Hope24: a 24 hour run in Newnham Park, Devon

Last weekend, I took part in an amazing ultrarunning event called Hope24 which was an event to raise money for a charity called Hope for Children, organised by an awesome man called Danny Slay.  WOW.  It was seriously the best organised and friendliest running event I’ve ever taken part in- the marshals were AMAZING, the route was clearly marked and easy to follow, the scenery was incredible, the tent area was accessible, everyone was super-friendly…  Such an awesome event!!  It was the most technically difficult event I’ve run so far- five miles laps with lots of steep hills (up and downhill, including one HORRIBLE incline that felt more like climbing than walk/running between miles 2 and 3!), uneven ground and the obvious darkness at night but it was so, so worth it for the scenery.  Bluebells, woodland, tall trees, morning mist, sunset and sunrise, stream, sheep and lambs, horses…it was like running in a magical fairyland!  AMAZING.

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Before the race started, I was really, really nervous and seriously thinking about pulling out.  I’ve not been feeling great recently after a friendship break up (which I’ve talked about a lot in other posts so won’t go into detail now) and not had a lot of motivation to run, so my ‘training’ had been sort of non-existent and I hadn’t run much more than a few miles in months and even that’s been a struggle so I knew that physically I wasn’t anywhere near as prepared as I should be.  But I’ve already pulled out of the London marathon this year (anxiety about crowds and being in London as well as ‘can’t-be-botheredness’) and I usually love ultras, and a friend mentioned a few weeks ago that running another one might help to get back into running again so I decided to go through with it based on the reasoning that it’s an ultra, not a marathon, and there’s no pressure to run any distance at all so you can stop after one lap if you want to.  So, having travelled to Devon and bought a RIDICULOUS amount of food (which brought back horrible memories of teenage binges and I nearly had a panic attack at the supermarket checkout), I didn’t really have much choice except to run…

I got there Saturday morning and set up my tent close to the start line so I wouldn’t lose it in the middle of the night (I was on my own with no support crew, so the likelihood of getting completely confused mid-ultra was pretty high) and walked around the campsite until the race briefing.  Right before an ultra is always the most horrible bit- the nerves kick in, you feel sick, there are SO MANY PEOPLE (although minimal compared to a road race), everyone seems to much fitter and more prepared than you…  The bitch in my head started up, reminding me that I’m lazy for not preparing, I’m way too fat to take part in any athletic events, people must think I’m delusional for even entering, I’m not good enough to be there and a million other things to make me feel even more nervous than I already did so I tried to ‘ground’ myself in the moment, counting the amount of people around, listening to voices, race announcements, cars and dogs, really focussing on smelling and tasting the coffee I was drinking for energy, squeezing marathon foot and my angel stones.  It helped a bit and the pre-race nerves started to overtake feeling guilty and paranoid, and I put on a Harry Potter audiobook to distract which really helped.  Then it was the (thankfully short) race briefing and, at midday, the race finally started.

The first couple of laps went surprisingly well- I felt OK physically, had my ‘mood stabiliser’ Spotify playlist on my ipod which has everything from Alanis Morissette and Disney to Pink Floyd and Green Day, the weather was nice and not too hot, and people spread out pretty quickly so there weren’t too many people running any given part of the course.  The course itself was awesome- there was a bit of a long hill at the start but the views from the top of the field were incredible and a beautiful run through woodland with bluebells (bluebells remind me of my Granda Sam who loved them, and I always try to channel his enthusiasm- he was one of the most enthusiastic people I have ever met, loved dancing and kids and was just generally awesome, which definitely helped).  Then there was a steep downhill through more trees towards a stream then up a mega steep hill, down briefly through more trees and up towards the field again, awesome path running through the field with sheep and horses then back down towards the campsite, out into the woods again with another, less steep uphill and along a flattish path through trees to a field leading back to the campsite again.  Wow!!  Some seriously incredible scenery and I found that I actually really enjoyed the first few laps which was pretty amazing because I haven’t enjoyed a run in nearly six months.  So I’m definitely going to keep hold of that…

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Laps four and five were pretty uneventful- I met some awesome people including a lovely man I ran/walked with for a while without actually finding out his name who gave me some really good advice about managing anxiety around crowds and several people whose life stories and jobs seem way more interesting than mine!  Then, after running nearly six hours, I took a short ‘break’ to have a coffee and some peanut butter (I’d been a bit rubbish at fuelling up to then and had basically survived on Haribo) before setting off again.  It was definitely getting harder by that point- my legs had started to seize up a bit and my right knee (which I’ve injured in the past) was starting to twinge so I slowed down and started to walk a lot more of the laps than I had done up to then.  I switched back to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and tried to relax into it but it was so hard to get motivated and every part of my body wanted to stop.  I’d told myself I wasn’t going to have a proper ‘break’ until 10 laps (50 miles) in, but at about 10pm I was ready to quit and getting serious urges to fall off the high paths which scared me a bit so I decided to have a break, get some porridge and try to figure out what to do.

It was dark by this point which really didn’t help and it was getting cold so I put on some extra layers and ate the porridge which helped a bit.  I was a bit scared about running in the dark but there were people crossing the start line at regular intervals so I kept reminding myself that there would be people all around the route.  I really, really wanted to just quit and go to sleep and the bitch in my head was yelling at me that I was simultaneously too rubbish to complete the run and that I was lazy for wanting to quit so my head was like a whirling mess of confusion, so I put Harry Potter back on and forced myself to go back out.  The next couple of laps were- I hate running in the dark anyway and was scared of falling so I kept slowing to a walk but just after midnight, the ultrarunning paranoia and hallucinations kicked in (which is pretty usual for me mid-ultra) and I was convinced I could see Death Eaters hiding behind trees and that someone was going to kill me.  I got really freaked out and ran more than I probably should have but every time someone came up behind me with a head torch which added extra shadows, it was so scary and a lot of the time I was sure I could see someone next to me although logically I knew it was just my shadow from the headtorch.  Not nice!  And looking back, I don’t think listening to the end of OotP was a good idea running through woods in the middle of the night which is creepy enough anyway so I put on some Disney instead and tried to channel that.

But then my ipod cut out so I had a couple of laps in complete silence which really wasn’t ideal.  I did some stargazing which was pretty awesome- I couldn’t find Orion which panicked me more than it should have (especially since, thinking about it rationally, it’s nearly summer and Orion is a winter constellation so it’s much more likely it’s not visible in May rather than I’ve really annoyed God somehow and that’s why I can’t see Orion which is definitely mid-ultra paranoia!), but I saw the Plough, Cassiopeia and the Pole Star which did help to ground me a bit.  I love looking at the stars because wherever you are, the stars are always constant and that feels safe.  Orion’s my favourite because he was the first constellation I ever learned to recognise and I used to talk to him when I was little, and I still feel safe whenever I can see him in the sky.  Running through an open field under a clear sky of stars with minimal light pollution is pretty incredible and I turned off my headtorch so I feel like I was running through space.

Once I’d got back into the trees, I started to feel bit creeped out again and without music or audiobooks to distract, I decided to try Occlumency again (sensory grounding really didn’t seem like the best idea given that it was the environment I was in that was freaking me out).  I’d been running close to 14 hours by this point and my brain was a bit fuzzy which weirdly helped with trying to detach from emotion and stop the bitch in my head from being able to access my thoughts and feelings.  It felt very surreal but genuinely did help, and I think that the concept of Legilimency/Occlumency (the idea of someone trying to penetrate and alter your thoughts and emotions) is really, really powerful and can be relevant to so many mental health issues.  I started to think of the bitch in my head as Voldemort trying to alter Harry’s thoughts and emotions, and that was really helpful because in the Potterverse, there’s an actual technique you can use to manage that AND IT SORT OF HELPS!  That was one of the main things I realised during the run and, for me, it’s so important.  Definitely going to keep up practising Occlumency and I’m going to explore the link between that and the bitch in my head a lot more because I found it really, really helpful.

I finally got back to the campsite around 3am and decided to take another break.  I was FREEZING by that point- the temperature had dropped massively thanks to the clear skies and there was condensation inside my tent, so I wrapped up in my sleeping bag and fleecy blanket and tried to stop shivering.  It didn’t work so I put on three more long-sleeved tops and two pairs of gloves (four of my fingers were white and so were my feet), and curled up as small as I could to try to get some body heat.  It was SO COLD; my whole body was shaking and my teeth were chattering audibly.  My chest hurt and I could feel my heart painfully with every beat, and it felt like my bones were made of ice.  I genuinely thought I was going to die of hypothermia (more mid-ultra overreaction!) and it was so, so hard to motivate myself to actually going back out there.  Even though I was freezing in the tent, it was even colder outside and I was scared I’d collapse or die but I forced myself (literally- it was like forcing every muscle to move individually) to get moving and back out on the course.  I wore five tops, a puffa jacket and both pairs of gloves, and told myself I could walk the next lap because I felt too cold to move.  So, so hard to get going again but probably the best idea- staying in the tent would have been dangerous cold-wise, and moving did help to get my circulation moving at least a little bit.

Thankfully around 5am, it was getting light enough not to need a headtorch and that really, really helped.  There’s something about running through the night and the sun coming up which makes you feel surreal and connected with the world around you in a way I’ve never experienced any other time, and suddenly you realise that you’ve done the hardest part of the run and all that’s left is to just finish.  My ipod and phone were both dead by this point which was frustrating because I wanted to take photos of the sunrise, and the AMAZING marshall at the first hill (the awesome guy with the pink/purple beard called Kevin) was chatting to me when I passed and offered to charge my phone for me so I could take photos- SO NICE of him!  He was seriously awesome throughout the whole event and deserves a million thank yous for how enthusiastic, nice and just generally amazing he was.  I walked most of that lap, partly because I was still freezing and shivering and partly because I was totally bloody knackered by then, and I met an amazing woman called Vicky who I walked a lot of that lap with.  She was so nice and friendly, and was the lead woman at that point which was pretty amazing!  Was so nice to meet and chat to her, and really helped my motivation to not just quit after 50ish miles.

After that lap, I started running a bit again and picked up my now-charged phone from Kevin, and took lots of photos of the sunrise which was pretty incredible.  The light was amazing, it was starting to warm up and I was feeling a lot more real and alive than I had done over the previous 6-8 hours, and I started to realise that I might actually make it to midday without collapsing or quitting which felt almost achievable.  I put Harry Potter back on and thankfully the battle at the Ministry was almost over and I had the really emotional scene between Harry and Dumbledore at the end to listen to for the next couple of laps.  It’s a pretty emotional bit anyway but I was crying by the end of the book, partly because of Harry’s guilt and loss, partly from Dumbledore’s amazing strength given his own family history which he didn’t tell Harry and his real affection for Harry himself, and partly because the lambs had woken up and were leaping around in the sunlight, and the horrible realisation of why I’m vegetarian suddenly hit me in an intense wave of guilt.  Ultrarunning over-emotion!

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At about 9am, I took a quick break to have some more coffee and porridge before starting up again.  I was getting really tired and sore by this point, and the hill from hell really felt like it was killing my legs every time I attempted it so I took it really slowly and tried to enjoy the course.  I was chatting to a few more amazing people over the next couple of hours, some of whom had managed a mind-blowing amount of miles, and there was another amazing marshall near the bottom of the bluebell trail who put on rock music and was awesome and encouraging.  All the marshals and organisers were so nice!!  Made such a massive difference to the run.

The last couple of laps were HARD.  The sun had come up properly and it was getting hot which made it really hard to run, especially when all your muscles are so sore already.  I realised that I’d already covered 70 miles which was way more than I thought I would so slowed right down, took lots of photos and tried to enjoy the last lap.  It was painful, especially the horrible hill from hell, but worth it to finish on 78 miles which is weirdly only two miles less than the 24 hour run I took part in last year and which was much, much easier terrain.  Crossing the finish line at just gone 12.30pm was pretty amazing and everyone was so enthusiastic and encouraging even though most people had been awake and/or running for over a full day and night by then.  WOW.  Seriously amazing atmosphere!!

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I was pretty zoned out afterwards and didn’t really process it properly until later, but WOW.  It was an incredible event and thank you so much to everyone who organised and helped with it- you are all amazing people!!!  I found out afterwards that I’d somehow come 6th out of 76 female solo runners and I seriously have no idea how that happened but felt amazing, especially considering how hard I found the run and how unprepared I was.  But I learned so, so much over the course of the 24 hours which I’ve been trying to distil into some sort of coherent thoughts…

  1. The human body is amazing.  Seriously, it’s incredible what your body is capable of.  I don’t have the healthiest diet or lifestyle in any way whatsoever and I definitely haven’t looked after my body as much as I should have in the past, but it’s still capable of running 78 miles of hills without *touch wood* any major consequences.  Yes, I’m sore and tired and my ankle’s bruised and swollen, but that’s sort of expected after an ultra.  It’s AMAZING how resilient and strong your body actually is.
  2. Following on from #1, in some ways I’m glad my body isn’t smaller any more.  I don’t really know how to phrase this and what I just wrote isn’t technically true (I would LOVE to be a much smaller size but I know it’s not healthy or practical), but what I’m trying to say is that there are aspects of being a higher weight that mean that I can do things that wouldn’t be possible at a lower weight and ultrarunning is definitely one of them.  When I was underweight, I couldn’t run more than a few minutes at a time without going really dizzy or passing out and now I can run 24 hours.  That’s a really big achievement for me and definitely something I want to keep reminding myself of.
  3. People are incredible.  Having met some seriously amazing people during Hope24, runners, marshals and supporters, I know that there are so many incredible, encouraging and NICE people in the world and you just need to talk to people to find them.  And you can learn so much from people just by listening to them.
  4. The bitch in my head is bloody stubborn but sometimes she can be useful.  This was the first ultra she hasn’t shut up during and that was really hard at first, especially when she was yelling totally contradictory things about being too rubbish to carry on but that I’d be selfish or lazy to give up.  In the end, I learned to filter what she was saying without even realising it and used her skewed encouragement to keep going without getting affected by what she was actually saying.  That was HARD and it only really happened because I was practising Occlumency and thinking of her as Voldemort but it was probably the main reason I didn’t quit during the night.  And again that’s a skill I’m going to try to keep practising and hopefully it’ll work again even if it’s not mid-ultra…
  5. God is all around even if it doesn’t feel like it.  One of the things I love most about ultrarunning is the feeling of connecting with God, in the sunlight and stars, through  the trees and wildlife, and in the stillness of woodland air.  It didn’t happen as much as it usually does this time but there were a few moments when I could genuinely feel that I was breathing God in and that I was connected with Them through photosynthesis and respiration.  I have a slightly spiritual concept of God in that I believe that They are in everything as energy (energy can’t be created or destroyed, energy pre-existed the Big Bang, energy is a life force) and whether that’s actually divine or just a created concept, I can FEEL it and that’s what matters.  To quote Dumbledore (who is also an aspect of God to me), “Of course this is happening inside your head, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” and that’s how I see my concept of God- whether it’s objectively real or not, it’s real to me and I can feel it and connect to it which helps me to feel safe, and that’s what’s important for me.
  6. Food is essential and when you’ve been running long enough, you NEED it whatever the bitch in your head says.  It’s amazing how good even food you’d never usually eat tastes 14 hours into a run- I was eating Haribo and peanut butter (together) at 2am which felt like the most amazing thing I’d ever tasted and the tuna salad I had after I finished was like magic angel food.  There were several times during the run where I felt dizzy, dissociated and nauseous and food was the last thing I wanted but after forcing myself to eat a banana or a cereal bar, it was like someone had fed me a reviving potion and suddenly I felt real again.  It’s like magic.
  7. You are capable of so much more than you think.  I didn’t think I’d even manage two laps let alone fifteen, and there is no way I thought I would have run 78 miles.  It still doesn’t seem possible.  But if you break it down and think of one lap at a time, focus on the present moment and don’t think about possible challenges or difficulties- just deal with whatever’s happening at the time, you’ll achieve so much without even realising it.
  8. Ultrarunning is a mental sport.  I don’t mean that in the (annoying) way a lot of people have said to me over the last couple of days (“are you mental?”, “you’re crazy”, “that’s insane” etc) which really, really gets to me because I don’t like the ‘normal v insane’ definitions because everyone’s different and mental health is a spectrum of illness and wellness anyway; I mean mental as in it’s more to do with your thinking and attitude than your physical strength.  Obviously you need to be relatively fit and healthy to run long distances but post-marathon, it’s more about attitude than fitness.  Your physical training stops around 30ish miles for most people and more than that’s about endurance and mental attitude.  If you can run 30 miles, you can run 100.  ANYTHING is possible.  I hadn’t run more than six miles at a time in about six months but I still managed to complete 24 hours relatively comfortably.
  9. Use challenges to your advantage.  I mean both physical and mental by this- use hills as a chance to walk for a bit and let your legs recover, and use negative thoughts or derogatory voices as motivation.  The second part is definitely easier mid-ultra when your brain’s fuzzy anyway and nothing really makes sense, but it’s a really useful skill I’m going to try to get my head around.  It fits with my attempts to make friends with the bitch in my head and it’s definitely something I need to keep working on…
  10. Connect with nature/higher power.  Yes, this is a DBT skill (which amazingly I’ve managed to avoid mentioning so far in this post!) and it’s a really, really useful one.  The idea behind it in DBT is that by connecting with something greater than yourself, it can promote a feeling of safety or calm and it’s a bit of a controversial skill because a lot of people don’t like the idea of God/religion.  It doesn’t have to be a deity though and for me, one of the most effective forms is looking at the stars.  I find it really hard to put into words but it really did help during the nighttime part of the ultra when I turned my headtorch off any really connected with the stars.  A few years ago, I wrote it as part of a story and I’ll finish with because I think I’ve probably bored anyone who’s read the whole post with enough…

I love the stars.  There’s something amazing about looking at an endless expanse of everything and nothing, something impossible to fully comprehend.  It alters your perspective somehow, fear mixed with awe in equal amounts and suddenly everything fits.  It’s the rush of infinity, the realization of your insignificance and contingence in the shifting universe around you.  A sense of vertigo in nature as the sky stretches endlessly into the vacuum of space and the vast ocean depths echo below.  It’s strange how sometimes the more alone you are, the less lonely you feel.  Floating in the ocean with the stars for company, there’s a sense of cosmic belonging, a sort of oneness.

What I’ve learned from distance running

I wrote this in the middle of an ultra last year- it was a 12 hour overnight run and I took my usual 20 min break at 2am, and started to list things I’d learned over the previous seven hours. It’s amazing how runnign for that long really clarifies your thoughts and puts things into perspective!  The notes turned into a poem which I haven’t edited since because I want it to reflect my thoughts mid-ultra.  So…

What I’ve learned from distance running:

There’s no secret or special skill. 
You just put one foot in front of the other 
and keep going. 
Don’t forget to look at how far 
you’ve already come. 
 
Sometimes you feel fucking amazing 
like you can do anything; 
other times it hurts like hell and you feel  
shit. There are times when you want to quit, 
you can’t seem to get rid of negative thoughts, 
or everything seems too overwhelming.  
Then you need to slow down, assess, stop 
if you need to, or take a break. Focus 
on the moment you’re in, 
try your best in that moment.   
 
Don’t even think about speed or times. 
Fuel yourself properly 
and drink lots of water. 
alk the hills- you’ll get there 
in the same amount of time. 
Run your own race. Don’t feel guilty 
for running at your own pace.  
Look around you at the scenery, find 
something nice in every moment.  
Breathe. Have fun. 
 
The same rules apply to life. 

Moments that make you feel alive

Last week, a friend was describing a moment that had just happened that she’ll remember for the rest of her life- one of those magic moments where it’s intense and amazing for any particular reason.  We were talking about that type of moment afterwards and at the time, I couldn’t remember any time I’d felt like that but I know I must have done.  I’m still in a bit of a negative, feeling rubbish phase at the moment (although I’m trying REALLY hard to change that) and it’s hard to think of anything positive at all most of the time but I had an amazing weekend last week where, for the first time in ages, I actually felt ‘real’ and connected, and it was FUN which is something I haven’t felt in months.  So I’ve tried to harness that positive energy and spent the week trying to think of ten moments that made me feel good, alive or connected.  It was really hard and I literally had to go through my life systematically to find them but I think I’ve got a pretty good list and surprisingly it was a really positive experience to think of them and try to recall the feelings from the time.  It’s definitely an exercise I’d recommend to anyone who’s feeling a bit rubbish- really helps to put things into perspective.  SO, in an attempt at counting down…

10) Last weekend.  This should probably be higher in the list because of the context (it was such as massive shift in feeling from the slightly detached rubbishness I’ve felt since last December) but I’m putting it here since it was the first one I remembered.  I spent the weekend with my absolute favourite people in the world and we made a blanket fort, watched my two 0f my favourite Disney films (Treasure Planet and Tarzan), went to the park and took selfies on the swings, played on the trampoline, played board games and just generally hung out which was amazing in so many ways- I felt ‘real’ and like I was actually ‘there’ instead of just existing, and the amount of love I have for those people is incredible.  Had a bit of a ‘comedown’ crash near the start of the week but have tried to focus on the positives and channel that which has been really, really useful in response to the bitch in my head- I think I’m finally managing to make a Patronus!!  Which I’ll talk about in another, Harry Potter-focussed post 🙂

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9) Running through Hampstead Heath.  Last year, I lived in London and was lucky enough to live near Hampstead Heath, which is a massive park on the top of a hill in north London.  The views there are incredible- there are spots where you can see the City and a lot of it is woodland paths.  I used to run there early mornings to see the sunrise over London which was incredible in itself but my favourite part was getting lost in the trees and following random paths which would occasionally lead to something like a magical fairy dell.  The particular moment I’m thinking of was a morning last February when I was running just as the sun was coming up and the trees had that magic stillness of not-quite-daytime when there’s no-one about.  It was really cold and there was frost on the ground, and I was pretending I was in Narnia when suddenly snowflakes started to fall all around.  It was genuinely magical- I felt like Lucy entering Narnia for the first time and there was no-one else on the planet, and I was dancing and jumping through the snowflakes feeling like I could connect with God and I was part of the world around me.  It was an incredible, magic feeling and I don’t think I’ll ever be able reconnect with the world around me in the same way again.  Just amazing.

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8) Seeing Roger Waters perform The Wall live.  This was just…WOW!  I am a massive Pink Floyd fan and so is my dad, and since I was a teenager I’ve really connected to their lyrics and the atmosphere of their songs.  I was constantly jealous that my dad saw them in concert in the 70s and that he met Nick Mason randomly at a car event (my dad’s obsessed with cars and asked Nick Mason for a ride in his Ferrari 250 GTO!!  And it broke down so he was stuck in the car with him for half an hour- so jealous!!) and I really wished that Pink Floyd would reform and do more gigs.  So when Roger Waters announced that he was doing The Wall tour aged 69-70, I was mega, mega excited!!

I went to see him in Wembley stadium with a close friend from uni.  I was genuinely terrified about going- I get panicky in crowds and have mild paranoia about terrorism, and 120 000 people in a massive London stadium REALLY isn’t part of my comfort zone- but I really, really couldn’t miss the chance to see Roger Waters so I took some diazepam and went.  WOW.  I am so glad I did!!  The atmosphere was INCREDIBLE- imagine the most intense concert you’ve ever been to times ten, mixed with immersive pyrotechnics and special effects.  It’s so hard to put into words but it was INTENSE, incredible and genuinely life changing.  There was everything from planes on zip wires over your head, red pyrotechnics and smoke, strobe lights, a giant wall which was knocked down…

The whole thing was like a religious experience with over 100 thousand people singing along to the lyrics with more passion than Scotland fans in Euro 2000, Roger’s message was passionate and scary, it was unpredictable and terrifying.  Near the end, he took out a machine gun and simulated firing it over the crowd- at that point, I was convinced he was going to kill everyone and was close to panic attack stage because it really was that intense.  Roger Waters’ presence is scary enough in itself: an intense, commanding figure in a full length black leather coat and shades, dominating the stage.  Seriously amazing.  I came out the stadium feeling dissociated and zoned out, not because of the crowd but because of the intensity of the concert and how deeply it had affected me.  INCREDIBLE.

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Roger Waters The Wall Live at the Time Warner Cable Arena on July 10, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina – © 2012 David Oppenheimer – Performance Impressions (photo taken from http://www.performanceimpressions.com)

7) The release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  I know this might sound superficial and trivial to include in this list but it’s one of the moments in my life that I can remember so vividly that I have to include it.  I’m a mega Harry Potter fan and have been since 1997 when the first book was released.  I genuinely grew up with Harry and was the same age as him when all the books came out- I did my GCSEs when he did his OWLs, was emotionally on a level with the characters throughout the series and learned more from Dumbledore and McGonagall than I did from most of my real life teachers.  I used to use Hogwarts (pre-GoF) as an escapist world growing up and I’ve read all the books (apart from the first one) on the day they were released.

The build up to DH was massively intense for so many reasons.  Firstly the obvious- waiting two years to find out whose side Snape was really on and if Dumbledore was really gone which was hard in itself.  Then there was a more personal reason- right after the sixth book was released in 2005, I was admitted to a psych hospital as an inpatient and was there pretty much up until the release of DH in 2007.  This was pre-smart phones and Facebook etc and you weren’t allowed any internet access anyway or mobile phones so there wasn’t really much to do apart from reading or arty stuff.  I read the fifth and sixth books over and over during that time, partly because they were so long and intense that I could get completely absorbed in them and forget where I was and partly because of Luna Lovegood and how much I could relate to her character.  There’s so much in both of those books that I could relate to, and still do.

So when the seventh book was released, I was so excited and nervous and it was such a weird experience.  I’d had ten years where HP had been such a massive part of my life and now it was almost over, and I didn’t want it to end.  Thankfully J.K. Rowling seemed to have pre-empted that in the King’s Cross scene near the end and I am so, so grateful to her for that.  I don’t want to go into too much detail for anyone who hasn’t read it but it’s perfect in every possible way.  If anyone’s interested and doesn’t mind spoilers, here’s a link to the FB post I wrote right before I saw the last film: Thoughts on Harry Potter.  But, to end with my favourite ever Dumbledore quote, “Of course this is happening inside your head, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”  For me, Harry Potter will continue to grow and influence me throughout my life and I love that.

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6) New Year’s Eve 2011.  I went to York to stay with my best friend and we watched Disney films, did crafty stuff and made an incredible collage which is still on my bedroom wall.  Not a massive amount to say except that I absolutely love any time I get to spend with my best friend who is one of the most amazing, incredible, talented and accepting people I have ever met.  Best New Year’s Eve ever!!

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5) The most amazing card I’ve ever been given.  From when I was a teenager, I volunteered in primary schools and in one school in particular for nearly ten years.  There were two classes especially that I worked with a lot, and I also worked in the after school club so I got to know some of the children really well.  Obviously working with kids you’re not meant to have favourites but you end up getting particularly close to certain children, usually ones who attach themselves to you for no particular reason.  There was a child in one of the classes I worked in who also went to the after school club every day and he ‘latched on’ to me a bit, wanting me to play with him every day, sitting on my lap, holding my hand and doing all the sweet things kids do.  He was very shy but one of the nicest children I’ve ever met, and when I stopped working in that school, he got quite upset.  He used to make me things and I’ve still got a ‘flower’ he made me out of paper to wear in my ponytail- I laminated it and wore it every day for luck, and now I carry it around in my purse.  The year after I stopped working at that school, his class had a lesson making cards for people they look up to and he made one for me, saying I was his best friend and listing why.  It’s genuinely the nicest thing anyone has ever given me and it’s still on my bedroom wall four years later ❤

4) The only time I have ever skipped school.  This is a weird memory- the type that you’re not quite sure if you’ve made it up or not, but it’s so vivid and detailed that I’m pretty certain it actually happened.  It must have been when I was about 17 and doing A levels (it involved driving), and I’d had a really rubbish day for some reason which I can’t remember now.  It was a Friday lunchtime and I was feeling really horrible, and my then best friend came up with the awesome idea of going to the cinema to see the (then) new film with Audrey Tautou called A Very Long Engagement.  We justified it by the fact that it was in French and it was French speaking we’d be missing (or I would anyway, I don’t think she had any lessons that afternoon) and it was AUDREY TAUTOU who we both had a bit of a crush on.  So we went to see it and I’m sure it must have been a good film, but I genuinely can’t remember anything about it!

What I do remember is that we went to get a pizza afterwards and this is the part that sticks most in my head.  I had a barbecued chicken pizza without chicken or cheese but with added pineapple and mushrooms (I’m vegetarian and dairy intolerant), and it was the first time I’d actually eaten pizza in years.  It was AMAZING and the magic part was that, sitting with my then best friend who I still couldn’t quite believe wanted to be friends with me and eating pizza during school time, NOTHING MATTERED and I could eat the pizza without mega anxiety, panic or urges to get rid of it.  Then I felt like I was flying and I could do ANYTHING so we shared a dessert which was waffles and maple syrup (she had ice cream on her bit) and it was the most amazing thing I had ever eaten.  It was a really big deal at the time because I’d had an eating disorder for about four years by then but wasn’t really aware of it (it wasn’t diagnosed till I was 18 and an inpatient and even then it took another four years to actually accept or believe it) and most of my teenage years were fixated on avoiding food or throwing it up without anyone noticing, so being able to sit in a restaurant and eat ‘normal’ food without running to the toilets to throw it up straight afterwards was a mega big deal!  The only time I’ve felt even close to that since then is when I’m running an ultramarathon but one of my mega aims is to feel like that again someday without having to run for ten hours first…

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3) Sleeping in a tent last summer.  Last year, I camped in the garden with some kids I babysit and it was the most awesome, amazing night I’ve had in a long time.  It was FREEZING and their mum had made the sleeping compartments (it was a massive tent!) into mini nests with mats, blankets, sleeping bags and more blankets, and it was the most cosy and comfortable place I think I’ve ever slept!  I had three hot water bottles and two sleeping bags as well as the blankets because I’m a lightweight who gets cold really easily, and the kids had lots of blankets around their sleeping bags.  We played Fluxx (an awesome card game) and messed around with teddies, and it was such an amazing experience- their mum had hung lights up in the centre part of the tent and it was like a magical den!  The kids loved it, I loved it and I love hanging out with the kids anyway so it was like a magical surreal experience and so much fun.  Definitely worth spending most of the night feeling like I’d got hypothermia because even though I had a ridiculous amount of warm-making stuff, I still managed to feel freezing!!  Woke up with purple hands and white feet but was one of the most awesome experiences ever 😀

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2) An amazing moment babysitting.  To be honest, I am lucky enough to have LOTS of amazing moments babysitting and I genuinely love some of the kids, but one moment in particular sticks in my head.  It was from last year and I was sitting on the sofa with a boy I babysit (and have known since he was tiny) cuddling into me and we were watching Brother Bear.  I’d had a really rubbish day because earlier that morning, my then best friend of 20 years had just told me she didn’t want to keep in touch any more and that really, really hurt more than almost anything else I’d ever experienced and I was feeling zoned out and horrible so one of the kids I babysit suggested watching Disney.  Brother Bear happens to be one of my absolute favourite films but there’s one part of it (the song near the end- No Way Out) that I find really, really hard to watch and it makes me cry every time I see it, even when I’m not already upset.  It reminds me a lot of how I was feeling when the film first came out in 2003 and I was trapped in ED thoughts and behaviours that I didn’t understand, and the lyrics could actually have been written to describe how I felt.  So I ended up crying while we were watching it, partly from the song and partly because of losing my friend, and weirdly it kind of helped to let some of the emotion out.

When the film finished, we were watching the credits and the boy I was babysitting said that he loved me.  I know kids say stuff like that all the time and it’s not a big deal but it was to me- I can count on one hand the people I’ve said ‘I love you’ to (not including pets) and I genuinely love the kids more than anyone else in my life- I’ve known them forever and they accept me without judging me, and their mum is incredible.  They’re like my ‘pseudo-family’ (that’s how I think of them anyway) and I love them, and I am so lucky to have them in my life and that they let me be a part of theirs.  At that moment, my heart was literally stinging with emotion which is REALLY not like me and I realised again how lucky I am.  Much as it still hurts really intensely that my then best friend doesn’t want to be friends with me any more, I need to keep reminding myself that there are other people in my life who are genuinely amazing and accepting, and I need to appreciate that…

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1) Running my first marathon.  This was amazing for so many different reasons!  Partly because I genuinely didn’t think I’d ever be able to run a marathon and I’d only been running properly about a year and a half by that point, and even then I was averaging six miles per run.  I got into distance running really randomly in 2011- I was doing an MA in Creative Writing and found it hard to write poems.  My poetry tutor, who is also a distance runner although I didn’t know that then, lent me Haruki Murakami’s ‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running’ because it linked running and writing, and I started to run a bit more to match what Murakami was doing in the hope that it would help write poetry.  Weirdly, it did and even after the poetry module was over, I carried on running every day and until a few months ago, I still was and am trying to get back into it after a bit of an unmotivated phase.  I think it helped that I really, really look up to my tutor- she’s an amazing poet, runs marathons and is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, and she was so encouraging about my running that I actually felt like a ‘real’ runner instead of someone just pretending or messing about.

After a few months of daily running, I signed up for my first half marathon and amazingly managed to complete it.  Then my tutor (who I’m still in touch with) suggested running a marathon which I really didn’t think would be possible but signed up and tried to start increasing my runs.  Even right up until the day of the marathon, I didn’t think I could do it but my tutor was so encouraging and positive about it that I decided to give it a go.  She even offered to come and watch which was so, so nice of her and made the whole thing a million times less scary.  Right before the marathon, she lent me a rubber foot (marathon foot) to run the marathon with who’s been in her pocket during her marathons and is charged with good karma, and that seriously helped probably more than anything else during the race which was an AMAZING experience but really hard because it was so bloody hot!!  Then after the race, she said I could keep marathon foot as long as I kept him safe and he’s been my good luck charm ever since.  That was genuinely the best day of my life and not just because of the endorphins- ten years ago, I would NEVER have believed I’d run a marathon or even 5K and now I run ultras!  Distance running has changed and improved my life in so many ways, and I am so, so glad I ran that first marathon.  Having run nine more since then as well as at least nine ultras (losing count!!), I can genuinely say that starting distance running was the best decision of my life and I learn so much from every running event.  And marathon foot is still karma-charged and awesome!! 😀

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SO, having written those, I’m now feeling weirdly positive and grateful for all the amazing moments and especially people in my life.  THANK YOU to everyone who’s been a part of any of the moments on this list and to all the other awesome people in my life- I didn’t mention any family events but all of my cousins are amazing people who deserve a whole post to themselves, and I have some incredible and accepting friends who it would be too hard to choose just one moment with.  One thing I have realised and am going to try to internalise is that the people involved in moments on this list (apart from my ex-best friend) are all people I’ve met as an adult and now they’re probably the most important and influential people in my life.  I need to keep reminding myself of this because when I turned 18, I felt like my life was over and I’d never survive as an adult but actually most of the most significant and amazing things that have happened to me have been as an adult, and I think that’s really, really important to remember.

A found poem for David Bowie

It’s been nearly four months since David Bowie died and I still can’t process it properly.  Not so much the fact that he’s dead- it’s not as though I’ve ever met him personally and his concept and personae are still very much alive in my head, more the fact that he’ll never release any new music and I’ll never get to see him live in concert.  There’s a (horrible) part of me who’s angry at him for that and thinks he’s selfish for not going on one last tour after The Next Day but he’s an enigma and always will be, and his physical self doesn’t represent the amazing personae and characters he inhabited.  So I’ve written a found poem in his memory, constructed from lyrics taken from nearly all of his albums.  RIP David Bowie ⚡️🎸⚡️🎸⚡️

A glose to not-exist

“Learn the point of vanishing, the moment 
embers turn to ash, the sun falls down, 
the sudden white-out comes.” 
– ‘How to Disappear’, Amanda Dalton 
 
It’s harder than you’d think, to not 
exist. The greater sum of parts 
that’s caught in the fierce gravity 
of life’s orbit, insistent hearts. 
Learn the point of vanishing, the moment 
 
you override the ceaselessness 
of being. Freedom of nothing; 
nothing to be free from. Self-less, 
the irony of choice. Burning 
embers turn to ash, the sun falls down; 
 
you are aware of none of this. 
You’ve not-existed for longer 
than you can remember. In the 
nothingness of cold and hunger, 
the sudden white-out comes. 

Another anorexia glose

“Burn it up on re-entry, burn it,
burn it. So she trains
 
with weights, she jogs, she runs,
as if the sky were falling.”
– ‘The Wasting Game’, Philip Gross
 
She’s a heart of ice, streaking through
the bloodstream of vacuous space.
She’s a meteor, shoots alone
with target precision and pace.
Burn it up on re-entry, burn it.
 
She revolves a constant orbit,
tries to enter our atmosphere
but the force is too strong, a pulse
of solid ice, anger and fear.
Burn it. So she trains
 
her mind in rituals of control,
carves fractal perfection of bone.
She build a woman of snowflakes,
shapes an ice body of her own:
with weights, she jogs, she runs
 
a death dance in exactitude.
She’s lost in the infinity
of three-dimensional space, spins
a desperate web of safety
as if the sky were falling.

Shapeshifter

“Consider the kind of body that enters blueness, 
made out of dead-end myth and mischievous 
whispers of an old, borderless  
existence where the body’s meaning is both more and less.”
– Eavan Boland, ‘How It Was Once In Our Country’

Liminal, caught in the suction 
of waves falling back to the sea. 
Hybrid, fluid between worlds which 
split genderless identity; 
consider the kind of body that enters blueness. 

Luring lost sailors onto rocks, 
rulers of river, rain and sea. 
Prototype virgins, sexless souls, 
paradoxical history. 
Made out of dead-end myth and mischievous 

narratives that flow with the tide; 
shape-shifting siren, lost and found 
with knife-slashed legs and open mouth 
a bleeding hole whose only sound 
whispers of an old, borderless 

story echoed through centuries. 
Transient tides hide paradox, 
detached pain and volatile self 
which rise and crash like waves on rocks. 
Existence where the body’s meaning is both more and less.

Mind map…

I drew this (literal) mind map a while ago when I was feeling really overwhelmed and my thoughts felt like fog but I’ve found it useful to look at when I’m not sure what’s going on and my brain’s really fuzzy.  I keep meaning to make an updated one but to be honest, not much has changed since this one.  It’s an attempt at ‘mapping’ my brain to try to make sense of thoughts and behaviours.  Red is a very strong link, yellow is a strong link and purple is a link, and I’ve underlined things I want to change in blue.  The main ones I really want to change are bingeing, hating myself, loneliness and obsessions, and I’m hoping that the DBT skills can help with that.

The thing I find most interesting about this is that the strong links (red) are mostly things I want to change whereas more positive things like drawing or hobbies only have a purple link between them.  That kind of suggests that I’m more focussed on negative thoughts and behaviours than positive and that leads to more negative behaviours so it’s sort of self-reinforcing.  So I think that maybe focussing more on the purple links and trying to make them stronger might take away some of the intensity or power of the red links, and weaken them a bit.  That’s the idea anyway and I don’t think I’ll lose anything by trying it!

I’ve also realised that a lot of the red links are actually from the bitch inside my head, not from ‘me’, and that by continuing to try to externalise the thoughts as her I can try to acknowledge them without necessarily believing or acting on them.  It’s so hard but there have been times last week when I’ve managed to talk her down so going to keep it up…

Targets for next week, thinking about strengthening the purple links…  Draw when you’re feeling lonely, to try to reinforce that link and because I really think the focus on drawing will help as a distraction.  Keep trying to get into a healthy, non-obsessive routine with exercise and hopefully the endorphins will start to kick in again.  Start writing again and have fun with it.  Do a ‘fun’ form of exercise at least once and actually engage with it.  Draw some more.  Keep experimenting!

Anorexia: a glose

“How she meshed my head
in the half-truths
of her fevers

till I renounced
milk and honey
and the taste of lunch.”
– ‘Anorexic’, Eavan Boland

The pervasive pain of hunger
fastens my mind to flesh and blood.
Mindful, aware of each moment,
success in the heart’s slowing thud.
How she meshed my head.

She’s there in the space between thoughts
and then she speaks the thoughts herself.
She’s me but not me, voicing fears
and hidden threats, praising my health.
In the half-truths

I could sense myself, an echo
mirrored in hatred and discord.
She was my safety, my comfort,
yet I feared the double-edged sword
of her fevers.

She whispered paradoxes, rules
that restrained my spiralling thoughts
with dialectics of control,
structured security of sorts
till I renounced

the chaos of my former life,
distilled through her inverted love.
Angles of detachment, senses
keen with hunger, nightmare dreams of
milk and honey.

I didn’t set out to lose. Just
knew that I didn’t want to gain.
My fears numbed in her cold embrace,
emotions faded, as did pain
and the taste of lunch.

Mermaid

Sometimes you run
until your feet feel mermaid pain
and joints grind bone-on-bone
like calcium clockwork
and that’s the moment
you don’t know you’ve been waiting for
and you run five, ten miles
more than planned,
mind lost in the rushing sea
sharpened by salted wind raw from dawn
footsteps balance the earth’s shift.

You’re semi-aware, endorphins
loosen your senses to drift
mindless clouds through a hazy sky
sense of self solidified in motion.
Coded in muscle, you point
outside, inside your body; ego
dissolved in runner’s high.

There’s a reason she never
returned under the sea.