Racing the Reaper Man to Ultra: February 2022

It has become apparent to me, that my book, Racing the Reaper Man, must have a chapter on mental wellbeing. I have shown how getting physically fitter and healthier is not beyond us as we get beyond 50, but I am now having to apply my philosophy to restoring my mental health. In doing so, I have to be candid about my personal issues, which is not easy, but if it helps others, I think it is worthwhile. Let me explain.

To live, or not to live…

Poor mental health has dogged me through February. It is difficult to unravel fully, but burnout is the overarching diagnosis. To me this makes sense. Ultimately, I worked too many long hours, flattened my ‘wellbeing battery’ and the net result is a mind with no immunity from stress. I had reached the point where my complete self, my physical and mental machine, was no longer functioning. You can give too much if altruism, kindness and caring tends to be your tenet. I have reached a similar point to Shakespeare’s Hamlet, trying to figure out:

“Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them…”

Indeed, as he continued, “- aye, there’s the rub..”   

I have gravitated towards philosophic thinking as I age. Upon reflection, I think this is true of any older person. We all seem to be governed by a set of self-imposed rules, a  ‘personal philosophy’, a set of guiding principles that we live by. It influences everything from what one says, the steps one takes, to the possessions that surrounds one at home. In general terms, a personal philosophy will keep a human being in a safe sphere of operation familiar to them. There is some comfort and logic to this. Yet, dogma can end philosophical growth very quickly. Dogma replaces learning and advancement, if we are not careful.

I have written before, my philosophy gives me no escape to a self-imposed comfort zone. At this point I tend to be aligned to the Stoics. Seneca wrote, “I judge you unfortunate because you have never lived through misfortune. You have passed through life without an opponent—no one can ever know what you are capable of, not even you.”

In deep mental misfortune

February found me deep in a mental misfortune on a scale I had never experienced. It was the strangest thing: physically I was very fit; but mentally I was in the middle of pyrotechnic confusion. I suffered long bouts of inertia after poor sleep and moments of anxiety, unbidden. A sunny day would pass by beyond my window and I could not step outside, apart from my run – usually a short one on such days. Yet, on grey, mentally draining, rainy days, full of sudden rage, I would throw myself out to run a fast 10 miles. I needed help, but I was waiting for that help to come to me. In my heart I knew I would have to act as there was little contact from my professional life. “Aye, there’s the rub…” once more. I needed positive mental energy for that.

Grey, mentally draining, rainy days

To charge my battery, I looked at my recent running progress towards my June 100k. In February, although not focused on a strict schedule, I still ran every day and even managed to break a couple of my course records on longer runs. Also, I hit 100 miles once more, meaning that for 15 months in a row I had accumulated three-digit training miles – a new record. My running streak still stands and is now at 429 days. I am more than holding my 2021 fitness, so have a good base to focus on coming races, if I can get my mind better. I’ve pencilled in the Goodwood Marathon on 2nd April – I hope for a 4:25 there to show I can maintain a steady pace at longer distances.

With dear Two-Mile Oak

Ultimately, I am Racing the Reaper Man to Ultra, but have yet to structure my training properly. It took February to show me I needed to become proactive in seeking help – waiting for help was doing me no good. I needed my mind back to its strongest. Thus, I made the decision to start some CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). The spark I needed came in the form of Ukraine’s brave resistance to Putin’s invasion. It showed me that, when the chips are down, you have to fight – so I acted before I could be overtaken by symptomatic apathy and inertia. The call, answered by a great chap called Jordan, was the best move I’ve ever made. From that 45 minute call, I felt in control at last. 

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – an overview

CBT is based on the concept that your thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and actions are interconnected, and that negative thoughts and feelings can trap you in a vicious cycle. (This is indeed where I have been trapped.) It aims to help one deal with overwhelming problems in a more positive way by breaking them down into smaller parts by being shown how to change these negative patterns to improve the way you feel. The proactive and dynamic thing for me is that, unlike some other talking treatments, CBT deals with one’s current problems, rather than focusing on issues from the past. It will give me the ability to identify practical ways to improve my state of mind on a daily basis, and structure a long-term strategy to manage any future pressures.

I’m afraid, as a male, I have seen this route as a sign of weakness in the past. This is common enough, but my Racing the Reaper Man Year proved to me I am not weak. At 65 I am in good order, have nothing to be embarrassed about and I have come to understand fully the unbreakable link between body and mind. I can now view CBT as an injury recovery program. I will write up the affect it has in my next blog post, reflecting Seneca’s words, I hope.

At 65 I’m in good order but mentally injured. CBT can be my injury recovery program

In the meantime I intend to use March as the start of my structured training, with a focus on core strength with Martin Sorenson, and longer runs with some speed work. It is also time to record a full set of stats so I can see exactly where I am. The ones I do have for February are as follows:

  • Daily calorie balance 1763 kcal
  • VO2 Max average 45
  • Average resting pulse 49 bpm
  • Total miles 100

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