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 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.


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…)


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

When everything feels awful, until running reminds you it isn’t: on conquering 10.5 miles Great North Run training…

I haven’t written, or even ran as much as I’d like recently. I don’t know why I thought I’d keep up with writing weekly running blog posts, on top of working full time, when for half of my job I’m paid to write, alongside eating, sleeping, keeping up with friendships so I don’t become too much of a distant memory to those closest to me, and of course training for this half bloody marathon. A half marathon that feels so so much closer and intimidating than it did a few weeks ago. The only running I’ve kept up with as if my life depends on it, are the long weekend runs, the weekday shorter runs have been a bit hit and miss, but I’ve never missed a long run. Today I got up to 10.5 miles, all of which I ran on my own, I’m proud, but it wasn’t easy. It was the hardest run I’ve ever completed, not necessarily because of the distance, but because of where I am emotionally. My life on social media in various Facebook groups is consumed by people posting their running times and distances, always accompanied by a grinning photo, and nearly always faster than me, but I rarely read about the runs that have gone wrong, or had the potential to completely derail. That’s why I’m writing about this mornings run, that instead of being a “yay! I ran 10.5 miles!” post, could have very easily led to me completely throwing in the towel and declaring that the Great North Run is beyond me.

“What makes you stick to running?” my ADHD therapist asked me one day, “I have a massive timetable staring me in the face stuck on the wall, that I tick off. And smile at regularly. Also because of how it makes me feel,” I told her. We were exploring doing nice things for myself, that I’m notoriously bad at, and worked out that running is something that despite everything going on in my brain, has managed to stick. Having the routine, sense of achievement and positive feeling all seem to be good for me, and are something I’m trying to work into other areas of my life. This conversation made me ponder for a while; why do I keep going back to running? Why am I pushing my body to do things that are incredibly hard? Why didn’t I lose interest a while ago? I don’t know the answer to those questions, but I do know that it has always been the hard things that have always motivated me. Hyperfocus is either driven by things that I absolutely adore, things that I know I am good at or activities that once felt impossible. I’m sure you’ll see the category running falls into.

The last few weeks everything has felt awful, I’ve struggled with the continuing pandemic and not being able to hug a friend, the demands of my job and the impact Covid has had on young people I work with, I’ve really missed my friends who live miles away, I’ve missed things that were once in my life that don’t seem to be there anymore, I’ve found the ADHD diagnosis suddenly very difficult and grappled with being in my 30’s and not being quite where I want to be yet. To compensate for this I’ve thrown myself into work, working more hours than I probably should or is healthy for that golden “work-life balance” we keep hearing bandied around. My way to compensate for everything that feels like it’s imploding is to stick to things I know I’m good at, professionally I’m a media and comms officer for a charity, with a bit of youth work thrown in too, and working from home has meant I can hyperfocus on something that I know I will always be able to do well; writing. Running has been my focus for the weekends alongside anything I can do during the week, but I know this method of blocking out all of the big feelings is not sustainable. No one can fuel their runs with a whole week of work and not a lot else. Running makes me feel free, it makes me feel like I can conquer anything, it makes me feel more me. That’s why I keep going back. It gives me some stability in a very turbulent brain when I’m always waiting for things to”go wrong.”

I’m following a running programme set out by my running club, including a long 8am Sunday run. This has helped to take some of the organisation away from me, as I don’t have to plan long routes, remember where to go or worry about getting lost. I know I will always be safe when I go out with the club, and someone will always run with me. Long runs are really really daunting, and getting lost is even more daunting. I’d checked the route posted for this mornings run, and it was just a straight out and back 10.5 miles. After getting up early, shovelling down some porridge and a banana, I set off for my 20 minute walk to get to the what I thought was the start. The last couple of days my executive functioning has been all over the place, I’ve forgotten to eat, missed deadlines, been so distracted that I wasted more time than I should, gave up with lunch completely and resorted to a cereal bar at 4pm and just felt very low. I’ve felt awful about not being able to function like a fully functioning adult, and that I get overwhelmed by the most straightforward, everyday things. I’ve lost count of the times when I’ve opened up the fridge, starred at it for a moment, and then gave up on working out what to do for lunch altogether. I’ve had everything that screams the diagnostic criteria for ADHD this week.

Halfway to the runs start point, I remembered that I’d forgotten sun cream and had managed to leave my water on the side. I headed home for both of them, stressed that I wasn’t going to make it, and annoyed with myself that I managed to forget when I’d made sure I had everything ready the night before. As I left for the second time, the front door wouldn’t close, so I had to fight with that for a moment, leaving me 10 minutes for my 20 minute walk. As I finally got there I didn’t see anyone, have they left bang on 8 for a change? I wondered. I posted to ask to on the Facebook group, and found out that they were at a completely different starting point to where I was. I felt broken. Broken that my brain somehow misread the post and I was now facing a 10.5 mile run without my usual Sunday morning support. There was no question about doing it. Bailing was not an option. I started to cry, I was overwhelmed, the Great North Run is only weeks away and at that moment I questioned if it was even possible. Running through floods of tears is not a good look or ideal for first thing on a Sunday morning, but there I was more determined than ever to make it to the statue of Paddington bear in the garden and back. I put my music on, blocked everything out around me, and focussed on me. once I’d stopped crying, I realised there wasn’t anything I could do about today, but I could push on to make sure I got to where I wanted to be. That I got my 10.5 miles in no matter what it took. I ran on and stopped at a bench for a while, questioning everything, that moment of pause seemed to be what I needed to hyperfocus on making it to Paddington. I ran like I’ve never ran before. Like I actually knew what I was doing. I refused to give up until I made it to the end. I saw some of the club as I ran, always being greeted with a cheery hello and a “keep going”. I didn’t stop to explain what had happened this morning, that I felt completely useless until I realised the opposite. I just kept going. It’s beautiful up that end of the path, the Paddington house is in a lovely village surrounded by fields of horses and miles of countryside. There were moments when I stopped and thought “god is Paddington much further?!” He was where he has always been, and I got there. I really got there. All on my own. As I got up to Paddington, Thea Gilmore’s ‘Beautiful day’ came on, and I broke down again. It really was a beautiful day, so much more so because it felt like the opposite several miles away. As I turned around at the village and headed back, I knew today would have been impossible a few years ago. I would have decided to give up when I realised I got the meeting point wrong. I stuck with it today because I have so much support spurring me on to get there and I understand why my brain works the way it does so much better than before. The anger with myself is short-lived because I can get out there for some of what running makes me feel. I am so bloody proud.

Thank you so so much to particularly my friends, family and Red Kite Runners for all of the support so far, without any of you I’m certain today wouldn’t have been possible.

The Great North Run is well and truly on; if you were thinking about sponsoring me and wanted to, you can do so here.

Made it to Paddington!

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

I ran 8 miles! Why I run: Week 12 & 13 Great North Run training…

I’m writing this after hearing the announcement today on the 40th anniversary of the first Great North Run, that the Great North Run 2021 will go ahead in September. I am excited and scared and all of the emotions you can imagine. This piece of certainty in amongst all of the uncertainty we’ve experienced this year really is welcomed. It means I can confirm a week off work around the run, people who wanted to come and watch me run can make plans and I can continue with my hyperfocus of training, reassured that I am working towards something massive. HALF MARATHON still feels like a bit of a scary word but with every extra mile I run it seems more manageable. That I can actually do it. On Sunday I reached a bit of a milestone with my running journey. I ran a whole eight miles, the furthest I have ever ran.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about why I run, and want to use this space to share those thoughts with you. Over the weekend I watched a documentary about women running in India, who were reclaiming the streets and proving they can run too. You may have read me referencing India in my blogs before, I spent a bit of time there in my 20’s, very quickly falling in love with the country, the culture and its people. There is also a darker side to India, and one that as a western woman I have no authority or right to comment on. I do however have admiration for these women taking up running in India, and tackling barriers head on, that over here I don’t experience on quite the scale they do. I run for many things, not for friends, or family, or the random guy shouting at me in the street, I run for me and for those who can’t. This is why I run. And why this iconic race taking place in my beloved North East is so so important to me.

I run to feel free, to hear the birds, I run to feel more like me

I run to quieten my brain. I run to dampen down the thoughts.

Running helps slow down the washing machine in my noisy brain

I run because once I was told running was beyond me

I run to prove those negative comments wrong

I run on days when anxiety is bad, to prove there is still something to get out of bed for

I run for my late friend, and for all those who have tragically lost friends and family too soon

I run for those who can’t

I run for a younger me, scared and terrified, hiding at the back of a school sports hall

I run for young people who are laughed at for their uncoordinated body or appearing awkward in class

I run because I like a challenge, to set out to do something and do it well

I run for the women in India fighting oppression through a love for a sport we share

I run because hyperfocus has given me the motivation to get out of the door

I run because I can do it on my own or with others

I run because running is a personal thing to me and no one can take that away from me

Running temporarily shuts up that voice telling me I’m terrible at everything. I can run.

I run for youth work that helped me to become me. And my youth workers who listened and never doubted I could

I run because nobody can tell me I’m doing it wrong. I am in control. I run for me.

I am running a half marathon for young people in Gateshead, to show if I can run, they can surprise themselves too

I run because I was once made to believe I can’t, and now eight miles in, I know I can.

If you’ve got this far, there really are no more words, other than a massive thank you for all of the support so far. People saying nice things really keeps me going too. And as always, if you’d like to sponsor my Great North Run now we know it IS going to happen, you can do so here.

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

Advice to my younger neurodivergent self following graduation

This week has been poignant in many ways, one of them being my little sister, who’s a decade younger than me, and many of her friends, acing their degrees. And in a pandemic of all times. She isn’t neurodivergent, but it got me thinking, reflecting and to some extent ruminating over what I could have done, should have thought about or just shouldn’t have done, and of course the might have beens, as a 21 year old dyspraxic and undiagnosed ADHD young woman going out into the world. I have many thoughts so as is typical for me, I’ve decided to write them down for any young person, neurodivergent or not wondering what am I supposed to do with my life now? And that confusion you’re feeling right now, as much as it makes you feel lost, is normal. No one really has all of their life mapped out. And if they do, they’re probably harvesting their own demons.

I went the kind of state school that if you got as far as sixth form, university was the norm. The expectations I had of life have always been from the day I turned 18, to just get through the next thing. I was always good at writing, so used that to my advantage to get through so many degrees and letters of complaint I’ve ended up having to write in the last decade, because people just didn’t get me, mostly. I didn’t want the big house. or the car. or the family and nice job. I just wanted to feel okay. And at 21 I really really didn’t, so I travelled half way across the world to India to try and feel better. I didn’t even consider that one day when I want to learn to drive, I’ll be so scared to start, because I might not be able to do it. The world terrified me, when most young people were beginning to understand the world we live in and moving away from home, I was still trying to understand myself. Understanding that didn’t come to me until the age of 31 after an ADHD diagnosis, and even now there’s still far too many things that have me baffled.

So at the age of 21, when I opened those university results, what do I wish I’d allowed myself more than anything? Time. I spent years following that day leaping from one bit of education to another. I still try to do too many things at once, and then burn out. Hello ADHD. I wanted to be a teacher at one stage, failing to get onto a PGCE because my maths is awful, to then training as a youth worker, and finally a journalist. I’m now quite happily working in charity media and comms. My idea of what I was good at or could do changed, and it took time for that to click, and thousands of pounds in Masters tuition fees. Time is of course a privilege and some people simply do not have time. Time for a neurodivergent young person can mean everything. There are some things I wish I’d known or done then that would have made the following years less painful. Some of these do of course come with age, and I’m now lucky to have a select few friends who are great, and take me for me. It means the world when you’re not feeling judged by those closest to you. If I was 21 again, being told the following might have helped:

  • Don’t rush into things because everyone else is doing it.

It’s so easy to just run along with the crowd. I did. We all do. My school screamed university once they realised I had capabilities that until then were unnoticed. What post uni? A Masters? or a Grad scheme? or maybe some traveling? But you don’t have to. You don’t have to do it all now. You don’t have to apply for hundreds of jobs, and feel more disheartened with every rejection accompanied by “needs more experience.” If you’ve done well in your degree, and even if you haven’t a masters can wait. Likewise you don’t need that relationship, driving lesson or to move to the desired city if you’re not ready. You don’t even need to move away from home. One of my greatest annoyances when I was younger is people, usually friends saying, “you haven’t moved out yet?” or “Don’t you think it’s time to move out, Alice?” without really understanding all of the deep rooted reasons why. Similarly saying, “Oh your just a bit awkward,” whilst it was meant in a supportive, endearing and encouraging way. It was not. It diminished difficulties I had with moving onto the next thing and chronic struggle with change. In my 20’s I struggled to verbalise those difficulties. I’m 32 and just thinking about moving out on my own for the first time. it’s terrifying now, so I definitely would not have been ready then. Accepting that things might take longer for me was an important life lesson. Your time will come.

  • Listen to your body. It’s okay to say no

My 20’s were full of busy. They were also a time when my anxiety was at it’s highest, with no proper mental health support. I always wanted to be doing something, trying something new or travelling. I spent more time on trains than I did at home. I also experienced a lot of fatigue because I didn’t recognise when my body needed time alone to recover. The image sold to you at freshers weeks was to have a big group of friends and to do all of the things. I tried. I went to social events even though they made me feel incredibly anxious and I couldn’t find the words to tell anyone what was wrong. I often ended up just getting mothered or big bothered. This just made things worse. I didn’t want that, I just wanted a friend. I broke down in tears at a friends house once because I was overwhelmed by all of the people and constantly being on the go. I couldn’t find the words to tell him what was going on, and felt guilty for not going on the pub crawl. You should never feel that your mental health has spoiled someone elses night. If your body is telling you to get an early night, or to avoid all of the people and get stuck into a good book, do it. You’re not weird, or awkward or antisocial. You’re normal. And you certainly haven’t let anyone down by giving yourself time to recover.

  • It’s easy to feel you have to justify yourself to others but you really don’t have to

I spent a lot of time trying to impress a lot of people post university. I’ve also found myself in situations where I’ve felt I’ve had to explain, and ended up oversharing. It’s common for neurodivergent women to look up to others, and want to be liked, or wanted and even needed. I’ve had jobs where people have made assumptions, some friends have jumped to conclusions and people in all areas of my life just haven’t “got me”. It’s tough. But when you’re still trying to understand or work yourself out, explaining yourself to others is even tougher. You don’t have to tell anyone you’re neurodivergent if you don’t have to. Dyspraxia and ADHD comes up quite naturally in conversation for me now, but it never used to. The ground swallowing me up would often be more preferable than explaining to someone that I have dyspraxia. I could have done better than I did in my degree, but I don’t have to justify that to anyone. I wish that second year didn’t make me almost completely lose the plot, but no one needs to know those details if I don’t want them to. I really wish I understood the concept of boundaries sooner. You don’t owe anything to anyone.

  • Think about what you can do, rather than what you can’t

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably spent a lot of time being told what you can’t do. You only have to look at a diagnostic criteria’s to see that. If I wasn’t explicitly told, I worked out that I would probably struggle more than most in most “normal” jobs. I’ve never had a job “just to get by” because I can’t. I wouldn’t last long in a bar, or a restaurant or a shop. My skill set doesn’t allow me to be an allrounder, and allrounders are generally what employers look for. Getting “just any job” terrified me when I used to claim job seekers allowance because I knew that I would spectacularly fail. But if you want me to write a winning complaint letter to put people back in their place? Or something so emotive it’ll make you cry? I’m your woman. It took me a while to recognise what I could do, and that that piece of paper with some letters signalling a degree, no matter how important it was, it did not define me. I took up running, not because I’m ever going to be an elite athlete or that I’m any good at it, but because it was on the list of things people told me would be impossible. I now run three times a week for myself and my mental health. It took me a while and it’s still a work in progress, to recognise what I could do. I rarely disclose in interviews or on applications unless it comes up naturally for this reason, because I don’t want anything (even if it is just thoughts in my head) to get in the way of what I can offer to that particular organisation. I disclose once I’m offered a job these days, careful to frame it as “this is what I can offer you, and this is how you can support me”, but it’s taken years to develop the confidence to get here. “What can we do for you?” is the hardest question to answer, and sometimes the only answer I can find is, ‘I don’t know, and sometimes I just want you to recognise that I won’t know what I need.” We have an uneven pattern of strengths and weaknesses for a reason, use these strengths to your advantage. Oh, to having a spiky profile.

  • It’s normal to feel guilty for doing nice things for yourself but you really don’t have to

I’ve written the above but it’s something I haven’t quite worked out myself yet, and it’s a good example of your 30’s being just as confusing as your 20’s sometimes. I lost a friend in my 20’s and don’t know if some of this is feeling guilty that I’m doing things, he wasn’t able to. Several of my friends have got married or had children recently, and I often wonder what his life would be like if he’d been around. But grief or not, we all at times feel guilty for stopping, buying a nice thing or taking some time off for ourselves. I’m currently on two weeks annual leave, and finding it very hard to switch off from all of the work that will be waiting for me when I return. So in the words of advice others have given me; “YOU totally have a right to nice things too.” So there I said it. Go and treat yourself. And if you’ve just got through a degree in a pandemic, you have even more of a reason to celebrate.

  • Ask for feedback from those job interviews you think you “failed.”

Applying and being rejected from jobs is disheartening, and not getting feedback or knowing where you went “wrong” is confusing. Most organisations, if you get to interview stage will offer some form of feedback, but often you have to ask for it. A lot of the feedback I’ve had is that they “really liked me but I need more experience”, or that “another person had more of what they were looking for.” There was nothing I could do about this unless I literally became that person. I once had an interview at the guardian, wasn’t successful, but the feedback from a top editor in a national newspaper, that she “really liked my style of writing” meant the world to me. It meant that I didn’t give up, and worked my arse off in my final few months of the journalism MA to get a distiiction. I genuinely think that I was only able to do that because someone gave me the feedback that I was good, and wanted to keep in touch once I’d graduated.

  • Pick your battles

Learning to pick my battles earlier, would have given me back so much time. When I was younger I complained about literally everything, the comment made by a teacher at school “Alice has a strong sense of justice and fairness,” stuck with me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a characteristic my friends love me for now, but it has got me into a fair bit of bother and lengthy complaint letter bingo. Much of the complaining I’ve had to do has been a direct result of someone taking exception to my Neurodiversity. Not understanding me. Although at school it was more down to being annoyed at the litter on the school grounds, because I was a very angry hippy. But now that would be applauded, look at the climate activists and Greta Thunburg. Sometimes I just needed to learn that I’m not going to change this person or organisation on my own, and as long as no one else was in danger, (with exception of one complaint I can think of), to walk away. I was always set on changing the world, often with the detrimental impact on my mental health. Some battles are totally worth fighting for so do fight those ones, but don’t think that you have to take on the whole world like a one woman army.

  • Education is only the start. Your worth more than a piece of paper.

This is a tricky one, because for a while education was the only thing I could do well, I’ve toyed with doing a PHD and still do sometimes because collecting pieces of paper to say I could do something was all I thought my worth amounted to. When you’ve spent all of your life being told things will be harder for you, it’s only natural for that piece of paper proving you can to matter more than most people will understand. That degree, how much it matters I got through it, was only the start for me. I’ve learned just as much through friendships and from different employers as I did at uni. Life has a very strange way of working itself out. Everything that you can do will not be outlined in your degree, and that’s why neurodivergent brains are bloody brilliant. Likewise don’t let anyone tell you your degree isn’t worth what it means to you, you’ve worked hard for it, harder than most, and deserve to be proud.

  • It might take a while to find the right therapist, but persevere.

The one thing I wish I’d done at a younger age, is to accept my mental health difficulties and seek support sooner. I mean NHS talking therapies have a lot of room for improvement, and it’s taken me a while to find the right one, eventually funded through access to work. It seems easier now with so many more people talking openly about their mental health than when I essentially had a breakdown, but whether it is 2008 or 2021, it still takes time to work out what you need. Therapists are a bit like relationships, some of them are shit, and some will be good. It takes time to find a good one. Bare that in mind.

  • Be honest if something just feels too much

Linked to mental health I’m learning to be more honest both at work and with my friends. If people have been around me long enough, they can read me like a book, and I find it increasingly difficult to hide how I’m feeling. Honest conversations, not always specifically about neurodiversity, have helped me to form friendships that mean more than I can find the words for, and develop good working relationships with colleagues. “I can’t right now, can I have more time?” or “This is how I’m really feeling,” are two of the most empowering phrases I’ve learned to articulate to others.

  • Aim high for yourself and because you love what you do

And finally, looking back, I did my degree in history and politics, not because I was ever going to be a politician, but because I naively wanted to change the world. I was good at the subject, and felt so strongly that both history and politics were the foundations of our lives. I wrote passionate, strongly worded essays because I loved the subject. I had no idea where it would take me, and I haven’t used the degree since, but at the time I loved learning about the world. I sometimes wish I’d knuckled down more, and not let so much affect me at the time, to get a better degree than I did, but I don’t regret choosing something I enjoyed. if you are receiving your degree results this month. Aim high for yourself and no one else, do what you do because you love it, not because you have to. If you love what you do, it’s much more likely to lead to something rewarding, exciting or take you somewhere positive. It may take time. But you will get there. We all do in the end.

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

Running my way out of a pandemic: Great North Run Training week 10 and 11

Week 10! OMG how have I got here almost in one piece. Well actually I’m at the end of week 11 at the time of writing, but the thought still stands. And towards the end of week 12 at the time of sharing – things got busy! Running now really really clicks, and I have to force myself to have rest days to avoid breaking myself or injury before GNR day. I’m generally quite knackered at the moment, now my mileage is increasing, especially at the weekends, but it’s a good kind of knackered. A “my god I actually can bloody DO this!” kind of knackered. I’ve also noticed the hunger. That feeling of “I must eat all of the things!” I’m burning a lot of calories at the moment, so I was told this would happen. I’ve struggled to keep up with weekly writing about running as I’d hoped, and sometimes I just don’t know what to say. ‘There, was another tree, then I ran another K,’ doesn’t make for an exciting read. I’ve also worried that NO ONE WITH BE INTERESTED IN WHAT I HAVE TO SAY, and that I’ve probably bored most people to death by now. “Oh there’s Alice again, talking about ANOTHER run.” I know it’s probably not like that, but my brain has other ideas. The runners fatigue that has now kicked in has been the most difficult thing to deal with so far on top of working full time, so resolving to document my training fortnightly and not put any more unnecessary pressure on myself seems wise.

My Tuesday run was with the running club, that seemed to coincide with all of the teenagers in the area celebrating leaving school. There was a massive gang of them having a jolly time. They were everywhere. I suddenly felt very old as I calculated how long it is since I left school. It’s tradition in these parts for young people to celebrate and I’m assuming get very drunk in a field adjacent to where I run. Not exactly Covid secure, but I also couldn’t imagine being a sixteen year old in Covid times. I wasn’t very good at it in normal times, so hats off to them for getting through the year. Our run was momentarily disrupted by slightly worse for wear young people making their way across the viaduct. “Ahh I don’t want to be a youth worker when I’m off!” I said, “They’re intimidating when they’re in packs” the person who I ran with commented. “Oh I’m much better with ones I know,” I replied. We waited until the young people had moved on before we continued our run. it was a nice gentle 5K. I’m getting more confident with routes now, and feeling more reassured that I won’t get lost. We meandered round the lake, and I attempted to make conversation while we ran, which consisted of the odd sentence here and there. Some people are really chatty when they run, and I’ve seen women have full on in depth conversations, but I can’t do that. Don’t get me wrong, I quite like a good in-depth conversation, but not when combined with running. I like the two separately. I need to spend most of my time making sure I’m running in a straight line and not falling over, adding a chat into the mix is most definitely too much brain power.

On Friday I ran alone, we were having a take-away family curry so I decided to run to the local Indian restaurant where we were picking it up from. Motivation like no other. It was a nice steady 5K, and a fairly quiet run. I’m getting towards the stage of training when I’m sailing through the shorter runs during the week. If I run on my own I almost always run with music, unless I forget to charge my headphones the night before. 5K on a longer run now acts as a nice warm up as I begin to find my stride, it always takes me a while to get into a run, and by 5K I’m eventually there, often feeling I could run further. And sometimes I do, except this time a curry was calling me.

Talking of longer runs, Sundays run was a 10K. A whole 6 miles. Getting up to 10K still feels like it’s something other people do, not me. On this run I discovered the meaning of running blisters and tried interval running without completely losing it and falling over. I have found, and it didn’t take me long to discover this, that singing whilst running helps me to regulate my breathing. I guess it has the same affect as having a conversation, except this way I don’t have to talk to anyone. I had ringing in the back of my head “if you can get to 10K by June, you can do a half marathon in September,” I can’t remember who said this to me, but it’s stuck. As I ran, and found a nice bit of grass near the duck pond before it joined onto the main road again, I decided to have a go at running intervals. Interval running is essentially made up of two parts A) find a nice piece of flat ground with clear markers B) Run between those markers as fast as you can without falling over. Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it? So I found a nice piece of grass to break my fall if I couldn’t put the breaks on after speeding up, that had trees I could run between. I also made sure no one was around to watch. They weren’t. I bombed it along as fast as I could, and shouted ” COME ON ALICE,” out loud. As if I thought a bit of encouraging myself was what was needed. Quickly realising, interval running had quite a bit of room for improvement. I did it. But my grass didn’t last forever, so running at a ridiculous uncoordinated speed didn’t last for long. Quickly resuming my comfortable trot. I also ran the whole 10K, later coming home to eat lots of food, and not moving from my spot in the sun for several hours.

May be an image of Alice Hewson, tree and outdoors

Tuesday was a nice slow practice run to stretch my legs in preparation for Wednesday, and my biggest running achievement. I’ve always been aware of the Blaydon Race, it’s the only thing my home town is famous for, but never believed it was something I could ever do, or even want to. Since I started running, and wanted to start running races, The Blaydon Race has always been something to aspire to, not least because being from Blaydon and being a runner, people always ask, “So, you’ve ran the Blaydon race then,?” And saying “well no, I haven’t,” doesn’t sound right. I entered the 2020 Blaydon Race, when I thought I was running the Great North Run last September, but didn’t get a place. Then the pandemic hit so I wouldn’t have been able to run the real thing anyway. The real thing being, as the famous song will tell you, running along the Scotwood roooooad into Blaydon toooon. For those who don’t know the Blaydon race is 10K or 6 miles for those who can’t get their heads around kilometres. I have to run two and a tiny bit more when I run this half, which still feels daunting. As I began training this year, and keeping my running to a consistent routine, I signed up to run the Blaydon Race virtually. As my finisher t-shirt tells me, 10k alang any rooooad. I took the day off work especially and made sure I had an exciting lunch for when I returned. I decided to run in the morning, because it seems to be the time I run at my best, the rest of the time I generally feel very sluggish and longer runs are so much harder. Hobbling around a 5k works just about, but anything else often feels like it wasn’t worth going out for. With an appropriate playlist of Geordie folk songs, I was off. Gannin’ alang any road. I’d worked out a rough route and used my Fitbit as a guide to make sure I’d done the maths right in my head. I was grinning a bit like a Cheshire Cat as I ran, it was boiling, and running in the heat is hard but I kept plodding on. on exactly the 9th of June I was running my first Blaydon Race solo. I kept to a decent pace, finishing with a slightly faster time than the 10K’s I ran previously. Getting to 10K when it once seemed way beyond any of my capabilities, was a magical moment. Experiencing this moment on my own felt like the right thing. Next year I hope to run the real thing, with a crowd, and other runners and dancers at the end. My first 10K race, and hopefully not the last. I even have the T-shirt to prove it.

Still on a high from Wednesdays Blaydon Race, I ran 12k on Saturday, ending week 11 with the most intense runners fatigue. The first 8K was brill, the last 4K, not so brill. And talking about the not so brill parts of running is just as important as the runs that do go well. At 8k, when I was firmly in my stride and running like a boss, I encountered a dog who was clearly barking at me. Maybe it was my pink hat he didn’t like, who knows. A teeny tiny, very angry looking dog. I stopped running and began to walk as I approached it’s owner. Those of you who know me will know I’m more of a cat person, although I’m not totally against dogs. I’m fine with dogs I know. We have friends who live on a farm, and their dog Patch absolutely adores me. I have no idea why but the feelings mutual. Dogs when out running, and dogs I don’t know how they’ll react as I run towards them are a different story. As I walked closer, and the dog clearly wasn’t going to stop barking, I asked the owner, “can you put your dog on a lead please?, I’m not keen on dogs.” I decent request I assumed. “He won’t go for you, he just barks,” I was told. If I was a family with young children, or walking a nervous dog, or any other person, would she have said the same? I was an often anxious woman, on my own trying to enjoy a run. I didn’t need the extra anxiety she caused. I asked again for the dog to be put on a lead. “NO I WON’T,” she continued. “There’s loads of dogs along here, you better get used to it. “YOU shouldn’t be running along here if you don’t like dogs”. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t think I was at all unreasonable, it had taken me months to get to the stage of feeling comfortable running again, and I feared this dog walker had just put me back to square run. Although I didn’t think this at the time, her dog, now much closer was still barking at me. I then, before he could get me, sprinted away as fast as I could. The dog trying to chase after me. “KODY COME HERE,” I heard her shout the dogs name. I ran the fastest I’ve ever ran in my life. The adrenaline made me realise how fast I can run if I am being chased, although as I general rule I wouldn’t recommend it as a way to crack interval training. I stopped to catch my breath after my sprint, and noticed my FitBit only said 8K. Only another 4K today. Can I manage 4K if dog lady had worked me up so much? Still full of adrenaline I pushed on to finish. I ran a whole 12K. The furthest I have ever ran.

May be an image of Alice Hewson, standing and outdoors

I was pleased about my run, but this joy was overshadowed my an unpleasant experience once the adrenaline and the dopamine hit had warn off. I had just as much right to be there as she did, I could run, she could dog walk, the problem was when she thought her right to dog walk overshadowed my right to run. I thought if only you knew where I’d been to get on this path right here. But then I thought she didn’t need to know, that wasn’t her right. And if she did, she probably wouldn’t be understanding as her demeanour demonstrated. Writing about the bad runs is important, because I knew when I embarked on training it wouldn’t all go smoothly. If anything, life has taught me just that. I’m a living, breathing example of things not always going to plan. I didn’t envisage an angry dog walker taking such exception to me running along the path because I didn’t think her dog was wonderful, or want to be barked at. I adore the outdoors, so much more since the days of anxiety, depression and more recently lockdown. Getting outside is special. Really really special. And we all need to make it easier for others to enjoy it too. Even if that means putting your dog on a lead, slowing your bike down or walking in single file to make way for more cautious social distancers. Running is helping my recovery in a big way, and I don’t need to discuss that with a stranger. We all have a story to tell, I write about mine for you to read because it means so much to be able to run, and for a small part of the day to feel free from my brain.

If you’ve got to the end of this, there is always time to SPONSOR ME! I’m pushing on with my training for Gateshead Youth Council, and it would mean so much to me and them, if you could support my half marathon. The support helps me to believe I can, on days I’m certain I can’t.

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Running my way out of a pandemic: Great North Run training weeks 8 and 9

Week 8 and 9 hurrah!

I’ve combined week 8 and 9’s posts because life has got busy, working full time is beginning to take its toll, and I keep finding out the hard way that I need to learn to fuel myself better. Both during the day and more importantly, before a run.

May be an image of 3 people, including Liberty Caithness and Madeleine Hewson, tree and outdoors

Week 8 was slightly different and more busy as my sister came home from uni, the first time I’ve seen her in six months so it was pretty special. I persuaded her, alongside one of her friends to accompany me on my usual Tuesday night run with my running club. It was a nice slow plod, she was tired from travelling and her friend and I were knackered from a full day of work. This week it was Raceday route in reverse, the route everyone who joins the clubs couch 2 5k programme runs, to complete their 5K journey and earn their first running medal. So, I knew this route well, even if it’s back to front. On our way round we accidentally took a short cut, I only realised when we were half way up the wrong path, but no one seemed to mind. It was a good steady run, I ran a bit ahead of the girls for a bit but then dropped back so we could run as a group, although still a bit in front so they had the chance to properly catch up. On the top path I asked if we should take the nicer hill down or the steeper hill. Couchie hill is evil, even more so looking down it. “No, no more cheating!” I was firmly told. We ran on. I even made it to the bottom of the hill without falling flat on my face. My achievement of the day. The three of us finished the 5K in good time considering two of us had been working all day, and the other one hadn’t ran in a while. After the run we were excited for our take away family curry, we really had earned it. Not that you ever need to exercise to earn food, but I’m sure you get what I mean.

On Wednesday I didn’t run but instead used my “rest day” to go on a 10 mile family walk along the Northumberland coast. It was a lovely day, with the whole family, even my brother came along. We even had the weather on our side, sitting in the middle of a pretty empty field to have our picnic before we stomped along the coastal path. Since I’ve started running more regularly my fitness and stamina has definitely improved, long walks don’t seem so long now, and I don’t feel as tired after a day out. On the way back dad declared that he knew “a short cut”, resulting in doubling the route to the car, walking up hill for most of it and avoiding a field of cows. Sometimes dyspraxia and ADHD running in families really does make sense, but I’ll leave that thought there. We got back in the end. On the way back we went in search ice creams. The only ice cream shop in the village was shut, I mean, didn’t they know I was coming? I got over the disappointment quickly because it was such a nice day out. A day of annual leave in middle of the week is always a wise plan.

May be an image of 3 people, including Alice Hewson and Madeleine Hewson, people standing and outdoors

My third run of week 8 was meant to be on Thursday, with my running club and accompanied by my sister again. We were so tired after our long walk the previous day, we decided to give it a miss and have an evening in instead. On Friday my sister travelled onwards to visit a friend, so feeling lost and knackered from work I made my third run of the week Friday instead. I’m slowly getting better at adjusting when I run depending on how I feel, the motivation to stick to my training plan is there, but now with some flexibility. I realise that mornings after a night of insomnia aren’t always the best time to run. This run was quite a rainy run, I did about 7K before dinner and felt awesome. I run for how running makes me feel more than anything else, and as long as it makes me feel like I can conquer anything, the more I will run. I think It’s got to the stage now when everyone even in real life or online, and especially my family who have to hear about running daily, that people must be quite sick of me mentioning running all of the time. My Instagram is now mostly running photos with the occasional cat to break things up. No one has complained yet, although not long to go until September now! Talking about September if you know me personally and would like to come and watch the Great North Run, let me know and we can book a table somewhere after I’ve hopefully crossed the finish line with all of my limbs still intact. Not that I want to jinx it too much. The support I’ve had from all parts of my life has been my biggest motivator to continue with running, even when its raining or melting hot temperatures. I’ll still be there pounding the pavements. And wondering, is this real? Am I actually running and enjoying it? Running and me in the same sentence still feels like something from a mythical land.

On Sunday I ran 10K. A whole 6 miles and I didn’t die. I didn’t plan on 10K, I just kept going. The ability to keep going must be a good thing. I’m not sure if I prefer running on my own or with other people, I know I have the balance right with the club, that motivates me to run on days when curling up with a good book is preferable, but there are times when running on my own makes me feel like I’m totally bossing it. I can lock myself away from everything but the sound of my feet on the pavement and the music in my ears. And that is wonderful. As long as I can still run, and keep going back for more, I know that things are going to be okay. Even when anxiety is shouting all sorts of obscenities at me. This 10k made me think more than most runs, maybe because covering a bigger distance allows for that time, to really think about why I’m here. Not necessarily the fundraising side of things, although that is a massive motivator, but why after all these years or hating exercise and sport, I’ve decided to take all 5″7 of me out for a run on such a regular basis. It all comes down to one thing, support, and that the support I have now is much better than I’ve ever had. I’ve worked out the type of friends I want around me, I’ve understood what a one-sided friendship look like and that I very much don’t want that, and I’ve found a group of runners who take me for who I am. I don’t have to be anyone else for people in my life now, I can just be me. Before, and long before an ADHD diagnosis, when dyspraxia was all I knew and all I wanted to be very much not part of me, I was embarrassed about being me. I worried about saying the wrong thing, or pissing off the wrong people, I didn’t want to seem clumsy and awkward. I really just didn’t want to be me. I didn’t have any sense of identity, other than what was expected of teenage girls. And I knew I was pretty far away from that. I always remember friends commenting that I would say “I don’t know” a lot, because I was cautious about saying what I thought, or really holding that opinion with conviction. Really, I knew lots of things, I just didn’t know it yet! So running for me is more than therapy or something I do to clear my head after a busy day at work, it has helped me to find who I am, and to be comfortable with my identity. That sense of otherness I felt when I was younger was only such a stumbling block because I hadn’t met the right people who really accept me yet. Running 10K gave me time to ponder all of this, to understand why I’m so in love with this sport. It has given me the freedom to be me. Freedom that never existed before.

I started week 9 of training with what was meant to be a 5K run, that turned into a 5K walk with little bits of running in between. I learned the hard way the importance of properly fuelling yourself before a run, and that sugar levels dropping are something you should probably avoid when out running. “I haven’t eaten since lunch, I feel a bit wobbly,” I declared. “Your sugar levels are probably low, I was told.” I walked for most of this run, chatting to one of the run leaders who set up Red kite Runners. We talked about dyspraxia and ADHD and my work as a youth worker with young carers. I talked about never really being encouraged with PE at school, and finding a really different atmosphere when I joined the club. I mentioned that I “wasn’t bad” at writing too, leading to being asked to join the running clubs committee. I said I would think about it. Later deciding to say yes. It was nice to have a bit of a fast walk and a chat, and probably what I needed after quite a heavy few weeks at work recently. We talked about mental health, and the benefits running has had on both of our mental health. I want other people to discover the wonders of running too, and realise you don’t have to be chasing personal bests all of the time. Sometimes a fast walk, with low sugar levels is enough. I was given an emergency banana bar as we neared the half way point of the 5K, this gave me some energy to not literally fall over, and reach the end.

Towards the end of week 9, my parents travelled south to visit my grandma in her care home. She was diagnosed with dementia at the beginning of this year, and it’s tough being so far away and not being able to go anywhere because of Covid. Friday night was tiring after another busy week at work, who knew being the sole media and comms person for a charity could make you feel like you’re working several full time jobs at once? Throw in executive dysfunction that doesn’t warn me before it’s here and we have a recipe for constantly chasing to-do lists. Saying that I’ve some how managed to stay mostly on track. This Friday run was a slow and a short one, a little plod around the block is all I had the energy for today. Even if the run is short and not as I had planned, it’s all worth it. I never ever regret a run. This is the most important thing I’ve learned this year, running may feel like an effort as I slip into my trainers, but once I’m out, I know why I have made the effort. That freedom I mentioned earlier, I feel it more on the hard runs.

May be an image of one or more people, tree and outdoors

My final run of week 9 was another 10K, the more of them I do, in theory the more comfortable I should feel about this distance and gradually increasing the millage. This 10K, however glad I was that I completed it, was tough. I didn’t even think I could complete 3K at one point. Everything felt wrong about this run, I was slow, it was warm, I couldn’t get my pace right and don’t even mention breathing. I’ve written a lot in these training blog posts about loving running, and I really really do, but sometimes we need to talk about when its not so great. The runs that feel impossible, when it doesn’t feel worth going out for, when everything feels wrong, even down to the joggers you chose to wear. The bad runs are important to talk about too. About 2 K into this run, I began to doubt the whole thing, not just that particular run, but if I even have it in me to run a whole half marathon. Is this just a massive step too far? I thought, as I chugged along. I can’t do this. What was I even doing believing that I can? Running is hard, and sometimes it feels impossible. It feels like I’ve been fooling everyone I know, telling everyone that I’m going to run the Great North Run, when sometimes, I can barely run around the block without panicking about running such a long distance. I want people to be proud that I’ve done it, not disappointed because I discovered in the middle of the race that 13.1 miles isn’t something an Alice can do. I can quite easily (thanks to overthinking!) come up with lots of reasons why something is a bad plan. But thanks to shit loads of therapy, I was able to push on. I walked if I needed to and kept thinking about something to keep me going, this changed from my fundraising, to eventually meeting up with friends who’ve had two vaccines, to the summer and seeing my sister when she’s back again at the end of June. I kept going, and by 6K when I’d finally warmed up, I realised that these thoughts, feelings and moments of doubt were just a wobble. One of many wobbles in the weeks to come, I’m sure. As I was turning my thoughts around, I heard over the music in my headphones, “You alright?”, I looked across the road to see a man who was probably at least 80. I must have looked really awful, I thought. One thing I’ve learned from running is sometimes runs will feel really shit before they feel better again. That 10K wasn’t my best and no where near my fastest, but I’m proud I did it. It means more after shit runs.

On Monday I was invited onto Radio Sheffield to talk live about dyspraxia and the importance of continuing support into adulthood. I mentioned running, and the difference having encouragement can make to a clumsy, dyspraxic woman who was always told that she couldn’t. It was a good interview, and I’m told I spoke well, given that I was asked a lot of big questions, with no prep time to plan my answers. Speaking off the cuff will never be my forte’. I’m a good public speaker, but always with a script and a plan. I do like a good plan. I was pleased to speak about dyspraxia as an individual and not attached to any organisation this time, after the awful trolling I experienced this time last year, it shows that I’m still around and doing much better for it. You can listen to the interview on BBC Sounds here, my slot appears about 1:44 into the show.

Following this interview I received a very lovely and generous donation towards my Great north Run fundraising from someone I don’t know. At least I don’t think I recognise the name. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU! And if you feel able to and are reading this, please get in touch so I can thank you personally. I really wasn’t expecting that. And to the rest of you who have got to the end of this blog post, and can, please consider contributing to my fundraising. You will help to make the bad runs seem worth it. And support a fantastic charity who I will always hold close to me. I’m me because of them, and there’s no better reason to fundraise and run many miles than that.

Thanks for all of the support so far!

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