Operation: Middle-age

Now I’m the dark side of 35, I find myself looking back more often on my athletic exploits of the past. Mulling over Park Run personal bests of 2015, marathon personal bests, or just general physical well-being. It’s fairly subjective, but I would say that I am approaching middle-age. Assuming I’ll live to at least 70 and anything after that being a bonus, I am in the middle-age region. Not saying I am middle-aged, but it’s not far away. As I am recognising this, the more I am planning to do something about it.

The main bulk of this one-man crusade is pushing my comfort zone, physically and mentally. I’m not sure which one is harder, yet they seem to come hand in hand. That 6am alarm telling me I’ve got to go to the track and run sub 6 minute 30 miles never gets any easier mentally, and that’s before I’m at the track doing it, feeling quite unwell. For me, fitness is a huge part of it, but I understand that the term comfort zone is probably more a mental thing.

All of this, I presume, is part of this stupid human condition. A complex cauldron of fears and feelings. I still feel like I’m 18 and I’m probably as guilty as the rest about struggling to accept the aging process, acting like I’ll live to 100 but still expecting to arrive there in pristine condition.

Back in the summer, I decided to start pushing myself again, like I used to, back in the old days when I felt more motivated to do it. Out went mediocre plodding runs and in came hill sprints, recovery runs, tempo runs and interval sprinting sessions. It had structure and it reignited my interest in being fit and staying motivated. The greater part was, it didn’t come from outside of me. My motivation was myself and the phrases going through my head pushing me on weren’t from songs or books, they were my own.

It has worked too. I ran a personal best over the half marathon distance last Sunday, and comfortably too.

I think everyone has a comfort zone and to permanently dwell within it means a slow death. A famous song says:

Do one thing every day that scares you.

For some it will be the dread of getting up and sprinting around a track. For others, getting on a bus. For many, spending an afternoon with their mother-in-law. But the idea is that pushing yourself, or fearing something can actually make you acutely aware of just being and makes you feel alive.

In recent years, I’ve looked around me at my peers and observed their mindsets, habits, outlooks and general appearances. I’ve seen mates’ beer guts at 27 years old, had conversations about receding hairlines at 31, listened to my friends talk about ‘slowing down’ at 33. I’ve also listened to people twenty years older than myself and paid attention to their advice, life choices, fears and realities. I am planning to grow old gracefully, but be in the best shape mentally and physically as I can while doing it. I’m gathering a dossier if you like, of information to future proof aspects of my own life, having a general plan to keep going for as long as I can, as I am now, on this integer. Living to 100 would be great, provided I can still laugh, go for a walk, and do 20 push ups. This is unrealistic though. There’s a lot to be said about living fast and dying young without the whole fading away business.

One thing that pushes my mental barriers and comfort zones is being alone in the mountains, pitted against nature. More than once I have been in situations that I felt out of my depth, uncomfortable, and stretched to the limit. When things turn on their head like that, and the adrenaline is pumping, the fall out afterwards is massive. The feeling of accomplishment, knowing you’ve survived, and feeling that your comfort zone got a lot bigger. It’s essential to feel like this these days, especially in the face of nature. I’m never going to expand any comfort zones on the sofa watching TV. It’s interesting how our ancestors (who would laugh hysterically at us now) would navigate in the outdoor, in all conditions no problem at all as it was their livelihood, yet it is out of most of our comfort zones.

Let’s do a little experiment. There are no wrong or right answers, so nobody should feel ashamed of sharing anything, but it would be great to gather together what you guys and girls last did that pushed your comfort zone, and what is it in your lives that keep you fresh? Share!

The warmth of the sun

Steeped in folklore and adventurous tales, there is a valley. Overlooking this valley are hills and mountains, with lakes high up in the clouds and steep, winding paths. It was this valley where I decided to spend my last full day in the mountains.

As usual, the walk was well planned, maps studied, satellite images printed off and compared to the map. Having never been to this area before, I was apprehensive. As soon as I set off though, I could sense something special here. The first leg of the path took me to a long lake, higher up than the valley floor. It was surrounded on three sides by what felt like a rock-made amphitheatre. It almost did feel like a huge room. The path around the lake was calm, peaceful and sheltered. It was a shame to leave it behind, as I made my way up and over one of the sides, to be greeted by another lake much higher up. Looking down on all of this was the mountain summit I was here to climb.

I’ve always thought how walking, running or cycling hills teaches you a lot about yourself, and these hills were no different. You can draw endless analogies between life and moving uphill. Far too many to cover here. It’s true I think, that the outdoors provide pathways to answers to any number of life’s problems and questions. Maybe it’s the simple act of being outside, back to basics, facing the elements. My first day in the mountains this week cut some of my problems down to size, I can tell you that much.

Once at the top, the descent was along a gently sloping path, high up, but sheltered from the wind and by this point of the afternoon warmed up by the sun, radiating from the rocks. It felt very spring like and quite serene. It will have to be covered in a further post but I did have a strange experience up on this path. One of two strange experiences to recount from walking in the last twelve months I dare say.

It was the perfect end to the week and it left me feeling hungry for more, so it won’t be long until I’m back in the clouds once more.

Progress – part 2

In my last post, I covered different aspects of what constitutes progress. I should probably say that I believe that humanity as a whole is regressing not progressing. I see progress in the form of its definition:

“development towards an improved or more advanced condition.”

Call me old fashioned but I feel that compromising the environment is in no way progress for us at all. After all, how do you measure progress? Inevitably it will be facts and figures, numbers and profits, not general human state. If you could capture that, I think it would be a different story.

I do admit that the planet is becoming overcrowded and we all need somewhere to call home. That can’t be disputed, but the manner in which it’s tackled is generally deplorable. For example, a few hundred acres of prime agricultural land is given up for housing. That for me would be more easy to accept if it was to have 500 suitable, sustainable family homes built on it. However, more often than not, the majority of houses are 3, 4 or 5 bedroom houses that don’t accurately fit in with the needs of that community’s housing needs. It is clearly down to the greed of developers and local authorities.

I have always been critical of HS2 here in the UK (a high speed rail link, that is cutting through the countryside including irreplaceable ancient woodland and wildlife corridors). It is wreaking all this destruction for what? So business users can get to the north for something ridiculous like 30 minutes quicker than they are now. Again, I ask, what for? Well it’s money and that word again, progress.

I was amused a long time ago by post I saw on social media. It hit the nail on the head for me about the general human state vs the environment. It said this:

“Imagine if trees gave off a WiFi signal. We’d be planting trees all over the place and we’d probably save the planet too.

Too bad they only produce the oxygen we breathe”.

The crying shame is, it’s true. If only we had the same attitude towards environment and nature as we have towards high speed broadband, high speed rail links, high speed everything.

Our human state is ultimately unhappy, and probably will continue on this path, but at least we can get there quicker.

Progress – part one

Despite my rugged, muscular, ‘man of the mountains’ aura (sic) that I possess, I do have a sensitive side. A few years back, I felt sensitive enough to put my feelings down on paper in poetry form of how I was feeling about some proposed housing developments on designated green belt land near the town where I live. I was quite pleased with the result, not because it was good (it wasn’t) but for the fact that for the first time, I had actually hit the nail on the head with what I wanted to say without being vague and dancing around the subject. The title of this as-yet-to-be-published ditty was Progress.

I called it so in a ironic, sarcastic way as in my view, carving up the green belt was far from progress. After all, how can sacrificing greenery and its own delicate ecosystems in favour of bricks, mortar, cars and concrete be a sign of progress? Councils have the habit of removing green belt status from any previous green belt land as and when they see fit. In my view it makes a mockery of all the systems and policies in place. If green belt can be reassigned, what about conservation areas, SSSIs, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty or even National Parks? Is it just something to revoke when the call is made?

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Apart from having nice spaces to look at, humans need them. More importantly, so does the planet. The planet seems to be the biggest loser among all of this ‘progress’, having to contend with our materialistic existence and demands to move quicker at whatever costs. Green spaces, clean air and generally exercising outdoors have been proven to promote healthy bodies and minds. With diabetes, obesity and mental illness on the rise, could there be a link between lack of open space, natural beauty and increased urbanisation and these human conditions? Maybe. A huge part of the problem though is down to increased industrialisation and automation making the human race and labour redundant. With nothing for us to fill the void left by an honest day’s work, we have to look towards other things that ultimately make us unhappy – the never-ending vacuum of material want.

All of this is bringing me more questions than ideas, and not wanting to ramble, this is the end – for now. Which is why it is called Part One!

It would be interesting to hear your thoughts, ideas, or experiences from your lives, cultures and environments too.