What I wish my illness could do in my absence

Brain Training Part 2

Following on from Brain Training Part 1, I’ve put together some techniques that I personally use to a greater or lesser degree (depending on variables such as intensity of project and current mental episode).

Some people naturally focus while others need a little nudge to know where to begin. I admit that when I first came across things such as mind-mapping and positive self-talk, I shunned the advice given and just assumed I had to grin and bear it, as I had to figure it out for myself to truly understand…and eventually I would come full circle to the original advice. But that’s life, and that’s how some of us learn best.


imagePreparation is key, but my head can become quite a quagmire of ideas, so I use mind-mapping to spread out my project ideas and inspirations, and work through things with a little more attention and focus. With this I sometimes use a technique learned via my Illustration tutor known as stream of consciousness writing. Writing out words continuously without checking to make sure that they fit into coherent texts. Can be fun (or mildly frustrating).

Repeat – Review – Revise

IMG_4589Edison says it takes 10,000 hours of repeated practice for something to become second nature,so I keep repeating what I am training for – running, with/without water, with/without food, before/after yoga – and I build a repertoire of understanding and knowledge of how I perform in different circumstances. If something doesn’t work, I review, it, and revise it. Then I repeat that process again. This starts to create an imprint on my brain that will eventually become my second nature.

Drowning out the negative chatter

imageDealing with negative chatter – not just from my own mind but from other people’s mouths or written words – can suck the energy right out of you. I’ve had days where I have been dressed for a run, ready to go, and then something has been said or written and I’ve just crawled fully-dressed back under my duvet and not moved for two days. I have to fight hard when that happens, because there’s no one to pass the baton to who can do the training miles for me, and so I have to be able to remind myself of WHY I am training, and what I am training for. Some days that WHY clarity is strong, and I can remain steady on my feet and still make it out the door. It may be that I argue in my head the entire time, especially if the weather is miserable, but the mileage has still been banked which is better for my confidence than not going at all.

Surrounding myself with the positive chatter

IMG_9423Honing in on the people, the ideas, and the situations that will boost your positive mind-set is good for your soul, your plans, and most likely the planet. I do this by turning my training runs into micro-adventures. I go with the intention of capturing photos of nature, beautiful clouds, lights, hills, snow, frost, puddles, flowers, birds. I never run with music. I listen to the different calls of nature – be they sheep, cows, donkeys or birds, or the best is pheasant!

If each of us were able to focus in such a way, there would be better collaboration and cohesion. Being around positivity will always inspire me to re-sharpen my training tools, work harder, dig deeper, and strive further because the human being is ultimately capable of so much more than we think is possible.

When the Wizard came to Wales

It’s like a dream come true.

I’m training at the gym, working to strengthen up my core, my glutes, my knees, my arms and my back because weak buttocks can ruin a runner (I read that in a book), and I don’t want a weak butt. And while I’m set with my morning and mid-run caffeine cuddle (TrueStart Coffee), my 100% amino acid vegan protein greens balance recovery fuel (a mouthful to say but ultra-delicious) (Arbonne) and my nutrition plan for a happy tummy (loadsa veg & 9Bars), along comes a magical little sachet that has just topped up my How to Run with Awesome plan to veritable Fierce mode!

Meet the newest member of the Fierce Mind endurance running family – Tailwind!


I asked another endurance runner who is starting out on a John O’Groat’s to Land’s End run (incidentally the same day that I start at the LE end) what his nutrition was for the run. He said tail wind. I laughed. My mind conjured up someone running with the wind behind him, relying on wind energy to power his trajectory. “What if the wind changed direction?” I mumbled to myself. Obviously, the more I raised an awkward eyebrow, the more he realised that I didn’t know have a scooby what ‘tail wind’ was. So he briefed me, and after I got home and googled and pondered and calculated the nutritional maths calculations with my calculator and realised that the calories and carbs were significantly increased compared to how I had intended to run (just add food), plus that it was (to my utter content) gluten free, I bought some.

First thing I noted was that they asked me what I was training for and when my next event was at the checkout – it’s worth mentioning that Tailwind are a US company that was brought to UK shores by a believer and an ultra runner who realised that we needed the goods. Thank goodness he did! With that in mind, this is the reason that you, like I, may not yet have heard of them. But the secret is getting out because of the results…the reviews page makes for exciting reading (if you get excited about reviews that tell you positive things).

IMG_7333So the wonderful thing is, the day after my order was put through, my little box of goodies arrived with a personalised postcard inside! They have a neat little tray of sachets with all the different colours that they send you so that you can try out the flavours before diving into a big tub. You can cut a sachet in half by pinching the line across the middle (directions on the packet) so that each sachet can be tried twice. It dissolves instantly in water. It doesn’t give me stomach cramps – n.b. I have never been able to use energy drinks for this very reason, and now have an option of endurance (tailwind) or short session (Arbonne) energy drinks as well as a hot hug (TrueStart Coffee) to boost my physical exertions. The taste is a hint and not a sugary explosion. Did I mention they are gluten free?

So taste-wise, customer service-wise, packaging-wise (lots of lovely bright colours that just make me go silly), I’m a happy bunny. But did they work for me?

The short answer is abso-blinking-lutely!

I wasn’t really sure what to expect. At the gym I put 20 minutes into a high intensity interval session on the bike, then went through my arms & core session, before moving on to glutes, single-leg balancing acts, arms again and yoga. I throw in planks (single, high and low), press ups, leg lifts, Swiss Ball control and burpees for my arms and core element, and by the third set (note, I’ve never made it to a third set before) I put my ten press ups to the floor in the fastest, swiftest moves I’d ever done them, not even fresh had I ever completed that third set so fast! I felt, note felt, physically stronger and lighter. The fuel has nutrition and hydration (not just the water), it contains electrolytes so my body was effectively recovering from the first two rounds whilst I was sipping away. Tailwind suggest sipping regularly rather than gulping, this is a good call as any gulping is likely to mean more frequent toilet trips.

IMG_7334Happy with my first round, my second gym visit with the fuel went even better. I was able to push myself further, no doubt as a result of delayed fatigue, which in turn is helping me to grow stronger. The big test will come with the running. I’ve delayed running, except a 1.5 mile the other day, in order to allow my muscles to strengthen and straighten where necessary, not because of an injury, but because I don’t want to be injured! I now have all the right ingredients in place for fuel and recovery, it’s time to shape up with the mental agility and get some mileage under my belt for February. March will taper after the first week so in effect I have 5 weeks left of solid training before reigning in the LSRs. Taking some sturdy ultra advice from many I’ve read, watched, spoken to, and befriended over the years, it’s Anna Frost‘s advice to run LSRs back-to-back to get the maximum out of the run without breaking the bank that is now firmly etched in my mind. With that plan, I can go far.

Here I just wanted to mention that I’m going through a fairly hypomanic episode and am falling in and out of consciously being aware of that (honestly, sometimes I completely forget that I’m not always so active, upbeat, productive, proactive, and funny). There are two campaigns running online at the moment that have empowered me to keep writing, keep talking, to remain open about why this run is happening in the first place. #imnotashamed and #itaffectsme are simple tags yet they are letting people articulate outside of their heads in a common language – compassion.

When I run I let nature be my sounds, in part because in doing so I am acting out of mindfulness to take me to places that we forget about so easily in this hectic world: the stillness of life sprinkled with the colourful melodies of other animals. Partly because it’s safer when running on roads without traffic. Partly because I don’t have a decent set of headphones/earphones and the pulsing thrum of cars as they pass is almost nauseating under the music.

But, a huge part is because music, to me, is intensely emotional. A single song can alter my mood before it’s half way through the first verse, sometimes for the good, getting me to bop along and even cycle or run in time to the beat. Sometimes it can cause me to stop and crumble. Or even to get angry and expend energy I didn’t really wish to use up so quickly, because I’m so intent on getting myself to be as strong as I can be, to power through the pain, the wobbly arms, the breathless lifts, so that I can complete the run and do what I set out to do. But two songs almost took me out of the game yesterday. It’s a good job the gym was pretty empty on a Sunday afternoon, and sweat looks like tears, because I had to stop and sit with my back to the wall like I was exhausted, hold my towel to my eyes and just cry. I was already breathing heavily because of the burpees I’d just jumped through, but I was very consicous of being seen weeping in my lycra.

The first song that hit me, rather mildly but was still a memory recall precursor for the one that followed, was Lukas Graham’s “7 Years”. A beautiful piece of writing, a beautiful melody, which just invoked memories of my childhood, my father and our broken relationship. And my path into parenthood. It got me thinking about my daughters and how creative and talented they are, that sometimes they literally take my breath away. My eldest has the voice of an angel, she is singing, dancing, and acting outside of school where she just excels at everything she does. My heart bursts with pride that she puts her heart into everything, just as I did (and still do). My second daughter has a writing talent for poetry and stories that astounds me, her emotional intelligence has always been far beyond her years, a wise little head on her shoulders. Teaching herself to dance freestyle street aged just 8, a runner, and a little lady who has already decided she wants to save the world and get into politics, everyone who meets her sees how she shines. How is it that I came to be their mum? I’ve gone through my years feeling a failure at everything, a failure for all of the relationships that failed, a failure for all of the careers that failed, and a failure for being here without a penny in my pocket and only a hope that I can make a difference to this world. Perhaps the real reason I am here is not about me, it is about my children.

The second song that caused the cookie to crumble was Naughty Boy ft. Beyoncé & Arrow Benjamin with “Runnin'”. No doubt an incredible song with a video that is mesmerising! But those words hit me like an arrow through the heart. Because I am running. I am running because I feel broken, because I’m afraid of losing everything that I hold dear, because I’m putting myself into a situation where it pretty much scares the crap out of me most days – oddly enough not the running part, but the interaction with other humans part. I’m scared of failing again, that’s probably what it comes down to, and in these two songs those fears managed to rise up to the surface and make me wobble.

IMG_7332Once the song was over I got on with my training. And I came away, not feeling shaken, nor stirred. But feeling alive, feeling vulnerable, feeling as though I’ve been touched by fire. This is my condition, and it’s an endurance run in itself, as it will last for the rest of my life. If I can endure that, then I can endure anything else because so far nothing has burnt my nerve endings like Bipolar Disorder.

It’s not just being up and down, it’s being so far up that I feel like I am helium, and feeling so far down that I feel like I am lead. It’s not being emotional. It’s feeling emotions so intense that they can knock the wind right out of your guts when you least expect it. It’s feeling emotions so intense that something that may appear to one as being banal, innocuous, or plain silly, could affect me so badly that I suddenly feel like the tiniest speck of viral dirt on the planet, and ashamed to even exist. A song doesn’t just make me feel emotional, a song has the ability to strum at my emotions and snap at my heart strings to the point of breaking them. Sometimes, they do break. And when they do they hurt so much that I am unable to breathe. When that happens, I am so far gone into my emotional existence that I cannot feel or think, I cannot imagine taking another breath, taking another step, or living another day.

This journey has come with so many incredible twists, that five months ago I never could have them dreamt up!

  • I’ve revived my creative endeavours via photography and illustration, graphic design and blogging.
  • I’ve started up a shop page so that I can sell designer products (my daughters especially love this) based on my running inspirations – be they people, places, words, or things, with 100% profits going directly to the fundraising effort (OK, so it’s 20% of the product price but every single penny counts!) and I’ve already made a sale! Whoop!
  • I’ve asked, and I have received (sounds so simple but getting to the point of directly asking someone for help is my Everest).
  • My return route has been created (I was face-planting my desk most nights just to get from LE to JOG!) by the superb team at Endomondo who are now supporting me on the challenge in a variety of roles, I cannot wait to share these with you!
  • I’m receiving messages of support which fill my heart with glee.
  • The donations are trickling in.
  • My anxiety about where to sleep is beginning to diminish (a teeny tiny bit) now that I have scoured the country for hotels and B&Bs at my stopover points and have a list to contact (this is probably going to make me tremble in fear – having to use the phone!)
  • I have my running fuel plan and the recovery fuel plan is starting to materialise.

IMG_1064I still have 9 weeks to go, and yet I feel like I’ve already completed the challenge and am celebrating with the wonderful people who supported me and helped me to survive and fight another day. I know that the meditation is making magical things happen, so I focus on those positives when the going gets tough. My battle here isn’t physical; the physical strife can be endured and repaired. My true battle is in my mind. I’m arming myself with the support, the team, the volunteers, the believers, the ones who show me love and compassion. I am making memories and storing them for the days when I need to dig deep and recall what the heck I’m doing this for.

All of those who have touched my life with support and love may not realise it, but they are slowly changing the world! The effect that they have on me helps me into a place where I am able to effect change to help someone else. Isn’t that empowering? We are all truly connected.