What I wish my illness could do in my absence

Pledge for Parity

Once a year (I’m pretty sure it is only once) there comes a time when it is acceptable, and even encouraged, to stop and think about how women have made a difference to society since (for some, long perhaps before) their emancipation.

“International Women’s Day (March 8) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.”www.internationalwomensday.com

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Make a Pledge For Parity is a campaign to help stabilise the world gender view. Gender inequality isn’t always ‘in yer face’ or belligerent. It’s also indirect, subtle and even unintentional.

I strongly believe that this doesn’t have to be the case, but it will take some time to smoothe out the creases and settle the feathers. My pledge for parity is to help women and girls achieve their ambitions.

imageExactly how, is not an applied science, but I can start with my own teenage daughters. They have contrasting dreams though they are both standing out in sports, arts and academia. One has an eye on Computer Engineering and already a STEM candidate aged 14, the other on Politics and Human Rights Law with a winning streak in school debating. Both have a penchant for acting, singing and dancing.

I could learn a lot from how I help my girls to achieve their ambitions and apply that to other groups. But do I wait to see if I’ve succeeded before I head out into the world to help people I haven’t met yet? In short, no. I would learn quicker by applying wherever and whenever possible; a local sports team, a running club, networking events, mentoring. There are women and girls all around us, and some of them will need a nudge every now and then, just as I do.

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I can be a nudge.

My Fierce Mind challenge – running a rather long way for 5 mental health charities – is also about bringing equality to the sporting industry. It is only a minute step, but it’s my part in the grand scheme of things, and it really does all add up over time. The movement for mental health is in full swing and only just beginning, the movement for parity has been underway for some time, even by my ancestors before me, and I must do my part.

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Mindful Adventures

IMG_2603Two words have revealed themselves to mean something very different to me over the past four weeks. I thought I understood adventure. I thought I understood what it meant to be mindful. We often hear that phrase (mostly from our parents or teachers), to be “mindful of that step”, or “mindful of the traffic”. And what we class as adventures no doubt arose from reading stories of events that unfolded for people other than ourselves. Adventures were things that happened ‘out there’ or ‘in another country’.

Discovering additional meanings for these words, perhaps emotionally, I admit, but also tangibly (I err to use that word), has allowed a freedom within my mind to widen my grasp on what makes me, me.

I can’t speak for others, we all experience life and words and meanings and events in entirely different ways with different outcomes, though we all appear to be striving for some similar sort of result through our relationships and our community engagement, to whatever degree that may be. What I can say for myself is that I now understand Mindful and Adventure to be two sides of the same coin.

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On the 28th November I took my younger daughter on a road trip to Bristol to attend the first ever Women’s Adventure Expo which showcased not only a full programme of seasoned explorers and adventure seekers, but also a full day of workshops for those wanting the nitty-gritty and the hands-on approach. I opted for the full seminar programme, simply because the list of women who were to divulge trade secrets was already outstanding, and I needed to look after my brain capacity and that of my mini-me. I was also the one doing all the driving out of the two of us, so past 2pm was already going to be a challenge.

On this day, my understanding of what an adventure could be became clearer. Not suddenly, like an epiphany {though I do often have those} but more like a blooming flower that finally catches the bee’s attention before it swoops in for the forage. Adventures are literally under our very noses. We can seek them here, and we can seek them there. The Monkey’s knew what they were talking about, but I’ll be darned if I thought that adventures were only for those who dared pack up and set off. Come to think of it, I did just that when I was nineteen years old, heading off to Lyon without many pennies but certainly high hopes and grandiose desires. I never looked back on it as much of an adventure though, more of an experience, a rite of passage through desolation, desperation and depression.

Squash FalconerIMG_9715 ~ “If you have a dream, no matter how big – go for it!” ~ reminded me that through adventures, especially arduous and adrenaline-fuelled ones, eating lots is forgiving. Her stories of para-gliding off mountains didn’t leave me with a taste for the sport, but I absolutely admired her resolution for getting things done no matter what, and the importance of the little things – the right underwear can make or break your entire day.

Felicity AstonIMG_9719, the first woman to ski across Antartica alone, is a story teller with a seriously funny side that drew me into her wintry tale like a cup of cocoa and marshmallows on a stick. Freezing cold places scare me, perhaps because of their absolute nothingness when faced with the real elements, but in her story there was more than just ice, frozen garments or white-outs. There was also passion, determination, a colourful bag, the befriending of the sun, and an experience that I related to because of the mental strength required to just get out of the tent, everyday. When I thought about my challenge ahead, this resonated with me. Would I be able to get out of my tent everyday, to go another mile, another forty miles? I spoke to Felicity afterwards and her advice for me was simple, yet perhaps paramount to the completion of the task. I need to know why Im doing this, because that why will be my anchor to get me through each day. I need to have a checklist of ideas, thoughts, memories to reach out to when the tough gets absolutely stinking rotten. I need to have lots of different uplifting songs on my iPod because I will get bored. These were just some of her nuggets, and no doubt more will be discovered when I read her book.

Arita BaaijensIMG_9722 recounted her wilderness days of the world’s deserts with camels, and finally her finding the path to Shangri-La through the Altai Mountains. Her spiritual tale invoked an alternative sense of adventure for me, a longing for enduring enlightenment. It is possible to find oneself though adventure, wherever that may be, as long as we are mindful of what is around us – the air, the sky, the sea, the rivers, the plants, the mountains, the trees, the animals. Everything is connected, and everything is sacred. It appears that in our culture we have somehow forgotten that.

IMG_9732Ann Daniels stole the show for me with her enthusiasm for story-telling and her – what can only be described as epic – adventures through the polar ice caps, starting over two decades ago as a fairly fresh mother of triplets. If ever there was a story that could be told to uphold the strength capability of mothers, hers would be it. Ann didn’t recoil from the details, the stark realities were bared and shared: with adventure comes a price, sometimes at a cost of a life, sometimes at a cost of immediate health and well-being. What Ann conveyed is that I am never too old to begin my adventures, I can always find a way, and being present with my family when I am not on an adventure is one of the fundamental keys to life’s balance. I will be away for six weeks during my challenge – that has never happened to us as a family before, I have never been away for more than six days. It is vital that I make lasting memories to use as my soul-nourishment for the challenge itself.

IMG_9726Each of the speakers were able to share something that I could take away with me that was vital in some way, and will no doubt stay with me throughout my own journey. The point of going to WAExpo, though, was not just for what I could learn, but to introduce my daughter to a world of inspiration and female mentors. I am passionate about my children growing up with mentors that they can relate to, and for Sydney, my little adventurer-storyteller who has already spent six months abroad with a foreign family and is now fluent in three languages, I could not think of a more appropriate, fun, and engaging opportunity than this. The mother-daughter bonding session was complete with no radio in the car for the entire nine-hour journey, a run around Bristol before dashing to the coffee shop for breakfast, giving every homeless person we came across some of our food rations or money or coffee, and a short sight-seeing session of the city by sunrise and nightlight. These were good memories made right there.

IMG_9714Now where does this link in with the mindful part of the post? I will delve into greater detail in another post about meeting entertainer and mental health campaigner Ruby Wax in a few days’ time, but essentially I learnt from her that I am already being mindful – using mindfulness in the sense of meditation – during my runs. I cannot say that I am doing this when I am not running, but for the most part this is what goes on…

When I run, a few things happen.

  • I start to listen to solely my breathing and it often sounds really loud, there is a pattern and I focus on the pattern to moderate it.
  • I am aware of the sound of my clothes rustling, and I focus on the swish, and is it an issue?
  • I spot colours, I rarely look at just the road, because my head is up, moving left, right, up, and down, looking for bright colours to photograph and record as part of my journey.
  • I listen to the birds, there are so many, and there are so many different calls that I wish I could understand what they were singing to each other.
  • I see the light display through the clouds, the peaking of the sun through the hedges, the colours that change across the sky, the lights of the cars through drizzly rain, or the reflection of the moon on the puddles and rivers.
  • I am aware of the smells of the honeysuckle trees, the freshly-cut grass, the smoke of the barbecue or the bonfire, the potent farm odours and the remnants of a dog-walker’s companion.
  • I am aware that it’s very hard to catch rain on your tongue whilst running, but that some rain can stab you in the eyes.
  • I am also aware that, when I am not aware of any of the above, my mind can tumble down into a monotone dungeon and start to fester whilst it wades through the rotten past, the gruesome problems, the grizzly details of political and social injustice, and before long I am trapped inside my own head, ruining my run through stress, tension, anger, and a rising lust for vengeance. It is in these thoughts that I want to curl up and forget everything an everyone through bitterness and rage.
  • There is, however, an in-between. I don’t quite fall to the bottom of Dante’s seven rings of hell, but I fall just enough off the enlightened path to start to dream up grandiose ideas of everyone I can meet, all the possibilities that can play out to enhance my situation and the cause I am striving for, and that no person or idea is too big for me to approach or complete. I can do anything! It is in this place that I have to be extra-mindful of who I am, what I am capable of, and where these thoughts take me, because they are my slippery slope upwards into my very own house filled with helium balloons heading towards Paradise Falls.

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Mindful Adventures – I have come to reason with the idea that each run out of my home is a mindful adventure, as sure as walking across the Arctic would be for Ann Daniels. For me, adventure is not just a physical notion, it is predominantly a mental one. Managing my condition {my illness/ situation/ problem/ blessing, whatever it is called on any given day} Bipolar Disorder is about keeping a balance to prevent me from teetering over the edge, whether that be falling downwards, or upwards. I have come to learn that through mindful running, I can keep myself grounded by becoming focused on the plants, the flowers, the skies, the sheep, the colours, and the sounds which I also photograph to feed my creative desires and needs; the endorphins that I produce as a result are an essential part of my personal pharmatherapy. They are how I cope with being mentally ill.

My 1686-mile challenge, therefore, is an opportunity for me to take on my greatest adventure towards recovery, and to hopefully encourage, empower, inspire, or guide others along the way, to find theirs too.

Footfalls and Fellows

In Mid-November, the calendar of running days was added to the wall, the countdown to lift off is slowly ticking by, and every day sees extra mileage added to the muscle bank.

I am twitching my fingers, fiddling my thumbs, feeling not quite anxious but more fidgety and slightly irritable about what to do next, not dissimilar to a fiancée waiting for her wedding day.

It’s getting to the stage where I am telling people about the run in person rather than behind my safety screen. It’s less comfortable. How I say it comes out differently each time, and I tend to hold my breath whilst waiting for the “Are you crazy?” response. That’s debatable, but is in fact just my own expectation. No one has actually said that (to my face), but I am consistent in my self-beration.

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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Whilst the reasons for running are becoming ever clearer, the photography more important, and the weather gradually more wintry, the past couple of weeks have been increasingly tough to handle emotionally. Recently I saw “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” again. The cinematography, the colours, the characters, the story, the music, all resonate so deeply within me that I feel that this story was created for me, to keep me going. Calmly taking my hand down the path of adventure and trust. The showreels in my mind that occur whilst out running aren’t always the magical wanderlust that Walter Mitty has, though, so when they are energy-sapping I have to use all my willpower to bring myself back to mind, and focus on my breathing or the colours around me. It’s a daily activity in itself! I’ll write more on this, and Ruby Wax in a later blog post…

The end of an early November training week highlighted running injuries and recovery nutrition. I’d been cruising along gradually building the miles when the day after my 16-mile jaunt I was suddenly shortening a ten-mile run to just four miles. My achilles appeared to be complaining quite angrily and both calves were throwing up spikes from somewhere deep within too. I felt engaged in a battle against my lower legs. This is a first for me, normally I am griping about glutes, hamstrings and quads, all of which have been suspiciously quiet recently, leading me into a false sense of security over how well I have been recovering from runs.

My first port of call was to google. Did I have an injury? Was I going to have to take a day off? Will this cripple me for months? Surely one of the first major obstacles on this challenge so far; helping my mind to stay focused when faced with a setback. I also took to twitter to reach out to Physio @KineticRev, whose twitter feed is filled with wonderful recovery and training methods for all sorts of running issues that I can download and ‘run’ with.
I set to work on absorbing both the Achilles and the How to Foam Roll Calves, and started to give my legs some ouch TLC. I carried on running, but dramatically reduced the mileage for three more days. By the start of the next week I’d managed an eight-mile run with very little tweakiness, and decided that the foam roller was a necessity to keep the legs healthy and happy for running.

Arbonne PhytoSport After Workout & Arbonne Essentials Greens Balance
Arbonne PhytoSport After Workout & Arbonne Essentials Greens Balance

Another angle that I had to grapple with, which was entirely my own fault because I know my tummy and I know how food affects me, was my nutrition and recovery.
Four weeks ago I did my first long run over a half marathon, in over a year. Fifteen point seven miles, in wind and rain, and I hadn’t brought enough water with me. Schoolgirl error! I manage my supplies by gauging what I’d need after a ten-mile run, as up to ten miles I won’t bring hydration with me. I was also running slower so had calculated that I wouldn’t need to hydrate so frequently. Whatever, maths has never been my strong point, and my sums failed me miserably. This left me blackberry picking in the rain whilst my legs screamed, and even thanking the universe for the discarded but entirely perfect satsuma on a road-side hedge, waiting to be devoured by someone who needed it. I certainly did. For four days after I had not been quick enough to re-order my stock of Arbonne Essentials Protein Shake (pea and cranberry protein), Greens Balance (36 fruit & veg), PhytoSport Recovery Fuel and Hydration (Electrolytes). These four elements have been assisting me on my nutrition journey to help keep me topped up and replenished with the right nutrients for my muscle recovery and immune system. I’m one of those people who simply cannot eat after a run, especially not an arduous one, so trying to gulp down anything solid is likely to result in a splash back. Having found not had any of these whilst continuing to run day after day, mostly 10kms, I felt heavy in the legs and in the head by the time the 16-miler day came along.

truestart coffeeLessons well and truly learnt, this is how we grow after all, I not only have my nutrition stocked up, but I have gained an addition to my training routine in the form of coffee! Yes, my secret love has materialised as TrueStart Coffee, a performance-based measure of caffeine that is Gluten Free and Vegan. Perfect for my sensitive tummy! I have learnt that a cup of coffee one hour prior to endurance training enhances the session, and a post-caffeine hit is also supposed to improve recovery prospects. I take mine with Hemp Milk or Coconut Milk, keeping dairy out of my diet as much as possible (more on all of this in an upcoming blog). My roller is my daily best friend, with a tennis ball following suit for added ouch, I’m still running every day, with strength and conditioning a few days too. Not one to be complacent, I’m continually increasing my understanding of nutrition for the event, as it will be a whole different ball game for the six-week challenge. More on nutrition in an upcoming post!

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Trail Running over Offa’s Dyke Path

Fast-forward to December 1st and the past two weeks have been mostly pain free, the long run being a double eight-mile with a fifteen minute wait between repeats for stretching. Something I’ll likely be doing on my challenge – four x ten-mile runs as opposed to one forty-mile run! Psychologically, this I can handle. It will also give supporters the opportunity to run or cycle with me in sections. Building on a network of supporters will not only boost my morale but also give me an added incentive to finish strong and on target. This Saturday I went with my daughter Syd to a networking event at the Women’s Adventure Expo (next post on this!) in Bristol and came away emotionally and mentally inspired! There is so much to be done and so much that is possible to do within women in sports and mental health awareness and equality for all ages. I am keen for schools to get involved with this challenge too, so I will be in contact with nearby schools which fall along the route in the coming few weeks! In terms of maintenance, I saw Gerwyn from Denbigh Muscle Therapy Clinic for some calf and achilles work which has boosted my leg happiness, and have now returned to Colwyn Bay Athletics Club to help improve my speed, as plateauing will undoubtedly happen unless I vary the tempo.

IMG_9443The outlook is very bright for December, I ran 207 miles in November, and this month I am aiming for over 300. It is doable. I do get to do a short run on Christmas Day – of course, I will need to build an appetite for the festive feast! I’m actually considering doing a family run on Christmas Day with my girls and Tom, with Ben cycling. They don’t know that yet but that would be a treat! I’ve also got my old school’s Cross-Country race to look forward to on 14th December, where I’ll be pitting myself against my twelve year old daughter, who I must not underestimate! It will be a chance to break out my Saucony Xodus into race mode.