A Racing the Reaper Man Year: December 2021

I entered December stumbling through a fog of incomprehension: the harder I tried to focus, the iller and more tired I became. I had marked the very first day of December as a line in the sand, beyond which I would regain my strength by pushing through the mental treacle and heroically chasing the 147 miles needed to hit 1400 miles for the year. I was always physically capable of that… surely? Such moments of energetic light and drive had become rare, and I had yet to fully comprehend that my battery was beyond empty. I had a virus, still. An annoying, debilitating light-headedness and a dry cough. Fortunately it was not Covid-related.

At the start of the second week, I was sitting in front of my computer and my vision stopped working. My mind could no longer comprehend the words, numbers and endless emails. Everything was a-blur and my right armpit started to sweat profusely. Minutes went by… then I came to. The penny dropped. I called my local doctors’ surgery and, after some very kind attention, managed to talk to the same GP who had guided me back to health in 2017. He signed me off immediately and had no hesitation in diagnosing burnout. That one word, oft misunderstood, became my reality.

The following two weeks were very dark. I had often been sceptical in the past about such conditions, but the physical and mental manifestation of burnout are truly terrifying. I could not rest. My mind chased endless doom-laden paths unbidden and nightmares in the form of flashbacks filled my restless head. I was scared to sleep as there was less control over my mind than when awake. Consciousness and unconsciousness were equally exhausting. Work was stuck in my mind, along with worries about my prostate, my family and my own mortality. Mortality had never worried me, but now I awoke relieved to still be here, then immediately my day-fears began. This is a rough idea of my own burnout symptoms.

Dark December weeks

After 2 weeks, I was signed off again for a month and prescribed sleeping tablets. For a couple days I started to relax, and then, right out of the blue felt the sudden urge to run hard. Maybe I could exorcise by exercise? I blasted out a 9:24 pace 10 miler and my head cleared. I’d not stopped my running streak, but this was the first indication I was still physically well. My fastest 10 for a decade! Yet, I was so tired and the pills did not work. I ran another 10 to try the same trick, but that would be it for several weeks. I was still in the middle of a mental crash and nothing was stopping the downward spiral. It was the lack of control that frightened me.

Could I exorcise by exercise?

Maybe Christmas would bring some respite, I thought. My Passepartout arrived on 22nd, and for the first time ever, we started a festive period with just the two of us. A quiet few days were planned with some short runs and walks. The subconscious hum of my illness drifted into the background and I was finally feeling hopeful. My MRI Scan had been scheduled for January and there was always less pressure at this time of year.

On the morning of Christmas Eve my sister-in-law died. My younger brother, alone and distraught, needed me – he had no one else to turn to. Christmas stopped. I could not travel on Christmas Day as nothing was open, so Boxing Day was spent packing the car, and we set off for Scotland for a two-day trip. I had no choice. Such is love, such is duty.

For a week we supported a grieving man as best we could. I spent days sorting paperwork, important documents, forming a strategy and helping with the legal requirements of a sudden death in Scotland. I ran a short distance at the end of each day at the point I could no longer make sense of documents. We would call a halt, raise a glass of sherry to the lovely Sue, then try to fill the early Scottish evening with hope. I was now beyond-burnout. In fact, I had become a machine running on banked fitness.

A machine running on banked fitness

This is where my planned Racing the Reaper Man Year ended. We did not notice 2022 arrive and I was 750 miles from home surrounded by sadness. Somewhere in my tired mind, I decided to extend my self-experiment into 2022, thus starting a Racing the Reaper Man to Ultra year. This way I could catalogue my recovery and my drive towards my first ever 100k.

Running at the end of the short dark Scottish days

December’s blog has been a very personal one. I decided to be as candid as possible to show my readers that everyone has barriers and pressures to overcome, both mental and physical. Holistic pressure, if you will. My book will only contain things I have experienced. That way it will remain authentic. In all this, running/exercise, fitness and health remain the greatest gift you can give yourselves. I will tie up my journey home and an overview of 2021 in the next blog, and also outline the next stretch to ultra.

In the meantime, keep safe and be kind.

Fitness and health remain the greatest gift you can give yourselves

How did I fare in December?

Ultimately, I took no real data. Thus I just revise my November figures. My weight remained fairly steady through the autumn, so 11st 11lbs (165lbs/74.8kg) remains my end-of-year touchpoint:

  • Still the most hydrated I’ve been, so still as heavy as I will be for a weigh in.
  • % body fat 21.3
  • % visceral fat  12.0
  • Bone mass: level.
  • Muscle mass: level.
  • BMI: Down from the initial 27.6 to 23.7, now just up to 24.5
  • Avg kcal/day balance = 1479 – much lower than October and November: but, a lot more of this remained empty alcohol calories. The quality of my fuel was still going down. December was a month where burnout affected everything.
  • Tummy: settled at 31”

Weight progression:

  • Dec 31st: 13st 5lbs
  • End Jan: 13st 0lbs
  • End Feb: 12st 8.2lbs
  • End Mar: 12st 4.8lbs
  • End Apr: 12st 4lbs
  • End May: 11st 12.4lbs
  • End June: 11st 11lbs
  • End July: 11st 9lbs
  • End Aug: 11st 7lbs
  • End Sept: 11st 6.8lbs
  • End Oct: 11st 12.2lbs
  • End Nov: 11st 11lbs
  • End Dec: 11st 11lbs

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