Journeys and destinations

You often hear the adage “it’s not the destination, but the journey that matters”, or words to that effect. And I often hear runners describe how crossing the finish line can feel like a fleeting experience that, although bursting with an overwhelming sense of achievement does not necessarily endure. Ultrarunner Sam Gash talks about feeling an immense sense of loss and emptiness after completing a major challenge, and other ultrarunners describe how the ‘black dog’ awaits them at the finish line.

Meanwhile Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, the Buddhist monk, author and runner advises that we should first determine an “ultimate motivation” in life as well as in running in order to identify our immediate direction and intermediate goals. And I lose count of the runners who say that signing up to a race is the best motivation for sticking with a training plan. I wonder then whether setting an objective is to some extent just a means to an end, to create the opportunity for a ‘journey’? Or can you have a perfectly good journey without first setting a destination? Some might call that freedom, while others would see it as just being aimless. 

I set an objective myself 2 1/2 years ago when I signed up for a 10K race while living in Singapore. It was the the first running event I had entered for a long time and it triggered a journey for me that has since taken in 2 more 10K’s, 13 half marathons, 2 marathons, a 50k ultra, £2,500 raised for charity, 30lbs (13.6kg) lost around the middle, 85% lower intake of alcohol and a blog.

This succession of bucket list ticks has unfolded because as each challenge is met it creates a void, a vacuum that must then be filled by a subsequent challenge, a new goal, a fresh aspiration, the next objective, new destination. It is a self perpetuating and seemingly never ending cycle. Is that a bad thing? I don’t think so, not for me anyway; my recent journey has been mind-blowing so far and I am loving every step. So yes, I do think it is the journey that really counts after all, and long may mine continue. But targets are necessary along the way too, you need them to at least signpost your journey.

My next major destination is the 2 day 100K Race To The Stones in July. The journey to this has been under way for a while. Signing up for the Sussex Coastal Trail Marathon on March 19, to increase my experience in trail marathons has meant following a training plan through the cold, dark, wet evenings of January and February. Sure, the journey counts, it’s just not always a picnic!

  

If there’s no destination will there still be a path to follow? 

  

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Spirit… and the Virgin London Marathon 2015

I am reading the back of the lady’s t shirt in front of me, it says:

“I am running to help cure Meningitis

For Amy, sleep safe in heaven our beautiful angel”

Beneath the words is a picture of an infant, not more than a year old.

I feel myself welling up and we haven’t even started moving yet, let alone running. This won’t be the last time I will be moved like this today. It is 10:08am on Sunday April 26, 2015 and I am lining up with my fellow runners, waiting for the Virgin London Marathon flag off. I quickly realise that this is not simply 38,000 athletes taking part in one of the world’s premier sporting events. This is 38,000 stories; stories of sadness, tragedy, adversity, grief; but each and every one a story of courage, immense courage. I immediately feel honoured and humbled to run shoulder to shoulder with these amazing people.

The London Marathon is many many things, but above all it is the perfect confluence of everything that is good about being human. And not just the thousands of runners, whose months of commitment and training through winter has prepared them to face 26.2 miles of sweat, exertion, pain, tears and elation. But also the thousands of people who come out to support, you (you know who you are!) – ALL 750,000 of you – are amazing too, this incredible day would not be the same without you, and many of us runners would probably not make the finish line without you either!

I’m not sure what I was expecting from this world famous event to be honest, a supersized version of the 1/2 marathons I have run maybe? Maybe I just hadn’t given it a much thought, more focused on planning for the run; training programme, kit choices, fuel strategy, route to the start, pace etc. In a nutshell all about me really. I know I hadn’t anticipated the experience of a lifetime that would unfold from Greenwich to Pall Mall, I hadn’t anticipated the emotional roller-coaster, the immense support along the way, the privilege of running this great city, exploring new neighbourhoods, seeing the sights and all from the middle of the road! I hadn’t expected a buzz and natural highs way past any party, club, gig or rave. Nor had I expected the drum bands, bagpipes, jazz bands, DJs, sound systems, roadside parties, woofers jammed into open windows… I hadn’t expected a road race that felt like running through 26.2 miles of Notting Hill Carnival!

There are many moments along the route of this iconic marathon when you actually do feel like an Olympic athlete, cheered on by thousands of people. I had no idea how potent this is, believe me when total strangers cheer you by name, either look you in the eye with thoughtful words of encouragement, or scream at you like you are the new member of One Direction the boost you feel is unbelievable.

It is an incredibly crowded run too though and this does perhaps prevent you from settling into an even pace. At times in the first 15 miles when feeling strong I felt a little held back and boxed in by the hoards, with people slowing down or stopping in front. You do spend a lot of energy going sideways and nipping around people! At about 12 miles my watch was bumped onto pause in a particularly crowded section, and I lost about 3 minutes before restarting it. This flustered me a bit but I calmed down and reminded myself that my training plan had taught me to ‘feel’ my pace and go with my senses, so I decided to just enjoy the journey and pressed on, no longer relying on the Garmin bleeping. But these niggles, along with flying water bottles do fade into insignificance as this run really is the most fun I’ve had in Lycra, ever!

The first 15M seemed to fly by and I felt great, I found 18 – 21 the toughest when everything seemed to hurt and feel very heavy. I knew my family was at the mile 24 mark and that kept me going. And I managed to see them too, which is a miracle amongst so many spectators and everyone shouting your name. So a quick pause for kisses and encouragement and off again with renewed vigour for the last 2.2 miles. From mile 24 to the finish you do get another natural boost as the crowds quite literally seem to ‘go wild’ and every step takes you closer to the finish.

Crossing the finish line is one final gargantuan rush of emotion. Yes there is an amazing sense of accomplishment and achievement but that’s not what brings you to tears. While pushing yourself to your outer limits during this run the exertion, exhaustion, pain and emotion are all countered by a bombardment of love, support, belief, passion, determination and above all bravery. In the London Marathon you become immersed deep in human spirit; the human spirit that enables people to rise up against adversity, to fight on, to take the worse nightmares that life can throw at you and find positivity, to put one foot in front of the other and to quite simply keep on going. Believe me this is powerful stuff, and this is what causes you to sob as you cross that line.

As for my own story? Well, 10 years ago my mother underwent open heart surgery. The treatment extended her life allowing her enough time to know all of her grandchildren, something my family will be eternally grateful for. So, in her memory I ran to raise funds for the British Heart Foundation, for other families like mine whose lives might be changed by the research and treatment the BHF supports.

If you have liked my post and can find it in your heart to visit my fundraising page (here) to make a small donation I would be truly thankful, even £1, $1, €1… any amount will make a difference.

I overheard somebody at the start say that with so many runners you don’t get to run your own race at the VLM, you run everyone else’s race. Well that’s ok with me, 37,675 heroes went for a run through London last Sunday and I am proud to have run amongst them.

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Time ran away…

2014 is gone. Done. No more. Passed. You get the picture. How did that happen? If you look at my last blog posts you’d think it was still midsummer. Well unfortunately the time has passed and the lack of posts is a simple yet rather damning indictment of my rubbish posting frequency. In 2014 it turned out that although I am not that bad at keeping up with my running I am absolutely pants at keeping a blog updated!

I have managed to keep up the running though – Hurrah for me! I just haven’t written about it. So I will try to summarise what’s been happening, bring everything concisely up to date, then make a fresh effort to follow up more regularly. Although this might short change some quite momentous milestones in my running journey, it might be the only way to get back on track.

So, what’s been occurring? Well….

In July I ran the Surrey Badger Half Marathon, a trail run near Box Hill in Surrey that starts and finishes at Denbies vineyard. A lovely route with a few hills, woodland and vines of course. The event had a great atmosphere, was well managed and had a goodie bag including a bottle of Badger Ale, yum. I really enjoyed the run and was thrilled to be 2 minutes quicker than any previous trail HM’s. Sweeter still when I read race reviews in Runners World that scored it low as a potential PB race.

The summer was focused exclusively on training for my first full marathon. I followed a 16 week Runners World Training Schedule which I found really helpful, stuck to mostly and would recommend to other marathon rookies.

On September 21 I completed my first marathon! Big HURRAH for me! I ran the Farnham Pilgrim Marathon, which in fact turned out to be officially 26.6 miles so technically counts as an ultra… And yes I am taking that! 26.6 miles of Surrey trails and a total elevation of 540m, mixed terrain including sand – yes sand! Not quite UTMB but by all accounts quite a foolish endeavour for one’s maiden marathon. I did have a brilliant time, it was a gorgeous route and as one cheery marshal pointed out – the hills mean you get some great views from the top… And she was right! I learned what a difference having support from loved ones along the way – thank you family and friends! I also learned about ‘The Wall’ (or ‘Bonking’ as our US cousins call it) at about 22 miles. I then experienced the most intense natural high from the biggest endorphin rush I’ve ever experienced. Just incredible. I was in pieces by the end and I must confess a little emotional, just about managed not to blub as I crossed the finish line but my word it’s quite a flood of emotion that you experience, all mixed up with the exhaustion, I wasn’t expecting that. It really is quite something.

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One week later I ran my local half marathon in Tonbridge. This great run is all tarmac and ‘gently undulates’ – neither hilly nor completely flat. I crossed the line 13 minutes quicker than my Badger PB two months earlier. Granted I had trained a lot between the two races but even so, always nice when the Garmin beeps ‘New Record’!

Just prior to running the Pilgrim I learned I had been given a place to run the Virgin London Marathon 2015; a charity allocated place with the British Heart Foundation team. Absolutely thrilled to get the opportunity to run London and in return I pledged to raise £2,500 in sponsorship. Getting my fundraising underway I quickly decided that simply asking for sponsorship to run the London Marathon, still 8 months away, probably wouldn’t cut it so I undertook to run 100 miles of official running events by the time I would cross the line in Pall Mall in April. Not the most extreme endeavour granted, but will be achieved by completing 1 marathon and various halves and 10K’s between September and April.

So far I’ve run a marathon, 2 halves and an 8KM. With the runs I have picked out to take on over the next 4 months I am in line to complete 129.3 miles by the time I finish London, so on target and then some. Jolly good.

By all means check out my fundraising page here – all and any support whatsoever is greatly appreciated!

More about this on another post I think. In the meantime, what else this year?

In November I ran the Trailscape Rail To Trail East 1/2 marathon in Cuxton, Kent. Trailscape is a series of trail runs in locations specifically chosen for their accessibility by rail. I’d never heard of Cuxton before, even though, as it turned out, there is a direct train there from where I live, taking 45 minutes! Quite a relatively small event, it was a varied mixed trail route with a few steep climbs and tonnes of mud. The primary lesson learnt at this event was make sure you know what time the flag off is! I confused the various race start times and chipped up to register 8 minutes after the half had set off… “If you go now you could still catch them up!” Said the nice lady. “Catch them up???!!! I’m not Mo bloomin’ Farah luv!” Anyway before I had chance to argue she had shoved a number onto me, stuck pins into my chest, clipped a timer chip around my wrist, relieved me of my bag and frogmarched me to the start… “Go Go Go” she ordered. And off I went! All I could think of was ‘could I do this and at least not come last?’ I did not come last. And I thoroughly enjoyed myself!

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2014 was my first full year of running for some time and I ran approximately 1,300KM and loved every step (well almost!). I had some great experiences, I enjoyed all the races I did and met some lovely people along the way.

New Years Day, staying with friends in Broadstairs I took the opportunity to blow the cobwebs away with a bracing run along the seafront. A perfect way to welcome in a new year and log my first few miles. I am looking forward to 2015, to running my first major city marathon, to new adventures, new trails, new kit… I look forward to more of this thing that is the simplest of all things, to putting one foot in front of the other and seeing where it will lead.