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He didn't get where he is today by stealing somebody else's catchphrase.

Chasing Unicorns

On this day five years ago, I started running.

Why did I start? Well, the answer is simple. For the previous ten years, I'd been clawing my way through the grades in ju-jitsu and my second-dan grading loomed on the horizon. What harm could a bit of extra cardiovascular work do? I wanted to smash it and feel more in control.

Little did I know what I'd started and how it would snowball in to something bigger.

As the months went by, my fitness improved. My legs, stumpy as they were, started to bulk up. My calf muscles expanded such that I struggled to fit in my usual size of trousers. The infamous "loose-fit" was required to accommodate them. Undeterred, my distances got longer and in the October of 2013, I ran my first half-marathon in Cardiff.

I passed my grading and felt pretty damn good at the time. But why stop running now? Why let all that progress go to waste?

Whatever you've run, whether that be a 5K, 10K, half or full-marathon, you've thrown down a gauntlet to yourself. Can I run faster? Could I run for longer? Should I start raising money? You keep pushing yourself to see what you can do. Running can be a seriously competitive affair, but the competition is in your head.

Covering over 3,000 miles during that five years hasn't stopped me looking for new challenges.

During the course of January, I shall be running every day as part of MIND's RED (Run Every Day) challenge. My distances won't be huge, but that's not the point. As you'll have seen in some of my previous posts, I've mentioned how good running is for boosting one's mental health. When I took my first steps in the park five years ago, little did I know that I'd inadvertently discovered something that was a form of natural medication, but without all those nasty side-effects.

Note: I still believe the "runner's high" is bollocks and about as real as unicorns.

Running every day is a challenge and the barriers are many. Bits of you ache on a regular basis. The great British weather will be bobbins. You keep smelling like a dead horse. However, if you can get over the obstacles in your mind, you've already done the hard bit.

During the course of January, I'm aiming to run 160KM/100 Miles. I completed day 5 today and am feeling quite positive so far, despite how tired my legs already feel. Whilst something of a personal challenge, I urge you to donate to MIND. There are many other idiots like me around the world, doing this and generally getting achey, wet and smelly. Mental health is woefully under-supported in this country and is a cause close to my heart. If you can manage a donation of any sort, I'm sure many people will thank you, albeit indirectly.

I'll let you know whether I break my 100 mile target at the end of the month.
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CALM

This weekend I’m running another half-marathon, the Imerys Trail near St Austell, Cornwall. I was recently pondering the events I’ve entered since I started running and it dawned on me that this is my twelfth.

Bloody hell. A dozen of the buggers.

That puts a smile on my face, because when I was back at school I was shite at sport, which commonly translates to "lacks confidence" in school reports. I was the wobbling and puffing kid at the back of the cross-country group. "Sport" was just not my thing.

If only my P.E. teacher could see me now. What I lack in speed, I make up for in sheer bloody-minded determination.

I’ve been running for nearly three and a half years now and it's gone far past my original intention, which was purely to get fitter for my second-dan grading back in 2013. However, when I completed my first half-marathon that was the turning-point. Not wanting to lose the vastly improved fitness that I’d gained (or go through the pain of getting back up to half-marathon fitness again), I continued to enter more events.

There was another side-effect of running - I felt happier in my own skin.

And so this is the point where I lay my cards on the table. I’ve occasionally had poor mental-health over the years. I’ve had bouts of depression that have come and gone like an unwelcome, incontinent lodger who sleeps in your bed, drinks your beer and emits his gas in your face. At times, the irksome oaf has lurked around for years before finding other digs.

My unwelcome guest has visited me several times, my first being when I was around thirteen or fourteen, a time when I was probably too young to realise what it was. A combination of bullying at school and my parents separating started it all off, returning again when I was in my mid-twenties and a third time when my mother died. For me, depression is a disease which doesn't have a cure, but seems to come and go in episodes.

But I've been "free" for a while now - and that's jolly good.

The amount of evidence supporting improved mental health through running continues to grow. Studies aside, I find that it takes approximately 45 minutes for the benefits to kick in afterwards. It’s been said that there’s a “runner’s high”. Whilst I still think that's bollucks, whatever endorphin release happens during the activity seems to keep me going for a few days - and that’s got to be better than medication, with all the nasty side-effects that go with it. A run every three-ish days seems to do the trick. If I've missed one or been inactive for four or five days I start getting irritable - it's time to get another session in.

So if running does something for my wellbeing, then it seems reasonable to use that boost for the benefit of other’s mental-health too. Unfortunately, the subject is still an uncomfortable one for many in this country and I’d like to do something (however small) to address that. Over the years I've had varied responses to the condition, ranging from "Cheer the fuck up" to things a lot more supportive. It's only through support, openness and a willingness to change the stigma attached to mental health in this country that we'll ever address it. Us men are not good at talking, but if the stigma can be removed then we'll find it easier to talk about it.

Over those twelve half-marathons, I've seen a lot of people wearing running shirts advertising the charity they're running for. One charity has resonated with me more than any other, going by the name of "C.A.L.M" or the Campaign Against Living Miserably. They give advice, counselling and crisis support and the organisation aims to reduce the male suicide rate, particularly in the 20 - 45 age range - the biggest killer of younger men in the UK. There have been times in the past where I could've been a statistic.

I've decided that my thirteenth half-marathon will raise money for this charity. Getting through depression is a struggle. Because they're not obvious, mental-health issues are such a hard thing for some to comprehend. Your brain isn't in a plaster cast. To the average person on the street who sees you, you look fine. And yet, on some days, just getting out of bed is a struggle in itself. If I can raise something through completing an event and indirectly prevent a suicide, then I guess that adds something positive to my life too. It gives me some purpose when I'm clocking up the miles. Indirectly, whilst improving my own mental state, I'll be helping somebody else's.

I'm not sure what my next event will be yet, but Bristol Half-Marathon is in September and would allow adequate time for me to badger the likes of you reading this for money in sponsorship. Once the event details are finalised, I'll post a link here as well as a pinned post on Twitter and naturally would be very grateful for any contribution you can make. I'll post again in the next few weeks, once my legs have stopped hating me after tomorrow's event.

Thanks for reading.
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