What have you become?

My friend Peter Griffin, is a good guy. A family guy, like his TV namesake, but a lot more sensitive than his animated counterpart. He is someone who has known me since my twenties, in all forms of good and bad behaviour at various Cardiff nights out and chance greetings in the street.. I don't think he'd be offended if I said we're not close friends, but we share the occasional WTF moments on Facebook these days, so it was taken in good spirit when the question came up.

The reason? I'd finished my main fundraising series for the year and had signed up for the Maverick Original Berkshire Trail run. It was advertised as 'an extreme trail run' - a minor detail I had clearly glossed over and not anticipated being more than a run round a few fields. I chose the 14.7km route and Pete reading the detail more than I had, asked me the simple but bemused question.

"I don't know" is the simplest answer at the moment. Give someone with anxiety this question though  and it wasn't going to be easy to leave it at that, so I have spent the past 3 weeks going over it and trying to work out a better explanation. I'm asking myself the same thing over and over and wondering how I have changed from a complete running no hoper, into someone who happily gets up early at the weekend to find new and improved ways to wipe myself out and defuse the brain. I guess for this particular run, it was a chance to get out of the city and get some fresh air.

The course was beautiful, and set in the grounds of Stonor Park, so with 3 routes I chose the middle distance as it was slightly shorter than the recent Great Birmingham Run and I had figured that a half marathon trail run would be too much for me. I don't know how many people took the same route but we left the starting funnel, went immediately up a sharp hill and from the point the short, middle and long routes split, I didn't see anyone ahead or behind me for 2 hours. 

I spent the entire time feeling really pleased to be away from the city, but pretty sure I could get easily lost and confused. Almost 12km of the race was taken up with mentally questioning myself a continued mantra of "Soph you tw*t, what the f*ck are you doing?". 

I came across a field of cows, which I had to pass, who were all huddled in the corner in the rain. I got over the turnstile and spied the orange marker on the far side of the field and thought to myself "its ok.. they don't mind you, but nobody is here to help you now and you've a bright red Camelbak pack on.. so get a shift on and get out of there as quick as you can". 

It was pissing it down, my hearing aids were all wet and there were drones going over the course filming people looking active and fit and healthy. If they did go past me, I didn't hear them, but the footage would likely be of me hitting my ear and looking more like the A-Team's Murdoch, running along, trying to stop the high pitched feedback which was taking up all my concentration.

Eventually I had the sense to turn them off and run in silence, as there was no way I was going to hear what was going on anyway. For the final stage I had one voice in my head. A pep talk that Junior had been giving me at a recent Track East session, at Mile End stadium. One of those encouraging support talks that had helped me finish a training session a few days earlier and given me a much needed boost.

I ran up hills, I edged downhill, I gratefully picked up the odd cola bottle at the pit stops and eventually finished. I was really slow, but I felt good at the end and pleased with myself for taking on a tough race and getting around, without the need for a search party.

So Pete.. What have I become?

I have somehow turned into one of those strange fitness freaks who runs home from the office with a backpack, to head down the Thames Path. Most likely to clock up the miles, but also to avoid sitting on the tube. It's become a huge part of my life and is helping to keep my mind focussed on getting better. 

I have also become a good karma runner.. If I see others slowing down on fun runs, I stop to check they're okay and carry on if they're cool, or share water if they're struggling. I have become someone who appreciates the humility that runners share when they see another person who looks like they need a friendly smile, or a bit of encouragement. I used to finish each race and cry, releasing all the shit that I had built up over the weeks before. Now I like to sit and watch the first time finishers come in.. gobsmacked with their own efforts, that they made it to the end and elated that they can still walk without help.

I don't know how it went from a run around the block to this, but I do know that its making me happier and better able to cope with the stuff the world throws at me. I'm not the person I was a year ago. I no longer hide behind a wine bottle and spend my weekends hungover and feeling like shit.. I am having some adventures and pushing myself to find fun in a variety of locations.. 

Its all good

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