• A Journey of Acceptance

    Over the years, running has meant different things to me. It has allowed me to push myself further than I ever dreamed possible, it has allowed me to see different places, it has allowed me to just be outside. Whilst running I have grieved deeply, cried bitter tears and laughed often. Running has enabled me to connect to so many people and I have made some deep and important friendships because of running.

    This year's Spitfire Scramble (a 24 hour run in Hornchurch, Essex) turned out to be another journey of discovery for me. I entered it even though I knew my training was woefully inadequate. I'm now a single Mum to two teenage boys and I work full time as a teacher. Life is pretty hectic and doesn't leave much time for training. I manage to get out most weekends and I still go to the boxing club once or twice a week, but the longest run I've done since Spetember 2015 was 2 hours 30 minutes. I like to call myself an ultra-runner, but the truth is, I haven't even run a marathon for nearly two years! So I entered the Sptifire Scramble on a sudden impulse, a desire to get back to the runner I used to be, and part of me thought that running for 24 hours might just be the thing I needed!

    It turns out: I was right! Having run Spitfire in 2015, I knew that the event is well organised and has a fantastic community spirit, so even if I didn't manage to keep going for the whole time, I would at least have fun.

    When I ran it before, I was in the middle of a successful year of running: I had already completed the Halstead Marathon, two 12 hour runs and I was going to run 26.2 hours in silence in Finland in September. I was well trained and extremely focused. I ran just over 100 miles at that year's Spitfire. I was really pleased with my running that year as I had been second woman at all three ultra events. In Finland, I ran just over 114 miles.

    This time round, I managed 63 miles. And those 63 miles felt an awful lot harder than the longer distances I had covered before. It left me with mixed emotions as I know I can do better. But, with time, family and work commitments being as they are, this was the best I could do this time.

    So my 24 hours at Spitfire became a journey of acceptance. Of realising that times change and circumstances change; of realising that I can only ever do my best, and my best is quite flexible. And I had a lovely time.

    I spent a lot of time walking. I walked with Hazel from Halstead Road Runners and Elizabeth, one of the other solo runners, in the middle of the night. I'm not sure if it is the hushed tones you use for night-time talking, but there is something quite special about those late night talks - especially when you are in the middle of a forest! I also walked with Mark, Anne and Olivia. Mark has just recently completed his teacher training so we spent time chatting about the job. Anne is a gardener and spends lots of her time running at different events; Olivia had completed a full ironman only two weeks before and was still smiling!

    I was over the moon to see Andi again. I met her at my first Spitfire in 2015 so I was delighted to see her again. We ran together early on and then walked our last, slow lap together; it was a real pleasure to finish the 24 hours with her.

    I might not have run the whole 63 miles, but I managed to keep going, even when I came close to quitting. My Mum stayed for the first five laps, and at the end of the fourth she gave me some reflexology (a mother's love obviously knows no limits because my feet were pretty stinky by then!). I was feeling quite bad at this point as I was dizzy and nauseous and my heart rate had stayed at 180bpm for the previous four hours. Someone told me my eyes were bloodshot and I could, quite easily, have gone home with Mum at that point. But I had a cup of tea, half a packet of crisps and an almond finger and then I laid down for 30 minutes. After that my determination returned and I resumed my battle with the course. I had another break (more tea, crisps and a very sound sleep courtesy of the Halstead Road Runners) just before midnight and I was back out again.

    This year's Spitfire taught me that my determination (stubbornness) can take me a long way (although not as far as being well-trained will take me though!). It helped me to remember that I love running because it takes me outside and it enables me to meet and reconnect with strong and inspiring people. On the whole, the running community is supportive and friendly and the Spitfire Scramble is an excellent example of that.

    Thank you to everyone at Spitfire: the organisers, the amazing volunteers, the other participants and their support crews. Your smiles and your support provided encouragement and strength. The further I go on this running journey, the more I realise that it is about the connections you make rather than the steps you take.

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  • Photo gallery

    Here are some of my favourite photos from ANTI-Fest and Edinburgh. ANTI-Fest photos were taken by Pekka Makinen and Edinburgh photos by JammyBilly and Edd Hobbs.

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  • What Can I Say?

    It seems odd and contradictory to write about a performance that was about being in a place beyond language, and it's taken me a while to find the words, to be able to put my response to the performance into language.

    At the start of September I travelled to Kuopio in Finland to take part in the 2015 ANTI Festival. Before I went I was very nervous, but as ever these nerves, although understandable, weren't necessary. Everyone was welcoming and friendly, supportive and kind. Finland was magnificently beautiful and left a deep and lasting impression on me.

    My performance was called Running Beyond Language: a 26.2 hour silent run up and down a 250 metre pedestrian street. It was about the times in life when events happen that are beyond language: beyond sense, reason and order. It was about the human person being as fluid and changeable and beautiful as the changing seasons. It was about the absence of time, the strength of the body, the resilience of the mind. It was about support, participation and ownership.

    It was incredibly difficult.

    In terms of running it was the toughest run I've ever done, by a long way. The street that I ran on was urban, enclosed by buildings that seemed to grow taller and closer to me the longer I ran for. Each end of the street opened out onto a view that both awakened me and tormented me. At one end I could see a beautiful and vast lake. At the other end I could see a clock on a church tower, a park and my hotel - I could even see the window of my room!

    I learned that the one of the things I have loved about running is not just being outside, but being outside in nature. The longer runs I have done (12 and 24 hours) have allowed me to run through forests, fields, and past rivers and lakes. I've been part of the natural world, luxuriating in the space and harmony that comes with it. Even running around my home town of Halstead has allowed me to access 'space'. Although I'm running past houses and shops I'm never far from a field or even from a well tended garden! I'm lucky that Halstead has a thriving and successful 'in bloom' team, which means that there are beautiful flowers all around the town, people make an effort to keep their gardens tidy and the town itself is pretty.

    Kuopio is also pretty but the street I was running along didn't have any gardens on it. Well, it did have gardens, but they were just off the street, tantalisingly close but nevertheless out of reach, behind walls or fences, unattainable. The lake at the end of the street was mesmerisingly beautiful, but also beyond my reach, not in my world. The park at the top was a welcome relief for my eyes each time I reached it, but I had to keep turning my back on it.

    Being able to see the time was particularly challenging. The hands seemed to move incredibly slowly so that minutes often felt like years, not a problem when you're feeling strong and bouyant, but when you're struggling to remain determined and focused it becomes painful. The darkness that came with the night was a blessing as I was finally free from the clock, able to move beyond time. At the marathon expo the day before I had spoken about how you cope with the difficult times when you're running: how it is important to acknowledge them in order for them to pass. I was spitting with frustration when I was running because it felt as if some of those difficult moments took a whole year to pass!

    Eating turned out to be a challenge again! I had filled 26 bags with 40g of carbs each, one for each hour. I tried to vary flavours and textures so that I wouldn't get bored and for the first 6 or 7 hours I did really well - but then I started to get picky about what I wanted to eat, and rather than eat a whole bag per hour I started having something out of one bag, something out of another bag. Before I knew it I had lost track of what I was eating and had no way of knowing if I was eating enough or not. And at about 8am it felt like I lost the ability to swallow. I had taken a bite of a cherry bakewell and it lodged itself in my throat. I tried to swallow but it wasn't budging, and I remember thinking quite calmly to myself that I was going to die with a cherry bakewell stuck in my throat! In the end I managed to shift it by having a drink of water - so I obviously could swallow! After that I had to swallow all my food down with a glug of water, which meant I had to stop more frequently as I was taking such a small bite of food at a time.

    A couple of hours before the end I also pulled a muscle in my leg. I decided to walk for a while to see if it would ease off and it did - until I tried to run again. So I felt forced to finish the performance by walking. I was able to keep a good pace though but that didn't mean I wasn't diasppointed because I was walking, not running. In terms of the performance I think walking really helped: lots of people joined in with the walking, sometimes walking with me, sometimes walking on their own, sometimes joining up with other people. It was incredible to see so many people all walking up and down that street on a Sunday. I don't know if so many people would have joined in if I was still running. I can only know what did happen and it was a truly beautiful and remarkable sight as people took ownership of the street, the performance and the movement.

    Lots of people have asked me how it was to run in silence - some (myself included) weren't even sure I would be able to stay silent for 26.2 hours. A couple of times I found that my body instinctively wanted to reply to someone as they said hi in passing or as they hugged me goodbye. I hadn't had time to think about the words but before I knew it my body was making an attempt to speak: a reflex reaction to a social situation. At times I found the silence to be awkward or unsettling: if a passer by asked what the performance was about I either had to direct them to information about it, or sometimes if there was someone with me, they would answer for me. Both felt unsatisfactory, the first as I felt as I was being rude, the second reminded me of when my Grandad had had a stroke, unable to speak well for himself anymore he spent years having to rely on other people talking for him, guessing what he meant or wanted. But at other times the silence was refreshing and liberating, there was no pressure to make conversation. Some people ran in silence with me. We communicated by sharing a physical space, a common goal. We looked into each other's eyes in a way that I think we wouldn't have done if we were talking. Other people chatted to me as we ran, sharing things with me. Not expecting a response, just being in the moment, in that space, just being together. Taking away language took away some of my coping mechanisms - when I ran 26 marathons in 26 days I talked an awful lot, which helped me to process the journey as I was experiencing it. In Finland, I was locked in, unable to express how I was feeling, unable to process my thoughts and my feelings. Without language it was difficult to get perspective - if I was happy I was euphoric, when I missed home and the people who I love I was desolate and bereft.

    And this has continued to be difficult since I've returned home. I can sense that I haven't fully understood what I did, how I felt, or how it affected me and now I have moments of feeling a bit lost at sea, unsure of how to find my way back. And of course there won't be a way back. I will be a different person now because of the experiences I had in Finland, just as the experiences I have today will shape who I am tomorrow.

    I also haven't run since Finland and this is unsettling! I'm missing being outside, having space in my head and feeling my body move. I'm being very patient - I still have some pain my hip and I'm having physio and waiting for it to settle before I run again. But it's very difficult to be patient! Knowing that I want to run again is helping though, as I don't want to jeopardise my future plans because I can't listen to advice now :)

    Running Beyond Language was incredibly hard. Harder than any running I've done before - including 26 marathons! But it also was everything I wanted it to be and more. I'm extremely grateful to everyone at ANTI festival for inviting me over and looking after me so well. I was overwhelmed to be programmed with some artists who I really admire and respect and I loved being in Finland, experiencing the culture and the landscape, but especially meeting the people there. I find it so important to be able to connect with people, to recognise ourselves in others, to see that we are all just trying our best and although we might have different opinions about things we are all trying to get by, to live another day, see another sunrise.

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  • Advice to runners - including myself

    Tomorrow I'm going to start running at 11am Finnish time (9am UK time) and I'll keep running until 1.20pm (11.20am UK time). 26.2 hours along a street that's 250 metre long. There's even a hill on the street (I can't seem to avoid a hill).

    I'll be running in silence because this is a performance art piece and it's called Running Beyond Language. Language encourages order and sense and reason, but sometimes in life there is no order, there is no sense and there is no reason. For me, running is a reflection of that: when you run far enough there is no sense: definitions slip away, boundaries fade. You become part of the world just as it is; just as you are. There is no sense to it, there is only the experience of it.

    And those of you who run will have that experience.

    Tomorrow, I will have that experience.

    When you commit to a run you have to balance home life, work life and spare time commitments with training for a run. Sometimes the event will arrive and you will feel prepared, you will be pleased with what you've done and happy that you've done as much as you think you need to have done. But sometimes the event will arrive and you'll feel as if you haven't done enough training, maybe you didn't go on enough long runs, or your long runs weren't far enough. Perhaps you had a last minute injury or unexpected commitments that meant you couldn't do as much as you planned. Or maybe you just struggled to motivate yourself to get out the door and train.

    Everyone has a different reason for entering a race, a different reason to run.

    For those who enter a marathon, the event starts with the decision to enter. The marathon itself stands as a pinnacle: for some a distance too great to even contmeplate covering by foot, they don't want to do it, EVER! For others it's a distant dream: one day, they say, I'll run a marathon. For others still, it's a goal. They might not know if they can do it, but they try, they'll give everything they've got to find out. For some people, it's a memory, they did it! They actually did it! And they are NEVER doing it again! For yet others, it's an addiction. A calling. They hear their name and they come running, again and again and again. Some people run for the first time, some people run for the last time, some people run to raise money for charity, some will be chasing a Personal Best. But everyone who runs is relentlessly moving forward.

    In 2013 I ran 26 marathons in 26 days. This was another performance about running: I ran during the Edinburgh Festival on The Royal Mile. It's incredibly busy along the Royal Mile in August so the performance had to negotiate and navigate it's way through the crowds. The Royal Mile is a one mile stretch of road, and it's a hill, running up and down each day was equivalent to climbing Ben Nevis each day. I was interested in the idea of motivation: how do we keep getting up and trying to something if we have no idea if we are going to do it?

    And I had no idea how I was going to do it. How would I, then a mother of two sons in her very late thirties run 26 marathons in 26 days? Previous to that performance I wasn't a runner: I had even spent part of my life as a sitter. In my early twenties a series of unfortunate events, the last of which was a motorbike accident led me down the path to a breakdown whcih manifested itself physically. My legs stopped working and my body gave up. The road to recovery was slow and very sleepy. So I wanted to find out how do we get out of that chair? How do we motivate ourselves? How do we face fear? How do we ask for and accept help?

    I asked people to run with me and I spoke to them about these things too. And I found that the reasons we have to motivate ourselves are as rich and diverse and beautiful as we are. And when you run, it is important to remember what motivates you because there will come a time when you'll need to draw on that reason to give you strength.

    A long run isn't easy. There will be times when you'll feel on top of the world, like a super hero, as if you can conquer anything. But there will also be times when you feel as if you can't possibly take another step, when the distance seems beyond reach, unattainable, unachievable. That is the time to be kind to yourself. To remember that all moments pass. The only certainty we have is the moment we are in. We know that moment will pass and we hope another will come.

    My low point is inevitable. I'll be tired, I'll be sad, I'll be angry, I'll struggle to take another step. If I fight the low point it becomes stronger, more insistent: it wants to be recognised. But if I acknowledge it, it passes. Sometimes I can move a feeling on by taking a physical action: if I feel I can't take another step I surprise myself by taking another step, and then another and then another. I find out I was wrong and it's ok to be wrong. I can keep going. In a beautiful contrast though, the acknowledgement of a happy feeling doesn't always cause it to pass, sometimes it can intensify it. And when it does move on the memory of that feeling remains and I can use that to power me through the next low moment. Each step is an opportunity; a chance to do it again. Each time I turn around at the end of my 250 metre running track, I have the chance, the opportunity to repeat myself, to re-invent myself. A chance to do it again, to do it better, to do it worse, but a chance nevertheless.

    In training for my performance I've been lucky enough to work with sports scientists from The Human Performance Unit at Essex University. They give me advice on what to eat, how to train, how to think. They helped me to identify that a low moment can often be triggered by a physical need: I might not have eaten enough, I might need to drink more, I might be too hot or too cold or I might be tired. And the way to deal with those needs is to address them: to eat something, to have a drink, to adjust what I'm wearing, and sometimes (Oh, the horror!), to stop and walk - or if I'm doing a 12 hour or a 24 hour or a 26 hour run to stop, lay down and take the weight off my feet. Because sometimes, stopping allows me to reset my head to go. Think of the end goal - if I want to run for 26.2 hours I need to run slowly. My ego would like me to run faster, but if I run faster then I won't be able to run for that length of time.

    So when you're running, think about what you need: do you need to run with someone and chat to them so you don't notice the miles? Do you need to run on your own to get into the zone? Do you need to walk the hills? Do you need to eat something? Do what's right for you in that moment, even if it's different to what everyone else is doing. You need to be brave to run. But you've already been brave in choosing to run. So go out and carry on being brave, find your strength and find your determination .

    I used to worry that I wasn't good enough, but Dave Parry, one of the sports scientists, said to me, it isn't about being good enough, it's just about getting out there and doing it.

    Running allows us to enter the world as it is: we can drop our labels and drop our masks. I'm an artist, a 40 year separated mother of two teenage sons, a daughter, a sister, a theatre practitioner, a clown doctor and they are all things I love being, but when I run: I just run.

    I'm as fluid and as changeable as the seasons. When I run I step fully into the world in all it's beauty. When you run, you can do the same. You can choose to be brave. You can choose to trust yourself.

    When I arrived in Finland my mum emailed me and said this:

    "Remember you can do anything you want to in life so long as you put in the effort and have the desire to achieve it"

    So go out and do it.

    And tomorrow I'm going to go out, put some effort into it and run for 26.2 hours in silence.

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  • Getting my head straight

    I have just one day left in England before I fly out to Finland to perform at this year's ANTI festival. One day to make sure I have everything I need, finish all my preparations, both domestically and artistically and get my head in the right place for the trip.

    Am I excited? Not yet. Right now, I'm feeling very scared. Right now, my head is not in the right place. Right now, I feel overwhelmed by what I need to do, not just before I leave for Finland, but when I get there too.

    The biggest most scary feeling is the thought of leaving loved ones behind. It was something I struggled with before I did 26 marathons in 26 days, and it's something I'm struggling wih now. The fear is twofold: will they be ok? And of course I know they will be. Will I be ok? And of course I know I will be. But that doesn't stop me worrying, doesn't stop me crying about it. But it also won't stop me performing. My practice is about the power of the ordinary; it's about daily domestic endurance: dealing with things that you just don't know if you can deal with, but somehow you find a way to deal with them anyway. I'm a mother and I'm a woman and I'm an artist. My roles are all interlinked, intertwined and ensared within one another. The draw, the link, the connection, the bond I have to my children takes my breath away: they continually surprise, delight and confuse me. I can't be without them. They came from my body and I relish the opportunity I have to nurture and support and confuse them. Leaving them behind feels like I'm leaving a part of myself behind. I know they are getting older now, I know that soon they will be old enough to leave home, I know that life will carry on regardless for them while I'm in Finland, I know they'll be ok and that in all likelihood a week without their mother around to fuss and nag and get in the way will probably be an important part of their development. But that doesn't mean I won't feel guilty about leaving them. Just like the society that I'm a product of, I'm torn between the seemingly opposite roles of being a mother who stays at home with her children and the desire to be a mother who goes to work and is an independent woman. Both roles can be positive role models, both roles can be supportive and nurturing. But doing one role can make you feel as if someone is missing out on something, doing both roles can make you feel like you don't have the time or the energy to do anything well, or make you feel like you just can't keep anyone happy.

    Although I don't intentionally make feminist art I am a female that makes work about the power of endurance; the beauty of resilience; the art of keeping on keeping on. I balance being a mother and a woman with being an artist. It is inherently feminine. This work stems from the breakdown of my marriage: it started as a repsonse to the lack of words I, or anyone else, had to fully understand the situation with language. It was too big for words; too traumatic; too explosive and too powerful to restrict with language. I couldn't make sense of it, for there was no sense, there was no order and there was no control. I went to a place beyond reason. And then, just as I thought I was beginning to find some structure to my life again, I've been thrown another curve ball: I've been sent to a place without reason again, a place where I can't put my feelings into words, I can't explain what's going on because it's just too big. I can't comprehend it but I know that I like it. Running Beyond Language started because of the breakdown of a relationship and has now become a piece about the start of a relationship: a connection between two people that is strong and resilient and powerful and has no sense to it; it is beyond reason: it just is. Except now it means there is someone else I don't want to leave behind, someone else who I don't want to go without. I know I'll meet new people in Finland and I have no doubt that most, if not, all of them will be lovely, generous, kind, open and friendly. I know this because I've exchanged emails and had phone conversations. But I'll be going on my own, not knowing exactly where I'm going and who I'll be meeting. I'll be running in silence, in a space beyond reason, without sense, without barriers. I hope I'll still make connections with the people who come to watch, come to run, come to wonder; I hope we'll find ways to communicate beyond language. I hope that I manage to convey my thoughts well at the talks I'm giving, that people will find them interesting and engaging. I hope that I have fun. I hope that Finland is beautiful. I hope my journey goes well. I have a lot of hope because there is a lot of doubt.

    So how do I get my head straight? To be honest I'm starting by letting it be incredibly wonky. I'm not feeling great but that's ok. I'm scared of being silent. I'm scared of being on my own. I'm scared of leaving people behind. But it's ok to be scared. I'm human, and I'm learning that acknowledging and allowing all of my emotions helps them to pass on. So I'm acknowledging that I'm feeling scared, feeling overwhelmed, feeling anxious and apprehensive. And then I'm going to get practical. I'm writing down how I'm feeling as a way of releasing those emotions. I'm planning to go to bed and rest, whether or not I sleep, I will rest. Over the next few days I will eat well and drink lots of water. I've written a list of what I need to do and tomorrow I will get up early and do everything on my list. I will say goodbye to my family, to Zach and Noah and Jamie and I will probably cry, I will probably cover them in snot. And then I'll blow my nose and get on the plane and do the job I'm going to do. I'll get to Finland, I'll meet new people, make new friends. I'll give my talks and do the best job I can. I'll run for 26.2 hours and I'll do it in silence. I'll feel rubbish sometimes and at other times I'll feel elated. If I need to take the weight off my feet I will. If I need to sleep for 5 minutes I will. And then I'll come home, I'll pick up my domestic threads and I'll keep on keeping on.

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