A History of Panic

The last week has been really tough.  I’m back at work after 7 weeks off for the summer holidays.  My brain has gone from being ‘stretched’ to calculating my finishing time during long runs (and calculating how many scoops of ice-cream I can afford with the change jingling from between my two sports bras), to having to teach teenagers and try to stay on top of witty comebacks to smart asses.  Last Friday I felt like I had been hit by a bag of bricks.  I guess running a 17.5 mile race on the Saturday, and then helping my friend Grant move into his new (bangin’) apartment didn’t really provide me with a restful weekend, either.  This is probably why I have not run as much as I should have since school started back.  This is also why I collapsed into a heap on my sofa yesterday after work and pretty much dozed on and off until this morning, waking only to microwave a baked potato and load it with cheese.  I was wiped out!

Today was just a kick in the balls, though.  I got home, changed for spin, and actually walked the mile and a half to the gym.  I felt dizzy and whacked out, and by the time I got there I was mildly freaked out by my state, and decided to call it a day.  I cancelled my space, bought some new sheets at the superstore next door (comfort shopping bargain bin bedding is comforting sometimes), and headed home, getting progressively more annoyed with my recent lack of discipline, but also mildly concerned that it felt like I was on a ship navigating rough seas.

As soon as I got home I started getting the warning signs of a panic attack.  Wide pupils (I check religiously, and even check reactions to varying levels of light), dizziness, metallic taste in my mouth, numbness and tingling all over, rapid heart beat.  Essentially, a great big ball of ‘fuck you, Rachel!’  On the verge of a complete freak out (envision pacing the flat like a maniac and having emergency services on speed dial – yes, it gets  that bad), I found myself lacing my running shoes, grabbing my music, and power walking down the stairs.

I listened to nothing but Lana Del Ray, who somehow lulled me into a sense of calm (her music makes me think dying would be kind of alright.  Not ideal running music, but it had a decent effect tonight). I ignored my heart rate and pace.  I wore my ‘Running Sucks’ t-shirt, and chugged uphill past a dude wearing a ‘Keep Running’ t-shirt who had given up (ha!). I ran into a friend and her new boyfriend and stopped for a quick hello.  I pushed 8 miles out of legs I thought would scream for mercy before I started (I guess this is what ‘rest’ days are good for!).

But the best bit?  I managed to prevent a panic attack from kicking in, big style.  I haven’t managed to do that very often.  You can stop reading here (probably wise), or you can continue and read my about how panic attacks briefly (if you count nearly a year as ‘brief’) took over my life.

***

I had my first panic attack on New Year’s Eve, 2010.  I was in Houston visiting family, and we had all gone to the gym for a bit of a workout.  I had already been for a run around Rice University a couple of times in the morning, so I kept it light and did 20 minutes on the elliptical machine, and some weights with my mom.  I wasn’t pushing the boat out by any means, I was just putting in a token effort so that Body Pump would hurt slightly less when I flew home.

After I had finished, I read a couple of magazines while the rest of the family got in a bit more.  I remember feeling a bit funny – kind of dizzy and nauseous – but put it down to jet lag and had some water.  By the time we left, I still felt funny, and there was a dull ache in my arms and my fingertips were tingling.

I should take a moment to fill you in on my overactive imagination.  I am a full-blown hypochondriac.  I am totally aware of that.  But when I work myself into a state of panic, rational thought loses the battle for space in my mind.  If there’s a strange outbreak of some fatal disease within flying distance (i.e. Earth), then I start experiencing the symptoms as soon as they’re listed.  And although I convince myself I have somehow found myself as a host for the latest strain of the Black Death, after about 10 minutes I have managed to slap some sense into myself.

New Year’s Eve, 2010 was different.  It was the first time I had physical symptoms at the same time as my mental freak-out. The dizziness, dull ache, and tingling fingers I have already mentioned.  In the car, on the way home, I started getting palpitations, sweating, and my vision blurred.  I had pretty much convinced myself I was having a heart attack, and I started losing my marbles, big style, in the car.  I was

hyperventilating and demanding to be taken to the hospital.  My parents seemed pretty unfazed, which made it worse, and my brother was in hysterics.  The fact that I was too scared to punch him was testament to my fear.

I am ashamed now, but at the time we passed a traffic accident with an ambulance at the scene, and I screamed to, “Stop the f**king car!  That crash looks bad, there’s maybe nothing the ambulance can do! I need help more!”  I was so convinced I was dying that my basic instinct to survive quashed any sympathy for the people in the car accident.  My parents pulled into a parking lot and let me sit outside on the ground, telling me I was having a panic attack and to calm down.   After a few minutes, and not clutching my chest during painful final gasps for air, the rational part of my brain had come back into the office, and I had calmed down a bit.

That night, my parents were going to a party held by an old family friend, but my brother didn’t want to go.  I really didn’t want to risk public humiliation by having another meltdown in front of people I see rarely, but I also definitely did not want to be left alone, so I was glad that my brother was not feeling the party spirit.

We ended up staying at home.  I made pumpkin and cinnamon pancakes and we washed them down with root beer.  We watched back-to-back episodes of Toddlers and Tiaras, but when the 30-minute Brazilian Butt-Lift infomercial came on, it got a bit weird.  Essentially, we were pretty rock and roll that night, and, more importantly, I did not die.  My parents got back some time after one, and then we all went to bed.

When I flew home a few days later, I had put the panic attack to the back of my mind, and kind of assumed it was just a weird, isolated incident brought on by jet-lag/exhaustion.  I really, really wish that had been the case.

Pretty much the next year of my life was wrecked by constant fear.  I felt dizzy all the time – whenever I walked anywhere, it felt like the ground was shifting permanently.  Or like I was on a boat.  It got to the point where I avoided nights out, and often the gym, because when you’re on a stationary spin bike that feels more like a jet ski, things are bad.  I harassed my GP surgery, begging to be checked over several times, by several doctors because I was still convinced something was very wrong.  I had blood tests, urine tests, an ECG, motor skills tests…  They all came to the conclusion that I was suffering from anxiety, and the culprit was stress.  Fabulous.

The only flaw in my ability to accept that as an answer was the fact that I didn’t feel stressed.  I felt fine (all things considered), and didn’t really feel like there was any pressure on me to do anything.  I’m pretty laid back about deadlines and stuff – always have been – so I told myself there was no way I could be stressed.

But then, there had been a lot happening with my family, including my grandmother passing away.  I had struggled to claw my way into a job that was by no means secure.  I had moved into my first apartment.  I was also going to be having an operation.  It seems that even if you don’t I feel stressed out, stress finds a way of infecting your life sometimes.

It has been nearly 2 years since my first panic attack, and I have had ups and downs.  While I am no longer afraid to be left alone for more than a few minutes (especially at night), I still get dizzy and taste a weird metallic taste sometimes.  I try to think more positively when I start to get worked into a panic, and I have only had one rocking-on-my-floor-in-tears panic attack this year that has nearly made me phone home for reassurance.  Hopefully this is just a really crappy phase in my life that is coming to an end.  If not, well, I always tell myself, “It didn’t kill me last time,” and feel marginally more optimistic.

I used to think people who said they suffered from panic attacks were just big sissies, but I can tell you it is no small thing.  I still sometimes fret before a race that I’m not fit enough to compete, especially after reading about seemingly healthy people getting into trouble before the finish line.  But what all of this has taught me is that if something bad is going to happen, it’s going to happen.  Wasting time worrying that something might happen is throwing away chunks of your life that could be spent enjoying it.

And yes, I’m totally aware I sound preachy and possibly under the influence of some hippy spell with that closing statement, but I guess we’ll both just have to live with that.

BRG Coastal Challenge 2012

Time: 2:58:57

Medal:  Yes (and a technical t-shirt/goody bag)

The BRG Challenge is an annual event, held in August, that allows people to choose to either walk, run, or cycle 17 and a half miles from Fraserburgh to Gardenstown.  The walkers set off at 10am, the runners at noon, and the cyclists at 1pm.  I originally signed up to this event to act as a stepping stone between half marathons and the Loch Ness Marathon in 5 weeks time,not that, you know, I’m freaking out marginally or anything.  Little did I know that I would have already completed an 18 mile and a 20 mile run beforehand!

The course was described to me as ‘undulating’, which in no uncertain terms translates to ‘non PB conditions’, so without the burden of time pressure, I had decided just to enjoy this and treat it as a long run.  Obviously, long runs require carbalicious dinners the night before, so I had some homemade pizza with Grant.

So delicious. Even looking at this photo should make your pants tight.

After a good night’s sleep, my partner in crime, Ronnie, picked me up at 10 and we headed towards Fraserburgh after a quick stop at Tiso to pick up some energy gels.  We arrived at the starting area with about half an hour to spare where we registered and got our stuff ready.  This was to be my first race with my glamorized running bum bag, and I was packin’.  There was absolutely zero chance I would go hungry during this run.

We set off on time, probably helped by the fact that there were very few of us running (Results indicate there were 42 runners, although this doesn’t take into account the relay teams).  Immediately I regretted the bag.  It weighed way too much.  But it was too late to turn back.  Having Ronnie as a running buddy was good, since he’s from Fraserburgh, and pointed out all of the major landmarks like where his ex works and what I can only describe as the least enticing night club in the world:

Absolutely not somewhere I’d fear being date-raped.

Side note:  If I have time to take mildly comical photos, I am clearly not aiming for a time that would give Usain Bolt shivers.

Anyway, the first 5 miles or so were relatively flat.  We followed the coastline and the runners quickly spread out, so I’m glad Ronnie had decided to keep his race slow and steady, or I would have been running pretty much alone for 3 hours.  After 5 miles, we started climbing.  A lot.

The course remained ‘undulating’ (I hate that word), until the end.  After about 8.5 miles (and about 1:25), the first ridiculously fast cyclists whizzed by.  A minute or so later, another group.  And for the remainder of the race, people overtaking on bikes was a constant fixture.  It was kind of comforting.

Zoom!

What was not comforting, however, was coming across this sign:

 

That hill appeared to go on for ages.  The cyclists, at this point, had dismounted.  If only I had known that this was just the beginning….

Really?

You may be thinking that with all these monster inclines, there must be some sweet downhill sections, right?  Well, there were downhill sections.  But they were pretty much as steep as the uphill ones.  Where’s the happy medium?!  On one downhill section I clocked my pace at 6:20/mile.  And I literally could not stop.  It was ridiculous.  Fun, but ridiculous.  It also pretty much destroyed my foot modelling prospects.

Still, through the hills, and wind, and rain, the marshals/volunteers were always smiling and encouraging, and the plentiful water stations were stocked with jelly babies, orange slices, bananas, water, diluting juice, and chocolate bars.  Amazing!  And since I had company the whole way, I didn’t drain any of my mp3 player’s battery (even though I had 3 whole albums put onto it last night that I was dying to listen to).  To be honest, most of the time I was smiling (apart from the grimacing after mile 16 due to an extreme tow blister situation), and so was Ronnie:

NB: This photo was taken before Ronnie’s left nipple starting bleeding all over his shirt.

As the miles ticked by, and the foot pain increased, the sun started to peek through the clouds.  The mile 17 marker, had a been male, would have given me a semi.  It was nearly done!  We ran, downhill, steeply, towards the harbour at Gardenstown and I would be lying if I said I didn’t beam when I saw the finish line.

Crossing it together, Ronnie and I accepted our medals (mine was from a former pupil, which was odd for both of us), and then Ronnie found his friend who was there to give us a lift back to Fraserburgh.

Trying to move from one car to the next after sitting for 20 minutes was pretty hellish, and leaving Ronnie’s car and climbing the stairs to my apartment was also unpleasant.  But the hot shower once at my destination was awesome.  So was Grant bringing me a chocolate croissant 10 minutes later.  And the Nando’s for dinner rocked my world (and nearly blew the roof of my mouth off).

Tomorrow?  I’m helping Grant move into his new apartment.  It’s all about building the guns.  I hope everyone is having a good weekend of running so far, and I’ll leave you with the elevation profile of the BRG Challenge.  See if you can spot the deathly inclines….

BRG Challenge Elevation Profile

 

40 mile weekend

So it looks like I’m in that painful part of marathon training, guys.  I’m also going back to work tomorrow after 7 (beautiful) weeks of summer holidays, so my mind and body are crushed.

Saturday started off bright and early (for a Saturday) and I left my apartment at about 8 to get some miles in on the (boring) railway line.  At 8:35, I turned back, and continued past my place towards the beach, where I just managed to arrive at parkrun on time!  3.1 miles later (at a faster speed than I’d have liked, but still way slow compared to just a 5k), Ronnie and I set off for some laps of the beach.  We had originally intended to do one massive loop starting with parkrun, but as I’d started early, we settled for the beach, agreeing to hit the gym’s cafe afterwards for some freshly squeezed orange juice.  As the miles ticked by, I was aware that I felt a lot better than I did during the 18 miler a fortnight ago.  My muscles felt as though they could go on and on.  Unfortunately, the chaffing in unmentionable places did a pretty good job making me want to stop.  However, having company with me for that last 9 miles was amazing and really helped me through.  It wasn’t fast, but I ran my first 20 mile training run, and I didn’t collapse.  Result!

At 19.92 miles, ‘Chariots of Fire’ starting playing in my head. No joke.

The freshly squeezed orange juice was amazing.  The shower when I got home was less pleasant (I imagine) than using a dildo made of sandpaper and glued on pieces of broken glass.

Chaffed delicates + hot water and soap = tears and swearing.

Anyway, that night, Ian, myself, Liell and Grant all indulged in a curry.  And beer.  I pretty much inhaled everything that was placed in front of me, and even shared a desert with Liell, using a cocktail umbrella as a utensil (times were desperate).

While I was out running on Saturday, Ian was finishing up my bike, which he has been working on for the last few weeks whenever the weather is nice enough to work outside after he finished work at his day job.  I tell him ALL THE TIME that he needs to wear sun block when there is actual sunshine, but he just says he’s ‘building up a natural immunity to burning’.  Well, it seems to be working really well….

Bad sunburn

Despite his terrible sun care, he’s pretty good at cleaning and fixing up bikes, and because the weather was gorgeous today (the best day of 2012 by miles), we decided to give my bike a test ride.

We chose the railway line because it’s pretty flat (and my legs would shout out a ‘heeeeeeeeell no!’ if hills had been suggested).  We cycled about 10 miles out, and it was amazing how many other cyclists were out today – they were obviously all in the summer spirit today!  We soon realized, however, that life would have been a whole lot easier if we had a bell (like everyone else) to warn people when we wanted to overtake.  Luckily, my front brake squealed when I stopped abruptly, so it became our impromptu bell for the day.

I’ve posted photos of the railway line before from some of my runs along it, but today we went a little farther.  Some of the sections are like country roads, some are like trails, some are totally overgrown and bursting with stinging nettles.  We also passed loads of different animals; horses, sheep, cows, bunnies.  And my insect kill count for today must be through the roof (I’m sorry bumblebee!).

At the point where we turned back, I took a few photos, and stopped to take a few more along the way home:

My fixed up bike! Her name is Juliet.

Ian working on his guns. And sensibly covering up.

Cows. Ian didn’t want to pose with them because he felt guilty that we’d both be eating them later…

This bridge actually shook when cars went over it…

 

So, things I learned this weekend:

  • 20 miles is a long way.
  • Cycling 20 miles is easier than running 20 miles, though chaffing and a saddle do not mix as well as I’d have liked.
  • Wearing heels after a 20 mile run is ill-advised.
  • I am glad that swimming comes first in a half ironman, because holy shit, it would sting after cycling over 50 miles and running a half marathon.

Back to work in T-minus 10 hours.  I am already in a grump!

Wordless Wednesday

(With a few added words)

I cannot fully express how excited I am about Hallowe’en this year.  I have had this costume idea for aaaaaaaaaaaages (even though it isn’t particularly original) and I’m giving it an updated (read: trashier) look.  I bought the main part of my costume (which will be used for way more than just Hallowe’en.  Like pretty much any excuse to wear this thing out, I’m there) from an Austrian website, and it arrived yesterday.  Obviously I had to try it on.  Here’s a sneak peek of the costume.  Any guesses what I’m going to be?

Yes, I have a leopard print problem.

In less exciting news, I’m still running more or less to plan for this marathon.  I’m finding that I’m more and more exhausted as the weeks go on, so I’m really looking forward to tapering so I can feel back to my normal energetic self.  I’m also looking forward to giving my poor feet a break.  I’ve been a strict mistress recently, but it’s never a good sign when you finish a run, stretch, and notice this:

No bueno.

And because it is becoming a regular occurrence, I might as well let you guys see the foot au natural (Obligatory warning about a boner-killer of a photo below):

Pleasant.

 

NVA Speed of Light, Edinburgh

Distance: Just under 5 miles

Medal: No.  But we did get a goody bag with a nice long-sleeved tech shirt!

This is the event that I signed up to after having a few drinks to drown my sorrow at having not been allocated a space in the 2012 London Marathon after the ballot.  And then forgot about.  So when I received an e-mail a couple of months later thanking me for signing up, it took a little bit of digging through my inbox and searching online to confirm what exactly I had signed up for.

Speed of Light is part of Edinburgh’s International Festival, and is seen as, among other things, a fusion of performance and endurance.  It involves runners (a whole bunch of them) suiting up in LED light suits and running around Arthur’s Seat in the dark for an audience.  It started on Thursday, and will be running until the beginning of September, so plenty of time to catch a (late-ish) show if you’re in Edinburgh.

On Saturday afternoon (after a day of walking around Edinburgh in the sun), I headed to Holyrood Park, aiming to arrive at the tents at 6pm.  We had already been through the park on Saturday, so I knew where to go, which always makes things less stressful, but it’s pretty hard to miss!  There were a number of runners milling about waiting to be let through the gates, all clad in black lycra.

Approaching Arthur’s Seat

Speed of Light tents

After a short wait, the security guys called for all the runners to go through.  I was one of the first to get to the registration tent, and after giving my name and telling them I was in the early group, I had two wrist bands put on; one to say I was part of the event, the other allocating me to the yellow group.

NVA wristbands

I headed through to the runners tent, where there were sets of tables for the different groups, found myself a spot, and watched other runners trickling in.  It was quite good fun spotting people wearing event t-shirts from throughout the year, and I spotted quite a few that I own!  There was a guy wearing a Perth Kilt Run shirt, an emf half marathon finisher, and a Tough Mudder shirt.

Eventually, some other early session yellow folk appeared, and we got to talking.  I met a fellow American called Leah, and her friend Morag.  We spoke of GPS, running, food, and what we were expecting from the night.  Before I knew it, the organizer was getting our attention to go through a few safety instructions, give us some information about what we were doing, and thank us for taking part.  Then it was time to get on the hill and go through some basics!

Our run leaders were Cat and Gordon, and after being introduced we set off to learn some of the arm signals we’d be using later on some of the trails we’d be running.  Each movement had been given a name, and some their own arm signal.  Names of the moves included: sparkle, heartbeat, lighthouse, and firefly.  All suitably ridiculous when not wearing a light suit and standing in broad daylight with a group of near strangers on a hill.

Cat, our enthusiastic run leader!

After the orientation, we were set free until about 9.  Leah, Morag, and I hit the cafe, Urban Angels, for some energy to carry us through the night.  I had a brownie (delicious) and some elderflower juice.  It cost me £4.50, so if you’re planning on filling up, bring notes, not coins.  The tables in the cafe were all adorned with tablecloths that had quotes printed on them.  Turns out the quotes were responses to ‘Why do you run?’ that everyone had a chance to fill in when they signed up!

Dinner

By 9pm, we had already made our way back to the runners’ tent, where a small group was huddled around a television showing live Olympic athletics events.  I managed to watch Jamaica beat the U.S.A (and set a new world record!) just before the yellow group got called away to get into our light suits!  The colours were pretty amazing, and they were less cumbersome than I had imagined them to be.

Hanging light suits!

We all helped each other get into the suits and then posed for a last minute group photo.  Unfortunately my camera was on the wrong setting, so a lot of my photos turned out blurry.  This is why the group photo below looks like a point of view shot from someone who had hit the Christmas brandy a little too early.  And a little too hard:

I know I’m in the front row….. somewhere…

Ian texted at about this point to let me know we was somewhere on the hill, and to look out for his phone light flashing when I left the tent.  It was twilight, so I saw his silhouette as soon as we started heading up the hill, and I started covering and uncovering my head torch to try and catch his attention, but he told me afterwards that he couldn’t see me.  Oh well.

The yellow group positioned ourselves in a line, keeping about 10 meters apart, and were told that from the start, we just had to stay still for the first couple of minutes.  I took the opportunity to snap a photo of Edinburgh at twilight from a pretty decent vantage point:

Edinburgh at about 9:30 pm

Once it started, everything was kind of a blue – albeit a very colourful one.  We were going up, we were going down, we were sparkling, we were lighthousing, we were turning around, going past other runners, going through the audience, inhaling flying beasties, navigating rocks and bogs – there was a lot of concentration required!  There were a few moments here and there when we had the opportunity to look across at some of the other runners and saw shapes and patterns being created out of lights on the hill.  It did look pretty impressive, but then it was time to move again!

There were also occasional surprises when your head torch suddenly illuminated a camera man/woman perched in the dark filming you (the BBC were filming that night), and there were one or two members of the public, at various stages of sober, along the trails as well.  If you want to have a look at some of the photos that were taken on the night, there’s a really nice set here.  There is also a short video and some more information about the event here.  Aaaaaand BBC In Pictures.

When we were finished, the late yellow group met us on the hill and we swapped our light suits for their high-viz vests and waited until the path was clear before heading down the hill to the tent.  Once back down, we had goodie bags hanging on the hooks where we had found our light suits, which we grabbed, before getting our personal belongings from the runners’ tent, and saying our goobyes/goodnights.

Ian was waiting for me outside the tent, and we wearily walked back to his sister’s, where I had a quick shower and then enjoyed the comfort of a warm bed.  I didn’t expect him to have stayed up the hill for the whole time I was out running – he must have been freezing!

I’m glad I signed up to this, as it was a one-off experience, and a pretty cool thing to be a part of.  It was also good to get some hill work in, since it has been pretty much non-existent so far (oops).  For anyone in Edinburgh, there are spots for reserve runners, since things happen and people can’t make it, so I’d definitely recommend going along.  I’m also looking forward to seeing the BBC footage, which I heard will be on BBC 2 on August 30th.

18 miles!

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So I’m sitting on my sofa, totally naked apart from my socks and sports bra (but sitting on my somewhat sweaty shirt, for everyone that visits me and sits on my sofa), and I am exhausted. I am exhausted, not … Continue reading

Hasta la vista, July.

Well marathon training is in full swing, and I am feeling it.  A lot of people have been saying that despite the love/hate relationship you develop with long distances, as soon as you cross the line after running your first 26.2 mile race, you’re already thinking about the next one.

I’m going to go ahead and call bullshit on this, without having completed my first marathon.  I just have a feeling I’m going to buck the trend on this one.  I like running.  Until this year, 10k’s were my happy distance, but I have really taken to the half marathon distance.  In my head, though, I still break it down into 2 10k’s and a bit.  And as much as I like the idea of cracking out a couple of marathons a year, the reality is a LOT of training goes into preparing, and I miss my gym classes.  I also kind of miss running for no reason, instead of dreading 9 miles because it’s ‘on my schedule’.

The mileage buildup is evident when I look at my dailymile training statistics.  Just so you guys don’t think I was Miss Lazy Beans, I only joined dailymile on New Year’s Day (in Australia), so it’s not like 2011 consisted of lounging around on a chaise longue whipping buff men when they draped grapes into my mouth too slowly.  I had, however, only run a handful of times thanks to injuries and operations, so no wonder I’ve had so many niggles!

 

139 miles in a month seems like an awful lot, and that was with a week out because I had pulled a muscle in my neck!  Also, what this doesn’t show you is that I also did 7 spin classes, 6 Body Pump classes, 5 yoga-esque classes, 2 abs classes and a Body Combat class.  No wonder I’m tired!

But the real kick in the teeth is this number, according to my laminated training plan, is only set to get worse during the month of August, which shall henceforth be referred to as Augross, or possibly Arrrggghhgust, or maybe even just ‘Shit month, 2012’.

Still, let’s not forget why I’m doing this.

Yes, I have colour-coordinated.