I’ve started, so I’ll finish.

Readers of a certain age and disposition will remember Magnus Magnusson and his catchphrase, “I’ve started, so I’ll finish”. It’s quite motivating when taken completely out of its original context and uttered to oneself in the middle of the night, 40 miles into an ultramarathon.

As far back as I can remember in my life of outdoor pursuits, I’ve been inspired by endurance and individual achievement. During different times when I’ve been experiencing adversity myself, I have often been helped by reading about remarkable achievements by athletes and even, non-athletes. I recall a story I read which was about an older gentleman who had never ran before in his life. His son became ill and he wanted to do something to raise money so he took up running, and in particular, running marathons. Talk about ambitious. Anyway, he trained a little bit, and got impatient with training so decided to have a go at the 26.2 miles and absolutely smashed it. So he had another go a few days later. Same result. He went so far as to reveal the secret of his success, which (and if you’re a sports nutritionist, look away now) was to drive out to the Norfolk coast where he used to run, sit in the car, and have a flask of tea. Then run a marathon. This story inspired me and made me jealous all at the same time as at that moment, I was 24 and running a marathon was a far away dream. Surprisingly I didn’t suddenly start drinking copious amounts of tea.

A couple of years before, I was much more stressed. I had a job I didn’t like, a relationship I wasn’t happy in, and thought that it was what the rest of my life was going to be like. At 22, everything felt permanent. To de-stress, I started cycling on Saturday mornings on my old mountain bike. I loved the open air, the countryside, the rush of endorphins afterwards and (as I still do) the limitless freedom. Cycling the same lanes every Saturday though started to get a little predictable and for the first time, I started to imagine challenging myself further. I began to think of bigger challenges to do. I wasn’t aware of Land’s End to John O’Groats in those days so I felt I’d have to invent my own.

On my cycling route, I crossed a main A-road twice. This same A-road used to run up north past my friend’s house so I was aware it went a long way. I figured if I’d cycled a little bit of it, I might as well do the whole thing. I got home, switched on the computer and found a route planner. It turned out, the road was a long one. I enjoyed the thought of planning it and doing it. And then, my dad walked in and brought me back down to earth with a bump. He was right – it was a long way. It was a busy and dangerous road. I’d have to train. I’d need support. The plan was abandoned but it did spark something inside of me that I still have to this day. The curiosity of where the footpath goes. How long it is. Has anyone walked it all? Ran it all, even? If I see a named footpath, like the Cotswold Way, I’m online looking it up. Imagining if it’s possible. The eyes of those around me begin to roll: “He’s at it again”. I have three long distance footpaths under my belt and planning more.

A couple of weekends ago I decided I was going to run a local route that I’ve had my eye on for a while. It follows a river from mouth to source, or vice-versa. I’ve walked sections of it and ran bits of it numerous times but always wondered where it went, what it looked like and where it meandered through. I got myself together and set off, and as expected, it didn’t disappoint. It was fifteen miles, so not long distance by any stretch of the imagination, but it was an enjoyable fifteen miles in my own back garden effectively. Another curiosity satisfied. Another goal seen through to completion.

It’s a puddle

I’ve noticed recently that many stories and articles that I read in the news affect me differently than they used to. I know exactly why. Becoming a dad and knowing that I’m not at the back of the generational queue any more has left me very thoughtful about my boy’s world. I’ve always cared about the future – more the planet than society as a whole – but by having a physical being that I helped to create coming after me in the line has had a significant effect. I’m now a comma, not a full stop.

I do think a lot. I don’t take things at face value, and a lot of the time I have an opinion. Recently I’ve been accused of seeing the negatives in everything and it’s been intimated to me that I’m somehow grumpy most of the time. I don’t choose to be that way, it’s the price I pay for keeping up with the news and not burying my head in the sand and last week I found myself upset by a story the other day about how a toddler had been killed through a neighbour’s substance-fuelled act of irresponsibility. The story told how when the verdict was being read out in court, the father listened while holding one of his late son’s toys. It upset me quite deeply. This reaction of mine took me completely by surprise. I assume I put myself into his shoes momentarily.

I don’t mind these strange intrusions into my psyche – it’s a part of me I’ve never really heard or seen before. It’s another interesting clash of my life having to stand firm against some things that I don’t fully understand and yet allow other things, that I also don’t understand, change me.

Change. That’s an interesting word. An interesting concept. I’ve read it in philosophy books and seen it on endless internet-based imagery – the only constant is change – and change leads me nicely into the next bit of this cyber-monologue.

A couple of years ago, I sat pretty much in one of my favourite rivers. Yes I have favourite rivers. If pushed, I will reveal a top five. I don’t have a favourite TV programme or cider, but I do have a favourite river. I sat in the flow and felt the water running through my legs in a way the sea doesn’t. In a way the sea can’t. The sea isn’t as constant as a river – it just comes and goes like a fickle friend. A river works tirelessly until the end of time. Thoughts ran through my favourite Dennis Wilson songs and one of my favourite quotes from Wind in the Willows until I settled on a thought path. Fortunately I had my notebook so began to scribble thoughts that flowed very much like the river itself. It struck me how so much in life, and my life in particular, is akin to a river and as such can be understood that way. Source to the open sea and therefore eternity (and the unknown) and all that. My thoughts that day would be an article all on their own, so it’s probably best left to a short summary.

There will be an article following this at some point about my recent run to find the source of a local river so I’ll spare the details. However (spoiler alert), when I found the source, I felt strange. Overwhelmed by the amazement that this puddle effectively was a trickle that would eventually lead to a bigger river, then an even bigger river and then the sea. A colleague would say, “Dude, it’s only a puddle”, but it had me feeling amazed and emotional. It’s a seemingly insignificant river but to the life it flows through it is life. I thought of my son and thought of him as the river (don’t get the straight jacket yet). This silent trickle entering the world eventually becomes a deafening roar somewhere. It changes lives and should never be underestimated yet it should be feared and admired, respected and loved, full of life and mystery, rushing headlong to its eventual destiny.

I will take him there one day and see if he appreciates it like I do. I imagine he’ll jump in it, splash around and say, “Come on dad, let’s go”. If that’s the case then so be it.

The last words of this post I’ll leave to a quote from a Worcestershire boy like myself:

Then, as it was, then again it will be. Though the course may change sometimes, rivers always reach the sea.

Thanks for reading.