The Great Escape

It hasn’t escaped my notice that in recent weeks other than going for a run or an occasional Sunday afternoon stroll about town or somewhere, I haven’t properly ventured outdoors. I’m talking hills, mountains, trails and the like. Being consumed by all things life and work can cause this absence.

After watching my colleague effectively have a breakdown in recent weeks (I haven’t watched him like he’s an ant under a magnifying glass in the sun, slowly dying. I have held out a hand of support), I have been taking on more at work, questioning myself a lot outside of work and it’s led to this general feeling of being somewhat lost, like I was losing my identity. By mid-week I decided something was definitely going to happen: I was packing my bag and going walking on Saturday afternoon, and pretty much nothing was going to stop me.

Maybe some of you can relate if you have a partner, but I tend to feel selfish if I want to do something, even if it’s beneficial for my health or wellbeing. As I’ve written before, I am in a very supportive relationship nowadays where we both can (and do) talk openly about how we feel. So after a chat, I was told I was being daft for feeling selfish and she understood the importance of this event. Of course, I never planned to go alone, so my partner and I and kids in tow went off into the hills together.

The day was perfect: I got my outdoor time in, we all got quality time together, away from the confines of the house and screens, it wasn’t too strenuous for the younger legs, and it actually felt like an enjoyable, mutual adventure. I’d already planned ahead and decided where we could go, and things to show the kids to engage them a little.

It’s an interesting revelation that I can crave the outdoors like you would chocolate, and to feel that it is a way of resetting myself. Getting out there is stimulating and inspiring. If I ever feel despondent (which sometimes happens, more often than not without good reason), I have found being outdoors fills me with motivation to the point where I become almost carefree and annoyingly animated. Having younger minds around me and sharing my knowledge, daftness, and enthusiasm with is a major factor in this upward turn.

As if I ever needed proof that being outside was good for me, this has confirmed it.

To insanity, and beyond!

As the torch light flickered, the woodland track ahead of me flickered too, in and out of the darkness. I looked down at the map. My thumb placed strategically where I was. All around me I could hear absolutely nothing. The occasional rustle, but no cars, no people, no running water, nothing. I knew I was in last place. Bringing up the rear, alone in the woods in the dark, trying to make checkpoint 4. “About 6 miles to go”,  I said to myself, already knowing I was slowly grinding to a halt on anything more than a slight uphill slope. Barely five minutes ago, I had stumbled up a practically vertical climb where I had to stop at the top and sit down. The only positive from that was looking down across the expanse of darkness below over to the twinkling lights of a nearby town, wondering who was still awake, who was looking up at the hill wondering what that light was, moving around. A hundred thoughts went through my mind. Why was I struggling? Was I failing? Just what would Jesus do?? I thought about my support team, loved ones, friends, the charity I was running for. I dug deep – seriously deep. Alas, however, at 12.55am, after 47 miles, I had to retire from the race.

I have never not finished a race, either as a runner, tabber or cyclist. It was therefore unfathomable to me that despite my best efforts, I’d not made it to half way. Here, I could list all the reasons and theories why. To some they would sound like excuses, to others, legitimate reasons. This isn’t an investigation, a witch hunt of sorts though, so I’m going to look at it from the other end, which luckily, many of my fans have.

My initial thoughts were that I had not even made it half way. In reality I had almost ran two very hilly marathons back-to-back. Now, this year has been very strange, and a lot has happened to me. One of the big things that has happened is that I have found a little support network in unconventional places, and not necessarily from people already in my life. The wave of support from all these people surprised me and saved my mind from visiting some iffy places. One such message of support came from Krister, the subject of a blog post whom I met on a previous ultra marathon. He had a similar experience attempting a 100-mile race where he had to retire. He started by congratulating me on not finishing. Interesting perspective. His view was that it showed I had pushed through and shown strength in doing so. I really hadn’t thought of it like that. Very refreshing. A vital thought process for us all. The first port of call for most is feelings of failure.

The other positive from this event was my on-the-day support. Two of my oldest school friends came to support me from the word go. A friend whom I’ve ran and cycled a lot with over the years and fellow ultra marathoner also surprised me at the second checkpoint. Biggest of all though was my partner and her kids. The biggest change of all this year has been meeting someone who, for some reason, loves me unconditionally. She’s never far away and just radiates support despite the fact that these events I do are a tad insane. When I was approaching checkpoint one, which was at the top of a pretty meaty hill, I was, as most of the time, thinking about her and the kids. Then, all of a sudden, her eldest daughter sprang into view and leapt and bounded down the hill towards me. The first thing I did was ask her to pinch me to check I was actually there and not unconscious under some hedge a few miles back. Once at the top, my two friends were there, and the youngest daughter. I started to jog, and passed a photographer. When the photos became available, one in particular summed up the day and my life nowadays. There I was, in focus, running. Behind me were four people and a dog, rooting for me, supporting me and wanting me to succeed. The only person missing was my partner, but naturally, she was at the feed station getting food ready for me. I can honestly say, as she and the kids stayed with me until my 1am retirement, I would not have made it that far without her.

It was at checkpoint one that the phrase that forms the title of this blog first appeared. The eldest girl remarked that the colours on my vest of the charity I was running for made me look like Buzz Lightyear. So, as I stood up, after thirteen miles, to attempt the next stretch in hot conditions, I exclaimed, “To insanity, and beyond!” Not exactly a million miles away from the truth.