Posts Tagged ‘physically’


The black dog returned this weekend in one of its most violent and ferocious attacks for a long time. I sit here writing this as I feel the black dog going back to where he came from but not knowing if or when he will come back to attack me again.

It started Friday a day that now seems a long time ago. Friday a day with so many thoughts racing along the neural connections in my mind going too fast to process, smashing into each other at terrifying speed and taking my world into a cold, dark place I didn’t want to go to but had no choice as I was handcuffed to the back of the black dog and dragged along behind it for mile after mile of mental and physical torture.

All I could do was get a bottle of the sickly-sweet brown liquid that dulled the pain and destroyed my sense of reality, sent my world spinning and confused what was real and what was not in my mind. It tasted good, at first, as the black dog lapped it up and left me to enjoy life briefly albeit through an ever-thickening fog that clouded my vision and mind and sent me to a place I cannot remember.

Saturday comes and I pray for the planned night out to be cancelled so that I can stay at home, alone with the black dog and feed him the brown liquid he loves. But no-one cancels and I force myself to go out wondering how I will pull on my mask and get through the night.

Before the evening I had gone out for a run in an attempt to chase the black dog away, but this black dog is fast and strong and not only keeps up with me but fights me as well draining every ounce of energy from my body. My legs feel like two small trees struggling to stand up in the face of a devastating wind that wants to destroy everything in its path.

All strength and motivation have gone and even the simple action of putting one leg in front of the other hurts my muscles. I finish my run, but it finishes me too. I have nothing left yet I must go out and pretend everything is ok, everything is good, and I am in a good place not in the jaws of the black dog.
So out I go drinking pint after pint to satisfy the thirst of the black dog and eventually it allows me a brief respite from its attack but only after I have more of the sickly brown liquid at home. The fog is getting thicker now, and it is more difficult to see. Everything becomes a blur until the black dog consumes me for the night and I wake up the next morning aching and confused.

Now it’s Sunday and the thoughts the black dog wants me to think enter my mind. Why am I here? What is the point of living? I would be better off dead. I go for another run in the vain hope that the black dog will leave me alone now having had his fun, but he stays with me and once again I cannot run, my legs are heavy and weak, and I struggle to move lacking motivation and power.

I carry on fighting the black dog and go to the club to see my friends and play dominoes. My mind is foggy, struggling to string two thoughts together yet I mask my depression well, winning at dominoes and drinking till the black dog is happy and goes to sleep. I come home and once again drink more of the brown sickly liquid that has quickly become my best friend.

Oblivion comes once again and now it is Monday morning. I am lucky because I don’t have to go to work, but I need to do something and carry on fighting the black dog. My body is aching now from a weekend of abuse, I still feel weak but I force myself to go down Halifax and have a walk about as I know if I stop in the suicidal feelings that are now getting louder and louder may become too difficult to ignore.

I go down and walk around for a couple of hours treating myself to fish and chips and some window shopping. At home I have another microwave meal unable to find the strength to cook a proper meal and taking the only option I have left in my mind.

Evening comes and the black dog is consuming every part of my mind, body and soul. I want it to end and can think of only one way out, to end it all once and for all. I cannot let the black dog win and from somewhere deep inside my very being I find the strength to fight back and say no to the black dog. I want to write about it there and then, what it’s like to be in the eye of the storm when you’re in a fight with the black dog but I’m not ready just yet to write about it. I’m still feeling weak mentally and physically and need rest. I consume another bottle of the brown, sickly liquid hoping that it will be the last for a while.

I wake up early today, Tuesday morning unable to sleep, mouth dry from a lack of life-giving water. I go downstairs even though it is early and play some games on the computer hoping they will tire me out and allow me to sleep. I go back to bed at a time when I’m normally waking up and lie there wondering if I’ll be able to go to my meeting, wondering if I be up to it physically and mentally and eventually, I drift off to sleep.

I wake up again feeling so much better than I have all weekend. I can feel that the black dog has gone home back to where he lives, back to where he belongs. I feel well enough to go to my meeting, so I do, and I have a great time. I go for another walk around Halifax mainly to see my friend who owns a shop there. I come home and start to get jobs done, jobs I haven’t been able to do because of the black dog. I want to drink water not the brown sickly liquid, I cook a proper meal for the first time in days and I write this blog post my first in a long time.

I start to think about what I can do to make things better, the little things like going out to the cinema or to see a show that might just make a difference to my wellbeing and keep the black dog locked up in his kennel where he belongs. I am starting to feel stronger mentally and physically. Not strong enough to run but strong enough to write this and think of the future with a positive outlook, a future that I want to be a part of. After the black dog there is hope.


Yesterday was race day!! Finally the biggest day of my short running experience had arrived. Saturday was a good day. I volunteered at Horton Park, parkrun and was very pleasantly surprised to see some running friends turn up who I hadn’t expected. It’s always a good start to the day when you see friendly, smiling faces. After the parkrun I had a chat with some of them and that ended another cracking parkrun.

The rest of Saturday was spent catching up on housework and assignments and generally trying to keep myself busy and focused on anything other than running! By 8:30pm I was shattered and in bed, everything ready for an early start to Leeds and the Eccup10 mile.

Sunday morning I was up bright and early and feeling very, very good physically and mentally. Bag ready and in the car and off I set to Leeds. As usual I had checked the route and as usual I got it wrong. Not as bad as when I went to Copley for the Bolton Brow Burner but still got slightly lost and parking near race HQ was a bit of a nightmare as some of the roads were closed around the HQ but I found a suitable spot and was soon at the start together with some of my fellow Queensbury runners waiting for the gun to go.

And then we were off!! I was mid pack by accident so I just let people pass me and got on with my own race. Quite soon I was into my rhythm and going along nicely. The course is undulating with some long drags and short, sharp climbs. Although I run for Queensbury which is on top of a hill I’m not the best hill climber, but I was determined to climb them and not stop. The strange thing was there seemed to be more uphill than downhill! It’s always a relief to relax on the downhill after a hard climb but on this course there was little respite.

But I kept going. Even the canal side was uphill which was a strange experience as usually the canal side is flat but not this one. The mile markers went by steadily, 1 mile, 2 mile, 3 mile, 4, 5 and 6 mile. Everything was going well and then my inner thigh on my left leg started to ache. It was a dull ache but enough to put me off my stride and give me something to think about.

Then my left hamstring started to ache too followed by my left outer thigh. My mind was a mass of thoughts. Do I keep up the pace and hope it goes? Do I slow down and look after my thigh and hamstring? Do I walk the reminder of the course and finish? The only thought that never crossed my mind was stopping and pulling out. That was never an option. I was wearing the Queensbury Running Club colours and I have too much pride in them to quit.

However this didn’t help my leg which by now was nicely throbbing away and a constant reminder to me that it was there and the pain was not going away anytime soon. I choose to run the flat and downhill sections which there seemed to be more of at last and walk the uphill parts. When I ran faster on the uphill sections the aching seemed to get better. However I was also aware that this may cause more damage and even tear something which would have been a disaster.

This wasn’t how I wanted my first 10 mile race to be but this was the cards I had been dealt with on the day and I had to cope with them as best as I could. Miles 7 and 8 seemed to be the worse where I lost most time and got passed by other runners. Never a good feeling. By miles 9 and 10 I had somehow picked the pace back up. The fear of finishing last had entered my mind and this spurred me on to do better and push my mind and body beyond what I had ever done before.

And it worked. I was keeping pace with a lass and a lad and although the lass did beat me to the finish line the lad did not. I didn’t finish last nor was I the last male finisher. And I even managed a little sprint finish too! The pain was there but in life we all suffer pain at some time. I remember telling myself that pain is temporary but the feeling and emotion of finishing is there forever.

At the end I mentioned that my leg was aching and for some strange reason was directed to the Red Cross. I think they were bored and just wanted something to do! After having a couple of tests and being told my blood pressure was high, surprise, surprise, I had just run 10 miles! I hobbled back out and found my friend whose son was looking after my car keys.

Then in my socks I began the long walk back to my car. This was the first time I had ever walked in my socks on tarmac in my life, but it was easier to walk in socks than my running shoes. And then I saw a familiar, friendly face. One of the lasses I know from running was coming towards me. I recognised her instantly and it was a very pleasant surprise to see her.

And she stopped and talked to me. Even though I couldn’t string two thoughts together let alone two words we tried to have a conversation. It wasn’t the best of circumstances especially as I was still recovering from putting my body through a lot but I tried to chat. And she was kind enough to offer me some jelly babies which were very warmly received by me. Well when I had enough energy to get some! They gave me enough energy to get back to my car and home. It was a lovely gesture and shows just how friendly the running community is.

On the way home I began to wonder if I had done the right thing slowing down? Could I have done more? Should I have done more? Was the injury as bad as I had led myself to believe? With all these thoughts whirring round my mind I got home feeling quite emotional and upset. I chatted with a friend about it but as they said these are questions to which only I know the answers.

And the answer soon came. I went upstairs to get a shower and my leg was still aching and in one part painful. That was all I needed to know that I had done the right thing in slowing down and looking after my leg. Pushing on could have made it a lot, lot worse than it was.

And what have I learnt from this whole experience? Read the large print and realise what you are entering before you do! In hindsight a 10 mile race was a step too much at this stage in my running. I’ve only done 3, 5k and 2, 10k races before so a race of this length was maybe too much?

However I also learnt that I can push myself further than I ever thought I could. I can dig deep when I need to and I do not quit. And I am capable of far more than I ever thought I was mentally and physically. And there is a lot more to come too. A hell of a lot more. And with my renewed confidence and self-belief in myself I can achieve so much more in all areas of my life.

And what now you may ask? Well I’ve entered another race, the Yorkshireman ½ marathon. This is one of the toughest ½ marathons around. It’s all off road around Haworth, Denholme and Oxenhope, not far from where I live. But it’s 14.8 miles not 13.1. 14.8 miles is a Yorkshire ½ marathon. We do things our way in Yorkshire.

But is this really a step too far? Well I prefer off road and I know a lot of the route already so I’m under no illusions about what I’m undertaking. I also realised after the Eccup 10 I need to change my training and my diet too. I need to lose at least ½ stone if not more. But I believe I can do it and deep down I know I can. It won’t be easy and it will be the toughest race of my life but I have the confidence and self-belief now to know I can achieve my goal of finishing the race. I will keep you updated.


I’m starting to write this piece about my experience at the John Carr 5k, the day after the final race, but won’t finish it till later, but it has been such a great experience for me as an introduction to road racing and running competitively that I felt compelled to write about my experience as a first time racer at the age of 47.

I decided to enter the series because my times at the parkruns had started to come down quite dramatically from 45+ minutes to 33 minutes 15 seconds. Spurred on by this improvement I began to think about entering a race and was told about the John Carr 5k series which is held every May on the first three Wednesdays in the month in honour of a runner who died at the age of 30.

The races are held on land owned by Yorkshire Water and the course is fairly flat and fast which makes it appeal to runners of all abilities as the potential is there to set a Personal Best for the 5k and you have three attempts at it too. Add in the reward of a free beer at the end if you enter all three races and you can see the appeal of the series!

Once I had entered the series I decided that I wanted to break the 30 minute barrier at the final race. Whilst for many people 30 minutes is very achievable, for me it was a challenge. In addition to my improvement in running was a massive weight loss going from 18st 3lbs to 15st 10lbs. Whilst this was still quite heavy I was interested to see if my weight loss would also contribute to a new PB and hopefully one under 30 minutes.

The day of the first race came and I was in a mess to be honest. It was held on the first Monday after the bank holiday and stupidly I had decided to do a 7 mile run on the Sunday to collect my car from a golf club and a 7 mile walk around the hills near me on the Monday. This turned out to be a very bad idea. On the Tuesday my hamstrings were reminding me they were there by aching. This made me worried that my performance would be compromised and I would not be able to run at my best. In addition my left Achilles was aching once again, an old injury from many years back, so I approached the first race poorly prepared and with my legs aching.

As it turned out my fears were unfounded and I plodded round the course with the only memory being when I was told to turn right at the end of a short straight and saw the other runners all going at speed down the other side. I assumed it was a short straight only to turn round the corner and be confronted by a long, long straight! All the other runners where going a lot faster than I realised and I was a lot slower than I thought I was!

Near the end of the race is a 4k marker and a drop back down into Esholt. I decided to put a sprint on and managed it for a short while but then gave up, just stopped going at pace and as a consequence I was passed by at least two other runners from memory if not more. I made a vow there and then never to give up near the end of a race and to give it my all. No more giving up near the end, go for it and give it my absolute best. I finished in a time of 31:37, a new PB for me but it didn’t seem worth celebrating, didn’t feel like an achievement for some reason.

The next day my left Achilles was in pain, a lot of pain and I was having difficulty walking so I decided to give my Thursday night club meeting a miss and see how I was on Saturday for the parkrun. Saturday came and my Achilles was still in agony but I decided to do the parkrun anyway. At the parkrun I tried to warm up but I was in a lot of pain and decided not to risk running 5k that day.

At the parkrun however was a guy called Peter May who I had heard about as he is one of the more elite runners at my club Queensbury Running Club and a sports massager too. I had a word with Peter about my injury and booked an appointment to see him the following week. During this week I did no running or walking and it was a very, very difficult week because of this. I never realised before how much I would miss running and not being able to get out in the fresh air and feel free.

So the following week I went to see Peter and this is very relevant to the rest of my story. Peter asked me what was wrong and I told him, left Achilles, what shoes do you wear, support shoes. Wrong shoes, wrong problem. It turns out my problem was really bad tightness in my right calve and I needed neutral, cushioned shoes. For 20+ years I had believed I had the wrong injury and I was wearing the wrong shoes.

Peter sorted me out and gave me very good advice on how to prevent my injury getting any worse. I immediately went down to town and bought a cheap pair of neutral cushioned shoes for the next race. Wearing them was a revelation. My feet felt lighter and had more movement, I felt like I could run.

On the day of the second race I was looking forward to it excitedly. I decided to wear my old support shoes for the race simply because I had not run yet in my new ones. This time I got there early and proceeded to warm up doing around 1.5 miles. My legs felt good, still aching but a lot more movement and flexibility in them. Off I went at the start and my legs felt like lead. I went 100 yards and wanted to stop. My Achilles was killing me. My legs felt like lead, I didn’t feel like running at all.

But then something in mind clicked and I decided to see how I felt after a mile. The first mile went by and I was running at a good pace so decided to do another mile. After the second mile I was still going at a good pace so decided to keep going. My pace slowed over the last mile but I had enough left to kick for the finishing line and this time I did not give up. I went for it, giving it my all and crossed the line in a breathless and slightly dizzy 31:06. Another PB but still way off my target of sub 30 minutes.

I was in pain though. My neck was aching, I had a headache and I was struggling to catch my breath too. This was all too apparent to a good friend of mine who tried to talk to me but only got a load of incoherent nonsense and after quickly making their excuses I was left to try and work out where I was and how to get home!

But this week was different to the week before. This week I went to my Thursday night running club and I went out on my own. Running felt different, it felt fluid and natural, it felt right. I was doing non-stop runs and most importantly for me running up hills, something I had not done before. Mentally and physically I had changed for the better and my running was proof of this.

On the day of the third and final race I had another session with Peter and my legs felt better than ever. I had been running in the cheap shoes but felt far more comfortable in these than in the expensive support ones which felt like a pair of hiking boots in comparison. I was starting to believe I could go under the magic 30 minute barrier.

I got to the race in plenty of time and proceeded to warm up. My legs felt good but I was also aware of not overdoing things and leaving something in the tank for the race. And then there I was once again at the start line, ready to go for the third and final time this year. I set off and once again 100 yards in my legs felt like lead and I felt like stopping. I remember wondering to myself whether I should just stop there and then and go home.

But I didn’t. I carried on and my running freed up, I was moving smoothly, I felt good. The first mile went past in under 9 minutes, very fast for me, but I was enjoying myself. I saw people in front of me and I moved out and passed them and they didn’t come back at me. This was a new feeling, I was passing people and moving away from them. This felt good.

And this continued into the second mile too. This feeling of running and not just going through the motions was still here and I was enjoying it. after two miles my watch said just over 18 minutes. It was now I realised that my dream of a sub 30 minute 5k was on. All I had to do was keep going and believe.

Inevitably I slowed up, my watch showing my pace at 10:30 minutes a mile. But I knew I could still do it so I dug deep and kept going. I remember thinking if I didn’t do it today I would have to wait a year and that was something I was not prepared to do.

Back up over the start  line and I could see the village of Esholt coming into view. I knew the finish line wasn’t far away and put a bit more pace into my run. Downhill into the village and seemingly the roads were lined with people cheering for me, ‘keep going’, ‘you’re doing great’, ‘you can do it’, everything just a blur.

And my mind was blank, nothing there at all, no thoughts just a deep intense concentration, focusing on not just finishing but on breaking the 30 minute barrier. And then it was over. I had finished. I ran for the nearest wall in order to try and get some air into my lungs. I was gasping for air but had to queue with everybody else in order to register my time. And I looked at my watch and it said 29:26. According to my watch I had done it, I had broken the 30 minute barrier and achieved my dream. But would the organisers find 30 seconds from somewhere and take everything away from me? I didn’t dare celebrate just yet, although I told friends what my time was. I was sure something would go wrong somewhere and my dream would remain just that.

In the bar I stood with my friends waiting for the official results to come out, still thinking I was dreaming, still trying to get my breath back and return to reality. And then the results were out and I looked for my name and there it was officially in black and white, Andrew Smith 29:26. I had done it, I had done what I set out to achieve and I had proved to myself that I can achieve so much more when I want to.

But I didn’t feel like celebrating. I was so tired, in a sporting sense this was the hardest I had ever worked physically and mentally to achieve a goal, a dream. But I did it and went home to a nice glass of red wine to relax and unwind with feeling satisfied and feeling like a runner for the first time ever in my life.