Where do I stop?

It’s about time for another post about life lessons from running. This one starts in Munich. Usually I’ll be mulling over the many benefits of running from positive health impacts to bringing you into contact with people who share your interest and therefore are one step closer to supporting your crazy dreams. But this is different. It’s a race but there’s no finish line or cut off time – so how do you know when to stop? [See below for the answer in terms of running.]

I was mulling over this whilst I was running, in between checking my watch, grabbing some energy from the food and water stations and enjoying the changing landscape once outside the city. I had no idea where I was going to end up, but instead of staying at the start line and worrying about it, or trying to plan the exact route, I started off when the cannons fired and kept taking steps forward.

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Catcher cars at the ready

Fortunately, there are some clever calculations so you can work out how fast you need to be to get to a particular distance before the car catches you. In some ways you can make it like any other race: run the distance. However, there’s a small caveat – you can’t slow down and make up time later in case you get caught, going too fast sometimes makes you slower so pacing is crucial and what happens when you make the distance? Do you stop running, congratulate yourself and wait patiently for the car to formally acknowledge that you have completed your race? Do you re-calculate, set a new target up your pace and run on to the next km marker, then the next, then the next?

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Once you finish you get a shiny, gold blanket

Of course, there is no right or wrong answer, or rather both of them are the right answer. As life patters on, you may find yourself reaching your goal: getting a new job, taking that dream holiday or buying that house and then what? Sometimes you need to stop and pause for a while, enjoy the place you’re at and reflect, review. After a little while it will be time to decide what’s next – to metaphorically lace up your running shoes for the next race. Other times you may get to the goal and it can be your springboard to something else – new opportunities appear, the route is clear ahead and you have the energy to keep going.

There will always be a time to pause and the great news is that you get to decide when that is.

You get the choice of saying: Good job. I’m done for today. Tomorrow is a new day maybe we go again, maybe we rest. Occasionally if you’re not listening to your body you get a reminder – think catcher car – that says you need to stop for a while.

The truth is you never really stop, you pick your direction with a destination in mind and keep going. Sometimes it feels as if you’re stuck mud and sometimes it feels as if you are way off track. It’s ok to reset, recalculate and even to enjoy the meander for a while.

I would love to hear where you’re heading right now – leave a comment or send a message.

[It’s the Wings for Life World Run where you run until the catcher car catches you. Runners get 30 minutes head start and the car is speed limited. It starts at 14kph and increases speed every 30 minutes.]


If you’re feeling stuck, unsure or cautious about taking action then I would love to help. The first step is to get moving (yes, actually moving, take a walk or dance or something) and then get in touch for a chat. I’m currently offering coaching on a pay what you want basis.

Be the boss you want to have

The frost was crunching under my feet and I could see my breath. I’m just back from a run over the hills.  It was a fresh morning and it would have been easy to stay in bed for another hour.  I’m tired and I have a million things to do: not just one “to do” list, but about three, reflecting the different projects that I’m juggling at the moment. So why did I choose to run?

I can feel myself getting stressed. My trigger to noticing this is when I find myself starting three things at once.  I’ll start making some tea, check my emails and read the free newspaper that has come through my door. Before I know it, the tea hasn’t been made, I’m distracted on the Internet and I haven’t worked out if there was anything of interest in the paper. Nothing’s been finished, no progress made and I’m feeling too busy to know where to start. The best antidote to stress is exercise: it is all part of managing the stress response which exists to help us escape from danger. Now I’m not advocating running away from our stressors, but by resetting physiologically we can get a better view on the important tasks.

I dream big when I run. My mind wanders and once the everyday chatter has faded away, the big ideas come: the things that are at the heart of who I am, what I want to represent and how best to share it. This helps me to reset my priorities to get back to the core values of me and my business – how can I lighten my life? Keep it fun, but not too frivolous, and how can I help other people achieve this too?

Being the best you can for other people starts with being the best you can for you. Think of the advice that you would give to your best friend, or your clients and make sure you apply that to yourself. If I were advising someone in my situation I’d say – take a break, get out into nature, take some exercise, eat well and recharge your batteries.  Sound familiar? But applying it to ourselves is the hardest job of all because there’s just so much to do. And that’s why it’s so important. You really can’t afford not to.

And now I find myself back at my desk with a priority list of three things to do, a fresh focus and free of distractions. This leaves me free to then respond to everything else. I work for myself, and I know the pressures of building a business and feeling as if you need to be on it all the time. But reflect on that, the reasons you started and your choices to be able to run things your way. Make yourself the boss you always wanted to have: one that puts their employees first.

Going slow to go fast

We all know the story of the tortoise and the hare. About how if we set off too fast we may feel like we’re winning, but then we get tired and need to take a nap – we wake up disoriented and then can’t quite pick ourselves up again to get going in the right direction and the race is lost.

I know this to be true when running races, but it’s often how my days feel like to me. I get up with a flourish, start attacking my to do list and am exhausted by lunch time. In a drive to shoe I’m being productive, I battle on and then call it quits early because I’m not achieving anything. As well as being tiring, it can be frustrating.

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been taking a different approach. My mornings have been slower to get started “properly” (as I would have described it). My first activity has been creative – writing – not for business but for pleasure. A challenge to write a short story – no limits as to how long or by when – meant I had to find time to do it, to write at least a few words. And some mornings it’s been lots of words, which has been great, and when I run out I can stop and pick it up again the next morning.

Sometimes you’ve got to force yourself to find the time to do the things that you enjoy and once you start it’s amazing how time can get away from you, and how you can forget about any stresses or anxieties whilst you’re doing it. My mornings feel like they’ve been extended and this in turn makes it feel as if the daily routine has shifted, with a later lunch (coinciding with my slump time) and picking up again later.

By owning my mornings a bit more – whether by exercising, stretching or creating – and by starting the day more slowly it can set the tone to be more deliberate about what I do, feels more productive and may get me to my goals faster.

Any significant change will take daily actions. Agree a daily action with yourself and every day you make it happen put a visible mark in your calendar. That way, you won’t want to break the chain and it will give you an extra incentive to keep going.


Can I help you to get to your goals faster? If you’re feeling overwhelmed and too busy to do the things you want, send me a message to arrange a chat about how I can help you feel calmer and see the actions you need to take to start doing your dreams.

Storytelling

At the age of 4 or 5, I’m snuggled up in bed waiting for the story from my lilac-covered “365 Bedtime Stories” book. I always hoped it was one of the short stories and not a poem, but either way, once the tale started I was enchanted until the end.  I’ve always been an avid reader, but telling stories myself had always been something I struggled with. This neatly fitted into the box I’d put myself in: “not creative”.  Creative writing, making up a story, was something I wasn’t comfortable with at all.  It always seemed so ridiculous, so false, which is why my stories always ended up with me waking up and finding out it was all a dream.

But what if those dreams could become real? I recently participated in The Story Party – an event where people tell stories – which was a bit of a surprise to me, as well! There is a theme for each event and three rules: the story must be true, the story must be personal to you and there must be a message for the audience.  My main reason for volunteering (yes, nobody made me do it) was to start getting comfortable with public speaking. It was one of my first actions for exploring my limits this year.  And I’ve learnt so much more than the fact that I can stand in front of an audience and speak clearly.

 

My life is my story. I don’t have to imagine things, or make things up. I can tell what’s happened and I can choose my own adventure to create what happens next. But who wants to hear my story? Quite a few people, as it turns out. Because people like stories. It’s a tradition and a culture across the world. It’s how we learn and it’s a medium that’s accessible to all. And it’s really powerful.

You can learn a lot about yourself from your story and from telling it (writing, speaking, drawing or musically). You will unburden yourself and free yourself to move on to the next page or, when you’re ready, the next chapter. And your plans become what happens next.

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Reading by the campfire

What will happen next in your story? You can take the next step to start doing – and when you wake up it will be real and not just a dream.

If you want help to figure out the framework of your next chapter, get in touch and we can chat about how to do it.

I could never…volunteer

Back in the day, my impression of volunteers was of elderly ladies with time on their hands being seen to be “doing good”. I hasten to add, this is not my impression now.  Having given my time for different causes from packing hampers to be delivered to those in need at Christmas, to project management in a conservation charity and latterly in a variety of roles at sporting events I’ve definitely gained as much as I’ve given.  I’ve got experience from working in different organisations, I’ve helped people to run distances from 5K to over 30 miles and met a great bunch of people and this has made my life richer.

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Linda Cairns at the Commonwealth Games, Glasgow 2014

I spoke to Linda Cairns, who I met at our local parkrun – an advert for the benefits of volunteering if one were needed – and we talked about her experience of volunteering, the London Olympics and how volunteering has led to her getting her perfect job.

Grab a cuppa and listen in to get motivated to find your place in your community.  We recorded this after a parkrun in a sports centre café, so there’s a little background noise, but that’s all part of the parkrun spirit.

 

Inspired but not sure where to start?

Firstly read Linda’s blog: http://poweredbyvolunteers.net/wp/ and then check out https://do-it.org/ ; and here https://www.joininuk.org/ or just get in touch the next time your see something going on and wonder how you can get involved.  I did just that to entertain a local lunch and activity club for the over 60s – they were delighted that I’d offered and I got an opportunity to practice my flute performance.

When I run, anything seems possible

I thought this was just me.  But apparently I’m not alone – does anyone else identify with this feeling.  Not just of being able to run [or swim or cycle or yoga] forever, but of all sorts of things being possible.  It seems that in the midst of exercise, once your mind has let go of the everyday worries and your body is dealing physiologically with the stress cycle, you inadvertently focus on your wildest dreams.

I can finish a run or a walk having generated an idea, clearly planned it out and be filled with enthusiasm to get started, even confident I can overcome any obstacles in my way including the naysayers’ attitudes.  This could be a big travel plan, my next career move or adopting a new lifestyle.  Everything seems so clear, so easy and, ultimately, possible and achievable.

If nothing else, this is one of the best reasons to do exercise.  As well as the well documented physical health benefits, there’s another side. Exercise takes you back to reality: to the wild, natural you.  Doing exercise gets you out of your mind and into your body.  Your mind is then free to tap into those things that you want to think about, not the things that you feel you should do and not the barriers that we create for ourselves.

I’ve been inspired by Anna Kessel’s book Eat, Sweat, Play and she touches on this. On how being able to do sport/exercise can empower women in so many ways.  From meeting new people to building physical strength and mental strength. She quotes Sarab, an Iraqi football coach working with girls in camps for displaced people and refugees, who explains:

“If you are shy to chase a ball, how can you achieve your dreams? Playing sport makes you feel free.  It makes you feel like you can achieve anything”

I don’t think this feeling is unique to women and if everyone exercised a little bit, the world would be a healthier and happier place.  I think sport can take us back to a baseline, a fresh start, where anything is possible.

I can’t answer the question of why or how. For me there’s a meditative aspect to running – a focus on breathing and rhythm and that’s all.  Mindfulness on the run. Literally.

Give it a try – step outside and get moving. Who knows where it might take you?

If you’re feeling stuck and want some help and encouragement to get that oomph back in your life then get in touch.

I could never…do a triathlon

This story is all about the challenge: creating it, accepting it and doing it.  When Chris Shead was looking for something to do, he settled on a triathlon. But no ordinary triathlon – the Alpe d’Huez triathlon: a legendary mountain in cycling terms. And in deciding on what to do, it doesn’t have to be your thing forever – do it and see what happens next.

 It shows that by committing (entering an event) and taking the first step (or pedal or stroke) you can do it and still have fun along the way. 

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Q. Can you explain what the Alpe d’Huez triathlon is?

A. Well, it’s a triathlon, so swim, bike, run, but the beauty of this event is it’s in the French Alps. Alpe d’Huez is a famous ski resort, but there is an amazing road up the mountain, which is famed for its steepness and to negotiate the steep face of the mountain it has 21 switch-backs. From the air it looks like a winding snake and if anyone is keen on the Tour de France bike race they will have seen footage – it’s an iconic, brutal, mountain stage which the Le Tour includes about every three years.

Most triathlons cover standard distances, the standard being the ‘Olympic’, or ‘international’ distance which is 1.5k swim, 40k bike and 10k run. The Alpe event offers two distances, called, dramatically, “Long” and “Short”. The long is considerably longer than the standard and the short is slightly shorter. I opted for the short course.

Q. Had you done triathlons before? What made you choose to do it?

A. No! What made me choose to do it…I wanted a challenge. Simple.

I have always cycled, even from my teenage years I covered long distances, we didn’t have a car. In 2004 I started running and started to enter running events – doing organised races really gets me going, it’s so good to set a target, plan for it, go there, get nervous, do the event and then look back. Fabulous feeling. Around 2008 I decided I wanted to build upper body strength, so I joined a gym, but being locked away in a room doesn’t feel great so I started to swim. We have an outdoor lido nearby so I started to swim outdoors. The only stroke I was any good at was breast stroke which was fine for building strength but I felt I lacked a real reason to go to the pool – outdoors, sometimes chilly etc, I wanted a good reason and suddenly realised that training for a Tri would be a good objective. So I remember searching on-line for an event and found the Alpe d’Huez Tri. It had only started in 2006, and of course I knew the Alpe from following Le Tour. I entered in September 2009 planning to do the July 2010 event. I was scared stiff, I couldn’t even do the ‘freestyle’or front crawl stroke that is expected in a triathlon!

Q. Was it an easy decision? Were you confident you could do it when you signed up?

A. Hmmm, I wasn’t sure about ‘could’ but knew I would do it – even if it took me longer than anyone else and I came last, I didn’t care. The website had terrific, almost scary footage of previous events. I just badly wanted to do it, so the decision was easy. I was conscious of cost, but I figured I could sleep in the car en route, camp and keep costs down.

‘Could’ do it, involves some sense of what is the standard required. I looked at race results and times across the three disciplines. I knew I wasn’t going to win, but I realised I could train, develop new skills, achieve new levels of fitness, enjoy preparing, sharing the journey with friends and meet new people.

Q. What happened between signing up and the event?

A. A pretty heavy training schedule. My wife bought me a famous triathlete training manual and I realised I would be training everyday. I developed a schedule, RunSunday, SwimMonday, BikeTuesday, etc. I even had to spend more time in the gym on specific muscle groups. I told people because I was very proud to have entered such a tough event.

We decided my wife would travel down with me, so the idea of sleeping in the car, camping, etc soon vanished! We booked hotels and started to plan a very pleasant week away.

The motivation came from the simple idea that the training was great, doing me good and it had to be done if I was to perform to any kind of standard. The biggest problem was the swimming. I struggled to learn the front crawl, or freestyle, that’s expected in a Tri. I studied the technique and I graduated from the lido and local pool to an outdoor swimming venue where I knew other triathletes trained. Sunday mornings, 06.30 am putting on a wetsuit and getting into a chilly lake was pretty memorable. I remember one marvelous morning when I was out in the lake, it was big and it felt wonderfully peaceful treading water with mist on water and swans gliding past. I took lessons and worked really hard but it was my weakest discipline, but when other swimmers asked me what event I was training for, they were all impressed to hear I was going to the Alpe d’Huez. That felt very cool.

Getting equipped was motivating. I went to a big Tri event around October because I heard that some companies who hire race bikes out during the season sell them as the season closes. Sure enough, a guy sold me a decent bike, and I bought clip-on pedals, bike shoes, a ‘Tri suit’ which you can wear for all three disciplines. Other equipment included swim trunks, flippers, hand paddles, etc for training, goggles and a wet suit for the event. The lake that they use is fed by alpine glacial rivers and it’s cold, even in July, so the wetsuit is obligatory. The kit-list was considerable, but really fuelled the excitement and brought a new level of technical discipline to my training. I was loving it!

 Q. How did it go? How did you feel afterwards?

A. It was wonderful. I was shocked by the swim section. The lake is surrounded by dark rock, very steep mountains slope straight into the water. The start area was crowded, it was cold and a storm arrived as we waited for the start. The clouds were dark, really low and forboding. It started to hail, the dark rocks all around seemed to turn black, like wet coal. There was a helicopter flying low, lots of commands over the megaphone. The atmosphere was tense, electric and claustrophobic. I saw a few people panicking and they were hauled out of the water into marshal’s boats. It felt amazing to be there. I knew what I was there to do – my best – and I was focused enough to realise I was going to swim-bike-run my race. I wasn’t going to get drawn into any personal duels.

I was disappointed with my swim section, I wasn’t last out of the water but I could see loads of people getting started on their bikes and getting away. I knew I would catch a few of them.

The bike section was awesome. I remember smiling as I shot through the countryside, through some small towns always with the Alpe getting closer. The roads were closed and gendarmes added a real feeling of a professional sports event. I overtook some guys and then hit the start of the Alpe. Wow, it was like a wall of tarmac. I had trained on the steepest hills I could find, some at 19%, and the famous Ditchling Beacon in Sussex, but nothing was as long as that road with it’s famous 21 bends.

The run was fun. I remember running with 3 other guys and we were chatting in broken English as we ran a loop course around the top of the mountain to the finish.

How did I feel at the finish……very, very satisfied

Q. Do you have any tips for people thinking about doing a triathlon/something out of their comfort zone?

A. Know what you want to achieve and be realistic. Enjoy the experience. Get advice.

Triathletes love their kit, and their ‘tech’ equipment. If you do a Tri, you will need to get the kit.

For me, most important is to set a target. Don’t just talk about it, find a target, make a date, commit. Then organise and enjoy the ride!

Q. What are your current or future challenges?

A. Nothing specific. I run and bike, but swim a lot less. I have just looked at the Alpe d’Huez Tri web-site, and they now have a Duathlon event planned. That’s run, bike, run – no swimming!

If you might be interested in the Alpe d’Huez triathlon you can find out all you need to know here: http://www.alpetriathlon.com/en 

I could never… inspire people to run

I ran with the Saturday morning Walk2Run group from The Pelham, a community hub in Bexhill on Sea.

The run leader and inspiration behind the group is Jacqueline Haas and she tells her story in the audio below, recorded after the hill training session she took me on.

It’s a story of a non-runner to a long runner; from being inspired to being the inspiration and tackling the not-talked-about-enough-subject of suicide and mental health.

The messages I’ve taken from it are to thrive in your ambition and surround yourself with people that share it with you.  It shows how, by allowing yourself to be inspired and applying some persistence, you can create a positive change for you and for others.

I love this story because it’s not an overnight success story, but shows that by doing something that feels right in your whole body (in this case running) you will experience life’s twists and turns to the full.  It will be at times terrifying and exciting but the result is energising and satisfaction.

Jacky has a blog about her running experiences http://www.walk2run.org/ . If you’re in the East Sussex area, go run with her!

I could never… run a muddy, obstacle race

Running is no longer enough, it seems.  Now people need to prove themselves by adding obstacles in a run.  And mud. This is not good news for someone who happily falls into the category of “average club runner”.  This is double not good for an average club runner averse to mud.  I don’t like mud, never have done, and whilst I can tolerate it now, my natural instinct is to avoid.

So how did I find myself at the start of a muddy obstacle race? Here’s the story:

At a conference, a colleague was telling me what jolly, good fun these muddy race things were.  I rolled my eyes but somewhere in my mind my self development work kicked in and I heard the words “comfort zone” and creating barriers”.  I asked myself whether “I don’t like mud” was a good enough excuse? Afterall, I can run and I love a physical challenge and who knows when I might need to run through mud to escape baddies.

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Note: no mud on my running shoes

Roll on a couple of  months and I find myself leaving home early on an October morning and parking up in a field on the outskirts of Tunbridge Wells. I pretend it’s just an ordinary trail run, attach  my number and enter the warm up area (all the time reassuring my colleague that I was fine, but reminding him that I wasn’t looking forward to it). To be honest, I really wasn’t sure if I could do it,which sounded ridiculous but real in my head. The starting gun was fired and a steep descent led to a winding path through the wood. And then, there it was: a dank, muddy stream to cross. I paused for a while whilst my co-competitors happily jumped in and gave myself a quick talking to. I took a deep breath and gingerly (as gingerly as you can when you’re waist deep in mud and old water) made my way across the stream and scrambled out the other side remembering to  breathe again once I’d got out.

The good news is that I made it round the rest of the course.  I still had the voice in my head telling me I was going to end up face first in the mud until I’d cross the finish line but I kept going – lots of deep breaths and each obstacle gave me the confidence to tackle the next one.

I didn’t enjoy it.

I felt a massive sense of achievement.

Now I know that I can run a muddy, obstacle race. No plans to enter another one though!