Racing the Reaper Man to Ultra: January 2022

There was no neat and tidy end to my Racing the Reaper Man Year. Although successful in hitting my fitness and running targets, with a leaner body and in reasonable health, I ended December 750 road-miles from home. As I’ve outlined in my December blog post, my brother’s wife died on the morning of Christmas Eve, so, with my Passepartout, I had to drive to Scotland:

‘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 (mainly with Passepartout) at the point I could no longer make sense of documents. We would [then] 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… We did not notice 2022 arrive and I was 750 miles from home surrounded by sadness…’

On New Year’s Day 2022, none of us really noticed the change in year. Another day of sifting documents and finding a strategy for my brother and we were very near completion of this dreadfully sad task.  We ran 3 miles into the Morayshire greyness just before the early, northern dark, thus starting the New Year maintaining our running streaks. These runs proved to be the one thing that kept me focused enough to carry on. Finally, on Sunday 2nd January the paperwork came to an end. Everything I could do was done. It was heartbreaking to leave my brother the next day. We had shared a close bond since childhood, and the week I had been with him had reinforced that bond. I had taken the lead and hoped I’d done enough to reduce his grief a little.

We left in the rain. My own health was not good. I have never been so mentally tired, so had decided to break up the journey home into segments. The first stage was 200 miles to Dumfries and Galloway, via Loch Ness and Glencoe. The rain was biblical. We made a brief stop at Spean Bridge for hot soup, then paused just south of Glencoe to run a chilly mile in Glen Etive. I had needed this to clear my head. We arrived at the Hetland Hall Hotel as the light went.

Running by Buachaille Etive Mòr

I was in trouble. I was beyond burnout, shaking and occasionally losing a few seconds of conscious thought. We ended up staying at the hotel for 3 nights so I could recover a little, leaving through necessity as a snow bank moved south, overtaking us as we drove over Shep Fell. We stopped in Staffordshire, then near Loughborough to break the journey down. The final 200 mile leg was directly south into a storm, with heavy rain blowing directly at the windscreen the whole way. Never have I felt so relieved to get home. We’d been on the road for two weeks.

To say I was ill was an understatement. Every sleep was full of nightmares and every waking moment saw me full of anxiety. All I did was stick to the formula: eat healthily, run every day and be confident that recovery would happen. My Passepartout had to return home. She had kept me together on the journey, cooked and served my brother and me, and helped me see the sense of breaking up the journey from Scotland. She gave up Christmas without question, supported me selflessly and ran by my side every day. Now she had to catch up with her own commitments.

Sticking with the formula: eat healthily, run every day

Alone, rest would not come. I called my brother every day, and watched his wife’s funeral on livestream. My MRI Scan happened a few days later and I suddenly started to worry about my own mortality. My GP knew I needed more time, so any return to working would have to wait. All of this with the pandemic constantly in the background. Being candid is not so easy. However, my aim is to show the reality of the constant runner who appears on Facebook. All of us have different pressures. In photographs we tend to smile, thus hiding the burdens we carry. I’m generally a happy man. Losing my smile is not pleasant, yet I’m confident the last year’s successes will get me through the coming weeks.

I’m a happy man. Losing my smile is not pleasant

Running really does make me happy. Over the last few weeks, the only thing that kept me sane was my daily run. As I have written, 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. This blog post is the first.

Running for sanity

By the end of January I had started to get a strategy in place to get me to a full recovery. I also needed to start my strategy to get through my June 100k. The good thing was, my baseline fitness remained at a high level. I tested myself on a 10 mile run around Thorney Island, then ran a comfortable, quick 12 miler (9:42 mins/mile) on the 30th, which was also my 400th day without a rest day. I’d started weekly core work with Martin once more and looked at February as my kick off month. I would start to take regular fitness statistics once more and focus on Ultra. Yet, mentally I was not in a good place. My hopes for quick mental recovery had stalled on the anvil of duty. My mind could not switch off, even whilst asleep. I was starting to see I might need some professional help to realign body and mind.

All website content ©Paul Comerford, author, unless otherwise stated. All rights reserved.