“The Needle And The Damage Done”

“Needle And The Damage Done”

I caught you knockin’
at my cellar door
I love you, baby,
can I have some more
Ooh, ooh, the damage done…

….I sing the song
because I love the man
I know that some
of you don’t understand
to keep from running out…..

….I’ve seen the needle
and the damage done
A little part of it in everyone
But every junkie’s
like a settin’ sun.

These are the lyrics to the song ‘The needle and the damage done’ by one of my favourite singer-song writers Neil Young.

Some argue the existence of ‘positive addictions’ and I’ve heard many an obsessive athlete, runners in particular, labour under this explanation for their compulsive training.

I know runners who run away from painful or shameful pasts or who run to validate themselves. I know runners who have pushed their God-given talent to international competitive levels and now fight depression and anxiety over fear of not performing to their best or no longer feeling part of the gang, of feeling worthwhile.

Sometimes even positive addictions can go too far.

But there’s a line between compulsion, obsession, and addiction and that of genius and determination that’s a foggy one at best, and for the most part a transient one. To be the absolute best you can at something requires more than a ‘healthy’ level of commitment. You must go too far in order to know your limits and then stretch them.

I have a very addictive personality by nature. If I hadn’t used running to silence my demons when overcoming suicidal depression and anxiety I would have turned to alcohol.

Before being saved from the care system by my (adopted) parents, I’d lived through the effects of an alcoholic in the home. – it’s not pretty. Some might silence their demons with alcohol but some just become their demons. I lived through the latter.

I knew alcohol and I would have a strained relationship from the very first time I had a sip of beer at a friend’s party – I loved the stuff!

I later learned that most of my mates hated the taste but thought it looked cool and so were pouring most of their beer down the toilet. Apparently for the majority of people booze is an acquired taste, not me!

Perhaps there’s truth in the old adage that the apple doesn’t fall to far from the tree. If you’re born to alcoholic parents, chances are your brain has developed a liking for the stuff a long time before you’ve ever seen daylight.

The apple might not fall far from the tree but if you remember where it is you came from and the pain that being a certain way can cause people then perhaps ‘that apple’ might just look up at that tree and exclaim “I’m never becoming that”, grow a pair of legs, learn to run and never stop – a fool proof way to distance itself from its genetic-inheritance.

At university I partied with the best of them, dancing almost every night, but for 18 months straight I chose not to drink a single drop of alcohol. It might seem extreme, some would proclaim it a waste of student years, but I was determined to destroy the link in my brain of needing alcohol to have fun. I did it, I now drink occasionally because I enjoy a beer usually with friends. I never feel the need to drink in order to feel comfortable enough to socialise.

I also no longer have an addictive relationship with running, I run on the whole out of choice, not compulsion.

Sure, there’s days it’s hellish to be here. In fact there’s been whole weeks during this world run that I’ve run when not feeling like it.  But I’ve continued through  dog-eared stubbornness,  determination and ambition to finish what I’ve started, not by a ‘need’ or compulsion to quell an anger in my stomach.

There was a two year period where I was running solely on anger and aggression –  2.5-3hrs of running every single day. Fast, aggressive running over the toughest terrain I could find – sand dunes, the relentless steep climbs of the coastal path and the boggy unforgiving landscape of the wild moors. The tougher the better!

I literally attacked the ground.  If I spotted a steep incline or a hill that wasn’t even on my planned route I’d stare at it and think, or even say aloud, “you can’t stop me, you can’t even slow me down”, then break off and ‘take it out’.  I was fighting the ground beneath my feet everywhere I could find it. Often I’d literally roar/scream as I powered up the crest of the steepest hills, an instinctive, primordial sound often heard by those in martial arts, (and strangely women’s tennis!) but not so common amongst runners. We’re meant to ‘pace ourselves’. “BS”, I wanted to destroy those hills, own them, not merely cruise up them.

When you run that hard everything is silenced, there’s no anxiety, no questions, no feeling awkward, no fear, NOTHING: just tunnel vision and the deafening sound of your pulse beating so hard it seems as though your heart might explode out of your chest. Every fibre of muscle in my legs, and most of my body was repeatedly torn and forced to grow back anew, stronger, I found glory in the agony.

Snow, hail, rain, mud, storms and the dark – I relished the all-consuming dark, often running a marathon through the night, 2-3 times a week under head torch. I used headphones with tunes blasting through my ears to push the tempo for the first half to make me run faster, then I’d silence the music, purposefully making the second half much tougher to maintain the pace and face the silence. With nothing to hear and nothing to see you can’t distract yourself from the pain, you have to embrace it and realise it’s of your own making. Whining is not an option.

I was trying to make myself ‘bulletproof’ when it came to endurance running.

But more than this, I was burning my ill-founded but very real, self-loathing and guilt as fuel, I used lactic acid and oxygen debt to corrode them and starve the hatred that sat in my guts and needing purging.

It was a strange time of my life. I’m pretty sure I came out of it for the better but I was absolutely riding the razors edge of self-destruction through addiction, albeit a “positive addiction”, constantly flirting with injury and almost super human endurance. It’s safe to say I lived in my own world for a while.

I was working 50 – 70 hours a week at the same time but work was just something to pay the bills. I was a runner and trying to push my genetic limits.

Eventually I got a grip on the compulsive side of the running, I must’ve burnt through enough of the negative crap I’d been carrying around to control my running instead of have my running control me.

I sought trainers, coaches and top sports physiologists to advise my training and it jumped to a higher level. It was that year that I ran what was arguably the toughest endurance run in UK history, the first person to run off-road from Lands End to John O’Groats solo and self-supported, the longest Mountain Marathon ever run in the UK.

I can’t really tell if this blog has a coherent thread to it or of I’m just clutching at fleeting thoughts, I’m exhausted and my speed of thought is noticeably impaired.

This is being written, on the road, raw – during the event not through hindsight. I’ve run 20 marathons in the last 2 weeks alone, most of the time spent in overwhelmingly oppressing solitude, thoughts swim in and out of my head all day long , I’m trying to pen some here, so forgive me if it at times it seems a ramble.

The connecting thread to that time of my life and this current stage of the run is there’s a lot of damage being done, and a lot of pain at the moment.

For reasons I explained in my previous post, the left hand side of my lower body is being placed under incredible strain.

I listen to a lot of music out here, Neil being one of those artists who sings to keep me company along the endless roads.

The ‘Needle and the damage done’ is a fitting soundtrack to this leg of the journey, if it wasn’t for that addictive stage of running I wouldn’t have the resolve to stick through this now. I know that pain

To prevent ‘damage’ being done (as in permanent injuries) I’m using acupuncture needles to treat the near constant trigger points forming in my left calf.

“I’ve got this run” I know at my core and I will finish what I started. I won’t be stopped.

But for the moment, every day I stick the needles deep into the damaged part of my legs the old lyrics to Neil Young’s “The Needle and The Damage Done” drift through my head.

This sure is a crazy adventure.

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