Growth: The Uncomfortable Comfortable

If I asked you to walk home in the rain, how would you respond? Would you tell me to open my eyes; it’s raining, duh? Or maybe you might feed us both an excuse that you don’t have your umbrella and it’ll ruin your hair? What if I told you that sometimes taking the uncomfortable option can help you grow? Now I know you’re not a thirsty plant, but hear me out! Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable is essential for developing resilience, a “Fuck It” attitude and for finding out what you are really made of. Most of the time, these uncomfortable situations that we frantically avoid aren’t all that bad, such as walking home in the rain. Sometimes they may even be a source of joy, imagine that! Walking home in the piss wet rain could be a highlight of your day? Maybe you think I’m full of shit. Maybe I am, but let’s ignore that for a moment because there is one person who we owe it to to do the things that make us feel uncomfortable – and that is ourselves.

Every day I see people that inspire me to push myself, whether it’s that they have something that I want *ahem a Marathon Majors 6-Star Medal cough* or they’re holding the first copies of their newly published book – I’m jealous, so shoot me! I just want to smell crisp new pages covered in my words! What lies between where I am now, and where I want to be is very simple and very painful: a whole lotta growth.

Make yourself do unpleasant things so as to gain the upper hand of your soul – W.E.B. Du Bois

This is where owing it to yourself to get comfortable being uncomfortable comes into its own. Do you remember any of your teenaged growth spurts? Those HURT! Growth is uncomfortable, and of course, it takes effort to grow, relentlessly unforgiving and continuous effort. You owe it to yourself to challenge yourself and get comfortable being uncomfortable. By becoming comfortable with discomfort we learn how much we can push ourselves, we realize and learn our limits, and that our resilience reaches beyond our own imaginations.

The option to stay exactly where we are is always there. When we have had enough we can always stop and decide if we like it just as it is. Maybe you do, or maybe it’s just easier to stop, for a long time self-harming was more comfortable than facing the rawness of my psychology and mind, learning to eat was more uncomfortable than starving myself and there came a point when being unwell becomes more comfortable than undertaking the journey to becoming well because being unwell was all I knew- I soon learned that growth happens in the most treacherous and uncomfortable of waters, as the adage and many a meme go. It’s true. That shit is scary and itchy ants-in-your-pants uncomfortable. The best teacher and arena I have found in persevering through discomfort has been exercising, without it, I doubt I would have recovered as much as I have.

Sometimes when you’re covering a large distance in one go, hi there marathon, or hiking and climbing up a mountainside (Tryffan, we have unfinished business), it is uncomfortable. It is hard. In each task, by putting one foot in front of another, a very simple yet vastly symbolic act, the finish goal will eventually appear. In continuing to show up for yourself through the challenge and continuing to push on through the burning quads, aching knees, jarring concrete and absolute monotony that can be associated with covering distance, you get there and all of a sudden the intense and immense gratitude, pride, sense of accomplishment that you feel makes it all completely 100% worth it. You don’t forget the pain, this isn’t childbirth, it just all becomes worth it.

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So taking this ideology into a bigger playing field is the next step, and they don’t always have to be huge strides of progress that are acquired during an activity for it to be worth it, next time it’s raining, which if you’re in London is probably tomorrow lets be honest, walk for a bit in the rain even though you don’t want to go out in it. Go for that walk in the cold. Take your shoes off, feel the ground and the cold iciness of a wintery puddle submerge your toes. Practice different types of discomfort, physical, emotional, mental: turn the heating down to below comfortable for a day, have a cold shower, go for a run up a hill. This is the reality. Life isn’t always sweet, it’s mostly pretty grim. In practise, you empower yourself to manage situations when you lack control over a situation. Sit in the overwhelm and when exposing yourself to uncomfortable situations, go ahead and nurture yourself as well. Self-soothe yourself through the discomfort, learn how to do this for yourself. Figure out whether it’s a mantra that you repeat in your head, a texture that you feel, a particular way of fidgeting your fingers that is soothing. This is great practice for self-soothing in situations that are uncomfortable where you have no control over being able to escape them, i.e. depression, anxiety, that presentation in front of your colleagues, public speaking, a race, a challenge, commuting on an overpacked tube at rush hour. It doesn’t mean you always succeed, just that you will succeed more than when you couldn’t tolerate any discomfort.

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Cycling London to Brighton

Sticking to individual training plans has never been something I am good at. I could spend some time thinking about why this is, I could even spend some time making elaborate excuses that are as convincing as they are imaginative. Another thing I could do is focus on what I have managed to do, how I’ve managed to do it and take the decision to do more of that because that works, whatever “that” may be.

On the 4th August it is The Prudential Ride 100. I was lucky enough to get a ballot place and eager enough to say yes straight away. Getting excited and carried away with thinking it’ll all be amazing and committing financially to paying the fee is the easy bit. It’s the next step that I haven’t mastered, i.e. training.

To start with in my training as with any big looming challenge in my life, I became too anxious to get on my bike. I didn’t want to train on stationary bikes in the gym (so boring!), and I had finally got my bike serviced after months of meaning to and never quite getting around to it. I still didn’t go on training rides until a particularly bad mood struck and I said “Fuck it!”, the grail more holy than Nike’s “Just Do It” mantra. I enjoyed myself. I felt better. I peddled out my frustrations and upset. I sped down hills as fast as I could, cackling with adrenaline on my way. I pushed myself to push up hills I would’ve thought I couldn’t and it was great. What a result? I couldn’t have asked for anything more perfect at that moment in time.

Having done a longish lap I decided the next step would be to cycle to Brighton. It’s a challenge I’ve wanted to do for a few years now as an event, and instead of paying cray prices to enter an event I decided to solo it. I found a route online (Here) at Cycle.Travel and tapped it into DwMap so my Garmin could act as a sat nav (Best IQ Store app for Garmin by far!). I chilled in the morning and proceeded to tell everyone of my plans. I went for coffee with my mate, I told her of my plans, saw someone from climbing I’ve met once, and told them too. Behind them in the coffee shop queue I saw someone from where I live and I told them as well. The woman sat on the table next to where I was standing couldn’t help but hear of my amazing plans, so I projected my voice a little louder for her to hear my them as well. I may have even told the pharmacist, and the day before I had told my therapist. Midday arrived on the day of my plans and I had not yet set off. #Procrastination #FuckIt #LetsGo and eventually, in the heat of the day, I set off on a 60 mile bike ride with absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into. Ignorance is bliss!

With many pit stops to accompany a major underestimation of difficulty, length and energy requirements I had to stop for supplies along the way. It is in instances like this that the sugar tax pisses me off; the lack of sugar filled drinks that have been replaced with 0 sugar versions – super unhelpful in this instance. I needed energy, I needed sugar for that energy and there I was reading labels already half exhausted and some what overheated. Some might have assumed I was reading labels to choose a “healthy option” *sigh, eye-roll, sigh*, instead I was seeing which drinks had enough energy in it to fuel my adventure. Happy with my choices I scoffed and cycled, scoffed and cycled, scoffed and cycled my way to Brighton.

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Highlights include seeing more nature than I usually do beyond the usual squirrels and rats of London: wild rabbits, a pony, a horse and her foal, some goats and baby goats, I’m going to say I even saw a fish. I’m not sure if I did but I feel like I did. I saw ducklings and miniature fluff balls bobbing along a lake. I sang to myself, had in depth conversations with myself, laughed with myself and gave myself many pep talks along the way. (Heads up, if youre cycling Ride 100 and end up near a woman talking and singing to herself on a blue hybrid bike, it’s probably me).

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The free feeling of hurtling down a long windy road is something that will never get old. The adrenaline and excitement that rises through my belly as I hurtle beyond the constraints of being in control is super fun. Those hills and breaking my speed record is definitely the best part of the day.

The worst part? There is a fuck off huge hill at the end of the route which I have heard as if it were an urban legend. I can confirm, it was fuck off huge and there was no way I was going to cycle it. Some people cycled past me, clad in lycra, slim, with some negative percent body fat mass and bulging calves to intimidate anyone thinks a slight shape of in and then out equals a defined calf – i.e. me. These muscles were next level, the bikes were probably the kind that float just above the ground they are so light, and the fiends riding them are probably cycling mad. I’m not one of those people so I pushed, pulling over for the build up of traffic behind me to pass from time to time. I was like a miniature tractor on a country lane, holding everyone up and pulling over to allow everyone to pass. The biggest shocker of all though? Drivers waved a ‘thank you” signal at me from the outskirts of London to Brighton when I gave way. Car drivers were unexpectedly not mad at me for even existing and daring to be on the road with my bike. It was here that I learned that lane cycling is much better than city cycling despite the different speed limits. The air is fresh, the drivers are friendly, the roads are clearer and it’s more freeing an experience.

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The view from the top of Fuck Off Hill

Previously I had thought I preferred city cycling – oh how i was so SO wrong! The difference in hatred directed towards me for even being a cyclist using a road was not experienced once I got further out of London. From this experience I have one message from one road rage prone person to the others in London, calm the fuck down; we can use the road together without hating each other. Politeness and patience don’t cost the earth, and in fact it may make it a more pleasant place for all of us to be together – unless you are a gang of seagulls eating my chips whilst I get ketchup. Then we are definitely not friends and we never will be, and no, I don’t forgive you Mr. Seagull & Co.

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I day dreamed about this moment for hours!! It was magical.

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Brighton Marathon: Hopes, Nopes and Notes

There’s all sorts of bugs to be caught as we go through our lives: the travel bug, an influenza bug, the reading bug, and hopefully not the Ebola bug. I’m not sure if I have caught the running bug as such, but I am quite sure that I have caught the “Challenge Yourself with Disgusting Feats” bug. Is that a bug?It’s not as catchy a name as Ebola but I think we’ll roll with it.

As I am starting to be more serious about my training commitment and overall role that exercise plays in my life and health maintenance, I am pleased and slightly sickened with nerves, to be running Brighton Marathon in April. Does anyone ever stop at one marathon? I’m hoping to be quite firmly in the multiple marathon runner camp by the end of the year. Not every runner chooses to run marathons, 45% of runners have run 2-5 half marathons whilst 50% have never tried a full marathon [1]. Of those mad enough to opt for the full marathon distance though, I am convinced that not many people stick to running just one.

I am running Brighton with my Dad for CHICKS [2], a charity that gives children who are carers, living in difficult circumstance such as care or have been living in abject poverty a break away at a holiday camp. [Sponsor Link].

Maybe I caught a special type of madness during London last year for arduous challenges and pushing myself to my limits, repeatedly and all in the name of adventure? The thought of another marathon excites me and fills me with dread: I had such an epic experience last year and I’m wondering what other experiences there are to be had whilst running for a sickening distance. Every race we participate in as amateur runners is only against ourselves. Naturally I’m going to have some hopes for this marathon, some nopes and some notes based on last years “THIS IS NOT A RECOMMENDED METHOD” experience.

Hopes
– Get a PB from last year’s result
– For good running weather, not too hot and not too cold or rainy.
– To enjoy myself.
– Survive in one solid piece as a human being (fingers and toes are all crossed for no injuries)
– That my training although far from perfect is adequate.

Nopes
– Not training. I may not be very good at sticking to training plans but I am actually doing some this year!
– Over hydrating without electrolytes or salty snacks!
– Relying on gels for energy and glucose

Notes
– Get Body Glide without SPF because it is more glidey without the SPF
– Carry electrolyte tabs, SIS Lemon flavour, for adding to water on course
– Flapjack is a good snack for half way energy, Chia Charge all the way!
– Sun cream with a super high SPF that is water resistant so will survive my sweating buckets – maybe carry some extra if you can?
– Music is your best ally on race day

Sources:
[1] http://www.marathontrainingschedule.com/blog/45-mind-numbing-facts-figures-statistics-running-2/
[2] https://www.chicks.org.uk/

Life’s Funny Lessons Found In My Pre-Marathon Journey: You. Fucking. Got. This!

Sunday 22nd April 2018 – the day I ran my first marathon. Wow. It still sounds pretty surreal. I hadn’t trained for it properly and consequently, the goal was to cross the finish line in one piece, uninjured, and within the 8 hour cut off time. Regardless of training, I think these are pretty decent goals for a first marathon.

I’ve lived in London for nearly 9 years now. I first got the “It would be amazing to do that one day” was in 2010. I was in town for a photoshoot for a site I was writing for at the time and the marathon happened to be on. We caught a glimpse of it by chance at the north embankment, which is in the final stretches of the marathon route. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to do it within the decade; at the time, I didn’t run. I toyed with it but never kept it up. I didn’t do any formal exercise anymore and when I did it wasn’t for good reason. I wanted to lose weight; exercise was another form of self punishment.

I only really delved into the possibility that I could do it, actually for real, once I started running with Backpackers where I’d hear stories of other people running marathons, and see them with their medals. They survived and often had a smile on their face at their achievement and you know what? They were normal people. They had normal lives, weren’t necassarily highlighted as a running ‘talent’ from a young age but they ran marathons. Not only did they run marathons, they enjoyed them. It was at that point I thought that maybe one day I could possibly do that too.

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As an adult in my twenties I also thought that for a long time my mental health would prevent me from doing anything like this for a long time to come. Then Mind Over Marathon on the BBC happened. I heard of the project via Backpackers (original founder being Chevy Rough) and I heard him talk at the Backpackers launch. I watched the documentary and saw other people with mental health difficulties managing to take the challenge on, and amazingly, it helped them with their mental health. My focus shifted from I can’t do that until I have mastered my mental health issues sometime, in the distant future or maybe never.

I stopped viewing my mental health as an obstacle to what I wanted to achieve and do. I learned that actually running could become another tool in the big box of tricks for managing and living with, not fighting, my menta health difficulties. It was shown to be, very blatantly, that actually you can live alongside your mental health. You can work with it. Sometimes it may dominate your life, every waking moment for periods of time even but I had a new fire in my belly to make sure that I was going to learn to live with my issues and not in constant headlock with them. In the wake of 2017’s race I sined up to run for a chairty place. Shit. Wow.

In the wake of this enthused decision I was questioned. Are you still hypomanic? That’s crazy, that’s what people do after years of running consistently! Well wow, it’s good you’re doing things and aiming high but you don’t have to run a marathon, that’s…that’s…what? Crazy? Maybe it is but sometimes in life we gotta be a bit “crazy”. Life isn’t all that sane. Life isn’t calculated or linear or predictable. So I chose to embrace this and signed up. By winter I was doubting myself. I was depressed. I was barely coping. I wasn’t ready to train for a marathon like everyone else was. I wasn’t going to manage to raise the money. I couldn’t handle a big race because of my start line anxiety, as proven by my opting out of The Big Half for the virtual option.

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Then the hype for 2018 began. The countdown began. I stopped fighting myself and coming down on myself. I listened to the language of the universe and the ultimate summary was to go for it. I had come to the conclusion that I needed to listen to my body, listen to the universe, and ultimately trust in my body that it could manage to complete 26.2 miles. Together, my body and my mind crossed the finish line of The London Marathon 2018. I finished in 6:42:44 without a cut off time panic dash.

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The take home message? If you have a desire to do something and you believe that your life circumstances, or your mental health, or anxiety is a reason to not do it then stop that shit. right. now! I know it’s not easy and I wont say “if i can, anyone can” because we are all different. Our journeys are all different and maybe you have no desire to run a marathon. Maybe you want to paint, or go to art school, or play tennis. Whatever it is, as cheesy as this is about to get, if you don’t try you 100% won’t do it. Maybe it will take a long time to get there, but as long as you’re trying to live with your illness or whatever  it is you face in your life, and you know deep down that you really are trying then you won’t remain stagnated where you are for eternity. I promise you that.

Finally, if you on an impulse whim want to do something – stop doubting and just go. Just do it even if other people think you’re crazy or weird or being unstable. Sometimes, these decisions will retrieve terrible consequences, and other times they will be a major lesson that shows you just how much more you are capable of than you or anyone else ever previously thought. You’re in charge of you. You find you, and you do you – even if it is sometimes clinically diagnosable, trust me, the majority of people are in some way and you may find some doors you didn’t even know existed in life for you – you never know unless you try.

You fucking got this!