Author Archives: Al Flowers

About Al Flowers

Endurance addict. Running coach. Trainee Yoga teacher. Love mountains, oceans, wilderness, music, books and coffee. No coincidences in life.

Project Road Runner: update

For those that don’t know, Project Road Runner is my road running break from trail ultras. The why and wherefore can be found by clicking here.

With 4 days to go until the Finchley 20, 31 days to go until the Brighton Marathon and 45 days to go until the Flitwick 10k the Project is nearing its end! It’s been a bumpy ride for sure. I lost sight of the process and then lost my mojo for quite a while so my training hasn’t been very consistent since Christmas but the positives are there. I have learned a lot about myself and what truly motivates me and I have tried new training methods and this has actually led to some good results and a few PRs along the way.

I will go into more detail when I write the Project Road Runner Roundup a few days after the Flitwick 10k and then I’m flying off to India for most of May and a well earned break from any kind of structure – either at work, at home or at play (let’s face it, running for most of us is play)!

For those interested, I have kept the parameters the same – all new PRs need to be set at races and I’ve improved my 10 mile and Half Marathon times twice! I had wanted to go for my 5 Mile and 5k PRs too during this time but I scrapped that idea as I didn’t want to burn out by over training and/or over racing. The only two left to fall are my Marathon and 10k PRs!

Here is a snapshot of the PRs set during the Project so far:


10 Miles:

Start of the Project: 1:07:12 (Training, June 8th 2016)

1:05:14 (Ricky Road Run, October 29th 2017)

1:04:56 (Buntingford Year End 10, December 31st 2017)

Half Marathon:

Start of the Project: 1:28:43 (St. Albans Half Marathon, June 11th 2017)

1:28:41 (Hertfordshire Half Marathon, November 19th 2017)

1:28:06 (Watford Marathon, February 4th 2018)

I will close this short update with the two PRs that are currently in my sights:


Start of the Project: 3:19:10 (Frankfurt Marathon, October 26th 2014)

Goal: Initially I set the lofty goal of 2:55 but judging by how I feel at the moment and where my fitness is I will be happy with 3:15 and surprised by anything better than that!


Start of the Project: 37:50 (Bushey 10k, July 6th 2014)

Goal: This is my longest standing PR and one I still look at and wonder ‘How?!’. I will be happy to shave even a second off this and I’d be equally happy to run under 39:00! We will see how it pans out on the day.



Sarah and I went for an unexpectedly soaking wet, freezing cold hike on the blustery downs of Dunstable yesterday.

The hike in itself was unexpected as I had intended to race the Fred Hughes 10 Mile road race in the morning. However, that was not meant to be.  I registered a DNS for no other reason than the desire to race was not there when I woke up. This is highly unusual. I had a terrible night of sleep – worse than the usual pre-race broken sleep kind of thing, I had some strange dreams that I kept dropping in and out of  and my stomach was causing me some difficulty. When my alarm went off at 0645 I was already awake and had been for some time. I didn’t feel wonderful but I got out of bed at 0700 and began to half heartedly prepare to race as I normally would.

After some time moping around my house, trying to be quiet so not to wake Sarah I realised I had accomplished little by way of pre-race preparation – I hadn’t made a coffee, I hadn’t started porridge, I hadn’t showered. I had, however, walked in and out of each room in my house just enough times to register that I couldn’t shake the feeling that I shouldn’t be racing. For the first time ever on a race morning the desire wasn’t there – the only time I’ve come close to this was the Ox Ultra in May 2015 and TDS in August 2016 and both of those were also down to stomach problems and sleep issues – I still managed to go through my pre-race routine and make it the start line of both (and the finish line of one).

In the end I tried to gee myself up until about 0845 but I gave up when I came to the realisation that racing wasn’t going to happen. I packed up my gear, drank some water and went back to bed. Mentally I didn’t feel great but within 15 or 20 minutes I was asleep and didn’t wake again until 1215. When I woke up I knew I’d made the right decision because I didn’t have a heavy heart and my mind wasn’t shouting at me – I felt rested and I looked forward to sharing the day with Sarah. I lay in bed for some time in the peace and quiet and tried to make sense of the loss of desire. I came to a conclusion:

  • I like running fast on the road, but my heart and mind desire the trail
  • I am still recovering from illness so I’m not feeling 100% physically – I need rest (I made this conclusion based on the fact I slept until 1230 the day before too!)

I felt indifferent to having missed the race and felt, as I mentioned above, happy that I would get to spend some quality time with Sarah without having to dedicate some or all of the day to my sometimes all consuming lifestyle. I do hope that this DNS and loss of desire is just a blip, in fact I am as certain as you can be that it is. Whilst coming to my conclusion I thought about a lot of factors and in addition to the points raised above I do feel that racing Fred Hughes could have been one race too many with Watford Half Marathon, Round 5 of the cross country season and the National Cross Country Championships all coming up in February!

Project Road Runner is still underway and I’ve now reset and refocused on the goal of running a PR at Brighton Marathon and taking down some other road PRs whilst I’m at it.

As for the unexpected hike – the wind chill factor made all the difference, making our faces and hands turn numb very quickly. Meanwhile the rain fell harder and the ground grew softer, thus the going got tougher! Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed myself even though I really should invest in some GoreTex trail shoes and vapour barrier socks – my socks were soaked and my feet were very sore, as they usually are if they inevitably get wet during hikes at this time of year. I’m not sure that Sarah was enamoured with the surroundings, but the edge was softened when we met some pigs and cows along the route.

As the darkness closed in, the wind grew stronger and the rain fell harder there were a few certainties: my desire for the trail was no less dampened, my heart had soared, my smile broadened and my mind had relaxed with each step!

2018 Goals & Resolutions

I’m going to keep this short, sweet and simple! Below are the things I would like to achieve by the end of 2018 in life and in sport:

Endurance Sports

  1. Finish every race I start
  2. Win a race or podium (I say this every year…)
  3. Improve my road marathon PR
  4. Race and finish a 70.3 Triathlon
  5. Start and finish a 100 mile Sportive


  1. Advocate for the vegan/tee-total lifestyle
  2. Enjoy the experience of India in May!
  3. Start a personal trainer, fitness instructor or coaching course

Thanks & Praise

There are many things I love about being an endurance addict, and there are many things I love about endurance sports and adventures. One thing that I think worth mentioning is the plethora of blogs that are available to runners, cyclists, swimmers, triathletes and hikers of long and arduous distances!

As much as I like writing my own blog and planning my own adventures and race calendars, I really enjoy reading about how other people go about their own racing and planning. There is a lot to be gained from reading about a race or an adventure from the perspective of somebody else – inspiration, guidance and entertainment being a few reasons to take the time to look around and see what’s out there.

Below is a list of blogs I read fairly regularly. Obviously there are the usual outlets for commentary and news – Trail Runner, iRunFarAltitude, IMTalk, OxygenAddict,, TalkUltra – but this list is a little more grassroots. There are a smattering of professionals, some semi-professionals and amateurs like myself but all have something different to offer. Thanks to everybody on the list for putting their thoughts down and publishing, all of you have inspired or informed me in one way or another over the years!

John Burton (

Hi, my name is John Burton. Software product manager by morning, ultra runner by mid-afternoon. If I’m not half-asleep on some conference call you can find me out on the trails tearing it up. Or slogging it out. Or just sitting on a comfortable rock in the sun catching my breath. It’s all good.

Dane Rauschenburg (

Both knowledge and experience, when not shared, are wasted.

Jon Fielden (

I ran my first hundred mile race in 2014 (the Winter 100), my second one in 2015 (South Downs Way 100) and my third one in 2016 (Samphire 100). I loved and hated all of them in equal measure but for some reason I keep going back.

Jill Homer (

Hello! I’m Jill, a freelance writer and editor living in the forested foothills above Boulder, Colorado. I’m an avid cyclist, hiker, and trail runner who tries to squeeze at least a small adventure into every day. Being outside and on the move is my passion.

John Kelly (

I’m the husband to an incredible wife, the proud father of three kids (a son plus younger boy/girl twins), and have an English Shepherd named Dixie who’s too smart for her own good. I work as a data scientist at a startup in DC to support that family, and I run, bike, and hike to support my ability to do that day job with a clear mind. Oh, and I swim, but only because I like to race and challenge myself and triathlon was a natural extension from the running and biking.

Giles Thurston (

While I have raced in and enjoyed big races such as half marathons and triathlons over the years, I have found the high numbers of athletes involved make these events feel a little claustrophobic, taking the edge off the overall experience for me. Over time this, combined with my love of both mountains and running in general, has slowly drawn me towards trail running and ultra running.

Stephanie Case (

I’m a Canadian human rights lawyer who discovered ultrarunning nine years ago and now my closet is filled with running shoes, rather than high heels!  To steal from one of my favourite running novels, I run to ‘seek the void’.

Phil Collard (

I could ramble on here about my potted history involving cancer, two occasions of being told that I may never walk again, a hip replacement and an unlikely Ironman finish in Sweden or…

Jade Belzberg (

Writer, trail runner and MFA candidate. A native of British Columbia but currently residing in San Diego, Jade has been writing since the age of five, when she began recording her family’s travels and RV trips in a collection of journals.

Cody Beals (

The objective of this blog is to document the slow, often challenging process of transforming myself into a world class professional triathlete. Too often, we only hear about an athlete’s successes, while their struggles, insecurities and screw-ups don’t get the same billing. It’s all part of the learning process and I haven’t shied away from sharing my highs as well as my lows, like overcoming mental health issues, overtraining and insomnia. In being so open, I hope to demystify elite development and help athletes of all levels learn from my experience.

Sam Pearce (

I play the French Horn for a living. Weird, huh, but someone’s gotta do it. I’m British. I’m from the countryside, but live in the city. I love to run off road. And cycle, and play cricket, and golf. And yes, I love to play the French Horn too, which is pretty neat for me as I get to do it for my job. But mostly I love running.

Derek Cross (

Why do I do this crazy thing called Triathlon? Well because I enjoy it of course. I love the training. Okay, sometimes not the running, but everything else. I love the challenge, pushing myself, getting better, pushing again. I guess you could say I am a little addicted to that side of it. And while it has taken me a while to accept it, I love the racing too. I still tie myself in knots with nerves, but once that gun goes, the mind focuses and I am in my element. Really it is as simple as that.

Zach Bitter (

Endurance athlete and coach. Driven to find his limitations in a variety of environments and help others find theirs. Loves the trials of the journey as much as the result.

Stephanie Jackson-Horner (

Everything I do is due to pure 100% love of it and giving things ago, you never know what you can do until you try and you often surprise yourself.


Once in a while I might add to my endurance library. Click here to see the latest.

I also like to hear about blogs I may not yet have come across so please feel free to contact me or comment below.

2017 in Review

The annual review of the year past from the ‘26.2 & Beyond’ perspective.


A tough year in many ways as I struggled in January and February with injury that led to me pulling out of Country to Capital (DNF) and TransGranCanaria (DNS). This led on to some questions and searching – do I want race ultras, do I still have the drive to train for anything, what shall I do, should I go back to road races?

The searching led to answers and I decided I’d take a break from ultras after one last redemptive shot to get over the ultra DNFs and DNS that plagued me from August 2016 to February 2017 – I ran North Downs Way 50 in May, and finished, and from there I trained up to and successfully through the Lakeland 50.

After Lakeland I began to look into diversifying into triathlon, duathlon, aquathlon and some short(er) distance road racing and committed to bettering my marathon and short distance road PRs between August 2017 and May 2018. I also committed to actually achieving my 2016 resolution racing a triathlon, duathlon and aquathlon in 2017!

The second half of the year, although exciting in terms of treading a new path was personally very difficult with anxiety, stress, depression and some family issues combining leading to some inconsistent training, struggles at work and a desire to hide away from the world for a while. Thankfully this has all subsided now as I’ve done a lot of positive work to redress the balance – work is good again, I don’t feel depressed and thanks to some counselling and the fellowship of AlAnon I don’t feel overly anxious and sometimes so alone anymore!

Best Race(s)

North Downs Way 50 and St. Albans Half Marathon

The NDW50 was great return to actually finishing an ultra! I ran almost exactly the same time as I did for SDW50 back in 2015 – I initially thought I was on for a personal best by quite a margin but it wasn’t to be as my watch recorded a greater distance as I was moving around Aid Stations! Alas, I ran a solid effort and hiked hard on the uphills and managed to a get a good rhythm and tempo on the runnable sections. It was great to have Sarah out on the course too and it was a beautiful spring day for running.

The St. Albans Half Marathon was amazing as I went into it with no real expectation – I was running it as I ran it as my first half marathon five years ago and I figured I’d see if I’d made much improvement since then! Apparently I’ve made quite a lot – I ran 1:38 in 2012 and in 2017 I happily ran a 1:28 in scorching heat. Sarah and her nieces were there to see me at the finish line and the little people had spent the hour prior to my finish making banners to wave when they saw me heading down the last 100m to the finish line!

Worst Race

Country to Capital

My first race of 2017 and a DNF – not the best start at all and all because I was stupid and went off way too fast! I have no idea what I was thinking but I felt great for the first 30km and then, all of a sudden, BOOM – nothing in the tank and shortly after excruciating pain in my glutes and my quads to boot. I struggled on to 43km and dropped out about a kilometre out of the aid station. It was awful turning around and walking back with my head hanging and my spirit dropping with each step. It really impacted on my running for the next couple of months and added to the mental stress of my DNF at TDS the previous August.

Country to Capital – an hour before race start

Best Moment(s)

St. Neots Sprint Triathlon and Ashridge Boundary Run

St. Neots – I did my first triathlon with very little training in September and was surprised to put in a strong open water swim before a relatively smooth transition to the bike where I held my own against people on fancier bikes and with a more seasoned pedigree in the sport! After the bike I went on a fantastic run! I ran my way up the field and in a slightly short course (4.7km) I ran 17:40, finishing 2nd in Age Group! I couldn’t have asked for a much better debut really and it cemented my love for a new found endurance pursuit.

Ashridge – This was my return to trail racing after January’s Country to Capital DNF. It’s a 16 mile run taking in some beautiful Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire scenery. 5k from the finish the course runs to the top of Ivinghoe Beacon – the highest point in Buckinghamshire. The weather wasn’t great for spectating as it was foggy and cold but to my surprised this hadn’t bothered Sarah who’d hiked to the top to cheer me on! That little cheer and wave sped me along to the finish where, lo and behold, I found Sarah again waiting to cheer me in.

Ashridge Boundary Run 2017

Worst Moment

It was difficult travelling to Gran Canaria in February. I had hoped to be racing the 82km race at TGC but my fitness was not up to it and, honestly, neither was my mental strength. We went down to the race expo nonetheless and I picked up my race pack just in case I had some mad cap idea to actually start the thing the next day! On the drive back to our finca it became apparent, in my head at least, that I wouldn’t be racing and this was confirmed that evening when I opted not to set a pre-race alarm and we slept in before heading out onto the course to provide some moral support to a friend racing the 125k race.

Favourite Run

In June I headed to Devon and Cornwall to race the North Devon Trail Marathon – the race went well – hard work, difficult conditions but a good race.

North Devon Trail Marathon – 18 miles done

After the race we headed with our camping gear down into Cornwall and there began the rain! A lot of rain for almost the entire week we were there. However, it didn’t dampen our spirits and we had a great time in the beauty of the south west.

My best run was, funnily enough, out in the driving rain at Grogley Wood, near Bodmin in Cornwall – extremely runnable dirt tracks, deep silent woods and steep descents made for awesome trail running, allied with the rain it also meant I had the trails to myself! To top it off there was a 1 mile road section to get there and back from our camp site and this made for both fast and dirty running!

Favourite Kit

Adidas Adizero Boost Boston 6

Taking on ‘Project Road Runner’ I realised I was going to need some new road shoes. My Adidas Adizero Adios Boost from 2014 just wouldn’t cut the high mileage! I had a close look at some New Balance and some Asics but in the end I went for another pair of Adidas as I knew exactly what size I’d need and I knew I loved my Adios Boost.

When they arrived I could run in them straight from the box and they were responsive, fast, comfortable and had just the right amount of cushioning meaning I could race and train in them. I wasn’t expecting to take to road running with ease after years of predominantly running trail but I very much think these shoes helped with the transition. I’ve also found them to be quite sturdy and usable on groomed and packed trails – I’d be tempted to try them at a 50k and possibly even a 50 miler if it was in summery conditions! I can’t recommend them enough.


Consistency is key. Consistency is King. The best way to train is consistently. All of us who train to race know this. Most people exercising for general fitness or for weight loss know this too.

But what about when consistency becomes something else? What about when it becomes a crutch and you just don’t realise it until that crutch is put to one side for one reason or another? Well folks, I have just come to that realisation over the past few weeks and it’s quite a difficult, but not insurmountable, realisation to have made.

Lately I’ve been struggling with some pretty bad anxiety, a lot of negative thoughts and a depression that, although not debilitating, has me feeling like somebody has wrapped me in a large, damp towel. I’ve tried to get to the bottom of this because that is what I always do when things feel this way and I’ve come to the conclusion that this particular incidence is more keenly felt than it might have been due to change and lack of consistency.

When I run 5 or 6 days a week, as has been my average pattern for a number of years, it gives me time and space to both think things through and process my emotions or, conversely, it just gives me time and space – quiet, uninterrupted time and freedom to roam. This, I have realised, is my anti-depressant. It’s my mood stabiliser. Or it was. Because at the moment I am transitioning from being a runner to becoming a triathlete and this is entirely by choice – I wanted a change, I wanted to increase my longevity by spreading my aerobic activity across a number of sports and ranges of motion, I wanted to see what else my mind and body could do aside from running very far on trails. So I set some short, medium and long term goals for each sport and for triathlon as a whole and did a bit of training for fun and to semi-prepare for my first Sprint triathlon – this was my ‘off-season’ following Lakeland 50 and my usual summer of long distance racing and training.

I took to open water swimming and loved it, I rode a Sportive and loved it and then I did my first Sprint triathlon and loved it. And then something happened. I haven’t quite put my finger on what that is or was but my mind seemed to turn on me a bit and is now in open rebellion against the changes I’ve made to my routine of the past 5 years – run 5 or 6 days per week, race quite a lot, repeat… – it seems my mind is not quite ready to let that go, or something else within me isn’t quite ready to let that go.

I have thought a lot about this over the last couple of days of what has been one of the worst and least consistent training weeks of my life! I’m fit, I’m healthy and I am still able to challenge the negative thoughts that sometimes pop into my head singularly or sometimes en masse. So why is it that this week I’ve managed to complete just one aerobic workout of the four that were set to take place from Monday through to Friday? One run and two short strength sessions completed but one bike, one swim and another run bailed on – this equals a grand total of ZERO for consistency and much less time and space to process thoughts and/or just ‘be’. The sum of my thoughts on this are:


  • Swimming is a technique sport and prior to being coached I just used to jump in the pool and hammer out laps as hard as I could for 1000 to 3000m and not very regularly – this gave me the time and space I mentioned above. Now that I am determined to improve my technique and thus my competitiveness I have found that when I’m in the pool and swimming my thought processes are entirely dedicated either to the drill I am executing or to the timing/pacing of the interval and rest period I’m on.
  • Going out on the bike, solo on the road, has been a real I did my first sportive and my longest ride to date about 2 weeks after getting my bike and four weeks after Lakeland – I’d done no training and very little practice on the road but I loved it. I followed this a week later with the bike section of my first triathlon and I loved that too. Afterwards I went out solo and almost got hit by a very fast car on a main road very close to home. It freaked me out and I’ve not been able to get past that fear so far. So, when I’m out on the road my thought processes are pretty well taken up by trying not to panic and trying to get the thing done and out of the way. I’ve pretty much abandoned road riding these past few weeks and opted instead for the trainer and I have to say this is soothing and I do enjoy it – some of my thought process is taken up by timing/pacing intervals but a lot of the time I’m free to process my emotions and other thoughts – but it’s way too easy to go way too hard on the trainer and that does not bode well for keeping burn out at bay.
  • The build-up of unprocessed thoughts and emotions, pretty much since Lakeland, has led to an increase of negative thoughts in both intensity and frequency which has impacted quite a lot on my motivation and my self-belief. With little self-belief and low motivation I have struggled to even go for the easiest of runs this week and for the three weeks after my first triathlon.


Writing this post is one way I am combating the negative thoughts I mentioned above. I acknowledge them but I don’t accept them as truth or reality. I can’t isolate and write down all of the thoughts that come and go but the most frequent over the past couple of weeks have been:


  • You’re fat (In fact I’m lighter than I’ve ever been)
  • You’re slow (I’m not – I set a road half marathon and 5 mile PR this year already)
  • You can’t do this and you know it, why are you even trying? (I can do this [swim/bike], I’m trying because I know I can do this more efficiently and faster)
  • You’re too big for this bike/this bike is too small for you but it wouldn’t matter even if it was just right because you’re useless (In reality I’ve no idea if my bike is the right size – I just need to take the time to readjust what I can and see how that feels)
  • Get over yourself, even kids can ride on the road (Yes, they can but they have parental guidance and the innocence of youth. I am learning my bike skills from scratch and with probably too much knowledge of what can go wrong!)
  • You’ll never do this on your own, but you’ll never cope riding with other people (This is my mind playing on my social anxiety. I can ride with other people and I will probably enjoy it, I just need to take that initial step and reach out to join others)
  • You’re going to really hate triathlon; I don’t know why you’re bothering (I loved my first triathlon, and duathlon for that matter. I’m bothering because I love to race and I love to see what my mind and body can do when they work together)


The thoughts I’m not processing are personal and relate to my family but judging by the reaction I had to my last post which went into detail about why I stumbled into becoming a runner I feel a bit more comfortable and confident writing openly about these personal things.

The thoughts, emotions and experiences I’ve processed over the last 5 years of consistent running were at first with my own experiences with alcohol and drugs and then to do with my experiences of caring for alcoholic parents and the impact that has had on me and my brother over the years. My brother is pretty stoic about it all and says he doesn’t really think on it too much whereas I am faced by the harsh realities and difficulties of mental ill health and addiction almost every day at work. I feel like I have to think about it and I have to process it – in fact it’s part of my professional life to reflect on my own personal experiences and how that impacts on the services I used to provide directly through 1:1 work with clients and now as a services manager.

I think it is fair to say that for a long time I struggled with my relationship to my parents and I still struggle with one of them more than the other. My Dad has become a fatalist, trapped in his own negative thought cycle. He looks and sounds older than he is and he is constantly living in the past – a time when things were good, when things were right and a time my brother and I have very little recollection of because we were young children. Bear with me here dear reader; I never intended this post to be a bearing of my soul and my personal life! I’ll get back to consistency and change in relation to endurance sports and anxiety management in a moment. But what’s happened since I made the realisation that consistency in training became my crutch is also the realisation that I feel I don’t really know my Dad; I miss the man I don’t think I ever really knew. Often conversation is either going to be a storied retelling of the past or a maudlin vision of the future. I miss talking to the Dad I’ve had good times with on occasion in his moments of sobriety or ‘controlled’ drinking. I worry that his maudlin vision of his own demise may come true before my brother and I get to spend more time actually getting to know the man behind the alcohol. My real Dad. I’m going to leave it there as I don’t really know where I’m going with it – I could write a lot more because I feel a lot more and I’ve experienced a lot more but I want to get back to the original intention of this post and to the core terms of this blog as a whole!

So then, a conclusion!

If you’re training consistently and have been for a long time that is great! But if like me, you began your training or exercise regime as a healthy outlet to escape an unhealthy life and to build a better future, please take note and find other outlets and utilise them regularly. Don’t let running, biking, swimming or any other single pursuit become your only way to effectively process thoughts, feelings and emotions! Because when something rocks that consistency – a house move, a change of job or shift pattern, a change of sporting direction, a new coach – and you don’t have anything else in place, you might find yourself in a difficult place. Personally I am going to attend AlAnon support groups as and when I feel the need to talk about my experiences and feelings, and I’m going to my first this evening. I am also going to carry on writing about these things honestly and openly but don’t worry, I won’t share every thought, feeling and experience through this blog! The truth is when I started to write this post I didn’t expect to write about this but writing about it has been cathartic.

In relation to regaining my consistency in training and becoming a stronger all-round endurance athlete, I am going to work hard on my technique in the pool and embrace that and equally I’m going to embrace the time and space I’m given when I get to do an endurance swim session. In addition, I’ve already reached out to my triathlon club to arrange mid-week group road rides through the winter ostensibly to improve bike handling/technical skills and to build weather resilience but also genuinely to help me get over my fears of riding on the road and riding as part of a group! With practice will come confidence and with that will come a bit more time and space in the pool and on the bike, and with that time and space self-belief will return, motivation will increase and then I’ll be less likely to bail out on a run which will always be, for me anyway, the best anti-depressant and the best mood stabiliser.

Well, that’s the end of that post! I didn’t expect to write it and I’m sure you didn’t expect to read it. I think my next post will be a little lighter and will likely be a race report as I’m running a local 10k mixed trail and road race tomorrow.

Please do feel free to drop me a line if you want to talk about anything I’ve mentioned above – a problem shared is a problem halved.


People always ask ‘Why?’ when they find out I like to run ultras and train six days a week. Every runner is asked the same question by none runners and every runner has a different answer. For many years I have considered writing this post to add to the ‘About Me’ section on ’26.2 & Beyond’ but I have always held back doing so as I wondered about the value of sharing what I am about to write.

For me, the value is in the writing itself and for others I hope the value will be inspiration because really this post is aimed at everybody who has struggled, or who is struggling, with life for any number of reasons. This post will go to show that although life will never perfect, it is always possible to change – change the way you think, change the way you behave, change what you do, change where you are.

As mentioned on the ‘About Me’ page of this blog, I started to run in April 2011. I state on that page:

“It made me feel alive again and gave me the time and space to think some things through…Running changed my life and saved me from myself! It has changed my outlook on life…it has changed the way I approach adversity…”

A few people who have read that have asked what I was thinking through and have asked why I felt I needed to save myself from myself. The people I meet and who ask me ‘Why?’ have the answer to this and now I am going to write it down so that anybody else who is interested will know why I run, why I love to train, why I love to race and why this blog exists.

April 2011 was when I reached the end of a long, slow journey of self-destruction. This came as a surprise to some people when I let it be known but in April 2011 I really felt my life was unravelling and that I was losing control of the direction I was going. At the time I was nearing the end of a Masters in Social Work and I was almost finished with my final Social Work placement in Child Protection – I hated it. I hated the fact I was on the verge of becoming a statutory social worker, I hated the fact I had to see the suffering of children and families almost every day and I hated the fact that I really didn’t feel that the job I was doing was making any real, lasting and positive change to the lives of the children and families on my caseload. I also hated the fact I felt like a massive hypocrite.

A hypocrite because for the years prior to 2011 I had taken a lot of drugs, drank a steady stream of alcohol and smoked unrelenting amounts of cigarettes. Whilst telling mothers, fathers and families to cease and desist with their damaging behaviours I was thinking in the back of my mind about getting out of there so I could have a cigarette. Either that or I  was cringing inside with the knowledge that as soon as I clocked off I would be heading to the off-license to buy 4 to 6 cans of lager or Guinness – one or two of which I would drink on the long train journey home. I would be cringing with the knowledge that as soon as I got through the front door the first thing I would do would be to roll a joint and, if the feeling took me, make a few calls and arrange a night in the pub with the possibility of a line or two (or three, or four…) of cocaine.

I spent most of my life from 2004 to 2011 living for the weekend and by 2009 the weekend had started to encroach into my week. From 2001, right up to August 2012 I smoked cannabis every, single day. Maybe missing a few here and there for one reason or another, but never with a prolonged break. I eventually stopped smoking cannabis altogether on December 26th 2013.

I remember the first time I took cocaine, at a house party in 2004. The first time I took cocaine I remember thinking that this could be dangerous! It felt good, I felt more engaged with everybody around me – I remember the feeling I had when it wore off and it was early in the morning, I remember knowing that it was dangerous at that point because I thought about getting some more. I held off that time. Subsequent times, well, I didn’t. By the time April 2011 arrived it wasn’t unusual to have a ‘cheeky line or two’ at home, with friends (and sadly, sometimes alone), in the middle of the week. I stopped taking cocaine in January 2012.

I remember the first time I took ecstasy, after a night out at university in 2004. I was scared. By this point I’d already tried cocaine but for some reason, ecstasy was the scarier drug for me. I think it was probably because of the exposure to the news in the late 90s when a young girl died from taking too much. The fear wasn’t strong enough to overpower whatever urge took me that evening though and after 20 minutes I ‘came up’ for the first time. I don’t really remember much but I do remember sitting really close up to my friend’s stereo because to me, the music was the best thing I’d ever heard. I also wanted to hug everybody. I felt connected to everybody. I didn’t feel anxious, or worried, or fearful. Ecstasy and I stayed friends for quite a while after that. The last time I ‘took a pill’ was some time in 2010 because by then it had gone from being a warming, connecting drug to something that I felt was ripping my soul to shreds for days after the initial ‘come down’.

From 2004 until 2010 I tried ketamine, MDMA (the powdered, active ingredient of ecstasy), I had ‘a thing’ with speed for about a year in 2005, I accidentally took acid once which was a horrific experience, I dabbled with MKat for a while (a synthetic high meant to replicate the effects of cocaine – it didn’t), I tried Spice and I’ve tried other synthetics. I am just so thankful that I managed to avoid heroin and crack. I am also thankful that I managed to ‘come back’ from my horrendous acid trip in 2007.

I grew up around people taking cocaine and ecstasy; I grew up around excessive drinking. I didn’t bat an eyelid at it all, to me it was normal. With this being the case I didn’t think I had a problem. Until the problem became a problem.

Not for the first time, in 2011 I found that I was losing sight of my studies. I was losing control of my finances and I didn’t care about much else aside from getting a drink and smoking a joint. I didn’t want to think and I didn’t really want (I didn’t feel as if I could sometimes) to converse with people unless I was high, stoned or drunk. Or a combination of the three.

The first time this happened was towards the end of 2005 when I was suspended from my undergraduate degree for failing to keep up with the work and for being an absolute reprobate on campus. I left campus with my head hanging in shame and retreated to a less than happy and stable environment living with my Mum and her abusive partner – at the time both were deep in the throes of alcohol addiction and it was a very difficult environment in which to gather myself together, do the work I needed to do to get back to university and to fight off depression and anxiety. I managed it though. But I didn’t learn a lesson. I carried on smoking cannabis, I carried on drinking pretty much every day and I carried on taking cocaine and ecstasy even after I was allowed to return to finish my undergraduate degree.

On April 1st 2011, I went to my place of work where I was due to meet with my Masters of Social Worker supervisor to discuss my progress and to outline what I needed to do to complete my placement successfully. I wasn’t exactly a shining example of a Student Social Worker and during this meeting it hit me that the amount of work I had to do, and the 30 days in which I had to do it, would be nigh on impossible for me to complete in the state I was in. Instead of opening up about how I felt and what was going on outside of work and education I just quit. Right there, in the meeting, I threw up my hands and said “Fuck it. I can’t go on. It’s bullshit and I’m not doing it anymore.” I picked up my bag, walked out and went to my desk. I emptied the desk into my bag. I know I had tears running down my face at this point and I remember a strong sense of panic in my chest as I did this but I rebuffed any approach from colleagues by muttering swear words and banging my desk drawer shut – I walked out, shouted “See ya” and then went and sat on the wall outside smoking cigarette and wondering where my life was about to go. A few sympathetic colleagues who knew what I was going through came out and shared a cigarette – I said goodbye to them and walked to the off-license.

I’m not sure what happened after that. April 1st that year was a Friday so I know that I went out. I’m just not sure when I came back. At some point either that weekend or early the following week I know I told my friend who I was living with that I’d quit my degree and that the money I relied on to pay the rent would be no more because of that fact. I know that because what my friend did with this news was amazing.

Through my haze in the following weeks I resumed communication with my university who by this point had realised things were not all they had seemed. I confided in them what was going on with my Mum, my finances, my depression and a lot of other things that had built up and plagued me since my school days. They gave me a reprieve and told me I would be able to return to a Masters programme once I had put my house in order. I thank them for that because in October of 2011 I returned to complete not an MSc in Social Work, but an MSc in Social Studies writing my thesis on the positive influence of outdoor activity and education on children with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties.

But, I digress. Why do I run? Well, I run because of what my friend did with the news I was flat broke, that I’d walked out of my degree and that I didn’t really care about that at the time. My friend decided that action was required on my part and that I needed some sort of catalyst to wake me from my malaise and to show me there was more to life than drink, drugs and worry. He subsequently bough us two plane tickets to Switzerland. He walked into my room at some point during that April and said words to the effect of:

“Get your shit together because you owe me a return plane ticket to Switzerland, half the cost of a mountain guide and half the cost of our accommodation. We’re off to climb a mountain or two.”

My response:

“What?! How am I supposed to do that. I can’t climb a mountain. I can’t even pay the rent. How can I pay for a trip to Switzerland?”

His reply:

“Get up, get out of the house and get to work. You’ll figure it out.”

My response to this was not immediate. I sat there dumbstruck for about two days before I did anything. The plane ticket said I had until September 11th to get fit, get a job and get my house in order. The first thing I did, after rolling a joint and opening a can of beer, was to go online and sign up to a recruitment agency. The next thing I did was type into Google ‘How do you climb a mountain’ – this led me into a world of information and adventure but basically what I learned is that I needed, first and foremost, to get fit! I looked at how to do that. Squats, push-ups, sit-ups – fine I can do all of that. Running?! Okay. This is going to be tough. I pulled out an old pair of shorts and a t-shirt and put on some normal trainers, put all of them on and felt ridiculous. What was I to do now? Well, pretty similar to what my friend said really: “Get up, get out of the house, get to work and figure it out.” That first run was more of a sprint, stop, feel like crap, jog, stop, feel like crap, jog, walk home – it was about 2km and it took 40 minutes. When I got back home I was not happy! I went for a shower and by the time I got out of the shower I felt energised, I felt happy and I wondered if there might not be something more to this running thing. I went again the next day and pretty much every day thereafter until flying to Switzerland. It was never easy during those first months, it was rarely enjoyable but it was something else and that something else was better than anything else I had.

To cut a long story short by May 1st I’d gotten two part time jobs. By the end of May I’d gotten a pair of running shoes. By the end of June I’d paid for half of my plane fare. By the end of July I’d taken up swimming and meditation and paid my air fare. By the end of August I’d been lifting weights, doing sit-ups, squats and press-ups every day for two months and by the end of September and been to Switzerland and back. By the end of October I was back at university attending lectures and by January 2012 I had cut down my drinking and cannabis use significantly and I’d given up cocaine. In May 2012 I ran my first ever race and then June 2012 I ran my first ever half marathon. On July 1st I ran a local road race, finished 12th and by this point I knew I was a runner. By the end of July I’d handed in my MSc thesis and by the end of August I’d graduated. From there I never looked back. I kept on keeping on! By the end of 2013 I had cut back my cigarette smoking significantly, I was (and remain) drug free and I found my way into a career path I wanted to be on. By March 2014 I had given up smoking completely.

From May 2011 to March 2014 I radically changed my outlook on life, I radically changed the way I approached adversity and I learned a lot about myself and about my relationship with addiction. The learning and adaptation continues. In January 2014 I became vegetarian, in January 2017 I became vegan and then in July I stopped drinking and became tee-total. I’m not saying life is perfect – that’s impossible. I will always have an ongoing fight with depression and anxiety but the tools I have at my disposal to take on that fight are far more effective than ever they used to be. I love life now and that is not something I could have ever said with confidence or conviction until recently.

Changing your life for the better starts with one small step and requires perseverance, patience and commitment but it is possible. My journey is one of so many others I can point to in the world of ultra running, triathlon and endurance sport. If you are reading this and you feel you are in a similar position to that of me in April 2011, reach out and contact me. You will have to walk your own path, and find your own way, but I am happy to help you start to consider how you might start the walk.


So there you have it. That is why I run. It is also why I swim, cycle, hike, orienteer, lift weights, follow a yoga practice, do Pilates, meditate and generally infuse my life with health and movement!

[I’d just like to add that my Mum is in full abstinent recovery and has been clean for almost 3 years at the time of writing. Go Mum!]