30 Oct 2013

884.61 - 900.92KM: The Windy One (Great South Run)

Last weekend, whilst all of Britain prepared for the worst storm since people began caring about menial statistics I took my 1000km Challenge to the South Coast, and Portsmouth to stare into the eye of the storm and reach the 900km milestone with the Great South Run. After 3 marathons in a month a 10 mile race should have been nice and easy, however things aren't always that simple.

At over 200 miles away, the Great South Run would be the furthest race from my doorstep and coming the week after the Yorkshire Marathon it would be an expensive couple of weeks, with lots and lots of driving. We left for Portsmouth early on Saturday morning, but despite planning ahead and looking at possible routes that would avoid driving past London these were forgotten as soon as I sat down in the car. Over 5 hours later (thanks M25) we checked in to our interestingly named B&B before heading into Portsmouth for the afternoon. 

Honestly not intentional
The B&B was located about 10 miles away from the centre of Portsmouth so after a 20 minute drive we were parked up and were ready to explore. The city seemed oddly quiet for a Saturday afternoon, but with the weather and both of us being tired and hungry we didn't stick round long enough to find out why, instead once I bought an awesome Christmas Jumper we began looking for somewhere to eat.

Perhaps subconsciously I was just trying to make what should have been a relatively easy 10 mile race more challenging, as when we sat down to order my stomach did the talking and I went for the biggest thing on the menu, followed by the biggest desert. This gluttony continued on into the morning when after being given the menu I opted for the Full English Breakfast, not content with the amount of meat I had eaten the night before. I had often wondered just how much extra I got from eating porridge before every race, as sometimes I feel spent by the first couple of miles, but I was about to find out the hard way.

Not the best pre race fuel
Forecasts earlier in the week had warned to expect heavy showers, on top of the wind, so I was prepared for a fairly miserable run. Fortunately on the drive to the start the sky seemed reasonably clear, so I needn't worry about the rain and once parked up I could instead put all my energy into getting to the toilet before the race started on the 30 minute walk to the race village. Once I got to the front of typically long queue to the toilets there was only a few minutes to spare until the start of the race, so I quickly said goodbye to Jenny, gave her my jacket and jumped the barrier into the crowd.

About a mile in I began to regret a heavy 12 hours of reckless eating as I began to feel very tired and achy and I knew I had a long race ahead of me. In that regard I was very thankful that it was only a 10 mile race, as it would end up feeling a lot longer. On a handful of occasions this year I have gone into races with the intention of taking it steady, only for that plan to go out of the window very early on. Fortunately this wasn't the case on Sunday as the weather and general fatigue meant that I had little choice but to run at a slower than normal pace and try and enjoy the race. I didn't realise it at the time but it was to be my last 'big' race of the year, leaving only 'local' races.

Letting my Hair Down
With the impending MegaStorm I knew that the last couple of miles would be tough. The organisers had warned beforehand that they were keeping a very close eye on the forecast, should the event have to be cancelled. Any reviews I had read of the previous years' events always mentioned how windy sections of the course could be so I was prepared for the worst. As I turned the corner onto the sea front no amount of preparation would have made those winds any easier, all I could do was put my head down and run the hardest two miles I could just to feel like I was moving forward.

I was therefore very surprised to see that my pace for those last miles didn't drop significantly, the 9th mile was only a couple of seconds slower than the 8th and the last less than half a minute slower than that. I crossed the line outside of the 80 minute target I had set myself, but given the circumstances and the weather I was happy enough just to cross the line.

Thanks Portsmouth, you were....horrible

The journey home would be a bit of an adventure. After making the mistake of joining the M25 on the Saturday we made sure to steer clear of London, opting instead for the route that would take us through Winchester and Oxford on the hunt for somewhere to eat. A couple of hours later all we had to show for our quest was a bag of Jelly Babies and more frustration, eventually we gave up and headed for home and ended up eating half a mile from our door step.

So here we are, still in October but with only two months worth of weekends left in the year and only 100KM to go to it is now a case of when, not if I reach my 1000KM target. In the nine weeks left of 2013 I have signed up to another 5 races, with my eye on another 2 meaning that I'm likely to reach the thousand kilometers without the need for including any more Solo Runs.

03/11 - Solo Run - 10KM (910.62KM)

09/11 - Robin Hood Trail Run - 10KM (910.62KM / 920.62KM)
17/11 - Rother Valley Half Marathon - 21.1KM (931.72KM
/ 941.72KM)
23/11 - Nottingham MoRun - 10KM (941.72KM
/ 951.72KM)
24/11 - Norwich Half Marathon - 21.1KM (962.82KM
/ 972.82KM)

01/12 - Solo Run - 10KM (982.82KM)

08/12 - Turkey Trot Half Marathon - 21.1KM (983.92KM  / 1003.92KM)
15/12 - Lincoln Santa Run - 3.5KM (987.42KM / 1007.42KM)
22/12 - Solo Run - 10KM (1017.42KM)
29/12 - Solo Run - 10KM (1027.42KM)
31/12 - Liverbird New Year's Eve Marathon - 42.19KM (1029.61KM / 1069.61KM)

It is unlikely that I'll find any more races that I'm able to enter before the end of the year, so if all goes to plan I should reach my target on the second weekend of December in the Turkey Trot. Ideally I wouldn't have to do any more solo run's to make to total up but I'd rather go into the Marathon on New Year's Eve knowing I had already completed the challenge and treating it as a celebration, rather than having to rely on good weather and no injuries to go to the wire on the final day. Also after a year of  running all over the country it would be a massive anticlimax if I was to reach my target outside of a race on a Solo Run. 

As always, please visit http://www.justgiving.com/shanes1000km and donate what you can and please share news of what I am doing with others.

Distance: 16.30km | 10.13 miles
Time: 01:21:22
Official Time: 01:21:24
Average Pace: 04:59 min/km | 8:02 min/mi
Playlist: Ayreon
Goody Bag: Medal, T-Shirt, Powerade, Galaxy Bar, Protein Recovery Bar

View my run:

21 Oct 2013

842.37 - 884.61KM: You Said it Was Flat... (Yorkshire Marathon)

Exactly 6 months ago today I ran my first ever marathon, the London Marathon, at the time it was the toughest race I had ever ran and the first time ever running beyond 20 miles. I wouldn't be afforded the luxury of being able to say 'Never Again' as I would be required to run another 5 by the end of the year to reach my 1000KM target. Yesterday I ran the Yorkshire Marathon, which marked my 5th of the year so far and 3rd in a very congested 4 weeks and dare I say it they are starting to feel a little bit easier now...

With the race beginning at 930am and 70-80 miles between my bed and the start line an early night was called for on the Saturday. I've whinged openly in previous posts about how my build up to a marathon is typically less than ideal, but this time I had no excuse, I was sleeping in my own bed, with no lingering illness and had a relatively stress free week. Yet I still found myself wide awake at midnight, eventually I must have fallen asleep as then next thing I knew it was 4:45 and my alarm was shouting in my ear.


After double and triple checking my bag to ensure I had definitely packed my gels, my number was on my vest, I had spare pins and that the Jelly Babies were in the car we were on our way. Typically I'm a fan of Autumn/Winter as I am what they call an 'excessive sweater' so anything above 16c can begin to cause 'issues'. That said I didn't realise how overdependent I had become on driving to races in daylight, as when we left the house at half 6 it felt much earlier than it was, which in turn made me tired and slightly grumpy. The sight of drunken students then stumbling home to stranger's beds as we made our way up Lincoln High Street did very little to help matters, fortunately Jenny was driving so I could focus all my energy on not falling asleep.

In a rare display of organisation I had planned to get to York around 8am, should the seemingly tight road closures prove to be incorrect as initially feared. Thankfully we have a friend who lives less than 5 minutes walk to the start, so we were able to park up an hour before the road closed and pop inside for a cuppa. We were anxious about how long we would be able to stop for as Jenny has a history of being hospitalised when coming into contact with cats, so meeting The World's Fluffiest Felinewas a cause for concern. You can read about this meeting of minds in Jenny's latest blog post, but *SPOILERS* it's safe to say it went well as half an hour later we had to excuse ourselves and make our way down to the start of my 5th marathon of the year.

No turning back now...
On the way to the start I would pay little attention to where I was walking, something I would later regret, conscious instead of the fact that I had 10 minutes until the start of the race and I would need to go for a wee at least twice before I started running. When I crossed the line I did so, again, without any game plan in place. Ideally, and completely unrealistically, I'd have wanted to run for a PB, but knowing I had run a tough marathon in very tough conditions last weekend, and another two weeks before that, I was aware that physically my body could implode at any time. Instead I was planning very much to just 'wing it' and see what happens. 

I had looked briefly over the course map at various points in the build up to the race, but not knowing the area that well much of it was forgotten. Starting within the University grounds, the course would sneak inside the City walls briefly to run past the Minster before then spending the majority of its time outside of York and in neighbouring villages before returning to York 20+ miles and some very weary legs later.

       In York                                                  Not in York
This wasn't necessarily a bad thing though, if you don't have an abundance of landmark riches like London it's better to try and not force the race to remain within the City if all you'll have to run around is empty trading estates. On that point the variation in scenery that the Yorkshire Marathon offered was welcome. Whilst I would have preferred a more even split between City bits and non-City bits, the areas of Grange Wood we ran through were nice (for trees) even if it may have tricked you into thinking you had run further than you had.

The surrounding woodland almost proved to be vital as for a brief period around the 9 - 11 mile mark I began to worry whether I was about to truly earn my stripes as a runner and be forced to 'Paula Radcliffe' by the side of the road. Thankfully before this disturbing thought plagued my mind for too long I came across some portaloos and several minutes later was back on my way, feeling a lot more comfortable.

One of the sections of the route that had stuck to memory was a particularly nasty looking section where runners are running either side of the road, in opposite directions, never a particularly enjoyable section of a race. As we made our way towards Stamford Bridge I could see runners coming towards me on the other side of the road, foolishly I thought that this meant we had reached this section of the race, but after barely stepping into the village we would be turned around and back on our way meaning this dreaded bit was still to come.

I mentioned earlier about how I had no plan for the race, this was evident when after 6 miles I had already taken two gels when I was only carrying enough for one every four miles. I have never really nailed down the feeding strategy for marathons, typically I try to take one every four or so miles, making sure I take them before I need them, but in all 4 of my marathons prior to this one I'm left with one or two spare as I get to the point where I feel too sick to eat or drink anything with 8 or so miles to go. Yet anything I've ever read suggests to take a gel every 20 - 25 minutes whereas I seem to average about every 35-40 minutes, something which would go a long way to explain my persistent hitting of the wall in every marathon.

Most of the race was spent feeling like I was running with a ticking time bomb. I knew that I would 'fall to pieces' somewhere along the course, it was just a matter of when. Despite this it still felt like one of my strongest marathons, perhaps because I knew the crash would come so rather than fearing it and trying to prevent it, I almost embraced it. Sure enough it came on the doubled up section, where you would run two miles in one direction, before turning round and running two miles back on the other side of the road. Despite feeling my pace drop significantly I still worked out that if I avoided complete disaster I should still make it round before the 4 hour mark, so with that in mind I ploughed on and began, slowly, ticking off the remaining miles.

For the last 6 miles, each mile felt slower than the last and every step felt harder to place on the ground. After last weekend's marathon I noticed that three of my toenails on my right foot were bruised, my big toe was particularly bad and was sore to touch. There was also some swelling on the top of my foot, presumably from tying my shoelaces too tight, which earlier in the week had caused issues climbing stairs and now was very painful. At mile 21 I came across a runner I had met at the Wold's Tough Ten Mile, after chatting for a bit he said that he had been dealing with cramp for most of the race and sure enough on cue he had to stop on the side of the road. The final couple of miles would be like a scene from Platoon, with handfuls of runner's getting hit with cramp, one after the other.

The last corner would be a shocker, as we turned back onto University Road I suddenly remembered how the race started atop a hill, one that I would now have to climb with 26 miles of running in my legs. The first thing that crossed my mind as I made my way up the hill was that the race was described as being 'consistently flat'. In fairness it was nowhere near the hilliest race of the year, definitely on the flatter end of the scale, but it wasn't without it's odd hill climb.  

It shouldn't have come as a surprise to me though, not least because I walked up that hill to get to the start of the race and then ran down it, but also because it was Yorkshire. I did laugh at the members in the crowd that were apologising on the hill's behalf, particularly those that made signs to do so, with only a few hundred meters to go to the finish line it gave me a well needed boost. When the finish line came in sight a special reserve of energy was called upon to muster the sprint finish and the end of 3 very tough marathons in such a short space of time.

The least you could say
I waited around at the finish for 10 or so minutes to see if the runner I had left behind at the 21 mile stage had come in yet, before deciding to pick myself up and make my way to collect my medal and goodie bag and meet Jenny. I had a quick look for the medal in the bag when I was passed it but after not finding it and not seeing anyone else wearing theirs I assumed, that strangely, you would collect it elsewhere, so I made my way out of the finishers enclosure, through the hospitality area and almost towards the exit. As I began to see more and more runner's wearing their medals I checked to see where they got them from, to discover it should have been in the bag and that I had to walk all the way back to the finish. 

After sweet talking a marshall into letting me openly abuse the one way system and back through to the finishers enclosure I collected my medal and made my way back, again, towards the exit to meet up with Jenny and the promise of cake. So that was that, my 40th race of the year done and dusted.

40 but not out...
Next up for me is the Great South Run in Portsmouth, just the 16 kilometers this time, but another big, high profile race. When I started this year I had planned to try and race in as many different places as I could, but I hadn't planned on running two races the best part of 300 miles away from each other within the same week. 

After this Sunday my total will have breached the 900KM mark with two months to go. With the 1000KM now firmly within my sights I can almost afford not to enter races every weekend to reach my target. Well that was until I saw the medal design for the 10K MoRun in Nottingham in November, then I decided I must have that in my collection.

How can you not?
As always, please visit http://www.justgiving.com/shanes1000km and donate what you can and please share news of what I am doing with others.

Distance: 42.42km | 26.38 miles
Time: 03:59:10
Official Time: 03:59:06
Average Pace: 5:39 min/km | 09:06 min/miles

Playlist: Ihsahn
Goody Bag: Medal, T-Shirt, Bottle of Water, Lucozade & Mars Bar

14 Oct 2013

800.53 - 842.37KM: There and (almost) Back Again (Spires & Steeples Challenge 26)

Well that was bloody tough. Yesterday saw me run the Spires & Steeples 26 Mile Challenge from Lincoln Castle to Sleaford, through villages, on trails and across rain sodden fields. As the second of my three marathons in 4 weeks it was always going to be tough, but what I got, thanks in no small part to the weather, was the most challenging race of the year so far. The race would only be the first part of my adventure however, as when I crossed the finish line I was then faced with the challenge of getting home.

I always knew that this race would be a tough one and when placed in the middle of two other marathons it would catch me at an awkward position of recovering from the last one and resting for the next. Ideally I had only planned to run the 13 mile variant and then also enter the Mablethorpe Marathon the weekend before, but after I missed the cut off point for registration I was left with no choice but to take on the full.

I mentioned in my post on the Robin Hood Marathon that with each marathon I run this year my preparation beforehand seems to get gradually worse. It seems now to have gotten to the point where I have jinxed myself, as once again I had a far from ideal week. As I was trying to rest as much as possible and not run, I lost a vital method of stress release which allowed it to build to some quite frankly worrying levels throughout the week. This then naturally led to insomnia and a thoroughly miserable week, fortunately I held on to my sanity but it was touch and go at points.

On the Friday evening it felt like it was all building into a crescendo, as I began to experience what I believe to be the symptoms of 'man flu', before this was then confirmed on the Saturday. This prompted Jenny to naively try and persuade me not to run on Sunday, but what I lack in common sense I make up for in stubbornness and it was always a battle she was going to lose. I had ran with colds before, albeit not Marathons, and I had certainly felt worse than I did on Saturday evening and been able to 'run it off' so I put myself up to the task again.

A new race tradition
Sunday morning was spent packing my bag with a change of clothes, flapjacks I had baked the night before, gels and filling my hydration bladder before then picking it up, realising how heavy it was and wishing I hadn't bothered. Nevertheless I wasn't prepared enough to have the contents of this bag dropped off at the baggage points so I would have to strap it to my back and put up with it. Once again I was my usual tardy self and had a slight, panicked warm up run to the start of my race to register and grab my number and wristbands.

As everyone huddled under some shelter at the beginning of the race I have to admit to feeling a little out of place in the company of, what appeared to be at least, runners with a few ultras under their belts. Fortunately as I walked round the corner and saw two young lads dressed up as Batman & Robin I felt a little more relaxed. The race started off in the grounds of Lincoln Castle before heading down the hill towards the Water Rail Way trail, a route I had ran before but this time it was a slightly more enjoyable experience as there wasn't 6 inches of snow.

Cold, tired, wet and only halfway
Whilst much of the route was across paths and trails, the heavy rain of the past couple of days had made several sections of the course almost impassable. Freshly ploughed fields would have been tricky to run across on a dry day, but when your feet sunk to almost mid calf height, every step took a lot out of me. With the challenge being a mixed runners/walkers event it was difficult to gauge who was who at these points as everyone I saw had given up trying to run across these fields. Well everyone but myself of course, as I foolishly tried to get across these fields as fast as I could irrespective of how much energy I was wasting doing so.

Slightly wet underfoot
In hindsight I could probably have finished with a faster time if I stopped and walked across these sections, a couple of runners I passed on these fields would come past me later on in the race as I began to run out of energy. If I ran the race again tomorrow I'd probably still choose to run these sections though, as I fear adopting a 'run-walk' strategy would soon evolve into a 'walk-stop' and then 'stop-stop'.

Once I reached the second to last checkpoint there was a sign which stated only 3 miles to go, at this stage of the race it felt like a mirage. I checked my watch and the maths added up, but those next three miles would feel like 6. Eventually as I made my way along the river I saw what I realised to be Sleaford Town Centre come into sight, when I saw runner's walking back towards me I knew I was close. As I stumbled towards the finish line the clock showed that I had reached the end in just over 4 1/2 hours, somehow reaching my target time and only 10 minutes slower than my previous slowest time despite the conditions.

My journey wouldn't be over when I crossed the finish line though. I realised on Sunday morning that I had misinterpreted the race instructions and the shuttle bus than ran from Sleaford to Lincoln did so at the start of the race and not at the finish. I made my way, slowly, in the direction of the Bus and Train Station only to discover that the 21st century has yet to reach Sleaford and it ran neither a bus nor a train to Lincoln on a Sunday. The best option I had public transport wise would have been to get a train to Grantham and then a train from Grantham to Lincoln, getting me in over 5 hours later. I then rang a couple of taxi firms only to be quoted £40, so was left with little choice between waiting for Jenny to finish work in 3 hours and get her to come pick me up, or walking. I chose the later.

Fuelling for the trip home
As I made my way towards the A15 I was still in that 'post-race feel like throwing up' state, so stopped in Tesco only to get changed out of my soaking wet running gear and into some slightly drier, but still wet change of clothes. When I reached the Holdingham roundabout I knew I would have to grab something to eat so as to not be completely reckless so I dove into the McDonald's and grabbed a Large Big Mac meal before then continuing on my way whilst trying to eat the delicious, dirty, processed goodness.

I imagine to many of the cars that drove past the sight of a slightly scruffy looking man, hunched over, stumbling his away along the grass verge with a crumpled up empty bag of McDonald's may have been slightly disturbing. In fact if you would have told me earlier this week that's how I would have been spending my Sunday afternoon I would have been convinced that my impending breakdown had finally happened, but I was (and still am) of sound mind. That didn't put a young couple off though, as they pulled over and waited at a junction for 5 or so minutes until I made it past and they offered me a lift. Their over eagerness (or perhaps niceness) put me off and I declined. If I ever take up the option of hitchhiking it will be when I'm able to run away, which was not today. Fortunately I would only have to wait another 10 minutes or so before Jenny finished work and rang me to find out where I was before then picking me up roughly halfway between Lincoln and Sleaford. So after running 26 miles in 4 and a half hours, then walking another 8 miles in 2 and a half hours I was finally home, just in time to cook a roast dinner and vacuum the entire house before it got too late.

Next up for me is the Yorkshire Marathon and the final of my three Marathons in just 4 weeks, thankfully this one is on road and supposedly flat so it should be a little easier going on the ankles than the last one. I certainly don't expect a staredown with a cow anyway, if I do then I've gone seriously wrong. Last week Jenny's eczema story was featured in one of the women's weekly magazine 'Pick Me Up', only dramaticised in a way that only those type of magazines can.

As always, please visit http://www.justgiving.com/shanes1000km and donate what you can and please share news of what I am doing with others.

Distance: 41.84km | 26(ish) miles
Time: 04:02:55
Official Time: 04:31:51
Playlist: Enslaved
Goody Bag: T-Shirt & Bottle of Water


9 Oct 2013

790.53 - 800.53KM: The Quest for the Missing Park Run (Solo Run)

So this weekend disappointingly saw me run another Solo Run to reach the 800km mark with as little fanfare as possible. Originally I had planned to run the Mablethorpe Marathon on Sunday but as I sat on the train on the way to last weekend's Robin Hood Marathon I discovered that the entry had closed. After a week of trying to find replacement races to enter instead, only to find they were all either too far away, too expensive or entry had closed I decided to go on a little adventure instead.

A couple of weeks ago it was announced that Lincoln finally has it's own Park Run, starting on the 16th November. In 2008 I moved to Lincoln to go to University, in the same year I started running regularly, first in an attempt to lose weight before eventually it became a passionate hobby. Since then I have been waiting five long years for Lincoln to get it's own Park Run, so on Sunday I headed down to Boultham Park to check out the chosen venue.

Running the Robin Hood Half Marathon
on the day I moved to Lincoln
The details for Lincoln's inaugural Park Run are few and far between at the moment, so I had no idea on the exact course and how many times you would be running around it. When I finally found an entrance to the park, albeit via some woodland, it became clear that the park wasn't big enough for it to be one big simple loop. I headed off through the park, avoiding dog walkers, children and the occasional goose trying to take as big a circuit as I could whilst keeping to the paths and without doubling back on myself. I'll have to wait until next month to see just how many times the route will loop through the park, but unless anything goes wrong I should be there on the 16th ready to enter my first Park Run after the 5 year wait.

Park Life
After a circuit or two round the park I found the nearest exit and then headed back home, reaching the 10km mark just a short distance away from my front door. I hadn't planned to reach another big milestone in this challenge next to a dog litter bin, but with just short of three months left of the year and now only 200km left it's a great place to be, even with the smell of dog faeces.

The past few weeks have been very stressful and I was under the orders from many people to have a relaxing weekend, some even suggested not running, but that was never going to happen. On the Saturday we took advantage of a rare 'healthy' day for Jenny and headed into town shopping, there are few worse things I can think of doing on a Saturday evening, but the very fact that Jenny was dressed, able to leave the house and we were spending the whole day together for the first time in months made me forget all that. We even stopped off for dinner on the way back, with two Marathons coming up in a couple of weeks I should be paying close attention to what I'm eating, but instead I did what I normally do and picked the biggest, meatiest thing on the menu.

Me and my massive sausage
After my run on Sunday I had planned to take a nice relaxing bath, something I rarely find the time to do. I had it all set up perfectly; a nice hot bath, cup of tea, slice of cake and Series One of Breaking Bad to watch on my laptop. The relaxation didn't last long as after 10-15 minutes I ended up getting bored and frustrated at the fact I wasn't doing anything productive and got out. Not quite the relaxing afternoon I had planned.

Hot Bath, Tea, Cake and a reasonably popular TV Show
So this weekend I have the Spires & Steeples 26 Mile Challenge, a run from Lincoln Castle to Sleaford (18 miles away) with, I'm guessing, 8 miles worth of detours. I honestly have no idea what to expect from it, it says it isn't a race, rather a challenge, it will be across fields, so I'm expecting it to be fairly tough. My calves have been very tight since the Robin Hood Marathon at the end of September so a week of stretching and foam roller(ing) awaits to try and get my body recovered just in time for Sunday (to then ruin it again). The Spires & Steeples will be the first part of my two Marathons in a week, with the Yorkshire Marathon the next Sunday (20th). I remain foolishly optimistic that my body will cope fine, I have aspirations of one year emulating Julie Weiss, so this should be good training and experience for that.

Red Bull Steeple Chase
This past weekend was host to many big races, the Red Bull Steeple Chase, Royal Parks Half Marathon and Great Scottish Run to name a few. It got me thinking about what races I plan on entering next year. Whereas this year I have been entering every race that I could without being dictated by preference, next year I should be able to pick and choose much more freely. This means entering races I either wasn't ready for this year, such as the Belvoir Challenge or races that clashed with races I had already entered. I'm looking forward to this freedom, but for now I must focus on the remainder of this year as first I have another 200km and 12 weeks to run.

As always, please visit http://www.justgiving.com/shanes1000km and donate what you can and please share news of what I am doing with others.

6 Oct 2013

The life and times of a Caregiver (aka Why I'm always tired)

This post was originally supposed to be part of my daily series of posts during National Eczema Week, whilst I started well eventually I ran out of time steam and I was unable to keep up posting everyday. Before that it has been sitting in my drafts since June, occasionally being added to when I found a rare five minutes here and there. It is then somewhat fitting that the topic of this post is about the impact Jenny's condition has had on my life and how it now means I have very little spare time.

'Caregiver' is a term I have only recently heard of, after stumbling across suburbankidinthecity's blog; reading through her post on the not-so-obvious truths of being a caregiver it felt like I was reading my own life. Since the day I first met Jenny she has been 'sick'. However over the past year or so Jenny's health has started to consistently deteriorate to the point where much of my day is spent either looking after her physical and mental well-being or recovering/preparing for the next time I'll be called upon.

Last year in response to an abnormally high dust allergy reading Jenny was given a certificate from her Dermatologist forbidding her from any domestic cleaning for a year. Her health had meant that I picked up the majority of the cleaning duties anyway, but that result then firmly shifted the onus onto me.

Her urticaria (heat allergy) also means that she often find it's difficult to cook meals for herself, as she can't stand the heat of the kitchen as it brings her out in hives. The responsibility to cook each night again is then mine, although sometimes if I'm particularly tired or stressed I choose the quick and easy option (normally unhealthy too) or sometimes just order takeaway, but then instantly feel guilty for it.

Typically I would choose to cook something vaguely interesting and healthy anyway, but with Jenny's health there is a bigger reason for doing so. I have recently started to try and cook two meals a night when Jenny is either at work the following evening, or I know I will be late home in an attempt to relieve some of this pressure the following day.

Whilst Jenny is still able to help out a little bit, when her health permits it, 99% of the 'chores' are all mine, meaning that if I don't do them no one else will. I often have to tell Jenny off for even trying to help out sometimes as I know it will only cause her to flare up again. I would rather I had to do it all than Jenny try and help and make herself worse, even when that means it takes at least 2 times longer for the tasks to get done, or sometimes they just never get done.

I'm ashamed to admit that sometimes I've left pans 'soaking' in the sink overnight, or things have been left on the side for weeks before finally being put away, just this week I finally managed to put some clothes away that had been dumped on the spare bed upstairs several weeks ago. I recall that earlier this year we had some Christmas presents that we just sat in our living room been moved around occasionally to dust but never put away until March.

Working a 9 to 5 makes a lot of these tasks difficult, as often when I get home I just want to relax but I know there are 27 things to do before I can finally sit down at gone 10. This is where the respect for single parents who are able to work whilst also picking up all the responsibilities of looking after both a house and a loved one whilst firmly holding their shit together. If I get to bed before 11pm most nights it's a success, as most of the days I'm still either doing the washing up, folding washing or cleaning the bathroom at this time. Often I'm forced to just set a cut off point where I stop and call it a night, but occasionally the pressure builds up so much that I reach a tipping point where I find myself cleaning the bathroom or tidying washing away at midnight for fear of melting down if I don't.

Jenny's skin ready to be hoovered :(

A lot of what I have written above could be used to describe my past year, but since Jenny began Topical Steroid Withdrawal the amount of housework and pressure on me has increased two-fold. I never thought hoovering a bed would be a 'thing', but currently Jenny sheds enough skin on a nightly basis for it to have become part of my daily routine. Frankly, it's depressing. Every evening I have to follow her tracks across the house hoovering up all the skin, before assessing the damage of the night before in the bedroom. The bedding will get changed every weekend without fail, sometimes twice or three times a week if Jenny has been bleeding or her skin has been weeping in the night.

The amount of towels we get through on a weekly basis can rival most hotels, Jenny will use between 3 and 4 most days. This then naturally leads to a never ending amount of washing, along with the aforementioned bedding without even taking into account clothes. It is easy to get stuck in an infinite loop of doing all the washing and then by the time everything is dry they've been used again and are back on top of the massive laundry pile. 

Perhaps the hardest responsibility I have though of being a caregiver is being, or at least appearing to be strong when Jenny needs me. When shit hits the fan, and it has done, multiple times this year, I have to remain calm and reassure Jenny everything will be fine, even when most of the time I'm trying to convince myself too. In truth I have no answers, I never know how to do or say the right thing but whilst inside I'm panicking, outside I have to convince Jenny that I'm coping. This mask I have to wear is becoming increasingly fragile and it is only a matter of time before it disappears altogether. 

The pressure I find myself under this year has been too much to handle on a few occasions, namely after Jenny's TIA and her bout in hospital with Eczema Herpeticum. After returning home from hospital I found myself sitting on the couch in tears, playing over the events of the past 24 hours in my head and failing to hold it together. It's frustrating that this year all the running and fundraising I am doing to try and raise awareness of Jenny's condition and to potentially improve it, is using up my limited spare time and energy that would otherwise be used spending time/looking after her.

I feel that my adopted role as Jenny's caregiver is having a big affect on my own health too. Over the past couple of years I have become increasingly jealous of other peoples carefree lifestyle, with their ability to go on holiday without any hassle and live their lives from one spontaneous day to the next. On some days just leaving the house with Jenny seems like an adventure worth talking about, and one that can sometimes require a lot of planning.

Sometimes I feel I grew up too fast. Whilst that has undoubtedly helped this year, it does make me look back at my teenage years and early 20s with regret. When I was younger all I wanted to do was to get on with life; get through University, get a job and move into a house with someone I love. I made the decision to not drink alcohol at 17 because I didn't 'enjoy' it, but also because I was massively overweight and wanted to get healthier. In hindsight I feel that this decision was probably prompted by my desire to 'grow up' and get on with life.

People often say to me that this is a lot to try and handle for a 24 year old, albeit one going on 50, but this is a life I've now become accustomed to. The idea of going out on the 'razz' every night chasing skirt, as most seem to my age, sounds just as challenging and depressing to me.

This is my 'Happy Face'
Jenny often mocks me and my 'serious face' when at gigs as it often looks like I'm staring the band out and demanding they entertain me. Truth is it feels sometimes like I've completely lost the ability to relax and enjoy myself. I'm often over thinking every aspect of my life to the point where that when I'm somewhere I should be relaxed and enjoying myself I just end up checking my watch to see how close it is to ending. Maybe I just don't like fun, I dunno. It's something I am constantly reminded of though, take earlier today when I planned to have a long relaxing bath after a couple of especially stressful weeks, after 10 minutes or so I got bored and started thinking of all the other things I should be doing instead and got out. 

I guess it boils down to the fact that I've always been a bit of a miserable bastard inside, and the pressure of being a 'self-loathing narcissist' that is responsible for the mental and physical well-being of someone else isn't likely to change this fact.

For the time being I just have to keep ploughing on, as it's unlikely that Jenny is going to wake up tomorrow and be healthy. There are a couple of Facebook groups online for those going through Topical Steroid Withdrawal and one for their caregivers, something that I have been meaning to make better use of. Everyone in these groups is either going, or has been through what Jenny and myself are, so it is a great source of support when I'm struggling to hold my shit together.

Ultimately though I feel we are both prisoners of Jenny's condition and I consider our lives to be very much on hold until Jenny is 'cured'.

4 Oct 2013

September Review (698.64 - 790.53KM)

I opened last month's review on a rather sombre note, claiming that most of these reviews all end up sounding the same, starting off with me talking about the races before then ending on how Jenny's health got worse or threw some unexpected spanners into the works. This month however was different, we ended the month with Jenny's health as the best it has been for some time and we also celebrated her birthday, baked and ate plenty of cake. I did lots of running too, obviously.

The month started slowly with my first Solo Run since the middle of July. It wasn't my intention to run a Solo Run, I simply had yet to sign up for a race that weekend and after struggling to fight off illness for most of the week and getting very little sleep it seemed like the best option. Add to that the fact that it was the week before Jenny's birthday, National Eczema Week and later that month I had my first of three marathons in a very short space of time, saving money and energy seemed like a good idea.

The Greatest Car Park in the World...
If there was anyway to get the ball rolling on races again after the previous weeks Solo Run then what better race than the 'Greatest' and 'Biggest' Half Marathon in the World, the Great North Run. Their words not mine. Personally I'd call it the 'Alright North Run'. The weather was a touch grim, which was expected given that it was in t'North, but other than the sheer number of entrants and local pride I saw little to justify it's reputation. Maybe it was just me, a breakfast of a Mars Bar and a can of Relentless probably wasn't the best preparation, as evidenced by throwing up several times around the course. That said I still managed to set a strong time, within a minute or so of my PB without really trying to. 

I baked a cake just for you...
The Great North Run meant a return to Jenny's homeland for the weekend, typically this would always mean a cake, the fact that it was a couple of days after Jenny's birthday too meant that there was several. By the time we had finished eating all the cake it was time to bake some for the National Eczema Week Bake Sale we held on the 21st. Once again it was a big success and we managed to raise over £130 for charity but almost as soon as I had finished washing up all the plates and counting the proceeds it was off home to Norfolk for my next couple of races.

Once again I had lined up two races in one day with the Sandringham 10K and Hunstanton Beach Run. which in hindsight may not have been ideal a week before the Robin Hood Marathon. First up was the Sandringham 10K, one of just a handful of races I've ran before this year. Taking only a couple of hours before my second race I made sure to take it reasonably steady but still came in just over the 45 minute mark. 

Before I had chance to get too comfortable watching the rest of the runners come through the finish line I would be off to Hunstanton for my second race, the Beach Run. After the horrific evening in August when Jenny was suspected to have suffered a mini stroke, the Beach Run was on my radar as it raised money for the Stroke Association. The race took place on the beach, surprisingly, and went from Hunstanton to Heacham (my hometown village) and back. I was very pleased to have been able to take my challenge all the way back home for a race, even if the race did end up measuring over a mile short.

*wolf whistle*
The final race of the month would take place in this challenges second city, Nottingham. The Robin Hood Marathon would be my 6th race so far this year in and around Nottingham, with a couple more lined up before the years end. Between the Half Marathon route, which I had ran a few times before, and a few other races this year I had ran across the entire Marathon route at some point, just not all in one go. Being only my third marathon ever, but my first of three in four weeks, I was cautious over the pacing making sure not push it too hard as it was essentially a 'training run' for the Yorkshire Marathon at the end of the month. I was happy enough with a time of 4 hours 3 minutes, although the race will ultimately be remembered for being hit on around the 6 mile mark.

4 Races, 3 Medals and one awkward grin
Nine months in and at almost 800km means I am, albeit only by about 40km or so, ahead of schedule. This month (October) I am due to run another two Marathons within 7 days and travel all the way down to Portsmouth. It is going to be an eventful (and expensive) month, but by the end of it my total will be 900km with two months to go, leaving me in a very good position.

As always, please visit my JustGiving page and donate what you can. If you can't donate then please share my JustGiving page and news of what I'm doing with others, in case they can. The only way we can end the suffering that Jenny and millions of others go through on a daily basis is with your help.

August Stats:

1000KM Challenge Distance: 91.89KM

Time Running Total: 08:51:10
Total Running Distance: 197.34KM
Bananas Eaten: 45
Races: 4
T-Shirts: 1
Medals: 3

1000km Challenge Stats:

1000KM Challenge Distance: 790.53KM

Time Running Total: 68:16:30
Total Running Distance: 1697.67KM
Bananas Eaten: 346
Races: 34
T-Shirts: 18
Medals: 19


A look ahead to October

Confirmed Races
13/10 - Steeples & Spires Challenge (26 Mile)
20/10 - Yorkshire Marathon
27/10 - Great South Run