The runners

Walking through Cornwall. Destination John O'Groats, then Shetland!

Walking through Cornwall. Destination John O’Groats, then Shetland!

On this day one year ago I was in Cornwall. I’d just passed the 100 mile mark, and had over a thousand miles still to crunch under my boots. I felt uncertain about my capacity to walk such a long way. But I was already learning that the best way to cope with the self doubt that accompanies any sizeable and exciting challenge is to focus all my attention on what’s around me. Paying attention to the day ahead, the next footstep, the views, the next meal….these are all the simple but incredibly effective ways to harness that most powerful muscle of all, the mind.

Today, I’m six days away from running my first marathon; 26.2 miles along the Brighton seafront. My good friend Alison and I have spent the entire winter focussing on the next footstep, trying not too think about the fact that in April we will run further than we ever have done in our lives before. I said a while back that I think that the training IS the marathon. Well, we’ve succeeded in doing the training. Since the start of December I’m amazed to report that neither of us has missed a single training session. We’ve completed the whole thing, which jointly means that over the last four months we have:

  • Cycled 600 miles
  • Run 780 miles*
  • Plus all the stretching and lifting at the gym, and mindless turbo sessions
Perfect perfect early morning run in the Cairngorms, just a week ago

Perfect perfect early morning run in the Cairngorms, just a week ago

Whatever happens on Sunday, I’m ever so proud of our determination, and the fact that we have enjoyed our training so much. We’ve run through rain, howling wind, through knee high floodwater, snow. We’ve run in Kent, East Yorkshire, London, Northamptonshire, Buckinghamshire. We’ve run along the sandy paths of New Forest, along the trails of the North Yorkshire Moors, over the fells of the Peak District, and through a hill pass in the Scottish Highlands. We have learnt to love running. We have learned how to eat. We are both fitter and stronger than we’ve ever been at any time in our lives before. We have become runners.

The small crowd that was there early on, cheering us on through your sponsorship has become a much bigger crowd. We are both so grateful. And if you’ve not done so, it’s not too late to sponsor us.  I’m fundraising for the MS Society, and Alison is fundraising for Mind.

*A small coincidence:
I looked back at my diary and realised that this is the mileage I had done on the day I crossed the Scottish border last May. Lands End to the border – the length of England – was 780 miles exactly.

The Magic Run

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Sooner or later, comes The Magic Run.  Mine was today.  I had a meeting in Sheffield last night.  So I got up before the crack of dawn this morning and drove out to Stannage Edge in the Peak District.  Sheffield, pre dawn, was snuggled up under a blanket low cloud.  Driving out of town, I emerged into the open moors, and clear skies.  It was minus 3 degrees, as I got out of the car, and ran along the gritstone cliff that is Stannage Edge.  It was crispy and frosty underfoot. Hard ground after all these months of slipping and sloshing and squelching.  And not a soul to be seen.  The sun rose.  Red grouse did their impression of being a wind up toy – swooping and cackling and then going quiet as if they needed winding up again. Hope Valley, far below, was wrapped up its woolly cloud.  Ten and a half miles slipped by.  And I ran. Happy. Grateful.

The Magic Run has it’s equivalent Magic Bike Ride, Magic Walk, etc.  Whatever you do, it’s worth persisting with the training, in order to experience The Magic Run every now and again.  For me, it’s getting up when most sane people are in bed, going somewhere I’ve never been before, and being on a path, not a road.  And it is getting lucky, getting that sweet spot in the training diary when for some reason, the running feels easy and joyful.

When and where was your last Magic Run? (or walk, ride….?)

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Opening doors

It’s now March, and it’s four weeks until the Brighton Marathon. The big day is Sunday April 6th.  In the main, l love doing the training.  I am now into the ‘longest run’ weeks of doing 20 miles for my long weekly run.

This marathon escapade started back in November, with my friend Alison Chisnell asking me to run the Brighton event with her.  As I wrote previously, I’d had no thoughts of ever running that far, but I found myself saying yes to Alison.  That taught me the lesson of being open minded.  Have you ever had a situation like that, where you always swore you wouldn’t do something/didn’t like something, and then suddenly found yourself doing a complete turnaround? Continue reading

Marathon training update

The muddy duo

The muddy duo

In November, Alison Chisnell asked me to join her in running a marathon.  (The story is explained in my last blog post). We’re already well into our training and have another 3 months to go until the big day in Brighton on April 6th.   So far, I’ve learnt several lessons, which I’ll relate, just in case any of it is of use to others taking up a challenge such as a run or bike ride.

1. The major lesson I’ve learnt, and really it is one that first struck me on my long walk, is to focus on the present and the immediate future, not the ultimate goal.  The time that Alison and I spend running the Brighton Marathon will only constitute about 2% of the total time that we will have spent training during our 16 week build up.  Just 2%.  It isn’t much.  So what I’ve learnt is that running a marathon is actually about the training, rather than the marathon.  The marathon IS the training.  

 The real travelling is all the stuff in between.  The destination merely added to the direction of the journey, acting as a frame upon which I could weave the colourful fabric of my experiences. Slowly the journey had come to be the reward.

 (Alistair Humphreys, writing about his round the world cycle ride).

2. The second thing I’ve learnt follows on from the first.  Lesson two: embrace and love the training. If I’m going to spend all that time training, I need to enjoy it.  So I do.  How can training for a marathon be enjoyable?  In all sorts of ways:

I am so lucky and grateful that I am physically able to run and cycle. So, why would I not enjoy the training?  It would be churlish and wrong to dislike it.

My training is varied, so it isn’t like I am running every single day.  In any given week, I cycle twice, I run twice, I do a weights session and I do a core strength/flexibility workout.  The pace and length of runs and cycle rides varies too.  The general rule I’m following is a long run/ride is slow, a short one is speedy.

The places I run are varied. For example I drove down to Reading before Christmas, and stopped on the way at Stowe in Warwickshire, and ran there.  It meant I got to see a part of the country I’d not seen before, so it was interesting.  Ok, so I looked a little weird getting changed in the car after, but hopefully no one spotted me!

I’ve run with other people a few times – for example with my inspiring friend Alison, down in Kent. Which was a VERY muddy and wet run.  Great fun.  We’ve both discovered off road running, and are loving that.  I also plucked up the courage to go on a trail running training camp in the North Yorkshire Moors last weekend.  It turned out to be an amazing experience, and I discovered that I love running in the hills. I even did a 6.7mile night race! This latter discovery leads me onto the next thing I’ve learnt.

3. The training is an adventure.  Trying out new types of running and other exercise has been brilliant, and I’ve made new friends as a result.  Who knows what else I will discover or where it might lead.  As I wrote in my last post, deciding to do a marathon was quite accidental, and life is about improvising as we go along.

4. On the friend front, it’s been really great tackling this endeavour with Alison. We live at opposite ends of the country, but somehow we are making it work.  We text each other a lot (a lot!) with updates on our training, ideas, how hungry we are, good recipes, books we’ve read. We’ve planned in to run together twice more before the big day.  That’ll give us a chance to prepare and get used to each others’ pace.  So if you are thinking of doing a challenge of some sort, try enlisting a co-conspirator.  It doesn’t matter if you live far apart.

5. I’ve found it helpful to put the marathon into perspective.  There are loads of people who run much further and in really gruelling circumstances. I just read an incredibly moving book about an awesome woman who ran round the world, wild camping pretty much all the way, including at temperatures of -50 in Siberia.  Twentysix miles in Brighton seems trivial in comparison.  (Don’t worry, I’m not about to set off round the world). 

It [the run] made me see that everything in life is an adventure and a miracle, whether it’s running across a glacier or boiling water to make a cup of tea.  Life is the greatest, happiest and often toughest adventure of all and I’ve fallen in love with it all over again”

(Rosie Swale Pope)

(Rosie’s book is amazing!  Do put it on your list).

Alison and I are hoping to raise money via our run.   If you would like to sponsor either of us, we’d be ever so grateful.  When I open up my email to see a donation has been made, I feel so encouraged. It feels like running past a big crowd of people cheering me on. Thank you so much to Grant, Anthony, Meg, Mary, Lucy, Dawn and Shona who have all sponsored me.

I’m doing the run for the MS Society, and Alison is doing it to raise money for Mind.  Whilst both are major charities, they benefit hugely from the accumulation of donations from lots of small endeavours like ours.

Improvising

I recently listened to Sir Ken Robinson on Desert Island Discs. He would definitely be on my list of ultimate dinner party guests. I think he’s amazing. Anyway, he said that life is all about improvisation. Things come up and we make decisions and turn down different paths. Its an experience unique to each one of us.

I think that an important part of that improvisation is to be open minded enough to consider opportunities as they come up.

I always said I’d never run a marathon. I have never been interested in doing one, not even a half marathon. The only running events I’ve ever run are 10ks. (Just over 6 miles).

About 4 years ago I met Alison Chisnell at an HR event. I feel very lucky to now count her as a close friend. She’s an amazing person – bold, brave, fun, positive. Oh, and as I found out to my cost when she whipped me at 3d Connect Four, she’s just as competitive as I am. br />
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A week ago she asked me if I would run a marathon with her. And to my surprise I found myself wanting to abandon my “I’ll never run a marathon” rule.

So we are going to run the 2014 Brighton Marathon together. It’s on April 6th.

My decision was also helped by the fact that I’ve done this very long walk. On my longest day I walked 34 miles, with a rucksack with tent etc, and over an 800m pass. So I’m confident I can potter along for 26.2miles, somehow or other. I know now that big scary things aren’t so impossible when you get closer up to them. And also I know that I am capable of more than I realise, on occasion.

“To my amazement, at so many stages along the way [in life], the limits that I thought I could see in the distance, dissolved as I approached them. They turned out not to be real at all, but mere assumptions”. (Chrissie Wellington – also on my dream dinner party list)

As Alison has said, we both know of other people who are more restricted, health-wise. I want to do stuff like this whilst I can. And though doing it, if I can help others in a small way, then that makes me happy.

I have a dear friend who has MS. It is a really difficult neurological condition, for which the causes and how to best treat it are not yet fully understood. So I’m running the Brighton Marathon in aid of the MS Society. I would of course absolutely be so grateful for any donations, however small. I am conscious that I have only just finished one lot of fundraising, but I do promise I won’t pester you on a yearly basis for sponsorship. Here’s the link to my JustGiving page.

Thank you Alison, for giving me the opportunity to improvise and find a new path.

Dear Reader, I’d be interested to know if you’ve ever had your mind set against doing something, and then suddenly found that things had changed and you felt differently.

Conference reflections

Before attending the CIPD Annual Conference and Exhibition I wondered if I had fallen out of love with my profession.  I’ve spent so much time outdoors this year, and in ways that I haven’t yet fully explained, this has changed my life.  How would the experience of an HR conference be after all this time?  I’ll give a little digest of some of the things that struck me during the two days, and then I’ll finish with the verdict on my love story.  If you’d like some in depth run downs of the content of the conference, there are some brilliant blog posts written by those with far faster fingers than me.  Doug Shaw has cleverly put all the blogging content in one place.   Now here are my reflections, in no particular order. Some are about the content. Some are about the delivery.

The physical stuff is hugely important

I would say that, wouldn’t I.  This year has brought it home to me, that us humans are physical creatures and we need not to be folded into chairs for hours on end.  More of that in a future blog post.  During the conference there were many reminders of how important it is to be able to see tangible things; not just bits of paper.

Crossrail gave the best example during their presentation, when CEO Andrew Wolstenholme showed photographs of employees carving their names into the wall of a completed tunnel.  The sense of pride in a huge achievement was so strong we in the audience could feel it.  Those engineers will be able to tell their families that they built that, and that their names and the dates are there for all to see on that tunnel wall.  Pick any theory of motivation you want:  carving your name on the tunnel wall ticks all the boxes.

On a more personal level, in 2012 the CIPD conference ended with the Olympian, David Weir letting us folks in the audience go up and hold his gold medals.  A year on, I had several conversations with people reminiscing about holding that chunk of gold metal.  For me and others I spoke to, it is a glowing memory that still makes us smile.  When I work in places where there is a less tangible product, I want to find opportunities to use lasting things you can touch and see, and that have meaning: to find the equivalent to a tunnel carving or a gold medal. Continue reading