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.

I just need a sunny day in the mountains

The title of this blog post is from a phrase that sprang to mind on Monday afternoon, whilst dealing with the unnecessary hardships of 21st century office working. It might be a good thing that I can’t remember the exact scenario that herded me into that particular direction, so it clearly hasn’t bothered me too much. The worst thing about situations like that is how they stay in your mind, and negativity sticks to them like mud on a wheel, getting bigger and bigger over time, catching more. So in my experience that day it was kind of a case of stepping away from the situation and just thinking where I’d rather be, and that, it turns out, was a sunny day on some mountain somewhere, not sat in an open plan office listening to buzz phrases like Tissue meeting and and watching the titanic clash of egos.

It’s funny. In my last blog, I wrote about how my life is changing. New goals, new plans, new hopes. I can categorically say that I’m happier now and more positive than I have been for years, which I think everyone would agree is a good thing. But there is a but (two buts there). All this positivity, and being surrounded by so much love and support from friends both near and far still cannot keep negative thoughts at bay. In fact, does it exacerbate them, as when you find yourself in a negative space, you all of a sudden feel guilty because you should be happy now, shouldn’t you? A couple of things have happened this week that have aggravated my insecurities. Yes, I have some, and so do you. We all do, and it’s healthy to admit it. Anyone who says they have none is probably insecure about admitting they have insecurities (in short, liars).

Being in a time of change for me, I’m very conscious of how I’ve dealt with challenges in the past and how they’ve affected my life. I’m not saying I dealt with them in completely the wrong way, but I think it’s now time to take a different path at the junction, trying different approaches instead of my default, go-to reaction to things. We can’t always be on an insanity loop, there’s got to be some personal development in there from every situation.

I find it difficult to fathom out how one day, I’m storming to a personal best time at the Paras 10 test march, then two days later, feeling negative about something that inevitably the cause of is out of my control. That’s part of modern living I guess, and dealing with people in an hectic workplace. It does emphasise my love of the outdoors, spending time with the like minded people whom I click with and understand. Those sunny days in the mountains can’t come soon enough.