Sunday, April 03, 2016

Journey's End


On Saturday April 2 2016 at around eight thirty in the evening, darkness having completely fallen, I ran along the final stretch of the Union Canal towpath into Lochrin Basin in Fountainbridge, Edinburgh, and stopped running, having covered 55 miles since I set off from Glasgow’s Ruchill Park eleven and half hours earlier. My wife Helen and three of our friends were there to greet me with party banners and balloons. Over four months of planning and preparation were behind me. The 2016 Glasgow to Edinburgh Ultramarathon was, for me, over. I felt, if there’s such a thing, a steady exuberance - I noticed I was being outgoing, celebratory and conversational, but there was no reserve beneath the surface. I couldn’t summon the coordination to hold my jacket, finisher’s T-shirt and medal. The job was done, moved from the future into the past, an exercise that seemed just as hard to contemplate afterwards as it had been before.
The night before saw me in a peculiar mood. I had a lot of preparation to do. This race involved more than just turning up at the start wearing the right clothes. Ultra races span changes in weather and many mealtimes, so you’re carrying more than for a marathon. I had to maximise the amount of sleep I’d get beforehand, which meant deferring breakfast and coating appropriate parts of my skin with sun lotion, vaseline and a sudocrem until I was on the train to Glasgow. I realised I was building an Apollo rocket, with fuel that would be burned up, sections that would be discarded, and even one component that would be docked with again mid-mission. Helen, wisely, stayed out of my way, while I made banana and peanut butter sandwiches, decanted illicit-looking white powder into unmarked plastic bags and checked and rechecked my bus and train connections. I’d been running through all this in my head for weeks, but there were still some decisions being made at the last minute. I tucked my earphones in my pocket, not to listen to music during the race, but in case there were intrusive conversations on the train in the morning. The Aspie vicious circle is that overstimulation makes me more anxious and that makes me more sensitive to overstimulation. It all seemed to be done eventually, and I went to bed.
The alarm prompted me at five thirty, although I was already awake. A brisk shower, kit on, and I was out of the door shortly after six. As I closed the door behind me I hoped fervently that I hadn’t forgotten anything. I was concerned that I’d chosen the wrong pair of shoes for this race. I was wearing my newish trail running shoes because they’ve caused me least pain in training, but I worrying they might not be cushioned enough. I took the bus to Haymarket because being the only passenger in a taxi makes me anxious and I can’t fabricate small talk if the driver’s chatty. Once on the train, I set to breakfasting and slathering myself with unguents. I’d taken some latex gloves for this purpose because sudocrem gets everywhere. Alas, this meant I put far too much on and had a ghostly tinge of white round my thighs for the rest of the day. Everything I was doing had this fumbling, only-just-about-good-enough quality. I wasn’t dancing through the plan in a state of flow.
At Glasgow Queen Street, another runner hailed me and asked if I’d mind sharing a taxi to the start. It turned out he was exactly the same age as me, and had moved away from Edinburgh 20 years earlier just as I was arriving, and had returned from Houston, Texas for a school reunion. We arrived a few minutes later at Ruchill Park where the race would start, and I was perversely heartened to see a fellow runner sucking down a cigarette. After a big marathon, I sometime see one smoker in a numbered vest, and as a reformed smoker myself, always feel an odd kinship.
We did all the usual admin, and deposited our drop bags that we would be reunited with 22 miles later at checkpoint two, and I was diverted from worry by tales from my companion, Iain, about the many ultras he’d run in the States. This was essential. It stopped me contemplating what I was about to undertake. The setting was much more Aspie-friendly that any other race I’d run - no crowds, no barriers, no music, no well-meaning announcer soliciting cheers over a cranked up PA. I could tell that the independent group organising this were competent, but I’m not going to sully them with the word “professional” and its implications of profit motivation.
At five to nine, the hundred and fifty of us assembled for a quick briefing from the race director. A hundred and fifty GPS watches were started up. Bang! Off we trotted out of the park and on to the canal path. It had begun.
Thirteen days earlier I had overdone it on a training run and caused a cluster of pains in and around my left ankle. I’d stopped all running four days later and seen a masseur and a physiotherapist to do whatever was needed. I was pleased that the physio had given me the green light the previous day, and for about a mile, as we headed north to the canal junction, it felt good. We were a tight pack of runners at this stage and I was finding some of the conversation between groups a bit intrusive. Pretty soon, I had a more vivid source of stimulation as my ankle erupted into discomfort. Tiny doubts started to blossom and flourish. Was I going to be able to finish this?
I’d parked the big doubt at the back of my mind weeks earlier. Before this day the furthest I had ever run was 34 miles about six weeks beforehand. That had felt like a day’s work and then some. Today I had to run about 21 miles on top of that. My last nine marathons have been about how long it will take me to finish, not whether I can finish, because that was already established. There was no such precedent here. I took some solace from the people around me. They all seemed to be in the same sort of shape as me, had the same sort of gear, and we were all running at about the same pace, slightly faster than I had planned.
These plans had included walking for 45 seconds of each fifteen minutes. I’d worked this out in training, because the arithmetic involved in running fifteen minutes then walking one becomes taxing when exhausted. But after fifteen minutes everyone else was still running, as they were after thirty minutes. I decided to build up a head of progress and run non-stop to Checkpoint One, thirteen miles ahead.
The ankle pain worsened. It started to float and dance around my left leg, afflicting every part of my ankle and foot, my knee, and my ITB. I applied what I’ve learned from mindfulness and yoga and attended to the pain rather than avoiding it. I breathed with it and accepted it, and didn’t change my gait in an effort to lessen it. It was bearable, but if I’d ever felt like this on a training run, I’d have dropped out immediately, no question. The final-week moratorium on running seemed to have made no difference.
It was a bright and crisp morning. The pack began to thin out. The landscape around the Forth and Clyde canal stimulated me. I fixed my thoughts on the first checkpoint and got on with it.
There are certain calls of nature that need to be attended to more privately than others. Running does stimulate the digestion. I had packed the necessary requisites and having paused to withdraw behind some bushes behind a fallen post-and-wire fence, made my way briskly back to the towpath, hopeful not to have been seen in my unmistakable posture. I’d forgotten about the fallen fence and the wire caught my bad ankle and sent me tumbling straight towards the canal itself. I wasn’t being conspicuously dignified beforehand but falling in would have really been the limit. What am I like? Onward.
At each checkpoint, we gave our bib numbers to the marshals, who checked us off. We could grab some sustenance and fill up our water containers. I had a bladder in my backpack, so I could get that topped up and mix in some more of the grown-up sherbet that was keeping me full of salt and sugar. The checkpoints also segmented the course and stopped it becoming overwhelming.
On, then, to the next checkpoint, and the Falkirk Wheel, that miraculous piece of millennial engineering that provides an exquisitely-balanced aqueduct lift for boats to move from one canal to another about a hundred feet higher without a laborious ladder of locks.
By now I’d been running for about four hours and my mood was starting to wobble. I’d been interacting with other runners when I overtook or was overtaken ponderously slowly, in some cases leapfrogging the same runners several times as our run/walk cycles phased. I was faking the jollity, to be honest, not really using my own voice, adopting pretend contractions to appear more matey. But it was still welcome, and I was glad of the validation. The pack had thinned out completely and I was alone for long sections. That’s my natural state, so when I suddenly arrived at the wheel, which is a visitor attraction, at lunchtime on a Saturday, I was suddenly surrounded by a lot of people, all being very gregarious. I had to locate my drop bag, decant my stuff into my vest pockets and get my bladder refilled. My pervasive jitteriness meant I fumbled getting the powder bag open and got it all over myself, sticky and distracting. This was the low point - suddenly too much to do, and too many people around me making too much noise.
I deliberately walked up the hill from the Forth and Clyde up to the Union Canal, eating my huge and infantile sweet sandwich. This was perhaps overdue, as my mood lightened and I trotted on. This was not, despite what I heard many of the others runners saying, half way, only the junction of the two canals, but it still felt good. Once I’d cleaned the sugar off my fingers, I’d texted my pal Jon from work that I was on my way. He lives a bit further on and was going to come out and meet me.
I couldn’t live with the pain from my joints which had now spread to my groin and my left testicle (I must have a dominant right one or something) so I gave in and started taking Ibuprofen, 400mg every hour. This immediately blurred the pain.
Falkirk to Linlithgow is a long haul. My pace decayed quite noticeably here. For all that my sole intention was to finish, I seemed to be driven to do so at about the time I’d given to Helen. I’d slipped from ten minute miles to eleven. The averaging algorithm on my new GPS watch seemed to never let my average pace increase, even when I started up again from a walk or a checkpoint. I reached 26.2 miles and mentally logged that I was now running my longest ever competitive distance. With one marathon under my belt I still had another to run, and then a 5K for good measure. That perspective didn’t seem to demolish me the way I’d feared. I passed what I took to be Polomont where Jon lived and assumed that I’d missed him, my pace have slipped to make the time estimate I’d given him wrong. But no, there he was. Tellingly, before I’d even one hundred percent identified him, I risked a wave and he waved back. What a glorious sight. He’s a big-hearted, supportive man, and there are few people I’d rather have seen at this point. I’d deliberately not taken my previous scheduled walk break so I could walk a few minutes with him, and he worked on my morale and we agreed between us that I was definitely going to finish. That was the turning point. I think I believed it from then on.
I was definitely helped by both the segments delimited by the checkpoints and the rhythms I imposed on myself. Every fifteen minutes the chance for a 45 second walk if I chose to take it. Every half hour something to eat (forbidden cereal and dried-fruit bars, a terrible contrast to my usual protein and fat regime), every hour 400mg of Ibuprofen. It divided it all up, stopped it being a too-big-to-move monolith.
I had nothing in my ears apart from birdsong and the steady rustles, splashes and creaks coming from my running vest. I didn’t crave music or speech at all. My thoughts were quite ordered at first, either tuning in to my sensations or drifting off down memory lane, but became more disorganised as I went on. I thought about sex. A lot. Really an awful lot. This seems surprising at first, but I am a man, and we supposedly think about it every eight seconds. So that’s over five thousand saucy thoughts in the course of the race.
The numbers on my GPS watch assumed a surreal magnitude. They said I’d been running for over eight hours, that I’d covered forty miles. These aren’t normal numbers.
A lot of the course had been tarmac covered in the last year, and there was even a gang at work on the day. I love running on tarmac. It’s the closed highways of our towns and cities that I run my marathons on. The sections that weren’t tarmac were irregular stones and sometimes mud. This was what really differentiated parts of the course. It was tough to run on, degraded my pace and hurt my ankles and knees. My heart didn’t quite sink every time the tarmac ran out, but I was thankful whenever it resumed.
At last, Linlithgow, heralded by the towers of the palace. On this very linear, very flat course, there were few visual cues about what was coming up so the few that were there made a big impact, as did the aqueducts over river valleys.
Next, a dog-leg, and the main explanation of why this route is so much longer than the straight line between the two cities. The light rain had set in. I’d taken my waterproof jacket off at the first checkpoint but put it back on later. I seemed to be wearing fewer layers than all the other runners and put this down to my slight cold and fever. I kept my glasses on. This was the first competitive race I’ve worn them for, because I now just can’t read my watch without them. I could distinctly feel each Ibuprofen tablet wearing off so I upped the frequency to one every half hour. This would be madness on a normal day, but I was eating every half hour as well and passing fluid though me continuously. Don’t try this at home, kids. Rounding the dog-leg I came into Broxburn for the penultimate checkpoint having drunk my backpack bladder dry. This was my favourite checkpoint of all - the marshals were extra friendly and I wanted them to be my aunties. I dumped my powder in the bladder and had it topped up. Off I set. I took an overdue draw from the tube and realised to my alarm that the powder had all congealed at the bottom and clogged it up rather than mixing. In my single moment of ingenuity of the entire day, I blew into the tube, cleared the clog, and shook the pack until it had mixed better. All this while running!
There was just a half marathon to go now. I’d joked with another runner that we could do that in an hour and a half. That was funny because that is a respectable half marathon time, but this discipline operates on cosmically different times and paces. An ultra run is really not that much faster than a brisk walk.
The penultimate section was where I started to switch back on and feel in control. I had an absolute belief I’d finish. I was on home turf. These sections are where I do my distance training. As I ran under the M8 shortly after Broxburn towards the Almond aqueduct I felt at home. The section approaching Ratho exemplified what I liked best about the course - lots of trees to soften the open sky, the opposite side of the canal banked up, daffodils cementing the time of year and the scent of wild garlic everywhere.
At Ratho I phoned Helen and gave her my revised ETA. A phone is mandatory equipment and has to be left on. But when I took it out to talk to her, I felt too connected with alerts from my social media apps and even the message that my Scrabble friends missed me. Give me a break for one day, eh, Scrabble friends? My pace was holding up quite well now rather than slipping off more and more steeply as I’d feared. The checkpoint staff were adept in helping me get restocked with water and seemed to know the intricacies of my gear better than I did.
I’d feared that the last leg would be hellish. The last five percent of a marathon is often unbearable. But I knew it was all tarmac from here, and that soon I’d been on path that I used to run during lunch hours when I worked in Sighthill. Crossing the Scott Russell Aqueduct high above Edinburgh’s City Bypass I felt within my home town again. My morale took two more boosts around here - 50 miles covered, and then 52.4. Two marathons. Double my furthest ever competitive distance.
Night drew in. Wester Hailes did not look its best, and I say that as a defender of its modern towers and filled-in and later re-cut canal section. Perhaps I was seeing it through eyes that had taken in a lot of sunlight and natural beauty earlier in the day.
Just a few miles to go now. I’d been running for over ten hours. I’d been mercifully free of ear-worms for most of the day, but Steven Wilson’s “Routine” and “Perfect Life” had taken residence on my internal jukebox. That was OK, because they’re both superb songs. And tellingly, heart-wreckingly emotional ones. (Oh dear. I’m starting to well up a bit as I type now.) The canal took me to Craiglockhart, where Helen and I live. It literally passes the end of our road. The dusk was encroaching and I was nearing the end of a long day, and there was our home. The refrain of “Perfect Life” took over. I sang it a bit, to let it out. I had a sudden realisation that here, now, was a time of my life that I’ll always look back on with importance, the day I took a stand against decrepitude. And I thought of Helen, in our house.
Three minutes later, I realised she wasn’t in our house. There she was, in the gloom standing on the next bridge under an umbrella. We waved, she took a photo of we waving and running. I called out that I loved her, and my voice cracked. Right here, now, after this stretched-out adventure was the most important person in my world.
I ran on, away from our house, the last couple of miles to the finish line. It wasn’t an agonising last stretch at all. My pace increased. I was flying along. It was going to be over soon. I suspect that I was experiencing rising dopamine levels. No more checkpoints. No more walk breaks. No more food. No more painkillers. Just running. Pure and joyful.
On Saturday April 2 2016 at around eight thirty in the evening, darkness having completely fallen, I ran along the final stretch of the Union Canal towpath into Lochrin Basin in Fountainbridge, Edinburgh, and stopped running, having covered 55 miles since I set off from Glasgow’s Ruchill Park eleven and half hours earlier.
A medal and T-shirt were pressed into my hands and I had my photo taken. I saw my buddy from the morning come in about ten minutes after me and congratulated him. Back with Helen and our friends, I told a few stories, and we collectively decided that the best place for me was home.
The Dave-ettes
L-R Claire, Alex, me, Susan
I wasn’t in too bad shape. My feet were a bit bruised and bloody in places and I was starting to walk like C3PO. Having been eating all day, I felt like nothing else and the forbidden treats I’d been promising myself seemed no more than passing fantasies. I had my first coffee in three days and declared my finish on Facebook and Twitter. Before going to bed I was rewarded with a tidal wave of online congratulations that will take some beating in my lifetime. And I’d reached the stretch goal in fundraising of £100 for each mile run. I am overjoyed that this exercise has raised a substantial sum to help run Autism Initiatives' Number 6 service, which I feel intimately connected with.
I never sleep well after a race. Those Steven Wilson ear-worms returned and I was up again at four to read and flush some water through myself. I took some Tryptophan which promotes Seratonoin and caught another couple of hours.
It’s only through writing this down a day later that it’s started to sink in that I did it. It was impossible to imagine running this distance beforehand and it’s quite hard to believe it afterwards. I’m not going to attempt it again in the foreseeable future. The training regime took too much out of me, depriving me of much of the joy of running, and other than building up my endurance, has been damaging to my health and fitness. I’m going to take a few weeks off until my ankle and other joints have settled down, and catch up with all other other things I’ve had to pause for this. And when my appetite’s returned I’m going to start running again.
I’m fifty later this month. During my forties I’ve brought my marathon time down from four hours nine minutes to three hours nineteen. Before I get too old, I am determined, no doubt after a series of heartbreaking near-misses, to run a sub-three-hour marathon.
Just watch me.



Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Social Support - Two Days To Go

This is the strangest week.
My training taper has ended up becoming a transient switch from on to off. I've been staying in bed until as late as seven some mornings. I can watch television or read again without falling asleep. And instead of pounding the pathways I've been hammering the keyboard. 
During the past month, as training peaked, I was too occupied and tired to do anything about keeping fundraising on track. I had to raise about a thousand pounds per month, and as that slipped, I comforted myself with the thought that I'd raise more as the race approached. And there's always the way that donations lag a bit behind the event.
But with no running to do this week, as I wait agonisingly for my resting heart rate to fall to something normal and my left ankle to stop hurting, I've had time to think about fundraising. I've been able to transcribe a couple of sections of my interview with Rachel McRitchie from Number 6. And I've had time to step beyond social media broadcasting and directly target donors.
The response has been heartening. When asked, people I know, friends, family members, and colleagues, past and present, more often than not, come good and make a donation. 
With two days to go, the total stands at £4,660. It feels as though I'm going go be setting off on Saturday knowing that I've reached the target.
I've realised today that I'd never have caused this much to be raised if I hadn't had a target. I'd have put out my call for help and been grateful for what came back, but never actually approached individuals, or in the workplace jargon that owes everything to Levi Stubbs and the Four Tops, reached out to them.
I've also realised that what's driving me is this number. Anticipating the sight of those digits rolling over until there is a five followed by four zeroes is generating a surge of dopamine in my brain. I am motivated very precisely to see that happen before nine o'clock on Saturday morning when I and 150 others leave Glasgow's Ruchill Park for the longest run of many of our lives.
But these insights are nothing to the biggest epiphany of all. I'll have 150 running comrades on the day, but I also have about the same number of comrades who are doing this with me specifically. I'm not the disconnected emotionless Aspie of cliche, nor the lonely long-distance runner of post-war fiction. I am instead the spearhead of a fleet of helpers, and with every click on my JustGiving page I have felt more and more emotionally connected, to people I know now, people I am just getting to know and people I've known closely and am now cordially remote from. 
This is no solo flight. Like Gagarin or Armstrong, famous for being projected furthest, fastest, first, I am just the most visible embodiment of a huge team effort. A team has give and take for all its members. I'd chosen to run this race before I'd decided to raise funds, and because I've created this association between both activities, the kindness and generosity of everyone who's give will propel me forward, make it harder to drop out and energise me to keep going. That's my take from this.
Help has come in many forms. There were the specially-recruited exemplars like Doctor Who's Steven Moffat and his greatest-by-orders-of magnitude contribution, and the elected politicians. There were the people who are with me every step of the way in everything I do. New partners, like my colleagues in my still-new workplace. Old friends with whom I'm seldom in touch but who jumped to help. Friends and colleague of Helen, who barely know me themselves, but take the fact that I'm her husband as a  seal of honour. And cheerleaders who've not only given, but spread the word.
It's made me feel rather emotional several times so far, and I know I've going to spill over a few times on the day.
I'm not alone. I can ask for help and I'll receive it. I'm connected. We spend so much of our lives telling ourselves the story that we're alone and separate. How precious to be reminded, again and again, demonstrably, uncontrovertibly, that that isn't so. 
Thanks for coming with me.

www.justgiving.com/wavenode


Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Road That Led Here - Three Days To Go

Ten marathons. Marathon is such a sensible, short distance.

I can't believe I've just typed "Three Days To Go". It makes me feel Saturday rushing towards me. I'm spending my evenings this week writing individually to people I know to ask if they'll contribute, and I'm humbled and overwhelmed by the generosity of my friends old and new.
This means I haven't had time to write a proper blog for today, so this is off the top of my head. How did I get here? How did I decide that I would run a more-than-double marathon on the eve of my fiftieth birthday?
I ran my first marathon in 2008. By the time I'd run five, and started to knock the time it took me down, I'd decided that I'd have a go at ten. And all of these took place during my forties. It just seemed to make a kind a mathematical sense to round off that decade with something special.
I have no intention of making this my new standard distance. The 18 weeks of training have eroded my ability to run fast and I've put on about 4 kg, because these long slogs don't really burn fat and leave me insatiably hungry. I'm looking forward to stopping and then starting again - shorter distances, higher speeds, more intensity, more recovery in between runs. I'll lose that weight and take a delight in running again.
I feel OK about asking people for money for doing this now, because it's hard.
The training has been hard. It has been hard to do and has made everything else I do harder as well. This isn't a lifestyle I could sustain. I inherited a very unhelpful paternal belief that reward has to be earned. This grim ethic has asserted itself viciously this winter.
And this week, the dutiful labour and low mood have been supplanted by fear. I make no bones about it - I'm terrified. As well as my usual non-specific anxiety, I have some quite particular fears. 
My left ankle doesn't feel perfect. I'm aware of it most of the time. I know that by running on it on Saturday I'll be compromising the recovery that's been happening since I stopped training last week. What if the pain becomes acute? How will I feel if I have to drop out? How do I face over a hundred sponsors? How do I face myself? How will I manage the following day, deprived of the achievement I've been promising myself? 
And will this mild cold bug I have still affect me? I seem to be able to feel my heart thumping whenever I turn my attention to it. Will I be weakened? Will I be feverish? Will I slow to the point that I stop reaching the checkpoints by the cutoff time and be asked to drop out?
And even if the ankle pain and the fever continue to recede as they thankfully have been, will I be able to complete the course? The furthest I have ever run is 34 miles and that felt a long way from comfortable or normal. I have to continue for another 21miles after that. Can I do it? Is there any evidence? Any hope I can hang on to?
There's only one way to find out.

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Door That's Always Open - Four Days To Go

Number 6 is a one-stop shop, for adults from the age of 16 up, with Asperger’s and high-functioning autism. It’s situated in a tall town house in Edinburgh’s new town. You can get an idea of the formal services it offers from the web site.
In my own experience, I’ve received one to one counselling, attended courses on coping with the difficulties that Asperger’s throws up and the specific challenges of late diagnosis, and finally been able to meet others who like me were diagnosed in adulthood. I’ve also taken advantage of Number 6’s employment counselling when starting a new job after my diagnosis and weighing up the benefits and costs of disclosing my condition in the workplace.
That’s all quite a formal description of what Number 6 can offer. And my own experiences are slanted to my own extremely mild brush from autism. Number 6 has really helped me but it wouldn’t be right to say I depend on that help. However, I know that other users of the service do depend on it. I asked Number 6’s Health and Wellbeing Coordinator, Rachel McRitchie, what difference Number 6 makes to the lives of its users.
“Maybe the biggest difference it makes is that once people know we’re here they’ve got an extra coping tool to use and keep in their back pocket. It doesn’t mean they need to come here all the time. It doesn’t mean we need to know them intricately or anything like that. It just means that if something went wrong in their life, or felt like it was going out of control, there’s an option. There’s somebody they know they can ask and hopefully because of the expertise that we’ve got with Asperger’s that we would understand and maybe be able to offer input and a way forward.
“I think a lot of people do use us in that way. We have over 1400 people registered with us now and that’s a number much bigger than most people would guess. In an average year we tend to have about half of that volume of individuals that will access us at some point. (Maybe the other half don’t need us that year!) It’s just the idea that there’s something there if they need the option.
“For some people who do use us a lot we’re pretty much their second home and their second family – or their first family for that matter. Because there’s a lot of people who for different reasons don’t actually have anybody in the world. And that’s part of where they maybe struggle with social isolation and loneliness. And the way we like to run Number 6 and, the way that people like to use us is that it operates as a big house: It’s like when you’re young and your mum opens the door and you can come in and out whenever you want. People feel the freedom to come and go as they please. There isn’t any sort of marked expectation on the way be want people to use us. They can be quite free to explore what that is for them.
We actively promote the idea of it looking and feeling a bit more like a home, so that people do start to feel that way about it. Obviously we’re staff and people are using a service, but people do say that it feels like we’re a protective family that is there for them when they need it.
“So people feel like there’s somebody looking out for them. Maybe that’s what Number 6 is. That person that’s there for you when you need them.”

You can help me help Rachel and her colleagues keep the door of Number 6 open so that there service is there when it's needed, 365 days a year.

www.justgiving.com/wavenode

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Dramatically Necessary Late Jeopardy - Five Days To Go


GSV Dramatically Necessary Late Jeopardy entering the Balerno System
Forgive the title of this piece. It sounds like the name of one of Iain M. Banks’ sentient space battle cruisers. But sticking what I’m feeling into a cynical box is the best way of coping with it.
I’ve so far avoided injury during this 18-week training programme and succumbed to just one sequence of systemic infections that kept me off the road for ten days. I’ve been quite relieved. I had expected that by mistreating myself so badly I was bound to come to grief.
Last Sunday, I was running the last of my 11-milers, following an 18-miler the day before. The training distances were coming down as they tapered to almost nothing in the final three weeks. I ran from home in Craiglockhart up to Balerno on the edge of the Pentlands, before turning round and coming back down the Water of Leith walkway. Because my training distances had reduced, my recovery had improved and I was in better shape than I’d been on a Sunday for many weeks. My pace crept up, from my ultramarathon target pace of ten minutes per mile, to nine and a half, then nine, half way down the walkway, I realised I could achieve eight and a half, and went for it. Zoom!
Stupid, stupid, stupid. There’s no point training to run at that pace when it’s far in excess of what I’ll be aiming for on the day. It felt great at the time, as I seemed to be breaking free from the swamp of slow running that has characterised the past four months. I looked forward as I was doing it to starting to run at speed again after the race.
The following day, I noticed two things. My left ankle was really sore. And when I got to the gym in the evening, everything was really difficult. After just a few repetitions of any exercise, my joints and muscles felt full of poison.
I cautiously ran on during the week. My ankle didn’t get better. Nor did my overall performance and I struggled to reach ten minutes per mile some mornings.
The ankle injury arose because I shouldn’t have run like I do when I’m training for a marathon. Then, I have time to recover and push myself. The continuous ultra training doesn’t afford that recovery and I need to keep it steady.
And the overall weakness? I’m noticing I’m waking up coated in sweat as well. I have a mild fever, and my heart rate’s up. It’s an infection - some sort of cold.
I finally acknowledged all this on Friday and have decided to completely rest between now and the race. I’m still going to yoga, and I’ll probably run a cautious two-miler on Wednesday to gauge how I’m recovering. In the mean time I’m trying to stay off my feet, remembering to ice my ankle a couple of times a day and doing everything I can to speed the passing of the infection.
I really let the fear get to me this morning. “What if”, said a voice inside me, “you blow up after fifteen or twenty miles on the day?” “It hurts to walk, so how are you going to be able to run?”. Just thinking like this makes my heart rate soar.
It’s going to be OK, I think. I still believe I can finish. What this pair of glitches will mean is that it might be a lot harder work than I thought. I’m hoping that if I still have the infection, it won’t impede me at the slow pace for the day. And if my ankle is still bad then, well, there are always painkillers and anti-inflamatories, and you know, I won’t need o be able to walk after the race. My knees are both hurting all the time as well. I think this enforced rest is the best possible thing. However, not being able to run has deprived me of an outlet for my nervousness.
I’m going to be such a pleasure to live and work with for the next five days.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Inside Number 6 – Six Days To Go

Number 6, Edinburgh's one-stop shop for adults with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism
Four years ago, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. You can read about that here and here. Immediately afterwards I read all I could on the subject and began to unravel the causes and effects in my life that had led an odd child to become a stressed, anxious and at times clinically depressed adult. I knew what I was how, but not really how to cope with the effects. My GP referred me to Number 6, which the diagnosing psychiatrist had already mentioned, an Edinburgh charity which describes itself as a one-stop shop for adults with Asperger’s and High-Functioning Autism.
I had an initial consultation which led to me attending two weekly programmes – one for adults who have been diagnosed late, after having spent a significant amount of their adult life undiagnosed and another, Living Life to the Full, providing a broad range of coping strategies. I found them both invaluable, as I simultaneously recognised what I already knew about my difficulties and found new ways of looking at and coping with them.
I can’t emphasise enough that for me and people like me, having Asperger’s doesn’t make me Mr Spock or even Moss from The IT Crowd. What makes us different is that we perceive things differently and experience a permanent state of elevated non-specific anxiety. Simple things often seem hard and worrying. The anxiety can build up and burst into debilitating low mood and depression. That’s what we have to cope with. I’m only mildly disabled by Asperger’s. My intelligence and persistence helps me function in the neurotypical world. But I’m still hampered by anxiety.
My own experiences and the knowledge that others, who are affected more profoundly than me, need help led me to try and raise £5000 for Number Six, through its parent charity funding body, Autism Initiatives. There’s a gap between those the state already provides for (autistic adults with learning difficulties) and those who don’t need support (neurotypical people) where people with autism who are intellectually high-functioning still need help.
I returned to Number 6 this year to talk to staff member Rachel McRitchie, who ran the programmes I attended four years ago. Our wide-ranging chat covered many areas, including her specific remit as Health and Wellbeing Coordinator. I asked Rachel how she enjoyed her job.
“I very much love my role. It has a natural evolution in terms of the way I work with people. With others it’s very clear what their goal is over their interaction with people. It’s a clear step-by-step process. But, for me, when it comes to how people are feeling and coping it’s a very varied thing.
“It’s interesting that a lot of what I say to people is actually echoing back what other service users have expressed to me; the way they’ve described how they’ve felt, or the way they’ve described how they’ve succeeded, and how they’ve succeeded – what helped and what didn’t.  So, I can then use that and try and remember it and give people options and ideas, and they’ve actually come from each other rather than me.
“I run the Late Diagnosis Group and the Living Life to the Full programme, which is the group for people with low mood and anxiety. It’s self-help strategies aimed at building people up, so that they can try and feel supported, but also use that at times when they’re on their own at times when anxiety builds. People’s anxiety improves when they’re able to speak to somebody and work something through. The reality is that that might happen when they’re on their own at 11 o’clock at night when there isn’t anybody to access.
“I run those two groups and I do lots of one-to-ones, typically with people who’ve expressed an interest in talking to somebody about their anxiety – and it’s usually as vague as that. So, we start with an appointment where I speak to that person and ask them what their priority is and what they might like me to try and do.
“Some people feel like others have always had the answers but that they haven’t, so they sometimes think, that when it comes to feelings, that other people are managing to control those things entirely, and that therefore as a neurotypical person I might have the secret answer as to how to not be depressed or something like that. Of course, I would absolutely love if that was true, but it’s not the reality. “It’s much more likely that what we do is instead agree we can aim for some much more specific target, where we think of situational things that cause somebody stress or anxiety or low mood and we break it down into its parts and try and pick apart what’s actually going on behind that - what’s causing the stress and anxiety. There are things we could be doing to either avoid them or remove them, whatever it may be.
“The bit that people focus on is the feeling low, which is obviously something that you would do, because it overwhelms people, but that’s the symptom of something not working. A lot of people find it very difficult on their own to figure out what the bit that’s not working is. Some people have described it to me as having a sounding board, somebody to bounce their ideas off or speak to. It may be something I say sometimes makes them say “Oh! I’ve never heard it phrased that way and actually that puts all the puzzle pieces into place and I’ve suddenly realised what’s going on.” It doesn’t mean that these things get sorted easily and maybe that’s part of why I quite like my role in that it’s not quite so simple as you fix it and it’s done. It’s more a trust-building thing where people come up with ideas, go off and try them and then get back in touch when they feel that they need things.
“So, I tend to get people in dips and rises where I’ll maybe end up seeing them quite a lot for a little bit of time and then they feel like they can go off and give things a go and maybe I don’t see them for a while and often that’s because things are going fine, and then they’ll pop up again if something extra happens.
“Sometimes that anxiety and stress and even low mood is related to very practical things, like managing mail and correspondence, which is a thing that a lot of people find very tricky. So, if it is something like that there are very logical practical steps that we can take to get things dealt with relatively quickly so that at least their baseline anxiety level lowers and then we can tackle some of the other things that are causing worries.
“I’m not a trained counsellor. It’s not that same as getting an adult mental health referral, but what we try to do is go with having a good knowledge of Asperger’s and thinking about practical steps that people can take. Especially when for a lot of people like that there might be a specific thing that they’re aiming for anyway because it’s easier to know you’ve achieved it.
“I have lots of discussions with people about the concept of “feeling better”. What the heck is “better”? Better than today? Or tomorrow? Or yesterday? It’s helpful for people to define what they’re aiming for. A lot of people get tied up in thinking that “better” is excellent days when you feel euphoric, but that’s actually not what 90% of people experience on a day-to-day basis.
“We mostly have “alright” days which feel not fantastic but not rubbish and we get the tasks done that need to be done and we make some choices that feel comfortable and easy and that’s maybe about it. But if people have felt low for a really long time they’re often always striving for the really good and haven’t noticed when they’ve risen to just in the middle somewhere. So, recognition of where people have gotten to and a kind of grounding with that is important.
“That’s where the new ideas of mindfulness are really helpful, because a lot of people with Asperger’s overthink things and find it very very difficult to move forward with things. Trying to practice mindful techniques can be really helpful because it’s about being in the moment and making decisions based on current information, not past information.”
I lit up when Rachel mentioned mindfulness. It’s been a significant new way of being for me in the last few years and I’ve found the clarity and focus it brings help tremendously in coping with what Asperger’s does to me. Rachel continued.
“It’s a useful tool to support a change in the way that people think, and the way that they default to the over-analyzing and over-thinking style, which doesn’t help people, so to be able to go towards mindfulness is a really helpful thing. We’re looking to move slightly forward from the Living Life to the Full materials which are really good but were never originally designed for people with Asperger’s (they were designed for all people with low mood and anxiety) which covers people with Asperger’s within that. We like to take the best of that and ideas from mindfulness and create a new course, which is going to include a lot more of our Autism knowledge. That’s underway at the moment and hopefully we’ll get the chance to meet and learn from some people within the NHS who’ve been using mindfulness.
“It’s exciting for us to think about how we’re going to keep going and keep evolving. Autism knowledge is growing all the time, so hopefully the more we understand and the more people can learn about, the more we can offer.
“But really, our insight and expertise comes from the volume of people that we’ve met. Personally, out of our database, I’ve probably met at least six hundred of those people, not all for prolonged periods, but for at least a conversation. That volume of people is a wealth of knowledge waiting to be tapped into. That’s what’s really nice about our job – we get that opportunity to meet people and over time get to know them and share in some of their successes which is really enjoyable for me as well!”

This was but a fraction of what we covered, and I'll try and share some more, about the people who use Number 6's services and what a difference they make to them, in the next few days.

Amount raised so far: £4, 075
Amount to raise: £925

www.justgiving.com/wavenode





Monday, March 21, 2016

Over the Hill - Two Weeks To Go

Halfway there: The first half of the course covered.
I’m busy on many fronts. That’s a blessing in many ways, because I don’t have time to worry, and I’m forced to live in the present. Last week, I covered my peak training distance, 70 miles in one week, including a 29 mile run from Glasgow Queen Street Station to Falkirk High. My entirely voluntary and therefore self-inflicted burden of Scottish Green Party responsibilities mean I’ve been up late every night production-editing 15 versions of our mini-newspaper for electors in the region, as well as coordinating the nomination of dozens of our candidates throughout the country. And my paid employment has hit a critical peak, as the project I’m working on ramps up into full swing. There’s no time to think, to make anything more than the most immediate of decisions, or to reflect on any alternative to the way things are now. And there’s been no time to blog.
I feel good about the race, which is just two weeks away. I seem to have adapted to this five-runs-a-week regime. It is difficult to rise in the dark three mornings in a row and run to work, and the selection of routes I take are becoming very very familiar. Low mood dogs me. Routine helps me get through this. I am almost living out of a sports bag and the repetition of the weekly schedule means there is no time wasted on decisions.
I’ve never danced with tiredness for so long like this. If I sit down to watch half an hour of my favourite television I will nod off several times. In the evening the smallest tasks, like counting my pills out for the next few days, or laying out my running gear, feel as though I’m performing them at high altitude. My concentration is shot. I can’t read more than a page or two before I either fall asleep or turn instead to mental junk food like social media.
But I can work. I seem to be in a state where I take great solace in just getting things done. Just as this low-speed high-mileage running has no innate thrill or euphoria but is merely satisfying to tick off, so my work, filling in forms, cutting articles to length, chivvying colleagues, refining technical implementation plans has become a calling. It’s dull and routine, but I feel much better for doing it. I go to bed and wake up thinking about it. This is the state of flow, albeit a sluggish sticky kind.
This is all going to be over in two weeks. I’m a bit frightened by that. I will experience a sense of decompression. I will need to be met at the prison gates and taken to a halfway house. I’m more anxious about after the ultramarathon than I am about the ultramarathon.
I know what the course will look like, because I’ve covered all of it now. Having run the second half a few weeks ago, I ran the first half last weekend, both times running in the direction of the race. I even practiced what it would feel like to take the train to Glasgow in the knowledge that I was going to run dozens of miles back the same way. That was funny, because at the station in Glasgow I met two Green colleagues. One was going to picket the SNP conference, and the other was going to a party council meeting five minutes from my house. And I was going to run to Falkirk.
It was a fantastic run. I felt a sense of great beauty and presence as I went north and then east along the Forth and Clyde canal, going past the huge isolated tower blocks that still look like the future to this child of the sixties. A burnt out car had the grace of a modern art exhibit. I was passing through towns I’d never been to before, covering 29 miles I’d never set foot on before. It fills a real need in me. I want to pace the world.
I’m bearing up physically. My Achilles tendons are taking it in turns to complain but neither has hurt so sharply I’ve had to stop. I just have to keep out of trouble for two weeks. This taper period is notorious for little niggles to out so I’m prepared for that. My choice of shoes for the day is being made for me. I will wear the pair that hurts least when I’ve run 30 miles in them. I’ve been tentatively posting on the event’s Facebook page, tipping off the other runners that there’ll be a lot of fresh new tarmac for us to run on. I’m glad about that. Most ultras are wild, hilly, rocky affairs. This is flat and smooth.
Bring it on. I’m ready.

www.justgiving.com/wavenode

Sunday, February 28, 2016

One Step Beyond - Five Weeks To Go

I've yet to write up my interview with Rachel from Number Six, the Autism Initiatives project in Edinburgh, but it will be coming up any week now. 
Just as I was recovering from the flu, and planning to resume training, I succumbed to a cold. I think this is a distinct infection from the flu and not simply a relapse although it’s hard to completely disentangle infections that impact the same systems and sites. I took a difficult decision and resumed training despite not being fully recovered. The cold is nothing compared to the flu and I couldn't suspend training any longer and retain any degree of confidence that I would be ready for the race in time.
Starting again didn’t feel as good as I thought it would. Rather than being refreshed from 12 days full rest I found that instead my joints, particularly by ankle tendons and hips were complaining quite vociferously. I responded by taking down the intensity of my running, so that I gently pad along at a deliberately slow pace and minimise impact. That seems to have worked. I’ve continued to be congested and coughing but both symptoms seem to reduce when I’m actually running.
The last week has seen my sleep interrupted by coughing outbursts and me feeling acute aversion to actually begin running, but great improvement when I set off. The spectre hanging over the whole week has been my training plan’s entry for today. Rather than as usual running two back-to-back long runs over two days, totalling a combined length of over thirty miles, today I ran a single run of 34.2 miles. This was eight miles further than I’d ever run before in my life and ten further than I’d ever run in training.
I wasn’t sure whether I’d be able to do it, but felt I should try, or else the whole enterprise might come apart. After all, in less than five weeks, I’ve going to be running 55 miles. This one-off 34-miler was the longest run in the whole training programme and likely the longest training run I will ever undertake.
Last night, I laid out all my kit, and this morning rose on schedule and took the train from Edinburgh Haymarket to Falkirk High. The station is just a couple of hundred metres from the Union Canal Towpath on the John Muir Way, along which I’ll be running in five weeks time. I had decided to run a 31-mile section of the course one way and then loop back from the finish time at Lochrin Basin in Edinburgh to my home in Craiglockhart. 
Falkirk Tunnel
It was a beautiful calm, clear sunny day. I immediately ran through the icicle-decorated 600m Falkirk Tunnel, having begun to work through my month-long backlog of “The Archers”. “The Archers” calms me down and today it stopped me from being overwhelmed by the length of the run.
I’ve been curious for years about what it would be like to run this far west along the canal. I’ve lived near it for thirteen years now, but never managed to get further west than Broxburn. Here it was superficially the same, towpath on the left, water in the right, passing through towns, open countryside and wooded banked sections. But because I’d never run along this section before I had a far stronger sense of where I was on the map of Scotland, strongly emphasised by the chimneys of Grangemouth oil refinery to my left by the River Forth. I was slap-bang in the middle of the country. 
After about ten miles my Garmin GPS watch announced it was nearly out of juice and cemented its fate as something I can’t run long races with any more. I’d anticipated this and launched the Runkeeper application on my phone. Immediately my pace slowed. I think this is simple psychology. Without the constant feedback of my pace at a glance on my wrist, I was slacking off.
I wasn’t just training my running; I was training for everything I was going to do on the day. Hydration, nutrition, kit were all getting a good shakedown, and I practiced my planned technique of running for fifteen minutes and walking for one. I soon found that starting running again after a minute’s walk was getting progressively harder. But this is a great way of breaking down the day of running into manageable chunks. At the next level up, I allowed myself to look forward to the next town, be that Linlithgow, Winchburgh, Broxburn, or Ratho, and not to contemplate how much ground I had to cover before getting home. 
Before long, the towers of Linlithgow Palace became visible. This felt like progress. I may have been making what felt like laborious little-more-than-jogging movement on the ground, but I did seem to be moving from one part of the map to another.
After about three hours of “The Archers” I couldn’t cope with any more of Ambridge bastard Rob Titchener’s sociopathic domination of his new wife Helen Archer, compelling as it is in small doses, and switched to Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre Podcast. Richard’s playful stage interviews with other comedians and performers appeal to my puerile side and helped keep me from dwelling on the run, and specifically how slowly it was going.
At Broxburn, I connected with where I’d previously run to from home. This was quite a boost psychologically - I knew I had previously run the distance ahead of me.
I ate normally-forbidden foods - energy bars laced with sugar and starch, and gulped made-up energy drink from my backpack reservoir. The sun shone down on my and I took of hat, then gloves, than jacket. It felt bearable, tolerable, even sustainable. Other runners overtook me every few miles, but I knew none of them were going as far as me.
Into Edinburgh and my own stamping grounds, I felt strange in my lycra and specialist gear as local families no more than half a mile from their homes pushed prams along. My story was the intrusion into this scene and I no longer owned the towpath.
My spirits lifted as the canal passed through Craiglockhart taking me near home and then agonisingly further away. This is what will happen on the day, so it was worth training emotionally as well as physically for it. By mid afternoon I reached Lochrin Basin in Edinburgh where the race will end, and immediately turned round back towards home for the last few miles.
Over seven hours after I has set off from Falkirk, I arrived at my front door. 
I feel good that I’ve done this. The numeric record of my longest run ever is far less important than having done a sort of dress rehearsal for the race. I’ve come to terms with the fact that my ten-hour target for the day is over-optimistic. But I believe that I will finish. I’ll be covering the ground using a combination of running, jogging and walking and I’ll have to do what I did today and then another 20.8 miles. I’m falling asleep as I type this afterwards. But I’m going to do it.

We've raised £3,500 so we're 70% of the way there. We have five weeks left to raise the remaining £1,500. That's £300 a week. Scattershot has worked but now it's time to contact individuals one at a time. 



Saturday, February 13, 2016

Bings and Bogeys - The Art of Not Running - Seven Weeks To Go

My rewarding view after
almost two hours' running
During most race training periods, I have to pause for a week or so. This can be because of an injury, such as the Achilles Tendinopathy in 2012 that took me out of the Glasgow Half Marathon and reduced my Loch Ness Marathon to a scenic exercise, or to illness. I fall prey to debilitating illness about once a year and there's nothing like race training to catalyse it.
Last weekend, I ran 35 miles in total: 24 on Saturday and 11 on Sunday. Saturday saw me finally reaching the ochre Martian mountains of Broxburn (They're actually shale tips called bings) as I push my long runs further and further into West Lothian. Sunday was a comforting trot up through Craiglockhart Dell behind our house and up the Water of Leith Walkway to Balerno (which confoundingly isn't in Italy) and back. As I turned at Balerno, night fell and I switched on my spiffy new head torch to light my way home. I was going downhill. So why did it feel so much harder?
I thought it was the psychological effect of running in the dark, but by the time I got to my gym intervals and circuits class the following night, I realised I had a cold. That was it. Would I be able to train through it? Remember what I was saying last time about the compulsive nature of unbroken streaks? I had a strong urge to keep going, drop the speed maybe, but keep going. I deferred Tuesday's run until the evening.
But when I woke up that morning my body told me that the game, as they say, was a bogey. And that was an apt term because there were bogeys aplenty in my upper respiratory passages. "Go home" said everyone at work on seeing and hearing me. Perhaps because my current employer is paid for completed projects, unlike than my previous employer, who were paid for the hours I spent with the client, it's in their interests to send me home. I toughed it out for another couple of day and gave in. The Doctor says I have a viral infection. It's flu, basically. I can't lie down because my lungs fill up and breathing becomes uncomfortable, so I've been feverishly spending the small hours finishing novels (reading them I mean) and watching the social media feeds of my Doctor Who friends as they fly to LA for the big annual convention.
And, of course, I'm not running.
This feels OK.
It feels OK because as the infection gathered, I was finding running harder and harder and worrying about when the inevitable illness was going to break during the 18-week training cycle. This illness, now blessed into official status by my GP this morning, means that I can grasp the chance to do what I've been craving for weeks - rest and recover.
I'm going to miss my first longer-than-marathon training run this weekend. That's OK, because there will be a couple more at this length coming up. It means that the week I resume will be what my schedule calls a cycle-down week, where I deliberately relax the pace and distance before ramping up again. I'll get a relatively modest pair a weekend runs to ease back in with before the big exception week of the schedule where I run three midweek days, rest for three consecutive days and then go for the longest run of the whole thing - 35 miles. I'll be even more rested and recovered for that than I was going to be. 
My autism drives me to keep following my training plan. There are no side-deals, compromises. grey areas. It very interesting how I react to a viral spanner in the works like this. A few years ago, maybe before I practised mindfulness or even when I drank, I'd have been raging. Everything would have been ruined. But now, this really feels OK. I'm worried I'll be a pain for Helen to be anywhere near for the next week, and I'd like to have a firm plan about when I'm going to be lacing my shoes on again, but as well as physical stamina I've also developed acceptance.
I'd originally planned to run 4.4 miles to work on Tuesday morning. Instead, I found myself struggling with my breathing as I walked up to the bus stop. That was frightening at the time, and I'm still challenged to reconcile how I feel now with how I need to feel by April 2nd.


But I accept how I feel now.

Money Raised: £3,410
Money to Raise: £1,590
Miles run: 425
Miles to run: 529 [ I will not now run this - from next week I'll recalculate ]
Sponsor me here: www.justgiving.com/wavenode

NEXT TIME ON DESPATCHES FROM CALEDONIA

Instead of introspectively describing running, yet again, I'll be talking to Rachel McRitchie from Number Six, the HFA/Aspergers One-Stop Shop, as she describes how your sponsorship will make a real difference.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Streaking In The Snow - Nine Weeks To Go

I've bought this, the trail version of my
usual running shoe. It's unmistakably
more stable in the snow, ice and mud
that my routes have turned into
this flooded winter.
As I approach half-way through my eighteen weeks’ training, I haven’t yet skipped any of my five training runs a week. I’d thought that I might start to drop one of the midweek three, but I’ve managed to keep it up. This, dangerously, means that I’m on a streak and that I’ll be compelled to try and sustain this for the remaining nine weeks. It’s dangerous because it will drive me to run when perhaps I shouldn’t, either because I’ve acquired sustained stress injuries or because I’m overtraining.
It’s overtraining that I’m most attuned to. It happened last year when I tried to train for a marathon while keeping up a relatively-new gym regime at the same time. I wasn’t getting enough recovery and my gym performance collapsed, while I developed acute mood swings and sinusitis. The only thing you can do is ease off and sit it out, which is the last thing an Aspie with a plan wants to do. But I did it. I rested completely for a week, and parked the gym until after the marathon. I recovered and ran a personal best.
I could feel the overtraining symptoms circling me last weekend. I didn’t want to go out and run. My yoga class just reminded me of what a comprehensive set of parts of me hurt. The winter blues made me shut down when the short day ended. I was in an icy mood, no fun to be near, no fun to be married to. I woke on Monday feeling there was no point in carrying on with anything. The black dog was back.
During Monday, something shifted. I felt better by the evening, opened up to Helen about how I’d been feeling, embraced my gym and yoga classes and got back on with things.
Work has been eventful this week. Sometimes my job is nine to five and involves writing things and having meetings. This week was a return to my engineering roots, as my team performed an intense hands-on change to our clients’ IT systems. I rose at five on Tuesday to be at my desk for six-thirty, and later ran nine miles home. The following morning, I rose at five again and ran another nine miles to work to be at my desk for eight.
It’s fascinating how different those two runs were. The run home after a long day’s work was a real strain, with only a vivid winter sunset to inspire me. I still can’t shift the habit of trying to stick to a pace and find anything below ten minute miles shameful, and it was an effort even to sustain that. I wanted to be home and warm and not have to cook dinner myself. Two out of three were achieved.
But the following day, rising at five, I felt less stiff, less tired and as though I was on top of the run instead of fighting it. It was dark cold and quiet, and in Edinburgh in January at six in the morning I owned the city – the pavements were quiet and the off-road paths were empty. The day didn’t dawn while I ran and I seemed to be dream running in a night garden that would stay like this for ever.
Beauty appears at the oddest, least expected times.

Money Raised: £3,025.76
Money to Raise: £1,974.24
Miles run: 366
Miles to run: 588
Sponsor me here: www.justgiving.com/wavenode

Saturday, January 23, 2016

An Expanding Sense of Aversion - 10 Weeks to Go

I am developing a recurrent craving to do almost anything other than run.
I love my gym sessions - twice a week at Craiglockhart Sports Centre with the irrepressible Michael. There's double-edged adjective if ever I saw one, but he's great, leading small bunches of us through quick high-intensity intervals and circuits. I have learned that one of the best ways to guarantee failure and injury while running is to only run. You need to be strong all over. And I love my yoga as well. And just walking. Or cycling. And I'm even starting to feel like swimming again despite the fact that sharing a swimming pool is a social and sensory nightmare for me.
Running isn't delivering me as much euphoria and satisfaction as it usually does. There's a lot of it to get through each week and while I'm feeling relieved to have got through eight weeks of this regime (forty runs now - oh my) without any injury more acute than aching joints and twinges in the tendons, and pleased that I've shifted to a softer running style that doesn't bring these on, I don't feel like a sportswear model when I'm out doing it.
The present is uncomfortable to inhabit so my mind is taking refuge in the future. In ten weeks' time I'm actually going to be doing this. What will it be like? There are some clues in these blogs from first-timers who've done it before: Pursued By Angry Bees, and Lee Shearer. While I'm glad that both these correspondents actually finished (and by no means all the runners do) I'd been hoping to do a bit better and get to the finish about ten hours after setting off. I'm encouraged that the stewarding and support sounds excellent. I am going to experience extreme mood swings during this event.
So, no change there.
One thing that's constant in accounts of this and all other ultras is that you need to eat a lot, and keep your blood glucose topped up. Just as my training for this has involved a U-turn, from little and fast to lots and slow, so my nutrition will have to change. I eat an Atkins or Paleo style diet with far more fat and protein than I used to. I don't eat simple carbs, so bread, pasta, grains, and potatoes are all off. And sugar's a complete no. I've lost the best part of 20kg as a result. But on the day of this race, that's all going to have to change. I'll have to eat food that's portable and energy dense. And I'll have to practice eating it as well. So some time in the next two months, I'll be heading out for a 26-mile training run carrying forbidden food - muesli bars, dates, dried apricots - just to verify whether it works.
I'll be carrying it in my new toy, once it's arrived. It's a proper running hydration vest. I have justified the expense by remembering that I can use it to take a clean shirt, towel and my lunch on my run to work on weekday mornings. That's the second big expenditure for this event, following my head torch, also a mandatory item. Since I'm so busy that I have to do three to four of my runs in darkness at this time of year, the torch getting quite a lot of use. It can also be worn indoors if you want to be completely insufferable to your spouse or partner. My final splurge will be a new GPS running watch. My current one works, and my excuse for replacing it is that it won't stay charged for the duration of the race. So it's a 16-hour model next. This will have five years of other design improvements which I'll enjoy.
You can see where my mind is. I'm distracting myself with gear and gadgets (oh yes - I'll need another two pairs of shoes before this is over) and trying to scry the future from others' experiences because the present is a bit of a grind.
This week was what my schedule calls a Cycle Down week. I've been allowed to ease of the mileage a bit, and I needed to because I was badly hammered by last weekend's back-to-back. Next week it's back to increasing the load. And, for the sake of my confidence, getting donations over £3,000.

Money Raised: £2,838.77
Money to Raise: £2,161.23
Miles run: 300
Miles to run: 654
Sponsor me here: www.justgiving.com/wavenode

Sunday, January 17, 2016

This Week Was The Hardest So Far - 11 Weeks to go

This entry is a week late. I've been too busy to write because I've either been running, working or, very infrequently, sleeping.
I promised 18 blogs, but they don't have to come once a week. Better, I think, to wait for something to say.
This week was the hardest so far. The training volumes are creeping up, so I ran a total of 62 miles this week. The weekend two days back-to-back meant that between sundown on Saturday and breakfast on Sunday I ran 32 miles.
This week was the hardest so far. Having missed training on Boxing Day in order to see my family, I've been running a day behind schedule ever since. I chose to catch up this week, so instead of running three days, resting a day and running another two days, I ran a consecutive five days. I don't think I've ever done that before.
This week was the hardest so far. I arrived at my desk at work at 0645 on Wednesday morning and left at 0430 the following day. I managed two hours sleep from 0500 to 0700 before I had to be up again to take my computer to be fixed when the shop opened. During this 22-hour working day, I ran in my lunch hour, and I ran again the following afternoon. I found that running for less than an hour does help with drowsiness.
This week was the hardest so far. As I set off on my 22 miles on Saturday night, it started to snow. It fell through much of that three and half hour run. The following morning there was a firm coating and my shoes didn't get purchase so I was sliding a bit and it took me nearly two hours to run ten miles.
I've bought myself a head torch. Not only does it make me feel a bit safer running in the dark, but it makes me run a little faster - I've observed repeatedly that I run more slowly when I can't see where I'm going. It also has a thousand uses around the house. I'll never look cool wearing it.
Fundraising has more or less plateaued. This is to be expected with the cost of Christmas, but I'll be rattling the tin more loudly in a week as people's January salaries get paid. If I can get to £3000 by the end of January, I'll need to raise £1000 a month for the next two. I think I can do that by individually contacting people and perhaps getting some cards to hand out to people I see regularly but don't know on-line.
I can feel myself changing as I do this. I think my body has got used to the idea that it's not getting as much rest or recovery as it used to. I may be flirting with injury. Two yoga sessions a week are now essential rather than a luxury, and at least five runs a week means five post-run stretches.
Last night I ran eleven miles of what will be the route of the ultramarathon. It was just 20% of the whole route and I let that fact overwhelm me. I forgot that when I run it I will have tapered my training, be rested and have the company of other runners. I have a choice - I can avoid training on the race route or embrace it. I think I'm going to embrace it and cover as much of it as I can. Perhaps in coming weeks, rather than running out and back, I can run out to Linlithgow and get the train home. After all, the course itself is the best training route.

I am too busy and tired to summarise my mileage so far here and now.

www.justgiving.com/wavenode

Sunday, January 03, 2016

States of Running - 13 Weeks To Go

I am either running or not running. It is either a running day or a non-running day. If it is a running day, I have either already run, am running, or am yet to run. 
These are fundamental, primary states. There is no blurring or overlapping. There are finite transitions between them. This is the ever-present grammar of my life.
I am thinking, always, of my next run, or the ones after it. This is regardless of whether I am running or not running when I am doing the thinking. I sometimes think about activities other than running, such as my paid job, my domestic life or my political roles, but only of how they are going to frame and be framed by the running.
As I think, I plan my movements for the weeks ahead. On a certain day, I will run to work in the morning, so I must have left clean clothes and toiletries there on a preceding day. On another day, I will run at lunchtime, and forfeit the chance to do anything else in that time. At weekends I will run during the day and must plan my meals so that I take in protein within minutes of arriving home, and avoid coffee and its subsequent diuretic effect before going out.
As I look at the audio books and plays on my iPod, I plan where I will be running when I listen to them. A single episode will accompany a lunchtime four-miler. A weekend sixteen will use up two whole disks of a boxed set. Can I tolerate running with a production that I am listening to only out of completeness or loyalty when I am fatigued? Will I be able to follow something esoteric when I am navigating unfamiliar paths? Should I allow myself an intoxicating hit of music instead?
As I decide what to do with my non-running hours and days, I survey the damage running has done to my body and mind. Do I need to try and fit in more yoga? Can I do this before or after I have run? Do I have time to meditate today? Will running alone, perhaps without anything in my ears act as a substitute? Will attending a gym class address the parts of my body that the physical monoculture of running is neglecting or will it push me into overtraining and immune system depletion? Would my acutely sore tendon and spasming lower back be significantly better if I allowed myself to run less, run better, be truer to my whole.
I never think of the totality of the months between me and the ultramarathon. It’s too much to contemplate at once. I sometimes think of what it will be like to start the race, and often of what it will be like to finish it. I think a lot of what I will do in the week afterwards. I foresee I will be replaying the race again and again, sleeping little, and feeling adrift without a goal and a structured path to reach it, until I bow to my compulsion and enter my credit card details in the entry form for the next race.
The first three months of my year will be a brutal perfect storm of schedules and obligations. Running is the only activity over which I have complete majesty, to which I am permanently attuned, and which I will not sacrifice, ever, not under any circumstances.
Running and I have a perfect symbiosis. We are each agents for the other, enabling the other to be, and each defined by the other. 

Money Raised: £2,753.77
Money to Raise: £2,246.23
Miles run: 156
Miles to run: 808
Sponsor me here: www.justgiving.com/wavenode

Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Year Turns - 14 Weeks to Go

Every Christmas, Helen and I spend a few days with our families in and around Liverpool and Manchester. For the past few years, I’ve also just started training for a Spring marathon at this time, and have to lead a double life; as well faking neurotypical gregariousness and playing at being an Uncle and an in-law, I’m also getting up early and putting the miles in. It’s a strange lonely sort of ritual. It doesn’t seem to afford the same sort of comfort as running at home, perhaps because after each run I’m returning to someone else’s house where I’m living out of a bag and where my post-run protein comes in someone else’s crockery.
The disrupted weather this Christmas has led to some odd runs. I have no idea what to wear, and have donned a windproof jacket for a sixteen-mile run only to wish I could discard it after ten minutes. And this week, I set out two hours before sunrise in 50 mile per hour gusts in a single flimsy layer and didn’t feel the need for any more because the gales were so unsettlingly warm.
It’s not just the weather that’s been odd and unfamiliar. This five-days-a-week regime continues to surprise me. Not only are my muscles that aren’t having time to recover, but my skin as well, and I’ve experiencing chafing at far shorter distances than in my usual regime. I continue to feel tired and sluggish when running, but oddly the day after that treacly sixteen-miler, I zipped through another eight at what would be a respectable race pace. I have no idea why.
My calves and quads are still sore, and both my achilles tendons are aching although so far this feels like a sustainable discomfort and not an injury in the making. I’m daring to hope that because I’m fitter and stronger than the last time I attempted to run so frequently, I’m correspondingly less injury-prone.
After the Doctor Who Christmas special went out, I placed a reminder on social media that its writer, Steven Moffat, had supported me and I was gratified by the number of donations which came in on Christmas and Boxing Days. In the new year, I’ll be making more targeted appeals and also approaching donors directly. We’re not far off £3000 now and I still believe we’ll get to £5000.
I’ve run my last miles of 2015. Tomorrow will be the year I turn fifty, and the year I run an ultramarathon. Both occasions have been occupying my thoughts for years but are hurtling towards me now.

Money Raised: £2,753.77
Money to Raise: £2,246.23
Miles run: 132
Miles to run: 832
Sponsor me here: www.justgiving.com/wavenode

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Long Haul - 15 Weeks To Go

I’d like to say I’m fighting fit. In truth, I’m fighting to fit training in. Other things are being sidelined - piano, social correspondence, bothering to iron work shirts. Keeping to the training targets comes first. I feel the benefit of the runs, especially the brace of long ones each weekend, and my mind is more still afterwards, but this isn’t honestly an enjoyable kind of running. This five-times-a-week repeated punishment gives me no time to recover and run with fresh muscles. Each individual performance feels as much of a struggle as the sort of training I used to run five years ago before I became fitter. I can feel repetitive stress injuries, quite literally, nipping at my ankles as I run. Each time, I pledge to stretch and use the foam roller more and more. And after each time, I don’t because there just isn’t enough time. Look at how often I’m using the word “time". It’s the miracle ingredient I crave.
What’s does this feel like? It’s like suddenly running with a passenger. There’s more effort and less result. These are each individually disappointing runs. Only taken as a series, ninety runs, five a week over eighteen weeks, does the achievement emerge. Each week the achievement is still being on my feet and just about uninjured at the end of the fifth run. It’s degrading my other activities too - yoga’s harder and on Saturday afternoon as I scaled tenement staircase after tenement staircase in the cause of activism, my calves and quads were screaming at me to stop.
I’ve worked out a way of fitting this in around Christmas obligations. Christmas can be a challenging time for an Aspie. There are lots of overlaid sensory and social landscapes and the temptation is to curl into a ball and wait it out. But I’ll have some solitary meditative space as I go out and train. I love running on Christmas morning, and finding a return to the childhood thrill of being first up and discovering what has been left for me.
I must record the strange weather this December. At this time of year my usual running enemies are cold exposed skin and feet sliding around on ice. But this year, I’m facing high-speed gusts of warm wind. Wind is the enemy of runners seeking target paces, but for the next fifteen weeks, they’re not what I’m looking for. I’m looking for stamina, and the ability to keep running when I’m exhausted. These are perfect conditions, then - a 45mph head-on gust can make even running on fresh legs feels as though one’s entering the fifth hour. 
I’ve rediscovered the dawn this week, twice setting out before sunrise. At this extreme of the year, the return of daylight each morning is to be celebrated and there is no better way than to be out in it, ideally running south-east into the new day.
And soon, into the new year.

Money Raised: £2,445.77
Money to Raise: £2,554.23
Miles run: 86
Miles to run: 878
Sponsor me here: www.justgiving.com/wavenode

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Pressure Mounts - 16 Weeks To Go

This is what I looked like
about an hour after
after my tenth marathon
This week, I've properly appreciated for the first time what a significant volume of training I've committed myself to. Before my best marathon yet, I trained three and sometimes only two times a week. I usually had two or three days to recover between each training run. If I maintain the training pattern I've set out for the ultra I will be running five days every week, snatching just two days recovery between them. And on each of those recovery days, I attend a high intensity gym class.
It feels like a recipe for fatigue, a suppressed immune system, and overuse injuries.
I'm not backing off yet, but there's great comfort in knowing I can do so if I choose.
This week was an oddity, because it followed the spontaneous 23-miler the previous Saturday. I ran a couple of miles straight after my gym class on Tuesday and felt fatigued and wobbly. Things had improved by Thursday when I joined a charity run at work at lunchtime and, festooned in tinsel, ran a competitive four miles against a bunch of competitive IT professionals. I think I'm going to be able to cope with these clusters of three short runs from Tuesday to Thursday if I don't run any of them straight after a gym class again.
This weekend held my first two longish back to back runs, eleven miles on Saturday and seven on Sunday. Encouragingly I was more energetic and speedy on Sunday.
However, I usually feel crap. This volume of training has had me craving high-energy food and my weight has crept up a couple of kilos. I'm tired, and finding it hard to get up in the morning. I have an upset tummy and a blocked nose a lot of the time.
I'm not just going to put up with this and hope it goes away. Between now and Christmas I'm hereby imposing an in-bed-by-ten regime and watching what I eat so that my blood sugar doesn't spike. If that doesn't help enough, I may look at dropping one of the midweek runs. I have to maintain the two back-to-back runs at the weekend though, and in just a few weeks, they'll amount to a combined distance of thirty miles. It will be a real challenge to fit them in around other people's ideas of what I should be doing over the Christmas holidays.
I've changed what I listen to when I run. As I'm not chasing speed on the long runs, I can afford to listen to audio drama rather than energising music. I've been greatly diverted this weekend by, amongst other things, Big Finish Productions' audio revival of 1970s post-apocalypse drama "Survivors".
Reading the above, I realise I'm feeling a bit sorry for myself. Some of this is my resistance to change, and some of it's the low mood that comes with tiredness. I think that there's a part of me that doesn't actually believe that this five-day-a-week training programme is the right thing for me and that it's risky and contradicts the lesson of success I've been having by running less and faster.
Maybe the two problems - exhaustion from the volume of training, and a shortage of days over Christmas when I can run - are actually solutions to one another.
It's not just in my legs and joints that I'll do well to cultivate flexibility.

Money Raised: £2,273.27
Money to Raise: £2,726.73
Miles run: 55
Miles to run: 809
Sponsor me here: www.justgiving.com/wavenode