The other day, after I had posted some photos from my run on Facebook, a friend commented that I was lucky to lead the life I do. My initial reaction was to agree with him, I love my life, but then I thought I’m not lucky; I made choices to get this life and some of those choices were difficult. Some of the choices were good ones, some were not so good, but on the whole I am pleased with the life I have created.
It is all too easy to do what is expected of us or just drift along, but by making conscious choices we can shape our own destinies. We all have different challenges and opportunities, however, how we deal with them will determine how our lives turn out.
I have been lucky in that I have not had to face any massive challenges, but perhaps I have been unlucky in not have had massive opportunities. I was thinking about this when I heard Martine Wright on the radio talking about her life. She lost both legs in 2005 London bombings and went on to represent Britain in the Paralympics. An amazing story of accepting what had happened, making choices and living life to the full. She describes her pre-bombing life as normal, now she is an elite athlete leading an extraordinary life and loving it. She chose to grab life and live it despite having been dealt some pretty awful cards.
Make those choices count. To see what I get up to have a look at my website. http://www.trailrunningman.com.
During big races everyone has low periods and doubts. I like to practice coping with those so that I am resilient.
I practice this by setting off on a run into the countryside going where the fancy takes me, then, when I am tired, I try and find my way back along a different route without the aid of a map and compass.
It can get very disheartening when having run a long way down a hill you discover it leads nowhere and you have to run back up again and look for a new route.
I have doubts about whether I will find my way back and I certainly have low periods, but I cope. Having been there and survived makes it easier to handle problems in a big event.
If you are going to try this take some precautions (at least until you are expert). Pack a map and compass in the bottom of your rucksack to use as a last resort. Or chose an area where you know if all goes wrong running in one direction will lead to a road you cannot miss. You can then work out where you are.
The photo was taken at a point when I had no idea where I was. I still smiling. About a mile later I came out of the forest and could see river in the valley below. All I had to do was reach it and follow it downstream to get to my car.
Take risks responsibly to build resilience.
For me running is art, but unfortunately some runners I know are stuck with painting by numbers. They are ticking off marathons working their way towards running 100 marathons and becoming full members of the 100 Marathon club. Some are even working towards 200, 300 or even more.
I admire their commitment to achieving a big goal, but feel that they are perhaps undervaluing the marathons they are running and have lost some of the joy of running. To add one more marathon to the tally and get one more step closer to the goal implicitly means that all marathons have the same value. No matter what marathon (Berlin, Boston, Barcelona etc.) you add to the list you only get one more closer to the goal each time. Each marathon is just a unit to add to the tally.
None of my marathons have been the same (and I have run more than enough to join the club, but never have). My first, the New Forest marathon in 1995 was obviously very special, the Boston marathon in 1996 provided some great memories because of the crowds and the history (it was the centenary one). Taunton I remember because I enjoyed the small field having run London the year before, it was also where I ran my best ever time 3hrs 34mins. I think my longest time was at Willmington, I jogged around chatting to a friend I had not seen for several years. It was a hot day so we stopped at a pub for a nice cold pint of cider. A little later we made a little detour to get to a village shop and buy ice-creams. Those marathons were not uniform units, just like all the rest they were varied experiences and treasured memories.
However , like my number chasing friends, I do like to set myself big challenges that involve numbers (e.g 24hrs or 100). These are my blanks canvases that I let others fill with colour and texture to create stunning works of art. My most recent was to run 100 times around my local parkrun course in a week. 500km in a week – roughly a marathon and three quarters every day for a week. When I take on this sort of challenge I like to be totally self-sufficient. I pitched my tent beside the course and each morning I would set out the water and food I would need during the day. I posted about what I was doing on Facebook and waited to see what happened. Friends and people I had never met came and ran with me, brought me food, came to encouraged me and help in other ways. (Thanks Paul for bringing ice to treat my injury). The press and the radio heard about it and I was interviewed for a local paper and a Cornwall radio station which lead to more people turning up to add there special contribution to the canvas. It soon became a very colourful work of moving art. It even had a Salvador Dali element when I met a man out walking with his tortoise. He carries it everywhere with him and it been around the lake more times than I have.
The others can have their lists of numbers, however for me, my marathons are too precious to be trapped in a spreadsheet.
You may have noticed that many people start their reply to a question, or even a statement, with ‘Yes, No’. It is completely meaningless and I find it annoying, but I suppose I should be grateful that it seems to have replaced other fillers, such as ‘basically’ which I find more annoying.
However, for me ‘yes, no’ has a particular resonance as I have been changing my running life by saying yes and no more. No to entering races. In the past someone would say ‘do you fancy entering XYZ race?’ and I would say yes. I enjoy running and would enjoy the race, but it was no big thing. Then I realized that I was spending a lot of time, effort and money going to races that were okay, but, to use a dreadful American saying, did not offer a big bang for the buck.
Initially even though I meant to say no I found myself saying yes so I set myself some rules. I will not enter any races in the UK and when I say yes to an overseas event, I will first consider what else I could be doing with the time, money and effort. I was asked to run a race on the coastal path in North Devon and Cornwall, I said no. I have already run part of the route and the bit I haven’t I have made a note to run when I am next in the area. Instead I said yes to someone I met last year at a race in Spain (The Way of the Legends) who lived in Switzerland and invited me to run the Scenic Trails race (photo above).
Wow what an event that was, I now have a totally different perspective on hills – the UK South West Coastal Path is flat. I also further developed a rewarding friendship and, as we went into Italy for lunch the following day, added another country to the list of those I have visited. Plenty of bang for the buck.
I have also started to apply the yes,no principle to the rest of my life. Saying no to negative people and saying yes to positive ones. No to voluntary jobs I used to feel obliged to do and yes to ones that will make a big difference and add to my experiences.
YES,NO -I love it!
Today was a lovely sunny day, as it was yesterday. Yesterday I was helping with a race, the Poets Path Potter, and although I loved the fact that I was helping other people have a great time I wanted to run. Today when I was free all day I didn’t feel like going out for a run. Isn’t that perverse? I tell other people that if they do not feel like running they should go anyway with the promise to themselves that if they are not enjoying it after 10 minutes they can turn back. They very seldom do turn back.
I followed my own advice and headed out. I should say at this point that running is not a game; it’s not played in teams like rugby or football nor is it a competition against someone else, with well laid down processes and rules like chess or tennis. Yes, you do get people competing against each other in things called games (E.g. the Olympic and Commonwealth Games), but for most of us running is not that sort of game. Nor is it an idle pastime like Trivial Pursuits. For me running is something that keeps me physically and mentally healthy and adds greatly to my quality of life. But, when I looked out of the window, saw the sunshine and realised that I did not want to run I did think ‘ Running is a strange old game’ and I have not been able to come up with a better title for this blog post.
After 10 minutes I was not feeling the joy, however I thought that for a lumbering ultra runner like me it would take a little longer so I kept on going. After half an hour, there was just a glimmer that things might turn out well so I kept on going and about fifteen minutes later I was heading up the path in the photograph above; then I felt the magic. I realised how lucky I am to be able to run and come across little gems in the countryside like this. I ran on with a lightness in my step (except on the up hills; they were still a struggle) wondering how often in life do we either not start or give up just before the magic happens.
My main motivator to get to the end of an event is beer. It is probably a bit more complex than that, but the beer symbolises a lot of the good things about achieving big goals. However, staying motivated to train and to keep trying new things, to keep moving outside my comfort zone is a little more difficult and beer is probably the last thing I should be thinking about. It is normally people that give me that extra impetus when my spirit is flagging.
I was very lucky to have been inspired recently by two completely different people. One was small, the other big, the small one was female and had run quite a few 100-mile races. The big guy had only recently completed a half-marathon. I am not going to use their names, because I’m not sure they would appreciate it. My 100-mile friend would certainly give me a hard time for calling her small.
I had planned to run back down part of the route of my friend’s last 100-mile race, meet her to offer support and jelly babies and perhaps run with her a bit. When I parked at my starting point I realised I was behind one of the race officials cars and I went over to say hello. He was able to use his laptop to track all the runners so was able to tell me where my friend was. I soon realised that she would not make the cut-off at the checkpoint she was heading towards so I drove there ready to pick up the pieces. It was some time before she hobbled in, cold and in a lot of pain from her foot, but she still managed a smile. I knew that finishing the event was a big goal for her; she had been forced to retire from the event the previous year. Her dignity in defeat inspired me. I was not surprised when she told me a few days later that she would be entering next year and she had worked out what she had to do differently to succeed. I have always avoided that event thinking it was too difficult for me. I think I need to man up! I am going to enter next year, hopefully I will be able to keep up with her.
I met the big guy in London at a workshop about how to make money from your passion. The first part of the workshop was about what was holding us back and didn’t really bring out what are passions were. I assumed that the big guy, taller than me and a lot of kilos heavier, was perhaps into photography or posh travel; he was a banker. But no, his passion was running and blogging, in particular he wanted to get people who weren’t very sporty running and organised several run groups. I learnt that he had had some medical problems which he had to over come to get fit as well as other peoples’ negativity. He explained that when he went into a running shop to buy some gels for his half-marathon the look they gave him said ‘What are you buying those for? They are for Runners’. His passion for running was immense as was his desire to help others. I came away motivated to do more to help others overcome barriers to an active and healthy life.
I love the sense of freedom that running gives me, that is why I now don’t enter many races; I don’t want to follow a set route or start at a set time. Most of my running is over open access land on Dartmoor and Bodmin moor so I can go where I want and don’t have to follow footpaths. You would have thought rules were the last thing I want, but I have some I live by when running and recently embraced two more.
I learnt about them at a recent Alps Ultra Running seminar. All the talk was about the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB), but the organisers didn’t call it that because UTMB are as quick to sue over trade mark infringement as Buff are. The speakers had all completed the event, but at different levels. Nicky Spinks, who eats ultra for breakfast, (look up her CV) was very inspirational and almost in a throw away remark mentioned her ‘Rule of three.’ She explained that we all are guilty of knowing what we should do in an event and then not doing it. So her solution was the ‘Rule of three’; if you think of something three times do it. For example, if you think ‘I should eat something’, but can’t be bothered to get it out of your pack then think, ‘I should eat something’, but can’t be bother to get it out of your pack the third time you think it YOU DO IT!
I used that rule the other day while running on Dartmoor. The wind on top of the moor was making it colder than I had expected it to be. My extra layer was at the bottom of my backpack and I couldn’t be bothered to get it, it wasn’t that cold. The third time I thought about it I did it and that meant I didn’t get any colder and was happy to stay on the moor for a long time. Had I left it until later I would have been too cold and cut my run short. The rule extended my freedom.
The other rule was from Neil Thubron (Extreme Energy Events) and was a variation of my own 10 minute rule. His rule was that if you feel like dropping out of an event at a checkpoint go on for another ten minutes. If you still feel like dropping out after that 10 minutes go back to the checkpoint. 99% of the time you won’t go back. There aren’t any checkpoints on my runs over Dartmoor, but there are places where I can make a turn to shorten the route if I do not want to do the distance I had originally planned (a fairly loose concept for me). So, the next time I was out and wanted to cut back early I kept going for another 10 minutes, promising myself I’d turn back and take the shorter route if I still felt unmotivated. I didn’t turn back, but continued on and had a lovely run. Again more freedom time because of a rule.
My 10 minute rule is, if you don’t feel like going for a run, perhaps because you feel under the weather, go out anyway and if after 10 minutes you still feel bad go back. Most times I don’t turn back, but on the very few times I do it is the right decision.
Any rule that helps me run more is fine by me, but don’t expect me to be conventional.