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.