Putting the Gory Into Glory

The other day I posted about running the Omagh Half Marathon on Saturday. And, sad man that I am, I spent a good part of yesterday evening scrolling through the race’s Facebook page in an effort to find a half decent photo of me crossing the finish line. I wanted to capture that moment of glory, of triumph, the culmination of several months toil and turmoil.

In my mind’s eye, I strode over the finish line like a Greek God, the sole focus of the crowd’s adoring cheers. ‘Isn’t that Stephen Black?’ they murmured to one another. ‘The renowned blogger and talented, if unpublished, author? He runs as well? Is there no end to this man’s talent?’ There would be hearty handshakes and back slaps all round as I bounded home, as fresh as a daisy.

The reality was, of course, somewhat different. I’m just one sweaty, gasping middle aged man lost in a field of other runners. If I resemble a Greek God, then it’s certainly not one who adorns art galleries and museums. I’m not punching the air in triumph, rather fiddling with my stopwatch and begging for the agony to end. I have run the race but, rather than wax lyrical, all I want to do is lie down.

It was glory of sorts, but the most gory sort of glory. It was aches and pains, and not the perfect, pretty picture I naively expected. Not all successes are ticker tape parades and front page news. Many are quiet acts of determination. Glory is most often an ugly, solitary act, gone in the blink of an eye as the next hurdle looms up on the horizon. Yet, you did it, and that’s all that matters.

What are your thoughts on gory glory?

Mission Accomplished

I’m delighted to say I completed my home town half marathon in Omagh today. I was very nervous about this run as my training this year has been disrupted by three bouts of illness. I had a heavy cold for most of the week and haven’t run since last Sunday. I wasn’t sure until Thursday I was going to run and, even then, was concerned I would be able to complete the course.

Somehow I did. Thankfully the weather conditions were kind and I awoke to dry, sunny conditions. My target was to complete the undulating course in under two hours and I set out hoping to stay ahead of the pacer. I plodded round at a steady pace, conscious I was always ahead of him but afraid to look over my shoulder to be greeted by the two hour pack bearing down on me.

At the half way mark I was over a minute ahead of schedule and I dared to dream. With 5K left I knew I only had to keep going and I would hit my target time. The final 400 metres is around the leisure centre’s running track and a big crowd dragged my flagging body round it. I was so pleased to look at my stopwatch and see the time at 1:58:05. I clutched my winner’s medal. It was over.

I don’t think I’ve ever been as pleased with a time. It’s nowhere near my fastest but, given my less than perfect preparation, it proved to the nagging voice in my head that I’m still a decent runner. My legs ache now but it was all worth it. I’ll take a break now and work on steady mileage before planning my next race. Thank you to everyone who has supported my moaning running posts in recent months.

I Won’t….I Can’t….Oh All Right Then….I Will

Tomorrow I’m due to take part in my 4th Omagh Half Marathon. I should be excited but have never felt so underwhelmed before a race. I’ve been sick all week, my third bout of illness since the start of the year, which has laid waste to my plan to run the Belfast Marathon next month. Omagh was meant to be the consolation prize but, low and behold, a stinking head cold has struck down the entire household.

I’m over the worst of it thankfully and it’s Fionnuala and Hannah who are currently in the midst of Storm Influenza. Our family’s general health has been under attack for some months now. But I’m determined to run the race if I can, despite my doubts I will be able to complete the course. As such, I intend to set out with the two hour pacer and cling on to them for all I’m worth.

My PB is 1:35 but I think running a two hour marathon tomorrow would be a bigger achievement. I haven’t run in a week and am nowhere near the physical shape I’ve been in before previous events. I feel unhealthy and out of shape. Mentally, my confidence is also at a low ebb. It doesn’t take much for me to launch into full-on pity party mode so Fionnuala has been giving me much needed pep talks throughout the week.

I’ll post tomorrow after the race, whatever the outcome. I’m hoping I’ll feel better after another 24 hours of paracetamol and rest and that my legs will remember enough to fuel me round the undulating 13.1 mile course. Life is about soldiering on, even when every fibre in your body wants to disappear under the covers and switch the lights off. Tomorrow will be one of those days. But I’ll get through it….somehow.

Two Weeks To Go

Yikes. And other Scooby Doo-esque exclamations. The Omagh Half Marathon is only two weeks away. That crept up quickly. In less than two weeks I will be plodding round the byways and highways of my home town for the fourth time. The course is described as ‘undulating’ which is race organiser speak for hilly. They lie. They always lie. Anything to get the entrance fee from us.

The good news is that this week saw something of a running renaissance on my part. It was my first 40 mile week of the year, capped off by a blustery 10.5 mile effort this morning. My pace is steady, if unspectacular, but I’m aiming at consistent mileage as opposed to breaking any land speed records in the coming weeks. My legs feel okay and I’m sickness free. A relief given the last few months.

I’ve never raced with a pacer before but I’m seriously considering it for Omagh. All I want to do is complete the course in under two hours. That will tell me if I’ve got enough in the tank to tackle the Belfast Marathon in May. A pacer will ensure I don’t go out too quickly and ‘blow up’ before the finish. I’m erring on the side of caution, but I think it’s the right call.

I’ll try and clock up another 40 miles this week before easing off, or tapering, in the days leading up to race day. This year is the 30th anniversary so I’m delighted I’m finally regaining the fitness I require to enter these distance events. I get very anxious before big runs but know the mental and physical benefits far outweigh any pre-race butterflies. I’ll post another running update next week so stay tuned.

Step Away From The Ice Cream

It is finished….

Yesterday afternoon I consumed the last of the gallon tub of honeycomb ice cream which has taken up residence in our garage freezer. Taunting me, tempting me, luring me onto the rocks of overindulgence like the most seductive of sirens. I have battled the urges, wrestled with the need, but finally succumbed to its delicious, sugary, ice cold charms. I write this a broken, but satiated, man.

The Omagh Half Marathon is now less than three weeks away so I have slapped a self imposed ice cream ban on myself. The Black household has gone into training lockdown, meaning Maud’s Pooh Bear is now a banned substance. Random freezer inspections will be taking place to ensure this ruling is adhered to; any infractions will be frowned upon and dealt with sternly. I have been warned….by myself.

My addictive nature of course snorts in derision at these feeble attempts to lay down the law. He’ll crack, it tuts knowingly. Pay day is less than a week away and he always likes to treat himself at the end of the month. A new book for the Kindle? Stylish running attire? His own body weight in honeycomb ice cream? Yes, it’s only a matter of time, you wait and see. He’ll fold like a deck of cards, just like he always does.

Well, maybe so. And, as I write this, I already feel anxious at the thought of life without ice cream. I’m entering (ice) cold turkey and don’t fancy my chances. But if I’m to have any hope of running 13.1 miles at Omagh without stopping, then Winnie has to go. No more sitting on the sofa, digging into its sugary goodness with my trusty spoon. Nay, nay and thrice nay. I say.

I still have my beloved Diet Coke. To deprive myself of it would be a bridge too far and I fear my body would enter some form of anaphylactic shock. My central nervous system would shut down and I’d take to my bed, turning my back on society like a 21st Century Miss Haversham. Without the creepy wedding dress, of course. Creepy wedding dresses are not my best look.

The running has been going quite well. I’ve been steadily upping the mileage and, while my times haven’t been spectacular, they’ve been respectable enough. But there’s little point slogging ten miles in the wind and rain, to undo all your good work in a feeding frenzy last witnessed when Roy Schneider hollered ‘Get out of the water’ in ‘Jaws’ all those years. I’m no Great White and I don’t want to turn into a Great Black either.

Fionnuala and I are going to take a potential new car for a test drive this morning. Afterwards I’ll head out on a training run, weather permitting. Both of which should distract me from all things ice cream. Crisps, biscuits and chocolate are also to be consumed in moderation from this date onwards as I work towards a lean, mean running machine turning up on the start line at Omagh.

I expect the blogging community to fully support me in this venture. If you detect even the slightest whiff of backsliding on my part, then I fully endorse a ‘naming and shaming’ WordPress intervention on your part. This is no time for pandering to my doe eyed, whimpering, needy self. Tough love is required and I know you’ve got my back on this one. I thank you all.

Are you willing to drop everything and intervene?

Have you ever wrestled a fully grown man to the floor over a tub of ice cream?

What are you willing to give up to support me in the coming weeks?

Brutal

Brutal running conditions of late, thanks to the permanently wet and windy conditions hanging over Northern Ireland. I’ve battled on, however, as the Omagh Half Marathon is three weeks tomorrow. At times I’ve been barely moving forward as I’ve struggled to overcome ridiculous headwinds which seem to change direction at a whim, buffeting me from all angles.

Sunday looms up as my long run day. St. Patrick’s Day no less. I’ll have to dig through my drawers to see if I have a green running top. There will be no Guinness or Irish stew as I’m aiming to run 15 miles. My previous longest run this year was 12, so I’m a few weeks behind schedule due to a virus and chest infection which put me out of action for a month earlier in the year.

I’m going out tomorrow to measure a loop of the village. I think it’s roughly 2.5 miles of undulating country roads so I reckon it will require six circuits on Sunday to rack up the required mileage. Some might reckon running the same route six times is boring but it helps me manage my pacing. Plus, I tend to switch off when running and take no notice of my surroundings.

The Belfast Marathon is less than two months away now and Sunday will go some way to deciding whether or not I enter it. I really want to as it will be my 10th but I’m also realistic. I’m not as well prepared as I’ve been in previous years and I’m not going to allow stupid male pride to force me into a race which is brutally unforgiving. Hopefully all this training in the storms will stand me in good stead.

Temporary Pain, Long Term Gain

Regular readers will know I’ve been struggling to locate my running mojo of late in the lead up to the Belfast Marathon in less than two months time. I’ve been restricted by illness and even then, I’ve found it hard to get motivated for this year’s event. Training runs have been missed and my diet has been all over the place. I’m two weeks behind where I need to be and my times and mileage reflect that.

I gave myself a good talking to at the weekend and resolved to get back on track this week. This coincided with atrocious weather conditions and runs yesterday and today have been completed in driving wind and rain. On both occasions I have resembled a drowned rat by the end of the run. The key word here is ‘completed.’ Despite the squall outside. I’ve went out and got the job done.

Mo Farah has no need to look over his shoulder yet. My times have been far from spectacular but every mile counts, and I’ve racked up 16 miles. I’ll rest tomorrow and then go again on Thursday, with the plan to fit in a 12 mile run somewhere before the end of the week. The Omagh Half Marathon has been booked for next month and I’ll be running to raise funds for SHINE Charity.

Some days are so meh you see no point in showing up and lacing your running shoes. But when you do go out there, even if it’s blowing a gale l, the endorphins kick in and it all becomes worthwhile. Temporary pain is necessary for long term gain. Here’s hoping these rainy runs are the gateway to a clear path to the starting line of the Belfast Marathon. I certainly hope so. I’ll continue to keep you all updated.

What temporary pain are you experiencing at present? Is it worth it?

Another Day, Another Mid Life Crisis

A work colleague of mine has started training for a charity white collar boxing event. He’s thrown himself into an intensive programme of gym classes, sparring and weights. The big day is less than a month away and he’s truly a man on a mission. Personally, I don’t understand these men who hit their forties and take up sports when they should really know better. It’s all a bit sad don’t you think?

Errrrrrrr….moving on.

Today he brought in a pair of boxing gloves as he has a sparring session tonight after work. After impressing us with how many one handed press ups he could do, he then produced the gloves and handed them to me. ‘I want you to hit me as hard as you can in the stomach,’ he cheerily announced, keen to display the benefits of six trillion sit ups a day. ‘Er….sure,’ I replied. I wasn’t at all sure.

If I’ve ever worn a pair of boxing gloves before, then I can’t remember. I’m proud to say I’ve never thrown a punch in anger and would run a mile in the opposite direction were a brawl to break out. It took me the best part of five minutes to put on the gloves, gnawing at the velcro straps with my teeth, as my colleague patiently looked on, with tensed abs. If that’s what people with abs do. I wouldn’t know.

Finally ready, I launched a tentative jab towards his rock hard six pack. I didn’t want to hurt him, after all. He didn’t bat an eyelid, causing me to put more force into the next punch. Nothing. I looked him in the eye to see him smiling back amiably. Okay, I thought to myself, to an imaginary Rocky soundtrack in my head. It’s time to up the ante. My manly reputation is on the line here, there are people watching.

Summoning up my inner Raging Bull, I drew my right fist back and unleashed a haymaker of epic proportions. Surely that muscular missile would cause him to double over in agony, the wind knocked out of his sails. I was ready to rumble, to bring the pain, unleash hell and stuff like that. He smirked at me. Smirked, no less. I gritted my teeth and unloaded one last blow, putting every fibre of my being into it.

At which point, a shard of agony roared up my right arm and into my shoulder. ‘Are you okay?’ he enquired as I winced in pain and fought back the tears. ‘Yes I’m fine,’ I lied, convinced I had broke my thumb. I gingerly removed the gloves and retreated to my desk, vowing never to indulge in pugilism ever again. My feeble fists had been overcome by a washboard abdomen. I looked down glumly at my own rather less Herculean midriff.

I’ll stick to running in future. The funny thing is, I’ve run with my work colleague before. He’s as fit as a fiddle but when it comes to running, he collapses in a heap after 3 miles, whereas I can plod on forever. We are both fit but have different kinds of fitness. His relates to physique and strength whereas I have stamina and endurance. I guess it’s a case of different horses for different courses.

Today taught me a lesson. Have you ever set out to hurt someone emotionally but ended up only causing pain to yourself? I know I have, and still do. We need to let go of those petty grudges and move on. They say revenge is a dish best served cold, but its best to scrape those leftovers into the bin and start afresh. Otherwise you will end up with a badly bruised ego. And possibly a broken thumb.

Have you ever thrown a punch in anger?

Do you struggle to let grudges go and move on?

There’s No Fool Like An Old Fool

So I finally bit the bullet yesterday and signed up for my first race of 2019, the Omagh Half Marathon. I’ve never felt less prepared for a race but it’s my home town half and I was loathe to miss it. I’ve just over a month now to convince my body and mind that I can still run such distances. It’s my first race since the disastrous Causeway Coast Marathon last September so here goes nothing. There’s no fool like an old fool.

Don’t Try This At Home Kids

Any distance runner knows that Vaseline is their best friend. I’ve seen and heard enough horror stories to realise that. Grown men weeping as they cross the finish line in blood soaked t shirts, their nipples red raw and on fire. And don’t get me started on the joys of inner thigh chafing. Who needs a knife wielding Anthony Perkins when you can run 15 miles without Vaseline and then create your own horrific shower scene.

I always make sure I have a tub on hand. When I run out, I steal a dollop from Hannah before I hit the roads, much to her disgust. ‘Ewwwww Daddy, I put that on my lips and you rub it on your….’ I’m always finding new ways to embarrass our teenage daughter but prancing about in public dressed in bright orange Under Armour while smothered in Vaseline is a hard one to beat.

Only an idiot would embark on a run without their bits and bobs suitably protected from the horrors of chafing. Or so you would think. Two days ago I headed out on a lunchtime spin around the Titanic Quarter of Belfast. I’m slowly upping the mileage again as I recover from the latest bout of illness to have laid me low. I thought I was well equipped and had everything I needed before setting off from home that morning.

How wrong I was. No Vaseline. I weighed up the options before shrugging my shoulders and deciding to chance it. I mean, it wasn’t as if I was tackling a 26.2 mile trek. This was a gentle training spin over a fraction of the distance. I’ll be alright. So off I sauntered, throwing caution to the wind. An hour later I hobbled back into the office, a broken man. Think John Wayne in business attire and you’re not a million miles off the mark.

It felt as though my thighs had been attacked by a sandpaper wielding maniac. I had been flayed alive. Every step was tortuous and my 15 minute walk later in the afternoon to the train station was a trail of tears. Fellow commuters shot me concerned looks as I crawled onto the platform, wincing every time trouser fabric caressed skin. Crawling home over broken glass would have been more fun. And less painful.

I won’t repeat what Fionnuala said to me when I arrived home but it was words to the effect of ‘Have you had an accident in your trousers my poor, darling husband?’ I can always rely on her to cut the chase on such matters. The remainder of the evening was an uncomfortable ordeal. I arranged myself on the sofa, smothered in Sudocrem, unwilling to budge an inch for fear of much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

48 hours later and I’m thankfully recovered. I’m out running again later today but won’t be taking a step out the door unless I’m smothered in the good stuff. I’ve learnt my lesson, and a very painful one at that. The mind is a fickle mistress. She often seeks to diminish and soften past memories. They become dim recollections, easy to brush aside as we stumble on towards similar calamities. The penny never drops.

Pain can be a good thing. Sometimes we need it. It is the red flag warning us there are dangers further up the road. The rest then is up to us. Do we blithely ignore it, hit the accelerator and hurtle round the next bend to face our fate? Or do we stop, frown and think back to the last time we faced such a dilemma. Before taking a step back and sheepishly reaching for the Vaseline?

How do you use pain as a warning system in your life?

What’s been your worst chafing experience? Do share. I promise not to breathe a word of it to anyone.

I’m On The Comeback Trail….Again

After two weeks out of action with a chest infection, I ventured back onto the roads again. I also lost three weeks over New Year with a virus so this really is my last chance at making the start line for the Belfast Marathon in early May. I’m already several weeks behind in my training programme so any more setbacks would realistically scupper my chances of being ready on time.

It was a beautiful morning, mild and dry with only a light breeze. I set out on a mostly flat 6.4 mile route which took me out of the village to the shores of Lough Neagh and then back again. I purposely set off at a slow pace as my target was to complete the run in one piece with no mishaps. There were no personal bests going to be set today. Such heroics can wait until I get a few more miles under my belt.

My only company on the outward journey was the occasional cyclist who whizzed past with a wave or greeting. Rural folk tend to always do this when we meet on the roads and there is a particular camaraderie between runners and cyclists. We are all in the one boat, using our spare time to exercise and enjoy the fresh air. City folk are less friendly, but I guess that is the same wherever you go.

At the turning point I stopped for a couple of moments to catch my breath. I was trialling a new smart watch Fionnuala bought me for Valentines Day and was still coming to terms with its various buttons and settings. It sure beat running with my phone, however, which I had been doing for several months in order to record my pace and mileage. In a way, it was liberating not to worry about mile splits and overall targets.

The return leg was slightly more uphill and I caught a stiffer breeze in several sections. I focused on keeping my legs and arms pumping and not stopping, no matter how tired I felt. Thankfully my stamina held out. I was slow but comfortable and my breathing was relaxed. There were no aches or niggles and as I entered the final mile I knew there were no concerns as to me making the distance.

I made the final turn towards the house and glanced at my watch to reveal a slow, but respectable, time given it was my first outing in a fortnight. I had risked running a bit further than I probably should but lived to tell the tale. The plan is to run again tomorrow provided there is no adverse reaction to today’s exertions. Another injury or illness is my worst nightmare. Here’s hoping it doesn’t happen.

Are you planning to get outdoors this weekend?

What are you up to?

Belfast Marathon Training – Week 3

It’s my third week back running after illness and I completed a seven miler in wet and windy conditions this lunchtime. I’m still not feeling completely 100% but I was pleased to get this effort under my belt, especially given the grim conditions. I was also pleased with my pace which remained consistent, even into a strong headwind. My final mile was one of my quickest, indicating my fitness is slowly returning.

The plan is to run 25 miles this week, so another 10K or so over the weekend should cover that. Each week I will gradually up the mileage, as I work towards my ultimate target of the Belfast Marathon in early May. I hope to increase my long run by a mile each week. This means I should peak at 21 miles 2-3 weeks before the race, before tapering down again until the big day itself.

A Win-Win Weekend

It’s been a great start to the weekend here at chez Black. Adam’s school, Lurgan College, progressed to the 3rd round of the Schools Cup with a hard earned 13-8 win over Foyle College. It’s a big achievement for a relatively small grammar school especially as Foyle were fielding an Ulster Schools U19 player. The next round is in two weeks time against Cambridge House Grammar School.

I settled my shredded nerves afterwards by going for a run. I think I’ve finally turned the corner regarding sickness which I’ve been battling since before Christmas. Yesterday was the best I’ve felt in quite some time, and I’ve gradually been upping my distances and mileage since returning to running last week after a three week break. The long term target is the Belfast Marathon on 05 May.

Today I managed my first 10K of the year in an unspectacular, but steady time. I felt well throughout and finished strongly over a hilly final mile. 26.2 miles still seems an awfully long way off but I’m thankfully headed in the right direction. I hope the sickness has run its course as I seek to up my long run by a mile a week over the next few months. It will be my 10th marathon in my home city so I really want to make the start line.

I have no plans to stray far from the sofa for the remainder of the day, before going on call in the morning until Friday. I’m trying to rest whenever I can although my blood results came back as all clear earlier in the week. I’ve been eating healthier so maybe that is assisting my recovery. Whatever the upturn in my fortunes I’m not complaining. Here’s to more rugby and running success in ten months ahead.

How win-win is your weekend?

Heavy Legs, Happy Heart

Well, I did it. I survived yesterday’s run and took my first faltering steps towards the start line of the Belfast Marathon on 05 May. It was a flat route around the Titanic Quarter of the city, out over the River Lagan to the Titanic Museum and back. I had planned to run 3.5 miles but ended up doing a little more. Overall, I was pleased with my pace and stamina. I’ll rest today and then go again tomorrow, hopefully 5 miles.

I’m still not firing on all cylinders but it’s a marked improvement on how I felt over the Christmas period. I woke up this morning to take Adam to rugby training, with heavy legs but a happy heart. I know I’ve written about running two days in a row (yawn) but I just wanted to update all the well wishers from yesterday on how the run went. I really appreciate the support I received from you all.

What have you planned over the weekend?

Belfast 2019

I’ve been a bit under the weather of late, and unable to run, but it’s good to have targets so I thought I’d write about my main racing target for 2019 – the Belfast Marathon on 05 May. It seems a long way off at the minute, but for most people January marks the beginning of their marathon training programme for Belfast. Due to this sickness, I’m not quite there yet but I’m hopeful the situation will improve soon.

This will be my 4th Belfast Marathon and my 10th in total. Not bad for the out of shape wreck who first donned running shoes almost five years ago. There have also been a raft of half marathon and 10K runs for good measure. Like last year, my warm up race for Belfast will be my home town half marathon, in Omagh, on 06 April. As with Belfast, it will be my fourth time running this undulating route.

Belfast will be particularly exciting this year, as it is a new route starting at the iconic Stormont Parliament Buildings and winding its way through all parts of the city before finishing off in Ormeau Park. There are several sections of the route I’m looking forward to, areas of the city I have never run through before. What won’t be different will be the fantastic atmosphere and crowd support. Belfast is a special city.

I’m not running for a charity this year, I’m doing this one for myself. Collecting sponsorship brings its own pressures and I think I’ll have enough on my plate just getting to the start line in one piece. And as for time? Well, I’d be delighted with sub 4 hours having run the other three in 3:56, 3:33 and 3:51 respectively. I’ll have to research the new route to see if it’s as challenging as the original course was in sections.

You might be thinking to yourself, is he mad? Hasn’t he enough to be getting on with? Family life is exhausting at the best of times, not to mention work, blogging commitments and the small matter of writing and publishing a book. But I need to run, even if it’s slowly and way off the pace I’m accustomed to. That is frustrating, but nowhere near as frustrating as not running at all.

There are physical benefits of course. Running keeps me in shape and I’ve worked hard at my fitness these past few years. But more importantly, is my mental health. Running maintains me on an even keel, it detoxifies and purges a lot of the nonsense that rattles around my head on a daily basis. It focuses me. I don’t want to run, I need to run. It keeps the wolves from the door. For there are many of them.

I’m heading out for a lunchtime plod later. It won’t be pretty and I’ll not be setting any personal bests. But I’m feeling a little better and I can’t sit around on my bum any longer. The pain in my legs afterwards will be compensated by the sense of achievement. 26.2 miles seems a long, long way at the minute but I’m going to get there, one step at at time. I’ll keep you all updated as to my progress.

2019….We Go Again

Being a full time rugby dad, I’ve heard the above phrase often over the last few years as I’ve stood on the touchline supporting Adam. When a team scores and is regrouping for the resulting kickoff it is a rallying cry for the side. Yes, we may have just scored. Yes, we may be leading. But the game isn’t won yet. There is still work to be done. We can’t afford to relax or be complacent.

We go again….

On a personal level, I achieved a lot in 2018. I wrote a book. I ran two marathons. I watched the blog grow to over 8000 followers. But, more importantly, I grew as a person. Yet, there’s still so much to do and I can’t help but feel time is not on my side. So, I go again. Despite being sidelined with illness currently, I’m still hopeful of completing my tenth marathon in May. The Belfast Marathon has a new route this year which I’m looking forward to tackling.

Then there’s the little matter of my book, ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Skelly’s Square.’ I’m loathe to blog about it as it’s an entirely selfish exercise, but I realise in order to promote it, I have to occasionally blow my own trumpet. I’m wary of that side of my character, but have good people around me to guide me along that particular path. I’ve even ventured back onto Twitter, which was a huge, and still weird, experience.

The book is currently with my editor, Laura, having gone through the beta reader process. When she returns it, I will be ready to start querying literary agents. I’m currently drawing up a shortlist which I’ve been researching online. I’ve also drafted my query letter and book synopsis. So, I’m standing on the cusp, the edge of submitting sample chapters to them. It’s exciting, but also terrifying.

I’m hoping to be a better husband and father in 2019. A better manager, a better employee, a better son, brother, uncle, everything really. As ever, I will strive to blog regularly and honestly, keeping you updated as to my successes and setbacks. I will also continue to battle with my fractured faith and work at keeping the beast that is my OCD, well and truly shackled in the deepest recesses of my mind.

I want to read more books, watch more movies and start work on KSC2. Ideas are starting to form in my mind as to where Kirkwood, Meredith and Harley go next. I also want to engage more with my fellow bloggers. I regard many of you as friends now, people I would miss if you dropped off my online radar. Blogging is more than just posting blogs. It’s about reading, interacting with, and supporting others. I need to do that more.

I hope you all realise your dreams and targets in the coming year.

We go again. We go together.

What are your 2019 goals?

All I Want For Christmas Are My Blood Results

The more eagle eyed of you may have noticed I haven’t posted a running blog in some time. Well, that’s because I haven’t been running. It’s been two weeks now due to an illness which has made climbing the stairs, let alone marathon training, an ordeal for me. I’ve been lethargic, listless, exhausted and no matter how much I sleep, have been unable to shift the symptoms. To use a medical term, I feel rubbish.

I struggled during the summer of 2017 with a similar ailment. Doctors poked and prodded me, but seemed none the wiser as to what was the cause. Two courses of antibiotics failed to clear matters up, and I routinely informed enquirers that I’d picked up some mystery bug. I resigned myself to feeling lousy and soldiering on as retiring to my bed for the remainder of the year was simply not an option.

I continued to run, but my times were a minute a mile slower than normal. In the end, my doctor took a blood sample which revealed a folic acid deficiency. This impacts upon the production of red blood cells, which we rely on to carry oxygen around our bodies. Without the sufficient levels of folic acid, the body lapses into a state of fatigue. Which was exactly how I was feeling.

I was prescribed a folic acid supplement and, within weeks, was feeling much better. It took another few months to regain my running form but by the end of 2017 it was all systems go again. Until this month, when I have been struck down with exactly the same lethargy. I told the doctor as much when I returned to the surgery on Christmas Eve but they cannot prescribe anything until fresh tests are run.

I phoned the other day to get the results. The receptionist rather cryptically informed me that they had come back clear, bar my folic acid levels, which they wanted to test again. The earliest they can see me, though, is 7th January. Until then, I remain in limbo, unsure as to what the problem is, and unable to access the medication I need to resolve the issue. To say I’m frustrated is an understatement.

My energy levels have slightly improved since Christmas but I have been taking it very easy and haven’t taxed myself. The furthest I’ve walked is to the freezer to get another bowl of honeycomb ice cream; which has bolstered my morale but also, unfortunately, my waistline. I miss the physical benefits of running, and wallowing at the bottom of a biscuit tin is not where I want to be.

The mental benefits are even more important to me. Running purges me of the negativity and ‘stinking thinking’ which used to hold court in my head. In order to maintain reasonable levels of self-belief, I need to be running. The physical exertion is painful but nothing compared to the mental anguish which distance running helps prevent within me. There’s also the small matter of my scheduled 10th marathon in May.

I received a lot of lovely gifts this Christmas, but I’m going to be greedy and ask for one more. Santa has returned to the North Pole and it’s a bit early for the Easter Bunny, so I’d appreciate your thoughts and prayers to get me through the next week so these new tests can hopefully get to the bottom of my present malaise. All I want for Christmas are my blood results. It’s not much to ask, is it?

I’m Very Very Tired – Part 1

Heavy legs this morning after yesterday’s run but glad I went out when I did, as we are set for another wet and windy weekend in Northern Ireland. It’s 9 a.m. here and still dark. Adam’s rugby has been called off because of the weather and I doubt we will be straying far from the house between now and Monday morning. Which suits me just fine, as I’m very, very tired.

More to follow….

How tired are you today?

10K Day

I ran my fastest 10K in months today and finally feel I’m coming out of the running slump I underwent following the Causeway Coast Marathon, two months ago. I’ll not be setting Personal Bests any time soon, if ever, but it feels good to recover a little speed and be running at a reasonable pace again. The fact I haven’t ran beyond 10 miles since the marathon also helps.

I’m increasingly convinced my running improves in the cooler weather. The last two summers my form has tailed off, and only picked up again in the autumn. Maybe it’s my Northern Irish blood, but I don’t seem to appreciate warm conditions. Colder weather can be tough initially but, so long as you have sufficient base layers, you soon heat up after a mile or so.

My thighs are aching this evening but it’s a worthwhile pain. My long term target is the 2019 Belfast Marathon, my 10th. I’ll factor in a few half marathons in the New Year as prep races and start to build up my longer runs from after Christmas. Until then, it’s just a matter of keeping things ticking over. Running is my therapy and I’d recommend it to anyone looking to clear the cobwebs from their head.

My Running Week

This week’s running schedule was disrupted by terrible weather and my long running molar extraction saga. I managed 10K on my lunch break yesterday and a longer outing today. The legs felt stronger today, after four days of inaction, and I’m hoping to get out again tomorrow, which will mean I’ll have clocked up 20 miles for the week. Hoping normal service will resume again next week. That is all.

That Was The Week That Was

Well I did it. My challenge was to run 40 miles this week and I achieved it with a 7 miler this afternoon. Even more encouraging was running consistent sub 9 minute miles again. Tomorrow will be a rest day and then I’ll be back on it again come Tuesday. Thank you everyone for your continued support on this weird and wonderful running and writing journey that is my life.

My Saturday Run

Today’s run. Another 7 miles tomorrow and I will have hit the 40 mile mark for the week. Pace has improved considerably. Only starting to feeling myself again after the Causeway Coast Marathon of a month ago. Took so much out of me physically, mentally and emotionally. It’s good to be enjoying running regularly again without the pressure of marathon training hanging over me.

Will You Run With Me Today?

As regular readers know, I’ve been struggling with my running of late. When I do run, my pace has been way off what I’m used to. That’s when I run. Many days, I have dug out my trainers fully intent on hitting the roads, only to sigh, shrug my shoulders and discard them. My motivation, mojo, whatever you wish to call it, has been missing. This weekend was a perfect example. Zero miles.

When I was marathon training it was tough but I always managed to get out there and get it done. One of the silver linings in that 26.2 mile cloud was that I could eat pretty much whatever I wanted, and I sure love my food. No matter how tough the conditions, there was always the prospect of a tasty treat at the end of the training session. This usually involved ice cream or chocolate. Preferably both.

The problem with my most recent blip is that, while marathon training has ground to a halt, the corresponding high calorie intake has not. If anything, it has increased, leaving me feeling sluggish and bolted. It’s an ever decreasing circle which I fear will lead nowhere but to an ever increasing waistline. The chubby schoolboy within is bursting to get out if I allow him to.

The solution to this self inflicted pity party starts this today. Although my days of marathon running may be numbered, there is no excuse for this recent malaise. So this lunchtime, I’ll be escaping the office and pounding the pavements of Belfast again. And you are all going to join me. I need to be accountable, motivated and driven when I’m out there battling the elements.

All messages of support and encouragement would be most appreciated between then and now. As my Garmin is playing up I’ll be timing the run on my phone so, in a way, you will be with me every step of the way. All eight miles of it for that’s what I’m aiming for. By documenting my runs on the blog, I know there will be no hiding place for me. Feel free to harass me if I haven’t posted a run in a while.

Running is not the most important thing in my life. Far from it. But it is important, as it assists my mental health in such a way that it overflows into so many other areas of it. Without running, I know I am more vulnerable to my ever vigilant OCD. Which nobody wants to see, believe me. So join me on my winter running adventures. I’ll post a run update later with regards today’s challenge.

Will you join me on my running challenge?

Why I Love Being Rubbish

I upped my distance to eight miles yesterday. A very slow eight miles, but eight miles nonetheless. It was a beautiful autumn day, a total contrast to the heavy rain and high winds which swept across Northern Ireland on Saturday. I’m nowhere near the level I was running at, even six months ago. A couple of gears have disappeared, but I’m just grateful I’m out there at all. I’ve missed running.

The old me would have been disgusted with yesterday’s effort. For the old me was all about getting faster and stronger. This was the fuel which fed a ravenous ego, a vanity which was out of control. The old me was all about personal bests, losing weight and impressing people. I was all about image and self. At the time I thought I was coolness personified. Looking back now, Mr. Cool just leaves me cold.

I was running two races a month then, always pushing. Races ended with inane grins for mindless selfies, which were posted straight onto my Instagram account. It was the most shallow of existences. On the surface I pretended that all was well, but beneath the cracks were deepening and widening. My body was becoming leaner and stronger, but my soul was withering away to nothing.

I remember running a half marathon a few years ago, where I posted a personal best, my fastest time ever. I should have been ecstatic. But I hated every step of the run, as I raced pedal to the medal, oblivious to the cheering crowds, unable to soak up any of the carnival atmosphere. All I cared about were my mile splits and getting to the finish line as quickly as possible. It was a means to an end, nothing else.

As I crossed the line, there was no sense of joy or achievement. There was nobody there to greet me. I collected my medal, took the statutory selfie, got in the car and drove home. For I was furious. Furious that a rival of mine had run a quicker time. My life revolved around comparing myself to others and straining to be bigger and better than them. Pathetic thoughts from a pathetic mind.

I was the healthiest I had ever been. I used to brag that I was in the best shape of my life, as fit as a fiddle. I was running like the wind, and alcohol free. Yet there was a different poison coursing through my veins. A poison as deadly as the strongest alcohol. I was consumed by it, it blinded me to the truth and led me down paths I never dreamed I would ever travel. Paths of shame, pain and destruction.

My ego still lurks beneath the surface, waiting for the slightest whiff of an opportunity. If I allow it out of its cell, if I allow it to run unchecked it will wreak havoc, destroying all in its path. It is a battle which I must win, there is no other option available to me. It must remain shackled and chained, deep inside the dungeon of my subconscious. It sulks and pouts. It waits and watches. I must be ever vigilant.

So I run, and continue to reap the physical and mental benefits of an activity which has been such an integral part of my life in recent years. But I run slowly, far from the cheering crowds and shiny medals. They mean nothing to me. I’m running some of the slowest times I’ve ever clocked in recent times. There are no selfies, no personal bests. But I don’t think I’ve ever felt prouder than I did after my eight mile plod yesterday.

How do you control your ego?

Getting Back On The Horse Again

Storm Callum hit Northern Ireland with a vengeance yesterday. About half a mile into my comeback run to be precise. I have run very little since the Causeway Coast Marathon at the end of September, but vowed yesterday to get my running shoes on and pound the pavements again. Which sounded like a great idea. Until I ran straight into Callum. What followed was one man’s largely losing battle with the elements.

Within a mile I was drenched, but thankful I had chosen to wear a base layer underneath my running top. I might drown but at least hypothermia would be averted. The same could not be said, unfortunately, for my sodden feet. My thighs were also turning bright red but I plodded on into a strong headwind, no matter what direction I turned. It’s character building, I lied to myself, as I lurched on into Mile 2.

The route I take from the office out along the Lagan Towpath is usually teeming with fellow lunchtime runners. They were few and far between yesterday, however. Anyone with an ounce of sense was firmly ensconced in their cosy, dry workplaces. Only the truly dedicated, and by dedicated I mean stark raving mad, athlete was taking to the streets today. I largely had the towpath to myself, bar the occasional bedraggled dog walker.

I nervously eyed the river as I ran alongside it, mindful of how high the waters looked. Much higher and I was in danger of having to swim back once I reached the halfway point of the run, where I turned and retraced my steps back into the city centre. I’m far from the world’s best swimmer and the triathlon will never be on my list of challenges. Plus, nobody wants to see me in swimwear, not my best look I can guarantee you.

By halfway, the initial misery had passed, to be replaced by a perverse euphoria. I was running, I was actually running. Running very slowly, well below my normal pace, but still running. I could sense my rock bottom confidence rising with every soggy step. Despite being battered on all sides by the wind and rain, despite resembling a deranged, fluorescent escapee from the lunatic asylum, I was doing it.

When I eventually finished I looked as if I had been dragged through several hedges and a car wash backwards. But the sense of achievement far outweighed the aching limbs. I was a runner again. Several unwanted demons had been slain en route and I’d proven to myself that I wasn’t the utter waste of space I previously thought. Which could not have been more timely, given the busy schedule I have ahead of me over the coming months.

I’ll not be setting Personal Bests any time soon, if ever, and I have no races planned. But at least I can get out there and work at regaining the physical fitness I’ve spent years working on. I can also mentally detox and run the intrusive thoughts and unwanted images out of me. OCD is a thought based illness. It cannot function when I’m too tired to think. I sweat it out of me, a drop at a time. It has no control over me when I run. I become my own master.

There’s also the small matter of a book to finish. I haven’t been near ‘The Kirkwood Scott’ Chronicles in the best part of two weeks but hope to start work on it again over the weekend. I’m hopeful that Version 4.0 will be finished by next weekend at the latest. Then it’s time to start researching and harassing potential agents. It’s a big challenge but I feel I’m ready to get back on the horse again. All bad things must come to an end.

How do you get back on the horse again?

Is Your Glass Half Empty Or Half Full?

I’m going to run today. That might not sound like the most earth shattering statement, but for me it’s a fairly big deal. After the disastrous Causeway Coast marathon a few weeks ago, I fell out of love with running for a while. I huffed, I sulked and I briefly considered packing it in altogether. I felt like a failure, it had beaten me up and left me, literally, lying in a painful heap on the roadside.

When it comes to throwing a pity party, I’m in a league of my own. Moping around comes second nature to me and were navel gazing an Olympic sport, I’m pretty sure I would be a medal contender. You may have picked up on this in some of my recent posts. For that, I can only apologise. Nobody deserves Sulky Stephen, be that in the flesh or in writing. That all changes today, I hope.

When I wallow, I eat. A lot. And allllllll the wrong foods. Which plays right into the hands of the voice in my head. Telling me I’m a failure, that I’m a fraud, that the weight is creeping back on and in the blink of an eye I’ll be 15 stone again, four years of hard work gone in a puff of smoke. That’s what the voice does best. It needles and niggles until I raise the white flag and admit defeat. It is relentless.

I cannot allow that to happen. I’ve worked too hard for one bad experience to wash away everything I have achieved so far. So today, I run. Not for personal bests or fancy medals, but for my own piece of mind. I need to run for my mental health. It dulls the voice and fills me with a self belief and worth that I desperately need in order to function as a reasonably normal member of the human race. It keeps me sane.

I have no targets in mind, no big race plans ahead. I just want to retain a level of physical and mental health that can then permeate other areas of my life. When I run, I’m a better husband and father; I’m a better employee; I’m a better writer. I’m not going to worry about the time and I know this first run back won’t be pretty. There will be sweat and quite possibly tears. But, hopefully no blood. Unless I collapse in a blubbering heap at the end.

As ever, my family have inspired me. Fionnuala has encouraged me to get back out there. Adam’s never say die attitude every time he steps out onto the rugby pitch; Hannah’s ultra positive outlook on life and Rebecca’s infectious enthusiasm. They have all contributed towards evaporating the gloom which has settled over me these last few weeks. The gloom that seeks to consume and devour me.

I’m no world beater when it comes to times, but I won’t let the world beat me when it comes to my mental health. There is too much at stake, too much to lose. I’ve come too far, to slip back into the abyss now. This not only refers to my running, but other things as well. My family, faith, work and writing. People are relying on my, they have invested their time, love and prayers in me. To turn my back on that now, would be incredibly selfish.

Finally, I want to thank all my fellow bloggers who have supported me of late. Those who have written kind comments and prayed for me. I am incredibly grateful, a subject we all neglect and which Fionnuala reinforced in a blog she posted yesterday. She has inspired me to adopt a ‘half full’ mentality as of today, as of now. It’s time to stand up, step up, rise up. It’s time to run 7 miles at a spectacularly average pace.

Is your glass half empty or half full today?

How Can A Fractured Faith Blog Be Improved?

The blog continues to grow and, of late, has been a bit of a pot pourri with regards topics and themes. I’ve posted three poems in the last week, very unlike me I know. Yet, I’ve woken up with the words in my head and felt no option but to write and post them. I have no idea if they are any good but I’ve received some lovely comments which have cheered and encouraged me.

I also posted a Christian blog yesterday about the martyrdom of Stephen. I would describe myself as a Christian who blogs as opposed to a Christian blogger, but occasionally am led to dip my quill into more reflective, spiritual waters. The post has fared poorly which surprised me a little as the blog has a sizeable Christian following who normally support such posts.

Family life also inspires many of my posts. There are not many days that pass without some comedy gem at chez Black. As I am normally on the receiving end of these, I feel compelled to write about it. Fionnuala and Rebecca post occasionally while updates on Adam and Hannah also feature. I’m keen to stress that this blog is about more than me. Otherwise my ego runs unchecked, which nobody wants to see.

I occasionally write about my job and work colleagues. I seriously could write a book about this but, given the sensitive nature of my employment, I can only discuss it in the broadest of brush strokes. Maybe one day I will be able to open up a little more about it. I don’t mean to be secretive but I like getting a monthly pay cheque and this could be scuppered if my bosses discovered I was spilling the beans.

My struggle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) lies at the heart of me and, therefore, my writing. I’m passionate about educating people about this often misunderstood mental illness. It never fails to amaze me how uneducated many are concerning OCD; they regard it as the comedy cousin of mental health as opposed to the horrific, crippling disorder it really is. OCD ruins lives. OCD ends lives.

The eponymous hero of my debut novel – The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles – Skelly’s Square’ is a victim of OCD. I post weekly updates about the progress of the book but, again, can only disclose so much, for obvious reasons. People seem interested in the book and I hope it sees the light of day in some format, even if that means serialising it on the blog. It’s a planned trilogy but we will see. No point writing three books if everybody hates the first one.

Which brings me to my running posts which sink without trace most times. I understand that us runners are interminable bores, and only fellow running geeks can be bothered hearing of our latest exploits. There will be less of them in the months to come as, after the disaster that was the Causeway Coast Marathon, I have no plans to race again until next spring. I will still keep my training runs going, but over lesser distances.

Which brings me to the point of this post. I want to know what you would like to read more of; are there topics you would like to hear more, or less, about? What do you like and what are you less keen to peruse? Are there new topics I could cover? I’m willing to consider anything, within reason. I’ll hand it over to you now and look forward to reading, and responding to, your comments. Thank you again.

Mud, Sweat and Toothache

I’m off work today, and currently perched on the sofa, editing Chapter 70 of the novel. I’ll be blogging later in the week about my latest trip to the dentist, earlier today. Thankfully it was a much less painful experience than the last visit. The offending tooth has been packed and capped, prior to it’s permanent extraction in a week’s time. The pain is gone, for now. Hallelujah! Can I get an amen?

It’s a pity the same can’t be said for the pain in my thighs after Saturday’s brutal Causeway Coast Marathon. Looking back on it, I’m not as dejected as I was first was with regards my performance. I discovered today that I covered over 3200 feet in elevation. That’s the equivalent of scaling Slieve Donard, Northern Ireland’s highest peak, with 200 feet to spare.

I thought I’d share two photos which encapsulated the highs and lows of Saturday. The first is a photo of my muddied, battered legs in the recovery room at the end of the race. My toothache was so bad at this point that I had to sit down, such was the nausea and dizziness I was experiencing. It was one of the less enjoyable hours of my life. The Causeway Coast effectively broke me.

Photo two is the reason I did it – my Causeway Coast finishers medal and buff. Which I’ll add to my eight other marathon medals, currently languishing in a bedroom drawer. I look forward to digging them out in years to come, so as to bore the grandchildren silly with my tales of derring do. My dream is to run a tenth and then drop down in distance. We shall see.

A Bad Day At The Office

I ran my 9th marathon today along when I tackled 26 Extreme’s Causeway Coast Marathon. It was brutal. Hilly trails, clifftop sections, slipping and sliding over stiles and through muddy fields. Not forgetting the windy beach sections where you literally clambered over rocks and little else. I won’t tell you my finishing time, for it was horrible. But I did finish. Somehow.

I fell twice, once in sheep poo. I was stung by nettles, I ache all over. I endured a nagging toothache for the entire 26.2 miles, which erupted at the finish line leaving me nauseous and dizzy in the recovery room. I was disappointed and embarrassed crossing the finish line, but now that I’m home I realise, if nothing else, I didn’t give up. Even when all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball and die.

We all have bad days at the office. This was a tough one for me. I’m used to success during races. Personal bests and attaining training goals. That hasn’t been happening this year and it most certainly didn’t happen today. I flopped. I’m not sure, but this could well have been my last marathon. I had set myself a target of ten but don’t know if I could put my body through that again.

Time will tell. I realised today I’m not Superman. I bit off more than I could chew and ignored the advice of people who advised me not to run today. I’m physically and mentally exhausted. I will take a break from marathon training for a while and give my body time to recover. Which will mean less running related posts. Every cloud has a silver lining, I guess. They’re usually my lowest viewed.

HHow do you handle disappointment?

Just Do It….Until It’s Done

I went for a run this morning. A 18.5 mile run. At the 16 mile point, everything hurt. My legs, my arms, my achy breaky heart. And let’s not even mention the chafing issues, shall we? Thank the Lord for vaseline, that’s all I will say on the matter. My tongue was as dry as the Sahara, my sweat was sweating. I just wanted to lie down and rest. For a very, very long time.

Why was I putting myself though this self inflicted torture, I hear you cry. Well I’m tackling the Causeway Coast Marathon in just under four weeks and today was my penultimate long run. I will run 20-21 miles in two weeks time and that should have me ready for the big day; or as ready as I’ll ever be. So today was a necessary evil if I’m to have any chance of completing the Causeway Coast.

I was meant to run the 18.5 miler yesterday but heavy rain put paid to that plan. So instead I sat and fretted about it, thinking up dozens of reasons why the run was too much for me and I should forget about the whole crazy marathon plan. I’m too slow, too old, too busy, too tired. Round and round my head like a rickety old runaway train. I went to bed full of doubt and dread as to what lay ahead.

But I did it. I laced up my running shoes, gritted my teeth and went out and ran it. Yes, it hurt. Yes, my thighs feel as if I’ve been kicked by an angry rhinoceros; and yes I’ve run out of vaseline. It was wasn’t fast and it wasn’t pretty. I pulled a lot of strange faces over those last two miles and I’m sure I frightened a few, passing motorists. But as my Garmin chimed 18.5 miles I knew I had beaten my old foe, anxiety.

He will be back of course. Oh, you can be sure of that. But every time I go toe to toe with him and triumph he is weakened and his grip on me loosens. Anxiety is a demon that can run amok through our lives if we allow it to. It wants us to fail and keep us boxed in, convinced that we will never amount to anything. It steals our dreams and replaces them with nightmares.

Anxiety is a flat track bully. He likes getting things his own way and isn’t used to his victims fighting back. For that is what we are, victims. Yet victims have a voice, an inner strength. And victims become survivors when they fight back. It is horrible, it is scary, it is daunting but it is the only way to tackle anxiety. Head on and at full speed. Catch him unawares because we have the element of surprise on our side.

Let’s do the maths. Or math as you crazy North Americans insist upon calling it. I ran for three hours today, which was preceded by a day of worry. If I had ditched the run that would have been multiplied by many more days of self loathing. Instead I sucked it up and finished the run feeling elated, vindicated, alive. It was short term pain. But the long term gain more than made up for it.

Its just taking that first step. When you commit to the act of ‘doing’ then you invariably find that the ‘fear’ of doing is not what you anticipated; indeed the more you ‘do’ and edge towards being ‘done’, it evaporates like a morning mist in the face of the rising sun. And when you’re ‘done’ the wonder what the fuss was all about. Just do it….until it’s done. Nike hit the nail on the head with that one.

How do you deal with anxiety?

Are you ‘doing it’ today? What is holding you back?

Losing The Battle….Winning The War

I am supposed to be running the Longford Marathon in two weeks time. It was the target I set myself after completing the Belfast equivalent in May and some of you may recall I blogged about my intentions at the time. I thought it was a realistic proposition and I could juggle it with all my other competing priorities. I had before, right? I’m Super Stephen and you name it I can do it.

Wrong.

I’m not super. Far from it. And as I neared Longford I realised I wasn’t quite there. I was a couple of long runs short of where I needed to be. My times weren’t quite right, my diet hadn’t been great and other matters had meant the running had slid further down the pecking order. There have been family issues, work demands and the little matter of wrestling with a 120,000 word manuscript.

This has sucked both time and energy from my sails. I have been left stranded in the running doldrums. So I’ve taken the decision to miss out on Longford and instead aim for the Causeway Coast Marathon at the end of September. It ticks a lot of boxes for me at the moment. It’s closer than Longford and offers a greater challenge as it incorporates road, trail and beach sections.

The latter mean that it is not a Personal Best course. I can take my time and enjoy the experience, take in the amazing scenery and not place myself under quite as much pressure. Because, whilst pressure can inspire and motivate, it can also deflate and crumple dreams and ambitions. At the minute I’m trying to convince the voice in my head that I’ve made the right call.

The voice that nags and niggles my every thought, telling me that I’ve bottled it and taken the easy way out. I’ve fought this voice for most of my adult life. It has been at the heart of many of my most spectacular personal car crashes. Always pressing the accelerator and taking stupid, unnecessary risks when I should be adhering to the speed limit and checking my rear view mirror at regular intervals.

Although not defined or restricted by her disability, Hannah’s spina bifida means she requires our constant care and attention. Fionnuala’s health has not been great this summer either and Rebecca starts junior high school next month. Adam is about to start a big year as well, both academically and with regards his rugby. They all require me to be around, as a husband and father.

Something has to give and, this time, it is the Longford Marathon. Who knows, Causeway Coast may have to give as well because there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to squeeze it all in. And if the voice regards that as failure then so be it. I’ll take that one on the chin. I believe it requires more courage to say no and hit the brakes as opposed to careering blindly over the edge of the cliff.

This is not defeat. Defeat is letting the enemy crush you so that you can never rise against it again. Call it more a tactical retreat. The most skilful strategists play the long game, they consider the bigger picture. They soar like eagles above the battlefield, seeing everything. They are blue sky thinkers, 20/20 generals. Wisdom is a 360 degree perspective. I want to soar with them. So farewell Longford.

There’s always next year.

Are you winning your battle?

What does the voice in your head say?

385 Yards To Go

I wrote the other day about the comparisons between marathon running and writing a novel. Both are wars of attrition and many drop by the wayside, battered and beaten. Both culminate in glory and accolades but the path to the finish line is strewn with the collateral damage of the occupation; for every war has its casualties. Sacrifice and discipline are paramount. Without them you will fail, then fall and the dream will remain just that; discarded and shrivelled away.

I described where I am currently with my novel as like being at the 26 mile point of a marathon. The point where you feel you have created your personal Everest only to realise that you still have another .2 miles to go. Or 385 yards to be exact but, hey, who’s counting? Well I am to be honest. Every torrid step of the way. For after almost four hours of constant running you feel every stride and obsess over every step. It is one nearer the glory or the ignominy of stopping. Whichever comes first.

I’ve attempted to describe the agony and beauty of that moment but sometimes a picture speaks the volumes that my muted meanderings can never accomplish. Which is why I’ve dug out this photo. It’s me in the finishing straight at this year’s Belfast Marathon. No smiling, no soaking up the atmosphere and acknowledging the crowds. Just a world of pain as I contemplate nothing but the finish line, just ahead of me.

I could have posted photos of me smiling with my medal to describe the marathon experience but I feel this one captures its essence so much more accurately. It’s not pretty but it is real. Much like my writing style. I’ll post an equally unflattering image of my writing experience later today but, until then, never give up. Knuckle down and buckle up. For the finish line is within touching distance. Only 385 yards to go.

How close are you to your finish line?

Is the pain worth it?

Only Mad People Start To Write A Novel? Discuss….

Whenever I tell people in the ‘real world’ *dabs fingers patronisingly* that I am writing a novel they invariably look vaguely uncomfortable before changing the subject at the first available opportunity. Some of them stare at me as if I have finally taken leave of my senses while others nod in bemused sympathy, say ‘that’s nice’ or ‘good for you’ as if I am a five year old child tugging at their trousers having told them I have just seen The Gruffalo arm wrestling The BFG at the bottom of the garden.

The few that do clamber over this initial hurdle of disbelief normally come to a jarring halt when the inevitable next question is asked – ‘What’s it about Stephen?’ Their faces drop as I begin to wax lyrical about the world of Kirkwood Scott. Supernatural beings amongst the homeless community in Belfast? Forces of good and evil battling for control of the known universe in that pub we always go to on pay day because it sells cheap beer? He’s finally lost it.

It is disheartening but thankfully there are those that keep me going. A friend visited us last night who I haven’t spoken to in forever. When Fionnuala brought up the fact that her deranged husband was writing a book she was genuinely interested and said she would like to read it. And you know what, I believed her. These are the tiny crumbs of support and encouragement that I cling on to as I plough through the third draft.

Because these tiny crumbs are the oxygen that the fledgling author so desperately needs in order to force him or her to flip open their laptop, stare at the blank screen and then start to hesitantly tap those first few words out on the keyboard. It’s all about belief. And it’s so much easier to believe in yourself when others believe in you first. Especially in the final stages when your literary lungs are bursting and the finish line seems farther away than ever.

I run marathons. Have I mentioned that before? They are 26.2 miles long. People always tend to forget the .2 but let me tell you that is the part of the race when the crowd are at their most inspiring and you need them more than ever before. It is their cheers and hollering that drag your aching, exhausted body over the line. They make the previous 26 miles worthwhile, they are the reason you run at all. They are the fuel that powers you through those lonely training runs in the pouring rain.

I feel like I am nearing the 26 mile stage of the book. Fionnuala has…. er ‘focused my thinking’ by informing me if I haven’t finished it by the end of September then she is initiating divorce proceedings against me. I think she’s joking. I think. But it’s certainly a kick up the creative backside when I need it the most. I need her support at a time like this. I need to finish this project even if it never sells a copy and wins literary equivalents of those awards they hand out at Oscar time for the worst movie of the year.

This book will prove a lot of people wrong. But more importantly it will prove a few people right. Those who cared. Those who believed rather than looked at me as if I had two heads. Those who encouraged me rather than those who offered smirks, sighs or, worst of all, silence. I’m excited about the end of September. Incredibly nervous but excited nonetheless. To be able to let the trusted few see what I have been hammering away at with furrowed brow for the last nine months.

It’s 6:30 in the morning and I’m about to clamber out of bed and haul myself into the rat race for another day. I will sit on the train and fret over still gaping holes in the plot. I will daydream through meetings about the colour of Meredith’s hair, still undecided, and whether or not Harley’s character should be introduced at an earlier stage of the story. I will spend my lunchtime run plodding around the city as my frazzled brain works overtime on such thoughts.

But I’m getting there. Only .2 miles to go.

How do you deal with the doubters and doomsayers when it comes to your dream?

What advice would you offer to me with .2 miles to go?

Longford Marathon Update. Everybody Yawns.

The sun has been splitting the rocks for the last month. There hasn’t been a drop of rain. It’s been so barren a hosepipe ban has been imposed. Such has been the heat that I’ve been putting off the next scheduled long run in my preparations for the Longford Marathon next month – a 19 miler. I couldn’t put it off any longer though so decided that today was the day or I could forget about Longford.

I thought I was dreaming when I woke up to the sound of rain drumming against the bedroom window. But, no, upon looking outside I was amazed to see dreary, grey skies and a steady downpour that showed no sign of abating. I waited a few hours in the vain hope that it might ease but as it neared noon I was left with no option but to grit my teeth, get out there and get it done.

At least it wasn’t windy and it was still a warm day. But within two miles my glasses were in dire need of mini windscreen wipers. Has anyone not invented these yet? If we can put people on the moon then surely we can conjure up something for the visually challenged distance runner. These are the random thoughts that keep me occupied out on the roads. The Nuttiness of the Long Distance Runner.

The 19 miles consisted of two wide loops around the village with the plan being to make a brief stop at the half way point to take on board some liquids. By the time I reached the house, though, I had to change my t-shirt and shorts as they were utterly saturated. I towelled myself off, gulped down a glass of barley water and scoffed a handful of coconut mushrooms for a sugar boost. Then there was nothing for it but to head back out into the maelstrom.

I’d love to tell you that the second half of the run was an epic tale of strength, endurance and heroism. But I’d be lying. I’m all for artistic license but that would be a bridge too far. The reality is that it was a horrible, depressing slog. I kept it fairly together until Mile 17 but then a combination of tiredness, the conditions and a series of testing hills led to my pace dropping markedly.

I cut a sorry figure as I aquaplaned back into the village and made my way up the road towards the house. All I could think of was getting dry, downing an ice cold tin of Diet Coke and polishing off the rest of those coconut mushrooms. I looked like a drowned rat and felt more than a little broken. But the run was in the bag and despite slowing down over the final few miles I still finished over two minutes inside my target time.

It was a horrible run. But a necessary one. These are the runs that forge the physical and mental resilience within runners that enable them to overcome any adversity come race day itself. You have to learn to accept the pain and use it to propel you forward towards the finish line. It is inevitable that you will suffer. Best get used to it before the big day rather than it bring you to a juddering halt.

With the marathon just over a month away I will run a 21 miler in two weeks time which will hopefully have me spot on. Not the most exciting of posts today and no earth shattering message underpinning it. Just a very wet, very tired middle aged man updating you all on the torture he puts himself through. Oh and my Garmin app is broke, hence the equally underwhelming image. You’re welcome.

How are you spending your Sunday?

Are marathon runners mad? Discuss.

Football’s Not Coming Home

Unless you’ve been living under a rock of late or holidaying on Saturn you will have noticed there is a little football competition taking place in Russia called the World Cup. It is the biggest sporting competition in the world and has a worldwide audience stretching into the billions. This has led to fever pitch excitement and you cannot turn on a television or open a newspaper without being swamped by World Cup related mania.

Not least here in Northern Ireland. Despite getting knocked out in the qualifying play off by those nasty, not so neutral Swiss we were at least not alone in our misery at not making the party in Russia. The Republic of Ireland, Scotland and Wales also failed to qualify. Which left us with the English who did. Despite four of their squad coming from Manchester United, the team I have supported since a boy, I was loathe to support them.

The reason? It’s got nothing to do with nationality, religion or politics. I don’t even mind the players who seem a hard working and talented unit. I follow the English cricket team and always support British competitors in other events where they are often plucky underdogs against much bigger nations. Nope, my dislike of the English football team boils down to two unrelated factors – their fans and journalists.

English football fans have wreaked havoc across Europe for many decades with their senseless and sickening violence and racism. While they have been well behaved in Russia, largely thanks to a massive pre-tournament policing intelligence operation, scenes of English hooligans laying waste to city after city, still leaves a sour taste in the mouth. Their loutish behaviour, inane singing and lager swilling excesses never fail to annoy me.

They are an arrogant bunch too, convinced that whatever tournament they enter they are nailed on winners. This flies in the face of the truth being they have won nothing since the 1966 World Cup. Which they still sing about. Incessantly. Their journalists are no better. Never learning from past mistakes they hype up the team before every competition only to mercilessly tear them to pieces when the inevitable defeat occurs against the football giants of Brazil, Germany or er…..Iceland.

This year was no exception. Initial realism and grounded reporting soon evaporated once they realised the current squad were actually ‘quite good’ having qualified from their group with comparative ease. There then followed knock out wins against Columbia and Sweden leaving England in a semi final against Croatia. The media regarded it as a foregone conclusion and were already gleefully rubbing their hands at the mouth watering prospect of a final against the old enemy, France.

All this seemed to gloss over the fact that Croatia possessed a top team chock full of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Juventus players. It mattered not a jot. England were going to win. Football was coming home and the nation ground to a halt at 7:00pm on Wednesday evening to witness this fait accompli. Meanwhile most of Scotland, Wales and Ireland (both north and south) prayed fervently, crossed fingers and willed Croatia to put an end to this jingoistic, sabre rattling nonsense.

Our prayers were answered. There is a God and justice prevailed. Despite an early English goal (cue scenes of beer quaffing pandemonium from London to Liverpool) the Croatians didn’t panic and slowly worked their way into the game, equalising in the second half and taking the match into extra time. The unbearably smug BBC commentary team began to look a little less pleased with themselves and a second Croatian goal had them all throwing their arms in the air in horrified disbelief.

The final whistle blew. England were out of the World Cup. Grown men in ill fitting replica tops bawled into their pints as news reporters beat a hasty retreat behind every cliched excuse in the book in order to explain this inexplicable loss. They had defied all expectations, they had restored English pride and belief and were now using the defeat as a springboard for the 2022 World Cup in Quatar which they were obviously going to win.

Football wasn’t coming home. The English went into a period of self imposed national mourning. And the rest of us sniggered and got on with our lives again.

What sporting team annoys you the most?

Have you been watching the World Cup?

I’ve Got The Doms – Part Two

Yesterday I wrote about my doomed attempt to build a chiselled physique becoming of my kick ass, marathon running persona. Alas, despite the best efforts of my ever patient son Adam, I failed miserably and crawled away from my first weight session in years a broken man. Far from looking like a Greek God my arms felt like they were made out of Green yoghurt. Little did I know that there was worse to come. Much worse.

It is now four days later and the pain is finally starting to subside in my arms. It’s merely a dull throb now as opposed to a constant, searing ache. I can perform basic tasks unaided such as dressing and feeding myself. On the bright side I reckon I’m close to overcoming my nail biting habit if I keep this up as I’ve been unable to raise my hands to my mouth for a nervous nibble all week.

My timing, as ever, has been impeccable as at work this week I’ve been working on a redraft of a big report which the powers that be are expecting a rapid turnaround on. Having upper arms that feel like they have been set in concrete is not conducive to meeting tight deadlines in a pressurised office environment. It’s a good job I like a challenge. So I’ve been typing through the pain barrier with only the occasional break to sob inconsolably.

I think I’ll stick to running from now on and leave the He-Man heroics to Adam. My legs are strong and I trust them not to let me down come race time. As for my upper limbs? Well I’m afraid I will just have to make do with what God gave me. Much as I’ve thought they might drop off this week, as long as I have enough strength to write the words then that will do just fine. I’ll leave the weights to Arnie and Sly.

I’ve Got The DOMS – Part One

Regular readers will know that I’m a distance runner. Ask me to run 10 miles, or 26.2 miles for that matter, and I will dutifully churn out the 9 minute miles until the job is done. Four years of this self imposed torture has meant I have developed strong leg muscles. But don’t worry. I’m not about to include a photo of them in this post. It’s safe to keep reading, I promise.

The same cannot be said for my upper body. I’m a bit of a wimp to be honest and, when I had a gym membership, tended to avoid the weights section where tanned Greek Gods and Goddesses would prance up and down, admiring themselves in anything that cast a reflection. They also occasionally lifted weights. Whilst immaculately clad in colour coordinated lycra and full make up. And that’s just the guys.

For one already nursing a massive inferiority complex this was not a healthy environment to reside in. So I packed in my membership and stuck to road running. My puny arms and chest would just have to rely on my slightly more impressive thighs to drag them over the marathon distance. I faced up to the fact that I was never going to be the next Arnie or Jean Claude. Until earlier this week that was.

Our son, Adam, is a talented rugby player and is pushing for a place in his school’s 1st team next season. He is held in high regard by his coaches who have encouraged him over the summer to build up his physique for the challenges that lie ahead. As such he asked for gym equipment for his sixteenth birthday earlier this week. This had led to our garage being returned into a makeshift gym with cross trainer, weights bench, bars and dumbbells.

Now my son may be a good inch or two taller than me and twice as broad but I still reckoned I could teach him a thing or two about how to be a man. So when he threw down the proverbial gauntlet and challenged me to undertake one of his upper body workouts I readily accepted. I mean how hard could it be? I wasn’t going to allow the young whippersnapper to get one up on his old man.

I stride into the garage teeming with confidence and vitality. I crawled out of it on my hands and knees half an hour later, a broken man. My arms had turned to jelly about half way through the third set of Romanian dead lifts or Armenian bicep bends or whatever they are called. To me the experience could be summed up in one word – torture. I was 50 Shades of Grey with a suggestion of cardiac arrest.

‘Is that it?’ I bleated pathetically as I dropped the last weight to the ground and staggered back against the wall for otherwise I would have fallen over. ‘No’ he replied seriously, a hint of disbelief in his voice. ‘That’s only halfway. You still have another two new sets to do’. Those words were enough for me. Muttering words to the effect that I’d save that for another day I pushed past him, vowing never to darken this hellish torture chamber again. Unless I ran out of Diet Coke and had to restock from the drinks fridge that was.

I thought that was it. I could resume my spectacularly average running career and that would be the end of the matter. It would remain a dark family secret that none of us would ever discuss again. But I was wrong, so very wrong. For the next morning I would awaken in convulsions of pain, barely able to lift my arms. The nightmare was only just beginning. I had been struck down by the DOMS.

To be continued….

What has been your most embarrassing gym story?

Have you ever been struck down by The Doms? (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness)

Running In The Heat

It was with some trepidation this morning that I set off on a 10K training run. I haven’t run since Tuesday for a variety of reasons, primarily the heat wave that has descended upon Northern Ireland this last week. The heat has been intense and there have been a marked decrease in the number of runners and cyclists out and about. A marathon in Waterford on Saturday was cancelled for health and safety reasons.

I always feel anxious before a run and today I rose to a feeling of dread. I don’t like running first thing in the morning at the best of times. It takes my body an hour or two to wake up. Today, though, I had to get out early as I am visiting my mother this afternoon. I reluctantly donned my running gear and forfeited breakfast in order to get it over and done with as quickly as possible. It was a beautiful morning but already oppressively hot with no breeze at all.

A glass of barley water later and I was off. I chose a flattish route that takes me out to the shores of Lough Neagh and back again. It’s essentially a straight road but you catch a view of the lough at the turnaround point. It looked spectacular today in the morning sun and I was glad to see it as it marked the half way stage of the run. I felt reasonably comfortable and, although my time was far from spectacular, it was within the modest target time I had set myself on my comeback.

The heat seemed to crank up even more on the way back to the village. Passing motorists no doubt thought I was insane but there were also a few cyclists on the road which encouraged me that I wasn’t the only one who had been suffering training withdrawal symptoms. The last climb into the village was tough and I was drenched in sweat by the finish. But it was a good feeling and the endorphins rushing round my system assured me that it had been a worthwhile exercise.

My time was nothing to write home about but was over a minute inside the time I had set myself. The confidence boost was massive. Longford Marathon in mid-August is my target. I haven’t entered it yet but I hope I make it there. I intend to mix up my runs with some weights training during the summer. We also now have a cross trainer in the garage so there is no excuse for working out now, whatever the weather conditions.

Early morning runs are a necessity now given the hot weather. Today proved that I can do it. All I have to do is push the worry demons to the back of my head and get my lazy backside out of bed. I’m off to chez Mother now with Adam and Rebecca while Fionnuala and Hannah are staying at home to work on some new craft ideas. I hope you all have a great Sunday whatever you are getting up to.

How are you spending your Sunday?

What was your last workout like?

The Secret Of My Excess

When it comes to weaknesses, ice cream has to feature fairly high on my list. My favourite is Maude’s Pooh Bear honeycomb flavour. Plonk a large bowl of that good stuff down in front of me and I’m one happy camper. I could eat it until the cows come home and probably keep going until they have to head out to the fields the next morning again. Brain freeze frightens me not. It requires a brain to freeze for a start.

The down side about downing industrial vats of icy heaven is it’s high calorific content. I reckon if I didn’t exercise the local Fire Service would be required at some point to winch me from the sofa and out of the house through a Stephen sized hole. I’m not greedy but I do have a big appetite. My addictive nature doesn’t help either. Me and the word ‘moderation’ are not on first name terms. I am creature of excess.

I was watching Man v Food tonight where the presenter tried, and heroically failed, to eat a restaurant’s signature ice cream dish which was roughly the size of a small barn. I remarked to Fionnuala that I would have given the challenge a serious rattle. That’s how much I love ice cream. Ploughing through buckets of the stuff would be my idea of bliss. Even if it meant me ending up in the emergency room having my stomach pumped.

Thank goodness I discovered running then. I am pretty much in permanent marathon training this year which means my ice cream fetish can be fuelled with only minimal pangs of guilt. I consume a lot of calories but I also burn off a lot of them. On average a marathon will burn off 3500 of those bad boys. And, believe me, that’s a lot of honeycomb ice cream. Which is a great comforter for aching limbs and blistered feet.

I’ve been known to think of nothing else but ice cream from the 20 mile point onwards in a marathon. It makes the pain worthwhile. The old Stephen would have wanted nothing but an ice cold pint of beer at the finish line. The new me heads straight to the freezer in search of frozen dairy products. The endless miles lead to endless smiles at that point. It’s a temptation that I’m happy to succumb to. It’s harmless and I’ve worked hard for it.

The running and the ice cream balance each other out. The key word in that last sentence is balance. For many years I had no concept of the word. I lived a selfish life where all the cards had to be stacked in my favour. I gorged myself on alcohol, junk food and social media. There were no restraints, no curbs, no brakes applied. It was all or nothing. I wanted it all and pushed and pushed until I was left with nothing.

All of us have weaknesses. We are all flawed, imperfect creations. Some of us have Achilles heels whereas for others this vulnerability occupies their entire body. When it comes to addictive behaviour it is vital that we have checks and balances in place to control our baser instincts. We cannot afford to allow our runaway trains to hurtle uncontrollably down the mountain side. It will only end in carnage.

So I’ll continue my love affair with honeycomb ice cream. But I’ll also keep pounding the roads in order to offset the extra calories. We all deserve a treat or two but it’s important we temper our permitted excesses with discipline, transparency and accountability. Failure to do so can only lead to tears and recrimination. Excess kills success. Control your cravings. Before they control you.

What is your Achilles Heel?

Do you struggle with excess and temptation?

Sometimes You’ve Just Go To Get Back On The Bike

After a nightmare run on Saturday where I had to walk after 3 miles it was with some trepidation that I started a 10 mile run this lunchtime with a work colleague. I made the decision not to run yesterday and was glad that I did as I’ve had a very busy weekend work wise. This morning was no different with my office line, work mobile and personal mobile ringing incessantly. It was challenging but a blessing in disguise as it took my mind off the forthcoming run.

Yesterday also allowed me to do some much needed work on the second draft of the book. Which is a marathon in itself. I also remembered to bring my Garmin along on this run as I went out without it on Saturday and think I may have messed up my pacing by setting out too quickly over the first two miles. I was determined to make the same mistake today. Preparation is half the battle.

We set off at a very steady pace. Like Saturday it was a warm, muggy day but the route was much flatter; through the city centre and onto the Lagan Embankment which eventually leads us past the Cutters Wharf Bar and onto the old towpath which leads to Lisburn. We turn at The Lock keepers Cafe and then head back into the city. The pace was steady and we were able to hold a conversation over the first 3 miles.

I kept expecting the jelly limbs to hit me but felt relatively comfortable and before I knew it we were at our turning point. After stopping for a quick glass of water we headed back. I have been troubled with blisters on both feet since the Belfast Marathon and experienced some discomfort in my left foot but it was minor and didn’t stop me from maintaining the pace. With each passing mile I grew more confident that there was to be no repeat performance of Saturday’s shambles.

I forged on over the last mile and finished the run soaked in sweat but satisfied, just under 3 minutes inside my 4 hour marathon pace. It may have been ‘just another training run’ but it felt special. I had overcome the doubts and worries of the previous 48 hours and proved to myself that Saturday was nothing more than a blip. Bad days come and bad days go. As do bad runs. I was back in the game.

Not the most earth shattering post today but a small landmark. If you feel you’ve messed up at something, no matter what, don’t hesitate to get back on the bike and try again. The longer you put it off the harder it is going to be in the long run. There is nothing to fear. Don’t let that molehill become a mountain. Make it happen and prove the doubters wrong. Now I’m off to soak my blisters.

Have you fallen off the bike in recent days?

Are you willing to jump back on it?

Sucking Up The Bad Days

Since I started running just over 4 years ago I have prided myself on rarely, if ever, having had to stop and walk during a run. I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I have done this. Walking is for quitters I would say and a quitter I am not. Less than a month ago I ran the Belfast Marathon without stopping. That’s 26.2 miles of constant running. 42 kilometres. 3 hours, 51 minutes and 10 seconds. I would rather have died than walked.

Yesterday I set out on a 5 mile training run. Like I have a thousand times before. It should have been utterly uneventful. Yet after 2 miles I felt like death. My arms and legs were like jelly, I could barely put one foot in front of the other. I plodded on for another mile, determined to finish, before the unthinkable happened. I found myself walking. I looked down at my legs and there it was. I was walking. My body had rebelled against my disbelieving brain.

I was still 2 miles from home so had no choice but to soldier on. I lowered my head in shame as cars drove past no doubt thinking ‘Hey there’s that guy from our village who runs marathons. Why is he walking?’. I felt embarrassed and utterly rubbish. The OCD voice in my head was jubilantly informing me that I had finally been found out for the fraud I was and that this was the end of my running career.

After half a mile I felt slightly better so cautiously started running again. I felt fine and managed to run home without stopping. But my confidence had taken the mother of all kickings. I racked my brain as to what had went wrong. Yes, I had foolishly set out during the warmest part of the day but heat doesn’t normally affect me like that. My Garmin is on its last legs so I was running without a watch and was unable to pace myself. Had I run the first two miles too quickly?

Either way I am dreading my next run. Is this the beginning of the end? Has my always fragile self belief finally been irreparably torn to shreds? Will this perceived failure on my part overflow into other areas of my life? What if I turn the laptop on later and am incapable of writing a word? What if my hard earned progress as a husband, father and half decent human being judder to a sweaty halt just like my body did two miles from home yesterday?

It’s at times like this that I need to look back on what I have achieved and focus on the positive. I had a bad run. Get over it. They happen. You should be glad that they happen to you much less than they do to other people. These bad days make the good days all the more memorable. Practice what you preach Stephen for wallowing in self pity is not a good look on you. Suck it up as they say.

I woke up this morning to find the sun had risen. The world was still turning. The international, national and, for that matter, regional news made no reference to a middle aged, average paced distance runner having had a bad day at the office yesterday. Fionnuala and the kids had not left me and there was still a roof over our heads. All was as it should have been. I had lived to run another day.

Never let your mind deceive you and magnify the negatives to the extent that they eclipse the many more positives in your life. You can be your own worst enemy. Liars never prosper and that equally applies when we lie to ourselves. Embrace the truth. Bad days happen. We are not perfect. It’s called life. And we can’t reach the promised land unless we occasionally flail about in the desert of mediocrity yesterday. Like I did yesterday. Suck it up Stephen. Shake it off.

How do you deal with the bad days?

My Summer 2018 Target

I haven’t done a lot of running since completing the Belfast Marathon on 07 May but I have been looking ahead and planning my next race target. I’ve considered and discounted a number of options but can now reveal (cue drum roll) that my ninth 26.2 mile challenge will be the Longford Marathon on 19 August 2018. Yikes! That’s only three months away.

I ran Longford in 2015 and really enjoyed it. It’s a small, mostly rural race which advertises itself as the flattest marathon in Ireland. Now you’re talking. It also promotes itself as the ‘Friendly Marathon’ and I can vouch for that. The goodie bag I received in 2015 could have fed a small family for a week. It helps that their primary sponsor is one of the largest bakeries in the country.

Longford is about a 90 minute drive from where we live which means I can avoid the hassle of an overnight stay. I can leave home early, run the race and still be home at a reasonable hour. It also follows at a perfect time between the Belfast and Dublin Marathons. Now all I have to do is haul my lazy backside back into a training schedule and hit the roads again.

I will of course keep you all updated as to my progress but hopefully not bore all our non running followers too much. As ever this isn’t about me. It’s about promoting the physical and mental benefits of physical exercise and evidencing how it helped turn around the life of a formerly depressed, overweight, binge drinking couch potato. It’s not about running, it’s about finding an activity that can transform your life.

If I can do it, then anyone can. And that includes YOU.

What is your summer target?

Belfast Marathon 2018 – Recap

You’re probably all bored silly by my marathon exploits so I promise this will be the last one….for a while anyway. Fionnuala did a great job providing updates yesterday but that was nothing compared to the support that her and the kids offered at various points along the route. They must have covered a fair few miles themselves getting about and it was a logistical masterclass traversing Belfast on marathon day with three kids, one of whom was wreaking havoc in her motorised wheelchair.

Thankfully the day wasn’t as hot as predicted and running conditions were perfect. It was dry and mild with hardly any wind – I couldn’t have asked for much better. My original plan had been to set out with the 3:45 pacers and I started roughly 30 seconds after them thinking I could reel them in over the first few miles. Unfortunately I’m not sure what instructions they were given but they certainly weren’t running at 3:45 pace. I never got within touching distance as they steadily disappeared over the horizon.

Experience kicked in and I didn’t panic. I let them go, knowing that pursuing them would have been suicidal. I knew I was running well within my sub 4 hour target. As long as I stayed ahead of the 4 hour pacers I was fine. At Mile 7 I saw Fionnuala and the kids for the first time. Adam ran alongside me to hand over a tub of Vaseline as I had stupidly left mine in the car. Vaseline is a marathon runner’s best friend when it comes to chafing issues. I won’t horrify you with the gory details but it’s not a pretty sight let me tell you.

There then followed a number of hilly miles up into West Belfast and over into the north of the city. I hit a little blip at around Mile 10 when I saw ahead a hill I had completely forgotten existed. Two miles later I hit the Antrim Road, a three mile gradual ascent out of the city. This is a section of the race traditionally feared by runners but I was surprised at how strong I felt going up it. At halfway I checked my watch and knew I was well ahead of my target time.

At the top of the Antrim Road there follows a steep descent. I clicked my fastest mile of the race here – 7:59 no less. I made sure I took on fluids and gels at every opportunity as the number of walking wounded I passed increased with every mile. At Mile 17 you hit a towpath which takes you back along the side of Belfast Lough into the city. It’s a lonely section with no crowd support but I just kept telling myself to plod along as close to 9 minute mile pace as I could. I was still well ahead of schedule.

Miles 20 and 21 are through the Belfast Harbour Estate which again is a rather soulless experience. But then I was back in the city again and running through big crowds, along roads that I regularly cover during lunchtime training sessions. The towpath along the River Lagan is an old friend and I tried to convince myself that this was just another 7 mile training run. I was counting down the miles now as I swung onto the Ormeau Road where some of the largest crowds are gathered.

At Mile 23 I saw Team Black again. Adam appeared from nowhere to run alongside me with a handful of jelly beans. Rebecca then joined us and I could hear Fionnuala and Hannah cheering from the sidelines. It spurred me on as the next mile was a horrible ascent where I really started to struggle. It was my slowest mile of the race (9:42) but again I knew, barring an utter disaster, I was going to clock under 4 hours. I kept putting one foot ahead of the other and eventually reached the top of the road which then swung left and thankfully flattened out.

I was starting to relax and take in the atmosphere. The crowd support was fantastic. People at the roadside kept offering sweets, chocolates and drinks but I no longer needed them as I passed Mile 25. One final slight ascent and I turned left onto the Annadale Embankment. I could now see the finishing line to my left in Ormeau Park. At Mile 26 I saw the final turn into the park. Then it was just a matter of the finishing straight. People were calling my name but I had no idea who they were.

I crossed the line in 3:51:10, well within my 4 hour target. Fionnuala and the kids were waiting for me at the finish line where I collected my finishers medal and t-shirt. I was stiff and sore and had some impressive blisters but other than that felt fine. Saying that, the walk back to the car took more out of me than the marathon itself. The rest of the day consisted of a hot bath, lots of liquids and even more ice cream and cake. I want to again thank all my fellow bloggers for the support and encouragement they have given me along the way.

So that was Marathon number 8. Plans for number 9 are already underway *collective groan*.

Belfast Marathon- 23 Mile (I think)

It’s been a long cold morning but as we stand here waiting and watching the runners pass us by the sun has come out and is heating us up nicely.

At this point in the marathon it is uphill and my heart does go out to the runners. Stephen has always said he looks forward to seeing us at this point it spurs him on.

Late last night he decided that he would create a Just Giving Page to try and raise funds for a friend of ours who is trying to raise some much needed funds for some of the Special Needs Schools in Belfast one of which our Hannah attends. If you would like to make a donation here is the link to his page https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/fionnuala-black

Adam, Hannah & Rebecca are waiting at the side of the road eagerly waiting to see their Daddy.

Stephen has just passed us at 12.30 still looking strong. Adam and Rebecca ran a bit with him feeding him Jelly Babies 👶

Well done Stephen see you at the finish line 🏁

The Night Before….

This time tomorrow I will have completed my eighth marathon. Today is all about resting as much as possible, loading up on pasta and getting an early night. The race starts at 9 a.m. tomorrow and the forecast is for a warm day. I’m glad it’s going to be dry but I’m wary of the heat. Even if it means slowing a little I’ll make sure to get plenty of fluids on board at the water stations.

My target is to run sub four hours and I’m planning to go out with the 3:45 pacers and stick with them for as long as possible. That will allow me a comfort cushion if I slow in the latter part of the race. I’ll post a review tomorrow. In the meantime any kind prayers or thoughts forwarded to Northern Ireland tonight will be gratefully received. See you all on the other side.

Belfast Marathon Update

I bought these bad boys yesterday and will be breaking them in over the next week or so in advance of the Belfast Marathon on 7th May. It will be my third Belfast Marathon and my eighth in total. I’ve never entered a marathon feeling less confident but I’m hoping that new running shoes will give me the boost I need to cover the 26.2 miles in my target time of sub four hours. We shall see.

The 21 Mile Run

I write this from our bed. I’m not so sure about getting up as I’m not so sure I will be able to. I completed the 21 mile training run yesterday. Somehow. It was not a pleasant experience. I knew from the first mile something was not right. I felt like I was running flat out but my time didn’t reflect it. My legs were okay but my arms and upper body were drained. I had nothing to offer. By mile 4 I was visibly slowing. The panic button pressed, I plugged on thinking it was a blip and I could run through it.

It wasn’t and I couldn’t. By mile 7 when I had my first drinks stop I seriously considered stopping but my stupid pride wouldn’t let me. I soldiered on and the situation improved slightly. I was still hating every step of it but my mile splits stabilised and I was able to hold a steady, if highly unimpressive, mile pace. The heat wasn’t helping. Only an idiot would schedule their longest run of the year on the hottest day of the year. I was that idiot.

At 14 miles I had my second drinks stop and rued not having bought energy gels for today. My pace was the same but I was dreading the final section. And rightly so. By mile 17 I was running nine minute plus miles and the slightest gradient felt like Everest. An elderly lady pulled up alongside me in her car and asked was I okay. I mumbled that I was alright, then remembered my manners and thanked her for stopping. I imagine she could have ran faster than me at this point.

I stopped greeting passing walkers and cyclists which is most unlike me. Motorists waved at me and I had no idea who they were. If Katy Perry had been standing at the roadside by an iced lemonade stall I would have grunted at her and staggered on. The last two miles included a couple of sizeable hills. An old sheepdog lying in the shade looked on in pity as I waddled up the first. By the second I had lost the will to live. My form and rhythm had totally vanished. It was just a matter of getting to the top.

The last mile back through the village should have been a victory parade but turned into a death march. The German retreat from Stalingrad was a cheerier experience. I willed my Garmin watch to read 21 miles and counted the seconds down. I refused to walk even though my normal walking pace was probably quicker than I was managing at present. My last mile was an embarrassing ten minutes. But then finally it was over.

I’m not sure what went wrong. The heat certainly played a factor as did the busy week at work I had just finished. I also had a nasty eye infection which must have taken its toll. I should have had energy gels as well. On the plus side I completed the run and still somehow ended up a minute inside four hour marathon pace. So all was not lost. Plus if you are going to run a stinker then you might as well do it during a training run as opposed to on the big day itself.

That said my confidence has taken a blow. I don’t think I could have finished a marathon today. At 21 miles I was gone. Out on my feet. I will be better prepared and rested on 7th May. Hopefully it will be cooler and my plan to run alongside a pacer surrounded by other runners will hopefully help. I know the course and know I can complete it. The crowd and the adrenaline will hopefully drag me along as well.

My taper commences now with the race just over a fortnight away. I will focus on reduced mileage combined with a healthier diet. When I’m flat out at work I tend to eat all sorts of rubbish. Running is a great leveller. Just when you think you are on top of your game the wheels tend to come off. I’m going to try and get out of bed now. Wish me luck. If you hear muffled screaming you’ll know who it is.

Embracing Anxiety

Today is the day of my last long run before the Belfast Marathon in just over two weeks time. I’ve worked out my route and hydration strategy; I’ve decided what gear I’m going to wear; the weather is dry and mild. Now it is just a matter of going out and doing it. I know I’m capable of it as I’ve completed such distances many times before. Yet as I type these words I feel nervous and worried.

Why? I have no idea. It’s just me. I am a natural born worrier. If I didn’t have something to worry about then I would be worried. The only way to overcome the anxiety is to confront the problem and dive headlong into it. I know that once I get a few miles into the run I will be fine. All feelings of self doubt will disappear and my confidence will soar. I will actually start to enjoy the experience and wonder why I got so worked up in the first place.

It is the same with every aspect of my life be it family or work matters. Before every important event or meeting my worry levels rise to a crescendo before melting away the minute said event or meeting commence. You would think that decades of experience would teach me that worrying was counterproductive and pointless but every time the old routine kicks in and my own personal Groundhog Day is repeated.

Our bodies and minds are constantly battling chains and shackles that delight in tying us up in knots and denying us from becoming the people that we were created to be. We are at A but we are destined to be at Z. How do we get there? By overcoming the hurdles and barriers that ourselves and others place in our paths to deny us our destinies. It can be a person, an event or situation, an illness or addiction.

Whatever it is, it is strong and relentless. And if you allow it to it will suffocate your dreams and snuff out your potential. It will win if you allow it to. Somehow, and from somewhere, you have to find the courage and conviction to overcome it. You need to stand tall, look it in the eye and tell it NO! No, you won’t let it win. No, you are not going to give up this time. And no, the cycle of submission is not going to be repeated.

I won’t sugarcoat it for you. It will not be easy. After 21 miles today my body will be tired and aching. But the feeling of achievement and satisfaction will far outweigh any temporary physical or mental discomfort. The worry and anxiety will have been left far behind on the road along with the negative thoughts and doubts. You will have broken free. And breaking free is a form of rebirth. You have become a stronger, braver version of you.

If you are reading this today and experiencing the doubt and fears I have described I would encourage you to lace up your metaphorical running shoes and run straight at that problem or situation that is weighing so heavily upon you. We can’t run away from our problems but we can run towards them and through them. Eventually you will emerge on the other side. Where you are meant to be. Battered and bruised possibly. But alive. And free.

Change is painful. Change is frightening. But in order to improve we need to embrace it. In order to become better people we need to become better at dealing with change. Anxiety and worry magnify the fear of change to the extent where we cower away from it. Today is the day to stop cowering. Face it. Embrace it. I’m away for my run and I’ll see you on the other side. Who’s with me?

Are you shackled by worry and anxiety? How do you deal with it?

What aspects of your life would you like to change?

Are Marathons Boring?

I’m posting a weekly running update as the Belfast Marathon is only 22 days away. It’s crept up so quickly and next weekend I will have my final long run of 21 miles before I ease back on the mileage, known as tapering, in advance of the big day. This week I’ve ran roughly 30 miles so it’s been pretty steady with no spectacular distances or times. Next week will be a different kettle of fish, however, which should see my training cycle peak at 50 miles.

I’ve been watching a lot of the Commonwealth Games over the last two weeks and was saddened to see top Scottish distance runner, Callum Hawkins, collapsing a mile from the finish in the men’s marathon when leading by over two minutes. It was a very distressing sight and shows that even the best runners cannot take the 26.2 mile event for granted. I hope he recovers from the physical and mental effects of the experience and returns better than ever.

I’m not sure what went wrong with Callum; whether it was his hydration strategy, pacing or the infamous wall that many runners hit in the final miles of the event. I was asked during the week do I not get bored during a marathon. What do I think about to pass the time? The scenes of Callum Hawkins collapsing prove that it is impossible to be bored during a distance race. Your mind is constantly processing information regarding the route, weather, road surface, hydration, gels, pacing and other runners.

You’re also dealing with the internal struggle. The voice in your head constantly doubting your ability to complete the race, telling you to give up and stop. It exaggerates every little niggle and turns each climb into Mount Everest. There is no hiding place in the marathon. Unless you have prepared to the best of your ability it will find you out, chew you up and spit you out at the side of the road. To me it is the ultimate physical and mental challenge which is why they mean more to me than any other distance.

Marathons are exhilarating, exhausting, excruciating, frustrating and heart breaking. But don’t ever call them boring.

Are marathon runners mad? Discus.

Omagh Half Marathon

I’ll post a proper race review later but just a quick note to say I completed my home town marathon in a time of 1:50:54 earlier today. Really pleased with my time on a hilly, challenging course. All roads lead now to the Belfast Marathon in a month. Thanks to everyone for the continued support.

I’m Running A Marathon…Still

Today I’m providing a two part update on my running and writing exploits of late. The title above may have given it away that this first instalment covers the former. Those who would rather gnaw their own foot off than read a running blog may look away now with my blessing. But more fool them for opening it in the first place given the blindingly obvious, giveaway heading.

The Belfast Marathon is a mere 34 days away. Not that I’m counting. It will be my third Belfast Marathon and eighth in total. Well get me. My PB (that’s Personal Best for us in the know) is 3:33:20 which I set at Belfast in 2016. I will be nowhere near that this year and will be happy with anything under four hours. I’m two years older now (if not wiser) and injury and illness last year have taken their toll. Plus I’m no longer part of a running group so have been plodding a lone furrow which tends to take the wind out of your sails a bit. Hey ho.

Training has been going well all the same. I’ve been injury free (touches nearest tree based object) for the guts of a year now and I’ve consistently been hitting my target times. Saturday last I completed a 20 mile training run with the minimum of fuss. I felt stiff and sore the next day but ‘no biggie’ and I completed a 10K yesterday feeling a-ok. My warm up race is the Omagh Half Marathon this Saturday which I’m looking forward to as it’s my home town. I’ll bore you all with my adventures at that in due course.

So I’m nervous, excited, a bit of everything really. But I’m as ready as I’ll ever be and the countdown is well and truly on now. I have a 21 mile training run scheduled in another 2-3 weeks and then I’ll wind down for the big day itself. You can then brace yourself for a flurry of photographs of yours truly looking sweaty and unflattering in running gear. But it’s a small price to pay for such a high quality, diverse and entertaining blogging product right? In the interim, to bide you all over, here are some equally unflattering snaps (of me I might add, not other members of the family) from previous runs.

So What Are You Going To Do About It?

I’m lying in bed. Not the most glamorous image to start your day I appreciate but bear with me. I’m still sore from the 20 mile run on Saturday. I’m also tired and I’m struggling to throw off the duvets and start another day. I’m off work (hurrah) but there is still so much to do. I’m scheduled to run a 10K (a so called recovery run meant to loosen me up after the 20 miler but right now it sounds like the death match from hell). My legs don’t want to propel me out of bed let alone out into the roads outside where I have to say it sounds a bit squally as I lie here typing.

I’m also working towards completing 10,000 words on the novel over the Easter break. I use the word ‘break’ in the loosest possible sense of the word. The first draft is currently sitting at around 80,000 words and is about two thirds complete. After that begins the hell of editing, proofing and worse still allowing a selected few to read it. I think I’m dreading that bit the worst. It’s akin to throwing your new born baby to a pack of starving, feral dogs. Sorry for the disturbing image but it is.

Oh did I forget to mention that I’m a father and husband. Old, selfish Stephen would have swept those trivial responsibilities under the carpet a few, short years ago. I tended to airbrush all that on my social media platforms as it was all about me after all, right? Well, no. They are my foundations upon which everything else is built. Without them the whole house of cards comes tumbling to the ground. Without them there is no running, there is no writing. Just me, broken and bloodied under the rubble of what used to be my life.

There are practical matters to attend to. Rebeca is going on a school trip to Scotland later this month so I need to venture up into the swirling vortex that is our roof space in search of a hold-all for her. It’s two weeks away but she wants to start packing now. Her mother has trained her well. If I’m not back in an hour call for Indiana Jones. No, on second thoughts, make that Lara Croft. The Angelina Jolie version, not that new girl. We watched Skull Island, the latest Kong movie, yesterday. I’m now frightened to venture into the roof space for the love of God.

There’s also the small matter of preparing for a meeting with the Education Authority later this week over proposed plans to close Hannah’s school; other issues regarding her still inadequate transport to and from school; trying to drag my lazy son out for a training session when he’d much rather spend his Easter holidays glued to his Play Station (because becoming a professional rugby player is just going to fall into his lap obviously); and the million and one household tasks that Fionnuala has quite rightly been asking me to carry out for only the last nine years or so.

To say we are a busy family is something of an understatement. You think my itinerary is nuts, then try checking out Fionnuala’s. It cray cray. But we keep going. Because there’s nothing else to do right? Well at least that’s how I deal with it all. I might not be the most talented writer or runner but one thing is for certain is that I won’t quit. Maybe I have my OCD and anxiety to thank for that. Mental health truly is a double edged sword. I’ve seen others with far greater ability than mine fall by the wayside. Why? Only they can answer that.

All I can say is that you shouldn’t give up. Not now and not ever. Don’t be that person sitting in their armchair aged eighty wondering ‘what if?’. Don’t be that person who gave in the doubting voices, most of all the voice in their own head. You’re not good enough, you’ll never get there and so on ad nauseum. Don’t be that person who got knocked down once too often and just lay there, refusing to get up. Get up! Get up for those who believe in you. And what’s more get up for those that didn’t believe in you.

So congratulations. You’ve got this far and you’re either thinking that Irish guy is a moron or maybe he’s got a point. If it’s the former then no hard feelings and thanks for making it this far. Close the door behind you on the way out. But if my Easter Monday rant has sown a seed in your mind then, well, what are you going to do about it? You have dreams, you have plans. Well how about today you take that first step towards making them a reality. Prove them all wrong. Prove yourself wrong. Start today. Join me. Make it happen.

So what are you going to do about it? What are your plans for the rest of 2018?

Who Are Your Favourite Bloggers?

I’m always delighted and slightly surprised when someone compliments me on my writing. It’s that inbuilt inferiority complex that I have dragged around behind me for most of my life. A nasty case of you’re-not-good-enough-itis. For many years I was so disenchanted with myself that I hid behind different characters that I created in order to gain attention and cover up the many glaring flaws that I perceived as having.

It took me to the brink in more ways than one. I almost lost everything. But over the last year or so I have come to the conclusion that maybe I’m not such a bad person after all. Maybe there is hope for me and a purpose for my life. And that is why the majority of my writing focuses on my faith, family and fitness. For they are the three constants in my life that I have clung on to when the rest of my world has been crumbling apart. Likewise they have been the foundations on which I have started to rebuild.

This blog has been part of the rebuilding process. The more I have written and revealed myself to the blogging community the more you have supported and encouraged me. It has been refreshing and invigorating to discover a social media platform where people put others first and talk openly and honestly about their lives and struggles. Where vanity and ego play second fiddle to compassion and selflessness. If only Facebook, Instagram et al could follow that example.

They say a picture paints a thousand words. Personally I’ll take the thousand words any day of the week. The rampant selfie culture holds no interest for me anymore. Beauty fades, prose and poetry do not. They are timeless and irreversible. New words lead to new worlds. Worlds overflowing with possibilities and opportunities. Words bring people together and create caring communities where before there was separation and isolation.

WordPress typifies this bringing together of like minded souls. So the purpose of this post today is to further promote and spread our community. If you would like to I would encourage you to either reblog or post a link to your favourite blog or blogs below. This will create a list of new sites for people to check out and follow. It is about putting others before ourselves and encouraging fellow bloggers to write and read more.

Belfast Marathon Update

Ten miles this morning. The sun was shining, there was zero wind and I ran a loop of my village which took in a spectacular stretch along the shore of Lough Neagh. It was so warm that I had to remove my woolly hat after three miles which has been surgically attached to my head these last few months. I won’t tempt fate and say winter is finally over as I’ve heard there is snow forecast for Easter.

The Belfast Marathon is just over six weeks away now and I’m planning a 20 mile training run over the Easter break. Today went so well that I’ve decided to run this loop twice next weekend. I’m pretty sure the second circuit won’t be as enjoyable as the first but embracing and accepting the physical and mental pain is all part of the training process. Better to come to terms with it during a training run than be totally unprepared come the day itself.

I’ll post a book update later on. Busy, Busy, Busy!

What training targets have you set yourself?

Are you still wearing your winter clothing?

I’m Running My Hometown Half Marathon

After much humming and haaaing I have decided to run the Omagh Half Marathon on Saturday 7th April as my warm up race for the Belfast Marathon the following month. It’s my hometown so it makes perfect sense. To me at least. I’m going to post a ‘proper’ blog later but just wanted to get this up so that I can’t change my mind later and not bother entering.

2042

So……..

I returned home from work yesterday to find this had arrived for me in the post.

Guess there’s no turning back now. Belfast Marathon here I come. 52 days and counting.

*gulps*

Belfast Marathon Update

For the loyal (deluded) few who are following my progress towards the Belfast Marathon on 7th May here’s the lowdown on my latest long run. 19 miles of meh. But at least it was dry and relatively mild. Solo training can be a lonely experience and I had to give myself a good talking to at times during this latest run but c’est la vie. Nobody is forcing me to push my body through the insanity of 26.2 miles for fun. My target, as ever, is sub four hours and I’d be very disappointed if I didn’t achieve that.

Anyway only eight weeks to go….

Weekend Update

Another shortish post today as another crazy week begins for the Black family. We are bracing ourselves as a cold front from Siberia descends upon the British Isles. The media over here have named it ‘The Beast From The East’ and we have been warned to expect icy winds, heavy snowfall and sub zero temperatures. So much for spring being on it’s way. The Easter Bunny may get his thermals out based on the weather outlook ahead.

An excellent weekend was had by all here. Ireland beat Wales in the Six Nations Rugby and, almost as importantly for us Irish, the English were beaten by Scotland. Apologies to our English followers (well not really) but you can’t be Irish and not have a giggle over that one. The main sporting highlight, however, was Lurgan College beating Strabane Academy 29-12. Adam had a great game cheered on my Fionnuala, Hannah and yours truly.

Hannah had another reason to cheer as Fionnuala has secured tickets for the two of them to see Niall Horan (formerly of One Direction) in concert next month. Although I think that Fionnuala might secretly be just as excited. And where was Rebecca you might ask? Well I’m glad you did as she was having a sleepover with her little cousin at her granny’s house. I’m not sure how much sleep she got as she was a tad tired when she returned home but I know she had a great time.

As for me? Well I’m on call this week so have had to deal with phone calls in the dead of night over the weekend. It’s no fun but it’s part of the job. I managed an eight mile run yesterday and plan to run tomorrow again, weather permitting. The Belfast Marathon is a mere 70 days away. Yikes! I’m also chipping away at the novel, averaging approximately 500 words per day. It’s hard finding the time but I’m trying to discipline my writing. I’m getting more and more excited about the plot and the character development. The bad guys in this novel are something else and, if anything, are even more fun to write than our main protagonists.

Anyone that’s me signing out. Talk soon 🙂

The Atheist Angel

Going waaaaay back some of you might remember a post I wrote called ‘Maggie’s Story’ (not her real name) about a young, homeless girl I befriended in Belfast last year. If not, you might want to check it out before reading on as it provides context for today’s post https://afracturedfaithblog.wordpress.com/2017/06/29/maggies-story/

I hadn’t spoken to ‘Maggie’ in some weeks but wasn’t particularly concerned. As is the nature of life on the streets she lived an unpredictable and chaotic existence. Some weeks she would be everywhere I looked whereas at other times she would literally vanish into thin air. I would never ask her where she had been. That was none of my business. She told me what she wanted to tell me.

I was always relieved, however, to see her after such absences. Yesterday was no exception. I was walking across the city centre from the office to the train station. My normal route involves cutting through a shopping centre (mall) which brings you out onto the most eclectic of squares where modern cocktail bars and restaurants sit alongside centuries old chapels and more traditional watering holes.

The square itself is approached from all sides by a series of cobbled, twisted alleyways where you often find city street dwellers. And it was here that I discovered Maggie sitting shivering beneath a worryingly thin blanket. She was as pale as an anaemic ghost, entombed in her regulation street uniform of hoodie and tracksuit bottoms. She looked cold and miserable but her blue eyes were startlingly clear. I knew immediately that she wasn’t using. I can always tell by her eyes.

When she saw me, those eyes lit up and her face broke out into a smile. A smile which made my day. ‘Where have you been?’ she enquired, totally oblivious to the fact that I walked this route every day and she was the one who had been missing in action. We engaged in conversation for a few moments, the details of which are irrelevant to this post. Needless to say her January had been a tough one. But she was alive and clean for which I was grateful.

As I crouched beside her I became aware of a young woman kneeling beside me. It was her flaming, red hair that first caught my eye. She started to talk to ‘Maggie’, her face etched with concern and worry. She told us that she had only recently moved to Northern Ireland from the United States and had lived on the streets in Los Angeles as a teenager. She then did the most remarkable of things, removing her coat and handing it to ‘Maggie’. ‘You’re freezing and you need this more than me’ she explained.

I don’t know who was more shocked, ‘Maggie’ or myself but there then followed a bizarre reverse tug of war between the two girls. ‘Maggie’ is fiercely proud when lucid and very reluctant to accept charity. She will never say no to a hot cup of tea and I have also persuaded her, after much effort on my part, to allow me to buy her food and cigarettes. ‘But only the cheapest brand. You do enough for me as it is’ she would holler after me as I entered the shop.

In all the time I have known her, however, I have never once considered giving her an item of my clothing. I was instantly shamed and humbled by this staggering act of kindness. The American girl, let’s call her ‘Abby’, looked cold herself and I could almost count the goosebumps popping up on her pale arms as she struggled to get ‘Maggie’ to accept her coat. Belfast is hardly Sunset Boulevard in deepest January I reflected, cosy in my heavy coat, cap, scarf and gloves. Yet here she was offering up her coat to a complete stranger who she knew needed it more than her.

The tug of war continued and I assisted where I could in translating West Belfast slang with Southern California drawl as best I could. They were both speaking English but struggling to understand each other. In the end ‘Maggie’ triumphed (she normally does) although she allowed ‘Abby’ to buy a cup of tea for her. I thanked the American girl afterwards and we talked a little as I filled her in as to what I knew about ‘Maggie’.

She screamed ‘Young Christian’ in her language, actions and dare I say it appearance. She looked as if she had just walked off the set of a Bethel worship music video. I’m not sure how but our brief conversation led to her asking what place of worship I attended. ‘I’m kind of between churches’ I mumbled, a bit embarrassed to admit as much to such a paragon of virtue. ‘What about you?’ I replied, bracing myself for a Christian CV as long as your arm. No doubt the daughter of a pastor, worship leader aged ten and veteran of countless global missions and city soup kitchens.

‘Oh I’m an atheist’ she cheerfully replied before saying her farewells and veering off into a nearby cafe in search of ‘Maggie’s’ tea. I stood there, my jaw scraping off the ground, in stunned silence. Here was a non-Christian performing perhaps the most ‘Christian’ act I had ever witnessed. A modern day Good Samaritan. In the space of five minutes she had shown more love and compassion than I had seen many devoted church goers display in five years.

Christianity is just a word, a tag, a label. It means nothing really. It is actions that make the person, not memorising Bible verses or rolling up to church every Sunday. The word ‘Christian’ was nothing more than a nickname given to the first followers of Jesus by the Romans. It was intended as derogatory, mocking term. The early followers referred to themselves as ‘The Way’. The three year ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus paved the way for the early church to explode onto the global scene and bring the mightiest civilisation known to man to its knees within a few centuries.

Atheist, Agnostic, Christian at the end of the day it doesn’t matter. They are nothing but labels. What defines us is love. Do we love those around us? Not just our family or friends but also those on the fringes of society? We need to radically rethink the ingrained stereotypes and prejudices which colour our view of the world. We need to stop judging others and shoving them into neat little compartments which tally with our outlook life. We need to value and include the ‘Maggie’s’ and ‘Abby’s’ of our lives. We need to love the homeless and the atheists (but we also need to love like the homeless and the atheists. Actually love as opposed to just talking about it.

Who are you going to love today?

January 150 Mile Challenge Update

After three days on the sidelines due to illness I started running again yesterday. 8.1 miles yesterday and 7.2 miles today bring me up to 60 miles in total for the month so far. Which has me back on schedule to attain my target of 150 miles in January. Running to me is mentally beneficial as much as physical. It does wonders for my high stress levels and low self esteem. A running Stephen is certainly a happier Stephen.

I will post occasional running stories throughout the year. I don’t want to become a running bore (which I am prone to do) but running is part of me and part of my story. So it would feel odd if I didn’t write about it now and again. In a previous blogging existence I wrote about nothing else. But that blog was all about my ego and craving attention for all the wrong reasons. When I write about running now I do so in order to promote the benefits of healthy exercise to those struggling with addiction, depression or other mental health issues.

It costs nothing and it’s given me renewed life and freedom. Four years ago I weighed over 15 stone in weight and could barely run the length of myself. I’m now three stone lighter and ran my seventh marathon last November. I plan to run more this year. If I can do it then so can anyone. All you need is a little bit of ability and a whole lot of determination. Dreams can become reality. All you need to do is wake up and take that first step.

Keep running your race. Wherever it takes you,

Spin Class Stories

I’m a runner. I like to run. Preferably in a straight line at around 8:30 minute mile pace. I don’t like sprinting or being pressurised into running faster than I have to. I like long, steady paced runs. My favourite distance is the marathon. I don’t particularly enjoy hills but put one in front of me and I will run up it. I will not stop. Call me determined or call me stupid but I will not stop. I’ve ran seven marathons and I hope to run more in 2018. It’s what I do.

When I decided to get fit and lose some weight three and a half years ago I dabbled with all sorts of other physical activities before I plumped for distance running. It was all part of the mid life crisis. My fourth that particular year. I took up Taekwondo and pranced around the village hall in a pair of oversized white pyjamas. I reckon I could have been a black belt by now if it wasn’t for my startling lack of hand/eye coordination and flexibility.

I had a go at weight training but was intimidated by all the muscle bound hulks at the gym. I have quite strong leg muscles from running but as for my upper body, forget about it. I looked like a jerk at the clean and jerk. My kettle bell technique was the talk of the place. For all the wrong reasons. My arm curls were toe curlingly embarrassing and my squats were sqawful. I’m pretty sure that’s a real word.

Finally I tried spin class. I skulked at the back of the class and hoped that the instructor didn’t notice that I was pedalling at a lower resistance than the rest of the class. Everyone pumping furiously around me seemed so much leaner and younger. I was up and down out of the saddle but never seemed to be getting anywhere. Quite literally. Spin class depressed me. I didn’t like being shouted at and being told what to do. My heart wasn’t ‘spin’ it.

Spin class was like my grief. It hit me in waves but I never seemed to get anywhere with it. I worked harder and harder but there was never an inch of progress. All that pain for nothing. A day or a week or a month later and it would hit me anew as if for the first time. Grief is a thief. It slips up on you when you least expect it and brings your world to a jagged, juddering halt.

Spin class was like my drinking. Binge followed by hangover. Over and over again. Ad nauseum. I drank to forget but at some point forgot why I was drinking. It became a sickly cycle and the wheels had to come off eventually. They did so in spectacular fashion. Alcohol is no longer my favoured form of transport. Drinking and cycling are a definite no no. When I run my body and mind are cleansed. Alcohol poisoned me. I’m still detoxing I suppose. I always will be.

Spin class was like my OCD. An endless circle of obsessive, intrusive thoughts followed by baffling, heart breaking routines. It’s the most orderly of disorders. It will grind you into a pulp. As your routines become slicker so the thoughts become sicker. Always one step ahead of you. Pedalling furiously to keep up but never quite getting there. Hurtling through the fog not knowing what mental pothole lies just ahead waiting to throw you headlong over the handlebars.

Spin class was like my addiction to social media. Never learning. This time I would get it right. A new account, a new Stephen. A new creation doomed to slide into familiar patterns of behaviour. Ever so gradually until I was trapped again. Watching myself as if in a dream, an out of body experience. Wanting to stop but unable to. Always cracking, always relapsing. My soul spiralling downwards as my follower count spiralled upwards. A thousand likes as I despised myself.

Are you trapped in or on a cycle? Are you pedalling at breakneck speed but getting nowhere? Are you tired of the the same, endless, pointless routines? Take a health check. Are you physically, mentally, emotionally running on empty? Then step off the bike. Stop what you are doing and look around you. Breathe. Observe. Live. You are better than this. You deserve better.

Do it today. Now. Stop spinning. Start winning.

Is your life spinning out of control?

Are you trapped in an endless cycle?

What are you going to do about it?

Real Running

The ‘Loop of the Lough’ Marathon is five weeks today and, this morning, I set out on a 20 mile training run. The next 2-3 weeks are the toughest part of the training plan before I cut back the mileage in the final fortnight before the big day itself. This final period of the training is known as tapering. All the hard work is done and it is just a matter of keeping ticking over, eating and resting properly and avoiding injury.

I was quite nervous before I set off today as this was my longest run in well over a year. I was anxious that my legs would give out on me. Facing a 20 mile run is a daunting prospect and the doubting voices in my head were having a field day. They did their best to convince me that I would flop spectacularly but I set off anyway, more hopeful than confident. I am training for a sub four hour marathon so need to average 9:09 minute miles or better in order to hit my target.

The first four miles or so went well as I headed out a long stretch towards Lough Neagh. I felt strong and was averaging decent mile splits. Then the heavens opened. A light drizzle at first which gradually intensified. By Mile 6 I was well and truly drenched but thankfully there was no wind to accompany it. As a runner I can live with rain; when it’s combined with a headwind, however, it can play havoc with a pacing strategy. There is nothing worse than slipping off your pace and watching all your race dreams disappear in a puff of smoke.

I stopped at the house at Mile 10 for a quick drink and towelling off, then it was off again. From then on it was just a matter of counting off the miles and trying to ignore the mounting pain in my thighs. I play games with myself, picking out landmarks in the distance and trying to guess how far away they are. I check my Garmin watch every 0.05 of a mile, try to work out how much more I have to run as a percentage, estimate what my mile split will be every 1/4 of a mile; anything really rather than listen to the voice telling me to give up and stop.

By Mile 15 I was about four minutes inside my target time so could afford to relax a little. Having a few minutes in the bank is very reassuring. I prayed periodically throughout, thanking Jesus for allowing my body to be able to do this and asking him to give me the strength and focus to keep going. I’m not fast but I do have stamina. My final two miles were roughly at the same pace as my first two. I finished wet, cold and aching all over. But five minutes inside my target pace. Now all I have to do is repeat that in five weeks time. And then run another 10K on top of that. 


I’m sore but pleased. The old me would have wanted to brag about this run all over social media and posted lots of photos of yours truly looking pleased with himself. I thought twice about not writing about the run at all but decided to in the end. Running helps me physically and mentally. It is part of who I am so if I were not to refer to it then you would only see part of the real Stephen. And that’s what I want to be. Real. I want to show you the good, the bad and the ugly.

The old me only portrayed a false and misleading persona. I craved attention, was vain and obsessed over running faster and faster every race. In five weeks time I won’t set a personal best and I won’t be bombarding you all with selfies. But I will plod round, hopefully avoid injury and raise some money for charity along the way. I’m just grateful at the end of every run I have a loving family to return to afterwards. For without them, I am a gibbering wreck. They inspire me to be the best possible person I can be. Without them I am nothing. I’m running the race of life with them and for them. With God to guide me.

Psalm 119:32 – ‘I shall run the way of your commandments, for you will enlarge my heart.’

A Tall Tale

A dark day in the Black household. My son is now officially taller than me. Having turned 15 years old earlier this month he now stands at 182 centimetres. Or just over 6 foot tall. I trail in at a mere 178 centimetres. The days of Adam looking up to me are no more. In the physical sense anyway. I dread to think what size he will be when he finally reaches manhood in three years time. I may require a stepladder to communicate with him.

Adam is a bit of a rugby star. He starts at a new school in September and will be playing Schools Cup standard rugby from this point onwards. To the uninitiated, rugby is a bit like American Football without the shoulder pads and helmets. It’s a big deal in Ireland. And almost overnight our little boy has grown a foot and become very good at it. Throw him a rugby ball and he becomes a different creature. And very difficult to stop at that. I tried once on the beach last summer. I failed. Miserably.


Last season I spent most Saturday mornings freezing my extremities off standing on muddy touchlines cheering Adam and his team to Under 14 Eastern Division glory. I was invariably more nervous than him as he took each game in his stride and improved from week to week. The scary thing was that he does not realise how good he is. While I gush to other parents about his burgeoning talent he has remained humble and modest; invariably embarrassed as his father waxes lyrical about his latest performance.

Prior to starting at his new school Adam has already been forwarded his rugby training schedule for the coming year. As I read it my jaw dropped. He will be training five days a week with a match at the weekend. Tactical analysis, Strength & Conditioning, Weights Training, Lineouts Training, Circuits Training. Training, Training, Training. At the end of this his muscles will have muscles. He will be huge. I will have to get a second job in order to feed him.

The training has already started. Two months before the first match of the new season. You all know the training cliches. Practice makes perfect! Train hard, Win Easy!! Train Insane or Remain The Same!!! But beneath all the testosterone and bravado is the truth that for any sportsperson to be successful, long hours on the training pitch are first required. Adam is learning this and reaping the benefits. 

Every week his stamina, strength, speed and skill levels are increasing. He is growing both physically and mentally. I am proud of my son and seek to encourage and support him to fulfill the talents that he has been blessed with. The raw ability is there. But it takes training, perseverance and a strong work ethic to sculpt and hone the finished masterpiece out of the unformed block of stone you begin with. He is getting there. And we will be there to support him every step of the way.

In tbe same way our Heavenly Father is with us every step of the way during our journey through life. I often find myself wondering why my Christian growth is so stop-start at times. My prayers so ineffective; my worship so lukewarm; my study so piecemeal and shallow. I plod along while others around me recount the most intense experiences with God. I want to be like them. I want to serve. I want to grow. I want to inspire. 

But, to quote another cliche, in order to inspire you first have to perspire. Just like building physical muscle, creating spiritual muscle requires discipline and determination. But instead of spending hours in the gym, we must devote our days to more godly disciplines – applying ourselves to prayer, study and worship. Only then can we reach the levels required to do the work that God has put us on this planet for.

Train or remain. The choice is yours.

1 Timothy 4:8 – ‘For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both tbe present life and the life to come.’

Have you any up and coming sporting stars in your family?

Have you a love/hate relationship with the gym?

How do you spiritually train?

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑