An Incredible Journey

An Incredible Journey

When I was about eight years old I wrote a story at school. I have no idea what we were supposed to be writing about, but apparently I had climbed the highest mountain in the world and everyone thought I was absolutely incredible. Shortly after, my massive head became wedged in a doorway and the head trauma sustained in releasing me in no small part explains the state of me today.

mountains, snow, sunset-862870.jpg

That last part is not true, but what is true is that my mind has always explored the wonderment of achieving something incredible; but with the absolute knowledge that this would never happen. The way my mind is wired allows for my imagination to run wild; my dreams of both the day and night variety are detailed enough to produce several film scripts each and every day. I can segue from one scene to another by being able to draw the most innocuous of links between real/not real events so that continuity is somewhat seamless (well to me anyway). In daily life I am known for being able to spin a good yarn whilst filling in (or taking over!) conference calls. I don’t know if this is an absolute trait of being bipolar, but from what I have read it is quite common.

For the bipolar record, I always know the difference between make believe and reality. I just like to lose myself in the former sometimes; in particular when I am feeling particularly shit. It is also true to say that some people do often wonder what planet I am actually living on.

And not so smoothly there am I moving onto the subject of feeling crap about yourself and thinking that you are a worthless piece of shit that will never amount to anything. You see, this is the default setting in my brain. The worst part of it is that you think everyone else has the same opinion of you. How could you possibly feel like an arsehole, if in fact you were not an arsehole? This is one of the biggest things that holds me back in life: zero confidence in myself and anything I try to do. It is a right royal pain in the arse.

possible, impossible, opportunity

This is why I am trying to convince myself that what I am trying to do is in fact incredible, and if you put your mind to it then anything is possible. With the obvious exceptions of:

  • Reasoning with a teenager
  • Capturing dark matter in a jam jar
  • Ending world hunger with Pot Noodles

Running five hundred miles for charity is, however, eminently possible to achieve as my incredible. Depending on the race (I’m not doing it all in one go!), on top of the incredible there’ll be many miles of pain, self-doubt, tears and panic whilst trying to find the nearest toilet.

Doing something incredible requires planning, motivation, perseverance, patience, and maybe, just maybe, a little pain. Most of all, you need to know what you want to achieve, and I had no idea of that to begin with.

I did not set out to be as stupid as I am now, when I started this running journey I had two simple goals:

  1. Lose weight (I was getting ‘rest a pint on yer gut’ fat from my medication)
  2. Become fit enough that my bipolar medication didn’t slow down my entire life

Once I realised I could run again – albeit with knee braces and compression sleeves as I am 53 and falling apart, I set about sorting these two baby steps out. Small steps can add up to big gains, and sorting out the weight and fitness at that time to me was incredible enough.

I went from 5k, to 10k, and then set my target on finishing a marathon – something I had not done for many years, and something I had thought would not possible ever again. Once I really got started, a lot of weight dropped off and my energy levels perked up. Before my new campaign of fitness, it was taking me around two hours to get out of bed in the mornings and I had trouble kick-starting my brain cells, but this became more manageable over the course of the first year and I started to feel human again. It is still tough to get up, but I’m guessing not that much more so than your average early fifties guy. And I can run a marathon again. It isn’t always ‘good times are here to stay!’ though. Right now, for example, my energy levels are very low and I’m not particularly perky to say the least. Bipolar doesn’t go away, but you can always do your best to tell it to fuck off.

My journey could have come to an end with finishing a marathon, but then this chap called Damian asked me if I wanted to run a 100k “challenge” and I said “yep”,  and just like that the second part of my journey came to be. I had entered the realms of stupid.

I had no idea how to plan for this 100k thing, but I did know I needed an ultra running vest to carry all the gear you need to take on these longer races. I don’t know where I got the free ticket for the running show from, but I headed up to the NEC for The National Running Show so I could try some on. I got my vest, saw Steve Cram (big thing as I used to run the 1500 at school) and then grabbed a coffee to take back in the car with me. I was feeling out of place with all these proper runners gathered in the same room, so had decided to head off early. For some reason though, I thought I’d sit down and drink it rather than take it in the car, so I grabbed the nearest seat in front of the Ultra stage and watched a chap called James Dunn be interviewed by the Bad Boy Running Club/Podcast about anyone being able to run an Ultra and something clicked.

A day or two after my visit to the show, I looked up Bad Boy Running, listened to a podcast or two and then joined their online club. Outside of doing this one 100k challenge, I had no intention of doing anything else like this, but I thought the club might help me get through the 100k event, and I liked the fact that they openly took the piss out of themselves.

Then someone put up a post on their Facebook group saying that something called “Centurion Running” was short of helpers at their Thames Path 100 event. Apparently some lunatics actually try to run 100 miles in one go. I mean, that is just ridiculous – even Mark Thatcher wasn’t that dim. However, given the Cookham aid station for the race was only a couple of miles from my house, I volunteered to help out. It was pissing down with rain on the day of the event, and most of the runners looked absolutely miserable when they came through apart from the Bad Boy Running lot – they were surprisingly chipper. Despite the rain, it was an incredible day out and was amazing seeing what people can achieve if they are really fit, but also really stupid.

I felt like an absolute fraud on the day having only ever run a marathon (unlike all of the other volunteers who were seasoned ultra runners), and thought that I’d be ok next time as I’d have the 100k notch on my belt. The next day though I went for a run, and then just kept on going. At around mile 20, I put up a post on the running group Facebook page asking how long the shortest ultra was, and subsequently ran 50k. I was hooked. 

Before I knew it I was signed up for four ultras as training for the 100k. With the exception of one race in Wendover Woods, where my right leg gave out forty seven miles into a fifty mile race, I finished all of them. Crossing the finish line of the 100k was one of the most emotional moments in my life. I also learned the lesson of not trying to run two ultras within two weeks of each other (did a Cotswold Way 50k two weeks before Wendover in temperatures hotter than the sun – twat!)

Until my back or knees give out (fused lumbar spine and two meniscus tears on knees), I had a new passion. I loved running a long way for no apparent reason, which most people will never understand. It allows me completely clear my brain of thoughts, which for someone with bipolar is an amazing state to achieve. Sometimes I listen to music, but quite a lot of the time I just enter a semi-hypnotic state and count to four in my head over-and-over again. One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four. One, two…you get the point.

So getting back to the “doing something incredible” thing, I didn’t stop at entering the four ultras and the 100k. 

I had run the Virtual London Marathon already during my journey, but couldn’t bear the thought of running alone around Windsor and Maidenhead again; in particular as on the first attempt I finished the race in a piss stained underpass beneath the A4. To avoid a repeat of this, I signed up for the 2024 London Marathon with Mind, but then needed to raise £2,000. Rather than just ask people to sponsor me for the marathon, given that I had done this for Mind in 2010, I thought I’d go a bit bigger.

After I finished the 100k I knew I had a qualifying race that would allow me to enter a 100 mile event.

I did not know this at the time as I was a late stand-in helper at the Thames Path race, but if you volunteer you can get a free entry into one of the Centurion 100 mile races the following year. So, even though I had seen the pain on the runners faces, and knowing they were all way fitter than me, I signed myself up.

The part of my brain that insists that I am totally shit, then decided that Centurion would not accept my 100k finish as a qualifier as the time was shit. I mean it was around 3 hours longer than I wanted, but on the day of the event it was 33℃, and in September that is not what you expect! A massive amount of people had dropped out at 50k, but I am a stubborn bastard so plodded on through in the heat.

I therefore sat down one night to find a 50 mile race that I could run properly to use as my qualifier and signed up for the Chester 50. Then, just in case I could not finish the Chester race, I entered a new 50 miler in Norfolk called The Weavers Way. Then I got a bit carried away and entered quite a lot more. My London Marathon 2024 journey had turned into my 2024 500 mile journey for Mind: One regular marathon and ten ultras (might be 11 or 12 by the time I’m done as I need a backup plan if I fall short of 500 with just the 10!).

Even if I stopped now having completed over half the distance, I will have achieved something incredible. Crossing the finish line on the London Marathon has been a dream for many years, but if I can finish the final event on the Thames Path, then maybe I’ll allow myself some respite from thinking I am shit for a little while 🙂 For just turning up on the day I am going to give myself a massive pat on the back.

(just in case I don’t finish the Thames Path, I have already entered another 100 mile race to give it another go, and have entered Wendover again so I can conquer it this time!)

Full list of races:

  • Cotswold Ultra 53k
  • Wendover Woods 50 mile 
  • Round Reading Ultra 50k 
  • Big Pilgrimage 54k Ultra 
  • Thames Path Ultra Challenge 100k 
  • Weavers Way 50 mile 
  • Portsmouth Coastal Marathon 50k 
  • North Downs Way 30 mile
  • Chester Ultra 50 mile 
  • Hundred Hills 50k 
  • London Marathon (ok – not an ultra!)
  • Thames Path 100 mile (now qualified!)


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