish line in London, will be the start line of my new life - older, wiser, more accepting, more content, more optimistic, more hopeful, more loving … with knackered legs, a raging thirst and a medal round my neck.


Day - 75 - Gym

[Just a Gym session today, although it was my 3rd gym session in one week - partly in a rearguard attempt to strengthen my knees and quads. Hope I haven't overdone it.]

I have come a long way since I was last in the grip of depression and I don't want to go back to that place. There is a chance that I will but at least I know that running will not be one of the reasons to take me there. In fact quite the opposite …

Antidepressants I have taken …
1 - Fluoxetine - (also known as Prozac)
2 - Citalopram
3 - Sertraline
I kept the packets as evidence! Not one of the above worked for me. I took them because I felt so bad that I needed to do something. Testimonials from other people and stuff that I had read had given me faith that they might help. I know that they work for many people and in some cases they are 'life savers' but I can honestly say that on 3 separate occasions and with 3 different types of antidepressant, I never noticed any lift in my mood or mental health that came from the taking of pills. On the other hand, turning to my 4th antidepressant …
4 - Running

Beach Running from Clive Whaley on Vimeo.

Running as an antidepressant? Yes, I've come to realise that it is, although not as part of some conscious medication or prescription plan.

I have been running at least a couple of times a week for more than 35 years. For the first 30 or so of those years I had not met the Black Dog or experienced anything that could truly be described as depression.

However, in the last 5 or 6 years, having suffered from bouts of depression several times, it has made me realise that running has been an incredibly important booster to my mental health. I have never felt any lift in mood from pills but everytime I go running, I feel better for it. It works on so many different levels.

Obviously it keeps me physically fit. Despite continual injury niggles, I know that my heart, lungs, blood vessels, muscles, joints, bones, skin and even my brain are in much better shape than they would be without running. I do have to admit that there is an egotistical aspect to it, where I secretly think "I'm pretty fit for my age … I'll show 'em!".

Just getting outdoors, whatever the weather, especially in these beautiful coastal surroundings, and being a tiny moving part of the landscape provides, at the same time, an intimate connection with the planet and a freedom from everything else that was troubling me before I went out the door. You could get similar benefits from walking of course, but the greater effort, rhythm and flow that comes from the running action just adds something for me.

There is much talk of the release of 'endorphins' or the 'runner's high'. I find that a bit clichéd because I think it is both more subtle and more powerful than that. I find a deep and solitary pleasure from the mix of - physical mastery over the environment; a contented warmth in my muscles and in my heart; and a gentle flow of benevolence into my brain which reaches out and soothes adverse thoughts and feelings. So, in the end, I become a moving vessel of wellbeing.

And when I get back, after a shower, or especially after a soak in a hot bath, there is a contented glow in and around me of a quality that I cannot find from any other source than a long run back to my own front door. As T S Eliot wrote in a much re-quoted set of lines
"And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time."
I've just finished reading an interesting book by Anthony Seldon, called "Beyond Happiness" within which he espouses the idea of life being a journey from narcissism to wholeness. There are several passages which I can relate to and these words sum up the feelings of all the best long runs I have ever done …
"The epic journey … is a common theme in world literature.The hero returns to the point from which he began, having gained in wisdom and self knowledge. The hero/traveller will have experienced much but is purified by the process and becomes aware of a much deeper self."

It works for me.

As I write this I am thinking, you know what, you are not currently experiencing a great deal of this sort of feeling during your marathon training. The 'tick box' mentality of my training plan, the injury problems and the 'striving ego' part of me are conspiring to knock a bit of joy out of my running. I shouldn't let that happen but I am the architect of my own displeasure. A change of attitude would help a bit but mainly I tell myself that when the London Marathon is over I will return to real running; running for the sake of it; running not for plans, targets and times but for sheer pleasure, for sheer joy. I need little persuasion to write myself a free prescription for the most effective antidepressant I know.

The 'To Do' List

Marathon Training - Day 35 (Completion of Week 5) - 12 miles easy
(Link to My Marathon Plan - weeks 11-16 not yet added.)Marathon_Plan_Clive_WK5

Even though it's the longest run I've done this year, it felt comfortable fitting in a 12 mile 'easy pace' run along the coast today. It was also good to do it without spending any time on my backside in the mud - something which was starting to become a regular feature of my training.

When I got back I did what I always do, usually before I even step into the shower. I 'ticked' the run as DONE on my Training Plan and filled in the other columns for Distance, Feeling and Comments. I have written out my 16 week plan on an Excel Spreadsheet with columns for:
  • Plan day
  • Date/day of the week
  • Content of run/session
  • Column for a TICK to show DONE
  • Distance covered in miles
  • How I felt: (Poor/OK/Good)
  • Comments
You know what, I like doing this. I look forward to getting back and giving myself a TICK for my efforts! It has only occurred to me since starting this training programme for the London Marathon, that one of the reasons this appeals to me, is that it is like following the ultimate 'To Do' list!

For as long as I can remember, and certainly for a huge chunk of my adult life, I have compiled daily 'to do' lists. I have a scrap of paper with a hand written list in bullet point format, either on my desk or somewhere about the house (I use them for both work tasks and domestic tasks). An additional 'nerd' factor comes from the fact that I roughly draw square boxes to the right of each item so that I can put a tick in the box when I have achieved them. But … wait for it, I nearly always use a red pen in the box to make the 'ticks'. I don't know what it is, but there is something about the contrasting colour that makes the tick stand out and maybe there is something deep seated about 'marks from the teacher' in an exercise book - only here the 'red tick' is always a good thing - because something has been completed.

I can remember one of the first ever 'self help' style books I bought was called "Getting Things Done" by Roger Black (not the runner!). I've just looked it up and you can buy old copies on Amazon for 1p!! Maybe I got the 'tick list' idea from him but whatever the case, I have spent a long time being driven by the idea (obsessed by the idea maybe?) of doing things on my daily list and rewarding myself with a DONE tick.

I have spent recent years being more philosophical and reflective about myself and trying to ditch the striving and achieving side of my character - knowing that this has led me to some good things but has also been the source of disappointment, depression and unhappiness. So why do I cling on to the daily 'to do' list? I don't really know but I think it is a very deeply ingrained habit. I also find it very useful and I think on balance the mild satisfaction I still get from ticking things off, balances out the dark, obsessional elements associated with it. Also as I get older, I suspect the daily list will be a godsend for when I get to those moments of mental paralysis - coming to a complete stop and shouting out, "What the hell was I going to do today?".

I think I have got things more in balance these days. I would much rather be out running 10 miles or more through the Dorset countryside, than sitting at home ticking boxes on a list. But how wonderful to be able to do both - Ha Ha! But there is no doubt that, for me, there is a deep mental and physical satisfaction at work here - working my way daily through a Mega 16 week To Do List which culminates in a final task of running 26 miles 385 yards on the streets of London. For that special day I think I need to create a giant box on my spreadsheet and massively increase the font size on my tick. (Innuendo alert!)

If and when I complete the London Marathon it is going to be like completing my life's biggest ever 'to do' list. Once I get back home, I will savour the moment as I put in that giant tick to say DONE. And I should probably leave it there … it will be really healthy for me to ditch the lists, trust my memory, become more spontaneous and live for the moment.

Sounds good but I just have this feeling that within a few days, I will start another list …

I Got Up

Marathon Training Day 8 - 35 mins 'easy'

YESSS! I got up at 7am and was out the door by about 7.10 am and jogged an easy 3 or 4 miles.

After the mental trials and tribulations of yesterday it was satisfying to have done this but I don't feel so great about it. It was still a mental struggle to do the 'getting out of bed thing' - not that I spent ages over it, just that it needs such strength of will to do it. I am thinking more and more that it is some kind of addiction, some mental crutch that I need and I can't easily give away.

I am going to do more early morning runs, I promise. For one thing, on working days like today, I will be hard pressed to fit my runs in if I don't do them first thing in the morning and for another, once I actually get out everything seems to improve. Two drawbacks though: 1) my body feels really tight and inflexible at that hour of the day - my back in particular felt stiff and sore; and 2) it's a risky time for the bowels; I find it's too early for my body clock to have performed a 'number two' before I go out but 10 minutes into the jogging up and down motion and my bowels seem to urgently decide that motion of a different kind is required.

Running along with a stiff back and a pressing need to sit on the toilet do not make for an 'easy' run (what my training plan required today). But I DID get up early, I DID do my run, I DID experience the sunrise and I DIDN'T perform any undignified squats until I returned to the privacy of my own home. The latter, more than anything, is what I am most proud of.

Facing the Day

Marathon Training Day 7 - 6 miles easy (photo: back from a soaking)

I ran a touch over 7 miles, taking in the village of Burton Bradstock and back along the beach under the iconic East Cliffs at West Bay. It was raining pretty heftily most of the time and I took a soaking. I was feeling pretty low but it wasn't the weather that was getting me down but the mental struggle that had gone on earlier that morning.

I had set my alarm for 7.30. I woke at 7 and switched it off and was still in bed at 9.30. It was a return to the 'bad old days' albeit in just a mild way. I was putting off the day a little longer and I felt a little down but not in a full blown depression like way. Just enough to make it a bad start to the week and to feel the first hint of demotivation in my running programme.

I have spent the last 5 or 6 years battling with various episodes of depression. 'Battling' sounds a bit tabloid and dramatic but it will do for now. And one of the key features of it (and I suspect for a lot of people) is the inability to get out of bed. At times it has been a fight, a struggle, a game of mental torture wrapped up in guilt and conflicting pressures. Feeling bad about staying in bed and criticising myself for it but being totally unable to override this and have the courage to face the day.

I suppose it's hardly surprising that a lot of people feel this way. Two of the key symptoms of depression are an overwhelming fatigue and a loss of hope for the future. What better strategy for dealing with these two evils than to get into bed and stay there. You are going to minimise your tiredness and if the future's shit, you don't have to face it at all in bed. It's a pretty logical and sensible approach if you put it that way. The trouble is, if you're like me (and I'm sure a lot of people are) it's not a neutral or calming or satisfactory solution. At my worst, I used to lie there wide awake, sometimes shaking and sweating a bit and feeling SO guilty and useless. Having no earthly ability to climb out from under the duvet and yet finding no comfort there and beating myself up mentally for laziness, weakness and shame.

(It was nothing like that today. It was just the faintest echo of earlier times but just enough to make me nervous. No room for complacency here mate!)

Although it took me a year or so, I found a partial solution to the problem via something of a contradiction. The way to address the problem of not getting out of bed was … wait for it … to not get out of bed! BUT most importantly to not get out of bed but stop feeling BAD and GUILTY about it. I had come to associate being stuck in bed with depression and, to be honest, I think it also linked back to my childhood upbringing where 'lying in' was frowned upon and associated with laziness and lack of ambition.

As I started to get better, I found I could give myself permission to stay in bed a bit longer - I didn't have to rush off anywhere - I could treat myself to warmth and comfort - maybe read something and have some breakfast and a nice coffee. This is not a sign of illness or weakness, this is looking after myself and saying, 'What the Hell, there's no rush and I deserve it today!'

To be honest, I spent the best part of 2016 spending a good hour or more in bed after I'd woken up, before I properly started the day. I developed a routine that I became fond of and truth is, it has probably become a bit of a habit, maybe even an addiction. But I'm largely in control of it and there is a big BIG difference between this and the feeling I used to have when in the depths of depression.

I must admit, I used to get up early and go running before breakfast quite regularly and that's not something i've been able to force myself to do much for some time. I did do it on the first day of my Marathon Plan and I was going to do it today but just some faintest feeling of sadness floated in and settled on the duvet. I'm going to try again tomorrow.

I didn't actually get out running today until about 1130 and my punishment for the delay was to get soaked. If I had run when originally planned, I would have been completely dry. I hope my sins have been washed clean.

What a joy!

What a joy. I ran from my place to Seatown and back today. An extremely tough run - about 9 miles in total along some of the most mountainous parts of the Jurassic Coast. I suppose for some people it would be their definition of torture. But for me, when I'm feeling good and when the weather is good, it is a life affirming experience. It's not as though I felt bad when I started but I still came back feeling a whole lot better.

I met a number of people on the coast path and there was always a smile and a cheery 'Hello' or the common - 'Ooo I wish I was as fit as you' or 'you make me feel tired just watching you'. And it always cheers me and I quip back 'It's all for show, I'm knackered on the inside'! I've learnt to 'hang on' to this positive interaction with my fellow humans. How nice … yes, nice … to smile and exchange a few words with strangers in an instant mutual appreciation of the landscape, the weather, the exercise and the passing camaraderie. It is by hanging on to these positive gems of human experience for a bit longer than they actually last, that we learn to enjoy life more - to appreciate the life we have - instead of dwelling on the life we don't have or the things that might go wrong. And so I make a point of savouring these moments for at least a few minutes after they have happened - a bit like sucking a tasty sweet as long as you can instead of biting and swallowing it straight away. And so, if you see me grinning as I trot across the Dorset coastline, you will know one of the reasons why.

Well over half way into the run, I stagger up to the top of Thorncombe Beacon. Apparently it is the second highest point on the South Coast of England. Sometimes I would believe it if I was told it was the second highest mountain in the Himalayas. As you are running up it has the ability to suck more breath out of you than you can take in and it turns the most flexible leg muscles into solid pieces of lead. The amazing thing is you can be fervently 'running' up it to the best of your ability - your little feet a blur as you tackle the ridiculous slope - while somebody walking with a decent stride can pass you and wave!

Anyway, until recently, I have always seen it as a badge of pride, to run up Thorncombe Beacon - from the foothills to the summit - EVERY time. No matter how bad I am feeling, no matter that it would probably be quicker to walk the top section, no matter that no-one can see me, I ALWAYS used to RUN it. It is part of my make up to strive, to push, even to punish myself to get to the top. And if I didn't it would be a sign of getting older, of weakness, of giving up. That would be terrible wouldn't it?

Oh dear! Today I didn't run the whole way. I ran two thirds of it and then WALKED the rest. What on earth has happened to me? And worse than this I have to confess that I have done this two or three times now. I have broken the unbroken record of running to the top - the record that was only known by me and only recorded in my brain. But you see, now I have come to the realisation that I am still physically fit enough to run it but I'm also mentally flexible enough to not have to.

For me, it is this innate striving behaviour that, unbeknown to me at the time, was sowing seeds that would grow one day into full blown depression. Like scattering a trail of poisonous breadcrumbs that was being followed and lapped up by an insidious monster. One day the monster caught up with me and it took over me and almost scared me to death. It made me desperately sad and fearful and trapped me a lot of the time, even from getting out of bed.

So maybe that's why I kept 'running up that hill' … to escape from the monster! The irony is, like many things in life, I have solved it by turning it on its head. By choosing not to run up that hill when I don't feel like it, I have left the monster behind. Why all that striving in the first place? Well that's another story. I have some theories but no firm answers and right now it doesn't really matter. It's still there but it's not as all consuming as it was, although I bet the next time I face that bloody hill, I'll run up it again!

There was something else I did differently on the run today. Like many of my regular running routes, I follow the same paths, even when there is a choice that will bring me out at the same destination. Even with something as free and liberating as going out on a solo run in beautiful coastal countryside, there is an element of habit. There is something reassuring and safe about the habitual but the one thing it doesn't include is change. It somehow makes a mockery of most political struggles and all the best dramatic movies where the hero bravely shouts, "I choose FREEDOM" - when many of us facing daily mundane choices actually choose repetition and habit ahead of freedom.

I am sure a movie will be made out of my struggle today … this morning, on the section of the path between the Beacon and Eype, where it splits into two sheep trails, one higher than the other but both meeting eventually by the same gate, I took the lower path. I thought I might die, or be hit by lightning or at least suffer severe muscle spasms but no … nothing happened. And this was despite the fact that I always used to take the higher path. (There is not meant to be some righteous metaphor there!)

And so, I came back from the run, along the riverbank back into town, feeling tired but good, really good. I don't want to spend too much time analysing why. Only the people who do this sort of thing really know why. But I do know that today it was something to do with the fact that I chose not to follow the same path that I always do, I chose not to keep pushing myself up that hill and I chose to absorb the spontaneous warmth of strangers. And if you travel on foot, along this section of the magnificent Dorset coast on a warm spring day, it takes some considerable effort to make yourself feel worse.

What a joy!

Photos - 1) Seatown - on this day there was a fleet of 6 large four-wheel drives from the Netherlands in attendance; 2) Me - running up to the top of the Beacon in the Jurassic Coast 10K (it was blisteringly hot); 3) I took the lower path and even the sheep were shocked.