This post was inspire by a Somali nurse featured on Desert Island Discs selecting the Edith Piaf song ‘Non, je regrette rein’ as one of her choices. The thoughts and ideas had been swirling around inside my head for some considerable time. Hearing that song coalesced them into something coherent. Perhaps because it provided a title to hang those ideas from.
For the last ten years in October I have travelled to South Africa to take part in the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon. This year I stayed at home. As the time of the event approached friends asked me if I was going to miss being there and during the week of the race it reached a crescendo, with many people asking if I had withdrawal symptoms. I didn’t miss being there, I didn’t have withdrawal symptom; I had no regrets. There is a reason for that; it was planned and I have a very good reason for not going.
Last year, before I went out to South Africa, I decide that, if I finished and thereby completed my tenth race, I would not be back the following year. During the race in 2016 I took the time to re-examine that decision and decided it was the right decision. At the awards ceremony, when I was presented with my permanent number for completing ten events (the only person to have ever done that), I gave a short, emotional speech and announced to my fellow runners, the support crew and the race organisers, my very good friends, that I would not be back in 2017.
Why did I decide that? The Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon has provided me with the most amazing experiences, I have met many wonderful people and made some very deep and enduring friendships. Those things are like bold, colourful brush strokes on a canvas. In 2017 the picture was complete, to add any more would have at best obscured some of what had gone before and may have even ruined that wonderful picture. That canvas now hangs on my memory wall in a very special place. Non, je ne regrette rein.
The break has also opened up a new opportunity. I now have a blank canvas on which more colourful brush strokes can be applied to record the next ten years of taking part in the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon. I am going back in 2018 to start that whole process again; it will be a different picture, but I am confident that it will be just as beautiful as the first.
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.
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!
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.