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 Dyspraxia, Mental health, Youth Work, Occassions, Writing, Adventures, Music, Running, Covid-19, ADHD, Great North Run | 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.

Posted in Great North Run, Running | Leave a comment

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

Running my way out of a pandemic: Great North Run training week 7: lots of emotive gushing & lemon cake.

I can’t believe last week marked week 7 of consistent running (I’m actually now almost through week 8 but more on that later…), after barely being able to walk to the end of my road without panicking during this pandemic, running this regularly seems like a massive achievement. Actually IT IS, sod this “seems like” nonsense. I’ve started to notice myself getting better at it too, as I told one of the run leaders at my running club, “I’m getting slowly faster,” “I like your phrasing”, he said. I’m definitely much fitter than I was a few weeks ago, but I’m also more motivated. Running has given me something to focus on, when everything else surrounding us is just exhausting. Week 7 work week ended in the most stressful way which is part of the reason I’m later then I would like writing this, for reasons I can’t go into here, but I wanted to cry and literally run away by last Friday, until I took myself out for a run. So I did literally run away for a moment. Running away from it all. I was very pleased I am a runner and could deal with my frustrations by pounding the pavements and listening to she’ll be coming round the mountain. I mean, it won’t do it every time I’m sure, but right now I feel like a boss. Young people I work with laughed when I told them I was singing along as I ran, I really didn’t care in that moment.

I’ve been reflecting a lot recently about what brought me to running, why I’m so determined to run this half marathon and how much raising money for Gateshead Youth Council means to me. There have been moments on runs recently when I literally can’t believe I’m doing it, putting one foot in front of the other, because there was once a time when I believed running, let alone running 13.1 miles, was impossible. There is still a tiny kernel in me (occasionally) still wondering if this is just a step too far. Is it just too much? Should I focus on something more achievable? I mostly tell that voice to bugger off these days. I don’t remember specifically the moment when I fell in love with running and came to the realisation that I could do it, but I do remember lots of tried and failed attempts at group or public exercise. Running that harped as far back as Y7 cross country and feeling lost but not really understanding why. Wanting to take up trampolining and being told by a PE teacher I’d be “better off” joining the club in the special school across the road. Never doing my DofE because the teachers who ran it made it as difficult as they could for me to access. I remember for years being terrified I was going to be ill if I ran, later realising this was anxiety, and that if I started to believe running was something I could do, it would begin to do the opposite. The turning point in my life has certainly been seeing other people, like me, enjoying running, who weren’t encouraged when they were younger. Think pieces about people who run a silly amount of marathons or hold a record for the fastest 5K, never do it for me. But pieces about people like me, or my friends, or anyone who’s ever conquered adversity to achieve something, do. I’m all for reading those kind of stories, because it makes what I’m trying to do feel normal. Not “inspirational”. I have never been that for anyone. My running club helps keep me going too, they help to make me and everyone else believe that anyone can be a runner. There isn’t an ability that isn’t catered for or type of person who is turned away, everyone is made to feel welcome. I’ve written before about my background in youth work, and why supporting young people matters. This run matters to me as much as starting ADHD medication next week. I need the dopamine, and I need to run. As a young person, I wanted to be listened to, for someone to look past my dyspraxia and (then) undiagnosed ADHD to encourage me to do things that at the time felt impossible. Gateshead Youth Council and more specifically the youth workers I met there who took me under their wing gave me that feeling of empowerment. A sense of belonging, that given the last year we’ve all had, matters to young people now more than ever. Just last week a young person I work with told me that some work I did with them during a social action project made them feel empowered, and that is all I ever wanted to achieve when I trained as a youth worker. I didn’t discover running until my 30’s, but meeting the youth workers at the youth council at a time in my life when I really needed someone to encourage me to just have a go, very much sent me down this path to conquering a half marathon.

Since qualifying as a youth worker in 2013, youth work has become more and more devalued, where underpaid positions are the norm and not the exception, and volunteers are used in the place of paid workers. We are in a world where our profession really isn’t being recognised for the lives it can change. During my MA, I had the pleasure of studying with a pretty musical bunch, and when we realised we had fiddlers, pianists, singers and guitarists between us, we wrote a campaigning song against the cuts to the youth services, as we saw so much provision we all treasured in a not too distant past as mostly women in our 20’s and 30’s at the time, being ripped away before our eyes. We were going into a profession with the feeling of being surrounded by politicians telling us that our jobs didn’t matter. What we were training for wasn’t important. And most devastating of all that the development of young people through lifelong relationships built through youth work wasn’t high on the political agenda. This was of course before more Tory years, before Corbyn tried to carve a better world, before Brexit and long before a pandemic became our reality.

I trained as a face to face worker, it’s what I’m good at. Talking to young people. Listening to their stories. And learning. Young people are constantly teaching me, and that’s what I love so much about my job. I am not the teacher, I am the facilitator. We studied group work, informal education and participation models. I had ingrained in me, long before that training, from my own youth workers at Gateshead Youth Council, about the importance of actually listening to young people and making them feel heard. Making their voice really count. I will always always remember the day when I told my youth worker I wanted to deliver a training session to the group of young people. Not a bizarre request, you say? It wouldn’t have been, if I wasn’t a shy, quiet teenager who was ridden with anxiety. I barely spoke a word because I didn’t believe I’d be listened to. No one had ever given me the time to actually be heard before. Not tokenistic listening, when organisations say they consult with young people to go through the motions. Actual listening. I didn’t know what that felt like. But that day I felt heard for the first time.

Me: “Would it be okay if I run this next session…?”

Youth worker: “Yes, of course you CAN.”

She didn’t know what to expect but there was no hesitation in those words. She knew I was worth more than just a chance. She saw something in me, no one else saw. I go into this in detail elsewhere but being labelled as SEN from a young age really doesn’t do wonders for your self esteem and believing you can do everyday normal things. The very things diagnostic reports or PIP assessments scream you won’t be able to achieve. Anyways, in this moment I was told I can. And that was all I really needed to hear.

“From now on you can deliver more sessions,” she said.

Recently it was Mental Health Awareness Week. A day that will have struck a chord with many. And we will have many awareness days and campaigns in the future. All of these will matter to young people. Maybe not just on that specific day or week or month, but all of the time. Young people will want to feel listened to. Understood. Cared for. And acknowledged. Youth work training teaches the importance of having difficult conversations. Having that chat. Trying to “get it”. Does the young person in your life know they matter? You may not be a youth worker by profession, but you will likely know a young person, whether it is a relative or neighbour, who needs to hear that their views are worth listening to. Principles of participation teach us about allowing that space to explore and debate, eventually leading to youth led decision making, and gaining ownership of those decisions. At the heart of this model is listening. If we don’t feel heard it’s challenging making the decisions that matter.

If Covid-19 and this last year working in this profession has taught me anything, apart from not taking everyday things for granted, it’s that youth work is changing. The way we deliver work with young people may never be the same again. But youth workers are holding up the families who are struggling the most, while the rest of the world argue about wearing face masks or not being able to go on holiday. Youth workers are solving problems that are often hidden from view. While schools closed, we were all of the support some young people had. Since all of my work turned virtual, I have put young people forward to receive laptops so they actually have a fighting chance in our ever changing online world, I have found funding for bikes to enable young people to get outside in the fresh air that we know benefits mental health and I have become an immediate source of crisis support for struggling families. Panic buying made the challenges of those who already struggle to put food on the table increase ten fold. I’ve contacted organisations for emergency food parcels. I’ve made sure I check in with young people. I made it my priority to listen to how young people are feeling. I texted if video chat felt like a step too far. I was always there. When many organisations, schools and services closed their doors or were furloughed, we remained open and were able to react to anything that came our way. It wasn’t just me who did this, I work with a whole team of fabulous colleagues, some with backgrounds in youth work and social work. And I know up and down the country youth workers have done the same, recognising a crisis and responding to the ever changing needs. The pandemic wasn’t predictable, or the length of time we’d be shut away from the world unable to see our young people face to face, so life in a pandemic certainly isn’t. Youth workers who’s jobs were once being cut or told they’re not worth reasonable pay, have now become the back bone of society. We are the support young people need, at what is quite predictably the beginning of another mental health crisis.

As a young person who struggled with my mental health, and now as an adult who continues to do so, being involved in conversations about services I receive and knowing my views are important is where I have seen the most powerful change in myself, and in those around me too. If I can recreate at least half of that feeling for the young people I work with, I’ll know I’m well on the way to becoming the kind of youth worker, who changed my life fifteen years ago, by making me believe I can. The pandemic has changed most of our lives for good and shaped how we now view the world, but for youth work, this change is only just beginning.

Running GNR now feels more poignant than when I tentatively entered the ballot in 2019 before a pandemic was even here. I became a youth worker because I felt believed and listened to as a young person, so I’m now running for youth work as a profession, to demonstrate how valued we need to be, as well as raising money for the organisation who quite literally saved my life.

Week 7 of running started on Tuesday as I stood at the start line of another Red Kite Runners 5K. We ran a route I felt confident with and this time it didn’t rain, hurray! I was again in the middle of the group, running along feeling pleased to be there.

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I’ve noticed myself getting faster and according to my FitBit this is represented in my pace. As I got to the hill, I saw one of the run leaders who had ran back to run with me, which was nice. As we ran I asked; “how can I get faster?” He told me about interval runs and speed sessions, when in theory you pick a spot, and then run as fast as is physically possible to that point, and then drop your pace again. I haven’t found a moment to try this yet, and I’m worried I’ll fall flat on my face, so it needs to be away from people, and ideally not pouring it down. Where I run there’s always dog walkers who get in the way. On the top path another local running club seemed to be doing some kind of speed session. They were running backwards and forwards at varying speeds, quite disorientating when I just wanted to run forward and away from them. They all looked like they knew what they were doing too. I stopped for a second and internally yelled at that voice, because there wasn’t any reason I didn’t know what I was doing. The conversation moved on, after we dodged the speed runners, and I said it helped to have a marker to run to, and I know my stamina is increasing if I pass so many trees, or lampposts, or a certain bench. Familiar routes also help. Knowing what’s coming next encourages me to push that bit harder. The talking helped, and I ended up running the fastest 5k I have in a while. The only time I’ve ran that specific route faster was on my Couch 2 5K race day when I was pumped full of adrenaline and people were at every corner cheering me on. I came home and rewarded myself with a massive helping of pasta. Pasta after a run is always a good move.

Since restrictions eased, and more people can now attend organised sessions, there have been more Kites coming back to club. This was the first time I’d seen a Thursday night full. It was lovely seeing more people there, it made me think that things are moving forward, but it also takes some getting used to. Running on your own or with a tiny group is very different to running on mass. That’s the bit of the GNR that worries me most, running in a crowd of runners, after avoiding people has become normal. We did our group warm up that felt like a work out on it’s own, and then set off. It was a relatively easy route but it did involve crossing a couple of roads, and at that time in the evening everyone is coming back from work. The road parts of this run don’t have many walkers on them, meaning I could really go for it and not worry about slowing down for anyone in my way. Once across the road it’s one straight road, until another road crossing and then joining the path and dog walkers again. As always I was in the middle of the group, but further towards the tail than to the front. I ran mostly on my own, which suits me. Sometimes it’s nice to have company, but other times I like space on a run to really reflect. I’ve been feeling more tired recently, and I’m not sure if it’s down to all of the exercise, a bit of stress at work, not eating as I should given the extra exercise, or a combination of the three. I know training makes you tired but I’d expect that three weeks before, not several months before a big race. I’m obeying my training plan to the letter, worried about changing things and losing motivation, although I’m sure if I sack off a run because of energy levels, to run another day, I’m pretty sure the sky won’t fall in. Finishing this run, I was pleased I got out, but equally couldn’t wait to go to bed that night. My new trainers have well and truly broken in and really make a difference now.

I spent most of Friday in hyper-focus and stressed over my increasing workload, in typical ADHD style I’ve tried to do too many things at once, realising it doesn’t exactly work. I often over compensate by taking less breaks than I should or working more hours than I’m contracted to. Friday was one of these days. If running isn’t the reason behind my tiredness, I think I’ve found the culprit. Since Friday I want to learn to listen to my body more and not feel like I need to be chained to my desk for hours on end, it’s not healthy, and won’t help me get through a half marathon, let alone anything else. Friday was supposed to be a rest day but after working an hour and a half more than I was supposed to, I ran 7K instead. And god, I really needed that run. Running was a really healthy alternative to launching my computer out of the window in frustration. I was tired but my legs kept on moving. As if they were saying, “It’s okay, we’ve got this, Alice.” Running gave me the energy I needed to function and switch off from work that evening. It was a really comfortable 7K. I’m proud I squeezed an extra run in that week. Saturday was a real rest day, and like Friday’s run, I really needed that too.

May be an image of Alice Hewson
Very happy 10K face

On Sunday, I got up for my weekend long run, my training plan said 6-7 but I did 10K. I’ve never ran 10K before, not running the whole thing. I’ve done plenty of 10K plus walks. I was so so proud of myself, and happy exhausted. My pace was improving, and I realised if I can do this and keep it up, I’ll get to half marathon standard, no bother. There was a bit of a slow start at the beginning as I negotiated hills. Once I was on the flat, I was away. Feeling like I could do anything. I got so excited around the 9K mark, that I missed a curb and sprained my ankle. It’s the kind of overexcitement I didn’t think existed. It does.

Paying attention to where you’re going is important. I hobbled briefly, and after realising there was no real damage, I ran the last bit home, determined to complete that distance. 10K wasn’t planned. My legs just kept on going, and I went with it. Some runs won’t be great, and others will feel the best. Sunday was a great day. I came home, and used my left over adrenaline in the kitchen baking a lemon cake for my sister coming home the following week. Tired and happy and smelling of lemons. What more could you want?

If you’ve got to the end of this slightly emotive, my hearts on a sleeve, reflections about why I became a runner in the first place. PLEASE consider sponsoring me. You’ll be helping me to raise money charity who got me here in the first place, alongside demonstrating how important and vital to young people youth work really is. And make all of the exhaustion feel worth it.

I apologise in advance to anyone who knows me personally if me banging on about running all of the time in the lead up to the GNR gets a bit annoying. I worry about being annoying a lot of the time, I hope I’m not. I’m just very bouncy about doing THE THING.

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Running my way out of a pandemic: Great North Run training week 6; in which good things happen and my legs finally work out what they’re meant to do…

Hey there, week six of consistent running! I am going to spend the next few months asking myself the same question; how have I managed to keep this up for so long? Why haven’t I caved before now, deciding that I’m taking too much on? If anything, I know that if I can get to week six, I can get to the Great North Run start line.

This week started with ALOT of rain, it is summer but it doesn’t look very much like summer. I know I said this last week. I went for my first run of the week on Tuesday, with my running club, the rain had stopped by the time we got out. This was good news. The route was explained to us, “last weeks route but in reverse,” we were told. I’d barely got my head around it in order, let alone running it backwards. I began trying to visualise this backwards route in my head. I started the run well, comfortably somewhere in the middle of the group this time, I ran along the path and felt proud of myself that I was actually confident about where I was going. I kept going past the bridge which I would cross if I was running the route the right way around, I continued passing the lake, still feeling confident, still telling myself that I can totally boss this run. Around the lake I ran, until I ended up in exactly the same place I had started, next to the little green bridge I would cross if I was running the run the right way. I had done a loop of the lake. This shouldn’t be where I should be at all. I should be heading towards a viaduct. I realised routes in reverse don’t compute with my brain. I wondered if I should cross the green bridge and run the route the way I half know it, with the accidental loop of the lake tagged on, or to just run back towards the start line of the carpark. I decided on the latter, it was the “half knowing” the route that proved slightly problematic. I ran back to the carpark, completing just under 5K. Some of the group had already finished, “well done,” they said as I came to join them. “Oh I got lost, and ended up just looping the lake,” I told them. “That’s why I’m back sooner than I should be.” I felt I needed to justify myself as a slow runner. “Well at least you made it back, that’s the main thing,” one of the group told me. And you know what? She’s damn right. That evening I told my family that I hope I don’t get lost running the Great North Run to be told; “Alice, it’s just one long straight road with people lining the route all the way, it’s very unlikely”. I can’t argue with that.

The hill of dreams…

I was meant to run my second run of the week with the club on Thursday, but I got a call to say that there was a “possible” Covid outbreak in the 5K group I ran with on Tuesday, so I decided to give the club run a miss that Day. There wasn’t, it was all fine in the end with a negative test result, but of course it’s better to ere on the side of caution at the moment. We aren’t over this pandemic yet. I went on a 5 K run on my own on Friday night, this time running the reverse route the right way round. I remembered it! I was so pleased with myself for not getting lost, and would have totally high-fived someone if A) it was legal and B) someone was actually around. I even conquered the evil hill.

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Hill conquering…

I got to the viaduct, took an obligatory photo and then from there as I’d got into the run, things suddenly clicked. It was like my legs had just woken up and worked out what to do. I felt myself getting gradually faster and feeling more in control of my movements, the new trainers helping to bounce me along. I was less scared about falling flat on my face as I had been. Running suddenly felt very natural and like I’d always been doing it. I had to stop to take stock of how I was feeling because I didn’t believe I’d ever get here, but six weeks in, I am definitely improving. It had been pouring all day Friday, and after work, I’d expected to get drenched like last week. There was a brilliant rainbow that I admired before leaving, maybe it was my late friend looking down screaming you can bloody do it, not that I believe in any of that stuff really, but the rainbow was nice. The rain stopped giving me a window to run, and I was very pleased it did. I came home and ate a Spag Bol. It was the best veggie Spag Bol I had ever eaten.

After a rest day on Saturday, I was ready to run on Sunday. Although I didn’t run on Saturday, I did achieve something pretty massive in post-pandemic terms. I want into a shop. Anxiety has stopped me going inside public buildings for over a year and shopping always felt like a step too far. I’d much rather go for a run than buy a pint of milk. On Saturday this all changed, and with the support of mum and being able to regulate my breathing, I survived a whole shopping trip. It was to Waitrose in a small town, and I feel terribly middle class writing this. But I did it. Waitrose seems to be one of the few shops monitoring people going in and out, and disinfecting shopping trolleys, which all helped to keep me at ease. The majority of the people in the shop at the time were all at least over 60, as is the demographic of that part of Northumberland, and were more than likely vaccinated. Another factor that helped this post pandemic victory. I celebrated by buying myself a packet of chocolate buttons and a box of Cornetto ice creams for when it gets warm again. We then enjoyed a victory walk along the river after, and spent some time wondering if a person was either wild swimming or in trouble. We decided that they were just happily swimming along, despite the strong currents, and that specific river not being many people’s first choice of swimming destination. Although I have heard cold water swimming is great for anxiety, I might try it sometime if I can find someone daft enough to go with me.

It was very warm as I began today’s run, the first time I’ve been able to run in just a t-shirt in ages, and considered that my long leggings were just too long. Half way around I wondered whether I could get away with stripping down to a sports bra, I was that warm. I didn’t but it may come to it eventually. I enjoyed the breeze when it appeared occasionally.

May be an image of Alice Hewson, tree and grass

One thing I’ve made it my mission to avoid is fixating on times and paces, or more so other people’s. I’ve never shared exactly how fast I am online, and you’d probably have to get me very drunk to get any running times out of me. It’s not that I’m particularly ashamed, but that I’m very much aware how little it takes to compare yourself to other people. I don’t want to be that person to make someone believe they aren’t a enough good runner, and equally I don’t want to be that person to be constantly chasing a PB or trying to be a few minutes faster, because someone from Twitter ran that fast. I just want to run and enjoy it. I don’t even want to be competitive with myself. When I was younger, and looked up to and admired older women, who at the time I thought were better than me, I was constantly chasing someone I am not. I also didn’t realise those people or that specific person I admired at the time really wasn’t that brilliant after all. I have recently learned where she is now, and just why she wasn’t as brill as I thought she was. “Poetic justice”, as a friend put it when I told her. We all have our demons, and I’m always conscious that runners times are really only half the story. Todays run was tough because it was unexpectedly warm, but it made me so so happy. I ran 6.49 K, and got to the 5K point in the quickest time I have ever ran. Like I say that time is between me and my Fitbit, and not compared to anyone else but myself. My time doesn’t tell me that I’m a better runner now or that I wasn’t so great before, but actually shows me that I am developing in confidence. Feeling confident while running is much more important to me than speed. I could come last but still feel like I’ve bossed it the whole way round. This is what I really aspire to. And most of all just being able to run at all is always going to be good enough. I don’t need to be any better than that.

I spent Sunday afternoon celebrating my run by walking around a village in Northumberland, looking on in awe at houses I’ll never be able to afford…

If you’ve got to the end of these mushy reflections, sponsoring me will be lovely!

Actually, might be able to stretch to a willow shelter…
Lovely things…

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Running my way out of a pandemic: Great North Run training week 5. (Running in the rain, getting lost, coming last…)

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This week started off feeling very much not like spring, we had about all of the seasons possible, and most of them are weather you’d rather avoid running in. Not decide to go out in it by choice. we had rain, LOTS of rain, hail, snow and the sun shone for about half a second. I also made my summer wardrobe more accessible this week so it felt like someone was playing some cruel trick on me. “You think it’s better weather to run in? Think again. Mwhahahahaha….”

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Wet, cold and hungry… but happy…

I went running with my running club on Tuesday, in A LOT of rain. I thought more people would cry it off that evening, but no, seven people, like me turned up to get very wet and soggy. Voluntarily. We ran around in circles in the car park to warm up (and keep warm), did some stretches. The route was explained to us and then we were off. I took in as far as “get to the viaduct,” and then from there I was lost in my head even before we’d begun. Remembering directions will never be my forte’.

One thing I like about rain running is it cools you down quicker but I absolutely despise everything else about it, being a glasses wearer, I wish someone would invent tiny windscreen wipers for glasses. I spend the majority of runs in the rain, not being able to see and hoping for the best, not great if you’re dyspraxic and coordination isn’t your best asset. So I plodded on, stopping to make sure I was going the right way. Everyone was either way ahead of me, or a little bit behind. I avoided giant puddles, people walking their dogs and the occasional cyclist. It was unsurprisingly quiet, probably because most people had a better Tuesday night plan than me. I got over the viaduct and couldn’t remember if the instructions were go straight ahead, loop round, and if I did have to loop round I didn’t know which path to loop round to. So instead of getting lost more and ending up several miles out in the cold and rain, I waited for the runners at the tail to check I had the directions right. They weren’t far behind. “Which way?” I shouted. “Just loop around the lake was the response.” I continued on. As I ran, I kept trying to work out if I prefer my hood up, or down. If it was down my glasses were more exposed, and I got wet quicker, but if it was up I decided that I resembled a garden gnome. I have no idea why. Decisions. It didn’t take long for me to get lost and confused again, and this time I had the joy of encountering another local running club storming towards me. You can catch up with week 4 for last weeks experience. I was cold, wet, slightly lost, and there were “much better runners” flying towards me. It’s hard when your only landmarks are trees, ducks and paths that all look the same to reassure myself I’m going in the right direction. I wish I could retain route information and get from A to B without incident, this is why when I run on my own I do pretty much the same routes, and will probably end up just doing many loops of them when it gets to the longer runs. In truth I felt a little bit pathetic and overwhelmed, standing there in the pouring rain, surrounded by people who looked like they know what they were doing when I, in that moment, very much didn’t. But I didn’t cry, even if I felt like it. I then remembered that most of us are busking it, even if we look like we’ve totally got it all sorted. I did ring mum though in my panic, who simply said “What am I meant to do?!” She was right. I could solve this one myself. It wasn’t long before I saw the tail runners coming round the corner, and I pulled myself together enough to ask if I was heading in the right direction. “Yes, just carry on,” I was told. I did, and soon got my bearings (and running confidence) again.

Thursdays run was another club run and another 5K. As I arrived, I felt incredibly anxious and didn’t want to join the group. I don’t know why, I adore running, but something in me still screams ‘you shouldn’t be doing this,’ and if I’m honest I have no clue what to do about it, other than prove that voice wrong. I did join the group, and didn’t regret it, as several people have told me, “you never regret a run”. And they are right. This run was dryer, but still a cool night, but my ability to coordinate my body must have stayed at home that evening. I was awful, so ran really slowly to avoid literally toppling over which I’m sure would have happened. I’m slowly recognising when the best time to go running for me is, and that it probably isn’t in the evening, towards the end of the week. I plodded on, using all of my energy to keep myself upright, but I didn’t have any worries about getting lost this week, I was at the tail so had one of the leaders run with me throughout. It was a nice easy route, one that I could probably run on my own, if I was feeling confident. This run got me thinking about coming last, and what that actually means. I remembered a book I read last year that I might read again; ‘Your Pace Or Mine’ by Lisa Jackson. She became a marathon runner in her 30’s, and talks candidly about the joy of coming last and what she has learned from running. I’ve always said I just want to complete the Great North Run, I want to get to the start and somehow arrive at the finish. It would be nice to finish in a reasonable time too, but it certainly isn’t my focus. She says: “There are a group of us tortoises who will never stand on a podium because race directors simply don’t award prizes for ‘most friends made’, ‘best scenery spotted’ or ‘most fun had’. Us slower runners have a lot more time to cover the same ground and so we get to savour the subtle shades of every single race.” And you know what? She’s spot on. I apologised to slowing the tail runner down, WHO WAS THERE TO TAIL RUN. But really no one should apologise for being a snail. 18 minute 5K’s may be beyond me, but at least I’m getting out there. I will savour every moment I can run because there was a time in my life when I believed I couldn’t. I finished Thursdays run without any great disaster or injury, and that’s the main thing.

Sunday’s run happened in the tiny window between getting up and FaceTiming Grandma in her care home. I can’t believe we’re into May already, I love this time of year, the blossom looks lovely on the trees and everything just cheers me up. Even running when I’ve feeling cranky and grumpy is the best thing. There were few people out on this run, bar the occasional other runner who always smiled at me as I past and groups of cyclists who looked like they meant business. I ran exactly 5K, given my limited time and trying not to over do it. I’ve had a bit of a complaining knee, and I’m still at the stage of working out if running on it is the right thing or if it will piss it off more. It feels fine at the moment, and I’m sure I’ll know if it’s still fine in the morning. I ran to music this morning, I tried someones random running playlist on Spotify briefly, but quickly reverted back to my trusty folk music. That playlist did not make me run faster. I must remember to make my own playlist soon. Once I’d got into my groove I realised that I run to the tempo of the music, and this helps me keep track of my pace and breathing. All of those years at youth orchestra rehearsals learning to count properly clearly served me well. Running to anything in 3/4 is tricky though, I don’t think waltzes were written for running. I felt really chuffed with myself throughout this run, smiling the whole way round. Post run was not as pleasant, I experienced a bit of nausea, that does happen occasionally and always after morning runs. I assume it has something to do with food, and that I haven’t quite cracked the quality or type of food to properly fuel me yet. So, if anyone has any advice about how to keep it at bay, I’d very much like to hear it. I’m a bit ahead of myself with the training plan, I should have just got to 5k, but I’ve been running that distance or slightly over consistently for 5 weeks. It certainly has been the best way to get back into feeling comfortable running again, not pushing myself too soon. My runs from now increase their mileage bit by bit every week, until I get up to 10 miles. Slightly scared about the longer runs when I get there. But I can do it. I’ve got this far, I just need to keep on going.

I’m not just doing this to my body for the fun of it, I’m hoping to raise money for an excellent charity who supports young people, and I was one of them! Have you thought about sponsoring me yet? it would be very lovely if you could.

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Running my way out of a pandemic: Great North Run training week 4. (mostly featuring periods, runners on mass and new trainers…)

It’s week 4 already! I have no idea how I’ve got through a whole month of constant running as we emerge from this pandemic, yet here we are. A bit like how we’re all wondering how the hell life as we know it and several lockdowns have gone on for a year. How are we actually here? Who knows. Looking at that slightly less philosophically, I am very much glad to be literally here, and that you are too, as I’m sure if you are sticking with me by week four, we are at least connected in some way. But hey to random readers who have ended up here via google or Twitter, you’re very welcome too.

This week I stuck to my running three times a week goal, alongside realising that I can’t do everything at work. I need to pace myself, literally in all areas of my life. I’ve taken more breaks this week and felt less knackered by Friday. Although time of the month visitor wanted to have something to say about that. I really hope my period doesn’t arrive for Great North Run day. I’ve ran on my period before, but I’ve never had both a period and running deadlines to meet. Before it’s been easy to just not run if my period is making me feel awful, but not this time, post pandemic Alice is on a mission.

My first run of the week happened on Tuesday, I signed up to the 5K with my running club. It was another sunny evening, and I felt good as I stepped out of the door, following a fab final session with a group of young people I’ve been working with online since before Christmas. The pandemic rules for running in groups is that all organised runs have to be capped to eleven runners plus a leader, and logged on the run together app to abide by track and trace. For anyone who is running socially, not part of an organised club, it still has to be in groups of six. I’ve felt comfortable running with other people up until now, knowing the groups aren’t going to be overwhelming and are generally made up of the same people. My second vaccine also puts me at ease, although sometimes I still feel like a meerkat on high alert. The run started well, I listened to my music, and had people in the club both in front and behind me. I was mildly freaked out by a dog, which is a usual occurrence but I pushed on. I met the run leader at the bottom of the massive hill, that is named “couchie hill.” It’s the hill on the couch 2 5K route and I’ve never ran up it in its entirety since my race day, it’s that awful. I’m sure they make new runners conquer the hill to prove if they can run up there, they can do anything. I’ve stuck with running so it must have worked. “You okay?”, he said, as I froze at the start of couchie hill. “Yeah, I’m fine, there’s just a dog,” I told him. We pushed on, half running and walking up the hill onto the top path. From here it’s mostly downhill until the finish. It was not far along this path when we were met with a throng of 30, 40 or even 50 runners from another local running club thundering down towards us, taking up all of the space. I was left with no other option but to dive into a bush. Not only had they broken England Athletics Rules about numbers per session, there was no respect for social distancing or anyone else out running, walking or cycling that night. I was proud not to have a panic attack, as has happened on occasion when I’ve been around too many people while I’ve been out during Covid, but really I should not have been in that situation in the first place, to be pleased not to panic. As it happened, there wasn’t time to think, or to shout, “what the fuck do you think you’re doing?!” as I wished I had. It was only after it happened, I began to reflect about how intimidating that experience could have been if I was completely on my own, and how it might have quite easily ended my desire to run for a while.

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Red Kites in the sun

These weekly running posts aren’t just about training for the Great North Run, they also aim to document using running as a way to feel better about going back into relative normal life post pandemic, whatever “normal” means. For months I have struggled to leave the house, walk down the street on my own and refused to go anywhere there would be people. As soon as I saw people in the distance ahead, I’d make whoever I was with (normally my mum or sister) cross the street. I began to crave open spaces, and developed a fear of cities, with narrow streets and lots of people. I was so so scared of people dying, or developing a terrible illness thanks to health anxiety, and this pandemic, that I couldn’t avoid if I tried, made those fears very real. My anxiety was no longer just anxiety, it was everyone’s reality. There really is something to be said about running etiquette, that is even more important during a pandemic. We don’t know how the people we meet when running are feeling. No one wears a sign on their forehead saying “having a bad day, please be kind”, and they shouldn’t need to. People should just be considerate. When I’m running, I always stick to the left, and slow down as I approach walkers or people with kids or dogs. I’ll move out of the way for walkers coming ahead of me, I am going at a faster speed, it is only right that I do so. When we’re running in a group with the club, everyone is reminded to stick to the left, and we run in small groups rather than on mass. We’re a mixed ability club, and everyone runs at different paces, which helpfully allows for enough distancing. As the pandemic has progressed I’ve developed different levels of comfort, and sometimes that has been giving people such a wide berth, often bigger than two meters, so that I feel safe. Struggling to judge how far away I am from people at the best of times, I’ve made allowing as much distance as possible a helpful strategy. As we emerge from this pandemic, restrictions may be easing, but we all have different levels of comfort. Forty odd runners storming towards me on Tuesday, a month on from running with small, very socially distanced groups, was not in a zone I found remotely comfortable. And I don’t see how anyone would, especially a year on from our world being completely turned upside down. That evening I questioned if I should run again because of that incident. I was worried about coming across this army of runners next time, who are known to be elitist and competitive and judging by this week inconsiderate of anyone else trying to enjoy running too. It is the kind of club who would put people like me off running for life. Running should be inclusive of everyone getting out there, not exclusive to those who run the fastest and claim ownership of an entire path. I joined Red Kite Runners because they are the exact opposite of the club I encountered on Tuesday, everyone is welcome, and just getting out there and having a go is all that matters. I love seeing people out and about exercising or meeting up with friends, especially after the year we’ve all had but we must not become complacent or assume that everyone feels as comfortable as you do, our open spaces, parks and woodland need to remain accessible for all. No one should be scared off because a group or individual failed to think about the other people trying to enjoy being outside too.

My next run of the week happened on Thursday, and turning up was my biggest achievement of the day. Owing to my period I was exhausted, and owing to Tuesdays incident, a little bit scared. Earlier that day I made another massive win, I went into a shop for the first time in a whole year. I’ve needed my gait analysis done for a while, which I’ve put off, and then physically couldn’t go because of lockdowns. When the shops opened again, I was wary about going into town to the only shop I knew who did your gait, until I heard about a new shop, in a quiet industrial estate were we could park outside. This would be doable, I thought. It helped that I was going into a shop with a very clear purpose, to get new trainers so I don’t break my feet. Inside the shop there was just me and my mum who helpfully drove me out there, and the shop worker, so I it felt very comfortable. He looked at the way I run, and told me that I “overpronate”, I’m dyspraxic and flat footed which doesn’t help in the recipe for “runner.” Before I’ve been running with neutral shoes with really badly made insoles, that after time have begun to hurt my feet. They say running is a cheap sport, and you don’t have to spend much money on running kit, but the one thing it’s important to get right and can come at an expense, are your shoes. Running in the wrong trainers can cause damage in the long run. Building up to running longer distances, I don’t want to risk injury. He brought me out a couple of more structured trainers, with more support and cushioning. I ran on the treadmill to test these and he told me I was running better than before, and that the shoe was doing what it was supposed to do. I decided on the softer of the two I tried. I left the shop feeling proud I’d actually gone in there, and that I’ve finally got round to it to ensure I don’t injure myself because of the wrong kind of trainers. So back to Thursday and periods. I don’t know if it will be wise to rearrange training so it doesn’t coincide with the heaviest day of my cycle and a long day at work, or if I just had too much adrenaline from the day of shops, new trainers and also looking at a possible new house, that I won’t go into too much here. The run was a 20 20 run, which meant run for 20 minutes, turn around and run for 20 minutes back. It was a mixed ability group ranging from people who were starting with the couch 2 5K, to people comfortable with 5K’s or getting back into running after a while off and others who have been running for a while, so ran further. I like this run because you can only go as far as you feel comfortable and walking is always acceptable when you need to. It was the first outing for my new trainers after a day of stomping around the house trying to break them in, so I took it slow. I also ran slower because my period kept reminding me it was there. Before the run I worried about meeting other massive groups of runners following Tuesdays event, and assumed this would be all I would think about. It wasn’t. I focussed on seeing how my new trainers could improve my running, while intermittently listening to Spotify. Everyone from my running club smiles, says hello, or tells you you’re doing great as you pass them. It really motivates you to keep going, and to come back. It’s no exaggeration that running has really changed my life. First outing of the new trainers was a success, so much so I took them out again on Saturday.

Todays run was a warm and happy 6K. I decided to go running today, rather than my usual Sunday because tomorrow is filling up (with mostly admin and phone calls) by the minute, and today felt more realistic to fit a run in. On my second outing in my new trainers I took it slow and managed a steady 6K, singing along to mainly sea shanties as I ran. No one expects to see an over excited 30 something, belting out “John kanaka-naka tulai-ie,” but anything is possible these days. As I was mooching around at home before the run mum said “Alice, you’re being too hyper and annoying, just go out for your run.” She’s got it. I hope I was less annoying on my return. Every time I finish a run I think about a few years ago, and how much running and enjoying it would have seemed impossible. Today’s run was largely uneventful, although now my trainers have broken in a bit more, I’m really noticing the difference to my running. I’m also amazed that I got to Saturday and still wanted to run, Tuesday could have very easily made it go the opposite way. I’m very glad, for the sake of Gateshead Youth Council who I am fundraising for, and my own sense of achievement, that it didn’t.

On a fundraising note, I am not just training for and running the Great North Run for myself but also for Gateshead Youth Council who had a profound impact on me as a teenager. Thank you so so much to everyone who has sponsored me already in this early stage, from people I’ve known for years, others more recently and other members of the Red Kite Runners. Thank you. Thank YOU. If you’d like to support me to support this fab local charity for young people who changed my life, please do.

I got to week four! And I am so proud to be here.

Posted in ADHD, Adventures, Covid-19, Dyspraxia, Great North Run, Mental health, Running, Youth Work | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Running my way out of a pandemic: Great North Run training week 3… (mostly post Covid vaccine euphoria…)

May be an image of tree, nature, grass and lake

I had my final Covid vaccine last Sunday, which made me very happy, but interrupted my planned running schedule, because even with this sudden burst of motivation, a vaccine and a run in the same day felt like a step too far. I made up for it by running four times this week, a vaccine was worth celebrating, alongside my sisters 22nd birthday who sadly couldn’t be with us due to the pandemic. But we had a takeaway curry in her honour anyway.

Owing to generating Covid immunity, the week got off to a slow start, I didn’t have any side affects but felt a bit tired and running didn’t seem wise. Work was also exceptionally busy this week, and I’m starting to worry (read: ‘panic quite a bit’) about training for this half marathon while working a full time job. How will I fit everything in? How will I not burn myself out? Helpful advice from lovely people on twitter tells me to use weekends as long run days, to pace myself, find a running buddy, stick to shorter runs during the week and not to beat myself up if it doesn’t always go to plan. At the moment I am a woman with a plan, and so far I’m mostly sticking to that plan. Even pushing myself to go running when sitting on the sofa with a glass of wine feels like the preferable option. This week I’ve been completely re-designing my works newsletter, which has meant turning what was once a simple bulletin, into an all singing, dancing magazine. I’ve written the thing in a week. Magazine journalism training has certainly come in handy, although at uni we had months to write and design a magazine, with a whole team. Doing similar in a week has been wild. I need to keep reminding myself that I’m A) not working for a magazine publishers and B) not chasing that 1st at uni now. In typical ADHD style this has lead to a lot of hyperfocus, working more hours than I should, and feeling knackered in the evenings. Running has sometimes felt like the last thing I’ve wanted to do, but once I get out, it has always been absolutely the best decision.

My plan was a Tuesday evening run, but after ending up working late (Yay ADHD fuelled hyperfocus!), missing my running clubs start time and not feeling up to running on my own, I resolved to getting up early to go for a run the next morning. On Wednesday I wasn’t really feeling it, but as soon as I saw the sun shining through the window, and my cats meowing at me as if to say, hurry up and feed me and then go running, I found the motivation from somewhere. It was a beautiful morning. I enjoyed the first proper outing of Spotify premium as I headed towards the local nature reserve. It was also still the school Easter holidays, that I had forgotten about, until I wondered why it was so quiet and there were no kids out on the way to school. ‘Excellent, more pavement for me!’ I thought. As the dopamine started to flood through my brain I suddenly felt very awake. I paused briefly to admire the ducks who looked pretty disappointed I hadn’t arrived with a morning snack. I apologised and ran on. I did just under 5k with was enough for my first proper morning run in a long time, and with the knowledge I had a lot of work waiting for me at home. I definitely run slower when I’m on my own than with people, as I briefly spotted my pace on my watch as I trotted along. I then remembered being told not to think about times, just concentrate on getting there. I did. I focussed on the novelty of finally having Spotify premium, the warm shower when I got back and that I can actually run. The fact that I’m doing the one thing I was told I couldn’t do, (I was virtually banned from joining the school athletics club or Duke of Edinburgh Award at school because I wasn’t good enough,) will always make me smile.

The endless news coverage referencing the DoE Award has prompted lots of reflections this week, and not for the reasons you may think. I’ve thought about accessibility, the importance of just letting young people have a go and the impact telling someone they “can’t” can have on a young person, even many years on. The whole reason I’m running this half marathon is because I was finally told “I could”, and the enormous difference that had on me as a young woman working out who I wanted to be. I’m in my 30’s now, have a good job and I’ve learned to fall in love with running, but I still think sometimes about being denied opportunities because I’m dyspraxic, and because it was assumed to be beyond my capabilities. They couldn’t comprehend the thought of me reading a map, stomping through fields, camping and all of the things expected of young DofE explorers. But there were lots of things that happened in the early 2000’s that I hope wouldn’t happen now. I think that 14/15 year old Alice would firstly not understand the thought process behind me training for a half marathon, but would then be very proud I’ve eventually been able to push on to do something that was once beyond me. I might struggle to walk across my bedroom without picking up an excellent bruise to add to my collection somedays, but I can still bloody well run. And no one can tell me I can’t now. Hurrah! I ran home with the energy and clear head I needed to start a day of work.

May be an image of Alice Hewson and brick wall

Thursdays run happened after work, with a small group from my running club. I ran just over 5K, slowly. Like a snail because spending so much of the week in hyperfocus has been draining. So much of this week has been fuelled by the euphoria of finally being fully vaccinated. I still feel wary, and the anxiety won’t go away over night, but I now have a sense of calm and peace of mind I didn’t have before. There’s less fight, flight, freeze, going on in my brain. I met up with four other women and the run leader for a gentle five K loop. When the route was explained to us I was a bit wary because it involved a route I hadn’t ran before (despite knowing the area like the back of my hand), and involved running along roads, and crossing them, with a confusing roundabout, making it difficult to see which way the cars will go. My awful spatial awareness makes me cautious about crossing roads around other people, (unless they know me well), because it’s so obvious I sometimes struggle and I don’t want to look like a fool. I can run good distances quite happily, but I panic when I see a road because I worry about getting squashed. The saying “you’re more likely to get ran over than….” probably doesn’t help. Yay anxiety. We set off and one of the girls said she would run with me because she wasn’t planning for a fast one as she had a race at the weekend. We ran along, the cars at the roundabout behaved themselves, but I wasn’t happy about how long the road felt, you don’t think it’s that long, but it went on forever. And if I’d kept going I would have eventually ended up in Consett. I didn’t though. We turned onto the safety of the Derwent walk, away from any drivers tempted to beat their horns at us, and put us off. It has happened before. I nearly crashed into a wall. Drivers: please leave runners alone. once we reached the paths, I felt my speed increase for a bit, but I could still hold a conversation. I worked out during the chat that I probably need new trainers. “My feel hurt, and they shouldn’t hurt,” I said. “No they shouldn’t, Alice.” I’m going to phone one of the running shops in town to get a gait analysis, the last thing I want is to do damage because my trainers are too old. I haven’t managed to get through yet, they must be busy with other runners having the same post lockdown problem. I enjoyed Thursdays group run, but I didn’t like the low sunlight as much, not being able to see where I was going at times isn’t helpful for someone who already struggles with balance and coordination. My dads solution to that problem is to get a cap. I have never owned a cap in my life. As we ran back around to the finishing point of the car park, I felt pleased with myself, I always feel accomplished after a run. The rest of the group were much faster than me, I was at the back of the group this time, but that didn’t matter, I got there too. “Thanks for not leaving the slow person behind!” I commented on a post in the clubs Facebook group. “No one gets left behind,” I was told. And that says it all. The reason why I joined this running club is there. You don’t have to be the best, you just have to turn up. And even if you don’t turn up for a while, someone will always message to check you’re okay. Brilliant people.

May be an image of one or more people, people standing and outdoors
Women can do running!
May be an image of Alice Hewson and outdoors
You have no idea how pleased I am here

On Friday it was my little sisters birthday, she turned 22, how I’m old enough to have a 22 year old sister I will never know. She’s in Scotland and we’re in England, and as we’re still under Covid restrictions, we couldn’t see her. My morning started with face timing her as she opened her presents, and wishing it wasn’t her first birthday without family around. She’s had a cracking time with her small uni bubble, so I didn’t need to worry. Virtual birthday presents done, I then headed up to my desk for the day. I spent another day in hyperfocus trying to get a draft of the magazine finished and sent to my manager for proofing. I did it! But it also meant I worked slightly over the hours I should have, and I was pretty knackered by the end of the day. I’m sure I was seeing magazine pages in my head as I headed down the stairs looking for food. I had a Friday night run on my plan, but I was so tired, and it was Friday night, can I just skip today? No. My need for routine would not allow that. We were going to get a takeaway curry in honour of my sisters birthday, despite her not being able to be here, and so I decided to run to pick up the curry. I needed something to aim for. The restaurant I was running to was a bit further than my usual runs, and away from the safety of the nature reserve. There would be more people about, and a few weeks ago I would have absolutely avoided going anywhere near there. There’s no way I would volunteer. Something made me run there, I mean I was literally running for food, the best kind of motivation. At the nature reserve, I knew I had to go on ahead, I listened to my music which was an excellent distraction, and there wasn’t as many people as I thought there’d be. It got a bit tricky when there was some people at the traffic lights, and I considered turning round and running home. Flight response trying to kick in there. I didn’t though. “I’ve had my second vaccine. It’s not common to catch Covid outside,” I chanted in my head over the top of the music. It helped. I pushed on. Anxiety didn’t win. And y’know what? I’m so bloody proud of myself.

May be an image of Alice Hewson, tree and outdoors
Knackered but beaming with pride

Sundays run, and the fourth run of the week. I had spent most of Saturday thinking about this, planning my route and being determined that I was going to go. Last night, I entered the virtual Blaydon Race to give me a 10k to aim for in June. This morning, after debating if I should go, if maybe running a GNR was a step too far, and then telling those negative thoughts to bugger off, I ended up running 8.5K, the furthest I’ve ever ran, and walking 2k home, which turned into a nice cool down. It wasn’t quite the plan to run that for, my legs just kept on moving, the plan was just to get out of the door. I began being able to run further and faster, although I did break into a walk at points. Before I set off I was worried about too many people being around, not being able to do it and bailing at like 3K. But I did it. And I’ve never felt more proud of myself (and knackered!). Spotify helped me keep going and singing along helped me to regulate my breathing. I’ve reached the stage of not caring what people think, I was out, having the best time, when a few weeks ago, I could barely walk around the block without panicking about Covid. It was a great end to a good week of running. For the first time, I’ve actually believed that I can run this half marathon. I am capable of conquering GNR. I just need to keep on going.

If you’ve got this far, and have been following my mission over the last few weeks to use running as a tool to feel better about going out as we emerge from this pandemic, it would mean a huge amount to me if you could consider sponsoring my half marathon. GNR emailed earlier to say, at the moment it’s still going ahead, but if it does need to get cancelled again, all 2020 roll-overs will be eligible for a place on the 2022 GNR. SO I WILL RUN IT EVENTUALLY! And even if you are unable to sponsor me, sharing on social media will be super lovely too.

Feel free to look back on this blog for week 1 and week 2 training updates if you missed them. Thank you so much to everyone who has been supportive so far, I really feel I can do this.

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