Last summer, as I was trying to convince myself that things were ok, I wrote that I didn’t feel that in my heart. I think those were the most pained words I have written here.
I had recently had a problem which turned out to have been a small heart-attack. Not a dramatic soap-opera collapse as the music and credits roll; more like a couple of hours of hangover or man-flu. Even so, it was upsetting and at the time I had not “come to terms with it” (oh how that expression makes me wince, too many associations).
I had been denied the full-marathon which I had half-expected to fail at… but I never expected to fail in that way, and it shook my world, my whole view of myself.
At that time – and again in the year since – I had faced turbulence in many other ways: unstable work, lack of security, financial worries, letting the family down, and all of those progressively eating away at my spirit. My GP spotted that, and referred me to a local mental-health scheme which turned out to be really valuable. In difficult conditions, being forced to deliver a service to a large group of people, they were very effective. People don’t talk about mental health, but one striking thing was the range of people there of all backgrounds & ages: I absolutely believe the reports that at any point in time probably one in four people are suffering a mental-health problem of some sort. And I have to assume there were even more who didn’t take the course… or couldn’t, and were struggling alone, unseen. The sessions explored Stress, breaking down the different components of Anxiety and Depression; it explained how the cycle becomes self-reinforcing, and offered tips to recognise and break it.
Looking back, I hadn’t coped well, but I did fight and fight. Shortly afterwards I had a major breakthrough with a new job. I am now using the sum-total of all my management and commercial experience, but also building on what I did and learned in almost ten years as a school governor. It’s tough and demanding, but uplifting at the same time: I can have an impact on over 1200 futures, and I know I can add something. I’m loving it, and working there is repairing my spirit.
One of the guiding values of the school which we promote with our students is “Resilience”. Jamie Jones-Buchanan of Leeds Rhinos is a governor and has spoken of his nightmare year, which nevertheless ended in a cup-final triumph. I don’t know rugby league, but I did have a small tear during the Commonwealth Games at Lyndsey Sharp’s success; and Eilish McColgan and me… we’re the same except only one of us is running through the beta-blockers (and ok, she is just a bit quicker… but to be fair, I’m old enough to have watched her mum race!).
And I’m running well. Long days since I started the new job have limited my training in the crucial final month but I have managed it well overall, with plenty of long runs and hills deliberately built in. Apart from the loss of miles in the final month, I will line up at tomorrow’s Yorkshire Marathon start-line stronger than I have ever been.
I hope to be Sub-4. And then of course there is my secret target which I haven’t told anyone else. I think the missing miles will make that too much of a stretch, but if I don’t manage it I will be fine, and not be disappointed. I started out just desperately wanting to run this race, and only later, as I managed the training and became stronger, and other problems receded, did I start to focus on a particular time. So if I don’t make that time, I will be ok with it.
I know that, in my heart.
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POSTSCRIPT, and perseverance
Well! It turned out, on the day, that my secret target was indeed a huge stretch. But I did it.
My first marathon was London, April 1994: 20 years ago, younger, less battered, and with a fully-functioning unmedicated heart. 3 hours, 35 minutes, 50 seconds.
My Yorkshire Marathon was tough, but I fought and refused to let it go. I won’t bore you with the mile-by-mile splits but suffice to say that in the last mile, or the final climb back to the University, or the run-in to the line, or even in the gasping moments after crossing, I didn’t dare look at my watch.