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Getting my focus back

27 May, 2019
Posted in Running
27 May, 2019 Andy Firth

This post is about getting my focus back! It is the 3rd post of a 3 part series which details what it took from being unfocused from the break up of my marriage to running the Great Manchester Run as part of the Special K #PoweringYou team. Led by Sophie Radcliffe (Challenge Sophie), myself and 4 other people from different parts of the country met with a common purpose, to challenge and prove to ourselves how strong, powerful and incredible we truly are.

If you haven’t already, you can read the proceeding posts where I met with the inspirational team and how these meetups were creating recipes for great memories.

I hope you get an idea of what it was like and that it inspires you to challenge yourself in a way you didn’t think possible.

Training for the Great Manchester Run

When I set out on my first training run after I found out I had been selected to be part of the team, I ran 4 miles. As always, that first run out is always the hardest, but being selected for the team gave me enough motivation to take action and get my trainers on! Also, the longest I had ever run in my life was 8 miles, and this was back in April 2014!

After a couple of training sessions, the doubt started to creep in. How the heck am I going to run a half marathon! The achievement seemed a long way off, if not unachievable in my head. However, soon after the team learnt that we would be meeting up on two occasions to do some training together in preparation for the race. This pushed me on.

Being part of the Special K Powering You Team

When I am part of a team, especially when I don’t know these people, I don’t want to be the one who lets them down. I also wanted to be fit enough to enjoy the experience and not be worrying if am I going to complete the race or not. Running long distance was new to me, I knew there were things I had to learn about running and things I would have to learn about myself to enable me to complete the race.

This is where the WhatsApp group that was created really helped. Not only was I getting to know my new teammates, I began to realise our group were extremely helpful, not only for support but for running tips and advice. I continued to run every week over the same distance, 4 miles. I didn’t really have a training schedule, I just ran when I felt it was right. Again though, that drive for me to enjoy the experience, not let others down and to get fit enough to ‘know’ I could do it, enabled me to run during the winter months when it was freezing cold.

A couple of weeks past and I felt that I wasn’t getting any quicker despite running another 8-mile distance, but I was thinking about it in the wrong way. Ben & Kerry advised me to go slower, go slower and you will go further. I kept this in mind for our up and coming meet in London.

Meeting Inspirational People

The team met for the first time in Battersea Park in London where we were gifted some amazing products to assist us with our training. This included and Fitbit tracker, an outdoor running book and some Pure Essentials products. I’ve always loved fitness watches so I was blown away when we received these. I could now track and record all of my runs and my heart rate, which would be useful as I also wanted to see what my general health was like.

For me, this wasn’t just a meet up to run, it was a chance to do something different, get to know and meet inspirational people whilst experiencing a different place, all whilst keeping fit! We take for granted that such a simple thing can have such an impact on our mindset, we can over complicate things. This day switched my mindset totally and I was ready to take on more.

Two days later and after some great advice from Kerry who said I should just try and run for 2hrs and not focus on miles, I did exactly that. 2hours and 4 minutes later and with some aching legs and sore joints, I arrived back home. I’d run for 2 hours. I checked my Fitbit and holy shit! I’d ran 12.4 miles!!

This was a massive milestone for me, not because of what I had run or the time I had did it in, I now believed I could do it.

A Recipe for Great Memories

The support from the team was fantastic, each and every one of them supported my achievements and gave me advice and support along the way which was great. We also had another meet up in London which I was really looking forward to. Sophie had devised a route where we would run over all of the major bridges in London, finishing at Tower Bridge. The estimated distance was 15 miles.

I’m not sure if this was planned or not, but the fact that I may have had to run 15 miles switched another cog in my head. I knew I would have to get more miles in to enjoy the run. Interestingly though, I was up for it and I was willing to have a go at running it. A few months ago this would have scared the hell out of me!

I upped my training to 3 times a week, just running 4 miles at a time and then every 2nd or third week I would run 8 miles. I’d combine this by running in the morning and during the evening to catch the sunrise or sunset or just have a quick drive out to a nice place, something I’d learnt from Sophie and our meetups. Exactly one month later from my 12-mile run, I completed my first half marathon distance. It took me 3 months and the feeling I had was amazing!

The week after was our 2nd meet up in London. Sophie had decided to reduce the distance, but it didn’t matter to me as I had trained to try the 15 miles. We took the time to chat on the run and enjoy the amazing places in London. Again, this was not just about running, it was about the experience and the memories you create with like-minded people with a common purpose. So simple yet so powerful in the way it builds your mindset, it left me craving more. It was a recipe for great memories.

What was interesting on this run was that we were running for a long time, and towards the end, I began to feel some real pain in my knee which I was worried about.

Remember to stretch and hydrate!

The following week I discussed my issues with some of the team. Hannah asked if I had been stretching. Erm, no!! Who did I think I was, trying to do all this running without stretching!! After every run, I then began to stretch off followed by some ice-cold showers. I also began to stretch out my arms and other parts of my body and this made a real difference to how I felt running over a long distance.

I did one more half marathon distance before race day, but I still didn’t feel great running over that distance. The issue, hydration. I’m terrible for not drinking enough water, I think most of us are. Most of my runs were during the evening where I’d spent most of the day drinking tea and coffee. Not great when running long distances. So I knew that on race day I would have to get this right to really enjoy the race.

3 weeks before the race I followed the Great Run’s training plan and began to hydrate more. Two days before and I stopped drinking coffee and now replaced that with water. The day before I ate pasta and indulged in a burger and chips during our evening meet up in Manchester to get some carbs in me. I’d also met up with the others during the day which was nice, but decided to go back to the hotel early so I didn’t do too much walking.

I was ready!

The Great Manchester Run 2019: Race Day

I woke on the day of the race in good time. I’d gone to bed early and got a night of amazing sleep. Some good old meditation stopped my mind from wandering and thinking which enabled me to get off to sleep with no issues. I’d prepped all my kit for the morning so I knew exactly what my plan was.

Sophie had advised us not to change things up too much from our normal routine. So for me, it was 4 Weetabix and a banana for breakfast. I then went back up to my room to do some light stretching, get ready and fill a bottle of water.

We all met and proceeded to walk through the streets of Manchester. It was so quiet and peaceful but I could feel my underlying excitement bubble as we approached the main area of the event. We took a look around to get our bearings and headed towards the finish line where the hospitality suite was. Here we would do our final preps and leave any kit until afterwards.

Let’s Do This!

I started to fidget around with excitement as Sophie turned to me with a high five and said . . . . . “Let’s do this!”

We took to the finish line to take some obligatory selfies of the team and realised it was 8.25 and we needed to be on the start line for 8.30 for some official photos! We began our march through the streets of Manchester again. This time there were people all over, all heading towards the start. As we got closer I could hear the bustle of the crowd and the music that was playing. The adrenaline started to flow as I followed behind our team dressed in our red Special K T-Shirts which were now in the foreground of the 1000’s of runners lining up!

What a feeling! I felt so proud of us all.

As we hit the sea of runners we began to navigate towards the front where we needed to be. The atmosphere was electric as we had our official photos taken at the start line of the Great Manchester Run. I looked at our mentor Sophie as she stood for her individual photo for the press and felt grateful for her belief in me and her inspirational motivation and help. I then looked at our team, all smiles and filled with excitement. Knowing just a small bit about each of them made me feel in awe of how they have developed and the way they have grown throughout this process.

With around 10 minutes until the start, we moved from the official start line to the front of the thousands of runners. I could see the focus and readiness of all the front runners. As the warmups started, our team began to follow the music and we started to dance! What must these front runners have thought! It made me smile. We were just having fun, taking in the atmosphere of this amazing event whilst everyone else seemed really stern and anxious. This is what Sophie is all about, making seemingly anxious moments like this relaxing and fun.

As we were shuffled forward by the Marshalls, I could feel all that training and emotion begin to build in what was to be an amazing race. This was so much more than a race for me, it was the accumulation of months of training, experiences, memories and the fact that I had managed to give myself some real focus and been able to inspire my kids. Whereas 5 months prior, I was a broken man.

As the last-minute counted down, I took in a deep breath and prepped my Fitbit to start, hoping that I wouldn’t get trampled on by all the front runners as we started. I couldn’t quite believe that I was at the very front of over 9 thousand people! As the gun went off we all set off and cheered as Sophie captured the moment on her GoPro. I felt the adrenaline shoot through my body as we powered into the 13-mile run. As hundreds of runners continued to pass me by, all I had in my head was don’t start too quick, just relax.

Stay focused and enjoy the run

I continued and settled into my usual rhythm. Despite the thousands of people, it felt very calm and peaceful whilst running. Everyone was concentrating on their own race and I could hear the undertone of everyone’s focused breathing. A few miles in and I began to get too warm as I’d decided to keep my long-sleeved skin on. I’d developed a habit of covering my thumbs with the ends of the sleeves and it felt weird not to have it on, but it was far too warm. As I ran I began to embark on removing my Special K t-shirt, then my skin, then back on with my t-shirt!! Gosh, that took some doing!

I really wanted to run as a team, but as Sophie advised, it was best we ran at our own pace. As we approached Manchester City Football ground I could hear Sophie’s voice behind me. In true Challenge Sophie fashion, she was taking time to speak to a fellow runner and alongside her was our teammate Jemma. She asked how I was, and as we continued over the bridge we took some time to run together and got some footage. I was so happy that I managed to meet them both during the race and run together.

After a quick pee stop, I managed to catch up with Jemma and Sophie again for a brief while. Our fellow teammate Ben, who was unfortunately injured, had come to the race line to support us and cheer us on and it was great to see him. The support from the crowd was amazing too. The people of Manchester had come along to support everyone in the race and I was quite taken back when someone said, go on Andrew, your doing great! Eh! How did they know my name!! Yeh Andy, it’s written on the front of you’re race number!!

Could I get a half marathon PB?

As the miles went by, I felt really good. Those last-minute additions to my hydration, stretching and nutrition were having a big impact on my race and I was really enjoying the experience. I glanced at my Fitbit as I passed the 8-mile mark and realised if I carried on like this, I would complete the race in less than 2hrs. All I wanted to do was to be able to complete the race and enjoy it, but what if I did it in less than 2hrs?

I went into a different zone and was mindful of my pace and progress. I took on some fluid and a sachet of energy food that was being given out and continued. I took a moment to get my phone out and record a little Instagram story to my kids who were at their dance competitions. It was the first time ever that I had not been there to support them, and I wanted to show them that I was thinking about them. After that, I pushed on through, taking in the sights, entertainment and the amazing crowd.

It was great to hear other runners pushing people on. Reading other peoples messages on the back of their shirts made me feel emotional and grateful at the same time. As the front runners began to double back and run past us, the shouts of support and encouragement from fellow runners were great to hear.

At the 10 mile mark, my left knee began to tighten again, so after the next drink station, I took on some fluid and took a minute to stretch out my legs.

Last push to the Great Manchester Run finish line

As I set off again, I remembered that I had entered ‘The Last Mile’ in Strava. I had to try and complete a 7.10 last mile to support the cause. I knew I wouldn’t get the time, but it was a great excuse to push out my last mile. As the finish line grew nearer, I could hear the music and crowd getting louder. I glanced at my Fitbit and I had about 16 minutes to complete my last mile to make it in under 2hrs. My heart began to fill with excitement as I realised I was going to complete the race and achieve a personal best.

As I approached the end of the race the atmosphere was immense. Everyone was cheering, the music was motivating and I felt an emotional shiver of joy as I ran through the smoke towards the finish line. It felt amazing as I looked at the finish line timer and crossed the line with my arms held high in a time of 1hr 52 mins.

I turned and waited for our Powering You team who were shortly coming across the finish line and congratulated every one of them. I then asked the team where Hannah was? She’d only smashed the half marathon and completed it in 1hr 40mins! Wow!

The race was followed with lots of hugs, congratulations and loads of photos. What a day! As Sophie says, it’s important to celebrate your achievements and I felt honoured to be part of such an amazing team. After taking in more of the event stalls and more photos at the Special K stand, we arrived back at the hospitality suite for some well-earned food followed by a drink in one of the local bars.

My medicine for the post-race blues

After such an amazing 5 months I was warned about the post-race blues and boy did I have them. It wasn’t just the fact that the race was over, it was the fact that I had been training for this for 5 months. Not just physically, but also mentally and the team were a big part of my journey.

My medicine? I put on my trainers and went out for a run!

I have created such a habit training that this is now part of my life both physically and mentally. I also want to take on more challenges and adventures so I need to stay fit so I’m ready for what’s to come. This includes being part of Sophies L2P24 race next year. Sophie and the team have also been great, offering their support after the race which I’ve needed. This process has changed me in ways I didn’t think possible and I also have 5 new friends who I can turn to for advice and be there for them too if they need it.

Lastly, below sums up the road to getting my focus back and what I achieved, it’s my twist on the ‘Do Something’ poem by Tony Walsh (Longfella) who wrote the inspirational piece the for the runners of the Great Manchester Run.

I did something to show them what I was made of
I did something I’ve never done before
I did something to beat what I was afraid of
I did something to make my spirit soar
I did something to get a little fitter
I did something to celebrate my health
I did something to prove I’m not a quitter
I did something to prove it to myself

Andy Firth

Every day, every new experience or setback I am still learning. It’s that learning I want to share. I want to share my own experiences, how I learn things, what techniques I use and how I help people in their life.

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