Post race blues

I came back to running about two weeks after the West Highland Way Race, racing for a sub 24min at the Cambridge parkrun and then the next day took part in a 2.5km river swim. Looking back on Strava, I came back to training far too quickly, despite 2 weeks off running I had been road cycling over 100km just 1 week post race. Open water swimming 2 weeks out from such a large ultramarthon was a huge mistake. My immune system would have taken an absolute beating from the race. Both Max and I caught a bug from the river and were subsequently ill for 2 weeks, all training stopped and I was wiped out.

We had the Merry Hill 6hour Challenge Race fast approaching and I felt ok to run it, but after 4 hours and 20 miles I pulled out. There was no way I could continue. My legs felt great and so strong, but something deeper had not recovered. We had the Ben Nevis ultra in 2 months time and Max put together a training plan for me and I was super excited. I was so ready to train hard and was even considering another ultra before Christmas. I started strength training again, did some hill sprints and 5ks mid week and then we headed to peak district that weekend. A hilly hike Friday night and a 10miler with 800m ascent planned the next day. That morning as I set out alone towards Mam Tor, I knew I was not right, but put it down to mental weakness and pushed on.

One of the things I thought I learnt about myself from the race, and was surprised to discover, was that my body was stronger than my mind. In this recovery period, I have learnt that this is not the entire picture.

As I got chased from a field by a herd of hungry cows charging towards the farmer putting out their food I burst into angry tears. Swearing and hating I climbed over 2 dry stone walls and finally found the route to Mam Tor. By the time I had ascended the Nab out of Edale I was happy and climbing the rocks at the top, but my reaction earlier in the day was really out of character, I was not coping. A week later, I am crying again, this time in the campervan absolutely devastated that Max had driven me all the way to the mountains for my birthday, but I was unable to climb a single one. Beyond 400m ascent I was exhausted. My body could not do it anymore.

My all or nothing view of the world had to change. I needed to find what I called back in my ME/CFS recovery days – the third way. Ok, I could not climb Old Man Coniston, but I did not need to stay in the van feeling sorry for myself. Max and I headed for an easy walk in the hills.

It was then I decided to stop all attempts at running, pull out of all races for the rest of the year, cancel all travel plans and give myself a break. I did not want to run and I also did not want to write (this morning is the first time since the river bug that I have felt the urge to write).

What I have learnt is that the damage from the WHW race was not obvious. My right big toe is still numb, but I had no DOMs, no black toenails and no physically obvious damage. But something deeper was depleted.

I was mentally and emotionally exhausted, it was not just running and recovery. We moved into the van full time in August. This period of our lives, since we decided to save for a house deposit has been truly challenging. We have relied on so many friends and family to help us through, relying on their generosity to house us, and often at short notice. We feel so much gratitude, but also guilt at having to rely on friends and family so much. The first night we slept in a car park, I truly felt I had failed. How had it come to this? The past 18months dragged Max and I, and our young marriage, through some of the most consistently tough times we have experienced. Our homelessness and living apart was exhausting, but we lost more than just a place to call home, part of our identity was also gone. When you live in other peoples’ homes, you live how they live and temporarily shelf a part of yourself. Sleeping in multiple places each week and travelling so much, for so long meant we lost community, place and belonging. Homelessness became synonymous with hopelessness, but we had chosen this and only we had done this to ourselves. When the race ended, it was not just the end of a purpose that had rooted me, but I lost the West Highland Way Race family and my regular chats with John for the podcast ceased. These things gave me the community and belonging that I was missing.

Moving into the van triggered a lot of anxiety for me. When I am exhausted and anxious, I physically fall apart and training was fruitless. When I am physically exhausted, as I was during the race, I completely fall apart emotionally. It is not about being physically or mentally strong, it is as much about having the structures in place to succeed. It is the same for Max and I, if he is struggling then I am strong and vice versa. When I need to be physically stronger than I am, I can, but at a mental cost. When I need to hold it together mentally and can’t, it shows physically. Our lives currently do not have the security, stability or structure to allow for growth or recovery – fixed term jobs, working across 2 cities, not knowing where we would live in a few months time, to not knowing where we would sleep in a few days time (but we are always safe)! Thankfully, things look like they might change, and we will get a break. We also know with certainty, having survived this difficult period, that our marriage is rock solid! We did achieve our goal; in 18months we saved enough money and will buy a home, once our jobs are aligned enough for us to do so.

So here is to the next chapter! It is time to announce that we are moving together full time to London (for at least the next 6 months) as Max has a new job – a permanent one!! We cannot wait to live together and we have heard that there is an active ultra-running community in Surrey that we are truly excited to get stuck into and make new friends!

Thank you to every single person – our parents, Cambridge friends, Scottish friends, online friends – every single person, who has been there supporting us.

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Max and I in our 1st own home, one we built ourselves

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12 thoughts on “Post race blues

  1. Ben Coward says:

    I empathise with you totally. I have the desire to run but can’t seem to get my mojo back either. Feel as though I am constantly running with the handbrake on. I suppose time and rest will be what fixes it. Good luck saving for your deposit. Always space in Scotland for members of the WHW family!

    Liked by 1 person

    • wayrunning says:

      Hi Ben! Thanks for commenting and hope you get your running love back asap. For me I have decided not to push myself and take total time off training and focus on other pastimes (I get to read a lot go books right now!). We would LOVE to move to Scotland, but jobs seem to be in London…

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  2. Donna Pass says:

    Aw Stacey, this was so sad to read but fabulous to have your happy ending.
    You must hold on to the happiness that exudes you through your smile and spreads to us all.
    You are so not alone with post whw recovery, some can escape without any issues but probably the reality is that far more of us struggle and we just need to give it time. It took a long time to train for so out of respect for our bodies we need to allow it time to heal on its own accord.
    Sad that you think you lost the whw family, we are always here for each other.
    Take care my lovely and happy togetherness for you and cheeky chops Max xxx

    Liked by 1 person

    • wayrunning says:

      Oh I do not think I lost them! I just miss it all! The WHW family (and the route itself) are my favourite parts about the race and I want to stay involved, it’s too special to stay away 😍. We are very happy, it’s just been consistently hard and a struggle to stay smiling above it sometimes, but 2018 has been full of so many highs. A lot of the struggles we had we chose to do and were so rewarding at the end. We are inpatient and so take on too much lol! We love our van Ama and the summer has been perfect for living outside. I hope you and Dale are both having lots of fun and look forward to seeing your grin come another race day or training camp! Take care! X

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  3. Amanda H says:

    Hopefully you read the blog I sent you. You are not alone in this and it’s a huge leaning curve of how much the WHW takes out of you. Stay safe and take care of yourself. Take the time and replenish all those things you cannot see but are felt so deep. Very few can understand. Reach out if you need to, I’ve been there. X

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ruth Kelly says:

    Stacey I really appreciated your candour in this post. Just yesterday I decided to forgive myself for not running this week. I have been playing at it since June and reached the point I just had to be honest and say I can’t do it. I am having a little break and hoping to fall back in love with running. Delighted you are on the up and absolutely certain we will bump into each other on a start line somewhere. All the very best to you and Max x

    Liked by 1 person

    • wayrunning says:

      Thanks for commenting Ruth and sorry to hear you are also struggling. You are such a strong lady and runner and hope you feel back to your running self after a break. Take care and hope to see you soon, maybe even on the WHW! X

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  5. Kirsten Cowling says:

    Stacey, I’m out of love with running too and I only did the fling and devil. I think we underestimate just what an amazing thing we have actually achieved – and just how hard it really was. Rest and recover pet. You’ve had a lot going on and you need to take it easy xxx

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    • wayrunning says:

      Thanks Kirsten! But so sorry to hear this about your running and hope it returns soon. The Devil was not long ago. Also do not underestimate those 2 races in 1 year – ‘only did the Fling and the Devil’ ?!? That’s actually the same amount of running/training to do those two as it was to do Fling and WHW, but your training would have been even longer. I hope you can rest up and when the time comes to love running again, don’t have have an entirely new running kit to record a new song in! 😀 take care x

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  6. Ben Argyle says:

    Hi Stacey. That was an interesting and enlightening read. I feel I’m in a slump with my running at the moment, too. I’m not sure why, but am taking steps to hopefully improve things. Some of the things you’ve said have helped me think more clearly about my issues… although I’m not sure if I’ll make any inroads on them any time soon. I’m glad you are, though!

    I had no idea Max had a new job! I guess he’s not with BAS any more? I’m really pleased for you both, but will miss you being in Cambridge in the future. Who’m I going to get back into rowing with if you’ve both gone? I was thinking that a 2+ would be the way forward! (-:

    Anyway, congratulations on moving forward into a more stable chapter of your lives together. I hope things go wonderfully for you both.

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    • wayrunning says:

      Max wanted to tell you in person about his job, Oops! We won’t be far from Croydon tho!

      Thanks for writing Ben and glad you gained some clarity in this post, but I am left wondering what is stopping you making in-roads (you do not need to answer this)? I can see the draw to rowing again (but for me, I could not go back), I never had such community, purpose and camaraderie as I did in those two Henley years! Both Max and I look back on those years and wonder if it could be that good again!

      I needed to take a break from running, and I will need to find why I run again. I am not worried, I have been running my entire life and have needed breaks before. Hope you work out what you need 😊

      Like

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