FEAR, DOUBT & CURIOSITY – The Reasons Behind #RunE1Trail – #GetOutside @TheUltraMag @GetOffTheRopes

It is a simple fact that the unknown and unfamiliar will scare us at some level.

I am filled with fear of this unknown and yet refuse to stop heading for it.

I am filled with doubt of my ability to survive.

Two are voices that is daring me to stop.

The other is daring to go on.

Curiosity…

Never satisfied, it pushes you beyond what you know you can achieve, daring you to just take one more step into the unknown.

 

 

 

It plays a cruel game with fear and doubt…

Curiosity is a bastard!

#GetOutside, #PushYourLimits & Become More Than Before

I’ve written something about the mentality the allows someone to push on when others would stop and spent long tired hours contemplating how it is that we can keep moving when really, by the popular consensus we should have quit, stopped and returned.

Earlier in the year I wrote a post about a moment of realisation that seemed to changed my whole approach and outlook to getting myself outside my comfort zone.  The below is a small section of it, and probably the most important sections…

“Yet, at some point I made the conscious decision to go in.  It is easier to be in a dark place and stare up at the light than it is to stand out of reach of the dark and wander what demons lurk within.

Gradually, this dark place began to fill with light.  Where once there were undefined shapes of forbidding, there now stands figures of encouraging challenge.  The way out is easy to find, no longer a distant star, but more a beaming beacon.  The euphoria of reaching a stop point was simply the realisation that it is possible to sink lower than you imagined and then rise out.  I am no longer ashamed or fearful of this dark place. 

It is easier to crawl out of the pit of despair than it is to avoid falling in.”

Here’s something I’ve recently clocked on to, without being nebulous…

I tweeted that I was likely to fail in my next challenge (a winter BGR in sandals), but since its for a good cause I’d take it on.  It’s been something I’ve wanted to try for the last 2 years and after supporting a friend on the route in summer, I’ve become slightly obsessed with it, or more accurately fallen in love with the stupidity of the UK rounds.

For those that don’t know, the UK rounds involve long distances, lots of peaks and the main national parks of the UK.  All of them have ridiculous amounts of ascent, are ultra distances, involved as many peaks as you can grab and require lots of navigation and outdoor skills.  This is all before you consider the fitness needed and the mentality that goes hand in hand with these challenges.  There are 3 big rounds in the UK that I’m fascinated by, mostly because of the mental aspect.  How does a person cope mentally with such a challenge?

This is where the tweet reply from Ricky comes in….

Untitled.jpg

At some point along the way, I seem to have embraced the philosophy that I was so interested in when I was at the end of my university degree, and even more interested in when I went back to college to try my hand at photography.

It’s a simple concept.

When faced with adversity you should embrace failure before you even begin.  But this seems to completely counter what we are told about positive mental attitude.  Think about it happening, see yourself being successful and you will be.  The thing is, it’s an oddly peaceful mental state to get into.  As soon as you acknowledge the failure and embrace it, a sense of indifference seems to roll over you.  You aren’t worried about failing.  It’s almost as though the failure doesn’t exist.  The same happens with the thoughts of success.  They seem to disintegrate as you develop the same sense of indifference to the idea of finishing successfully.

What is there left if your indifferent to it all?  Well, its an odd sense of nothingness, where you simply act as is needed.   You develop a strange sense of purpose that drives you forwards, regardless of pain, tiredness or injury.  Most importantly, you act as you need to act, freed from the usual constraints that inform or shape our decisions when involved in challenges.

I am a fan of the phrase “endeavour to cultivate stupidity” because for me it embodies this attitude to challenges.  I will be starting a whole new part of my little adventure, and it will be interesting to see what happens, but for now, I’m going to focus on getting in the right frame of mind to complete probably the hardest physical challenge of my life…

The Bob Graham round, and I will do it to raise awareness of the fundraising that the Cumbrian Foundation are doing. So, if you wish to help you can get involved in one of the following ways:

 

Shoes optional – A Barefoot Runner’s Journey Along The Length Of Britain – Chapter 1 – Before I begin

It’s early and I’m regretting the previous night’s drinking.  Head feels like a small demon is inside it, pommeling my skull in an attempt to break free.  Quick motions are followed by a wave of nausea and I have to get myself to a rendezvous with my good friends Rooth and Adam’s to make the trip to Land’s End.  A quick coffee is all I can handle, so I go stand in the shower in the impossible hope that the water will wash away the hangover, but it doesn’t.   That odd taste of nail varnish remover that accompanies the night before stays, and it’s time to leave.  Luckily I had packed everything the morning before and after some dithering I get in the car and I manage to get to Ashbourne before I have to pull over and let the nausea take over.

Kit laid out ready to pack the morning before the day after.

Kit laid out ready to pack the morning before the day after.

“Why the hell do I drink so much?”

Well, the answer to that is a collection of ex-sixth formers chanting the name of the teacher at the bar followed by “get us a drink!” and several shots of tequila.  Can’t say it’s the best start to an adventure but then it makes it more interesting.  I get myself together and head to my mother’s house to drop off my car so my uncle can borrow it while I’m away.

“That stone you’re going to pick up at Land’s End made me remember something about Dziadek” my uncle says as though we had been taking for hours.

“Really?  What?” was the only reply I could muster.

“Well, when I was smaller, he used to take me and my friends down to the canal and he showed us how to skim stones across the water.  It’s made me think.  He introduced the whole idea of picking the right shaped stone for skimming and without him the idea would have completely alien to me.”

Now, the conversation continued but my mind was fixated on this newly learnt bit of family history.  There seem to be certain links in what we do and our past that we aren’t really aware of.  I remember seeing people press stones to the graves of loved ones in Iran and then leaving them there, but I never thought there would be any link to the polish side of my family.  We carried on towards Long Eaton and if we carried on talking j couldn’t really say, but eventually we arrived at Rooth’s.  I said farewell, we shook hands and I may have imagined it but there was something in my uncles eyes that made me think he wanted to say something, but he didn’t.  I wander if I imagined it or there was something he wanted to say?

I emptied my pack at this point and decided to pack everything one last time, decide what I’d leave behind and get ready to jump in the van. At some completely unregistered time we left, I got in the back of the van, lay flat and promptly went to sleep. I don’t remember much about the journey down apart from the food stops and a traffic jam that seemed to appear then vanish with no apparent reason.

My view of the road trip to Land's End accompanied by a bag of protein truffles made by Rooth for SK1 Fuel.  Delicious and the perfect keep the hangover at bay food.

My view of the road trip to Land’s End accompanied by a bag of protein truffles made by Rooth for SK1 Fuel. Delicious and the perfect keep the hangover at bay food.

Rooth & Adam - Two of the best people I know. I guess I'd perked up a bit at this point.

Rooth & Adam – Two of the best people I know.
I guess I’d perked up a bit at this point.

Once we got to Land’s End, I wandered down the rocket cliff to find a pebble to carry the length of the country. The south west coast is made up of lots of granite, but amongst it all was a small piece of white quartz. I grabbed it, along with a piece of granite and scrambled back up to the van. It was time for food, followed by pitching up the tent and sleeping. It was all about to begin and I was filled with an odd mixture of calm excitement, complete disbelief and a lack of comprehension as to what I had to do, all with an undertone of doubt. The doubt was all to do with the unknowns that Id have no control of.

“Are you ready then?”

“I have no idea. Gonna find out tomorrow though”

Shoes Optional – A barefoot runner’s journey along the length of Britain – Introduction

IMG_0543

Within these posts you will find no hidden secrets, no magical formulae and no recipes for adventure.  Instead you will read about one person’s journey and their realization that there are no limits other than the ones we set ourselves and it is these limits that hold us back.  We pander to the softer side of our nature, seeking the easiest route through life’s.  At some point we must realise that this is not the way to be true to our nature.  It is as important to embrace and invite discomfort, as it is to invite challenge.   Without these, how are we to grow?

 

Acknowledge To Avoid

Justgiving.com/barefootlejog

It’s all too easy to fall into a hole.  Sometimes, we don’t even realise that it’s happening until it’s too late and all that is ahead of us is a slow, hard climb out.

Part of the process seems to be to acknowledge where you are or where you’re heading before you get there.  Everyone has moments where they realise that actually, everything isn’t ok, and part of the journey has been how to deal with this, avoid it and manage when your there.

Here’s what I’ve found helps, and although it is purely a personal thing, contains no magic bullets or new strategies, sometimes it helps to have someone repeat what you already know.  So, for what its worth here they are:

  1. Learn not lie – this isn’t just to others but also to yourself.  We know instinctively when things aren’t quite right and all to often we push on, making a small piece of grit in our metaphoric shoe into a giant jagged rock.
  2. Acknowledge it if its unavoidable – sometimes, situations, poor planning, bad luck and distractions take us places we really don’t want to be.  Acknowledgement, in a matter of fact way is often the only way out.
  3. Just pause, look and absorb – This is probably the simplest way to deal with a low point.  We miss so much when that low point hits.  Tunnel vision kicks in, our brains focus on the wrong things and we lose that ability to be aware of our surroundings and actually appreciate where we are.
  4. Smile – Stopping and smilling for no reason at all is odd at the best of times, but combine it with a random laugh and its like rocket fuel!  It’s almost like a reset switch that puts everything back on the right track.
  5. Be ready to fail – Now this is an interesting one for me.  Samurai and martial artist are instructed to fight as though they are already dead, removing that fear of dying and allowing them to act without hesitation.  those negative thoughts of failure are like tiny grains of sand in that same metaphorical shoe.  They continue an imperceptible grind and then you notice a huge tear that wasn’t there before, all from the constant low level nagging.  Acknowledge the failure and be ready to deal with it and then use it to make you mentally stronger and ready for a rematch

Like I said earlier, I don’t believe any of this is actually in any way new, groundbreaking or a magic bullet.  It doesn’t even apply purely to running, but hopefully it acts as a memory jogger and that little kick for someone who needs it.

9 days to go…..

Sleep Deprived Musings Of An Ultra Runner

As teachers, we encourage reflective thought in our students.  We are encouraged to be reflective practitioners with our teaching and continually review, refresh or improve out practice.

The weekends adventures (all be it, joining and supporting someone else’s adventure), and the looming start of my challenge (26th of July) has given me some time to think.  A couple of things kept cropping up during the run in random conversations.

1.  People don’t understand why

This is a common thing said by fell and ultra runners.  People find it difficult to comprehend the reason behind what we do as runners.  The distances are hard to comprehend, the lack of sleep, need for food and the persistent forward motion are also tricky to grasp.  Why would someone give up comforts for such a mundane activity?

I’ve thought long and hard about this, not being happy with the “if you are asking you won’t understand” response.  It seems (for me anyway) to stem from a love of the elegance of it all.  To be able to navigate through empty landscapes, cross vast expanses of land and scale mountains with an air of effortlessness, is just simply put, graceful.  There is something of the greek myths and legends about the people who take on these journeys, were even failure to complete a challenge becomes a victory in itself.  Simply completing one of these endurance challenges wouldn’t be enough for someone to understand the reasons why for one simple reason…

The reasons why is ephemeral, and shifts.  What begins as a way of digging yourself out of a dark hole changes into a myriad of colourful reasons, with only one common theme.  A persistent drive to move forwards.  It seems for me the only common theme to my reasons for  taking on these challenges is seeking a simplicity in my existence.  A way to constantly redirect those inner demons that slow my development as a person.

2.  What are you running from?

Often disguised as the question ‘why do you run?’ or “why did you start running?”, the question is still the same.  What is it that you run away from?

The reasons are personal, but they seem to be variations on a theme.  Most people run because they realise that they aren’t happy with themselves, whether it is their weight or bad habits.  I started running to overcome a low point, where happiness was something fleeting, but now I simply run to be.  Not to see if I can run further, not to hide problems that I don’t want to acknowledge and not to prove a point or seek some ego boosting prestige.  Running tends to bring with it a sense of freedom and a sense that you are in fact being your true self.  Clarity in thought, responding to your bodies needs, moving with the landscape as apposed to fighting it and experiencing the moment.  In fact, the moment itself seems to stop having the same meaning.  I find it shifts in length, at times being short and others stretching out as though it could be infinitely long.  Despite this chaotic nature, one thing brings it all together.  The sense of nothingness that engulfs me.  Not a nothingness where I seize to exist, but more an indifference to the normal demands on a person, where you can just be.  I’ve struggled to put this feeling in to words, and I still find it difficult to do so.  All I can say is this….  it is the one mental place, were it is possible to truly acknowledge who you really are and measure your value and significance.  Realising that we are but a tiny blip in time is somewhat scary and to many sounds a little depressing but its this feeling that brings a smile to my face every time, regardless of the pain or tiredness Im feeling.

It should be interesting to see whether my thinking shifts, or whether I discover anything new about myself.  Long endurance challenges are said to be the perfect arenas to see what we are made of and to test our limits.  I have even heard ultra running legends say that they reveal a person for who they really are.  Right now I have just two desires in terms of the challenge…  To complete it successfully and not disappoint those that have given their support and to allow the selfishness of the whole adventure do some good for others who are less fortunate.

So…  after that long and rambling piece of philosophical thinking, why do you run?

The Point Of No Return

Ive read a few book that are true stories about some incredible acts of human survival, and I’ve wandered what they must have had running through their minds.

I’ve asked these questions of others and myself…

“When do you know you’re ready?”

“What happens if you fail whilst under the watchful eyes of others?”

I think I’ve reached a point where I can answer both.  Oddly, it’s dawned on me not when running, but when revisiting my old hobby of Tai Chi.

How do I know that I’m ready?

It’s hard to put into to words, but in short, there’s a certain clarity to my thinking and I know that even when utterly destroyed from a previous days running that I can still move and my body will respond by becoming more fluid with each step.  I know I can embrace the dark moments of doubt and use my persistent forward motion to break through them.  Staying in the moment, listening to the feedback my body provides and acting as much on instinct as is possible.

Then there’s the whole issue of failure.

This is the second part of knowing you are ready.  You accept failure.  The Hagakura (samurai code) describes the perfect samurai mentality as one who has already accepted death.  A little morbid, I agree, but I’m ready to fail, learn, train and repeat the whole thing in the following year.  It is something I will keep trying till it is done and borrowing the words of Edison, I will learn 99 ways not to run 1206 miles in barefeet and one way to do it. 

Enjoy your day 😊

Cocophany Of Voices – The Final Few Steps @trailrunningmag @runnersworld 

justgiving.com/barefootlejog 

There’s 6 weeks left to get everything sorted, to finish physical training and mental training.

It’s getting trickier to balance work time and training time along side publicising BarefootLeJog to make the concept of raising money for Stroke Association and raising awareness of strokes successful, and to top it off, the quite sanctuary that I call the void seems to have gained some new occupants that I don’t remember inviting!

One of these unwanted guests spread a message of doubt whilst the other one briefly acknowledges the progress made in training.  Luckily, the more positive voice tends to win since training gets completed, recovery happens and damage repairs quickly.

So what left to do?

  • Set waypoints on a map and send to the company providing the GPS tracking
  • Sorting out the missing kit that is going to be essential
  • Working with the helpful Bob at Backpacking Lightweight to improve the possibility of corporate type sponsors
  • Mapping the entire route to allow people to organise joining me along the route
  • Potential accommodation for the odd bit of creature comforts and the essential showers or baths
  • Testing kit to make sure that it is 100% useable

Next week starts an easy week, so runs and cross training will be lower mileage or intensity, which I think my body is crying out for and I’d rather not force it towards injury by over training.  

The final piece of this puzzle is preparing mentally for the extreme change in lifestyle and focusing on small steps along the way, acknowledging the inevitable pain and blocking out the optional suffering.  Hopefully, I can evict the negative voice that’s invaded my void and get back to just running because it allows me to return to myself. 

Thanks for everyone’s support so far.  I’ll do everything in the run up to the run, and during the run, that I can to live up to the kind words and acts.

The Hows Of Unsupported Barefoot LeJog

I think I should write a post that has the hows, the whats and the whens of this challenge.  Lots of questions have been asked and putting things into practice has meant that I have a better idea of what is sensible, what is a bad idea and how to make this thing run as smoothly as I can.

1.  Unsupported?

Well, originally I was expecting to do this alone and being completely self sufficient.  I am going to carry all the equipment that is necessary to survive on a day to day basis, use shops and water sources along the way to get what I need in terms of food and equipment and use a tent for accommodation.  Now, this challenge isn’t about achieving any record attempt but more about getting people to engage and spread awareness of both the condition and the charity, so I have said that people are welcom to join in along the way and if food or shelter is offered I am likely to say ‘yes, thank you’
2.  Barefoot?

This is the most contentious point for some.  I will be carrying a pair of Luna sandals for a few reasons.  Wet weather softens the skin on feet and so the skin wears away faster, and is far more easily damaged.  My goal is to complete the distance so if it is wet and the terrain is likely to damage my feet I am going to stick them on.  If my feet get damaged or if the terrain is such that I have to go too slow then I’ll be putting the sandals on.  If I had the luxury of time, I wouldn’t resort to the sandals.  What people should know that when I took part in the Edale Skyline race I didn’t put the sandals on despite sub zero conditions, perpetual wet surfaces and terrain that is super rugged.  It just felt like I was cheating when I took them off my pack, so they went back on my pack.

3.  Mileage schedule?

I’ve done some self experimentation and discussed this a fair bit.  Best idea is 35 miles per day, with a projected finish time of 5 weeks.  This give me a week’s grace in case I need it to recover or in case I happen to make a poor route choice.  The whole journey is so long that it’s hard to comprehend large stages, so, I won’t try and think about it.  It’s going to be a case of persistent forward motion and one step at a time.  If all goes well, I should be able to cover the distance by speed hiking or running.  

4.  Failure?

This will be the most difficult thing to acknowledge.  If something goes wrong, I’ll keep going but a point will come when I will have to acknowledge that I’ve failed.  All that means is that I decided to attempt this challenge too early, so I will go back to training and then repeat it every summer until I complete it.

5.  Motivation?

This has changed…

First it was finding if it is possible, then proving people wrong and now I’ve come to realise that these reasons are superficial.  The main thing that will move me forwards is the people I know and have met on the Internet, who have lost loved ones, survived and been given support by Stroke Association, or are caring for loved ones that have suffered a stroke.  I seem to feel a huge sense of reponsibiltiy toward these people and will feel that I have let them down if I don’t complete this challenge.  Then, there’s those who have shown support by buying a t-shirt or donating to Stroke Associstion.  I think that challenges are more achievable the more a person feels accountable for their actions.

6.  Equipment?

This is the easiest to address. I’m going to carry the minimal equipment is need.  Luxury items will be kept to a minimum and the main focus is on weight and functionality.  Too heavy and I’m going to have issues with my body.  Not functional or suitable and it’s going to potentially put a stop to the challenge.  

Hopefully this makes thing a little more clear for those interested and if you have any more questions then feel free to ask.

Hobbity Feet Make It Into Runner’s World UK News! 

Thanks to the media release by Stroke Associations media lady Vicky, BareFoot LeJog made it on the Runner’s World UK website.  Then there was a flurry of page likes and donations.

Here’s the article for any who are wanting to read it, although if you follow this blog or the Facebook page, then you know most of it already. 🙂

http://www.runnersworld.co.uk/news/buxton-schoolteacher-to-run-the-length-of-britain-barefoot-for-charity/13374.html