Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Fear : Running 100 miles

A cop out this week on the song.  I have said that I would always post something with a nautical theme, but having just run a hundred miles for the first time I thought something running related would be more "on message" this week. Compared to songs about swimming there are so few songs about running.  Strange, as both words/actions are great metaphors for our life - well, they are for me, maybe not for you with your big houses, fancy gadgets, manicured lawns and general well being.  There's Springsteen's "Born to Run": my colleague, Alex has reminded me of Velvet Underground's "Run, Run, Run" - not the most accessible of their tracks and there is of course the safe, middle of the road choice of Snow Patrol's "Run" which I like for lots of reasons, one of which is that I can make a passable attempt at it on the guitar. Sadly, it has no link to the kind of running that I am about to talk about. Here it is:

In this blog I don't want to pontificate too much on cod psychology, or move into clichés about stuff I know very little about, but I fancy having a stab at "fear".

I am dominated by fear.  Always have been.  I sometimes wonder if I'd get up in the morning were I not motivated by fear of bed sores.  That weak joke has an underlying seriousness to it.  That kind of fear makes me do something, but for too long fear made me inert.  It stopped me from doing stuff.  The usual nonsense of "what will people think if I do this...", "It might make me uncomfortable" etc., etc.. Of course the crippling fear that created a prison was fear of addressing addiction.  The concept of life without booze was so far off the scale of consciousness that it it didn't matter where it took me, or how low I felt, I was too terrified to address it.  Then on November 22nd 2000, a door briefly opened and terrified as I was I crept through it into another room.  In the new room there was a bit more light (I'll be honest - it wasn't blinding) and I had a lot less restrictions, and the fear I had felt about giving up what I genuinely believed was the essence that defined me, left me.  A master of understatement would describe it as a good move..

But don't get me wrong.  Fear has never left me and it remains my constant partner.  We seem to be on a road trip together with Fear sitting right up front with me in the truck fiddling with the radio stations, constantly distracting me and trying to stop me going to the destinations I might enjoy.

The good thing is I have sometimes learnt to ignore Fear.  I can now stop listening and give something a bash despite Fear's constant internal chatter.

Every stage of the journey to endurance events has been a confrontation with something that scares me.  That first marathon in 2001, my first triathlon, my first Olympic Distance tri, my first Ironman and so on and so on have all caused me sleepless nights.  I have had stress dreams and psychosomatic pains in my legs prior to events.  The dreams are always to do with me being late to the start, or forgetting my swimming kit, or my trainers.  All of it adds to my fear.   I become distant and appear preoccupied before a "biggie".  But I now press ahead with the journey. That bloke Webb, who was first to swim the Channel said "Nothing great is ever easy." He was right about that.

That first triathlon I mentioned is a case in point.  I was rigid with fear before it.  But I suspected this "triathlon" thing might have some benefit.  I was/am so incompetent that my bike fell off the back of the car on the way to the triathlon.  My wheel was buckled, and I could so easily have turned around and come home.  I really wanted to.  But I went up to Bedford, completed the tri, was heavily patronised and was out of my depth.  But I still did it and was so proud of myself.

So that has subsequently become my modus operandi.  Are you scared to try something that you suspect may have some benefit? See if the door is slightly ajar and tip toe through it.  You never know what may happen, but it may well  be better than what you had before. I am lucky enough to know a guy called Dan Earthquake ("Dan" is obviously not his real name).  He made one of the epic Channel crossings of 2013.  22 hours in the sea.  I was with him  a few weeks before he set off.  His philosophy was so spot on.  "Well, Paul, " he said, "I don't mind what happens, but I do know that it will be adventure."

Dan is right.  That attitude of "just give it a try" will lead to all sorts of adventures and challenges.  It can broaden your horizon of experience. You learn a little bit more about yourself, too.  This weekend I ran 100 miles in an event called the Thames Path 100. (NB This event sells out.  Why, oh why, oh why?)  I have never done that before.  I was terrified about the concept.  I'm slow and I knew it would be torturous.  But I do now have a new mantra of "well, give it a try, no one's going to die" and then I can see where it leads, so I went for it.  I really wanted to test my mental capacity for continuing when I was shot to pieces.  I think that this will stand me in good stead for the Channel, when so often I am told that it is people's minds, not bodies, that give up.  So, on Saturday I started off from Richmond Town Hall at 10am and trotted along the banks of the Thames for 26 hours until I reached Oxford.  100 miles in one go...

The day that I spent running was a constant mental battle.  On one hand was the fear in my mind telling me again and again "it's too far, it's too far" and on the other hand there was the logical regulation system saying, "it's okay.  You're in good shape.  Nothing bad is happening.  Keep going." (This is sounding like a Thomas the Tank Engine story.) Fortunately, my regulation system won, and at Midday on Saturday I arrived at the finish.  Bloody amazing feeling.

                                                          Quite possibly happy to finish?

When I do an event I subsequently blank out the pain and give myself images that make me think it wasn't too bad.  This bastard joke my brain plays then makes me book some other stupid event. But on Saturday/Sunday I was privileged to run through the night, which was other worldly and quite spiritual and I was then witness to the most beautiful sunrise.  I have got to know a new happiness.

                                           5.30am Sunday 4th May 2014 Thames Path 100

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