running blog

Clive Whaley

Jurassic Coast


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.

Grizzly Baby

Day 69 - Marathon Training - Raced 9 miles of beach, hills and mud!
(The 'baby' version of The Grizzly - called The Cub)

Great day today. I did enter that most wonderful event called The Grizzly. Reluctantly but sensibly I did the 'cut down' or 'baby' version of the main event - otherwise known as The Cub. In other words I only went for 9 miles of shingle beach, vertical coastal climbs and muddy fields, instead of the full 20 mile version.

I thoroughly enjoyed it and I think the official finish photo shows it. The fun and pleasure came from, not only getting round with the knee intact, but also from the great weather and the fantastic spirit associated with the event. I was also pleased to be on the first page of results - or 35th out of about 500 finishers (approx 85 mins 'chip time').

The Grizzly is held at Seaton in East Devon and this was its 30th anniversary. Somewhere in the region of 2,000 runners take part in the two races. It seems to be extremely well organised and has an army of hundreds of cheery volunteer marshalls, musicians and performers lining the route. At the bottom of one of the steeper climbs you find a makeshift sign labelled 'Stairway to Heaven' and as you start to climb you encounter a guy dressed as some sort of manic wizard. He was spouting dire warnings and flinging out spells and incantations. It was hilarious. The whole thing is just a smiley, feelgood event that gently warms you with it's positive mood. Mind you, that view might have been helped by the fact that I only did the shorter route. If I had done the 'full works' I suspect I wouldn't have been in a fit state to appreciate the generous welcome from spectators at the finish line.

Mindful of the problems I've had with my knee leading up to today, I decided to take advantage of a £5 charity massage from the East Devon Sports Injuries team. It was torture - far more painful than running the event - my quad muscles are so unbelievably tight - but I am sure it did me the world of good.

Half Way There

Day 56 - Marathon Training - 20 miles steady (last 4 at marathon pace)
End of Week 8

Quite a milestone today and the sheer exhaustion in the photo says it all. The completion of 8 weeks of training as part of a 16 week programme - so I'm half way there. It was also the longest and toughest run so far. 20 miles, with the aim of running the last 4 at 'marathon pace'.
It's debateable what 'marathon pace' is for me but I know I'm aiming for somewhere between 8 minute miles (the dream) and 8 and a half minute miles (the realistic target). So, when it got to the end of mile 16, I went for it and pushed my legs to do things they really didn't want to do.

I ran the next 3 miles (miles 17, 18 and 19) at a pace of 7 mins 50 seconds per mile and then part hobbled and part winced my way over the last mile back to the car. Most of the miles were run on the road in the good old Bride Valley, the same venue as last Monday's long run. It was much colder, wetter and windier than last Monday, so I had to contend with running long stretches into the wind, where even the flat sections felt like a tough climb. I was even more tired this week than last and after only about 6 miles it felt like really hard work. It was so much more about mind over matter but I guess I'm quite pleased that I was able to keep going, and as an exercise in mental toughness for the marathon, it was probably more useful than the physical effort involved.

In order to ration my time on the hard road surface, I did run the first 4 miles or so off road on the coast path and, although this is always much slower per mile, it's far more enjoyable and provides better views and photo opportunities. However, by the time I got to the end of the run, these scenes of soft ground, wind swept beaches and dramatic grey skies were completely forgotten.

I find it amazing that I can run constantly for 3 hours and then seconds after I have said 'stop, you've done the distance' - I am struggling even to walk. It's like a sudden injection of lead into the lower half of my body. It's heavy, unbending and painful. I sometimes laugh out loud with a sort of mixture of pain and hysterical laughter. Although I'm unbelievably stiff and sore, I'm sufficiently objective to see the comedy in the situation. While running, I am imitating someone 20 years younger and then I stop, and in the space of 20 seconds or so, I experience the feeling of someone 20 years older. It's the laughter of wisdom over foolish youth.

Still that's 8 weeks of hard training complete. I'm half way there. Half way to madness? Probably.

The Effort

Day 42 - Marathon Training - 15 miles 'easy'

"Victory isn't defined by wins or losses. It is defined by effort. If you can say, 'I did the best I could, I gave everything I had,' you're a winner." (Wolfgang Schadler)*

To roll out a quote like that might seem a bit dramatic at this stage. I'm only 6 weeks into my programme and I ran 15 miles … so what! Well it felt like I had to put just about everything into it to finish. I could have made it shorter and I could have given up but I didn't.

I quite enjoyed the first half. Although I was running into quite a stiff easterly breeze, there was sunshine, there were deep blue skies and it was quite warm. I amused myself taking photos to try and convey just how huge and deserted the beach is between Burton and West Bexington. It is quite breathtaking, liberating, humbling, to have such an enormous stretch of nature to yourself. Maybe it was an especially low tide but I can't remember seeing such a wide vista of sand and shingle and I mildly chastised myself for not running along the actual beach more often. I don't come along this far east that often but when I do, I normally take the slightly more inland path which runs inside the reed beds.

That was another thing I noticed today, the reed beds - they just looked spectacular - randomly swishing and waving in the late afternoon sun.

So all was looking good until I turned and made my way home. It could have been even better, with the wind behind me now and the setting sun painting glorious patterns in the sky ahead of me. But within a mile or two of the return journey I started to feel tired - very tired. My back was stiff and I could feel worrying twinges in it down one side (nothing new there). I had started the day thinking I would not be able to run at all because of my bloody useless back but it freed up during the day and I had decided to risk it - the weather was just too good to ignore.

However, a general exhaustion took over me and it was my legs, rather than my back, that started to fail. When you are running, your legs are quite important (school of the bleeding obvious alert) so when they are protesting over every stride, it becomes difficult - mentally and physically. It was like they were saying "Don't lift me, don't lift me" on every step. It felt like any ounce of strength and flexility in them had gone. I think it was my hip flexors that were mainly to blame - the muscle area at the front of the leg between your hip and your thigh. They were saying "No" but my mind was forcing them to keep going.

It's a feeling that will be recognised by anyone who has taken part in any sort of endurance running event - where you have run past your 'normal' energy reserves. It is remarkable that many of us continue on, sometimes for many miles, past the point when the body has told us to stop. For me today, there was really only about 2 or 3 miles past the place called 'sensible'. But somewhere along the line, it is this experience and this mental ability that months later gets us to the finish line. Every bit of effort counts in the end.
And it was a beautiful winter's day. And the sky was leading me home.

* By the way, the quote comes from a fella who was an Olympic athlete who competed in Luge for Lichenstein. So similar to my own experience …

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.

Gray Skies Green Shirt

Marathon Training - Day 28 - 8 miles easy

Ran east along the Jurassic Coast as far as Hive Beach and back again. Took my iPhone and here are a couple of shots. With my new found strength from my gym work, after taking the picture of this JCB digger, I picked it up by the 'bucket end' swung it around my head three times and then threw it out to sea. Not very good for the environment but great for my Popeye credentials.