I completed a run of just over 20 miles on Saturday. It has been quite a few years since I’ve done that distance. It was good despite the last 3 miles being a bit of a slog and I had to dig deep a few times to keep going. I didn’t give up, felt motivated, and was fully focused on getting that distance completed.
It got me to thinking about why I enjoy endurance sports and where that interest comes from.
I saw my Mum on Sunday, and she had found some old photos for me (some of which I had forgotten about) – some of those may answer the question of why I enjoy endurance events.
I did my first triathlon 25 years ago. Back then very few people took part in the sport and my training was very much trial and error. Back then the internet didn’t exist, so my main points of reference were a book I had bought about triathlon (which wasn’t a huge help) and a few copies of Triathlon magazine (not a great deal of help either as it focused on what races some of the elite had done and what was happening in the USA). I trained for a few months and just hoped for the best on the day.
Looking at those photos on Sunday made me realise that my interest in endurance sports developed years before. There is one photo of me when I’m about 10 years of age having just finished a cross-country fun-run with my first finishers medal around my neck.
My Dad was into cycling and as a teenager I did a few charity rides with him – usually around 50-60 miles (which is a decent distance for a 14-year-old to ride. And looking at one of those photos and how skinny my legs look (!!!) I’m somewhat shocked I was able to ride those distances at that age). This led to being interested in races like the Tour de France (years before Britain even had a winner of the event – just having a British rider on the start line was a huge deal back then).
At school I played football, rugby, (hated cricket), and swam. I was OK, nothing exceptional. Outside of school I canoed for a little while (as part of my Duke of Edinburgh bronze award). I tried out a few other sports as well – again nothing really stuck in terms of wanting to participate long term. I went on a couple of outward bounds trips with the school to the Lake District and for a kid growing up in London that was a real eye-opener. The open space, the hills, the vastness of the place, and the sense of achievement making it up some of the mountains.
I remember going to watch the first ever London Marathon with my Nan in 1981. We stood outside Embankment station cheering and clapping the runners on, and I remember saying to my Nan that I would run a marathon one day (and probably didn’t realise what was involved, it just looked pretty cool to me).
I never joined any cycling or athletics clubs as a kid and at school there was never really that interest or encouragement from teachers to pursue any sports outside of school. I remember watching various sports programmes as a kid and that is where some of that interest really developed – city centre cycling shown on Channel Four, very brief highlights (2-5 minutes) of the Ironman in Hawaii, the Olympic Games in Moscow and Los Angeles (1980 and 1984).
When I was growing up there was a bloke who lived on the same estate who was a long distance runner and as kids we thought he was Superman!!!! We'd see him run off and then hours later (whilst we were still playing football and hitting windows he'd return, and we'd be amazed at how far he'd run!) All of those things have contributed in a small way to the journey I have been on in terms of endurance sports. All of those things have had a lasting influence on this journey.
There have been times when I’ve not entered events for a couple of years and just trained with no end goal or main purpose – but something has always drawn me back into finding an event, entering it, putting in the training, completing it and moving onto the next goal.
When I completed my first triathlon 25 years ago I wanted to see what else I could achieve and over the years went from short distance events to much longer distance events. When I completed my first marathon in 1998, once my legs had recovered, I wanted to see if I could get quicker over the distance.
I remember speaking to people that took part in ultra-marathons (and also reading a few books about the sport) thinking that is unbelievable and not for me, way too far. I think deep down I’ve always looked to push myself on my terms on what I can achieve. Taking part in endurance sports allows me to do that, and it has been an incredible journey and one where I have learnt a lot about myself. Pushing myself out of my comfort zone and seeing what is beyond that – both physically and mentally.
I look at that photo of me as a 10-year-old with that finishers' medal around my neck and wonder if someone told me then that in 40 years’ time I would be training to run 50 km what my reaction would have been.
Every time I think that the journey is complete there has always been something else that has drawn me back in, motivated me, fuelled that curiosity, made me wonder ‘what if’, and given me another goal to work towards.
The universe is a vast and a very hostile, uncaring environment, which lacks compassion. We are mere specks of dust, atoms in this vast universe that has been evolving and expanding for billions of years, residing on a dying planet in a dying backyard solar system. Eventually that big ball of fire we look at in the sky which generates life on our planet will die and so will our planet – we have absolutely no influence or control over that fact. I’m guessing the good news is this isn’t due to happen for a few billion years yet, which is cool by me as it won’t mess my plans up for the foreseeable future, so it’s not all doom and gloom and I have a bit of time on my side.
Life is pretty uncaring at times as well and can lack compassion. Unlike the future of the universe though we have a certain amount of control, influence, and autonomy when it comes to life, certainly in the context of how we choose to live it. We can make rational choices and decisions on many aspects of our lives.
At the end of last year I took stock of my life in its current context and decided what I wanted it to look like on my terms – I was pretty brutal in my assessment which is no surprise, as I’m my own harshest critic. So, what could I influence, what was I in control of, what was I happy about, what wasn’t I happy about and what did I need to do, what changes did I need and, most importantly, want to make.
Change, now there is a funny word or concept. Many see change as being linked with negativity – when I think of it in a career context I see changes within the organisation where I work (that ever evolving ‘universe’ of employment where I have very little influence or control over organisational change) linked to the trimming down of human resource. I’ve been through multiple ‘change programmes’ in work (with my current employer and some in the past) and feared losing my job each and every time. The reality is, I’ve managed to move up the hierarchy each time with a better job and a pay-rise to boot. Not bad considering the negative connotation I usually associate with that type of change. I also had a choice – quit and find another role somewhere else or tough it out and see what happens.
People can tell you to change, and it is very rare that those changes take place depending on the context, it triggers a response from our “ego state” depending on how we take that ‘request’ to change and that response is not always positive.
In order for change, in a personal context, to take place you need it to want to happen. It should be on your terms and no one else’s. Those choices and decisions that we make for ourselves are the most empowering ones, if others have taken that control we feel, as adults, we have lost our sense of autonomy.
I’m always suspicious of people who try to change others – what is their ulterior motive? If they need to change a person, why are they bothering with them in the first place if it bugs them that much? Just a personal opinion though.
Making change happen isn’t easy at times. We have evolved into a species that now requires or demands instant results, instant gratification, and instant answers. We are now a species who when this doesn’t happen, think that there is something fundamentally wrong in the universe (and does the universe actually care?).
Real change takes time, it requires patience, it requires practice and application all the time, it requires proper planning and accepting there will be mistakes made, things not going to plan, and that constant threat of failure at any stage that could lead to going back to the drawing board and starting again. Failure is good, we learn from it. Quitting because you’ve failed isn’t so good (this is why many never go to the gym past January, after taking out an annual membership only weeks before – the motivation isn’t there because the results haven’t been instant!).
All the goals and targets I set myself to achieve this year will not be achieved instantly, and I’m happy about that, because these are things I need to work on every day – be it fitness, diet, educating myself, mindfulness, or things to improve the environment I function in. Every day, I ask myself what difference those changes are making, everyday I know that if I remain focused and can answer that question I will achieve those changes, targets and goals way, way, way before that big ball of raging fire in the sky burns out and dies. I also know that as long as I’m working towards them, I will never quit.
It was probably my darkest day. I can’t even recall the date now but it was 20 years ago. I’d sunk into a darker and darker depression – I’d stopped going to work, I wasn’t getting up at all as I just couldn’t face another day, I wasn’t eating either. I had gone crashing down into a never-ending downwards spiral. I couldn’t see any way out of it at all.
I was single and hated the fact, I was working as a cycle courier and was fed up with it. I just couldn’t see much of a future let alone a bright one. I was in my late twenties and the depression had taken a strangle-hold on me in a big way. I viewed myself as nothing short of a total and utter failure. The months leading up to this point had been a major struggle – I was drinking heavily and really couldn’t give a shit about anything or anyone.
It was a Sunday and I had filled up two empty bottles with water and filled them with paracetamol – I had put around 50 effervescent tablets into each bottle – before starring at them for an age and eventually drinking the contents of both bottles. This wasn’t a cry for help, this was me at the very end, no more answers having accepted the only solution was to end my life. I thought that the quantity of tablets would knock me out before my life ended. I didn’t leave a suicide note. I just didn’t see the point.
Several hours later I was hunched over the toilet being sick in a way I have never been sick before. It was continuous and seemed never-ending. I ended up in A&E at Chelsea & Westminster Hospital that night. They managed to stabilise me and I spent the following week in hospital. That first night in the hospital was strange. I felt confused and I was scared but felt at peace as well.
The following day a really good friend came to visit me at lunchtime commenting (rather ironically) ‘that if I tried something like that again she would kill me’.
I learnt a lot that week in hospital. I realised that my depression (and episodes of depression) needed to be tackled head on and couldn’t engulf me like it had on this occasion. Back then mental health wasn't widely spoken about as it is today. There was still a certain amount of stigma associated with it as well.
The doctors told me that it was lucky that I was so fit as certain blood counts associated with the overdose were off the scale and they had never seen anyone survive with such high levels before. Thankfully the majority of the damage was to the liver and this would eventually heal.
On the ward I got talking to the bloke in the bed next to me – he had to be admitted to hospital every couple of months due to having sickle cell disease – he was really upbeat and was just getting on with it. One thing that stayed with me was watching an elderly man at the other end of the ward die. I was looking over towards him in those last moments of his life and watched his last breath. I spent a week in the hospital before being discharged. That is when the real hard work started. I was at rock-bottom and needed to rebuild my life again.
I’d come to the conclusion that it wouldn’t be easy, it wouldn’t be instant, and it was down to me to sort the mess out which had become my life. I also had to accept that I suffered from depression and that I needed to control it as best I could – this is something that I am still doing 20 years later. There are times when I think I’m doing well and other times when I think I need to get my act together. That has happened quite a lot over the last 20 years.
I think in the last 20 years I’ve achieved a lot and learnt a lot about myself. I went from working as a cycle courier to becoming a performance manager for the company I was working for. I started a career in the civil service (and was promoted twice within my first 8 months). I studied and trained to become a sports massage therapist, worked for myself and gained an excellent reputation as well as working with some brilliant and inspiring athletes. Another career change has seen me working for the British Red Cross for the last 7 years and advancing, learning, and studying along the way.
One of the things that really helped was exercise – I finished another 8 marathons (I had completed my first a few years before), finished multiple triathlons including four ironman distance, as well as racing for Great Britain at the European Long Distance Championships in 2007.
In that 20 years I’ve been in 6 relationships and am now single again – I’m not that fussed about that, some days I think it’d be great to be with someone, most days I’m happy being on my own.
I don’t really speak about that dark day very much. I know that it changed me. I know that it made me see that if I wanted to achieve anything I would need to really push myself hard. I’ve learned that failure isn’t a bad thing as long as you learn from the mistakes made. That dark day helped me to build a very strong mind-set where I refuse to give up, give in or stay down when knocked down by life.
That dark day was the first step to everything I have achieved since.
It has been a little while since my last blog post and there have been a number of reasons for this. Work has been really busy and I seem to be travelling more and more with the role – it is tiring but on the whole I am enjoying it. I also felt I needed to take a break from writing the blog whilst I sorted out some aspects of my life, take a look at where I want to be and how to get to that point. I’m also in the process of moving as well which is fantastic and I’m really looking forward to that.
I’ve been busy buying furniture, house-plants and other stuff I need for when I move.
Due to several factors I’ve decided to pull out of running the ultra-marathon in August.
The training took a bit of a back-seat and there were a few minor niggles that had I ramped up the training could have led to longer term injuries – it is disappointing but I’m looking at what I can aim for in 2020.
I plan to start running again in the coming weeks – it does feel like it is going back to square one but once I get out there and start forming a decent plan it won’t take too long to get back into it and hopefully the niggles will have disappeared.
I have been getting out on the road the last few weeks cycling – it had been a little while since I had last been out so it was a bit of a shock to the system, especially when tackling some of the hills on the routes I train on. In a few weeks I should be back to a decent level of fitness.
I’ve also decided to return to fencing. It was a sport I took up when I left school around 30 years ago and I participated in it for around 5 years. It was a sport I really enjoyed and I had always said I would give it another go but over the years I never really looked into it. A quick google search last week and I found out where the local fencing club meets – it is literally opposite to where I am moving so I have no excuses really. Rather than waiting to join after I move I’m heading along in a couple of weeks and am really looking forward to participating again.
I’m naturally a competitive person so this will also be a great opportunity to start pushing myself in a different direction that isn’t all about long runs and long bike training.
Since my last blog entry I feel that I’ve grown as a person as well – work is pushing and challenging me a lot and that is a good thing. I feel that over the last couple of months I have really developed in my role. I feel that my moods have been a lot better over the last few months. The focus on the move has really helped with that. I’ve lived in Portsmouth for 2 years now and have made some fantastic friends, have a fairly decent social life, am looking forward to another season as a season ticket holder at Fratton Park and the roller-coaster of emotions that brings on Saturday afternoons, and on the whole feel settled down here.
I think back to October 2018 when I wasn’t happy, didn’t feel settled, didn’t want to live here at all, was fed up with work, and fed up with life in general. I have had to take a long hard look at myself quite a few times since then and look at who I am, look at what I want to achieve, look at whether it is possible, look at alternatives, and really had to dig deep at times. Sometimes making changes to life doesn’t happen instantaneously and there are going to be disappointments along the way. There are going to be times when things don’t go to plan. There are also going to be times when you need to change your mindset, your goals, and even your approach in order to get to where you want to be.
Hi and thanks for clicking on the link to my first blog entry.
So why am I writing a blog? I’ve asked myself that question quite a few times this morning and I guess it is for a number of reasons.
Firstly, it is a good way of me looking at a journey I am currently on and secondly I hope that people who read will understand and possibly be inspired by my journey.
My name is Rich and I have suffered from mental health issues since my mid-late twenties which resulted in me taking an overdose of paracetamol , being admitted to hospital, and then under-going a couple of months of counselling. It helped and certainly helped me get my life back on track. I had a change of career, got back into exercising again (and raced in triathlons and ran quite a few marathons), and entered into a happy relationship which lasted for 8 years.
Almost 20 years on my mental health issues returned. I have spent most of 2018 depressed and unmotivated – my self-confidence, self-esteem, self-worth, self-value, and self-opinion have crashed.
I moved to Portsmouth last year relocating for work and was in a new and happy relationship which has now ended, has devastated me and left me heartbroken.
The things I said I would do when I moved here have just remained ideas and I’ve not been motivated to change that.
I have felt isolated and so alone. I have contemplated moving away on numerous occasions but I know this is not the answer and won’t resolve the underlying issues I need to deal with.
Tomorrow I have an appointment with my GP and I am also accessing support within work.
The one thing I have found that is helping is getting back into running again – it gives me time to switch off and gives me something to focus on.
I am goal/target driven – in work and away from work. With running I just can’t go out and do it for fitness reasons I need a target to aim for.
I’ve run 5ks, 10ks, half-marathons and marathons in the past and feel like I will always be looking at previous personal bests, average paces, run splits, and all that kind of thing and as I am a bit older I know I will not achieve what I had in the past – leading to frustration and a lack of motivation again.
I needed a new challenge and decided to enter an ultra-marathon instead – on 11th August 2019 I will be running 31 miles (50km) along the River Thames – starting at Kingston-upon-Thames and finishing at the Thames Barrier. At the moment I’m just getting myself out of the door and doing 30 minute runs at an easy pace – 31 miles seems like a long way off at the moment.
It sounds like the maddest idea I have had but when I think about it the idea is perfect – it is a target I have never set myself before, running ultras is more about the journey than the finishing time or personal bests, and running helps with my mental health so I guessed the further the better.
If it goes well then in 2020 I am going to enter a 100km (62 miles) ultra along the Serpent Trail on the South Downs.
So my blog is going to be about my journey and I am hoping that the journey will see me find peace with myself, address my current mental health issues and get them under control once again, and what steps I am taking to achieve to make myself happy again.
Richard Guy, 47 years of age, born and grew up in London and have lived in Portsmouth since 2017.