Things running a half marathon has taught me: some reflections and advice for Sundays Great North Runners…

It’s a year ago since I ran my first half marathon, the Great North Run; that became a great way to channel my hyperfocus before I was medicated for ADHD, and a lot of complicated feelings. It is also largely one of the biggest achievements of my life, and something that I will remain forever proud of achieving. I haven’t ran it for years like a lot of people who keep going back for more, so my authority might be questioned, but I have done it once, and 13.1 miles is a long time to reflect on what you’re doing and why you’re there. I’ve been running on and off for several years now, and each time I come back to it, I realise how good it is for my brain, and that there is nothing quite like the feeling in your heart after finishing a run. Of course I ran the Great North Run for myself, to get a medal to prove I actually ran the thing, but I also ran it for Gateshead Youth Council, the youth organisation who taught a shy, anxious teenager the values of participation, feeling included and being listened to, like really listened to. The very values that I held onto so tightly as I’ve developed my own career working with young people, and ensuring that they have better life chances, outcomes and opportunities. I especially want young people of the future to be able to say “I did it” too, especially about challenges that once seemed impossible.

This Sunday, it is the Great North Run again. I’m not running it, but I will be there to cheer everyone on taking on the challenge this time, and I’m sure feeling emotional about how I felt running it this time last year. I’ve been thinking a lot about what running taught me, not just long distance running but trots around the block, and runs that didn’t go well and those that did. I’ve channelled these thoughts into something productive and put together a list of reflections a year on and some advice for Sundays Great North runners.

Run for you. Not for your club. Your charity. Or anyone else there. Do it for yourself. I took up running to do something for me, originally it was to be able to channel my questionable mental health and anxiety into something positive. When I ran, it felt like, at least for the duration of the run, that I could leave any baggage at the door. All I had to focus on was the beat of the music and my feet on the ground. I’ve often felt awkward about times, and I rarely share mine, I always describe running as a race with myself and that’s all that matters. Improving for yourself and not because someone has a better time than you. A race like the Great North Run isn’t about times, it’s about getting from point A to point B, no matter how long you take. It’s about being there, and feeling proud for being there.

Get a good nights sleep several days before. Goes without saying, but get as much rest as you can before Sunday. And try to sleep as much as you can several days before the run, you’ll need it as once you’ve finished tapering you’r body will need time to regain the energy. I slept really badly the night before the run, and kept waking up having running dreams. It’s hard to avoid if like me you’re prone to insomnia before big events, but it’s always better to not attempt to run a half marathon on no sleep! And several nights of sleep before, even if you have a bad nights sleep the night before can help…

Carry plasters. When I ran I had the remnants of blisters from training. And plasters will fall off, or rub. Extra plasters in your pockets or bra are a life saver.

Plan your wees Sounds daft, but always better to go to the toilet before you make your way along to the start. There are no toilets on the start line just a lot of people peeing behind trees. And if you’re anything like me and too dyspraxic to cope with wild weeing with dignity, making use of the portaloos when you see them is a must. There are a lot of toilets along the route too, so you shouldn’t be caught short.

Arrive with plenty of time: Get there early, so you have time to eat a banana, walk to the other end of the field to visit the portaloos and work out when you have to make it down to your pen. There are lots of people there to direct you so you can’t go far wrong.

Take a insulated blanket to discard It can get pretty chilly hanging around the start line, so a lot of people take old joggers or hoodies to discard just as they set off. I didn’t feel confident undressing quick enough, so i wore a disposable insulated blanket. So much easier. You’ll also probably get one of these at the finish, when your body temperature drops post run.

Enjoy the atmosphere The buzz from everyone cheering you on is like something I’ve never experienced before. There will be kids handing out sweets, music on every corner and people from your charity waiting in the cold pushing you on to finish.

If you’ve trained with music, run to a beat A lot of people will tell you to leave your headphones at home as you can’t really enjoy the atmosphere with music. I trained with music for every run, and I can’t run without music. I ran with bone conductor headphones, but you don’t need to. Any headphones that you have trained with will work. Music provides an emotional connection for me, and a way to escape when the running gets tough. I made running to music an event in itself, asking friends and family to choose a song for my running playlist. This left me quite a varied collection of music, and being able to think about that specific person as it came on when I ran. A beat also helps me to keep my rhythm and pace. If music helps you too, make sure it comes with you for this half marathon.

Plan your walking bits. And don’t run it all. Walking is important for conserving energy for when you really need it and not burning out too soon. There was some awful, and often gradual hills once I past Heworth that snuck up on you, and I walked some of those bits. Running over the Tyne Bridge is one of my favourite parts of the run, the place when you realise, god I really am doing this thing!

Smile! I had a massive grin on my face all of the way round, even on the painful hilly bits. Everyone kept saying “and she’s still smiling!” I was terrified of what I was doing really, but equally incredibly proud to be there and running for an organisation who really do matter to me. Making my face show some of my feelings helped.

Don’t try and do too much post run Other than eating all of the food, don’t plan too much for the evening. Your body will be exhausted, and if you’re anything like me, I struggled to walk for a couple of days after, until eventually my legs got back to normal. My evening after the run, was food, bath with all of the muscle remedies and bed. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to “celebrate” much beyond that.

Pack tissues! Whether you’re fighting the last of a cold or for when you ball your eyes out when a song comes on or a child shouts your name, telling you “you can do it” just as you’re nearing the finish, you will need those tissues.

Get support for any big feelings running brings to the surface Running is a great companion to therapy but it shouldn’t be a substitute for therapy if you’re working through big feelings. During or after the race the reason behind or leading up to your motivation to take up running can hit you. And talking this through with a professional can help, although I know accessing support is easier said than done. I took up running when I felt overwhelmed with anxiety and undiagnosed & unmedicated ADHD. Running was a helpful outlet to channel these feelings, but has only been one way to explore them. Listen to your brain as well as your body post race, and during training too.

Understand your grief post race No one warned me of this, but it very much happened, and makes sense. After completing the Great North Run I went through what felt like grief, I felt low, lost and like I had experienced a loss. Running had been part of my life for months, I’d planned everything around training, it had been a constant topic of conversation. And once training for a big race was over I felt bereft. At first to deal with this loss I considered signing up to other half marathons or even wondering if I could do a marathon to fill the void. I didn’t in the end. I sat with my feelings for a while and allowed myself to grieve the loss of working towards one of the biggest achievements of my life. Grief after you finish and your body physically recovers is totally normal, just do what you need to do to ride those waves.

Tell everyone you made it! Geordies are a friendly bunch, so I have no doubt with the crowds enthusiasm you will make your way round. If you’ve put in the training and are determined to finish, you will get there. A year on I still have conversations with people about “that time I ran a the Great North Run”. It never becomes old news.

And finally, good luck on Sunday! Enjoy your run, there really is no experience quite like it…

Posted in ADHD, Dyspraxia, Great North Run, Running, Youth Work | Leave a comment

When Inclusion Works: a workplace built for Neurodivergent employees shouldn’t be a rare find…

Inclusion is a word that has been bandied around in ND circles for as long as I’ve been on the scene. How do we make sure people feel included? What reasonable adjustments should I ask for? When/should I disclose? are questions I see asked in Facebook groups and on Twitter. I have often wondered what I need when starting a new job, and struggle to know what Access to Work could provide. Or what would really help me. How do you explain an ADHD brain to a new boss? is one of a long list of questions. My ADHD has often caused more complications at work than dyspraxia. Developing a way to maintain focus on what I’m supposed to, staying on task, being able to make myself stop for lunch and being easily distracted were all a challenge when I was undiagnosed and unsure exactly what was going on with my brain. Not being medicated until my 30’s certainly made the workplace feel like I was going into battle with my brain every morning.

I’ve recently started a new job, and for the first time in my life at almost 34 i’ve learned what inclusion really means, and feels like. I thought I knew what being inclusive meant, but I couldn’t have been further away from the truth. For years inclusive meant what people wanted me to believe. I thought I had to ask for things. I felt awkward about disclosure. I ruminated about when the right time would be for people to see the real me. I wondered if I should hide my neurodivergent brain. And in some situations now the mask still comes down. I assumed that inclusion meant I needed something special or different to other colleagues, because I was well, different. I didn’t fit in. The words “special treatment” swam around my brain. I thought reasonable adjustments were the answer. I never felt “normal”. I was taught that I’ll always have to fight for what I need.

I’ve now realised that none of that was true. You don’t have to be treated as “special” or “different.” You just have to be you. I have been around the wrong kind of practice and workplace for too long, the kind of practice that makes us ND crowd feel further away from a team. I know I’m not alone in feeling lost finding my feet at work, neurodivergent people are more likely to experience workplace trauma or burnout following a lack of support or understanding managers who create an environment we can thrive. Every one of my ADHD & dyspraxic friends shares some kind of traumatic workplace experience or on going mental health difficulties often exacerbated by work. It is sad. And it really shouldn’t be like this.

Starting to experience inclusion for the first time has taught me that reasonable adjustments, should just be practices adopted for all as standard. I always thought I had to gear up to have a “special conversation” about what I need, and to keep reminding management when they don’t do what I ask for. This absolutely isn’t the case. And shouldn’t be, for anyone. Not having to plan this conversation has been a revelation. I haven’t had to ask for anything “special” in the two months I’ve been here. This has meant i’ve felt included, part of a team, connected, valued and listened to, without asking for anything different to what they already do. Everything is Neurodivergent inclusive from interview right through to induction and beyond. All employers should make ND employees feel like they have a place at the table without having to ask for anything that hasn’t already been considered to help them sit there with the rest of the team. You wouldn’t ask for a chair when you book a table at a restaurant, you would expect it to be included when you make your reservation.

The tools, techniques and learning should be in place long before we start a job. The workplace is full of neurodivergents, many undiagnosed or who choose not to disclose. No one should feel they have to out their neurodivergence until they feel ready, and managers should build environments based on these principles. Before we accept an offer. And without having to ask for it. Inclusion should always be there and central to a workplaces values, ethos and structure. A strategy developed to ensure everyone feels included. This is what I’ve learned, and I hope you can learn from this too.

Interview

Since the pandemic many employers are opting for online interviews, rather than face to face. For me this helps as I don’t have to worry about finding a new place/getting lost/google maps failing me when I also have to make a good first impression. It also helps to be able to focus on the interview preparation and not spending half of that time analysing google maps. This was a standard part of the interview format:

  • Pre-interview tasks emailed in advance, rather than something to do during the interview. Not all jobs require a task beforehand, but for most comms roles these are pretty standard. I was emailed a task, with clear instructions and summary at the end explaining everything I had to do and by when, then just before the deadline I was sent a reminder email.
  • Writing every interview question in the chat as they are asked. Being able to read back the question helps with working memory and processing. So simple, yet so helpful.
  • Not asking questions in two parts. This is horrendous for ND brains, as I can guarantee I’ll forget there was a second part of the question. The feedback for an interview I had several years ago for a job I didn’t get was, “did not answer the second part of the question,” I did not know there was a second part.
  • Offering prompts if an answer needs to be expanded, or you didn’t mention a key part of the job description. In one question I forgot to mention social media, when social media is pretty key to my comms roles. I was so focused on describing a newsletter in detail. This prompt allowed me to say what I wanted to say, I just needed to be reminded it was in my brain waiting to get out.
  • Using a de-biased interview and application process.

Induction

Over the years I’ve had jobs with no induction process, literally just a tour that was classed as induction and places with a list to get through, but with so many conversations I forgot everything when the induction was over. Getting inductions right shouldn’t be hard, but putting the right kind of induction in place can mean the difference between an ND employee feeling overwhelmed before they even begin or thriving in a place that accepts them.

  • A longer induction process is key. Something that is only a week long will lead to our often poor working memory not being able to handle all of the new information.
  • A clear timetable of induction sessions, noting any useful reading to do before the session. Having something to read or watch helps us retain information.
  • Record all virtual induction sessions. Sounds simple but this has literally changed my life. I know this is harder when in person, but if over zoom, press recored. The session can then be available for anyone who wants to go back and watch it later. Every induction session I’ve been to, I’ve watched bits of again, and when I’ve been on annual leave I don’t have to fall behind as I can catch up on any sessions I’ve missed.
  • Reflection – building in reflection as part of the induction helps everyone to learn and feedback what went well, what wasn’t helpful and things to do differently next time.

Accountability

Something that helps me and many of specifically ADHD people I know is accountability. Having someone say “have you done that thing?” or just checking in to ask “how are you getting on with this?” or “how are you doing for time?” and even “Do you think you should have a break and come back to it later?”

If I don’t have any kind of accountability I will work on the wrong thing for far too long, or work on the right thing but a tiny part of it for ages; tip: it’s great you’ve got that one sentence perfect, but there is still a whole document to proof read before Christmas, and when hyperfocus takes over I can overlook admin. Since being medicated for my ADHD instead of struggling to start work somedays, I now struggle to stop. Accountability helps to pull me back when I need to be. Helping ND folk to stay on track doesn’t need to be complicated. It just needs to be checking in and asking the right questions. This has all helped:

  • Regular check in calls. Someone to say this is what we have to do, these are the priorities, does everything make sense?
  • A shared to-do list following every check in, to tick of tasks or add notes if more clarification is needed.
  • Group admin accountability time. During team meetings there is dedicated time to do time sheets and expenses. We stay on the call, and give everyone a bit of accountability to get these done. Some elements of Admin is vital in every job, but for us ADHD gang getting it done can be hit and miss. It doesn’t give us the dopamine we seek, so we’ll put it off until we have a mountain of receipts (if we haven’t lost them) but no expenses actually claimed for. I’m so on top of my expenses these days because there is dedicated admin time built into my work day.
  • Virtual chat groups to post what you’re working on that day are good to build into an organisations day and also helpful to keep people on track. I now know that before I do anything, I need to tell everyone else what I plan to do.

Software

When starting a new job the one thing I’m always told is “apply for Access to Work!” “You can get assistive software!” But what does this software actually do? And will it help me? When I did apply, and was given software in previous jobs, I rarely used it. The software is so generic, it’s like saying every ADHDer needs to run 10 miles every day before work. We don’t. Some of us might want a walk, or maybe just a sit down. We’re all different. And if you were running that far everyday I’d probably be worried about you, so don’t do that. Two things that are important for remote teams are A) to keep everyone connected and B) Ensure everyone has an opportunity to have their say. The most ND accessible software that I’ve found to be more useful than anything I’ve used before, is not something “special” for me that I have to go through the complicated admin process of Access to Work to get several months later but software that is used by the whole team, because it works, Notion and Miro. Notion basically allows you to create to-do lists, plan projects and collaborate as a team. It also acts as a place to easily find information. Want to check out a particular policy? Or can’t find a form? Notion is where it’ll be. Miro on the other hand is essentially a giant virtual whiteboard with lots of post it notes. It’s great for team meetings to get everyones thoughts or for smaller group planning. No voice is ever lost with a post it on Miro. It can also be used to make training sessions, team meetings or inductions much more interactive and participatory. I’d be surprised if Miro wasn’t designed by someone with an ND brain, it’s so ADHD friendly, it should be available on prescription. I never have to lose an important post it again.

Throughout my life I’ve had to work around a lot of things, or even accept that sometimes the world isn’t built for me. That my brain functioning, now massively helped by medication, isn’t considered when designing the majority of services, organisations or places of work. That in order to access these like everyone else, I would have to sit down and have a conversation about being different and ask for alternatives to the way they do things. I often harp back to being a kid at school with undiagnosed ADHD but diagnosed dyspraxia and a statement for special educational needs. I once had an orange card on my desk because I had extra time in exams, talk about making a teenager feel branded. I learned that I was always going to have something different to everyone else, and people would, as they did at school, ask questions. I wasn’t taught about the ways my brain would be an asset at work and that one day I would feel part of a team.

Inclusion isn’t hard. It isn’t complicated. But when done right and when standard practices are inclusive it can make the world of difference. You don’t suddenly build a lift when a wheelchair user applies for a job, you will always have that lift. Exactly the same principle. Always assume that at least one of the brains on your team will be ND.

No one should have to wait until their 30’s to understand inclusion. We shouldn’t be told “Oh that’s just the way it is” in response to questions about inclusion and accessibility. So many organisations claim to be inclusive, but what are they really doing? Are they just going through the motions to become a disability confident employer? A previous manager several years ago once told me that I had to change who I am because my Myers Briggs personality didn’t match what she wanted a youth worker to be. I always use this as an example to emphasise when inclusion doesn’t work, and then it really really didn’t. I’ve gone from almost believing that my way brain wasn’t good enough at work to now feeling valued for what I can do without the unhealthy focus on where I might struggle.

Posted in ADHD, Dyspraxia, Education, Mental health, Youth Work | Leave a comment

“So, why haven’t you considered online dating?”; on identity, being single, feeling left behind and moving on…

When your life doesn’t follow the expected norm or the route everyone takes, people often look at you as if you have three heads from another planet or with pity. All of the pity. In my year 11 leavers book someone wrote; “I hope you have a lush life, with a lush husband and lush kids.” At the age of 33 I have none of that. When you tell people you’re single, it’s often assumed that you’re either heartbroken, searching for the right person or have issues. It’s rarely accepted that being single is a decision anyone could actively make. And as I’ve got older, I’ve realised more so than before how different I am from most of my friends. Getting older also invites more intrusive questions than I endured in my 20’s. In your 20’s it’s recognised that you have all of the time in the world. “Go out and have fun,” they say! But in your 30’s you’re asked “So when are you having children?” “Is there someone we haven’t met?” “You must be seeing someone?” No, I’m really really not. And I’m very much aware of my clock ticking thank you very much.

Up until now I’ve been quite content with being me, and busking life as well as I can. It’s only recently when more friends are getting married or having children or buying houses, I’ve considered being left behind as everyone moves on without me and what this really means. A few years ago I came to terms with feeling comfortable that being single was a decision I’ve essentially made. As it is also Pride month I’m now starting to come to terms with the fact that I’m probably not completely straight too, which adds another complication, and with not actively looking for a partner for a while its never been a conversation to have but thats a different blog post entirely. There are some single people who have not made this ‘choice’, they are looking for a relationship but for whatever reason are unable to find a partner, I do not fit into that category, I just don’t want one. There are very few people who understand this train of thought or can even empathise.The last place you’d find me is on a dating website. I know people who have met their partners online or even through Twitter and that’s great for them, but it’s really not for me.The world is built for couples; from mortgages to railcards to holidays. Single people are often disadvantaged both financially and emotionally. I want to buy a house, but my options so far are to find a friend who I like a lot to buy a house with me or chancing it with a lodger.

There have been times when I’ve been excluded from events because they’re for couples or I’ve felt awkward going along because I don’t have an immediate plus one. There have been times when calls or socialising with friends is specifically organised around their partners diary. On other occasions i’ve been told that I have to see friends with their partner now, and the time one to one with my female partnered up friends is long gone. Sometimes i’ve felt out of place and like a spare part. Recently I lost two grandparents within a week of each other and both sides of the family are at opposite ends of the spectrum. On one side I have a huge family, there are loads of cousins and I have four uncles who shared the load when grandad was ill. There was always someone to visit him, or do his shopping and go with him to appointments. When he got sicker family were always with him, and questioning his level of care. He was not alone when he died. My grandma in comparison was very isolated and had a very different experience of the last few weeks of life to my grandad. Coming from a big family I do often wonder who will hold my hand when I die?, will my mum always be my next of kin? and who will look out for me when I am no longer able to advocate for myself? It is scary. And also a reason why maintaining strong and healthy friendships is so important to me because no one really knows what the future holds. It’s comforting to think your friends will stand by you.

Recently on twitter I read a tweet about embracing isolation and aloneness, and finding peace with solitude and going it alone. Whatever going it alone means. I pondered what being alone means to me, and how I can shape my experience into something a little bit more positive than the think pieces that dominate the internet leading you to believe single people are ‘lonely’ or ‘hopeless in love’ or ‘just not looking in the right places’. Or expecting single people, overwhelmingly women, and often women who are seen as “different” in other ways too, to justify themselves. I hate having to explain myself or answer the ‘why are you single?” question, but I wanted to write about this because that twitter thread prompted me to realise this is evidently on lots of other people’s minds too. Of course there is sometimes a degree of loneliness involved. but that loneliness is often as a result of society dictating that we must conform to a specific expected standard. And that anything outside of that norm is a failure and needs to be fixed. We also need to rethink how we approach the topic of relationships in small talk, work meetings and social events, I’ve lost count of the times when I first meet someone and I’m asked “So do you have a partner then?” I was once asked this by a taxi driver, that isn’t just inappropriate but verges on creepy too. People’s relationships or lack of relationship status shouldn’t be number one on the list of small talk topics. You can get to know someone without asking if they come in a pair.

Being single to me means that I’ve been able to form more meaningful, deeper friendships than I might have done if I had a partner. I also really value the friendships I do have. I’ve been able to give time to my friends and make plans without the complication of having another person to consider. It’s also meant I’ve been able to work on myself and get to a place where wellbeing is my ultimate priority. I’ve been able to work through the trauma I’ve experienced over the years and do things at my pace. Staying away from problematic men has been largely helpful for my mental health, and I feel privileged to have been able to do that as I know other women, especially neurodivergent women, fall into relationships that negatively affect their mental health. I’m fortunate for that to never have happened to me, people have been inconsiderate, taken advantage at times or even wanted to use me as a project to ‘fix me’, but I have never experienced abuse. And for that I am incredibly grateful to be in this position.

Social expectations interest me. They interest me because for much of my teenage years, I didn’t understand them. I’ve spent years perfecting my understanding of what a “good friend” looks like, and how to be liked by other people. When I was a teenager, any suggestion of a relationship seemed a) impossible and b) something that would confuse an already complicated situation when I didn’t really understand my identity. Hello ADHD diagnosis decades later. Figuring yourself out first before figuring out other people helps. There was also a sense of embarrassment to talk about this when I was younger because I didn’t fit in with what I should be doing socially. I’ve moved on from this embarrassment now, as I’ve realised many more people have lived equally embarrassed and quiet lives in their late teens, 20’s and 30’s because no one talks about it. I’m more of a heart on my sleeve kind of person now after having the time to process this stuff and piece together what it might mean to me. Some questions are of course still off limits, unless you know me really well and you know delving into whatever issue is going to be helpful for both of us.

I’m still working out what aloneness, isolation and solitude truly means, and I’d love to hear from anyone with similar experiences. I do know they aren’t all negative. Yes, at times I feel intensely lonely, but my loneliness isn’t a direct result of my choice to be single. The last two years have also given us all a different perspective on isolation, and identified that most of us, although at different levels, need some form of social interaction. I wonder if the pandemic has created a greater pressure to be social and to find companionship, after we’ve spent a great deal of time unable to visit those we care about the most. What makes us truly happy? Not having our loved ones threatened by a deadly virus for a start, but beyond that, I don’t think a relationship can ever create true happiness. Fairy tales from when we’re a kid, and societal expectations make us believe this, but if you constantly go from one to relationship to another, with barely time to focus on yourself, how do you know that’s what will make you happy? The processing time I’ve had has given me a unique perspective on where I might want to be in the future; a future that wouldn’t have been possible without this time. The concept of time is a bit terrifying when you’ve been through so much grief. I know time isn’t endless. There isn’t a bottomless pit of time. I will never know if I have all the time in the world to work things out but I do know that being single shouldn’t be an awkward topic of conversation. And I’d love for more people to recognise that some people have different priorities to the majority of society, and the wee map we’re sold when we’re still running around playing make believe weddings at lunchtime. It would be hard not to find someone who didn’t marry their neighbour with a Haribo ring. In writing this and reflecting a lot on my own single status, that whether happily single or unhappily single, many of us still have mixed feelings about it all. The point of this post is that I’d like to see less of the treating single people in their 30’s like we have three heads from another planet. The assumption that our circumstances of not bringing up a family means that we have somehow failed as a woman. I hope that with more people speaking, writing and researching being single and solitude, there will be more understanding, or at least listening to understand the path we’ve chosen to follow. Less intrusive or insensitive questions would help so many people trying to figure all of this out.

Give us space in a world or even a seat at the same table that is very much built for couples. Not too much to ask, right?

Posted in Adventures, Occassions | Leave a comment

So much grief. And a lot of ADHD

This is one of those posts I really really wish I didn’t have to write. I’ve always processed everything in words, writing helps me make sense of things, to join the dots and connect. Writing is a tool my neurodivergent brain has developed as a strategy to organise my at times overwhelming thoughts into some kind of order. A strategy I didn’t even realise was a strategy for a long time, it’s just something that’s always come easy to me, when most other things haven’t.

When Christmas 2021 came around I was hoping, thinking that the world can’t get any worse, that we’ve seen the worst of it over the last two years. The world has dealt with a collective grief, and luckily I didn’t lose anyone during the height of Covid, for which I am more grateful than I can put into words. Those of us who didn’t lose friends or relatives have been experiencing a different kind of grief. Grieving for a life we once had that has been taken away. A life where we didn’t have to consider the risks when meeting up with friends. The closeness to others we took for granted, assuming it would always be there. But we can never assume. We can’t assume that anything or anyone will always be there. Because as we’ve learned in the last few years life can change instantly. And it can be very difficult to recover from that.

A few weeks ago I lost two grandparents (from both sides of the family) within six days of each other and I’ve mainly been functioning on adrenaline and Elvanse since December. I’ve dealt with grief before, both the sudden death of a friend in my 20’s and other grandparents when I was a teenager, but this feels different. Two bereavements in such a short space of time is a lot to unpack. I have more awareness of how grief affects me now, and I’m currently working through the realisation that ADHD and grief are very much intertwined. Grief while still in a pandemic is also an incredibly complicated concept to get your head around. My Grandad died (the first of the two deaths) just days after Putin began to invade Ukraine, so while I was getting my head around the imminent death of my grandad, who was incidentally in the army and saw terrible atrocities himself, I was watching a European nation dealing with a collective grief and trauma, while thousands of people were becoming displaced by war. I banned myself from the news for a while, still with the knowledge that a war had began, and Covid wasn’t even a distant memory.

Since both deaths, I have been thinking and working out what it is I’m feeling or need to feel. No one tells you how to grieve, it is a very personal journey with no clear map or end point. There is no right way to grieve. One thing I have noticed is that my ADHD feels louder than ever, even with the wonders of Elvanse, I feel in a bit of an ADHD black hole at the moment. For neurotypical people grief can affect executive functioning, processing and emotional regulation, so really it’s not surprising that the things I already find difficult are compounded by grief. The grief I’m experiencing is already so much to process, and it wasn’t there before, so everything else that used to take up brain space gets pushed out to make way for processing these two bereavements. I’ve found myself struggling to find the words to process anything else outside of my immediate feelings of grief and to some extent guilt. I’ve thrown myself into work because I want to feel I can still get stuff done, after Elvanse has shown me a world I didn’t know existed, but I find responding to work emails or focusing in meetings overwhelming, and exhausting. I haven’t felt this fatigued in a long time. The tiredness affects my dyspraxia, making my coordination a bit of a literal hit and miss state of affairs. I’m more chaotic than usual, even now I’m medicated, with millions of thoughts swimming around in my head with no real order or structure. I’m writing this post right now, when really I should be writing the eulogy for grandmas funeral, prioritising tasks seems to have gone out of the window, along with my ability to sleep through the night. ADHD medication doesn’t work as well if you haven’t slept well, and I know it. Insomnia and inconsistent thoughts at 3am have become my new normal.

Over the years to compensate for my heightened difficulty in processing when dealing with any difficult or traumatic events, I’ve tried to get the emotional processing right. This usually involves talking. Or at least trying to make sense of it all to other people. Except I’ve realised not everyone responds well to me trying to unpack big feelings by texting them essays or over email, so I’ve become more selective about who sees that side of me these days. I’m lucky that I’m coming to the end of ADHD specific therapy while all of the grief is going on, which helps, I have an outlet and someone who is paid to listen to me. And help me process my emotions and neurodivergent complications that accompany my grief. Sometimes though, I just don’t know how I feel. This baffles me because I often feel emotions to the extreme, if I’m upset I’m very upset or when I’m angry I’m incredibly angry. Numbness is common with grief, as is disassociation. I’ve felt both at times. The latter is terrifying when you don’t know what is going on and is an experience many neurodivergent people share, often happening when my brain feels overloaded with too much information to process or deal with. The first time I experienced disassociation was a few days after my friend died in 2014, at the time I didn’t know what was happening to me, let alone that it was a very normal reaction to a traumatic event.

I’m still at the early stages of grief, and I’m yet to navigate two funerals, but I do know that without being properly medicated for my ADHD I wouldn’t have been able to get through the last few months as well as I have done. I and my therapist is expecting a crash slightly further down the line, once the dust settles, the adrenaline subsides and it all hits me again. Everyone around me has been largely supportive, a network I’m lucky to have to help get me through the next few months, although I have encountered people who don’t know what to say. I speak for myself here, but saying something is always better than saying nothing, even if that something is a cat picture. The realisation that I’m never going to hear grandads stories about India again or show grandma my cats on face time, those things that once seemed like a small part of my life, feel massive now. It’s Cliche’ when people say, “it gets easier,” it doesn’t go away, levels of functioning will improve but it’s very much forever. Learning to live with grief is one of the hardest things we have to do.

One thing my grandad taught me is the importance of connections, he made friends everywhere he went, people were captivated by the stories he told and he really valued the friendships he made. I hope to continue to live up to those values as the next few weeks, years and months unfold. As I said at the beginning of this piece, you never know when things will change.

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Treating my ADHD has been life affirming, so why do I still doubt myself so much?

How big is the brain? Who knows—even our best efforts to calculate its  capacity are flawed and meaningless.

Just over a year ago I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, the inattentive type confirmed my Psychiatrist. A few months previously I ran a neurodiversity group for young carers who are caring for a sibling with either ADHD or Autism, predominately brothers. I worked with these young people for months to help them understand their brothers diagnoses. How does their brain work? they’d ask. We’d watch youtube videos together. I’d find books for sibling carers. They were able to ask questions without judgement. They were able to learn from and support each other. I recognised that siblings of neurodivergent folk need to be involved in the conversation too, thinking about my own childhood dyspraxia diagnosis, and my own brother and sister. There was no space then to help them understand me better. A space that I tried to create for the young people I work with. Throughout this work focussing on ADHD, at no point did I think that I might have ADHD too. I didn’t see anything in myself that I saw in these hyperactive children and young people who were stereotypically unable to sit still. I was not an 8 year old boy bouncing off the walls, we are all told this is what ADHD looks like. I was an anxious dyspraxic and that was it. Then the pandemic hit, and as 2020 progressed and the world began to deal with a collective trauma, my usual coping mechanisms began to unravel. They didn’t seem to work anymore. The wheels of my already unstable bike fell off.

I was diagnosed in the middle of a second or third lockdown or in between one, the months blur into one these days. I couldn’t travel out of the North East and was confined to working from home. I’d supported vulnerable families throughout the pandemic, and it was all beginning to take its toll. Being a trained face to face youth worker it was hard to adapt my sessions to online, and many young people were so exhausted by online school lessons, they didn’t want to speak to me on zoom too. I understood. I felt fatigued being on zoom all day too. Attending endless staff meetings with updates about the pandemic, and what we were going to do as an organisation to keep the families we work with safe. We were told to work from home even before the first lockdown was announced because of the nature of our work. We couldn’t afford to put the young people and families we work with at risk. The importance of my work hit home when I became eligible for an early vaccine. Being in my 30’s I expected to wait months, but found myself fully vaccinated by April 2021. As the isolation increased, it allowed me more time to think. I looked at where I was now in life and where I wanted to be. I counted the steps in between. I was up and down a lot from my desk, I couldn’t focus or prioritise tasks. My emotions were all over the place, I couldn’t regulate them or stop having extreme reactions. Anger suddenly became a bit problematic. I had a list of check ins to do with families, but I felt physically paralysed about who to call next. I was worried about having to deal with yet another crisis. Asking how they were didn’t seem helpful, because I knew no one was really okay at the moment. Even my friends. People who hadn’t previously experienced anxiety felt it during this pandemic. There was so much uncertainty and my brain couldn’t cope with it all. Every time I made a phone call I found myself pacing up and down the hall. I physically couldn’t sit down at my desk and be on the phone. I had to walk and talk. My mind felt foggy, nothing seemed clear. Thoughts seemed to dart around like shooting stars. And they didn’t quieten at night. This can’t just be anxiety and a reaction to the uncertainty of the pandemic, there must be more of an explanation, I pondered. The last thing I wanted to do is feel like I’d failed the young people I work with, in the middle of a time when they need more support than ever. I knew that if I didn’t get help, that might just happen.

After going privately for a diagnosis because the NHS couldn’t diagnose me in under 3 years, I felt numb but reassured to have an answer. I was told that treatment was available and that it was highly effective in most people and safe. During my consultation the psychiatrist explained to me how stimulant medications work, that the one I would try is long lasting, meaning you take it in the morning and it lasts between 8 and 14 hours depending on the speed of your metabolism. I was told that it’s a pro drug and is released slowly in the body throughout the day when you eat food, decreasing any side affects. After hearing all of this I was still hesitant about taking a brain altering chemical. So hesitant in fact that I decided to pause my first attempt at titration, in favour of taking up long distance running. Training for a half marathon became my life, and a way to process both this new diagnosis and the pandemic we were all living in. As I ran things seemed clearer, dopamine increased and I was happy. “Ran 11 miles today!” I’d share on Instagram. A distance that only a few months ago felt impossible. But half marathon training doesn’t last forever, and sticking to long distance running long term isn’t healthy. It messes with your periods. Your muscles feel broken. And you’re knackered. When I had stopped regular running and the nights drew in, I realised I was still riding that unstable bicycle.

“I can’t do this anymore”, I screamed to my mum as I was leaving the house to deliver one of the first face to face youth sessions in over a year. I was overwhelmed. I had just had a difficult phone call with access to work trying to explain why I really do need support. My brain couldn’t function like everyone else’s, for years it had been overcompensating, overworking just to keep up. My boss always brings up my tendency to overwork, working ridiculous hours and racking up flexi, there’s a reason for this. And it’s not because I’m too lazy during the day. I do it to keep up and stay on top of my work. That day I didn’t think I could cope anymore. I was tired by being driven and controlled by anxiety. I was tired of pushing to be average like everyone else. I didn’t want to excel or be the best at anything, I just wanted to function. The next day I’d forgotten to turn the grill off, and nearly set the kitchen on fire. “That’s it, time for meds”, I said. I knew it was time when my executive function to do simplest of tasks failed me.

That first day taking the lowest dose of my medication I felt instantly calmer, that fog I described before had lifted. For the first time in my life I felt in control of me. My brain wasn’t a jumble of thoughts. ‘This is just a placebo,’ I thought. ‘I’ll be back to normal in a moment’ When I started work I was suddenly able to make a to do list and stick to it. I was able to focus on one task and then move onto another. I wasn’t trying to do several thing simultaneously and getting overwhelmed as before. I stopped for lunch when I’m supposed to eat lunch. I didn’t need to pace up and down when I was on the phone. I felt like I could be more of the best parts of me. I’d read that stimulants can make you withdrawn, or ‘zombie like’ this was not the case at all, and would only be so if your dose is too high. I felt very present, like I could accomplish the small things that lead to the bigger things.

I have been on this medication a month now, and have just moved up to the slightly higher dose, so far with no side affects. It’s a process to work out what’s right for me and I’m still very much on that journey. Despite all this, there is this voice inside me that screams, usually first thing in the morning or when they’ve worn off, that I shouldn’t be doing this. That I don’t really have ADHD and that taking stimulants will do more harm than good. I doubt that this is the right course of action, despite the evidence of the affect on me and years of studies concluding why stimulants do work and can be life changing. ‘That private company has taken you for a ride, and taken all of your money’ the voice chirps. A lot of this is down to the stigma of ADHD medication, people often jump to the side affects and any possible negatives, rather than what they can do. If I decided whether to take my medication based on the listed side affects, I’d stop taking them tomorrow. Despite the angry voice being there, probably annoyed that I’m less anxious now I’m medicated, I’ve been able to find a life I didn’t know I had. I can’t wait until I can travel again to show that side of Alice to the world.

I don’t take stimulants to be faster or better or to excel compared to everyone else, I take my pills to be on a level playing field so I can nearly function like everyone else. That’s the thing, they are a tool for finding tools.

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On reminders of your younger self; a piece I wish wasn’t a thing…

There will be a time in your life when you think, what now? Did that really happen? Why did I do/say/think that? We all go there. Some of us admit it, some prefer to bypass big emotions for another day. And some eventually explore them with a therapist. And sometimes it takes almost a decade, and an ADHD diagnosis, to realise what actually went on then. To realise it really wasn’t okay. Neurodiverse or not.

I am 25, a young fledgling youth worker, I have a whole career ahead of me. The sky is my limit. I’m at a top university, studying on a highly regarded Masters programme. I don’t tell anyone I am dyspraxic. I had no clue I have ADHD.

“You will love it here,” she said. We’ll call her Jane. She is a decade older than me, and everything I wanted to aspire to. I jump at the chance of spending my final placement for my degree under her guidance. She ran a youth centre, and it felt like somewhere I could really belong. When you spend most of your life trying to belong, this is massive. I spend two years building up a friendship with Jane, or what I thought was a “friendship.”

I looked up to her for support, to be shown the way, to be made into a better youth worker. Spending hours at night crafting the perfect email. Waiting eagerly for replies. And speaking late into the night on the phone because I thought she wanted me around, that she cared. I put my life on hold, and almost jeopardised my degree, to cultivate this friendship. I worried that I was too needy or a burden. I continued putting all the work in. Looking at her for guidance and the answers. Neglecting the other friends who had been around years before. She’d been to my university several years earlier, I was certain she had the answers.

One day, in the car on the way back from camping, she turns to me and says; “Alice, you need thicker skin…” I look at her for the answers. She didn’t offer any this time. I went home and wondered what I had possibly done wrong, and why I couldn’t be the youth worker like her. Confident. Bold. Loud. And present. I didn’t feel present. The months rolled on by and the comments continued, always accompanied with “I’m proud of you,” “I love you,” I really thought she did. I continued to listen. Continued to believe. Continued to look up to this older woman…

Years later, and following several discussions with people who actually do care in a more healthy way, I’ve experienced a resonance with other dyspraxic/ADHD/ND women about the need to justify yourself to others, to prove your capabilities, often fuelled by years of self hatred and not feeling good enough. Good enough for the person who you believe has it all. The word “believe” is important here. Scratching the surface often reveals a very different story. Accompanied by ambition. Your ambition. And other people’s ambitions, an unhealthy cycle will emerge.

I have bounced between degrees, retraining and jobs because of this ambition. Because I want to prove I have it in me to anyone who will listen. Being a woman with ADHD and dyspraxia is like having a constant internal monologue swimming around in your head, often with conflicting thoughts and a list longer than your arm. Shouting at you to do better. Shouting at you to do it like her. To not give up. When I was 25 I needed a cheerleader and a really good therapist. I had neither. I had Jane, and a cycle of self blame. I now have that good therapist. And an army of cheerleaders, both remote and in person who cheered on my half marathon. A half marathon for youth services I once believed I wasn’t good enough for to call my career. Another place I didn’t know if I could belong. The words: “You don’t have the makings of a youth worker…”, are words I’m glad to have proved wrong. Although my brain still often takes me to a place where I wonder what Jane will think of me now….

ADHD or dyspraxia “awareness” in October is fair enough. But what it often comes down to is being surrounded by the right people. Without this, any awareness is really hard to be heard.

Posted in ADHD, Dyspraxia, Youth Work | Leave a comment

I ran the Great North Run! A whole 13.1 miles for Gateshead Youth Council!

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I DID IT! I ACTUALLY RAN A HALF MARATHON!

I said I would run the Great North Run, I fundraised for Gateshead Youth Council. And I bloody went and ran a whole half marathon. It has taken a little while to find the brain power to write this post, I’ve been quite literally in a whirlwind of emotions. Here’s how taking part in the 40th Great North Run went:

The night before

I have been planning meticulously for this event for years, I’d originally entered the ballot in 2019, getting a place for 2020, that was then of course cancelled because of Covid. I rolled my place over to 2021, but due to the matter of a pandemic that we all had to deal with, my running fell off a cliff. Then, I started running again in April 2021, when setting my sights on a possible half marathon seemed like a good idea. I didn’t know if it would even go ahead this year, and I don’t deal well with uncertainty, but I set out to get back to some level of fitness to be in with a chance of completing the thing. My running club helpfully put on 20/20 sessions to support people to get back to running, many who like me, hadn’t ran at all during the pandemic. The sessions involved running on a straight, flat route for 20 minutes, turning around wherever you are and running back. This meant that everyone always finished as a group. Turning up to that first Tuesday night session was tough, when at the time I wasn’t yet comfortable going inside a shop. I eventually began to enjoy running again, progressing to running regular 5K’s with the odd weekend 10K thrown in, until it was time to progress through my half marathon training plan. Slowly but surely I began to run out of a pandemic.

I was sensible and took two days off work prior to Great North Run day, this meant that in theory I had three days to prepare myself, so I could relax by the Saturday. Panicking about not having a charity top printed, didn’t help here, until I realised it didn’t matter what I wore, I was doing a brilliant thing for GYC and no one will really care. With any new thing I do, I research the bones off it. Do I have the right fuel? What do I need in my bag for the end? Is everything fully charged and ready to go? What about muscle remedies? There was a lot to consider, and I’m pretty sure I’d bought the whole pharmacy of boots and several isles of Holland and Barrett to ensure I had everything. My sister came down that morning, and we had a family lunch in the afternoon, and then I had a giant bowl of pasta in the evening. I also made sure I drank as much water as I could get into me so I was properly hydrated. After all of the thinking, overthinking and planning in my head, I was still rushing around before bed making sure I had everything laid out on my chair the night before. Despite all of this meticulous prep and over reading what to do and not do before a half marathon, I still struggled to sleep much that night. Waking up every hour needing to go to the loo. Pre half marathon nervous wees are most definitely a thing. I shut the cat out of my room so I could get a good night sleep without her bouncing on my head, meaning that she just moaned outside for hours wanting to come in. I’m sure I was awake enough to watch it get light, as I played over everything I had to do the next day in my head. ADHD can be a beast sometimes when it comes to insomnia before big, important events. Eventually, I gave up on sleep ever happening and got up at 7.30am. As I get up I’m greeted by a supportive tweet from a friend wishing me good luck for the day. I told her that I had hardly slept, she reassured me that the adrenaline would see me though. I hoped it would. She has ran a half marathon and a marathon and is dyspraxic too, so I trusted her reassurance. I opened the curtains and it was miserable and drizzly outside. The kind of weather that indicates Autumn is on its way. I was pleased it wasn’t a blazing hot day, but still hoped the rain would hold off. I didn’t want people coming to watch having to stand for hours in the rain waiting for me. I go downstairs and eat a big bowl off porridge, a banana, and make myself a cup of tea. No one else is up yet, apart from the cats who were grumpy I’d fed myself before them for a change. I felt a surge of energy, and more awake than I expected to feel with so little sleep. The cats were fed and I headed upstairs to get ready. We didn’t have a taxi booked until 11.20, so had a lot of time to kill that I didn’t know what to do with. This year everyone was split up into waves because of Covid, and the green wave, the wave I had been allocated to, wasn’t due to set off until 13.15. A lot of time to wait and deal with excess nervous energy. By the time our taxi came, I was pretty much bouncing off the walls. As we were on our way, and It suddenly felt real, I scrolled through several good luck messages from friends across the country, and replied to as many as I could. The race’s start and finish lines this year were on the Town Moor, which if you’re not local, is a massive piece of land that usually has cows in it. There were no cows on Sunday. Just a lot of nervous runners. The start line and finishers village were just across Claremont Bridge. As we crossed the bridge it all started to feel real. We past a bin that was full of banana skins, and I joked to my sister; “you can tell we’re near a running event!” Once we were on the field it felt a bit more overwhelming, my energy was then accompanied with worries about where I need to go, which queue I should join and where I can wee. We’d arrived a bit early for my 1.15 start, and watched some of the run from the bridge. My parents then did that usual parental faffing thing about me getting too cold. A friend of mum who’s a runner mentioned taking an old T-shirt to wear and discard before the race, I tried it on but couldn’t get my head around coordinating myself to undress quick enough in time for starting. I then settled with wrapping a space blanket around me, that I could get rid of quicker and easier. Once I’d ear marked the loos for a pre-race wee, I re-joined my family to hear “green wave come on down”. It all seemed to happen pretty quickly. To get to the start line we had to go over a hill and down some steps leading to the central motorway. I bumbled on down to where everyone was congregating, with space blanket billowing in the wind behind me. “haha. You have too much to coordinate!” my sister laughed as I headed off in the general direction of runners. We took some ‘I’m at the start, looking ridiculous and terrified’ photos, and then I left my family to find a good viewing point. It felt like I was standing in the crowd for ages, I kept looking around to make sure everyone had the same number and bib colour as me and I was in the right place. It seemed that everyone else was doing the same. I was worried about being with loads of competent runners, but starting in different waves meant that I was with lots of runners in charity tops doing it for charity, a gorilla and the three little pigs. I think I spotted a few super men and women too. My kind of people. There was of course people who set out to walk the whole thing. I remember one of the leaders at my running club say; “remember it’s a fun run”, and being surrounded by these kind of people all just wanting to get to the end made it seem much less intimidating. As we got down to the road everyone started to stretch and warm up as best they could. I looked for the best place to discard my space blanket, and the positioned myself at the edge towards the railings. It was then I started to feel a bit sick. “Will I really be able to do this?” I thought, then having words with myself that now wasn’t the time for self doubt. We started fast walking, and then much quicker than we arrived, we were off. I spotted my family standing by the roadside and gave them a quick wave. This half marathon was really happening. And I was really in it.

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Heading out of town toward Tyne bridge

“Oh I’m going oh i’ve gone!” I accidentally said out loud as I started the first few miles. The woman next to me nodded in appreciation. I put my music on and started to get into my stride, making sure my breathing wasn’t all over the place and I had some sort of pace going on. I kept running, spotting Northumbria University. And a sign for mile 2. At mile two I realised just how far it was, and how little I’d already ran. It was then I tried to take in more around me, the crowd and support were something I’ve never experienced before. “Go Alice!” “keep going”, I heard the crowd cheer. One woman shouted “Alice you’re amazing!”, at me through a megaphone. I have never been told I’m amazing by a complete stranger at a sporting event before. These people, cheering my name, and making me run further all believed that I could complete this half marathon. So, I better start believing I can complete it too. I welled up, as a lot of things dawned on me. Why I was there. The support I’ve had leading up to this day. And the encouragement I was getting now. We were then in no time at all heading towards the Tyne Bridge. A friend told me to look out for the steel pans on the bridge. I looked out, I could see lot’s of bands, but didn’t spot her. There was some kind of musical support or shouty megaphone person on most corners as I came out of Newcastle. Coming over the bridge, I looked out onto the Tyne. It looked calm. A feeling I wished I had more often. Today, once I’d got over feeling sick and wanting to run away from a half marathon, I didn’t have anymore fear that I couldn’t complete it. I could already smell my medal.

Gateshead Stadium

The approach to Gateshead Stadium came around pretty quickly. As I ran and mile 4 came into view I said to myself out loud: “god it’s a long way!” The man next to me laughed. We got chatting and he told me last year he was hospitalised with Covid and had to learn to walk again. And there he was running a whole half marathon. His ambition was always to run the Great North Run and in his words; “I just got on and did it.” He is right. If anything, the last two years have made us all realise that life is too short, after being unable to do things we all love and aspire to for such a long time. People never fail to amaze me and he was no exception. If he can finish the run, I certainly could. Not long after this conversation I bumped into Paul, the couch 2 5K leader from my running club, Red Kite Runners. I could recognise that couchie whistle anywhere. He had jelly babies, ready to go in freezer bags. The jelly babies really kept me going when the run began to get tough.

Heworth Metro

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The next few miles passes by as soon as they arrive. The route this year takes in a lot of up and down hills, and often I’d be on a hill for ages until I realise it is in fact a hill. As I run along I’m looking out for Heworth Metro, where Valerie from Gateshead Youth Council will be, alongside hopefully my parents and sister. I get out one of the jelly babies to give me a bit of energy. And focus on the music in my ears. “Where are they?” I thought. Everything is a very long way all of a sudden. I passed a gorilla, and chirped “must be a bit warm” He shouted back, “But I’m a gorilla!” People really are mint. I see the metro in the distance, and spot my sister’s bright pink skirt, I hear them cheering. “Yaaaaay!” I yell back! My parents, Sister and Valerie are there, alongside her partner Mike and Freya her niece who is also the co-chair of Gateshead Youth Assembly. I stop for a quick hug from my sister, a photo with the family and then run off again. It had felt like such a long trek so far, and seeing them smiling and being supportive meant the world. I knew then that I could do it. I had to for all of the young people in Gateshead, and youth services who meant so much to me. “We’ll see you on the other side!” Valerie shouted. That motivated me. I was determined to get there. My whole training and preparation for this run has been fuelled by sheer determination and never ever doing things by halves. If I set out to do something, I put my whole heart into it and this is how I approached running.

Felling bypass (The longest road I have ever known…)

The felling bypass is long. Even longer if you’re running up the thing. It also isn’t very pretty. There isn’t much to look at, so much of this part of the run was a blur. I just wanted to get to the end. At the start there was support. People shouting my name. Children wanting Hi fives. And people offering sweets, but then the support dried up. And it was just me, my music and several other runners for a few miles. Starting in a later wave meant that everyone who came out to support in the morning didn’t stick around until we came bouncing down the road. They had long gone. Some advice was to not run with music, but I just couldn’t leave the music at home. It was the music that got me through this stretch. That and looking on in admiration at everyone running in fancy dress doing great things for charity. A few weeks ago I’d asked my friends and family for suggestions for my running playlist, as a way to remember all of the support I’ve had to get here and think of people as I run around. It’s meant that I’ve been able to discover loads more great music, which I’d love. As I came towards the end of the road to turn around, Bob Marley’s ‘Three little birds’ came on. And if it wasn’t for having to keep moving myself forward, I would have turned into a puddle of Alice on the floor. “It really is going to be alright,” I told myself. I was going to get to the finish. And everything else in my life will sort itself out too. I glanced at my phone as I reached the end, my best friend told me I’m “great.” I was so so proud to be there.

Turning around and the return to Heworth

The end of the road was my favourite thing to see knowing I just had the return leg to go now. There was a stage at the end shouting out words of encouragement. Words I really needed to hear by this part of the run. I needed a wee. Wee’s are very inconvenient in the middle of half marathons, some portaloos were coming up so I dived in there. Going back down Felling Bypass was really hard work, I started to feel dizzy at one stage, that was quickly resolved by another jelly baby. There was no way I was going to get ill and not make the finish. I walked a bit of the bypass to conserve energy. My body started to tell me that I really didn’t have any sleep last night. I was looking out for Heworth Metro again, it seemed miles away now. I couldn’t believe I’d ran so far. I’ve trained hard for this, but no amount of training prepares you for how you will feel on the day. My family and Valerie came into view again, and I said as I past; “running a half marathon on no sleep is hard work!” They laughed. Here I was on the home stretch now. The support began to pick up as I headed back into town. There were bands on most corners as I returned, and people in charity busses screaming my name. There is nothing quite like hearing a stranger with a megaphone telling me i’m brilliant. As I head towards the Tyne Bridge I spot a lot of people holding signs saying “go on” “you can do this!” “You’re running the greatest run in the world!” I grin the whole way round. I could feel my face beaming as if i’m having the time of my life. The truth is, i couldn’t believe any of this was happening. I was so happy to feel so much support around me, from those on the streets that day, and friends who had been sending me messages of support all morning. I get my phone out to change the song, and spot that my sister has been updating the family group chat of my movements. “The girl is killing it,” my uncle said. I carried pushing on up and down the hills. I stopped for a moment to fiddle around to try and get out an energy chew, and thought about my grandparents both of whom are ill, and who are both chuffed i’m running this run. My grandma who was diagnosed with Alzheimers earlier this year, was pleased when I told her I would be running in my pink hat. “I can spot you on the telly,” she said. Me tackling a half marathon seems really important to her. She may forget what day it is sometimes, but she continues to remember that I’m a runner. And that I’m running “quite a way”, as she put it. It really was quite a way.

Tyne Bridge take two

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It was not long before we hit the tunnel just before the Tyne Bridge. It was pitch black, so I carefully walked this bit. “Oggy oggy oggy!” “Oi Oi Oi!” everyone shouted. On the bridge for a second time, I looked out onto the river tyne, and across to the Sage Gateshead, where I had spent a lot of time playing music when I was younger. It all looked really still and beautiful. I thought about how the arts industry had suffered as a result of the pandemic, and how important music is to get us through difficult times. I thought about my late friend Andrew, who I met through music, and what he might think of me becoming a runner. I had a moment. There were more people on the bridge calling my name. “GO ON!” “Nearly there!” they said. I grinned at a camera as I ran past. and then hit mile 10.

Mile 10: where I’m sure I left my energy (Greys street, monument and Haymarket…)

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The last three miles were the toughest of what was a very hilly course. Heading back up to town was mostly uphill, but where I found the most support. I walked up part of Grey Street, desperately reaching for another jelly baby. Just another 5K to go I thought. I run 5K’S all of the time. This 5K just went on forever. Running past Greys Monument was great too. I haven’t been into town since the pandemic began, and seeing town from the middle of the Great North Run certainly gives it all a new perspective. I dropped my lucozade bottle on the floor, stopped to pick it up, and felt my legs do something legs probably shouldn’t do. Must keep running, as If I didn’t I was certain my legs would give way. My legs hurt in a way I didn’t know it was possible for legs to hurt. I gave it my everything to get this far. I was nearly there. “Not long now!” one of the marshals shouted at me, when I was probably looking pissed off this last 5K was going on forever. Then, just when I needed it, I got the motivation I needed. A group of young people were shouting my name. “GO ON!” they said. And I knew I could find the last bit of energy in me to push on, I was doing this run for young people. Young people in the North East, to show that youth work matters. Young people just like the group who cheered me on that day. They may not be Gateshead Youth Councils young people, but they were young people from the North East where youth services have been destroyed. I want young people like them to have the same opportunities I had growing up. To have access to supportive youth workers who will listen if they need them. To feel valued. “I’m doing this for you lot!” I screamed back! They probably had no idea what I was going on about, but they cheered anyway.

The finish

As I made it onto the home stretch, the 400 metres sign danced at me. I’m nearly there! I could actually see the finish! I could do it! I broke into a sprint for the last section, serenaded by S Club 7’s reach being played through the PA system. I had Thea Gilmores ‘Beautiful Day’ in my ears, so it made for quite a contrast. It really was a beautiful day. I felt on top of the world, even if it was just for a day. As a headed towards the finish, I spotted my sisters pink skirt again and then the rest of my family and my brother this time too. “WOOOOOO” Maddy shouted. They were standing on the side of the road with a pint. “This is your half marathon glory” the man on the tannoy said as I crossed the finish line. It was then that I seemed to forget how to use my legs, and everything began to hurt like I’d never felt before. I tried to keep moving. And headed up to the marque to collect my medal and goody bag. I then took a while to work out how to join my family. I found them. And collapsed on the nearest available piece of grass. “I’m so proud of you,” my sister said. I had done it. I had ran my first half marathon. And in the process raised loads of money for Gateshead Youth Council. They meant, and still mean so much to me that I was prepared to put myself through this much physical and emotional pain to show it.

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The week following and post half marathon lows

I took the next week off work, a wise decision considering how much I struggled to walk the next day. My Neales Yard remedies recommended by a friend were a life saver. My sister was here for a couple of days before traveling back to her university town. On Tuesday I met up with everyone from my running club for a Great North Run finishers photo. It was great seeing everyone to compare notes about the hills, but also made it feel real that it really was over. I’ve never been in a sports photo proudly holding a medal before. It was a great feeling.

I’ve been in a constant state of hunger since. Demolishing a plate of pancakes the next day in no time at all. I’ve also felt extremely fatigued. Fatigue that I didn’t expect on such a level, as it has also been accompanied by crushing lows. My legs were pretty much back to normal after a couple of days, but the sense of sadness and “what now?” has stuck around. I’ve been reassured that this is normal. I had planned meticulously for every other eventuality in long distance running but not this. For months I’ve put everything I have into working towards this goal, and now it is over, it feels like I don’t have the same purpose as training for a half marathon gave me. You feel very lost after completing a big run. Lost and determined to decide on the next thing. This morning I even considered signing up to the Edinburgh Half Marathon, as a desperate attempt to fill the void. I absolutely loved the Great North Run, and would totally do it again. It was the best. And gave me a feeling of pride I haven’t felt in years. It’s hard to accept you have to take the days after slow, when taking it slow reminds you of the times of anxiety and depression. And when making strides forward towards the next goal accompanied by ADHD fuelled energy is your way of overcompensating for that. I’ve texted a friend who told me that how I’m feeling is completely normal, and that it will get better. I believe her. I know it will. I need to give myself time, and another focus, which I know for now, will be my friends. I want to see as many people as I can in person, given we are still in a pandemic. I’ve been supported to get this far in the best way possible, and know I really couldn’t have made it without any of you. Mush over. But Thank you. Thank you Thank you. Running a half marathon is hard, and dealing with the post run emotions is just as tough. The feeling that few people truly get what goes on in your head post long distance running will always be there. Although, I am so glad I did all of it. That I have a shiny medal to show that of course, “I can bloody do it, too.” The rollercoaster has been worth it. I will now ride the waves.

There’s still time to support my fundraising for Gateshead Youth Council, if you wanted to and haven’t yet, you can do so here. I am overwhelmed by the generous donations and kind messages from friends I’ve had over the last few months. Raising £1,210 truly is epic. Thank you.

Posted in ADHD, Dyspraxia, Great North Run, Mental health, Music, Running, Useful links, Youth Work | Leave a comment

One week to go until the Great North Run!! Thank you all so so much!

I’ve got this!!

It’s a week to go. An actual whole week until I run 13.1 miles through the streets of Newcastle and Gateshead. I’ve raised so far £780 for Gateshead Youth Council so far which is fabulous. I’ve upped my target to £1,000, and I’d love to get that, but anything in between is wonderful. It means a lot since none of my friends are particularly rolling in it, and I don’t work for a rich organisation, who has a lot to spare. And pandemic. I felt a bit awkward fundraising post pandemic. Thank you all so much for supporting me, whether you are family, friends or a stranger from the internet, I honestly wouldn’t have been able to do this without any of you.

It takes a lot to make a clumsy, uncoordinated, often anxious woman run a half marathon in lycra through the streets of Newcastle in front of a crowd, and really that’s quite a list to make me not do this. Most people who aren’t in any way natural runners run these events for big emotional reasons and for charities that mean a hell of a lot to them, and that is exactly what got me up at the crack of dawn every Sunday morning for thirteen weeks to start a long run at 8 am. And kept me going. If you’d told me when I was 18 that I’d be running a half marathon in my 30’s or even just running at all, and people would support me and *deep breath* actually like me, I would have told you to bugger off. There’s a lot we’d all write to our younger selves I’m sure, much of it along the lines of “Stick with it!” “you’re alright really.” It says a lot to look back and think, yeah you didn’t think ANYONE would ever have real time for you or even want you around, but look at things now, you’re getting supportive messages from friends and family and internet strangers around the country (and world) because they really do want you to do well. Saying that this pandemic and training has eaten up much of the time I want to spend with the people who really do care, which will be rectified once I’ve suitably recovered and feel safer traveling again.

I started training as a way to get through this pandemic, both emotionally and physically. There has been times both recently and in the last decade when I literally wanted to run away. I wanted to get out, not be noticed or missed. Working from home has worked a treat in some ways because I could hide if I needed to. I didn’t need to make small talk in an office and I only needed to speak to people when it was absolutely necessary. I decided that Instead of running away, I was going to run through it, a tactic that has served me well in training. Whenever things feel too much now, I’ve adopted the strategy of going for a run rather than all of the other unhealthy coping mechanisms I could choose from. And it’s worked. I’ve never been one for focussing on my differences, and 18 year old me will clarify, ignoring was the best policy, but running has helped me to talk about them in a positive way. A way that younger Alice really needed to hear. “People don’t dislike you because you have dyspraxia or (then undiagnosed) ADHD, you just haven’t found your people yet”. Realising that I can be a runner has been so powerful.

This week my routine has been all over the place, I say routine, I mean running routine. I’ve stopped evening runs with the running club until the Great North Run is over, as I prefer to get myself through training alone. I feel in control if I organise everything, from the route I run to the time I go. So I’ve ran two mornings a week before work and one weekend longer run. it has been a good routine to stick to, and working from home has really done wonders for this plan too. No I idea how people with a commute and kids fit in training, but hats off to those of you that do. This week I was at work in person for some staff training for the first time since the pandemic began, and it was quite a shock to the system. I did it, and managed to fit a run in around work, by the weekend I was really pleased not to have to go anywhere. Tapering is a weird time to be in, because the event I’ve been working towards is so close, yet doesn’t feel real. I’m also more aware of the potential for injuries so close to race day, and keep checking my muscles for unusual twinges and trying to walk around the house carefully so I don’t knacker my ankle walking into my bed or something. All is well so far, touch wood. Today I ran a nice, steady 8 miles. My last long run before the big day. It was a good run, but I felt more knackered than I did last week after my half. I’ve put it down to a lot of misplaced adrenaline and my brain going into over drive about the big day. “Will I get to my start point at the right time? “Will I get lost?” “Will I cope with a crowd?” “Will I have enough energy to get all the way around? Those kind of questions. I’ve also learned that running Facebook groups are a place to avoid in the week of tapering. It’s full of people panicking, being over confident or comparing times of last long runs. There must be an in between somewhere, but I haven’t found it yet. Someone even posted a photo of the loos at the finish, and someone else commented worrying that there wasn’t enough. Running Facebook is wild, I tell you. I much prefer running Twitter during these final moments. Running Twitter told me to eat a lot of jelly babies, my kind of advice.

This close to the day there’s not a lot I can do, I’ve done the training, eaten well, got my period out of the way before race day (hurray!) and been supported in the best way possible by friends old and new. It has been an epic journey and I’m so pleased to have had you all along for the ride with me. There’s still time to sponsor me and support my fundraising for Gateshead Youth Council, or if you’d prefer to wait until I’ve completed the thing, the Justgiving page will be open for a little bit after the run.

THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!

And pals who haven’t seen me in forever, you can start booking me in now. See you all on the other side. I can’t believe I’m here. Running changes lives, and youth work does too. This wouldn’t be possible without having either as part of my life.

If you’ve got through all of these Great North Run training blog posts, that deserves a medal too.

(If anyone is planning to come and watch, please let me know. It would be great to meet up after…)

Posted in ADHD, Adventures, Covid-19, Dyspraxia, Great North Run, Mental health, Running, Youth Work | Leave a comment

Two weeks to go until the Great North Run!! On reaching a half marathon in training milestone & running my way out of a pandemic (I really have done that…)

The countdown has really begun, in two weeks time I will be pounding the streets of Newcastle and Gateshead, alongside 60,000 other runners hoping to have a jolly time and to raise as much as possible for lovely charities. In my case that would be, Gateshead Youth Council, who I literally wouldn’t be doing this without. The GNR became a bit of a pipe dream for me when I started running two years ago, before that it was a dream I was more than happy for others to have. I say pipe dream because I didn’t think I had it in me to run any further than 5K’s, when I got to 10K, I almost had a word with my legs to ask them what they were doing. This didn’t seem like me at all. I didn’t recognise myself. Surely I’ve been replaced by a better Alice?, I thought. But no, I’d just unexpectedly fallen in love with running.

This week has been busy, both on the running and work front, but I’ve kept up with running three times a week and managed a whole half marathon yesterday. HALF MARATHON sounds like a terrifying word doesn’t it? I mean, I get that it’s half a marathon, but 5K’S and 10K’s have their own special name, so why doesn’t a half? A half is a bloody big achievement too. Maybe it should be called super miles or something, because you really do feel like super woman after you’ve completed a half. It shouldn’t be overshadowed by marathons, it’s just as shiny and wonderful. And afterwards anything really does feel possible.

As the week began, “13.1 miles!” stared at me from my training programme. I knew that I had to run a half by the end of the week and then tapering will officially begin. For those unaware of running lingo, tapering is when you’re meant to ease off your training to prepare your muscles just before a big race. Running my half by yesterday really felt like a long way. On Tuesday I got a 10K in before work and managed the same on Thursday. Running 6 miles before a day at my desk is now normal. I say normal, as I don’t think about having just run 6 miles now. I love early morning runs before most of the world wakes up, the stillness of the streets, a few cars on the roads and the odd dog walker here and there. I start any run with a giant bowl of porridge, I’ve discovered those porridge pots that you just need to add water to. They are pretty useful at the crack of dawn when you have the executive function of a snail and need something quick, filled with energy. They don’t taste too bad too if you add blueberries or a banana. I’ve decided that the cinnamon poridge is my favourite. Suitably fuelled, I set my watch, warm up and set off. I plod along, not running too fast to begin with, I’ve learned about pacing and how important it is on longer runs when I want to finish and not run out of steam. I’m also better at conserving my energy and eating the right things to fuel myself and protect my muscles. It seems to have worked because I haven’t had any more scary fainting or legs giving way moments since. I also make sure I eat a protein bar or similar not long after I’ve finished a long run to ensure I don’t crash. I really have learned loads about long distance running over the last few months.

On Sunday, I got up and ran my first ever half marathon. I’ve spoken to a few people about whether running the full distance in training is necessary, some have said you don’t need to get there as long as you’ve got a few 10 milers in, and others have told me it can’t do me any harm. I wanted to run the full distance as a dress rehearsal for the big day for a couple of reasons, A) I wanted to see what 13.1 miles felt like, to prove I can do it. And B) I wanted to run my first ever half marathon without an audience. I decided to run this training run on my own, and not with the club for this reason, I wanted to work through how big an achievement this is for me solo. Running on your own also has it’s difficulties too, mostly because there isn’t someone to shout words of encouragement as you think about giving up, and you have to meticulously plan a route, to know where you’re going. I spoke to a friend about routes, who incidentally also has the dyspraxia/ADHD combo and she said: “stick to what you know, you don’t want any surprises this late in training…” And I followed her advice. I ran the 5K route I know very well four and a bit times. The first 5K of a run is always the toughest bit. I find that I always warm up, and my legs remember what they have to do to get me round. I also get my breathing right by 5K too and breathing is very important, especially when running ridiculous miles. When I got to 10k, I stopped to eat a Cliff energy chew and take a “I can’t believe I’m going this!”, selfie. The chew was strawberry flavour, and great for giving me energy to power me through. I also carry Lucozade and water, taking alternate sips when I need to. There will be no sugar levels completely hitting the floor on this run I had decided.

At about 8 miles in, I encountered a dog named Henry, and his gang of owners who were taking up the path. I daren’t run past him, because he had one of those evil faces, and kept turning round and staring at me. I dropped down to slow jog, and hid behind a bush at one point, so I didn’t catch his eye. I tailed Henry and co, until they veered off into a cafe’. Henry might have been perfectly fine, but I didn’t take any chances with that face. And certainly not a fortnight before running the Great North Run. I met some nicer dogs on my run as well, two dogs that resembled sheep, lots of lunchers and a few spaniels. I also saw a tiny tiny baby who was toddling along, and for a moment I mistook as a dog, as I got closer, I realised my mistake and that he was actually a small child. He was out for a stroll and seemed very proud with himself. I smiled as I ran past, and he babbled back. Maybe he was saying, “keep going.” Amongst the horse riders, and dogs and small children, I also saw several other runners and squirrels. Mostly Grey, but they also seemed to be out having a jolly time. There are runners of two camps, runners like me who try to offer a smile or wave to keep someone going, and the storm troopers. The storm troopers are usually from competitive running clubs who speed up behind you, most of the time it’s impossible to know they are coming, and then overtake until they are a tiny dot in the distance. I’ve often been intimated by runners faster than me, chasing personal bests and who look very much like a runner, but now I’ve concluded that we run the same race, the destination is the same, I just get to take in more scenery. We all earn the same medal at the end. And the scenery near where I run is lovely. I saw a few people who I know or recognise from my running club, and they always waved or smiled. It’s nice to be acknowledged. It’s like being part of a team constantly cheering you on or willing you to run further. During the last leg of my run, I past someone who was clearly struggling, I took out my headphones and said “you can do it,” she smiled and carried on. Anyone who gets out to exercise, going any distance, when we’re still in a pandemic is bloody brilliant in my book. I know how hard running can feel, sometimes we all need someone to tell us we’re doing great. As I was on my fourth lap, I wondered will I make it? There were minor twinges in my legs as I ran up race day hill for a fourth time. Race day hill is the hill I was introduced to when I was on the couch 2 5K course. I thought, ‘shoulders back, helium balloon above your head!’ The advice we are given when hill running, always remember that balloon. I always add in a sneaky walk on the path after the hill to catch my breath before setting off again.

I always run with music, it helps to keep me on track and distracts me enough when I have to slow down because of dogs named Henry. I have everything from The Pretenders, Thea Gilmore, Bob Marley and Blazing fiddles on my playlist. As much variety as possible is my motto, alongside songs and tunes that will actually help me conquer the run. I know a lot of people say you don’t need music and the atmosphere is all you need, but I can’t bare to be without, it would be like running without my pants or something. A necessity. I might turn the volume down a bit, so I can still soak up the atmosphere, that I’m told is the best thing about the Great North Run. I’ve started having race day dreams, when I’m either lost or forget something important, or turn up on the wrong day. I hope none of this happens, and it’s just my brains way of making sure I’m extra prepared. This year due to Covid, they’ve separated everyone off into start times, to stagger the run over a longer period. I’m in Green wave 25, starting at the back at 13.15. I assume accompanied by all of the determined people in fancy dress, hats of to them because I know I couldn’t run that far dressed as a gorilla. I once wore a tiger suite at a folk festival and even that was warm, the things you do for a friends 18th birthday.

As I got to 11 miles, I looked at my watch several times to make sure it was real. “I’ve bloody gone and done it”, I said out loud. I didn’t care who heard me at this point. Long distance running does have a habit of making you slightly delirious. I turned my music up and sang for the last two miles and a bit. When Generation Rent by Megson came on I thought ‘god, don’t remind me now, I need to get back on the mission of trying to buy a house at some point.’ Trying to get on the property ladder and GNR training was never going to work, really. I still can’t get my head around how people train for marathons with full time jobs, I’m just knackered training for a half and that’s with the benefit of working from home. The singing worked, I finally conquered my half marathon goal! I was knackered (and still am) but very very proud. So proud I immediately texted a friend to tell her the good news.

When I first entered the Great North Run ballot, I did it to see what would happen, I didn’t actually think I would get a place. And when I did, I decided that it was what I needed to motivate me. A good goal to have. I was barely running 5K’s at that point, I had no idea what 13.1 miles would even feel like. As the pandemic begun to unfold and it became clear that the 2020 GNR would not take place until it was eventually cancelled, part of me was pleased but part of me was devastated that my goal had been taken away from me. I was always always going to run for Gateshead Youth Council and youth work and to prove I could do something that was once impossible, but by 2021, this run developed a new meaning; a pandemic meaning. I had decided that I was going to use running to run out a pandemic. In 2020 my mental health began to really plummet, and I quite literally wanted to run away. I had just been diagnosed with ADHD and all I wanted in the world was to see my friends, (and I still do.) I can now say that I really have achieved that goal, I have ran out of the pandemic. Covid-19 is far from over, and it won’t be for a while yet, but I am in a much better place to where I was a year ago, all thanks to running. I owe a lot to this sport, and even more to my running club, Red Kite Runners. I have so much love for pandemic running and anyone who has made it their mission too. Running is hard most of the time, but running following a pandemic is even tougher. Running my way out of a pandemic; another milestone achieved.

I’ve been pondering a lot about what I’m going to do following the run, whenever big things in my life have come to an end like university or India or festivals, I’ve always felt a bit lost for a few weeks after. Training has been a big part of my life for months, I’ve only ran and worked, so I’m certain once the buzz of finishing the race is over, things will feel a bit flat. I’ll continue running 5K’s and the odd 10K too, without having the big half marathon goal to focus on. I’m hoping to plan nice things to do following race day, so I don’t get so low and I still have things to look forward to. So far I’m thinking about days out and trying hard to see some friends for the first time in over two years. Things I haven’t been able to do because training has taken up so much time. They are things I need to do because people have been so supported and understanding over the last few months.

And finally, I’ve raised 67% of my target for Gateshead Youth Council which is so fab! Thank you so so much to everyone who has supported me so far. It is all really very lovely. I will, I promise, get round to thanking you all individually. I’d love to get my fundraising up to £1,000 for this fabulous charity. They really do change the lives of young people and I’m living proof of that. Please please do consider sponsoring me. If you sponsor me, you can pick a song for my running playlist. And I’ll think of you, and all of of the amazing support I’ve had so far to get here. If you’ve already sponsored me, send a song my way. My fundraising will go towards a residential for young people; even more important following a pandemic. So please support me to make that a reality for the current Gateshead Youth Assembly young people.

Thank you again to everyone who’s said nice things over the last few months, and especially my family who have the joy of me banging on about running all of the time. I’m very nearly there, just tapering and the big day to go now. Anything really is possible, even a half marathon when you have the coordination of a piece of spaghetti (I have no idea where that really bad analogy came from, but it certainly suggests the state of my brain at the moment. Totally blaming the half marathon tiredness…)

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/alice-runs-for-gyc?fbclid=IwAR3lpIrVDaWsnTH3MAwFbMIaAtblT3hsBqK_ftftP6FfbC4OwtT6oEUOdUM

Posted in ADHD, Adventures, Covid-19, Dyspraxia, Great North Run, Mental health, Running, Youth Work | Leave a comment

Three weeks to go! The Great North Run is very real now…

I haven’t written about running for a while here, because running is tough. Very very tough. My race number arrived this week making it feel even more real. To mark being at the three weeks to go mark, I’ve made a video, that took so long to record and get right, it felt like I’d been on another long run….

For those who are unable to watch, it is basically a massive SPONSOR ME plea and a summary about why I am running for Gateshead Youth Council.

Long distance running is so so hard right now, and I probably didn’t need to run 12 miles in training to realise this. I have an odd amount of energy at the moment, some days I want to dance around the house all day and talk non stop, and other days making sentences make sense is hard work because I feel utterly exhausted. I’ve found myself very consumed by running. A hyperfocus I never thought I’d have.

As I mention in the video above, I am running the Great North Run for Gateshead Youth Council, who are my constant source of motivation when I don’t want to carry on any more. It takes A LOT to make a clumsy, uncoordinated, mostly anxious woman run 13.1 miles in a crowd of people, after a pandemic, and as I’ve discovered this is mostly fuelled by pushing though emotional pain. I’ve had many moments when I’ve thought “WHAT AM I EVEN DOING?!”, when I’ve gone out for a run in the rain or spend weekend after weekend plodding along the same route, desperately trying to get the miles in. “Are we nearly there yet?” I used to scream at my parents from the back of the car on the way to Cornwall where we used to holiday every year. I now internally ask this to myself. And yes we are nearly there. I am nearly about to run my first half marathon in three weeks time, and you, if you are reading this, have supportively decided to come along on this journey with me. It’s nice to know I have my own group of cheer leaders encouraging me to keep going, even though I know most people won’t be able to be there on the day.

I’m now up to 12 miles of training. I’ve never missed a long run even though some of them, like today’s, have had to be cut short. Being able to run 12 miles is a long long way. I started my long weekend runs with the running club on Sundays, but since getting confused by routes started to make me anxious, and my muscles tense, I’ve decided to go it alone for the last few long runs before Raceday. I’ve realised that straight out and back routes make so much sense for my brain. I can’t my head around circular routes, and would rather play it safe with a route I know well, and add a bit extra on each time, than stress myself out with trying to follow complicated routes I haven’t ran before. It’s worked, and I’m able to focus on other things, and not where I’m going. One thing I’ve learned during longer runs, is places I once only thought I could get a bus to, I suddenly end up in on foot without thinking. It’s really expanded my world. I’ve been very confined to my home town during the pandemic, which isn’t very big, so being able to get out to the countryside that surrounds me has been lovely. I ran past a farm on an 11 miler a few weeks ago, and stopped to take a bad selfie with an Alpaca. It made me happy. The little things.

I have been worrying a bit recently about muscle tightness, and so most runs recently have been a slow and steady. I’m at the stage of “shit what do I need for race day panic”, that I see is normal before a big race judging by running Facebook groups, especially if you haven’t ran one before. A friend told me recently about some lotions and potions for happy muscles, so I’m excitedly awaiting the arrival of the postman this week. I also need to work out the water carrying situation, and how I am going to keep my energy up. I’ve discovered Cliffs energy chews today, which aren’t too bad and are apparently better than gels. There really is so much to think about when you get up to running longer distances. This running lark really is a full time job!

Running has given me a lot of time to think, and thinking I do. I’m an expert in thinking. I didn’t sleep well last night because I was thinking so much. Tip: don’t plan for a long run on no sleep. It will literally end in tears. I’ve decided to fundraise for a tiny local charity, that no one has really heard of, because I knew that if anyone was going to fuel me with enough emotion to carry on, it would be the Youth Council. Young people really are remarkable, and after working as a youth worker during the pandemic, I’ve realised why I do the job I do. Youth work changes life, it really really does. This pandemic has taught me that young people need youth workers now more than ever. When schools were closed, youth workers became all of the support some young people had. They provide young people that space, away from school or other anxieties to just be young people and to belong. As a young person, the first place I really felt I’d fitted in was at Gateshead Youth Council.

Doesn’t get anymore real than this…

Running has been pretty tough recently, my race number dropping through the door a couple of days ago makes it feel even more real. Can I do this? Have I just sold people a lie, and I don’t really have it in me to complete a half? What if I come last? Are all thoughts that have crossed my mind recently. But I’ve also felt incredibly humbled by support Ive had from friends and complete strangers. THANK YOU person who I just know as “a stranger” for your generous donation, and telling me to keep going when training gets tough. If you’re reading this, your donation really did help me to keep going when I ran 11 miles a few weeks ago and almost got lost. Today was a bad run day, but I know with all the bad runs, there will be good runs that come along to. Just to prove that it’s not all bad. Getting to bed earlier, just in case my brain refuses to sleep will be a plan for long runs going forward. That and not beating myself up too much if I’m not feeling it on a particular day. The crowd will be there to get me round on Great North Run day, and I get to run over the Tyne Bridge twice, what’s not to love! Joking aside, I honestly wouldn’t have been able to do any of this without any of you supporting me and encouraging me not to give up. I aborted todays run earlier because I reasoned that trying again later would be better than running upset and getting injured.

I’ve surpassed my original set fundraising target of £500 quite early on so have upped it to £1000. I didn’t think I’d raise half as much as I have already, post pandemic when the world is still imploding. I’ve had to ban myself from watching the news this week because I find it too upsetting, and wish I could do more to be helpful for people who have more going on in their life, than me complaining I haven’t ran as many miles as I’d hoped. If you can sponsor me at all I will be so so grateful, as will Gateshead Youth Council and the young people who benefit. THREE WEEKS TO GO! I can do it!!

Posted in ADHD, Adventures, Dyspraxia, Education, Great North Run, Mental health, Running, Youth Work | Leave a comment