• Begin again

    I've been thinking some more about new beginnings: the excitement, the potential of promises, the rush for whatever 'it' is to get past being a beginning.

    Yet once you get past that beginning stage 'it' loses it's magic, it's appeal, it's lure.

    The excitement gives way to the mundane, the promises get broken or forgotten.

    We give up.

    We go back to where we started.

    And we begin again.

    Sometimes this happens with diets or with exercise because we set our goals too high: we want to run for 3 miles straight away, or we diet all day and expect that will make us skinny. We don't appreciate that, particularly if you haven't run for a long time, being able to run at all is an achievement. Who cares if you first run for 30 secs or 30 minutes? No-one else will care, except you. Your friends will applaud whatever you achieve because they are your friends and they celebrate you (unless you are unfortunate enough to have a miserable unfeeling bunch of friends). And who else would beat you around the head because you slipped in your diet? Just you.

    So drop your expectations, don't aim so high. Celebrate the little steps. Just like the cliche about looking after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves says: watch the details. If every day you eat a bit less and move a bit more, you will see results. They might not be as quick as you like, but it's better than no results. And something else: stop making excuses. Don't precede your achievement by saying, "it's not much, but ...", or "it's silly, but ...". It is a big deal and it isn't silly. You are a big deal and you aren't silly.

    Accept that things take time and things change over time. A relationship is not the same after five years as it is after five months. The excitement may have gone but hopefully that has been replaced with something much deeper, something that exists beyond words, and beyond reason.

    Here's another cliche: every day is a new beginning. Every day we have a chance to start over and start appreciating who we are. In fact, why wait for the day to begin? Every minute is new: we are constantly given the opportunity to repeat ourselves or re-invent ourselves. Of course we'll make mistakes, we're only human, but (and here's another cliche), it isn't the mistake that matters, it's what you do about it that matters. Actually, i don't entirely agree with that though - some mistakes do matter, particularly if they affect/hurt/endanger someone else. Sometimes you do just need to think before you act: do something about the mistake before you make it. Use that to make you stronger, to build your integrity, to find your kindness (both to yourself and to others). Begin again.

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  • New year: new goals: new me

    It seems that as a species we human beings like new beginnings; we'll start a new diet on a Monday, we'll spring clean, well, in the spring, we'll wait for January to set resolutions and goals. We are always looking for that day, month, time of year when we can start afresh; wipe the slate clean, atone for our past mistakes/sins by behaving impeccably in the future (I can eat this extra slice of cake now because next week, I will be almost monk-like in my approach to food). We forgive ourselves our hedonistic approach to life because of course, we will behave so well in the future that we can get away with anything now. We forget the consequences.

    But of course having that extra slice of cake today doesn't mean you won't want any cake next week. Chances are you'll still want more. Chances are you'll still eat more.

    And the trouble with these goals is that they are never just in their own right: I'll sort my finances out, or I'll lose a stone, become: I'll be happier when I don't keep overspending, I'll be happier when I'm skinnier. But why do we keep adding emotional ties to our goals? Why does being happy rely on our size or our bank account? We might feel more secure knowing that our finances are straight, even if that means knowing we can't afford everything under the sun (and how often have we heard that money doesn't make you happy?), and we might feel healthier and have more energy if we lose a bit of weight, but is our happiness, or our right to happiness really determined by external factors? Or is our ability to feel and to connect just an intrinsic part of being human? And as such should be celebrated and encouraged? Descartes suggested that "I think therefore I am", but perhaps it is more "I feel because I am alive, I am here". Sometimes thinking and reasoning belittle where we are and how we feel. Sometimes, emotions and events are beyond comprehension; sometimes being human is beyond imagination.

    In my practice I am intrigued by the relationship between art, sport and science. At the heart of it, we want to figure out who we are, why we are here; does our life have purpose? have we 'wasted' our life? Like all artists I think that art is necessary as it helps us to examine those questions; it helps us to throw a new perspective on things we think we know; it helps us to look at the world afresh (like a new goal). Sport helps us to feel; it reminds us that we are alive, that we do feel, that we can achieve (everyone's goals can be different: my achievements may be your training strolls, but they are mine nevertheless). Science takes a human being and examines them, creating a set of numbers, a collection of data that attempts to answer questions and find answers. By combining art and science those numbers start to become alive again, we can see how science allows us to find a new perspective, to understand what we thought we knew, to learn what we didn't know, we can begin to find the human within the data.

    And with that understanding we can create new goals! I know from tests at the Human Performance Unit that I can increase my endurance by running at a certain heart rate. I know from previous experience that if I want to drop a few pounds I need to eat less food.

    I'm starting to learn that in order to feel loved I must first love myself. I'm learning that some things don't need to be connected to an emotion: I don't need something external to happen in order to feel happy or loved. My emotions, that intrinsic part of being human, have an internal source: they come from within me.

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  • girl done good

    Not only did I finish the Saltmarsh 75, I finished as the second place female and joint 11th overall! I'm pretty chuffed with that!

    It was a tough course - undeniably pretty, but after miles and miles of running along a coastal path surrounded by marsh land and open seas the sight of a tree was enough to make me weep.

    The weather on the first day added it's own challenges; it started off sunny and warm and ended up with 30mph winds, driving rain, and at one point even driving sleet. It became so important to focus on just putting one foot in front of the other that I became incapable of getting my waterproof jacket out of my rucksack. I attempted to reason with myself that skin is more waterproof than any other material. It was only later when I heard other runners telling me that putting on a jacket really lifted their morale that it occured to me that having an extra layer might have provided more than just waterproofing: it also offered warmth, an extra layer of support against the elements, and in those extreme conditions, it became a representation of looking after yourself. Being kind to yourself.

    Lesson learnt: the next day I didn't carry the rucksack as I hadn't used anything in it and it had rubbed my skin raw where it didn't fit properly. Instead I carried what I knew I would need to keep going. The aid stations were fantastic, lots of drink and a variety of snacks, both salty and sweet, so that helped me to reduce the amount I needed to carry. It was due to be sunny so I put on sunscreen and took my hat with me.

    My plan was to keep going and do my best. I was overwhelmed by the generous nature of the other runners, everyone was doing their best and supporting others in the same endeavour. On the first day, I met up with someone I only previously knew through twitter, Ian, and we began 'leapfrogging' each other along the route. Sometimes he would go quicker and pass me, sometimes I would go quicker and pass him. After a while we started doing the same with Graham, another runner, until eventually we all started to go at roughly the same pace and we all finished together. I ended up running a lot of the second day with Graham too and the comaraderie (and navigational!!) support from both Graham and Ian really helped me to keep going.

    After the race we were greeted with tea, toast and beans and foil blankets. The runners helped each other get an extra cup of tea, we handed out the blankets to each other, we celebrated and we shared our stories of the route. We had faced a challenge as individuals but ended up as a community of people who had overcome great difficulties. And we were going to get up and do it again the next day!

    The organisers of the Saltmarsh 75 said it wasn't a race, but it was. The competitors were racing against time: trying to do their best, get a good time, beat their time from last year, do as much as possible in as little time as possible. The volunteers were facing their own race against time: how long had they been there for (in all weathers), how long until they got to go home? How many people had they helped in the time they had available to them?

    Part of the excitement and the attraction of an ultra run is that you have to 'dig deep', you have to go further than you thought you were capable of. You might hate moments of it, but in the clarity of that hatred and that despair you get to glimpse simple beauty, simple joy. Ordinarily the sight of a tree wouldn't move me to tears, but I'm glad that doing the Saltmarsh gave me the opportunity to witness, feel and experience the glory of something I would normally ignore.

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  • Nerves

    Tomorrow I will be running my first ultra and I'm feeling incredibly nervous. I don't remember feeling this nervous before 26 marathons so I'm also feeling a bit surprised!

    This ultra is an organised event: the Saltmarsh 75. It is a 75 mile run over two days, travelling along the Saltmarshes in Essex. Apparently it is easy to navigate as you always keep the water on your right, but it can be cold as you are pretty exposed to the elements. I had a practice trot along a section of it a couple of weeks back, starting at Heybridge Basin and going out for 10 miles before turning round and coming back. I was taken aback at the stuning scenery; I am a big fan of Essex and I think it is a beautiful part of the country but I've never really had a chance to savour this section of it before. Because the land is flat there is a large expanse of sky, and this, coupled with the water gently lapping on your right helps you to feel really connected with the landscape and the environment. Although the vastness of it also keeps your ego in check and reminds that that you are a small part of a much bigger picture.

    There are 162 people taking part in the event, some of them relay teams and some of them walking. There is also the option to camp overnight at Steeple. I'm doing this - although I'd like to think I'm too high maintenance for camping, deep down I know this isn't true! This is the part I'm really looking forward to. I don't know anyone else running at this event, although I have connected with a couple of them over twitter; it will be great to put faces to tweets and also to get to know some like-minded people!

    I'm also looking forward to the running; I'm reasonably happy with the training I've done, I've got enough food to keep about 10 people going and I love my running shoes. My only concern is that my rucksack is quite heavy (even with leaving most of my food at different checkpoints) so I might have sore shoulders after a while. But then I seem to be incapable of packing light so that's a burden I'll just have to carry (quite literally!)

    So I'm not even sure why I'm nervous: I'm looking forward to the running, to being outside for that length of time, I'm looking forward to meeting people, I think I've trained well, I know I can be on my feet for that amount of time even if I haven't covered that distance before and I know I can get up and do it all again the next day.

    So why the nerves? Without warning I keep getting a wave of nerves passing through my stomach, almost like a series of mexican waves. They take me by surprise - perhaps my body knows what to expect and is setting up a little protest? Perhaps, without even realising it, I am concerned about the challenge: do I have the strength of mind and body not only to face the challenge but to smash through it and come out the other side smiling? Maybe I do realise it but I've been trying to ignore it (until I sit down and write about it that is!)

    But even as I type that, I think back to the marathons and my mantra then: Failure is not an option. But then I was doing it on my own, this time there are 161 other people facing the same challenge, the same fears and the same nerves and wondering if they can conquer it, and I think they can, and that means I can too, because we are all there together, chasing the same dream.

    After all, all we need to do is keep putting one foot in front of the other.

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  • Strengths and Weaknesses

    Two sides of the same coin: accepting that our weaknesses may also be our stremgths. we spend a lot of time beating ourselves up about our flaws: I'm too stubborn; I always put things off; I'm too impatient; I never know when to say enough is enough; I anger quickly; I eat too much, or I eat too little (I never get it right).

    We go on and on until we are left with little or no self-esteem and a poor opinion of oursleves. We end up falling into the trap of the self-fulfilling prophecy: believing we are a certain way we only notice the times we behave in that way and never notice the times we don't behave in that way until it becomes a firmly entrenched idea of who we think we are, who we see ourselves as.

    But what if we took the time to be kind to ourselves and say, well yes I can be stubborn, but only about things that I believe passionately about, or yes, I can be stubborn but that means I stick with something and finish it to the best of my ability.

    And so what if we have flaws? Who is perfect? And I know it's a cliche but it would be boring if we were all the same and liked the same things and behaved in the same way. Where would individuality and dissension fit in if we all conformed? And surely it's not natural to conform: because even in the natural world there are differences between animals of the same species or plants of the same species. We are, perhaps, meant to be different, but in being different we open ourselevs up to being viewed as 'outside the norm' (who is in??), even if that viewing is primarily done by ourselves.

    Is it just a question of perspective? Sitting on the train one day I saw a lady using her phone to take a selfie. The faces she presented to her phone were nothing like the expressions she used when she wasn't in front of a camera, so much so that she looked like a different person. In her quest to accept the image in front of her she was distorting her face so much that she wasn't even herself anymore. And the irony is that, of course, the face she felt wasn't good enough to take a photo of was by far the appealing of all the expressions that she pulled, but she wouldn't/couldn't see that. What she saw as weaknesses, I saw as strengths. Naturally, we see our own outside image much less than anyone else: it takes longer for us to get used to our own new haircut than it does for other people because we spend less time looking at our hair than everyone else. When I look in the mirror I always feel surprised as my image doesn't reflect who I think I am. I'm not sure what I think I should look like, but it's not this! And this surprise is becoming greater the older I get. Now I can see some white hairs and a few wrinkles creeping in. That doesn't worry me in itself as I appreciate the experiences and time I've had that have helped to create these lines and wrinkles, but it surprises me nevertheless!

    But how does that relate to knowing who we are? Recognising and accepting our strengths and weaknesses? Surely this process should be the reverse of our opinion of our external self - ok, we don't know what we look like because we don't spend much time looking at ourselves (relatively speaking), but shouldn't we know who we are better than anyone? Who do we spend the most time with? Ourselves. but do we know ourselves? Or do we hide behind daily routines, activities, chores and mobile phones; things that don't fully challenge and stimulate us, or opinions expressed on tv and radio and in the newspapers? Do we really know why certain things make us angry, or happy or sad? Do we know why we hold on to some memories more than others? When do we ever really give ourselves the oppotunity to look inwards and find out who we really are?

    I wonder if the rise in people participating in experience-led activities like paint runs, muddy runs, night-time runs and other sporting endeavours is because the rest of the time we immerse ourselves in numbing activities: activities that make us oblivious to ourselves and our surroundings. Perhaps human beings have an inherent need to experience contrast: in order to appreciate pleasure we must first understand pain? Or are we just kidding ourselves? Why do some people seem to attract/invite incredible amounts of drama into their lives? Is it only when we are facing the wall, experiencing real struggle and desperation that we find out what we're made of? That we find out if our strengths really can drive us forward, to discover if our weaknesse paralyse us or push us into action? Why do we seem to need challenge before we can appreciate ourselves?

    Or perhaps the inherent need is more physical that that: maybe we need to use our bodies, to feel them move and experience the way they perform under pressure, and in our modern world we don't have much opportunity to push our bodies, to develop the muscle memory that says, oh yes, things have been tough before and we got through it, didn't we? Perhaps the need to participate in these experience-led activities is more about practicing for any eventuality: building resilience and perseverance?

    I seem to have lots of questions but only a few generalised and probably unfair answers/guesses. It may be that jumping to conclusions might be a weakness in my character; or then again, maybe it's a strength?

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