Thursday, 29 January 2015

Political marathons

I haven’t blogged for almost a year - The blog was the victim of possibly the hardest marathon year of my life.

Last year I trained for two marathons at the same time and I had to put a few things on hold.

One marathon was of the common or garden 26.2 miles variety. To be precise it was the Frankfurt Marathon on 26th October 2014.

The other marathon was the Scottish Independence Referendum held on the 18th September 2014.

I would not have been able to complete the political marathon without training for the running first.

I am a senior editor for BBC Scotland News. That means that I had a major role in covering the referendum for the BBC. Regardless of what you thought of the referendum, whether Scotland should be independent or how well the BBC covered it I think there is one thing that everyone can agree upon: It was the biggest political event of a generation and covering it was a virtual marathon.

I started covering the referendum from the start of 2014 but from April it moved up a gear with a minimum of 13 hour days, five days a week, with several weekends thrown in for good measure - bank holidays were a distant fond memory.

While the workload might have been immense it was combined with a degree of pressure and stress I had never experienced before. The political scrutiny and audience criticism was ever present. Both campaigns seemed to go through every second of our coverage with a fine tooth-comb for signs of bias on one side or another. Veteran political journalists from the BBC and other news agencies would come up from London and would be shocked at the environment we were working in.

The referendum was such an important vote that I actually think the increased scrutiny was warranted. But it meant journalists like myself were subject to a degree of mental and physical pressure over a sustained period time that was difficult to manage.

Under this marathon stress I knew there was only one way to cope - run a real marathon.

Running is the best way I know of coping with stress. When the pressure feels unbearable there is nothing like fartlek training to bring relief. When the task in front of you seems impossible a long twenty mile run in the Scottish countryside can bring perspective to any situation. And when you feel you are universally hated (as often seemed the case from both the “Yes” and “No” campaigns) the sense of achievement of completing a 10km tempo run before you get into work is priceless.

Running gave me perspective at possibly the most crucial time in my working life.

I realised that depending on the result I would not be able to book any leave for at least two weeks after the vote. Therefore the Frankfurt marathon scheduled a month after the referendum vote seemed ideal. I also wanted to get away from the UK - Irrespective of the result I knew wanted to get away from England and Scotland.

Training for the marathon meant that at least five times a week I was forced to think about something other than the referendum. Also I was concentrating on the fact that there was a life and things to achieve beyond the referendum. And finally it made me realise that there was life outside of work.

On the 26th October I ran the Frankfurt marathon. I completed it in a time of 3 hours and 21 minutes (my second slowest marathon time ever). But without it I know I would have never been able to complete my political marathon on the 18th September.