It seems funny that after all I have achieved I come back to old problems, realising that my approach once again needs to adapt and evolve as my life changes. A realisation that the black dog has been beginning to rear its head a little too much for comfort. Interestingly, the answers don’t seem to lie with big complicated answers, but simple things and hopefully playing to some of the more positive learning I have picked up and applied over the last decade.
There can be no doubt that myself like many other addicts I have chosen busyholism instead of arguably more destructive choices, in my case alcohol. Something that brought its own problems and impacted my mental health considerably, to the point of the blackest of thoughts. I chose to throw myself into my work, gaining purpose and direction through my youth work and the founding of BCT. Having so much to do every day meant that the darker thoughts simply didn’t have time to take root. But over the last couple of years I have begun to push myself to places that even for me are unsustainable.
Over the last year or two my depression has started to bite back at me once again, unlike anything whilst not also heavily drinking. I worked harder, longer and continued to think that I could keep on keeping on, but, well this year I’ve started to get closer to the darkness than I ever want too. But, finally only after taking a break from the world and as always, some time to run and calm my thoughts, allowing me to reflect. I am going to lay down my thoughts in order of the issues I have highlighted and equally the measures that I hope to apply in 2018 to once again get back on track.
Adapting to my New Environment
It seems obvious with a fresher pair of eyes, that my choice to once again leave construction and go to university, whilst also running BCT Aspire was a big decision. But I hadn’t thought about the biggest element of change, the change from a highly active and physically demanding life in construction to a relatively sedentary one, sat in a classroom or on a computer. This for someone who maybe didn’t realise just how active my life had been, and more importantly what a crucial part of keeping me well it had been. Working in construction, which involved heavy manual labour everyday of my working life, meant that I never had to worry about additional exercise. I never struggled to sleep, due to the physical tiredness. Even, the banter of working in construction was something I realised was a great way of keeping on top, its unique. These facts led me to believe for a period that as long as I won my other battle, alcohol, I could keep the black dog pinned back. The other equally important point that I have realised is, from the age of 12 I had played regular weekly sport which gave me a regular pattern and routine that again meant that I kept active, alongside the focus on additional training. With my admittance that rugby was a risky sport for me to play due to the connection to drink, it meant that I lost another key measure. This leads into one of the other strategies I have used to replace this, and try to keep me well.
Since 2010, I have taken on at least one large challenge per year, activities that also meant I had to put in considerable training to even dream of achieving them. Trying I guess, to find a new focus to replace what I had lost through team sport. This was coupled with dabbling with trail and ultra running, again looking to add some routine goals to keep me keen. Understanding, that my competitive nature is a beast that needs feeding, even though the competition is very much intrinsic. However, after once again looking to use this approach in 2017 I have realised it is very much a sticking plaster, creating its own problems. My thought process back in 2010 was very much about making things so big and public, that I simply couldn’t entertain failure, the spin-off I was less likely to drink and fall back into old habits. But what I maybe hadn’t realised was that I was choosing to apply massive pressure on myself all the time. Living in a constant state of fight or flight and choosing fight, which burns through energy like there is no tomorrow, mental energy. The lows following these big endeavours taking me into a new kind of dark place.
The other big goal, that has taken up without doubt the larger part of my time and energy, BCT Aspire. I guess if I could see the road in front in me back in 2010, I may have looked at another path. Never realising the years of struggle it would take, without the option of a reprieve, that is until the present time, where I have took a step back and paused to enjoy something that is now doing well and importantly to me, safe and sustainable.
The mix of these factors has meant that I have very much found myself back at a place I know to well, the edge of burn out. Thankfully, I have the skills to at least see some of these things this time round, but equally know that it needs to change. Especially with the birth of my first child in the next few weeks, something that I know changes my world and creates other worries. I can’t keep working so hard day in day out, whilst also looking to pile big challenges on top too. The effect is I am burning myself out mentally, and risking taking myself back to places I never want to visit. This is where hopefully shit gets cool, the obsessive part of my learning journey meaning I do have the toolbox in place, but need to start getting the right tools out for the job. So, what follows is my plan for how I will achieve the most important goal in my life, the one of keeping myself well and as much as possible, free from depressive bouts.
My Daily Priority – Exercise
I guess for people who have always had inactive jobs, it is the norm to have to hit the gym in the lunch hour or use the commuter run to steal some time for exercise. But my job in construction meant that it was never a factor, coupled with regular sport. But what has happened is I have become busier and busier, whilst deprioritising my exercise to the bottom of the list. I had put everything else above it, meaning more days with, apart from the dog walk, whole days of little exercise. My sticking plaster approach, was my beloved Saturday evening run which I had told myself “As long as I get my long run I am ok.” Well I now acknowledge that not just the Saturday night run but the use of big goals to support sporadic phases of physical activity doesn’t work. The answer is building some new daily habits, that have the simple aim of keeping mentally well. Taking the time for me, and feeding the part of me that keeps me fit and mentally strong.
Building a New Cornerstone Habit
One of the books that changed my life without doubt, was the power of habits by Charles Duhigg. The idea that I could with some considerable effort tweak my patterns of behaviour. This was the approach I used to manage my drinking problem. Changing my Saturday routine of rugby and drinking to running and coffee. It didn’t happen overnight but, I wasn’t building a new habit, I was changing the routine of a current one. Saturday sport and then the drinking was linked to the want/need to feel relaxed. I had to change the routine I used to achieve this goal, this is the point I need to achieve in my daily life.
So, I work on a computer now a lot, to relax I will often stop for a short coffee break and then expect myself to work some more. If I have deadlines I will work longer and longer into the night. So, joining the dots about what I need to do has come on the back of my recent barefoot coast to coast and work over the last few years.
I need to do something that rejuvenates my levels of mental energy, the way I achieve this in my case is to do some exercise. To get those naturally occurring good vibes, that lift my levels back upwards. This has linked into starting training with my friend Connor Grover, and the idea of a 9-minute workout routine. In the past, I would maybe have been dismissive of the value of just 9 minutes effort. But, my goal is different now, it is simply about resetting myself mentally and for me, like many I guess, a short period of hard work does the job. It’s not training for a race, it’s not a big goal and it doesn’t take hours. It means that unlike putting massive pressure on myself to head to the hills and run long miles, I can achieve the simple, but important aim of keeping my mind well.
I have taken the other step of making these periods of activity part of my daily work log, this is how I record what I have achieved against my goals for the day. This is the part that means when busy I down prioritise myself and my exercise. I have I guess, reframed exercise to not the least important part of the day, but the most important.
When I use the term cornerstone habit what I mean is, something that leads to other positive habits falling into place. So, with my exercise routine, it has happened like this. I have put in a few minutes either side to do some stretching, which I have only really applied when training for big events then binned again. I take a break from serious thinking and re-engage with some simple mindfulness, being in the moment. Following on from this, it goes further, I take a shower which I won’t lie when in depressed states, self-care falls down the list of priorities. This is massively rejuvenating mentally and means taking a little bit more time for myself. From there instead of drinking yet another cup of coffee, I go downstairs and have a cup of green tea and eat a healthy lunch. It’s like the good vibes created keep on rolling forward. The weird thing is I quite often then really feel like pulling the running shoes on and head out the door for another period of exercise. The level of a couple of hours a day, is nothing compared to when it was 8+ but I think it hits a level that is realistic. I also aim to take pressure off myself, in regards to what I can achieve from a work perspective each day.
Developing Good Habits
I know that I have used my learning of habits within my work and to achieve many of goals over the last few years. Often you have got to look at the overall goal of any action, the thing you want to achieve. So, with drinking my route goal was a feeling relaxed, sadly the routine I adopted of drinking rarely achieved that goal, but an altogether more destructive one. So, the aim is to change the behaviour I use to achieve my goal. The example of swopping rugby and booze for my long run, is a good example. I think that to achieve a new habit, you have to literally attempt to change one thing at a time, and also be completely consistent. So, I knew that whatever happened in my week I would pull the shoes on and head out the door. The result over many years is that on a Saturday I am almost pre-programmed to head out the door. I achieve the state of mind craved, serenity and relaxation. So, my initial target is to embed my 9 minute exercise routine and link this up with the Saturday run. As written above, I know that other good things happen, but at the moment I am only consciously focusing on the exercise loop, the rest is the added bonus.
This year for me will be the year of the daily win, not the big event, the big race or activity. It will be about achieving what I need to do, to simply but vitally keep myself fit and well. So, the above routine will be coupled with taking more pressure off myself, in terms of binning the big goals and working to my actual mental energy levels. This means I must pin up what matters to me most, and then accept the trade-off’s I must make to achieve these goals. This is simple in my life right now, and for the next few years at least. The simple fact of becoming a Dad will change my world in an undefinable way, so I won’t state that now. I will wait till I know the reality and then reset my radar. But other two goals are my degree in psychology and building my organisation into a truly sustainable and well organised youth work provider. Both are well on track, but it does mean that I must accept the things that I no longer have time for partaking. Instead of thinking I can still achieve them and feeling shit when I don’t. I will admit these things need parking up in the short term.
Parking up, is a great way to put it, as one of my accepted points is that I have little time for ultra-running and formal long distance races, something I love but it doesn’t trump achieving the above goals. I need to run, but I don’t need to race and after entering at least half a dozen races last year, where due to other pressures I didn’t even make the start line, I will rephrase this challenge. I am competitive and goals driven, so I need to feed this in my life. So, I will finally start running a park run on a Saturday morning. Learning from the 9 minutes, maybe the 5k which is a race, well as much or as little as you want it to be can feed to goals. The other is the love of the social scene of running, the chat with friends over a brew. I miss this but can maybe take a little of this bit, with the minimum of time commitment. Further still, I will swop the reliance on heading to the moors for simply my local park. This saves hours of travel time, and again hopefully I can get the minimum of fix without the time pressure needed. The park in mind is a place I love, Castle Eden walkway and after doing it for a few weeks I am enjoying it. Socially I know that I will have to say no to things I love to do, but again you have to focus on what matters most. I am lucky I see a lot of people through my work on both fronts. So, time alone and with my own thoughts is actually what I crave come a weekend. I don’t just like it, I need it, the solace and serenity that I can find at times.
Good Enoughversus Doing My Best
Funny, I love the fact that this term is also one of the biggest hits of my favourite band. But this point conflicts with my principle life mantra taken from my Grandad “Do your best”, it’s interesting that I am applying some learning from university work on decision making. But the simple message that has struck accord is sometimes good enough is more than enough. This is a really big point for me, the pressure I apply on myself on everything I ever do. I set my goals by the best, regardless of what I do. This I realise is incredibly draining in terms of my mental energy and maybe I can get away with a little bit less. The things that matter most, I can apply the lifelong habit of doing my best, but on certain days and tasks, well lets just do the minimum eh?
Binning the Smartphone
It was over a year ago, that I had a day that made a big impact on me in terms of the effects of technology on my state of mind. On what could have been described as the day from hell, I went away with some fresh thinking, something that I recently forgot until the last week. I was booked to speak at Manchester Met University to give a talk to a group of sports managers. It was a big deal and something that I wanted to do well. However, late the night before my smartphone broke, and with my train at 6am, no time to get a replacement. This would have been bad enough but, I also managed to leave my laptop on the platform at the station. The result I had lost my presentation, which I hadn’t sent due to being a short notice booking and had no means of contacting anyone. I realised that all I had was my mind, and the thoughts within it. This stirred an interesting lightbulb as I begun to people watch and seen 99% of the world absorbed in a phone or tablet. Whilst, I begun to taste some of the feelings I have gained when wandering alone, again without any devices etc. Simply being present in the moment and enjoying what was around me. Anyway cut to the chase, I stuck to this throughout the year and it seemed to work for me. It meant that if I was at university I was present in the task at hand, the same during sessions at BCT, and most importantly more likely to relax at home. Only recently, probably through being at a low ebb I fell back. Maybe, you do crave some external validation through likes and retweets, but I know well that it’s inside my own mind that my relief comes not from others. Straight away I was back to checking my phone every few minutes, stressing about things coming in that made me feel obliged to reply instantly, and lost even more time for resting my tired mind. So, the simple plan, stick to the nokia 3310 meaning if I am out and about doing tasks I am only thinking about that. When I have the time to check other things I will do so, and hopefully this simple measure will help me to once again live a more mindful life, something I truly believe works for me.
My Trusted Inner Sanctum
I guess over the last decade one of the biggest step forwards for me, was understanding that it really does help to be able to talk, openly and honestly. I have a few great friends that understand many of the same feelings that I struggle with, and allow me to open up when things aren’t going well. Fairly recently these people have been a massive help to me. Hopefully I can and do repay the favour when it is needed in the other direction.
Managing my Mental Energy
Over the years, I have became really interested in the idea of mental energy. The learning through endurance events, where for a certain fact I am not as strong physically as some, but with the ability to manage myself mentally. Maybe ironic, for a depression sufferer to say such a thing, but I have applied much of my learning in pretty extreme circumstances and came through it. This year with the barefoot stuff it really was about trying to find the little wins, and when it felt good soaking it up like my life depended on it. Well I see life in the same vein now, and hope to apply this learning. I have a finite amount of mental energy, if I do to much without topping up I will start to creak and feel crap. So, I need to invest the time in topping up my levels, and accepting that I cannot do as much as I have done in the past. For me, physical activity is the key measure for topping up my levels, but others include talking to a friend, listening to music, enjoying the sunrise, sunset, watching the birds in the garden, chilling with Jody and Molly. These all give me more energy to achieve the things I desire in life. But I drink the well dry, well the black dog will appear from over my shoulder and take his revenge.
2018, simply for me the year of the small daily win! PS This does not mean that I won’t take on big challenges, it just means I know they are not part of keeping me well anymore. The reality is I love the things I do and hope when the time comes available I can do some crazy shit to feed the giggling child like Paul within.
How many of us have tried to make changes in our life and failed when our willpower has waned? When we set those massive new year’s resolutions to go to the gym, lose weight, giving up smoking or drinking. Why does it so often go wrong, even when we have every genuine intention of doing it?
I guess this was a question I asked myself time and time again, as I would relapse back to drinking. So capable of achieving some many things but slipping over the same banana skins time after time. What was the thing that broke this cycle finally (Well as I write 2 ½ years of abstinence)? It was learning that it often takes a hell of a lot more than will power and that actually willpower isn’t an infinite resource no matter how strong minded we think we are.
I always got that addiction is the strongest of habits, but I guess I never really understood the vice like grip that habits can hold over us, both good and bad. After reading the power of habits by Charles Duhigg, a lightbulb most certainly went on in my head. I will try my best to keep it in simple terms that I reckon can be applied to any challenge in life.
The first point I will make is that like most things it’s not about targeting the big changes it’s about starting small and being utterly consistent. Once we form a strong enough habit loop it becomes something that can be harder not to do than do, maybe that makes sense when you think about addiction. So I will use my example that is the real deal when it comes to my drinking.
Anyone who knows addiction will know that the compulsion to do, to take is unbelievably strong, like a hidden force controlling your body, no matter how hard you fight. Well for me the first step was stepping away from the places that put me at highest risk of drinking. I gave up playing rugby knowing that at that time being around a drinking environment socially was not something I was strong enough to handle. The idea that we can put ourselves around our demons and simply use willpower is flawed to my mind. Once we are around those things, habit takes over so in my case it was natural to then drink. My feelings would build up to full blown panic attacks at worst, my petulant 7-year-old routine often used from fear of simply not wanting to put myself at risk of relapsing. For many years I thought I had to live my old life, do what I had always done and again rely on my inner strength to fall back. But whilst that habit is live you are always only a minute away from failure. When people say, just the one could tip me back, it’ because it’s really just like sliding down a giant snake and starting the journey again. The bigger problem that with every relapse, our battered confidence in our ability to defeat our foe is lessened further still.
I never got when I was a kid how my Uncle who was such a good guy, couldn’t just give up or George Best, Gazza. But as grew older the strength of addiction made perfect sense. The claws once locked into us can be fatal to so many. So what am I saying apart from a random splurge of thoughts. That firstly if you want to make serious change in your life you can’t expect to live the same life. Your brain is always expecting that component that you are now saying you don’t need, but putting yourself in the same place. Example – Why would I think hanging about in pubs now abstinent would be a good idea?
My first step of breaking away from rugby was only a small battle. I remember the worst feelings of anxiety around a Saturday teatime, the time that defined my old social life for my whole adult life. It was awful feeling completely devastated that I could no longer just be one of the boys. To have the only existence I had ever known taken away from me. Not just missing the game, but my whole social circle now practically gone. My normality was just that and at that time I could see no other way, just as my brain couldn’t comprehend removing these things from my life. I tried smoking dope, not a massive amount as, well I can’t smoke and a have a kid’s chest. But enough to relax me, to not want to drink and to simply be calm. Luckily I realised the stupidity of swapping bad habit for another.
So I turned to something that had become habit, only by the choice to own a dog many years ago, to simply walk. To click dog lead on and head out the door, walking till the feelings began to be replaced by an endorphin release that felt altogether better. Where instead of the brain spinning and thinking like a knotted ball of twine, it would unwind like a conveyor belt. Ideas would start to take shape and problems seemed to have definable answers, or at least stepping stones to working towards their completion.
Again it was not willpower that was going to help but using simply habit. Walking the dog, a daily activity, that would give the prize and reward of feeling relaxed. I analyse my drinking habit and getting to the root cause, which I can confidently say was about achieving a state of rest, peace within, stemming from childhood when I began drinking to forget, to be the person I wished I could be. My habit loop told me that when I wanted to relax I would drink. Sadly, it was a floored strategy that sure gave me some Dutch courage but began to give other worries about what I’d done, or said then the deep feelings of self-loathing that ultimately followed many years into the future. What cemented this habit loop, love! Yea when I stopped giving a shit about everyone else a dog asks so little of you that small walk everyday seemed manageable. Again in relation to the drinking when I felt really anxious I could a double up and take that walk, that I needed to take anyway.
So the seed was laid for my first charity walk across England maybe aiming to help further cement this habit loop. My work and the setting up of BCT gave me another defence strategy, that of busyholism. Not giving the brain time to think about things of a negative nature. Rolling from task to another till through sheer tiredness I would drop to sleep.
This initial period of success was maybe just a little luck, as it was after yet another relapse that my belief in firstly understanding habit and secondly trying to tip them in a positive way came about. The mistake that many a drinker has made is that “I’m ok to have one or two”. Just a simple glass of wine with a meal, it can’t harm. I’m not the person I was and it’s not so bad now. The slow relapse a well-known phrase, with that one glass slowly but surely building back upwards. I had also gone back to playing rugby again, quite apt as I write this blog I have just attended my first training session for some 3 years, am I making a mistake well hopefully not. But the drinking was returning to those problematic levels, where the depressive periods following were getting longer and deeper till reaching the point of suicidal thoughts.
I once again picked myself from the bottom step and looked up at the epic mountain to be climbed. One day a time is the saying, one step at a time. Well these are true whatever the challenge to be undertaken. So during this period I read the book I mentioned earlier and began to put in place my own control measures. I do love the idea of risk assessing my life in this manner. I had to get rid of the riskiest activities in my life that could cause me to fail. So sadly once again this meant giving up rugby once again, even though I had managed to work my way back into the first team, which did mean a great deal. I now knew that I needed to come up with a new activity to replace this lifelong one. So I decided to use running as Meg was now too old for long walks. So each Saturday afternoon I would put the running shoes on and head out for a long run. No matter how anxious I would feel I would tell myself “If you are gonna moan and whinge, do it once those feet are on the pavement and you are moving”. I knew fine well that once moving at some point those horrible feelings in my stomach would be replaced by that lovely little buzz where everything just seems a lot better. Even better once back in the house I began to feel a state of mind I know truly crave, the one I call serenity within. A feeling of no longer worrying or caring about anything, maybe even learning how to enjoy the simplest of moments, such as a sunset, a bird singing, you get the drift.
I began to race, with the simple aim of linking it into my competitive nature giving me a focus to keep me getting out the door. But never forgetting what my true aim was, to simply stay well. I began to realise through my racing that I could have a social life that didn’t rely on drinking. More sharing a brew, a cake or a trail or two for hours on end. Stepping into that world even though of course tiresome leaving me feeling mentally on top of the world. I also linked into the fact that my long term battles with depression meant that physical pain could be accepted and actually felt quite good, it was honest and valid, unlike the pain of the black dog and the stigma that still lives it. I began to see that socially I had only ever lived the most limited of palettes. Sure there was an amazing folk out there had a good time, simply high on life.
So 2 ½ years later I am once again looking at how I apply this thinking to achieving in my life. Looking at how I can use habit loops in my life and also to go back and revisit things that mean a great deal. I yearning to return to rugby has built up in me over this period, it’s hard to describe the attachment to the game, but It’s like home. It’s a place that feels so natural that when it’s missing it really is a hard to handle. So I made the decision to pull my boots back on and be back in that culture, could it be a mistake? well only time can tell. But maybe I have finally changed my habit loop where drink, relaxation and stress are concerned. The old association doesn’t seem to have its hold it once did over me.
What pulls me back, the feel of a rugby ball in my hand just a like a kid giving a pass or making a tackle. 25 years on from the first time it once again feels something really special. How long does it take to change a habit loop, a decade maybe well in this case that’s what are talking? So for the quick fix merchants that’s not great news, but the journey can only ever start with a small action. Something that we can positively imbed in our daily lives. Think about attempting to go to the gym 5 days a week, when you have never gone to a gym and certainly not 5 days a week. We put our success in the hands of will power and we also scare ourselves to shit as the goal is just too big. Then when we fail we totally crush ourselves for that lack of commitment. So when the days are toughest it ain’t about hitting the gym of an hour it’s about something so small that we can taste success, then got on a bit of a roll. Maybe we’ll without realising do 15 mins, 30, an hour after all. The biggest the challenge the more we need to find the small wins, sometimes these are simply not going backwards. Merely surviving the day is as good as it gets and we need to say well done to ourselves on these days.
I remember the first time my habit loop was truly tested this last period of abstinence. It was when I had to close BCT’s café named after my beloved Grandparents and a period that felt like total failure as I returned to construction just to survive. The task of clearing out the kitchen left to me with all our amazing staff now departed, I sat in that kitchen and considered going to Weatherspoon’s and having a Guinness. The woe is I approach, justifying to myself that sure it would be ok to fuck up today, no one will hold it against you. The depressive’s friend, beating ourselves with our own stick rather than use anyone else’s. But for whatever reason I simple thought lodged in my head, that sticks with me and maybe as much metaphorically stays with me, I decided I would simply turn right.
So back in the day when I was drinking I would turn left out of my street and simply cross the road to Aldi to buy my red wine. But whenever I ran at that time they would all start by turning right and heading down Norton Avenue. On the good day’s turning right was easy, but each time I did it I reinforced my habit loop that when times get tough I turn right. So as I sat in Weatherspoon’s with a coffee instead of a beer, I told myself that I needed to commit to just one simple act each day. When I arrived in from work, I would instantly put the running shoes on and head out the door turning right. Each day all I had to do to get rid of those dreadful feelings of woe, was to fight the urge to sit down, stick on those running shoes and turn right.
Those day’s turned into weeks and those weeks became months, followed by years. That was the role that running began to do for me. During this period, I have tried to replace busyholism with learning to enjoy the moment more often, simply enjoying what was around me, whether that’s the people or surroundings. So recently after playing rugby with old pals and attending good friend’s birthday parties where I was surrounded by the old drinking crowd and realised there wasn’t a single part of me craving what they were taking. Knowing that I can really get high on life leads me to thinking I have to go back to the places where my heart feels deepest. No grand agenda just to enjoy doing the things that have made me happiest as long as I am physically able, which isn’t forced to be long, if the feelings after one training session are anything to go by.
So when we want to make big change what are the key elements, well here goes:
• Risk Assess your life, where are the highest risk activities / people maybe. Don’t keep testing your resolve especially when weak.
• Substitute the behaviour with something else, smokers use chewy, ecig’s etc. all based around keeping the habit happy.
• Don’t make it too big, it only scares the brain and that causes another load of problems. Start small and try to do with utter consistency especially whilst feeling good.
• Surround yourself with energizers, people who lift you up, give you energy and allow you to be the real you.
• Understand that on your down day’s we must be realistic with our goals, we can’t change too many things at once. Some day’s simply getting out of bed maybe our success.
• Realise that making lasting changes to ourselves takes time but by using small wins we soon cover a lot of ground.
• Do things that make you truly happy and try to work these into any habit you are trying to form.
• Work around the things you can make part of your daily life, that works on the bad day’ and not just the good.
I know one thing about my journey it’s no longer just about beating my demons, but about how it can be applied to having a rich and fulfilling life. But for me right now it’s also about going back to where the good and bad times seem equally etched and hopefully writing a new chapter. When you love what you do, we never see the hard work.
I guess I only ever write about depression when I am either down or I am just turning the corner on the road back out of its throes. But I wanted to share some of my own thoughts and coping strategies, that I reckon help me not only manage it, most of the time, but also maybe even get some positives from it. Needing to get on the front foot and actually see it as a challenge, an opportunity to improve myself.
Depression has been part of my life for some 20 years, with reflection and it is only in the last 6 years that since acknowledging its existence that I have changed my own mindset towards it. The competitor in me sees it as one hell of a challenge to be taken, one that I cannot shy away from and one that is a lifelong pursuit, where it isn’t about quick fixes. But that’s the apt word “quick fixes” these things never help us achieve big, but more the application of doing the little things well and over a long period brings large gains.
My depression is a chronic disorder, although I haven’t had the need for visits to a medical professional in the last few years, I know very well that if I take my off the ball then I can be very quickly in the grip of the black dog. The red flag’s obviously still zero alcohol and lots of lovely exercise. But what intrigues me is that the little things I need to do are completely compatible with achieving success generally. My ad-hoc study of habits and how the brain is always trying to make our life easy by automating everything, sadly the bad ones just as much as the good.
So why have I once again let my mood fall into the grip of depression, because I didn’t go to bed early, because I skipped a run, because I kept working late last night, because I’ve been sat at my desk to long. None of these things a great catastrophe on their own, but when one follows the other, that’s the start of the slow road downhill. See, just like when achieving big, it’s about the constant application of doing the 1%er’s every time, to the point that we no longer even think about doing, it simply happens! Well whether I am training for a big event or a business goal, it’s the same approach realising that success and more importantly feeling well are directly connected to getting the small things right.
There is no big answer, no quick win but simply restarting with that first small win, that single step, getting out of bed, getting ready. To say the greatest journey starts with a single step isn’t just some clever metaphor it is very good practical advice. Whatever we are looking to achieve stop looking big but start looking small and the quick wins, the things you can do today, that set the tone, that build the confidence, getting on a roll so to speak.
So as I write this blog buoyed by being productive, actually simply from putting my feelings down through this keyboard I am starting the process. What’s the next step? Well in my world it’s getting the ass out the door and going for a run, my most simple but successful strategy. Those beautiful endorphins giving me a big collective high 5 and helping run my blues away.
Those who know depression will know that when in Its grips the idea of going for a run is a painful thought. Well it is no different for me, once I’ve let myself slide down too far. So I must look even smaller first to get on a roll, the most minuet win. In this case I replied to some emails, I checked off some really small tasks, that when I looked at my faithful diary showed me I had begun to achieve, those small tasks when listed together started to look like a bigger win.
I have learned that we cannot judge success by the same criteria on different days, sometimes the smallest wins are as good as it gets and guess what! That’s ok as we can’t kick the shit out of it every time.
I know from my many miles running and walking that sometimes, when that wind blows in your face, it’s cold, dark and wet making any ground forward a real success. When I struggle most and need to keep going I make my goals even smaller. I do this for real, so when running I start to look not at the horizon but at an oil stain a few feet in front, a leave, a road sign again only a few feet down the road. I check off the micro victories giving myself just the smallest sense of achievement that secretly pushes me on to the next challenge, the poo bin, the curb, the red car. Not big wins, the smallest of wins, but ones that I know keep helping me make progress towards a bigger win.
This blog is a ramble of thoughts, but the point if there is one, well that there isn’t no easy win’s worth having, we don’t achieve big things from one big effort, but from a consistent daily application to the task in question. I have to laugh at the irony of depression, on the good day there is not much that worries me in the world, but on that down day, the smallest task becomes an effort requiring herculean strength.
So depression I guess I owe you a debt of gratitude as without you by my side I maybe would have never worked out these things that help me achieve big. A big win is a million small ones and that’s where my time is spent working out how I create the habits that take the thinking out of the game. When it becomes habit it simply happens, rugby pitch, youth session, business meeting, practice the smallest elements and let the amazing computer also known as our brain do its thing.
As I sit here with a rainbow coloured beard after once again publicly looking incredibly silly, as part of the fantastic SIRF community carnival I can’t help but reflect on the reasons behind it. That maybe aren’t so silly, in fact that I know are not silly in the slightest, but showing that once we learn to embrace who we are and let go of that inner fear we can achieve great things.
I spent over 20 years developing a character/fascade that allows me to achieve the things I wish in life. But they don’t come from a positive place, but rather like many from feelings of inadequacy, constantly worrying about the opinion of everyone, on everything. The phrase that changed my life maybe from a former rugby coach at Billingham Rugby Club as a young 16-year-old scrum-half stepping into senior rugby. “Become the pantomime character” Simply meaning it may not be the real you but build the character then use it to aid performance. Well over 20 years later I wonder is it still the character or is it simply the person I am within.
Having ran youth sessions for well over a decade and also lived with anxiety problems, I see the difference between being nervous and being completely paralysed by fear, for whatever reason. So when children walk into my world, the first task is always to simply make people feel comfortable and safe, just as we all need in life. Sure fear can on occasion help performance in some, but living in a constant state of fear, is like being slowly poisoned. The same can be said for once of the most potent fuels for performance and something that can be seen in many great achievers, that of true anger, again overuse it becomes toxic. I say that having suffered a breakdown in 2009 with these both very probable ingredients. So my pantomime character, that of the clown is maybe not so silly. To show children that within our world, you can be the person you wish, deep inside, without the constant worry of judgement. Sure, not everyone is or has to be an extrovert, but to simply understand that you can be who you really are, is a worth more than gold.
It also leads onto the other vital ingredient of everything we do and believe, that of energy and more specifically positive energy. I have used this in many aspects to achieve great goals, I have set myself and understand that when we can pull together as much positivity it is truly infectious. As a collective, a team we gain strength from the energy and strength of one and another. The introvert rests easy next to the extrovert understanding that we all bring something special to the team. The great teams work around those who need support positively and ultimately improve everyone and everything. This is the culture that we work hard to achieve at BCT Aspire CIC.
So think about it for a second, how far is the gap between the inner and outer you? This is the gap I have tried to slowly bridge building something I call true confidence vs perceived confidence. The latter is the performance, the fascade that allows us to get the job done. True confidence is the magic, when we know longer have to think about who or what we do, but simply be who we are, in whatever way that manifests.
When I am in the room with my groups hopefully they can rest assured they need not worry about feeling silly as you are going to have to go some to look as daft as me. But first we must all feel safe in our environment, that go’s across business, sport, whatever place we step foot in.
Think about it for a second how many different characters do you have to use in your life, one for business, one for socialising, one that is the real you, whilst surrounded by those who make you feel safe. Well when we can begin to bridge the gap, the discord within can slowly be broken.
Bizarrely since writing this blog and then reflecting on it, i have interestingly been brought back to my rainbow beard. As i got ready for my Saturday night run i pulled on my new running vest, which represents Sara’s Hope Foundation and who’s logo is a rainbow. My good friend Tony the Fridge is currently running 100 consecutive Great North Run’s for BCT Aspire CIC and Sara’s Hope. So anyway i guess the beard needs to stay till that challenge is completed, so if you see the rainbow beard you know why.
Remember ! No one can ever be a better version of you, than YOU
Great journey’s can sometimes take a long time to achieve. It’s taken over 2 years but i have finally realised one of my own dreams with the publication of my first ever paperback book launched in WHSmith Teesside Park on the 2nd July – Jumping the Cliff to Simply Be!
The book chronicles my journey across Italy from the farthest tip in the South of Reggio Calabria to across the border and the finish line in the principality of Monte Carlo, a journey of over a 1000 miles. It would link up the dots of a walk that spanned the whole of mainland Europe and the UK, walking alone and without support.
The journey was fundraising for the Jo & Mya Charity, named after the family of my good friend and chief support throughout the walk Ian Richardson, someone who i would spend many hours chatting with during the walk, when i could. The journey was covered extensively by local newspaper Evening Gazette with stories throughout the walk.
The journey was my own way of taking on my demons, including acknowledging my own mental health problems and also a lifelong battle with alcohol. Walking without money, other than for emergencies which did come up, especially walking the Mafia controlled areas of Naples, where a night on the road was the scariest experience of my life.
A time in my life where in many way’s my life was creaking at the edges, as i fought to save my social enterprise BCT Aspire and my own employment hung in the balance. This was my own unique way of going away to come back to fight on.
The walk highlights my simple techniques for staying positive such as the efforts made to learn the language, even if it meant only a few simply greetings and niceties, accompanied by my smile of friendship to all who i would pass on the road.
From the first day when taking the time to offer a photograph to a Father & Son would mean a support network i could never imagine that would keep me save, even when a chest infection meant a trip to the Hospital on New Years Day.
The walk shows also showed a darker side with my slow relapse to drink, using red wine to help me sleep and numb the pain, just as many do in daily life. The walk show’s that when we have a goal, whatever obstacles are in our way are just part of the journey and that anything is truly achievable.
Showing the joy of simple moments, such as watching a sunrise or fall, the singing of the birds, this walk is about enjoying the world around us, even if some day’s the sun doesn’t shine.
The book is available on pre-order and available from the 2nd July through myself or my publishers 6th Element.
I cannot help to see the parallels with 6 years ago when I stepped off a building site, after what had been a nightmare period of life. The difference this time is there is no waking up in police cells with vague recollection of why, I am not debted to the eyeballs and I have never been clearer on where I am going. So why am I so scared, well because I’ve always been scared, maybe he’s even my mate now!
Last week when I walked off the site at Stainton village, it could be perceived as a reckless decision without firm employment to go too. Maybe even decisions made in the haste of recovering from my latest big race and the mandatory low mood that follows. I can self-talk myself into whatever I want or probably more importantly what I need to belief, so am I right or simply a little deluded?
My early years living in a state of anxiety have stayed with me and often have that familiar feeling before doing new things or meeting new people for that matter, as we all do! The intensity however so strong that at times i have ran away or fallen into not so positive coping strategies such as the drink or like some of the kids i have worked with using bad behavior to get out of the situation. But I worked out eventually that you must jump the cliff, you must go through the door and face that fear. It is the only way to take away those feelings. Our demons always grow in stature if we turn away from them, but look them in the eye and forcibly stride towards them and watch them crumble to dust.
For whatever reason in life I seem to treat it like a big challenge, never liking things to comfortable, possibly even scarier to me. I know that my childhood which gave me tremendous strength also at times gave me a feeling of never being good enough. Looking around at others, the things they possessed and the normality of their family (well to the outside viewer). But I was blessed with a man in my life who gave me a straight line, take away the emotion and do. Proper black country working stock of a man, my beloved Grandad. A man who not only thought everything was possible but showed it, even into his 80’s. We need to get 12 fence posts on a bike and move them 6 miles, well we do. I never realised when I was younger the mind-set I was being given. The one that even though with often a feeling of not being good enough, the response could only ever to DO, to try, day after day, challenge after challenge. To put your head down, walking purposefully into the wind and rain.
My first recollection of this in my psyche running for the next bus stop before the bus came, i’d rather be moving than waiting idly for that bus. Still doing it into my college days in Hartlepool whilst studying joinery. In the end simply thinking, well I might as well just run all the way. Whatever the goal, rarely shared, once set it would and does become all-consuming till it’s achieved, no matter what the timescales involved. Realising that often you take a quick look at the goal in the distance before putting your head down and concentrating on the ground at your feet.
6 years ago I stripped everything back, moving away to be on my own, with just Meg for company. The aim to work out what mattered. My simple fun day, the pre-cursor to BCT Aspire the first thing to be missed. The ludicrous decision made at the height of the recession to setup a social enterprise, not a charity. The difference you may ask, well the aim was always and still is to be self-sufficient and pay our own keep, just as my Grandad did and as I have done being self-employed for the last 16 years. What does this give you, well it gives you empowerment to be as you need to be, to work from the gut and the heart and not the ticklist of outcomes that another may need to see, regardless of it’s true value. BCT had no plan, maybe it still doesn’t, other than to raise the aspirations of people, to show what’s possible when you believe. As write BCT is in it’s strongest position ever and part of the reason, my body is telling me it’s time for a rest. I dreamed of reaching a plateau, the goal around the next bay. But year after year the wind and rain kept falling, with that plateau still not in sight. What do you do? Well you pause for breath, you take a final look at the horizon and with a deep breath you start walking once again. You find solace in the little win’s whatever they might be, buying you a little more confidence to keep plugging away. Maybe I’ll reach that next bus stop sometime soon.
Well I guess I’ve reached that plateaux personally and professionally with BCT. My period of time back on the building site serving it’s purpose of not only saving myself financially but my organisation. My learning done through doing, through failing a million times and on every occasion after the occasional tantrum, getting back up the deck to take in the learning. There are no boundaries in learning to me, my sport and endurance work, helping me personally and in business, vice versa!
I always know my next big goal, I can’t always share it openly. The sense of not being good enough, even though most of the time firmly controlled by me, can still mock me. So I pin up the goals internally and release them to the world bit by bit. Ever the dreamer, looking upward, even in the throes of depression, I guess when I sit in that gutter I am definitely looking at the stars. I have walked away from joinery, my plan fixed and after this period of simply pausing for breath. I’ll take that look up the road before it’s head down once more.
Finally having achieved one dream of getting my book in to print, I have the simply idea of travelling about like the wild west salesman on his cart and horse meeting people and possibly selling a few books. These human interactions something that i enjoy as much as anything in life. Ill rely on the things that allowed me to walk a whole continent with only a few pounds in my pocket. The simplest things I know, a smile, a warm hello and the time of day for those who cross my path. Just as the those who guided me on those walks did for me. The simplest gestures being amplified by the situation.
My plan to go to Durham University, isn’t for a better job I already have a vocation which is my work with BCT. Many years of forming ad-hoc ideas about how we motivate, build confidence & aspiration in young people, can now hopefully coupled with the much needed academic evidence. Learning isn’t a career it’s part of one of my biggest joys in life, that is where wealth lies, alongside the many memories we create and the moments we experience.
Oh I nearly forgot the goal on the physical level the 1000 mile Iditatrail in Alaska, that’s the five-year plan laid down. Which will once again start with learning the ropes and sucking up the learning, breaking it down in to those smaller sub-dreams.
I always try to write as soon as possible after an event or challenge, so that as many of the sensations and feelings are still as real as ever. That is most definitely the case as I write this blog post, my mind hasn’t come out of it’s ultra bubble yet, still focusing on waking up every hour and eating pizza with coke. MY good friend Glen Kilday said yesterday “ You won’t be walking tomorrow matey” and I reckon he is absolutely spot on as I am in bits. But I hope through the cathartic nature of writing I maybe able to work out what my emotions are after such an event.
I ran my first trail marathon a couple of years ago after my last big walk and knew I needed a new hobby. At that race I heard about this race series called the Hardmoors, instantly it sounded like a place I wouldn’t mind knocking about. I ran Saltburn marathon and then heard about the 160 ultramarathon, the seed was set followed up by reading a blog by Shelli Gordon who has again smashed it this year. I can’t help but think “ Well if I am gonna fail at anything in life, why not make it as big as we can find”. So I set the goal of first running the St Oswalds 100 miles race, if I completed that I would put my entry in and set a carrot for me to chase. I can’t help but laugh to myself at the beautiful ignorance to what I was actually trying to take on last year when I started this race. A lifelong sportsman to a proficient standard I simply assumed that mindset and a bit of graft would see me home, how wrong I was to be, the start of what I can now say has been a beautiful journey.
I struggled with knee problems a lot during racing but had developed the wrong attitude at first, why? Simply because I was still managing to succeed. Like most things in life, we don’t really learn as deeply when we are winning. It takes true pain and disappointment to fire my learning. That was to be where this journey was to go. My knee gave way at just before white horse last year and I thought I could tough it out, well maybe I did till 120 miles, but I got it. I needed to learn to run, to take this sport seriously and the techniques that are required to keep your body in shape for such massive distances. My approach of fuck you body, you’ll do what I tell you was now proven to be floored and my first ever DNF was to written proof. Each time I would look on twitter and see my to running buddies pictures of their medals I was given the another little push to get it right.
So many things now seem utterly stupid in terms of my initial training, basically ploughing the streets even though I could see roseberry topping and the moors from my window each day. If you wanna play rugby you don’t practice on a squash court, right? I made the switch to pinchinthorpe visitor centre and set the target of 3 good quality runs per week. It was just part of a process that I knew would not yield instant results and did actually think that I was still pushing it to make the improvements over the next year. This was another area I made felt even disrespectful to the sport, when I realised the years of application given to reaching these levels of performance. I realised that the conditioning of the body was not achieved over months, but over many years of persistence and application. I made another decision too, which was to enter less races and simple work on my craft in the background. Taking away the pressure to compete and possibly compromise the changes I was trying to make.
Everything in my head became about my form, all the things that people had said to me had hit me, the lightbulb had been turned on. Then it is was hammered home during a training run with my pal Tony Morrison (Fridge man) telling me in the way that he can that my form was absolutely fecking atrocious. The dragging and pulling smashing my heals into the ground was gonna leave me knackered. So I was told to take off my trainers as we ran down a main road somewhere near to hexham and simply run. Ouch as the stones hit me heals, pushing me forward on to my midfoot. Only a few hundred metres but again small things were making sense, that so far had just been words. I ran the rest of that 20 miler trying to shorten the stride and working hard to think about how I struck the ground. It took absolute total concentration. But it was really beginning to make sense what a lot of people were telling me. My runs were shortened for a period for just a few miles whilst trying to see if I could make this habit, the switch from conscious thinking to the point where things just happen. Every time I ran I was mindful of keeping my form both uphill, downhill and on the flat, realising that these were not necessarily the same action, each took a slightly different form. I began to feel my carves working and possibly even my glutes doing a bit of graft these well talked about runners muscles that so far I just hadn’t bothered using like an idiot.
Running to me came back to where it had started following that when I finally manned up and went to the doctors about a lump I had found on the side of my chest. Like an idiot I’d put my head in the sand about it, till my sports therapist Leanne told me to get it checked out. The process meant I of course worried and very prone to depressive bouts I needed my running not for any race, even the 160 but simply to keep me in a good stable place. The calmness within I find after a long run is one of my greatest feelings, serenity within I call it. The mind finally settled, the whirling dervish within slowing to a stop. I am not going to harp on about this as the result was all good and I had it removed, it did cause more worry as it was quite large, like an orange and didn’t want to leave meaning my recovery would take longer just six weeks out from the race. I panicked as I would now miss the 55-mile race, worrying that I wouldn’t had done the work required. I had done just three races in the year following my dnf at the 160 last year, I wouldn’t whether I had got it right.
At this point I decided to give Jayson Carvill a call, obviously an absolute class act as a runner and bloody lovely bloke who was offering training advice. I had never thought about coaching till this point but it was more about knowing how to plan for these last 6 weeks leading up to the race. I was all prepared to probably blow my body to bits with overtraining, but Jayson telling me to keep it down to max of twenty miles, working on the theory that if the work hadn’t been done it would be too late now. I had something that is always good for such a displaced mind as my own, structure to follow. I got back running and maybe even feeling better for the lay off from running.
As the race grew closer I did my usual trick of adding to my worry by entering a relay team from my charity BCT Aspire CIC. It meant I was thinking more about the logistics for these guys than my own race. Maybe again on reflection this stopped me letting any of my own demons start to make a racket in me nappa. It would mean though that on race day I was still chasing up our t-shirts for the team and other bits and bobs, my hero of a crew man Jason was running late from work and I would drive down to Helmsley with just the time to register and literally be shouted for the race briefing still uncertain if I had my bag sorted properly. There was at least time to wish Jane Raper a happy birthday before setting off, someone who’s own father was one of my own role models as rugby player for so many years, it seemed fitting that we both did the job and I would wear me faithful Billingham Rugby shorts too.
But this is where my real love of ultra running takes over, because you now have no choice but to simply let go. Whatever bullshit had gone on, whatever trials and tribulations I had in my world, it was about the here and now for the next 50 hours. Mindfullness for me in all, it’s glory all that mattered was being as kind to my body as I could be, kinda ironic whilst doing what I would to it. The race was here and we would depart in sleeting rain as we headed off towards white horse, full waterproofed up.
In my head I was already playing some little games, I had told myself that this first ten miles was just the warm up leg. It was irrelevant what pace I carried as long as I let my body feel it’s way in to the race. Stopping to move things, adjust or change as required. For such a long weekend I knew that silliness here could be race ending. I ran a bit with Mark Dalton and pals the two Simon’s, having met Mark whilst doing a recce of the tab fells with other guys. Where pacing is concerned I knew that the experienced guys knew what they were doing and it re-inforced that this was a super long race.
I was treated to some singing from Sadie & Lucy as we arrived in Helmsley which was great. Lucy having joined in with some of my youth group the other week at the White Horse race, but these little moments are to me what get’s you through and maybe on a wider level what life is about, simple moments……
Time to make some proper schoolboy errors though over the next couple of legs. I had probably became fixated about how bad conditions could be on the tab fells after a very wet night run with Brenda Wilkin and Jane Raper just a few weeks back. It was a bog fest which meant I had ordered another pair of trainers just a couple of weeks before the race. The same shoe exactly as my current one, but I worked out that they were definitely not broken in properly as my knee was feeling uncomfortable, not in the usual place that I have trouble. I had also decided to wear seal skinz even though I had never wore a pair for years and if I remember rightly I didn’t like them then either. How could I be making such errors on my biggest race ever, because I had become fixated by conditions to the detriment of everything else. When the link was made in my mind I changed my shoe and sock hoping that things would simply settle down, which I am pleased to say they did. I was also running with my poles from the beginning, the thinking that it was usually the twisting, sliding that meant that I got more problems in my knee, via my it band and probably root cause of hip. I was glad to have them with such conditions under foot and would use them all the way, well apart from the last ten miles, where I have to say I may be celebrated to early.
As we headed through towards Fadmoor it was also great to see Marco Altibrandi who I had ran with on the first night last year, before our races had taken different paths. These little conversations and catch ups on route are little motivational 1 percenters, a little bit of distance knocked without a thought given to it.
The relay team even though a little more work to organise was great for company as I ran with Simon, Reece and my proper go to guy Dave Ailano. Navigation through the tab fells took some concentration at stages which also meant I couple of wrong turns during the spell from Hutton le hole to Appleton le moors. I had recce’d this stretch twice on my last two long runs, but made another little error here of thinking I would remember I kept my map in pocket. I’ve worked hard on learning navigation, well now we run a Dofe group I should bloody think so LOL. But the map was useless if you can’t locate yourself for certain on it. The section of open farm fields with very little other defining features to be picked out. The good news here was the calmness I felt inside my head, my rules for this run. To simply stay as level as possibly and of course stay true to the team mantra of “Keep Smiling , Keep Moving”. I had one simple bit of kit that still does the job, my compass which helped me work out the right direction of travel. Maybe when I have some spare cash a gps with mapping would be a great help, but I think it of it as training for teaching navigation to the kids.
Last year’s race my knee had gone at just sixty miles or so which meant I started getting very angry, so early in the race. I am big believer in the time and a place for anger as highly potent energy force, the one used for fighting off wild animals back in the day. But for this race I had worked out that staying level was what was required, no better being high either, that would only mean further to fall back down. Back to the race we simply back tracked to our last known location where it was nice to meet John Kynaston who’s videos of the tab fells I had recently watched in the lead up to the race. Again from a pace perspective it was reassuring to see such experienced runners, reckoning on the fact they would be on the money for pacing. It’s a great thing about ultra running, those random conversations you have as you run as long the route, we passed through Cropton and seemed to be taking a chunk out of the Tab fells. The plan to get that first night boxed off and we could pause for thought, before starting the next section of the race.
Through that next section I was very proud of my work mate Reece Daniell who haven’t not ran a lot in his life was now upto 23 miles on only the first night. It had taken a toll by the end of that leg in to snape and i have to say I was quite selfish in letting simply walk into the checkpoint. Having worked with Reece for a long time i know that his work ethic is second to none and his positive attitude and persona make him a great person to be around, especially when times are tough.
The difference between me and Reece though was he was now off to sleep for the night in the van. In this respect I did not want to lose my own focus for the race, alongside guys who were doing sections then resting. I must take care of business at each stage of the race. The checkpoints are something of a skill in themselves. They are obviously another little mini goal to be knocked off, with the chance to reload a little bit. But not taking to long in them is another worry to be addressed. Again I wanted to stay calm here, I would have it in my head what I totally needed from the checkpoint before I reached it. Jason has crewed for me several times and is well used to my working approach to conversation. At times short and sharp to the point, apologies pal, one arsey fella as usual. But I reckoned these were as bigger part of the race as others, get business done.
The next leg was to be for a lot of the time simply walking as the trail was so boggy and so much water on the ground. There was nothing to be gained by trying to rush through these sections. The child in me still laughs at the idea of passing through the woods in the middle of the night, like a boy’s own adventure. The great outdoors has always felt like home to me, even if maybe this time under tougher conditions. In my head getting to the Hole of Horcum CP was another little win as I knew that the next leg was fairly runnable to have a good solid leg on the forrest roads. Meaning that timing wise we could make sure we were still doing ok. My hope was to at all points not feel to threatened by cut-off’s it’s a game changer when you are in that position, which adds stress, which in turn burns more energy. I had also set the plan this year to try and use some power naps at key times. My thinking was that sometimes you plough on but at such a slow pace you would have been better resting and starting again refreshed. I met another lovely guy to share a few miles with Jon Rowles from Cheltenham. Talking about his epic attempt at the massive Thames Ring Race which is a 250 miles long i think it is. But again just the simple joy of chatting with another positive soul on the trail helped to keep us feeling chipper. Jon also got me thinking about crisps LOL His plan on arrival at the next checkpoint.
The next cp would signal daytime and we had boxed off the first night of the race. It was to be breakfast time with hot dogs the prize prepared by Jason at this checkpoint. Dave Ailano was doubling up here to give the young pups time to recover before re-enforcements arrived for the relay team. Having ran with Dave a few times he was used to my sleep troubles, I maybe like sleep to much LOL. But as the sun rose in the sky, to what looked like the most amazing day, I began to feel the eyes nodding. It always gets me when I think I’ve got past it. Once it’s fully light, it’s like the body go’s wait a minute we ain’t had a kip.
The run through towards Scalby and the coast is stunning as you drop down then follow the water towards the sea. We were still moving consistently at this point and would soon that first big reward, the view of the coast. We past Jane Raper again at this point, where I could no longer creep up before singing happy birthday LOL
The next checkpoint at Crookness would for me signal the official start of what would hopefully be an enjoyable day. In my head I had told myself that I must be able to find enjoyment because it’s simply too long a race to be just holding on. A change of clothes to summer ones and a spray of deodorant for what it was worth. Again it was the simple process of pausing for breath changing a few things before heading down the coast with Reece once again towards Ravenscar. Reece was doing really well my joinery bud had even helped me pitch a roof on Wednesday so I could have the Thursday off before the race. It was great to see lovely Doug Harris as I left the checkpoint, who runs a cracking running group Fairfield Harriers in Stockton.
At this point it was time for the next little mini crisis to begin as my stomach started to rumble and gurgle terribly as we approached hayburn wyke. I paused as the stomach cramps began realising that this was only going to end one way. For a few miles I kept going obviously preferring the nicer option of a toilet at the village hall. After my unscheduled stop I made the decision to simply walk in to Ravenscar before I had time to clean meself up properly. My stomach was still really bad and again it had dawned on me of my next stupid error. The logical thing to do when you have big race is doing what you have always done so why was I now not. I had been taking high5 carb mix in my bottles and was certain it was causing the stomach problems as it had done in the past. But the last few legs I had been drinking pretty much only this after dropping my bladder. These to me feel like the parts where you can let you self fall apart. When you get it wrong, it’s a case of trying to stay calm and do what’s needed. Bay after bay I wished for Ravenscar mildly starting to worry about timings. But at least I had no watch or timing devise so was in a blissful ignorance. I had hoped to get as far as possible before the 110 boys and girls started flying past. Like a bit of a game of cat and mouse trying to hold them off as far as possible.
It was all starting to come at once at this point as my left foot and right knee started to have a competition to see who could annoy me more. Not normally something I have problems with but it would all make sense further down the coast. On reaching Ravenscar I first saw James Campbell which was great as always a smile on his face, telling me a looked better than last year too. I then saw my older brother Lee and his girlfriend Sally, apologies to Sally maybe not the best time to meet someone for the first time. But he did give my knee and foot a bit of a rubdown using his sports therapy training. I made several toilet trips during this stop but thought it would be better than having more impromptu stops on what would be a busy coastal path later in the day. We were also joined by Alex Morley & Mark Massey for the relay. Alex had joined me at a similar time last year, so again I was told I looked so much better than last year. As much as I was having problems I was seemingly working through them best I could.
We got into our running once again as we made our way along the coast, I knew that the stretch to Robin Hoods Bay was in the main quite a runnable stretch and would allow me to get some confidence back. The views were stunning and under any other circumstances I would have paused for photographs. Whatever the weather we may have imagined it was a glorious day and for me it was reinvigorating. There is something very special about being in that countryside from dawn to dusk and through the night, watching the sun rise and fall.
Yet again though my stomach told me to run for cover, so I climbed away from the trail to a lookout shed away from the many walkers. 3 young sheep had got stuck in the pen around it so I comically tried to let them out of it. Eventually getting back to their Mam in the field. Next destination was Whitby which for us was just a pass through, aiming for our checkpoint further along at Sandsend. For me there would be the other huge bonus of my sports therapist Leanne meeting me to give some help. Passing through Whitby the amazing smells of fish and chips seemed amazing but the way my stomach was going it would be a waste of time.
Each time you round a bay you see the next amazing one in front of you, I’ve been lucky enough to walk some cool coastlines, but my own local one takes some beating, thats for sure. We fell in with another runner Dave who we would keep bumping into right to the very end which is great craic. With not far to go to the checkpoint a familiar car pulled over and it was my therapist Leanne. Sadly she had to leave soon so had driven along the coast to intercept me. A cracking lass who has looked after battered body for the last year and really helped me. Obviously she was well used to my IT band problems and gave me some massage to my leg and thigh to try and loosen things off, hopefully to stop it ruining my race like last year. Then it was on to my foot, which she thought was my tendons and down to my trainers. A pair of Hokas, that I have hardly worn probably since last year and were only chucked in the bag as a spare. Basically I was told to bin them asap and switch back to my other trainers which would be dry by now. I felt like an idiot for making yet another bad call but nothing I could do now apart from crack on. I was about to get another big boost for the run with the arrival of my other support runner for the run Tony The Fridge Morrison. A guy that I respect and love massively, seemingly sharing so much to bring us to these places in our lives. I knew what Tony would bring to the table and it was at times that old school approach of grit and determination that I knew would be needed soon enough.
At Sandsend I had decided to have a powernap as I seemed to be doing well for time. I do love a good snooze and it was around the time of day that I do sometimes have them after working on site, if I am then going back out to work with BCT. My thinking was that I was used to doing this so it would help. I can get how if you never use them it could make you feel worse. My brother once again gave me a little bit of treatment on my foot and knee before I climbed into the back of Alex’s car to lay on his inflatable airbed for 20 minutes. I know I didn’t drop into a deep sleep but I rested my mind that’s for sure, almost like a self-hypnotic state I had an awareness of the conversations continuing but I seemed to be re-charging the batteries. I awoke before my time was up which was nice as obviously having to be chased up is a little bit negative in itself. I knew that having taken the time to have a sleep which meant a long checkpoint I must get out of that car park moving well and positively. I felt a total need to get moving and creating something of a buzz around myself and the BCT squad. It felt great having the guys around, really did feel like I’ve had all my sporting life, part of a team. I was joined now by Tony & Marc Massey another amazing guy who has been a massive help to BCT, managing to gain us the fundraising for our D of E programme, something that meant and means the world to me. All lovely positive characters, nicking Billingham rugby clubs motto but “Our spirit is our strength” certainly seemed apt. I also popped in my ipod kindly lent to me off my top man at BCT Colin Liddle as my own hadn’t come back from repair in time. It meant I had his collection of songs, which I began to look through. Haha jackpot Kate Bush running up that Hill as I climbed the steps out of Sandsend. I began running at a healthy pace which I knew wouldn’t last but I also thought that from a confidence point of view it made me feel good in my mind. The views running towards Runswick Bay are stunning and I began to think about where we would watch the sun set, one of my own favourite hobbies these days. There was one hilarious moment where I didn’t notice the fact that I was leading my squad straight off the edge of a massive cliff like lemmings, before I screamed cliff at the top of my voice. We past many runners on that leg as we all employed our different tactics to see us home, hopefully mine would work out ok. I was told at the checkpoint that I’d just covered the 5 miles or so in just over an hour which was great news and one that I knew that had kept me in the game. I kinda felt so often that this race was in a large part about not blowing up and keeping yourself in with a shout, nothing given till the last step completed though. It was lovely to see Linda Morgan Roach and Paul with their colourful tutu’s doing amazingly well on their own massive fundraising journey. Great people who obviously share their positivity with those around them. It seemed that like on many other tough journeys it was people that were given me the extra energy to keep pushing. I’ve said it before but never underestimate the power of a simple hello or even a smile as you pass a stranger.
I headed out of the checkpoint still feeling good and understanding that I needed to keep riding this wave as long as it lasted, although conscious of not getting to carried away and getting a little high. I was lucky to find some of another of my favourite bands Ocean Colour Scene and headed onwards towards Staithes with their classic album Moseley Shoals pumping in my ear. Last year my ipod broke actually on the way to the race and being a massive music fan I am sure it was another small loss that made a difference. I left one earphone out so I could listen to the banter between the team. It was a joy listening to Tony sharing his tales from life with the boy’s a true story teller who backs it up. No matter how many times I may have heard them I still smiled listening. The guys understood by this point in the race I was probably dropping more and more into my box. That little place inside where we go when need to push through tough times.
As I came downhill into Staithes I felt my dreaded IT band twinge a little more painfully for the first time. It resulted in me coming down the big grassy bank into Staithes backwards, as other runners looked on bewildered. But it just takes the pressure off and actually a nice little stretch of my calves etc. I didn’t want my IT Band problem to fully flare up as I knew then it became a different race. So I dropped the pace wanting to manage myself into the cp where I could hopefully work on it a little bit. I knew that with my poles and a strong walking background I could walk at around 4 mile an hour even a little bit quicker and this would keep me in the game. Dropping to a walk couldn’t become a crawl but simply a different technique to be applied. As we headed towards Skinnigrove I was passed by Stephen Braithwaite who I had met last year at the same event. After a busy year back doing the 110, I love seeing his facebook posts from races all over the place and looking forward to an ultra in Australia soon that I’ll be keeping an eye out for again. I keep making this point but it’s the human interactions that are feeding my energy levels here for sure.
I eventually reached the point where on a style at around 5am on the Sunday of the race last year i had fallen asleep once again on a style and awoken to finally admit my defeat. I hadn’t returned to the spot till now and took a seat to once again reflect on a year of learning and where i found myself in this year’s race. I was smiling and in good company , but it’s nice to pause to reflect on where we have come from, Tony kindly videod a little piece which will be nice in years to come.
As we first headed down into Skinnigrove then back up towards Saltburn I looked at Teesside on the horizon and couldn’t have been prouder to back in my home region. Anyone who know’s me will know that I am incredibly proud of my region and couldn’t help a few T T T Teessider’us as I walked down the trail. We paused to watch the sun setting on the sea and it was immense, shared with some amazing folk. Friendships of the highest order I created/reinforced on the back of moments like these. It was a sunset on Teesside and it could rival any in the world. The beautiful beaches just looked amazing with just a few dog walkers letting their 4 legged friends play in the waves. As we walked those last couple of miles it was great to see Jane Raper again still doing really well. I was to get another big treat as Colin from BCT had come along with Ellie his niece and one of our the longest serving member of our youth group. Doing great with her own D of E Silver at the moment and currently doing her GCSE’s I hope she and all the young guys can realise that anything is possible with belief and hard work. Definitely up for having a go at running she ran the last few strides into Saltburn. The checkpoint like some kind of party at the bottom of the beach there with all the people and motorhomes etc. It had an incredible atmosphere, I was cautious though of getting to excited, but another stage of the race was over and I’d crossed 100 miles for the 5th time which I was chuffed about. I climbed into our team van and needed to prepare for the start of the shit fest to come.
I had made the cut-off again by a good few hours which meant I felt I had time to have another little rest up and get some treatment from Lee which would make a difference. I didn’t say a lot to Lee but I don’t have to he’s my big brother and good bad or ugly me and my brothers are a team in it’s own right that I’d back every day of the week. NOTE: This kind of soppy sentiment can only be used under extreme conditions, usual piss taking rules apply every other time LOL I went for some Asda’s own pot noodles which tasted nice and got some more coffee into me. I changed back into colder weather gear ready to hit what for me felt like my home terrain. I put my head down once again for 10/15 minutes before it was time to head up the coast. Before I did I was both pleased and gutted to see my good pal Dennis Potton in his non running clothes. I knew he’d struggled before the race as we were training together when he suffered a thigh injury, but at this time it was again great to see him. The guy who finally got me training on the hills every week and someone who I enjoy chewing the fat on our training run’s.
As I prepared to depart I had my first pang of “OH Fuck” I had just run a hundred miles and was about to start a 100k race haha it’s simply crazy man. But I started to think about that distance more than I wanted to do so. Dennis walked with us down to the gardens to relocate our trail once again. But I set off for the first time feeling apprehensive. I knew that if I could work hard with my power walking I would be in with a great chance. I began to try and use my little Jedi mind tricks telling myself it didn’t matter if my legs were tired as my arms were like fecking pistons with them sticks. My old rugby buddy and fitness coach Mark Baxter’s voice wandered in to my mind “Pump the legs and the arms will follow” surprising but it’s not the first time, should really pay him for his services haha. But it seemed that general fatigue was beginning to set in really quickly. I was running with Simon and Dave at this point and silence had set in, I think the guys were a little unsure how to react, so as we headed through Brotton I think it was I said guys “Do me a fucking favour, TALK” LOL I just needed some distraction from the voices that were starting to take seed in my head.
I’m not sure where the inspiration for the next little bit of running distraction came from but it did the job. Simon sing us a fucking song (Simon is a top musician by the way unlike me) I can’t remember the first tune we murdered but the cry turned in to this Der d d d , Der D, D, D, Der d, d, d loosely to the tune of Call Me Al by Paul Simon. If you call me betty, betty when you call me , call me Al. Haha keep singing boys this is working, it shouldn’t because it’s musically terrible but it’s so bad its good. It was the musical endorphin hit I experience just about every single week of my life working with our music group with BCT. Music gives me the same feelings I get from exercise at times and now I was using it to get a proper little roll on as we headed towards Slapwath and the start of my home training ground of Guisborough woods and the next stretch towards Kildale. Simon is a cracking guy and my longest serving volunteer at BCT, what does Simon do? Well he just has this infectiously lovely personality, everyone on the Teesside know’s Simon for being a lovely guy. But this weekend he was smashing it on this run. I was so proud of him after having done 32 miles of the HM55 it was great to see him so strong and helping alongside Dave Ailano who I will speak about in the next section. The important thing was that we had warded off the first big black spell and as much as I knew they would keep on coming for me from this point onwards I couldn’t only rejoice each time I fought through it. Jase had some porridge and coffee ready at the pub car park and we took a moment before hitting the woods.
I was kind of excited to hit the next stretch of the route as pretty all my training for the last six months has been based upon this section of the course. It’s got everything you need with cracking climbs such as up to Highcliff Nab, of course the obvious one of Roseberry Topping and some pretty cool technical sections. But it was a familiar place with an extremely positive connection. I have said time and time again that to me running is not about racing but a medicine for keeping me living well, my Saturday night long run is my time and shit I love it. As we headed up through the woods we met Lindsay, a lovely Scottish lass who was on her own at this point and without crew I think. I take my hat off to people doing these races unsupported its bloody tough work. But obviously she had a proper positive attitude and it’s great when you meet new people to share a few snippets of your lives with for a period of time.
Going on a small tangent but I cannot believe how many good friends I have gained from simply meeting them on a trail during an ultramarathon. It’s maybe the fact that with the tiredness you let your guard down a little more quickly with people than we might do in other situations, we are all out there and at times feeling vulnerable, meaning those connections actually mean so much more to us. I properly buzz of these interactions, I suppose im a proper mixed bag love people, love solitude in equal measure.
As we made our through the woods I simply had to switch back on to graft mode again but I loved listening to the conversations being had. I remember something Dave was telling Lindsey about when he was on the police helicopters and a naked guy LOL Probably shouldn’t write up the rest, but Dave is like Robocop man. I was honoured to meet Dave when I went along to help my pal Tony the Fridge on of our his GNR Fridge challenges and spent some good time chatting. We’ve enjoyed some good runs since and he’s like a lucky charm for me now, always so solid and I can simply ask him for what I need. During the run at times he helped lead a bit of navigation which did save some energy, but also another storyteller where I can simply keep listening, knowing I’m not expected to give much the other way.
As we climbed up on to the nab it was freezing with a biting wind but it felt completely epic and the whole of Teesside shone out across the night. I was proud to be back on home soil and felt like I was representing in not to bad a fashion so far. As we headed on to the stones passed Highcliff farm. We were in a canny size convoy by this point mixed in with about a dozen 110 runners. It made me realise at this point that in future I will invest more time recceing because the familiarity brings so much more confidence and in turn saves much needed energy.
I knew that Roseberry Topping was approaching and this mammoth climb at this point in the middle of the night would be a hard graft, needing a very positive mind-set. So I decided I would finally use my magical motivational gold dust sent to me by some very dear friends who also form my favourite musical group DODGY. A band whose music has been a kinda sound track to my life at various stages and whose music is better than ever for me now. I had been sent a gift by Math from the band that had meant the world to me, their new album that hasn’t been released yet. These guys are people that I have watched and listened to for 20 years and now they had taken the time to do this for me. Not the first time ever allowing my youth group to join them on stage at a couple of gigs and even allowing us to make their official video for their single “This Love is Bigger Than Both of Us” quite an apt song considering how my emotions are feeling right now. It was the first time in the whole race that my mind seemed to be not simply on the ground and what was the present. I reflected on concerts I’d been too and the good times that had followed. I don’t drink anymore but one of the greatest nights of my life was after they played a gig for me and came back to stay at my house. Listening to tales from a band that has played the biggest festivals in the world and been on that journey of life. But even more importantly are proper lovely people. I probably cannot write eloquently enough to express this simple fact strongly enough. But it is this !
NEVER FORGET THAT THE SIMPLEST GESTURE FROM ONE MAN CAN MEAN THE ABSOLUTE WORLD TO ANOTHER !!!! We can all pay it forward a little bit whatever our journey.
Anyway I didn’t have my headphones so thought it only polite to ask the runners who I didn’t know from Adam if it was ok if I played some music. So I told them about the band, everybody know’s Dodgy you just sometimes don’t consciously realise it. Cue the usual Paul Burgum singing attempts as I of course blasted out a little bit of songs like Staying out for the Summer, Good Enough, In a Room , a little bit of Grassman, that one was for me by the way. So once I had them on board with that I explained this was their new album maybe a bit of a storyteller in my own right, I told a little of the journey before pressing play on me phone. I properly trip out when I go to concerts, I don’t need any booze, drugs, natural highs give me more than I could ever need.
I began to break into a run across the bleak moors, my mood lifted an elation that I could chase in a million ways, it’s not’s bought by cash, but that feeling that’s found when the body is totally knackered and you keep on pushing through. My tempo run on a Monday is across this section from highcliff to roseberry topping, haha shit man I’m a thinking of my tempo run after a hundred odd miles in the middle of the night. But as me and Simon began singing “ Tell me are you the one” we buzzed along the trail leaving our group behind us as we chased the amazing chain of light heading up Roseberry Topping that had come into sight as we headed across Newton Moor. Whatever vibe we’d collectively created it was working in this moment and that would do! As we passed runners passing back up away from Roseberry Topping we shared our love with some big kickass shoutouts in a BCT stylee, buzzing off the shared vibes in air.
As we started the climb up Roseberry Topping I just tuned into the music blasting out, Nige’s vocals with his soul layed bare every time man, Math hypnotising me with his drums, Andy a guitarist who the term a feel player couldn’t sum up even more. Then the new boy top man Stu with not only that bass but some absolutely kickass harp going on. Then the harmonies that just have an absolute peace about them. NOTE Im playing the album as I write now and maybe my emotions after the weekend are about to slide out, who’s knows could be an absolute deluge of the stuff.
As we reached the summit to be met Tim “Chia Charge” Taylor I paused to see my home region fold out in front of me. Over the last few years I’ve associated myself as a teessider more and more as many of us do. The stupid fecking boundary changes meaning many of not even knowing what to put on our envelopes. Well for me I guess it’s Teesside, every time. It’s a special place with a warm kind people who are as good as any in the world. These moments are happiness, there is nothing more than moments, happiness is made up of moments. I feel blessed to have worked this out with hopefully a few years to go on my journey, but I know that there is nothing in life but simple moments. A sunset a view, a smile, a dance, a song, a kiss, a cuddle whatever means something to you……..
I’d seen a few 160 runners passing by us on the way out towards Kildale and thought that trying to catch up a few would break up another couple of miles. So we cracked on at a good powermarch pace. Again the fact that this really did feel like home meant I felt good. I wished I photographed the sight of lights across the horizon at that point, truly magical. We reached gribdale to meet up with our crew, but Jason bless him was fast asleep. One guy crewing for 7 people is tough work but this man is proper hardcore gold dust. There was no way I was gonna wake him up. Kildale was a hot food Checkpoint so I knew we were best of getting their and also the next cut off under out belt. We soon made it and were still not troubled by cut-off’s as were as always greeted by the marshalls who are amazing. These people make the Hardmoors family simply that. I would never of thought that I would ever marshall but man it feels like it’s a part of the journey itself in these races. I’ve taken way to much out of the honesty box to not do so moving forward. These races aren’t sport they are a way of life and one that is a place I’ve searched to find for a long time. A place where being you is all you need to be !
When Dave Toth offered pizza it was something magical haha, im a pizza loving man and this matched any I’d tasted even in Italy. I looked around the hall at the array of bodies grabbing a little shut eye and a warm up on what was becoming a very cold night. I sat down next to Simon and Mark before deciding that my ability to sleep in absolutely any position could be tested. So I put three chairs together and put me hat down for a pillow. My body instantly drifted to sleep, PIZZZZZZAA haha it was like fecking smelling salts up me nose as the shout of pizza went up from Dave. I was like Oliver Twist, I defo wanted some more. I took another pizza slice , ate it and returned to sleep in what seemed like one swift moment.
These little powernaps seemed to be working, I new I had to work a little harder to earn them on the road, but the fact I felt better out there made it worthwhile. I made another toilet stop, these proper bogs are luxury to us ultra runners out here on the road. I went through the almost ritualistic process of putting my clothes back on. My socks having dried out on the radiator I applied my kit like battle armour piece by piece as we headed for a what I knew could become an absolute hell fest on the open moor across to Bloworth Crossing then Clay Bank. Lindsay and another guy who’s name I feel awful to say I have forgot as he was a proper lovely fella but I am sure our paths will cross again, from Falkirk if anyone can help me.
I do feel a bit awful here as I knew I had to move swiftly as possible on this section to create momentum, hoping it would see me through to the other side. So I hadn’t even realised that I’d left them behind on the road. Again the company of people who I don’t think its to much to say become instant friends got me through another but I was now climbing into my war bunker. The small box I visualise in my head times get tough, the box that severs all connection to the pain receptors that want to tell my brain that it’s totally fucked. Listen mate he doesn’t need to know he’s fucked now, tell him tomorrow or actually as I’m righting this on Monday and unable to walk LOL.
We did pause as Flip was at the top with his camera out to capture an epic sunrise across the moor, sadly my camera won’t do it justice. But we kept going across the moor, me Dave and now Marc Massey another team runner totally smashing it. An inspiring guy who was like a instant energy source at all points and another man who’s soul shines out from deep within. I’m a bit of a hippy these day’s and really believe that we can see souls of people when we open up ourselves, the effort of ultra running maybe inducing moods like this or maybe I’m talking shit, but heho it keeps me happy. It was bitterly cold on the moor and I was hoping we might have a day like Saturday with the warm sun but at the moment it was freezing with an even colder wind coming across the moor. This was not a place to be struggling, this section is a breaker of men. It hit me hard last year on the race, one I probably never recovered from. But not today I told myself I needed to march with all my might. My ultra shuffle or Nordic walk whatever you wanna call it was back up to around 15 min miles at this point and that would keep me in the race. Again that was all I kept thinking don’t have a proper stinker and your in with a shout.
With a couple of km to go we started to think about the checkpoint, I was really cold by this point. I’ve never struggled with anything like hyperthermia but I felt a deep cold inside my body. So I asked Marc if he could let the guys no I needed the heating on in the van and to just let me get warmed up asap. I laughed when Marc said you want me to text him. Haha No you fecking idiot I want you to run fast down this track yourself you lazy bastard ( Big love big man xxx). It was cool watching our carrier pigeon shoot of in to the distance and out of sight.
As we zoned in to drop down to clay bank we past Jane Raper with Paul her support runner and it was clear she was struggling with her back, which I know has bothered her in the past. I was gutted for her as she looked like she was almost twisted sideways going very demanding ground. But I also knew that if the term “Hard as feck” was ever to be used this was an apt recipient.
I got in the van and Jase instantly shoved big bacon buns and coffee in my face, man this boy is the business. Proper soul brother at work here keeping me on the road alongside Team BCT who were doing everything BCT is about literally giving a shit about others in our tough little world. I knew I would be rejoined by a rest Alex who would be good company again. Dave Ailano had just put in a top support stretch and had earned his rest. As I left the checkpoint I was greeted by some warm smiles of the Canty sisters Claire and Catherine who are lovely people usually alongside fellow sis Fiona. I had met them near the end of my race last year supporting Paul Holt and Fiona had literally held my back pack as I fell asleep on the cliff edge, tipping me back to the non cliff side. A warm cuddle from both was a big lift as I headed out to start again.
It was clear now that the cut off’s would become tighter and tighter as my IT Band had absolutely hated coming down to Clay Bank and I knew that the next section was the three sisters which was a brutal test. I wasn’t worried climbing it’s not a problem but the descents were going to be a test again. I had a mini panic inside thinking back to my DNF due to my it Band again. I was at similar distance now as my drop out point to last year. So for a few minutes I properly started panicking, my train of thought was just because I wanted it, I knew I could still fail. I dropped deeper for a few minutes before the big hills were actually my saviour.
It’s a simple mantra when one big climbs I never look up, not even once after starting the climb I switch on the tunnel vision and have a kinda mantra “ Constant forward movement” or “Keep Stepping” I sometimes repeat the mnemonic Never Eat Shredded Wheat to try and get a bit of a hypnotic vibe going on step after step. But anyway it had brought me back to the hear and now and was climbing. Going downhill I employed skills learnt last year after my knee had gone which did include doing down backwards again. Nuts but every bit I could save on that IT band was going to keep me in the game. At this point we were criss crossin with the two lovely German guys, Alex blatantly lying when he said you’ve nearly cleared the worst of it haha. Well this is the Hardmoors series right !
It seems weird but I got through this section not to badly but it was after this on the more sedate section towards the woods and onwards towards Osmotherly. But I was soon to receive another massive boost with the arrival of another big running pal. I looked in the distance and saw a runner in the brightest coloured shorts ever, it could only be one man, Glen Kilday. I met Glen on my first trail race ever and then ran my first 100 miler St Oswalds way with him and pal Keith Robson. But last year I was the only one out of the three of us to fail on my attempt at this race. So I’d seen his profile pic on twitter as an almost sharpened blade to the spine, his finishers t-shirt and medal. He had even worn his tshirt for me today to remind me of what this now represented in my life.
I wasn’t moving to well but Glen said I was doing ok and we going to do it, I kept listening and kept going. But my pace through this section was getting slower and slower. We were very tight to the cut off at Square Cross and got through probably a bit after 12 but were simply told not to mess about here and crack on. This short but sharp checkpoint would prove to be the final big motivational push and it would come in a familiar form to me and one that I had said I wondered use this year, but now when the well was almost dry I had to go back to what I knew best.
I got in the van feeling totally pissed off and so got my phone out for some reason, maybe wanting some distraction from my plight. I kind remember the full details but I was probably quite arsey so Alex said I needed to stop fucking about on my phone, this was followed by something from Jason. The result was me smashing my fist against the roof of my van, slamming the door open and smashing my soup cup into the ground, before grabbing my pack and stomping up the road. Just before I started the hill I was to get another golden edged bit of motivation with a quick shout with my new coach Jayson Carvill a guy who inspiring as feck and Dennis who was with him and who likewise is a proper legend in his own right. They told me I looked good and could do it. With guys like this backing me I couldn’t quit now. So I zoned in on the next runner on the trail heading up the long trail that would take us a long way towards the finish. I was going to use nothing but anger to carry me through. I knew it wouldn’t last to the finish but It’s a potent energy force that could magical things when used for positive effect. No offence to anyone on this section I wasn’t really calling you all those words that I was screaming out, but I was chasing them down as I headed up the hill. Once again forgetting the longer picture and just getting my head down. Glen caught me up and I laughed when he said he’d had to sprint up the hill to catch me up. I was then followed by Alex and Marc, then the Fridge man too. It was like bang , bang , bang as each one of them jumped on the fuck you party. That’s right world you can all simply fuck off. ( I’m a nice guy really). I asked Tony to run in front and I just staired at his feet, step after step. Yelling and screaming at random intervals. It was a like a rugby game as I called Marc names, it may have been anger but it wasn’t at this man, he was an absolute hero. I just saw it like an iceburg I needed to take out one massive chunk of it and would begin to seem achievable once more. This was Team BCT literally kicking the shit out of it as we stormed down the road. It was old school dark humour when the tough gets going you get down and shitty with it. At random points I sprinted but the result was I was knocking out 10 min miles again and we got to paradise farm now well back in the game for the ultimate race cut off.
I randomly broke up the hate fest with the real vibe that underpinned my race, that of love not hate. Tony my pal, a guy I had admired from a far before getting to know deep down and dirty was driving me homeward. Just I had asked when we’d spoken I knew it would end this way but it would be worth it tomorrow and for the rest of my life. That was all I needed to carry with me for now. I remember passing Garry Scott and his big smile as we had done all weekend as he crewed for Simon and Mark but a big high five and was ready to come back down to earth again.
Sorry not preaching here but you can’t stay angry, Ive tried in my life and it resulted in mental health problems but never forget that we were given anger for a reason and some occasions it can help us do amazing things. I now also new that I would be back to being really tired but it was now less than a half marathon to the finish. But I had a few plans up my sleeve to close this one out.
We kept pushing and would simply try and catch other runners instead of fixating on the long tracks just a point that we could hopefully draw closer, then pull away from till we picked up the next runner. It was working and the miles continued to fall away. As we reached the last checkpoint of the race I had a plan for the relay boy’s I hoped would inspire me. All race long they had supported but now I said do me a favour and all go and run free and hard for those last 10 miles and if you can catch the other relay team, lol life long sportsmen can’t pretend that we don’t work like that right?
Anyway they headed off into the distance and left me with Dave, Tony, Glen, Marc to see the job home. I had made the error throwing my poles away in a bit of a theatrical turn that I now regretted on that boggy patch towards Helmsley. But we dug in and used a few more runners to pull as along the route. The last few miles seemed to fall away before those last two took an eternity. But eventually we saw the town and Tony said howay lets leave Paul to enjoy the run in on his own. But I was void of any emotion I was just in such a state of focus. I reached the finish and heard someone shout something from a distance, Im not sure but a screamed back a very loving fuck off, it was maybe our Lee and our unique brand of brotherly love.
I reached the finish line and I had done it, met by the lovely Sadie Pattison for a cuddle before a handshake and cuddle from Jon and Shirley that meant a lot. For me respect means a lot and things from people you respect mean a whole lot more in life. Then that t-shirt that I had been fixated on for the last two years. I sat down and was asked how I felt my answer nothing. I felt nothing, after concentrating for so hard for so long I couldn’t just snap out of it. I enjoyed some food and coke. It was great to sit in such company as the guys in the room who had completed the race. I enjoyed watching Simon come in too moments after and it was cool to shake his hand. The vibes other runners all give to each other are blood amazing.
We went outside for a team photo and someone said something to me so I decided to rugby tackle poor Simon lol. I was so proud of our team for this event showing everything I could ever dream of from a team. Each man had given there all and achieved massive personal best’s for distance in most cases. I’ve seen each of these guys and they are my brothers man, people who I’d back every day of the week. It was also nice to see Andy and Sarah who ran in with John to complete his race and had been great support when ever i had seen them throughout the race after sharing a big part of my attempt with them last year. Its special how people all look out for each other at these events.
I was pleased to be assured to that my pal Jane Raper was gonna make it in with Paul and Ben, but sadly i’d needed to go as my crew needed to get home. It was inspiring seeing such grit and determination and im sure the President was there for every step of it xxxx
I wanted to write this blog today and send it because it represents the end of a long period of my life and hope that after today I will begin to let go of some of the emotion. Today ended up with a trip to the hospital with my ankle so swollen I thought it best checked out. But it’s only tendonitis and I’ll be back soon. My next Hardmoors date will be as marshall so I can once again equal up some of my karma debt, I’ve taken way to much once again.
To all my kids I keep telling you if you believe enough and are prepared to work hard enough anything is possible, sure we sometimes need a little luck, but living life chasing a dream defo beats the man with nothing to chase.
I can’t end with thanks individually because I can’t miss people so I’ll finish with my pal Jimmy Cliff. But if you are part of this hardmoors journey you are in my love right now guys xxx
Many Rivers to Cross but I cant seem to find my way over, wandering I am lost, as I travel along the white cliffs of dover, many rivers to cross and its only my will that keeps me alive. Ive been licked washed up for years, and I mearly survive because of my pride!!!
That’s the song I would have played if I’d had my own IPOD
Last year my motto for life was Hard Work Conquers All , it’s now simply – Love Conquers All
As busy as life gets once in a while I like to lay down my thoughts onto paper, well a virtual version. The last few weeks have certainly been testing but fruitful so my need for recording these thoughts is a very important one. To take from my jumble of thoughts the learning that has come from this period.
I rarely see my depressive bouts coming and to most people they will never even notice when I am in the throes of one. A life time of building the fascade means that like so many others we head out of the door and continue to function, well at least on the surface. It’s often too late to see it coming, by the time you recognise the signs, no matter how much practice, reading is done. Depression in my world is not about the big wins or losses but maintaining the balance on both levels. The little things always seemingly innocuous enough, but like the constantly dripping tap the water can build up into a flood.
But as I write on what I would call the period of coming out the other side, once again into the light. I can accurately gage my response to it and hopefully reflect on where the improvements can be made. Imagine dedicating so much time and thought to your mental health. Well I know many people who do the same for their body, but me the key lies here!
Living with depression isn’t a battle you win for most chronic sufferer’s I dare say. But something that must be accepted and then worked with not against. Acceptance a word that figures often in my vocabulary these days. Trying to save myself a whole lot of stress choosing to fight things that I can’t win or change.
A couple of years I ago now I sadly had to close our café with BCT Aspire “Fred & Mollys”. It was more than just a café in my world, it was named after my hero’s my grandparents. It meant that I attached a significance to it that were totally of my making and bear no resemblances to what was real. Like many people I had placed my own faulty emotions to something ultimately causing myself a lot more stress that I can now with learning hope to avoid. Anyway back to my reason for this tale and its link to the here and now.
I had the brilliant job of having to clear out the café, having laid off all our staff and our team down to just a few volunteers I found myself in the café with a load of equipment to move and a kitchen to clean. Like the aftermath to any event, there is little joy to be found in derigging and clearing away. It was the end of an era, saying goodbye to our formal workforce and in some way’s feeling like a failure. I decided to take myself across the town centre in Billingham for some dinner. I found irony in going into the new Weatherspoon’s pub, which was fundamental to the closing. Getting a cup of the very cheap coffee and a breakfast to see what the old competition was actually like.
6 months prior I had found myself once again relapsing into drinking, thinking I could handle it. But nah it was exactly the same, in fact the depressive bouts following were as black as it can get and seemingly creeping ever closer to a precipice I didn’t wanna fall over. I asked myself how I could achieve so much in life yet fall foul to drinking. Having the ability to focus and stay disciplined in all other areas of my life but this letting this one beat me once again. This was till reading a book that after 2 ½ years I can confidently say has changed my life. It was called the “Power of Habits” by Charles Duhigg. It spoke of the power of habit, how once formed they were almost unbreakable. The brain trying it’s best to help us by automating tasks with the aim of making life easier. Sadly it works like a double edged sword, also saving those unsavoury habits as well. To me this was definitely drink and my reason for using it. Call it escapism or stress release, like many in this world having a beer takes away the stress and anxiety we are feeling. Well so we think and for many maybe it does, for me however it just led to another whole world of shit.
Anyway I once again found myself at the beginning of the sobriety road looking at it and feeling lost. To have scaled the ladders of life, to be then taken spiralling downward by yet another snake, I fought for the energy to start again. Road testing my learning from the book I began to look at why I drank and when I was prone to it. This was an easy answer It was usually after rugby on a Saturday I tradition that continued regardless of playing or not. So I worked out I needed a new routine in this slot of my week. My thinking was that maybe I could create a new routine to go with this faulty habit loop. So each Saturday night, around the time of the end of sport I would put my running shoes on and head out the door. Come rain or shine I needed to head out the door on runs long enough to almost tire me into submission. The result a feeling of calm and peace that I intended to come from that beer, however with no negative effects to go with it. No waking up with the dreaded feeling of anxiety or even worse being locked in a police cell and not remembering the full reason why!
My running shoes became a beer bottle in my head, when the anxiety levels rose, it was a simple answer to use all my focus to choose the path to the right and not the left. That one led to Aldi and the wine shelf, a note to self. I hoped that by using my will power when the time came that I was weak or my will power was exhausted I may find that my habit takes over and helps me out instead.
So I came back to that table in the pub in Billingham, knowing that it would be my response to this perceived failure that would be my learning yardstick. Not the awards, the accolades or plaudits but an internal competition that meant a hell of a lot more. I knew it was a simple plan, I would finish my tasks for the day I would head home and I would turn right!!!
That week I set myself a target of tasks that after all I have achieved would seem almost miniscule, but these were the tasks that truly mattered and as I sit here to write ring just as true. The first was that come Monday morning I would get out of bed, go to work on the building site, leave my phone in the van and dedicate myself to the task at hand, a roof, joists or floor maybe. I would attack these tasks like they were the most important challenge in the world. Cleverer people call this mindfulness possibly but it was my key task. The second part was when I returned home, a time when I could allow myself to think and maybe drink I must do the same thing. Lace up my running shoes and turn right and head along the way. Always knowing that once that endorphin kicked in I would gain both the clarity and strength to keep grafting.
Well guess what I have failed a shit load more times since then but my habit loop seems to be working. I hadn’t realised I was heading into another storm till I was already in the midst of it and my moment of dawning could be something of fictional writing, but definitely true. The dark clouds catching me off guard, neglecting the little things that play such an important part of my life. Taking on too much and not sorting to many little tasks that cause the already full glass to overflow.
As I found myself on the fells of the Pennines in the early hours of the morning trying to navigate across Cross Fell to the source of the tees, I couldn’t help but laugh. My habit loop was now fully function but taking me on some insane side road. My reason for heading off in the middle of the night to run/walk crawl was my habit loop trying to get me turning right once again. The moment it dawned on me I rang my friend and he came and collected me from that moor. That Monday I missed work for the first time in a long time from depression, simply not having the strength to get out of bed. It wasn’t a major thing that was the cause of this missed shift but one smaller problem that sent me taking refuge in my own world.
I kinder laughed to myself when on the Tuesday I went to work, reapplied that simple version of mindfulness, leaving the phone in the van and getting my head down to some serious graft, followed by a few miles, definitely turning right. One of the reasons for my stress doing too much and once again attaching feelings to events that weren’t true or real.
We had planned our first event in nearly two years, since we delivered the events for my home town council of Billingham. IT was events that we did a good job of, but our client didn’t seem to think so and in my head it had made worry about this same response from doing something I had always loved doing up till that point. I once again took a step back from myself, looking at what was important and I came to something that I suppose I could call my purpose in life. My youth group and the guys I work with every week. What mattered? well simply that these kids had the best night that we (collective team of BCT) could give them. There can never ever again be false meaning attached to things that truly matter. We smashed the event thanks to our amazing team who grafted so hard all with a shared reason to do so and damn simple one. To lift the kids and let’s admit it ourselves up, just a little bit.
It maybe seems a little crazy but I didn’t want to attach myself to this event, not dwelling on how good or bad it was or having that post big event blues, so had decided to enter an ultramarathon on the Saturday night. It was me trying to figuratively turn right again, leaving myself nowhere else to go. Setting off to the race with mate Dennis probably as loosely prepared as I have ever been, I wanted just one thing from the race. That place I chase so often these days the metaphoric beer bottle, the good feeling that doesn’t give me the dark clouds the day afterwards.
I started to race and after chatting first with Dennis then a mix of strangers on the trail I began to realise I was unsurprisingly knackered. Last year I DNF’d for the first time ever in race and after giving it all I reached a place of complete peace with myself. Well I was feeling exactly the same as the sun began to beat down on the Colne Valley. I would drop out of the race having gained what I actually needed, simply some time to let my thoughts settle and once again my composure. I passed runners on the trail, mentioning I was dropping out. They tried to help me continue thinking that I must, but to me this time a failure had never tasted better. I had met some great people spent time alone on the edge of the peak district watching the sun come up over the those amazing hills and resvoirs knowing feeling utterly content.
To complete the circle I had one last very important task to complete that is a vital part of my on-going relationship with the black dog. I must drag my ass out of work and get that roof pitched, no matter how tired I felt, I must start one of my most vital habit loops off and running. Get up on Monday go to work and we are half way there. Those Monday blues being allowed to set the tone for the week ahead. Well not today and to boot the most beautiful day where the sun looked amazing against the falling mist
I never knew when I would write this blog, it’s been years in the making and…… well I guess all these events have now met to signify the end of another era of learning. J
I have wrote this blog many times, but never posted it so thought that World Mental Health Day was as a good a day as any to put these thoughts down onto paper.
Often write about my own mental health and the journey that it takes me on. My obsessive nature meaning that there is rarely any half measures in my world. So when my dirty secret slipped out of the bag (My old way of thinking) it was maybe the greatest blessing of my life. My long term battle with my mental health out in the open, meaning I could finally accept the challenge of improving it.
This blog is about my own learning and the simple framework I have attempted to create, with the simple aim of achieving happiness, no let’s rephrase that to peace, serenity within maybe? I know that these are my own thoughts and based on my own life, but wonder how many other people could relate to it.
I reached the age of around 30 before my walls came crashing down, my negative, and illogical ways of coping formed on the back of a chaotic childhood finally assisting me to my tipping point. Here’s my first big piece of learning that the things that happen to us, especially in those formative years of early childhood and later as a teenager do form how we function, react, see the world and those in it. This isn’t pot luck but things learnt and stored away for the next time a similar situation occurs.
The old me did not acknowledge weakness as being acceptable, it was a weapon to be used against you. This didn’t come from nowhere, I can look back and understand now it was the result of living in a family home that for certain periods was rife with domestic violence at the hands of a bully. Things that happen in our lives do leave an indelible mark on our brains and however much I wanted to believe that keeping the stiff upper lip would help, I was always heading for a fall.
I reflect back on this and my coping strategies that the younger me used, the things that I grasped onto as the best options at that time in my life. One such one was a constant internal battle of not letting the bully win and no matter how scared within I had to venture down the stairs and man up, that’s man up from an 11 year old. To puff out my small chest, heading forward into the fore whatever may happen as a result. There not many things that can motivate such responses in life, but the most powerful one is a love for those around you, your family. My role maybe that of unofficial leader, taking possibly the positive learning from my Grandad that we simply got on with the job come what may. But back to the learning what I began to do was live my life in a constant state of fight or flight, wondering what situation I would return home to each day. Anxious walking to school at the thought of our dirty secrets becoming known, anxious walking home, anxious on an evening when things were going well, as I simply knew it couldn’t last. My mind beginning to forget the beautiful sensation of being at rest.
We wonder why so many young people with chaotic lives go off the rails, well when you begin to live like this you are forming habits and thought patterns that can never lead to a positive result. My passion I suppose now is seeing this with young people and hopefully sharing some of the rewiring process I have used myself to try and develop another way of living. I work with young people and at times can seem very tough on people where rules are concerned, but I know deep down that having structure and guidance also allow people to feel safe, not like they have to have their guard up all the time waiting for the next sabre toothed tiger to attack. That analogy linking to the fact that we haven’t evolved half as much as we think we have today. Our brains still operating in the same way that prehistoric man did. Fight or flight working to actually help us stay alive on a daily basis. Now often the threats are perceived only, but the brain can’t necessarily distinguish between the two of them.
I decided during this period that showing weakness wasn’t ever a good thing. So I’ll be as tough as I can be and just maybe people won’t even bother messing with me. Definitely a hornet masquerading as a wasp but after many years, actually letting some of that emotion out becomes a struggle. So queue another old friend, good old booze, the 12 year old me hitting on this amazing way of escaping myself. Drink till you stopped worrying about anything at all, freeing to be the person I really wished I could be in life, free of worry and self-doubt. To show my true feelings and emotions without worry of these being used against me.
Like many of us we find some immediate relieve through means that longer term never take us to a good place, but for how many addicts are these kind of tales, the starting point to the rocky road. Before long these are simply our own habits that we use without ever thinking about, but part of my own learning that really was a lightbulb moment was that I do actually have a choice how to react to everything that happens to me in life.
Fast forwarding many years and one of my major breakthrough’s coming through learning about Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. My simplistic interpretation that I do always have a choice how I see the things that happen to me. I am adult now and quite honestly I am not holden to anyone else, my safety rests in my own hands and rarely will there be a situation that puts me in such risk, that the feelings my brain automatically defaults to, are required. I don’t need to get angry when someone cuts me up or says a nasty word, maybe even wrongs me in some way. Anger is not meant for such occasions but still the sabre toothed tiger (when my loved ones are at risk), but other than that I do not need to get angry. This is work in progress I try to choose a different feeling about these people, my favourite is sometimes to pity them. Ok it doesn’t make me the dalai lamar but it’s work in progress. Remember that your thoughts are something you are choosing to think, still love the idea that this is really the case in life.
You simply can’t continue to bottle up all the negative things that happen to in life. and guess what if you have formed your thinking in a negative way as I had done, you will always see the glass as half empty. This meaning we simply keep piling more boxes on the already full storage cupboard we call a brain. I sometimes say that I just crashed my hard drive, trying to store too much. I chose to take ownership of everything that happened to me, instead as I now try to do, of simply letting go of them. Kinda like clouds in the sky, knowing that nothing is permanent and will pass over, whether that is the blackest storm clouds or the sunniest day.
Everybody needs a place in this world that they can be themselves, to feel safe to take off the mask we use to keep us feeling safe. For people who can’t be that way even at home, imagine how much stress that causes. I try to associate with people who allow me to be who I really am, not the stupid caricature I developed to ward away the dark spirits. I have my places now to be me and unashamedly me, good back or damn right ugly. But that takes away a whole lot of stress from my world.
My story of childhood is nothing special, know worse than many other children in this world. But it simply frames my learning and also more importantly my understanding for those who I can see are maybe attempting the use of those same faulty coping strategies. My love of endurance challenges have been formed on the back of my mental health struggles and actually now a strength. Imagine when most of the time you have suffered with anxiety or depression, to feel like you are in pain without the physical pain to back it up. Well to actually feel these sensations too, doesn’t actually feel that much worse. LOL I really mean that to someone who has never felt the deep black pangs of a depressive bout, we think of a low mood. But I mean the times when the clouds are formed up so black and circling around your head, with only impending doom as a result. This is depression, it has no rationality, but it feels as real as any sensation you will ever hold.
My writing today is simply an outpouring like I mention about earlier, my learning of CBT starting my love of writing as a credible part of my now all together more positive coping strategies. The feeling of making my emotions real through black and white at times allowing me to see how absurd my thinking maybe.
I entitled this blog acceptance and positivity for a good reason. This is my condensed down plan for managing my life and my mental health. These two parts cover every eventuality that can come up in my life. I am not some hippy who lives in a perfect world and sometimes the world is downright unfair, unjust, cruel and completely bull shitty. Well here’s where I have begun making massive savings in the stress department. Well I have made the simple choice to accept these things. Every time someone wronged me or even did wrong in the world it was a chance to get angry and have a fight of some kind. Well that is damn tiring to the best of people never mind with the black dog in toe. Accepting the bad things that happen, that I cannot change or influence is one of the most important things I have worked out on my journey to improving my mental health.
Ok so the second part, being positive about the things I can influence and effect. We all know the gob shites who tell us each day how shit it is, how rubbish things are, well that will I am quite sure be the world that they see. But guess what I have an actual real choice to see it another way. To see the sun only just glimpsing out of behind a rain cloud for a minute and fucking enjoy that minute. Not harping on about the other wetter ones and then missing any goodness. Our world wants to bombard us with negativity why? Because we have a macabre side that actually at times enjoys this and seeing others misfortune is a very cheap coping strategies to tell ourselves our life isn’t quite as shit. (Please see Jeremy Kyle for details on this kind of negativity porn).
Every time I fall back into the negativity trap I am always shocked by how shit I quickly begin to feel both physically and mentally. My attempts at ultra-running are simply my training for keeping my mindset in a better shape. I tell myself that yes maybe I am tired, possibly in pain but yet inside my mind I can still see the sun rise, the birds dancing about and can chose to see the world through my rainbow tinted spectacles or I can continue to choose BLACK.
I realise that the brain has enough good shit I can hopefully begin to tap into, knowing that there will be never any artificial buzz, such as booze that can help me feel those magical feelings. I walked an entire continent to learn one really cool thing. I walked to find something, which was in affect happiness. But on an Italian road somewhere I realised finally that I had actually been walking to find something that had been with me all the time. That happiness walks with me each day, just as sadness but I never chose to see happiness.
I doubt this blog makes sense, but selfishly it has done its job for me, so I’ll not waffle on to much more about these thoughts. But there is one big piece of learning that I wanted to share, that of the people we decide to share our lives with on this mad journey. The magic potion that is positivity is highly infectious just as its altogether blacker brother is too. So think about those people in your world who have somehow became part of it without ever adding anything but more likely simply taken away, even if that is in the feelings they leave inside us. Well we all have a choice so why not choose to surround yourself with people who leave you feeling that bit better. It’s a bit cheeky but we can all steal a bit of this true commodity from each other. But the deal has got to be, you must put in as well as take back.
I have just come back from a great session with the BCT Aspire youth music group, as we work towards our next show. Trying to organise up to twenty children into one performance can be challenging. Mixing a group of children on different instruments, different ages and abilities. So today we looked at assessing where all our children were up to in terms of learning the songs required and the responses set my cogs turning.
It is always difficult to acknowledge things we aren’t so strong at doing. The tasks that make us feel uncomfortable or even worse, cause anxiety or stress. Yet we often take the approach of trying to cover these up, hide them away and simply muddle through. I am myself reflecting on my recent ultramarathon race and the persistent knee/hip problems that caused my failure in that event. Did I really put in the amount of work required to sort this problem or did I tuck it away and tell myself it would be fine. Whilst focusing my training on areas that made me felt good, but wasn’t necessarily improving my performance overall.
Who can remember being in the classroom at school, not understanding the task or question and really wanting to ask for help, but simply not daring due to peer pressure or fear of looking stupid? I reckon the answer is yes for many of us, thus effecting our learning journey, maybe throughout a life time. That was definitely me for a very long time and if honest still the case on occasions when surrounded by my peers. But that’s not the way I want for the young people I work with every week. I want them to realise that it takes courage to admit our weaknesses, but the benefits are almost magical.
None of us will ever want to be the kid to put our hand up and say “I don’t get it” but this is exactly the culture I am trying hard to create within our own youth project and actually within my own life. There are many reasons that this makes sense and ultimately the simple answer is, it will help us improve not just in that skill, but overall as a person.
When we remove things that cause us discomfort or even high levels of anxiety our performance is directly improved. Thinking back to my rugby days, passing is a great example with many players who maybe had a vastly weaker hand. They decide that instead of working on that hand, they would simply try to create ways of avoiding that action, thus impacting their game and that of their team mates. Possibly a player might simply take contact even though there was a giant gap or overlap outside them and try goes begging. We learn to cover up and keep our stress internal and as long as we get away with it, that’s ok.
So my train of thought is continually asking myself the question “What is stressing me, what is my weakest area?” Having lived with anxiety issues for the majority of my life I have come to understand that when you let problems fester they can start to dominate you, possibly in your life as whole. So keep asking the question “What is stressing me”. Why? If I remove that obstacle I will function and actually perform better in what activity I decide to set my mind on. My priority order in terms of daily tasks is based upon this principle, solving those small challenges that, if left outstanding can start to gain momentum, turning in to some kind of dark demon in no time whatsoever.
I took this approach on my walks that involved learning a new language or attempting too learn one, for that matter. My first walk across France I didn’t really know what would be crucial apart from the obvious things of saying my name and asking for what I needed. But through the resulting anxiety created from not knowing certain phrases or words, when it came to my trip to Italy I began my learning from addressing the things that would cause greatest discomfort if I didn’t confidently understand. A great example in my case was knowing the numbers better, so when I was asked for money in a shop I didn’t have to rely on their honesty, simply putting a load of money in their face. I knew that this caused me great discomfort so put it higher up my learning list. The amount of confidence that came from having that certain bit of knowledge made my day’s infinitely better.
To anyone involved in endurance events, well actually that is all of us, as life itself is the great endurance challenge any of us will take on. I have begun to realise that staying calm and composed massively effects physical performance. Carrying mental worry into a physical challenge means that very quickly we deplete those physical levels themselves. This was most certainly the case in my last race, once my knee trouble began. That nagging problem and I suppose real sensation of pain began to get tiring, instead of simply being able to let the miles role by in an almost hypnotised state of calmness. So my point I am trying to make is that by addressing small problems we reduce the risk of bigger ones occurring that end up spoiling the experience of whatever we choose to do.
As a musical group I get to see the effects of glossing over these cracks in terms of performance. People who are unsure of certain lyrics begin to sing quieter and even to sing flat, where usually totally on the button. This lack of confidence within a group setting can seep into the rest of the team, beginning to inadvertently effect their own performance even though they are not the one with the issue. This is no different in any other team, whatever the level of ability.
This can be compared to when even though unsure, we give it our all and totally commit to it, even if we make a mistake we keep the performance moving, simply by doing the task with an inner confidence of what “ Well ok, whether I mess up or not I am going to give this everything.”
We are also very unlikely to address these underlying problems whilst we are getting away it. When we cover it well and achieve the goal in question, we don’t give sorting our issues the same credence. Only when it causes us to slip up and fail do we maybe decide to take the problem on, full throttle, again this is me at the moment.
After starting distance running a couple of years ago I have upped both the distances and also the size of the challenges I have attempted. I developed knee trouble fairly early on in this process, but my answer was to strap them and continue, with a hearty dose of blood & guts style willpower. This allowed me to almost blag my way round certain races, but the bigger the challenge the more this problem became an issue, ultimately resulting in me dropping out of my last race. I had started looking at the issue three months before, but now on reflection I realise this needed more work. But without having failed would I have reached this point of finally putting the time and effort in to this area, to take away the area that caused me worry on a mental level every time I began I race.
My own process has meant me having to try new exercises that have stripped me bare, showing my issue up in vivid hyper colour. But if I want to succeed I must, like with every challenge break it down and set some micro goals. Looking to gain that feeling of confidence and see that progression is being made. This is no different to the guys learning music, to feel like we are step by step improving.
I come back to my session with the team at BCT working through the planning of new songs, not quite understanding something and thinking how that child will feel, without the learning I am lucky to have gained. I say “hang on a minute, take a step back, break it down smaller” not wanting to let anyone get left behind. We move on as a team, waiting for the guy who takes a little longer to get this part. That person is generally me, but that isn’t to say I am any less capable but the time it takes for my brain to grasp something new seems to be a little longer than some. So we must make sure our sessions are always conscious of this fact and not let children think they have to hide something they don’t get. The culture must be to give people the confidence to learn in a style, speed and manner that get the best from every one of them as diverse as those styles maybe.
In my world we don’t want people who are scared to put their hand up when they don’t understand. We want to create an environment that lets us know this not only acceptable but also a positive part of our learning and nothing to ever be ashamed about. Like any challenge you can only take it one step at a time, so make sure you praise yourself for those small but crucial steps towards a bigger goal.
It’s maybe a simplistic analogy but solve the problems that stress us and perform more confidently and ultimately achieve whatever you decide in life. Try not to gloss over those little cracks that can then begin to spread and deepen, put your hand up and maybe gain the additional support to be simply amazing, as well CAN BE.