CALM supporter and fundraiser Russ King, AKA Up & Down Runner, is just back from Mont Blanc and took time out of his busy schedule pounding turf to explain his relationship with running…
“Everything is connected, even the parts we don’t like, especially the parts we don’t like”
– Julian Barnes, History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters
Friday 7 February 2014, around 18:00.
Sitting at my desk, staring at my screen.
Photos of my wife and two boys looking back at me.
Got to focus. But on what?
Why are my hands so cold?
Right, no more messing around, just get this done and then go home.
Why is my hair wet, and what the hell is wrong with my hands?
More importantly, where have I been for the last hour?
Sunday 28 June 2015, 14:54.
Sprinting for the finish line after 6 hours and 54 minutes running around Mont Blanc.
Mountain directly in front of me, head and heart about to burst with adrenaline and pride, on a high that I’d never felt before.
How did I get from the former, when I came closest to ending my own life, and the days after curled up in a ball in bed, chewing the duvet to stop me from screaming, to the latter, being on top of the world (alright, quite high up on the world)? Also, what have they got to do with each other?
As Julian Barnes says, “everything is connected”, particularly when it comes to my mental health and running – a symptom and a medicine, part of the problem and part of the cure, and for all of my adult life, an inseparable part of me.
I am not what you would call a natural sportsman; I can’t pretend that I was a junior cross country champion or county athlete, or any kind of athlete for that matter. I really “found” running, as one might religion, at university, as a way to combat my crippling lack of self esteem, and in a vain attempt to be healthy, although cutting out booze, cigarettes and trips to Jason’s Doner Van (best kebab shop name, ever), would probably have been a better place to start. To be honest, it was also the only sport in which my supreme lack of coordination was not too much of an impediment.
When life got serious, I came to rely on running even more, to get away from the deafening noise of modern life, and in an attempt to burn off the sudden inexplicable bouts of nervous, obsessive energy. It was my escape valve, an addiction and also the stick I used to beat myself with – another way to show that I was weak, physically and mentally.
This might be stretching the metaphor to breaking point, but on that wet February day I realised that I had nowhere left to run; no way to escape from the noise and hopelessness. It was just like the dream where you’re being chased but rather than getting away your legs just get tangled in the covers.
As things slowly got better, particularly since I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, so did my relationship with running. I stopped beating myself up for not being good enough, and focused on how far I’d come, rather than how far I had to go. What running taught me is that it is possible to fight my natural urges, ignore the dominant negative side of my personality, and that I am capable of doing things for which I feel I am not particularly built.
This lesson caused me to push myself to do things that I never believed possible – running up mountains and writing honestly about my life. So, during 2015 I completed the Mont Blanc Marathon, and started a blog, UpDownRunner.com. The marathon really was the best experience of my life, and the race and the blog are the two things of which I’m most proud (apart from inexplicably convincing my wife to marry me, and our two wonderfully weird boys).
I should stress though that neither of these things cured me, as there is no cure for what I have. The rest of my life is going to be a constant battle against the highs and the lows. But at least now, most of the time, I’m running towards rather than away from something.
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