Running for a pint

I was 8km into yesterday’s “Great North 10km” Road race in Newcastle and Gateshead when thoughts started drifting away from “keep going, nearly there, you’ve done this before” to “I wish I hadn’t forgot my bloody phone. I wanted to take some post race selfies” to “Why do I do this?”

The voice in my head started saying “You’ve done great this morning. Driving to the race on your own, running your race and doing it in this warm sunny environment. You are so good, so healthy – you deserve a nice cold pint of lager when you finish!”

Primarily I was focused on my run (I’d normally wear headphones in these races and listen to some loud, high tempo music) but for the first 8km I’d managed to block out most of the negative thoughts us runners can end up with as we put ourselves through the pain of feet on tarmac again, again and again. I’d also found an older bloke (maybe early 50s) but with more muscle in his lower legs than my entire body to track. I made sure I could see him for the whole race and he was never more than 50 meters ahead of me. That in itself was a mind distraction in lieu of no headphones.

However, in the last leg of the race with the finish line in sight (not literally) the ‘beast’ as we call it started doing his work, in the most unconventional way to date. The beast doesn’t play by any particular set of rules or boundaries so I shouldn’t have been surprised to be honest. I’ve been in a great mental space of late and my reading of the Rational Recovery book has reaffirmed by decision to tackle my addiction with the “Addictive Voice Recognition Technique” – Separating myself from the addiction. The addiction is not me, it’s just a voice, a beast trying to control me.

So here I am sweating, panting, wiping sweat from my brow and pushing my body up the road to the sound of clapping from the well-wishers watching us all when I had a new challenge to overcome. The running was in auto-pilot. My mind was now picturing me sitting in a pub beer garden in my running kit post-race enjoying a cold pint of beer – I had the car and I’d be driving the 10 miles or so back home so it would be OK, one pint wouldn’t hurt. You know that you can’t drink to excess because you have a problem but one pint is nothing, just a reward. It’s a little ‘well done’ to yourself for running 6.2 miles this morning. You are fundraising for charity, you are training hard and I think you’ll get a decent enough time today. Congrats – time to reflect and cool down with something you have consumed many times before over the 17 years of your life. You’ve had one pint loads of times in the past and drawn the line under it. Think of all those times you went for a swift pint after work then drove home. The pint at half time at the football. The glass of wine when out for a meal but you were the designated driver. Yeah, I know we shouldn’t have anything to drink before getting behind the wheel but one pint is legal. It won’t kill you.

The beast knows I am onto him so I smirked and battered away the thoughts as I continued my ascent up the Gateshead side of the River Tyne back towards the Baltic Quays and the finish line.

But he wasn’t finished. He came back for more.

You don’t have to tell anybody. Its not even like you are breaking your sobriety. Lets just say a relapse is when you drink to excess and ruin it for yourself. Like what happened in May. You were anxious, not happy – you drank for medicinal reasons. Today isn’t like that. You’re happy, you’re flowing through this race and the sun is shining. This isn’t the beast talking, this is just your normal thought process like a normal healthy person. It’s a one off, prove you can have a pint and be on your way home to enjoy the rest of your day.

I’ll be honest, he got me right where he wanted me and I was tempted. Maybe just for a small piece of time I was tempted, but as I ran over the finish line, collected my medal and water etc it gave me time to reset and think more clearly.

Let’s say it was one pint. What is the point of a pint. Just one?! I might as well just not. Wait a minute, I don’t drink alcohol. Period. Why was I even entertaining the beast? He was gobby and he was doing his best to pull me back in to a life of addiction but I thought about AVRT. The book. The plan. What my friends in recovery say. Yes, this is normal beast behaviour. He will try and pull you back into the darkness by selling it as a new dawn.

I walked past a handful of pubs back to the multi-storey car park. It was 11:15am. I drove out of Newcastle City centre and joined the motorway. I came off at the services a few miles later and headed into Greggs for a black coffee and a sausage and bean melt. That was my treat!

Running Through Recovery

Day 388: Running is a good way of describing being in recovery. Running is a process that has different variables from one run to another, very much like each day in recovery.

I was out running yesterday and my head was saying ‘throw the towel in, you’re tired and you don’t need this’ – In the past I’d have really battled with that voice (the beast) telling me to give up. I immediately thought about the bigger picture of my life journey at the moment – compared it to a run – moving forward but forever faced with doubt, pain and the desire to stop. End the journey. But no, I haven’t given up on life which at times has been a long, tortuous mental and physical battle. Pretty sure I can power through a few miles of tarmac after years of lows. I did. F*ck the beast. I won. The beast went quiet.

My mental health in general can best be described as a Half Marathon – 13.10 miles to those non-runners reading this. A roller-coaster. Things can be ok, pretty steady and calm then I feel my anxiety getting stronger – I try to fight it head on and I get breathless, tired and low. I want it to stop but I know deep down it will stop in it’s own time if I help myself. How can I help myself? Breathe. Distract myself. Ride it out.

An odd type of euphoria often follows anxiousness. That feeling of release and lightness. I get a spring in my step, I feel myself going faster but not fast enough to hurt myself – fast enough to get the juices flowing and the adrenaline pumping. I’m smiling internally and maybe, just maybe externally too. I feel naughty smiling – as if I was destined to never be happy but I continue in the moment and forget about the pain I have already endured and the pain I’m likely to face once again.

Onto the biggest chunk of my mental health half marathon – around 60% of the whole event and I’m neither euphoric or in crisis. I’m not even overly anxious or depressed which means I can operate pretty much on autopilot to a high standard and float along getting the job done. It’s boring and very repetitive but we all need this mode at times because it gives our brain a break and our mind can do it’s own thing. The beast can’t make too much noise because there is nothing for it to latch onto and try to wear down.

Then comes the bumpy bit where the road gets steeper and the wind gets stronger. At first I shrug it off but then somebody bumps into me and doesn’t apologise. I’m angry and want to lash out or say something but don’t. This makes me more irritated because I’m letting myself get bullied. God, I hate bullies. The beast wakes up and get’s excited because it can smell vulnerability and irrational thinking. I start telling myself it was an accident and to let it go, but before I can process it somebody runs in front of me and nearly trips me up – that’s it, I want blood. Nobody messes with me.

Hang on! The beast is alive and loving this. Don’t succumb to the tricks. Don’t take the bait.

Again, it’s a case of riding it out and whatever time I need, I take. The beast will get bored of no reaction and soon wander back off into the shadows. The wind weakens and the path ahead of me softens. We are back to that nice gentle feeling of nothingness. Just how I like it.