2018 seems to have been a bit of a funny year so far. If I dig into how I feel about it then I come up with the feeling that it has been pretty awesome in some respects but so damn tough and sad in others. Digging into any sort of quantifiable race results, it has been a bit of a damp squib: a few solid races but a bit of a let-down when it mattered. So why the heck do I feel it has been so good? I don’t just mean from a glass half full point of view, trying to eke out some positives to make me feel better, I am genuinely really happy with things and more excited about the future now than I ever was when my races were going better.
So what has changed? Have I discovered some new magic ingredient that is going to change everything? A new way of training that is going to be a game changer; a super food or diet that will give me tons of energy and let me recover in no time; a special pair of trainers that help me bounce along with minimal ease.. Of course not! I wouldn’t be telling you on here first!
Without going back too far, my last blog pre Yorkshire Three peaks sums up where I was to that point and therein lay one of my biggest problems. I don’t know why I wrote that blog then, I don’t normally like to write much pre event, for the very reason I felt things didn’t go well on that race. The way I was dealing with pressure I put on myself just simply wasn’t helping, plus the health issues which resulted from the way I dealt with pressure or stress simply compounded things more and more.
Without this becoming a post about gut health and nutrition, the sort of health issues I suffered from stemmed from stress, causing leaky gut. Then eating foods I had become intolerant to, along with a lack of pro and pre biotics causing internal inflammation and a vicious circle with combinations of the above. If anyone is really interested take a look at anything to do with gut health and your micro biome, fascinating subject which is totally undervalued. A good book is the Psychobiotic Revolution.
Since I nailed this I have felt better than I have done for years: better digestion meant better health, faster recovery, better skin and even better sleep. However, I felt I was still only addressing the symptom and not quite the initial cause: the way I handled, perceived and viewed stress, my emotions and general mental state.
A couple of years ago I had worked with a Life Coach on a few things, in particular how my thoughts affected me and the fact that I used to worry so much about what other people thought of me and what I did. This really helped, particularly in understanding how much of what we “think” is very much a product of our imagination, although we didn’t get into the real nuts and guts of things it was a very useful process. With that in mind I decided that working with an experienced counselor would be the next step. At the least I wanted to learn how I could better mentally prepare myself for races even though I was soon to discover this wasn’t how it would work at all!
Before going any further, I just want to point out that I do not consider myself some one who suffers with depression or any other very real and difficult mental illnesses. I, as does everyone have challenges and difficulties in life, the effects of which can change us or disrupt how we view life and the world. I am very much about personal development and trying to learn more about how we work both physically and mentally, not just for myself but in a way I may be able to help or at least better understand others.
The truly sad parts of this year unfortunately falls into the subject of very real mental health issues, something I am embarrassingly only just starting to learn more about but a subject that I hope and would like this blog to perhaps help highlight or at the very least be a small step forward in people being okay with talking about mental health. We don’t talk about it enough which is crazy considering it affects all of us, all of the time.
Now I am part way through the “counselling” process and I have to admit, it isn’t what I thought it would be (I don’t know if I would say I am enjoying it as such but certainly finding it very interesting) we have been into some deep stuff and even opened a couple of jars I would have liked left well alone. But one thing I am finding both interesting and almost to a point of liberating is the way I feel that I am starting to feel like me again. This is quite hard to describe and probably harder to understand. In my very first session or consultation I was asked why I was there, to which one of my answers was that I wanted to deal with stress in a useful way so I would be able to perform and feel better on the day of big races. The reply wasn’t quite what I expected. It was explained that the counselling may or may not help with this, that the process was not about that as such but more about helping me to understand and ensure I was able to be myself, not to either suppress emotions or even let them rule me, but recognise them and accept them as a part of me and myself. To be honest at the time this made very little sense, but now part way through the process and learning cycle it is starting to click together, like a mountain view that was shrouded in cloud; every now and then I can see glimpses of the view, each time I can see a little bit more.
A few weeks break in the process while Kim and I went away to the Alps was a great time to reflect and ponder the way things were starting to change slightly, starting to see more and more of myself and how I was starting to connect with emotions previously suppressed, particularly around my father passing away in my 20`s while I was serving in the Army. Certainly asking a few of the difficult questions I had perhaps been avoiding for a while, but in doing this I felt that a weight was starting to be lifted. One of which is the classic for any runner or person who may put them selves through something arduous, the question of ‘Why’. Why do you do it, what is the point, what is the point of putting your mind and body voluntarily through such ordeals that it may cause such damage and possible impact on your health? Is it really completely selfish and self-indulgent? Am I doing it purely for ego, to “say” I have or I can? Is it much more than this? Is it to feel something that takes me into such a dark and painful place mixed with such joy and relief 5 minutes later, or is that me being someone else, not the true me and reason I want to run and do what I do.
Certainly in my own mind it is well justified, but when you have to explain it to some-one… I often quite like the answer “If I have to explain it to you then you just won’t get it”. But I couldn’t shy away from the question of why am I doing these races or events, to what end? To prove something? Or just the love of racing?
While we were away we managed to have a few adventures. One of the nice things this time was that we were not doing a big race so had the time, energy and freedom to explore a bit more, being in the Alps this meant there was plenty to explore. Getting a bit off the beaten track a few times things started to hit home a bit about what I enjoyed the most and indeed why I was doing what ever it was! Going off track and into some rugged terrain felt so liberating; trying to link routes together and dancing around the edges of glaciers; chased up the side of glacial rivers by wild mountain goats; discovering great caves carved out of the glaciers. Sometimes we get so tied up and focused on a goal we forget to stop and explore what may be going on to the side of us, so just like going off piste for a bit it it felt nice to explore what else there maybe on offer in life and with some of the opportunities on offer.
After this menthol for the mind experience I had a pretty clear idea of what and why I like to do things, I am sure there is so much more but this is what seemed to come to mind:
Because I enjoy it, I enjoy racing and competing, I love the feeling I get when I run, everything is working and connecting as it should do, the feeling of flying down hills fast, letting go of my thoughts and allowing my legs to take me where they need to go, the feeling of climbing up hills hard, the taste of blood in the lungs when you are pushing so hard you feel like your eyes will pop out of their sockets, the way you can push through the pain and soreness after 85 miles, over come your mind telling you to stop, the feeling of being outside in the wild and wind, in the mountains or on the hills, cruising down dusty trails, your lips dry with the heat, pushing through snow drifts and sharp chilling wind, in nature, in weather in its raw rugged state, being out, seeing the world move around you in its ever changing landscape, dealing with the unknown and facing down fears, the adventure, yes, the adventure of it all.
And with that I came to the realisation I have gone a bit off track, or at least along a path I feel is a bit out of the way from what I really love and enjoy doing. Casting back to memories of my All Arms Commando course I passed 18 years ago (that seems like a crazy amount of time ago!) it was one of the hardest, most uncomfortable and brutal things I have ever done. It is one of the toughest processes both physically and mentally for good reason. But do you know what, it was bloody awesome, even when we were made to crawl through puddles of mud and thick spikey gorse bushes after no sleep and living outside on the ground for days on end, or physically and mentally exhausted after days of continuously moving and carrying heavy kit, then having to rally yourself for one last final dawn attack, when you have to pull every ounce of focus together as you struggle to tell the difference between who is real and who is an hallucination. But then come the end of the final test, the 30 miler with kit across Dartmoor, the utter and total immense satisfaction upon presentation of my Green Beret made it all totally worth it, the satisfaction not being the physical beret itself but what it meant and came with. The belief and confidence I gained in myself and shared with others was huge, but the adventure, experiences shared, training and process I went through to get to that point is what I really cherish.
A line in a book I started reading while we were away (for reasons that may become clearer later) called “Wild trails to Far Horizons” by Mike Cudahy sums it up absolutely spot on for me: “If we must fail, let us do so reaching beyond our grasp for a dream that is worth all our striving. Then, even in our failing, even through our tears, we have won”. To me this is so much about doing things that really scare the shit out of us, it is about helping us grow and develop (if we want to do) rather than doing things that we kind of know we can do, that are in our reach, if we at least try and do these things way out of our comfort zone and fail then we will get so much more satisfaction than if we try something we know we can do and succeed.
With all this very philosophical rambling, I guess I am trying to express that the reason I feel this year has been so good is that there have been so many other non-quantifiable outcomes which I feel have unlocked so much fun to be had in the future. It has been so good not just from a health point of view but also having a great team of friends and support around me now, but also that I am now a part of that for other people.
Excitingly taking this all forward I have a new outlook to the events and path I want my racing, running and love of the outdoors to take me. The first step in this is setting myself a goal which once again truly scares the shit out of me. Dont get me wrong, I love the short fell, mountain and even ultra races and will keep doing them for sure, but in the grand scheme of things I am still looking for a bit more. My next challenge makes so much sense to me now and ticks so many boxes in my head, it fits with the winter environment I train in and also the companies that are kind enough to sponsor me. I am sure I may doubt it along the way but I am really looking forward to kicking off 2019 by being on the start line for the Montane Spine race. Advertised and well renown for being one of Britain’s most brutal races – 265 miles miles non stop along the Pennine way in Janauary, what is not to like!
We often get caught up in our bubbles and sometimes it can creep up on us unawares, but dont be afraid to stop and pause once in a while to ask yourself “is this really me” is my gut telling me something I should listen to? For anyone who may be struggling with anything related to this then I would urge you to speak to someone, of course it doesn’t have to be a counselor, often a good friend and a pint in the pub can work wonders, but there is always help out there and with some fantastic charities available there is someone to talk to, with people who may even have been through something similar.
If all else fails then you tube “This is me” from the Greatest showman – sing it load!
“I am brave, I am bruised, this who I am meant to be, this is me, look out for here I come, I am marching now to the beat I drum, I am not scared to be seen, I make no apologies, this is me”