• #igotscrambled

    On Saturday 15th August 2015 I headed to Hornchurch Country Park. I was about to take part in my first 24 hour run.

    The seed (for running 24 hours) had been planted by @greedyrunner in 2013 when he joined me for part of 26 marathons in 26 days. He had taken part in 24 hour runs and thought I'd probably enjoy it too. I laughed, saying I couldn't imagine doing anything like that. I couldn't imagine how anyone could run for 24 hours, or do any one thing for 24 hours, come to think of it.

    I thought I had completely dismissed the idea, but apparently not. The idea grew (festered?) until I couldn't ignore it anymore. Knowing that people chose to run for 24 hours obviously affected my decision to create a running performance that will be 26.2 hours long (Running Beyond Language, to be performed at ANTI Festival in Finland on 5th/6th September 2015). It can be done: not many people want to do it, but with the right mindset and the right preparation it can be done.

    One of the things that interests me about the relationship between sport and art are the similarities in performance, and I'm becoming more and more aware of how the performance art aspect of running affects my running performance.

    To prepare for Running Beyond Language, I binge entered three ultra runs: the 12 hour London Enduro, the 12 hour Ashmei Ultra and the 24 hour Spitfire Scramble. Each one a month apart, and just three weeks between the Spitfire Scramble and Running Beyond Language. After I had paid my entry fees I started to sweat. But I needed to have the opportunity to practice pace and fuelling (otherwise known as remembering to go slow enough to last 26.2 hours and eating and drinking) before Finland. My Finland run will be done in silence, so I need to know that I have everything in place: I need to know I can rely on myelf. And these three events would help me practice just that.

    At my first 12 hour run I was excited. I met someone new at the start line, her name is Janka (she was running 50k that night), and we ran and chatted together for her 50k. It was really powerful to run with another girl through a wood at night, something that neither of us would have done on our own. We were outside, we were meeting and connecting with someone new, we were alive and we were energetic. That 50k flew by. And Janka finished the 50k as the first female! We were over the moon! Except I had another 7 hours to run, and in my excitement and the rawness and the aliveness I hadn't eaten or drunk anywhere near enough! Not long after Janka left I was sick and I struggled to eat much for the remaining 7 hours. Yet somehow I still managed to run for 52 miles and finish as the 3rd place female. I was very surprised by this! And very pleased. I thought that if I managed to do well, even getting pace and fuel wrong (two of the most important aspects of an ultra run), what would I be able to achieve if I got it right???!!

    So I was determined to do better at the next event, and I very nearly did! I managed to eat and drink better until about 2am (the 12 hour runs started at 7pm and finished at 7am), then I started to feel a bit sick and struggled to eat, so I began fuelling with hot sweet tea. It's quite a good pick-me-up but doesn't do all that much in terms of actually giving you energy to run. I improved on my distance though, this time covering 60 miles and finishing as the 2nd female. So I was learning and I was improving.

    Onto the 24 hour run. I had a huge panic before this one: how do you make the transition from running 12 hours to running 24 hours? That's a big difference. I'm not very good at maths but even I could work out that it was twice as much. I was exhausted after running for 12 hours, so how on earth would I run for another 12?!

    I met with Dr Murray Griffin from Essex University again and we talked things through, which helped a lot. Murray has worked with lots of ultra runners, including Marshall Ulrich, who ran across America, so he knows his stuff.

    I thought about the things I did and didn't like eating at the 12 hour runs - Kelly from The Human Performance Unit helped me figure out how many grams of carbs I needed an hour to keep myself going and Chris helped me think of different ways of getting those carbs. I took enough food and drink with me to fuel about 10 runners.

    I planned my strategy and I gave myself three goals:

    1. to keep going

    2. to stay awake

    3. to stay happy.

    In the end I didn't do any of those.

    I thought I had managed to eat and drink just about the right amount each other to keep going - but when I counted it all up after the event I had only eaten about half the amount I needed to. My mistake was in fueling per lap and not per hour. I just didn't take out enough with me for each lap. My favourite thing to eat was a Mcvities breakfast bar. Not too dry, not too sweet, quite a lot of carbs in a small amount of food and tasty too. Rice cakes were too dry and left me feeling like I was spitting feathers. A curly wurly was a lovely treat in the middle of the night.

    The Spitfire Scramble is a lapped course - each lap is 5.9 miles and covers fields, bridges, gravel paths, hills, tarmac and loose stone paths. It's interesting to run without being overly technical.

    I kept going and stayed happy until lap 7. By this point I'd run just over 35 miles. But suddenly I felt angry and sad and not good enough all at once. I was a confused and shouty runner and I didn't like it. I'd been so determined to stay happy that I really tried to fight off the negative emotions, I didn't want to feel like this. I had been thinking about my failed marriage, and struggling with all the conflicting emotions that that whirls up in a storm around you. And the harder I tried to fight those feelings away the stronger they felt. In the end the only was to deal with them was to accept them, to acknowledge how I was feeling. To say, actually, yes it is horrendous to go through the breakdown of a relationship, it is hard to understand how someone can go from loving you to apparently hating you. But accepting that it was horrendous gave my head some space to think, ah yes, but look how things have turned out: things have happened that I would never have dared to believe or dream or even hope might happen. I thought about how blessed I am to have so many lovely people in my life: people who are strong and inspiring and powerful and determined and loving and passionate. Even that day I had met some new people including Andi, who ran with me and made me laugh and helped me to remember it's ok to be angry; Neil and Dennis at the water station who were always ready with a cup of their finest water, friendly chat and warm smiles - even in the dead of night when they were cold and tired too; Chris Spriggens and his delightful son Caleb. Chris has written a beautiful and moving book called The Reason I Run. In it he tells the story of how how he and his Uncle completed marathons together after his Uncle was diagnosed with MND. It's a funny and moving story. I also met Paul, who went on to win the whole event, running 118 miles, he told me about how redheads deal with pain differently to other people - apparently the gene that makes you a redhead also alters your perception of pain. I met Kate, a strong and determined young woman who ran 108 miles - the furthest of all the women there (and she ran 100 miles last weekend too!). I even met some new people from my home town (funny that I had to go so far to meet people that live so close to me!) The Halstead Road Runners had entered two teams, and although I did know some of them I also met some new faces too. I was impressed by how friendly and supportive they were - not just of each other and of me but also towards the other teams. One of the beautiful things about a lot of the runners I've met is that they can celebrate their own success and the success of others. Everyone starts from a different place, everyone has to put in a lot of effort and even if someone else is doing better than you, it is still possible to celebrate their achievement as well as your own. I ran with Nathan from the Halstead Road Runners for a lap too. He joined me in the small hours of the morning and we chatted about all sorts of things. Nathan helped me to put things into perspective - not an easy thing to do when it's cold and dark and you're very tired! I particularly enjoyed hearing Nathan talk about his wife and daughter - it was obvious how much he loves them and how much they mean to him, not just from what he was saying, but from the way he was saying it. They filled him with energy and lit him him up with love. One of my favourite memories from 26 marathons was listening to the men talk about their partners - they were obviously very much in love and very proud of their partners :)

    After my wobbly lap I decided I needed to take the weight off my feet, so when I returned to the start area I laid down: I stopped going. I laid on the damp ground for 5 minutes and just let my body relax into the earth. When the 5 minutes were up, I got up and carried on my way. I needed to do this another two times during the event. I laid down for no more than 5 minutes each time, but each time it was enough to give my resolve and my resilience time to recharge.

    My third goal was to stay awake, but just after 4am I found myself almost falling asleep as I was running. My eyelids kept trying to shut, I started weaving across the path and then I began to feel a bit light-headed. I never aim to injure or kill myself during these long runs so I stopped at the nearest park bench, laid myself down and promtly fell asleep for a 10 minute power nap. Some of the other runners stopped to check I was ok (thank you), but other than that I slept. And it was lovely. After 10 minutes I got up and carried on my way and managed to stay awake until after the run had finished.

    So I failed to achieve any of my goals, but I'm feeling really pleased about that. I learnt so much from it - namely to be careful what goals I set myself! But I learnt that sometimes I do have to listen to my body, I need to accept when it doesn't feel happy, when it needs to rest, when it needs to sleep. Running Beyond Language is about the experience of life: that place where life doesn't make sense and language isn't necessary. It's about tapping into the power of yourself, but to do that you need to listen to yourself and do something about it. There are no medals for staying awake; there are no trophies for being eternally happy. There is a far greater reward for being true to yourself, for being able to challenge yourself, make mistakes and pick yourself up. It's a reward without fanfare or pomp and circumstance. It's a reward that you can't see but it's tangible: it changes the essence of who you are, who you see yourself to be, it's experiential, enriching the fabric of your life in a way that you might not even have imagined possible.

    You don't even need to run for hours on end to achieve this reward. All running is, is putting one foot in front of the other and repeating. It's simple, ordinary and domestic. And how many things do we each do every day that are simple, ordinary and domestic? We are each our very own reward. So go and celebrate!

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  • Running Beyond Language

    Starting at the same time as Kuopio's marathon (11am on Saturday 5th September 2015) I will run until 1.20pm on Sunday 6th September. That's 26.2 hours on a pedestrian street in Finland. The street is 250 metres, so I'll keep running up and down this for the duration of the performance.

    I will run in silence.

    The audience is warmly invited to sit and watch me, support me, join me in silence and/or run with me (also in silence). Hopefully there will be a live webcam on the street so even if you are not in Finland you can still watch me, comment on me.

    Language enables us to constrain, reason and order life.

    Language encourages us to make life fit us.

    But sometimes life just doesn't fit, events happen that remind us that the very nature of our lives is unstructured, incomprehensible, beyond words.

    Running allows us to access that very area of life that exists beyod reason, beyond sense, It provides the route past langauge, it allows us to just 'be'.

    Running shows us that life is an experience to be felt, not always to be understood, it allows us to experience life as it is, without borders of reason.

    If you run fast enough, language becomes impossible: the body cannot breathe, move and speak all at once.

    If you run far enough language blurs into the landscape: you blur into the landscape.

    There is a transcendence.

    It could be a means of escape.

    It could be a protest.

    It might not be beautiful.

    This is the silent run.

    This performance will be the third collaboration between myself and the Human Performance Unit at the University of Essex. With training, psychological and medical support from leading sports scientists, I have previously investigated the relationship between sport and art with Three Step Endeavour (2010) and 26 marathons in 26 days (2013). For example when I ran 26 full marathons over 26 consecutive days as part of Edinburgh Fringe Festval in 2013, the Human Performance Unit provided regular interventions to ensure I was both physically and mentally safe and able to complete the project successfully. As part of the collaboration, data collected from performances has been used as the basis of scientific research papers that have been published and presented at conference.

    In addition to physical/biological research I try to use extraordinary endeavours to invesitgate a critical investigation into the social role of motivation, support and achievement. The participatory invitation at the heart of Running Beyond Language is crucial to the exploration of the social political value of people running together, in silence, beyond words.

    Hopefully the Human Performance Unit will continue to provide me with support for Runing Beyond Language. They have already done some tests on me and have started to create interventions to ensure I complete the 26.2 hours, and they will continue to support me in the lead up to, and aftermath of the performance. However, I would really like to be accompanied by one of the sports scientists in Finland. Their presence at the performance will enable them to carry out more tests during the event itself, where they will be hoping to understand what changes happen to the female body when it is placed under stress, how the mind reacts to extreme feats of endurance and whether the interventions they have devised have worked, as well as making sure I stay safe for the entirety of the performance. As before, this research will be used to write and present scientific papers , increasing our understanding of how the mind and body reacts to physical, mental and environmental stress.

    The Human Performance Unit will cover the costs of the sports scientist, tests and equipment but I need to cover the costs of their travel, accomodation and food, a total of about £700.00. If you are a business and would like to make a contribution to this amount please email me: vickiweitz@hotmail.com. In return for your donation, I will advertise your company logo on my website and social media sites. My audience figures for 26 marathons was 4.5 million - and whilst this isn't likey to be as high as that there will be some exposure for your business. If you're interested please get in touch.

    Many thanks!!

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  • intangible sounds

    Last week I was fortunate enough to take part in a performance at The Minories Gallery in Colchester. The performance had been created by artists Townley & Bradby and was called: Everything, All At Once, All The Time. It forms part of their practice: Grounded In The Domestic. It was performed by myself, Rebecca Hall, Isabella Martin, James Wilkes and Steven J Fowler,

    For this performance Townley & Bradby had created a soundscape of their family life. As performers sometimes we followed a script, sometimes we improvised around a set of given instructions, we all wore blue socks and we performed behind a perforated screen. The result was a glorious harmonious cacophony of family life. Statuses shifted, sometimes with subtleness, sometimes with a glaring crash. The children of the artists were in the audience and they giggled and gasped as they recognised things they'd said, things that had been said to them. Townley & Bradby write that (Grounded In The Domestic, by Judith Stewart and Townley & Bradby Feb 2015):

    "An art practice that is grounded in the domestic uses family relationships as both the medium and the subject. Collaboration may be unintentional, unnoticed, unwelcome or understood in diverse ways by those involved".

    Hearing what you said is an unusual privilege. Quite often we speak volumes, and a lot of it doesn't have a huge amount of meaning, but we don't always get to hear what we've said, or appreciate the impact of what we've said. On the rare occasions that our voices are recorded we worry more about how awful our voice sounds when it isn't restricted to the interior of our heads that we don't pay much heed to what we're actually saying. And it seems to me that it's only when we argue with someone and they repeat back what we've said that we realise what we've said (and more importantly the impact it has) and go to extreme lengths to pretend we didn't say it.

    Whether you belong to Townley & Bradby's family or not, "Everything, All At Once, All The Time" resonates with recognition, hubris, humour and familiarity. As a performer it has sat with me, gestating. It has made me think about my own family and how we sound. We're different now to how we used to be: since my marriage broke down we've gone from being one family of four to two families of three. I don't know how the boys sound with their Dad anymore, and it's hard to get used to that, but I know how they sound with me. We're developing a routine, a rhythm, it feels like we are made of of water as we ebb and flow around one another. Sometimes we'll all come together, sometimes it might just be two of us. We negotiate space, time, language and respect. We create a dance that shifts constantly - sometimes, to the horror of my sons, the dance is literal. We're finding out how to be a family, I'm finding out what it is to be the mother of teenage boys, they are finding out what it is to be teenage boys, on the cusp of adulthood, we are finding out how to be together, how to be apart. The one constant is love. Just like sound it is intangible, it is Everything, All At Once, All The Time.

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  • Motivate that

    Recently I've been thinking about some of the issues that underlined 26 marathons in 26 days. In particular I've been thinking about motivation.

    Changes at home have led me to question everything I thought I knew about my life and myself. I feel as though I've been living in a cliche, except I thought cliches were bland and all-encompassing. I didn't imagine how painful a cliche can be, or how much it can strip you of the impulse to just breathe.

    I've found my ability to motivate myself has plummeted, initially this was because I couldn't face spending too much time alone, so running for miles on end was out of the question. But the battle between the different parts of your brain (personality/soul/mind) is fascinating. One part really wants to do something, but it is in opposition with another very loud part that really doesn't want to do anything. Sometimes it is the part that shouts the loudest who gets their own way. But what is it that gives one more volume than another - or what is it that allows you to drown out the part you don't want to hear? How much control do we have over the volume?

    Type "how do we motivate ourselves?" into Google and a myriad of suggestions pop up. Most of them seem to agree that you need to think positively, make a plan of action, track progress and reward yourself. Rather than thinking what you don't want, think about what you do want. Know what you want and create an achievable plan to get it. Reward yourself for small achievements along the way. Basically act like a cunning spoiled child: what do I want, and how do I get it? And then when I do get what I want, I'm going to reward myself too. The assumption is that we have a desire to improve ourselves, lose weight, be financially secure, be more active. And perhaps inherently we do. Isn't that what the Amercian Dream is based on? But what happens when you are in such a funk that there are no grand aspirations to improve yourself, and from the minute you struggle out of bed in the morning (if you can even do that) the only thing that gets you through the day is the ability to get back into bed at the end of it.

    I wonder if the key to motivation is not necessarily the desire or will to do grand things, sometimes it can be as simple as the need to get through things. As Arthur Ashe says: "start where you are, use what you have, do what you can". I have to keep going: I have children who need to be looked after, who deserve to be actively loved, who I love more than words can ever say; I have a supportive and loving family; I have loyal, funny and beautiful friends. So maybe it's about looking around you, and not just seeing what you have, but appreciating what you have. One of the only certainties in life is that we will die and things will change. We need to appreciate the moment we are in because that is the only concrete thing we have. And even if that moment is horrendous, it will still pass, and the survival of that moment gives us the strength to get through the next and the next and the next, until we can begin to appreciate the beauty around us.

    Motivation isn't something you can touch or hold onto, it isn't tangible and it certainly doesn't last. It has an ebb and flow. Sometimes it teases you and at other times it can power you to the top of a mountain. There is no one definitive answer to what motivates you, it is as personal as your fingerprint. Of course there are universal truths and generalisations, but at the core of it, you have your own personal blueprint on how to motivate yourself. You just have to find it.

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  • Everyday Art

    Yesterday I was the guest waiter at The Hunt and Darton Cafe in Colchester. The cafe is a pop-up experience: it arrives, lasts for a month and then leaves. Ordinarily it prefers to occupy empty shops in the high street, but a last minute let down means that this time they find themselves in the foyer of Firstsite. It's an art gallery but for the moment it's also empty. Until the arrival of the delicious Hunt and Darton that is.

    Everything in the cafe is art, including the customers. There is a business board that records the takings, the profit and loss, any complaints. Customers are required to chalk themselves in as covers. The cafe is styled with an ecclectic mix of furniture, old jigsaws and a vast array of mismatched crockery. Customers get to choose which record (yes, record) to play. Some days are 'you do it' days: the customers take turns to serve each other, or there are community days, where the customers are introduced to each other, encouraged to sit with people they don't know, and are applauded as they leave.

    As the guest waiter I was the Competitive Waiter: I was trying to be the best. I had four training zones. Each one represented an element of waitering that I felt was important and would contribute to being an Olympic waiter. Sometimes I trained on my own, sometimes I trained with the customers and sometimes the customers chose their own training zone.

    Training zone one was Waiting. Turns out I was rubbish at this. Not too bad if I knew what I waiting for, but rubbish without a purpose. I think I managed to last 10 seconds before I got distracted and wandered off. One customer told me she was so good at waiting that she missed the bus she was waiting for.

    Training zone two was Balancing. One gentleman and I spent some time balancing on one leg. I had another lengthy and very enjoyable conversation with another customer in which we managed to balance the world. If you suddenly felt everything was ok it was probaly because we had just put the world to rights. You're welcome. A group of lads spent some time practicing balancing objects on top of one another. They were skateboarders so were already very proficient in balancing. Dorian challenged me to balance a tray on the fingertips of one hand. The tray was to have a pyramid of glasses on, and I was supposed to be able to pour champagne in without looking. I progressed from just holding the tray to being able to balance the tray and a pineapple on my fingertips. Some work to go. However, my son has just come into the study and balanced my phone and my purse on my head and I'm pleased to say they didn't fall off. Perhaps my practice yesterday paid off.

    Training zone three was Being Deferential. This was a tricky one, not being too subservient but letting the customer know they were important. Not many people wanted to practice this one. It also felt like an extension of Balancing: the ability to balance good manners with an efficient service. Not being too obtrusive and not being too invisible.

    Training zone four was Not Judging. Perhaps the hardest training zone of all. Because as soon as you are aware of it you realise how much you judge. Sometimes it's a compliment: that's a good choice (complimenting good taste but also implying there is a bad choice). Sometimes it's just a case of keeping your opinions to yourself: having good manners (see training zone three).

    The Competitive Waiter wasn't quite as aggressive as I thought she might be. I had imagined she would be overly enthusiastic and perhaps a little overbearing, but actually the quest to be a good waiter led to a delicate dance between manners, grace, hard work and remembering what you're doing. Like the cafe itself, the Competitive Waiter is a piece of Everyday Art: offering the opportunity to have conversations you might not otherwise have had, and with people you might not otherwise have spoken to. It created the space to stop, think, connect and engage.

    Each training zone had it's own difficulties. Frank judged me as a 9/10, but said he doesn't give full marks (there's always room for improvement). I'm quite happy with that.

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