Monday 31 August 2020

Just doing some exercise

For some reason while talking to various people and writing on social media lately I've been inclined to use the word "exercise" where "training" has previously been my choice. Perhaps this subconscious action has been driven by the fact that I'm currently unsure when it will be safe to resume the run around the world. I've always "trained" for something in the past. Trained for John O'Groats to Lands End, across the USA, across Australia, across Europe and to Kiev (I really must find a catchy name for that section). 

I now find myself in a position to simply do some exercise for no other purpose than to keep fit, lose weight and enjoy it. I don't ever recall being able to say that. Ever. There are currently no endless hours to be spent planning the next run. Researching the route, finding sponsors, planning flights, saving for a period of unemployment, applying for visas and all of the other many logistics to think about is not anything I'm actively doing right now. I will say that I'm missing all of that. I always like to know what the next big run is and the challenge of getting to the start line, never mind running thousands of miles to the finish line, is always something that I've enjoyed. Equally though, I'm enjoying simply exercising right now. For the last few months that's been running, cycling, lifting weights and attending bootcamp sessions. I've enjoyed all of those things but there has been an unexpected benefit from Beach Bootcamp in particular.

I did my first Beach Bootcamp with David Fairlamb 12 years ago and have done hundreds since often with Mark Fleming taking a part of the session. Working away from home and family life have meant that I haven't attended for the last few years. I'm pleased to report that I returned for the first session post lockdown on July 18th. That date is particularly special to me as it was on that day in 2011 that Mark and Dave returned to surprise me during the run across the USA. That's us pictured below just before midnight on Route 36 in the state of Indiana.

Mark and Dave had actually finished their planned tour of duty on the support team a week earlier in Missouri. Who would even come back and rejoin the team at no doubt huge personal expense? Since 2011, there is hardly a day that has passed where I don't ask myself that question. "Who would even do that?". 

During Mark and Dave's first stint along with Steve Harrison on support duty we got through a huge amount of miles and it meant that I had an outside chance of reaching the finish line in New York on time. Despite those efforts, when they joined the tour for a second time, I was still 160 miles behind schedule.

By the time Mark and Dave left the tour for the second time 6 days later the mileage deficit was down to 120 miles. Just like their first stint, the team work was world class. I haven't even mentioned the 35 - 45 Celsius temperatures we were running in. Together we ran 37.5, 36, 37, 40.4, 40.3 and 40 miles during that time. This put me in a really good position but there were still 607 miles to run over the remaining 16 days. 

I've looked back on the stats so many times and it's obvious to me that it was these times in July 2011 when I was given a more than outside chance of making it 3100 miles across the USA in 100 days. That's easy to say now but there were subsequently to be 308 miles to ran in the last week. Without Mark, Dave and Steve I dread to think how many miles would have been left as the closing stages of the run were entered. Put quite simply, I could not have reached Coney Island on day 100. For me personally, that would have been a disaster. Yes, over £100,000 was raised for charity, but I had my heart and mind set on running coast to coast across the USA in 100 days.

Anyway! I digress. It all worked out in the end and 7 weeks ago, on a sunny Saturday morning, I found myself on Longsands, Tynemouth with Mark and Dave taking the Beach Bootcamp session. Nobody realises this but I was absolutely delighted to be back in their company. We have been through so much and exercising with a big smile on my face (mostly) was an absolute thrill. The session was really tight and well ran as per usual. Given my lack of recent physical activity it was very difficult too. 

I'm pleased to report that last weekend's session (pictured below) was a little easier and I can sense progress being made as I make my return to any kind of fitness.

The unexpected benefit that I referred to earlier was the huge mental boost that I felt after Beach Bootcamp finished. I really can't describe just how good I felt come 0945 on Saturday morning. I'm only just starting to realise that "mental health" is actually a thing. Perhaps I'll write a blog on that in the future. 

I consider myself to have good mental health. I've got very few worries in the world and really enjoy life. To come away from Beach Bootcamp with that mental state boosted perhaps gives you some idea of another aspect of doing exercise. Dave's take on the situation is the support and encouragement I get from the other participants particularly when I have ran so many miles on my own. I think he's got a very good point. I also think that I'm transported back to Route 36 in my mind with a set of people who will stop at nothing to help you succeed. It's only now that I realise how precious a thing that is. 

As I reached the finish line in Coney Island in 2011 after 100 days of running 3100 miles I said to my phone camera that "The significance of this run won't sink in with me for quite some time.". How true that was. I could write 100 blogs to describe how significant that run was and still could write more. 

I relive the run across the USA every single day in my mind. I dream about it when I'm asleep and when I stare out of the window comparing the day's clouds to a particular day back in Utah or Kansas or wherever back in 2011. Poor Donna never complains when I talk about it thankfully.

The run across the USA was so beneficial for The Children's Foundation and St. Benedict's Hospice. £105,717.80 was raised thanks to so many generous donations. The value to me, however, is immeasurable. The part it played in the grieving process is now very obvious. 25 years after my Mam and 32 years after my Dad died, I now find myself happy, content, proud and grateful. 

While my foot has been taken off the "around the world run" pedal for now, rest assured that it will continue when it's safe to do so. In the meantime, I'm going to just do some exercise and I'm going to do it with a huge smile on my face. 

This blog started out as a kind of "this is what I've been doing and this is how many press ups I'll be doing this week" kind of post. It meandered to a place I didn't plan on and I just dumped what was in my head and how I feel. Tune in tomorrow to actually find out how many press ups I will be doing! I'll leave you with this short video to enjoy.

Sunday 30 August 2020

This feels different..

There have been many failed attempts to re-discover any kind of interest in, motivation for and will to exercise over recent years. I believe the main problem is that I associate a number of what I would call "negative" things with any kind of physical effort. Firstly, the pain that I've endured while running around the world so far is the most obvious one. Excruciating shin splints during the run from John O'Groats to Lands End. Badly blistered feet towards the end of the run across the USA as well as extreme constant fatigue throughout. That all seemed quite insignificant when you compare it against the run across Australia. The pain in my feet for over 80 days and the permanent damage caused should have been enough for me to give up running completely. Fortunately I didn't and the subsequent runs across Europe and then from Belgrade to Kiev saw a lot less pain and damage taken. 

The long straight never ending road across Australia

Stobbsy just about keeping my feet in a runnable state in Australia

Putting up with physical pain is one thing but the mental battles that I've faced around the world so far have been a far more difficult thing to endure in my opinion. Almost every stage so far has seen extreme anxiety and paranoia as I've neared the respective finish lines. The final week of the run across the USA is where I first experienced this. I really struggled to come to terms with the fact that the finish line at Coney Island, New York was so close in terms of time (7 days) but not in distance (300 miles). There was another factor which was also present in the subsequent 3 stages around the world. For some reason, towards the end of a long running campaign, the desire for it all to be over is overwhelming. It's like a very negative spin on waiting for Christmas Day as a child. I really need to analyse this more in future but I doubt things are ever likely to change. At least I'm fully aware that the closing days of a stage around the world are going to present a huge mental challenge. I think there is a lot more to be talked about on this subject but I'll leave it for another time.

Losing my mind in Europe

The other major mental challenge that I have faced more recently in Europe and to Kiev is homesickness. Being able to do things like watching the TV, cooking dinner and just normal family life is a huge miss when you're away from home for months at a time. Thoughts of such normality when I'm thousands of miles away from loved ones is a tough thing to try and deal with.

Thankfully, I've come to realise that my multi month running stages are very different from normal life. I feel like I'm trapped in my own bubble. Every small issue or challenge is magnified to the extent that it becomes a big problem. Imagine just how big a real problem then seems during these long campaigns. Fortunately, there haven't been too many of those to deal with.

As you can tell, maintaining a sense of perspective is very difficult when you're far from home, extremely tired and having to run 30 - 40 miles per day or even more. A few paragraphs in a blog really doesn't do the physical and mental battle justice. What I will say is that it's no wonder the last thing I have wanted to do in recent years or have done begrudgingly is exercise. You can put a fancy title on things like #runsub17 but carrying out the actions involved is what really matters.

I don't believe that I've had the real will and desire to do anything exercise wise since the run across Australia finished. That was almost 7 years ago!

I should point out that up to this point in my running and fundraising life, I wouldn't change a single thing. Huge life lessons have been learned. Friendships have been forged. So many kind people have been met. I've also been told on numerous occasions that I've inspired others to do good. Most importantly, almost 1/3 million pounds has been raised so far for local good causes. This, of course, includes St. Benedict's Hospice who I still continue to repay a debt of gratitude to, for the care they gave my Mam.

For every mental and physical battle endured, every sacrifice made, every unpaid month off work, every impact on family and friends, there are untold positive aspects to Run Geordie Run. It's 1 step back but 100 forward after each stage of the run around the world is finished and the charity cheque presented. The negatives are but a very small droplet of water in a huge ocean of positivity. Thankfully, I have a very good sense of perspective. It could be argued that Run Geordie Run helps keeps my head above water. It's the positive thing that I've developed following the loss of both of my parents. It has benefited me greatly in terms of being able to cope with grief. In 2020, Run Geordie Run has got me to a great place.

Arriving back in Newcastle after a tough but successful run across Australia

So that's where I was at in June this year and the problem remained about wanting to simply exercise again. Rewind, to days after the last big run in 2018 when I met with personal trainer (and my best man) David Fairlamb who knew all about my struggles finding the motivation to train. He said that I now needed to "reinvent myself". I've pondered over those words ever since and I'm only just beginning to understand what he meant. 

If I'm to find enjoyment in exercise again and a basic desire to actually want to do it, then I need to think and act very differently while retaining all of the core values that have worked so well for me in the past.

It's a difficult thing to explain currently but since July I have very much tried to set aside all that has gone before and get "back to basics". I've tried to bring to the foreground all of those enjoyable aspects of health and fitness (where, what, when and with who) over the last 2 months. For once, I don't have a grand plan. Given this years events, I certainly don't know when the next stage of the run around the world will be able to take place. All I can do right now is concentrate on enjoying my training again and finding the desire and consistency needed. 

Dave and me at Newcastle Airport

I'll talk more about specifics in the coming weeks. In the meantime, after many failed or half hearted attempts over recent years to exercise, this latest attempt feels different. Has the re-invention of Run Geordie Run begun? It's certainly too soon to tell. There are a lot of positive signs though. Watch this space.