Until You’re Broken, You Don’t Know What You’re Made Of

January 30, 2024 7 min read

Allie Bailey © David Miller

© David Miller

Told with passion, humour, integrity and hope, There is No Wall by ultrarunner Allie Bailey is an authentic, shocking, disarming and open account written with the aim of destigmatising depression and addiction and of educating and supporting people by opening a discussion. In this extract, Allie puts her own coaching advice into action with rewarding results.


Published 11 April 2023
Age: 42
Months sober: 21
Years running: 15
Listen to: ‘The Whole of the Moon’ – The Waterboys

‘Allie. What are you doing? Come on. You have trained so hard for this. You have put so much time, effort and money into this. This is your life. You are living your life RIGHT NOW IN THIS MOMENT and you are ruining it by not switching on and having a calm conversation with yourself. Nobody expects anything of you, and if they do, that’s on them. It’s nothing to do with you. I know you feel tired, I know you feel stressed out, but it’s all manageable. You are hungry. You know you are. Let’s sort this out, shall we? Let’s get you some proper food. Text Lorna. Call Julius. Arrange to meet them on the course. Arrange for them to meet you earlier. We can manage this together and get you a sandwich. I know your stomach is upset, but we can sort that out with proper food. Nobody died from shitting themselves on a race. At least I don’t think anyone has. We can google that later. ANYWAY listen to me, Allie. Listen. You just need to keep going to the next CP then make a decision. Things can change. You know they can. I promise you that things can feel better. Remember: you are doing the best you can and that is enough. Can I just mention this first lady thing? That’s great, but it’s not defining your worth. None of this does. You’re doing fucking great. Other people’s opinions are their opinions. You’re here to enjoy yourself. Remember? You love this place. You love running, you love the challenge. It’s OK you’re finding it hard – it is hard! So find it hard, wallow about in it and suck it up. You can’t pay for this type of experience, can you? You’re in it. Feel the feelings! Rejoice that you can feel the feelings! None of it – not winning, not being fast – none of it makes you any more or less worthy as a person. Just do you. You are ace just how you are – even when you’re being a brat. OK? Now let’s get up and get to this next checkpoint. Come on. Give yourself a cuddle, and let’s go.’

And that is sitting in discomfort. This is what all the books I read talk about; this is what all the practice I have done on my brain looks like in a real-life case study. This is me unfucking it. This is me turning it around. You can’t buy this sort of experience. You have to live it. This is what years of pain and fear of failure and self-hatred look like when they are healing. And when you do it, when you put it into practice, when it starts to work – that is so, so powerful. I gave myself a cuddle, chose to think, I just have to get to that checkpoint, and I got to checkpoint four.

When I got there, I ordered two Pot Noodles and cuddled a dog I found outside. Rachel (second lady) came in and I chatted to her because she is lovely and sorted my feet out and moaned a lot. Neither of us mentioned placings. We never mentioned it. She left before me, and I happily waved her off. Rachel is an incredible runner. She’s done astonishing things. In the time I spent with her I thought she was ace. I’ll go when I am ready, I thought. That’s fucking cool. Total mindset change. It’s food, I thought. Lack of food sends me mad.

I thanked the incredible volunteers and got on my way. Leg five was underway – up Tor y Foel we go!

I met Lorna and Kirsten at about 100 miles and had coffee and a bagel – more food! And then ran on. Ran. I was still running 100 miles in. I was so chuffed that I felt so strong. I stopped for five minutes for another lunch and marvelled at the beauty of where I was. I felt grateful to the environment and grateful to myself. What a way to live your life, Allie. You lucky, lucky bastard.

Time passed and the ‘I don’t want to eat’ message started again. I was really struggling with food. But that calm conversation came into play again. Come on, Allie, you have to get food down. Even if it comes up you have to get it down. Do your best. Salt tablet, food, keep calm. If you’re sick, you will have at least absorbed a bit of food. Do your best to get some food down. So I did. I kept eating despite everything that touched my lips making me gag. Despite my whole being saying no, I managed to get food down. I wasn’t sick again until much later. But now, the hallucinations had started.

Fast forward a number of pretty fucked-up miles, not all of which I can remember ...

I was now sixty hours and 140 miles into the race. Up until this point I’d had about ninety minutes’ sleep. I didn’t want to tell Julius (who was pacing me) what was happening because I didn’t want an intervention, but about six miles outside Pen-clawdd it all fell to shit. Everything was moving now. The bins jumped up and ran away when I looked at them, there were people in trees, monsters stabbing babies and noises I can’t really describe. I told Julius I needed to go to sleep. He stopped and looked at me. I told him I was scared and I couldn’t go on and needed sleep. I cried a bit. OK, I cried quite a lot, pretty loudly, like a baby. He hugged me. He texted Lorna and arranged a meeting point where I could get in the car. I got in the passenger seat, was covered in blankets and passed out. It was 4.18 a.m.

When I woke up it was light, and I felt like shit. I could hear Lorna talking to Julius. I sat up and opened the door. It was 7 a.m. I had to move.

There was never any thought of not keeping going for me. My first thought was, You are going to be OK. You are doing your best. Get back to work. I got out of the car and was amazed that my legs worked – albeit slowly and sorely. After shitting in a Sainsbury’s carrier bag in front of a number of troubled onlookers, I was back in the game. I was going to finish this.

The last seventeen miles were a painful joy. The weather was brilliant, the scenery was amazing. There were some super-unnecessary hills, some ridiculous mud and bogs, and everything hurt. But I could still run. I was amazed. Joe (my other pacer) and I ran/walked to our final crew stop, just seven miles from Worm’s Head where I had coffee and doughnuts and then we were away – seven miles of sand, hills and clifftops all the way to the end. All the way to the finish of a dream. All the way to a reality I’d never really allowed myself to believe could happen.

Just before the end I stopped to throw up and do other unspeakable things to a public convenience and had a little cry. I didn’t want to cry at the end. I wasn’t sad. I was just incredibly proud and so, so relieved.

Julius, Lorraine and Lorna were waiting with Pickle just before the finish line, and we ran in together. Pickle hadn’t got the memo – so seven-minute miles was the order of the day for her. I was overjoyed to see her. My baby. She dragged me to the gate and jumped all over me. I finished the Wild Horse 200 in eighty-one hours and thirty-eight minutes. I had come in first female.

So much shit went wrong on this run. I was told by many people to eat before I was hungry and sleep before I was tired. I didn’t stick to either piece of advice. Early on I changed my plan based on a thought about something that was not true: People expect me to win, I will let them down if I don’t. Nobody thought that. I thought that. Me. But the crucial thing is that I noticed I had moved the goalposts based on thought, and I chose to turn it around. I had the tools to do that.

Although I am of course thrilled with the outcome, it does not define the experience in any way. It’s a nice added bonus. What defines this experience is that I managed to unfuck my mistakes and sort out the shitty committee part of my brain when I needed to, because I have worked tirelessly to be able to do that. That is more of a win than coming first will ever be.

I learnt more about myself in those eighty-one hours than I have in years of reading, coaching and therapy. I used this event to put all the stuff I have learnt into action. It was a case study. I am a coach; I talk to people about this stuff all day, every day, but to put it into action myself and to see it work was all-powerful. My recovery to this point is bang on. My feet, however, look like exotic dog treats. But they’ll recover. We do recover.