What I learnt whilst running – look out for what’s in front of you.

A couple of months ago I went running alongside an estuary. It was a glorious day. There was hovering low sunlight and the reflections beamed off the water. Birds, flocked together, powered through the air noiselessly.

I was so taken in by what was happening around me that I didn’t see the rabbit hole that left foot ended up in. I crumpled on a heap on the gras clutching my left ankle and shouted profanities safe in the knowledge that the nearest person must be a mile, possibly two, away.

I was so annoyed with myself. How did I not see it? What an amateur mistake!

I then hobbled back to the car, shoulders hunched over and profanities reduced to the mumbling of a madman.

Obviously I vowed not to make that mistake again. On the next run, I looked only at my feet. It was quite boring. Feet – at least for me – are boring.

It didn’t take long to realise that, whilst running and generally in life, you need to be aware of what’s immediate around you so you don’t tread in any rabbit holes (real or metaphorical). However, it is also as important to look up and look ahead.

Being constantly stuck in the now is necessary but monotonous. Looking ahead is exciting but unobtainable if you keep falling down holes.

An eulogy to my running shoes; Brooks Adrenaline GTS 16.

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For half my life, I was advised not to go running. Old injuries have left me with missing  bits of cartilage and torn ligaments in one knee. I should expect arthritis in my early thirties (tick) and stick to swimming or cycling.

That is until I met a Swedish NHS physiotherapist called Lars, whose advise was simple: “You need to use your knees to keep the muscles strong. If you don’t, your weak muscles will only cause more problems. Running will be fine as long as you take it slow and rest when you’ve done too much.”

He made it sound so simple. It was. The best advice often is, but seems easily forgotten. He did add that a good pair of trainers were imperative. Nothing from Sports Direct. Go to a specialist shop, get a fitting and invest properly.

Well, I did 2 out of 3. I went to a shop, had a fitting. I tried on all Saucony, Asics and Brooks and it was the latter that fitted best. As well as having one dodgy knee, I also overpronate (which was never a problem as a sprinter in my teens and early twenties).

The Brooks shoes may have been the best for my knees but the price wasn’t. Nearly £120 in store. So I did whatever discerning consumer does, went online instead. I found a pair at Start Fitness for £80. I wanted to invest not get ripped off. I know I should feel guilty for denying a local shoe seller the sale but I live in the middle of the countryside; most of my shopping is done online as online is my nearest shop! I don’t have affinity to the high street.

Since they arrived, just over a year ago, they have not let me done. They’ve put up with a 15 stone lump dragging them around roads, lanes, forest paths and beaches with no letting up. Sadly I haven’t lost much weight as I still eat too much, but they still do everything I have asked.

I don’t track my runs but I estimate that I have covered just over 500 miles, which is roughly the distance from where I live in Devon to Luxembourg. My knees have held up OK with occasional aches and no significant pain. Why didn’t I do this earlier?

Over the year, I have learned a lot about myself through running. Running has been a saviour when life gets difficult. It has taught me to keep going. It has taught me that if I keep going, I might be capable of things I didn’t think possible.

I don’t think I would have learnt these things is a pair of £30 from Sports Direct!

When I started, I could only run for 20 minutes. Now I average three hour long runs a week.

In fact, as a farewell to my shoes, I completed the infamous (in Devon) Drogo 10. I trudged round with a friend and think we squeezed into the top 99.75% of the field but that didn’t matter – we did it. I never thought I could cover that distance, let alone with such a big bugger of a hill in the middle.

When I finished, I thought that a half marathon might be possible. I had turned something that was impossible a year ago to something that is actually plausible.

Now it’s time to put the old GTS 16s out to pasture in the garage as their successors, Brooks Adrenaline GTS 17, are poised for the year ahead. If I hadn’t invested in the GTS 16s, I doubt I would be looking ahead for another year, and I don’t just mean a running.

In terms of branding, quality is king. When it came to which trainers buy next, it had to be another pair of Brooks. Online proved a saviour this time as I found a pair at Run4it. I will look forward to retiring those shoes next year and thinking about the things they have helped me achieve.

 

What I learnt whilst not running.

Over the past year, I have run consistently 2 or 3 times a week without fail. This week I need time off. And that’s OK.

Naturally I would be inclined to feel like a failure at this point as I can’t do what I want to but actually my body needs a break. I have a pesky cold that won’t shift. My feet ache and haven’t recovered fully from the 10 mile event I did a couple of weeks ago. I’m also feeling pretty drained from what has been a difficult couple of months.

I suppose when your a runner, you need to know when not to run. Actually a week off is just going to give my body chance to recover – which o desperately needs.

After all I am not an athlete. My career doesn’t depend on my physical ability. I’m also not training for an event. I’m also not running for my figure or ego. So a week off won’t matter.

What will matter is being in the right condition to run. If I am full of cold and feet ache, I’m not going to enjoy it therefore not point in doing.

To enjoy running, you need to be physically well in order to do it, especially when you are the larger side like me at 6’2″ and 210lbs.

My aim of running is to help my head as much as anything. If I loose a bit of weight, great or if I run some events, fine.

The purpose of running is to be is to stay healthy over the next 20 years plus. A few days off in the scheme of things won’t matter.

What I learnt whilst running – Rain exists, that’s why we have coats!

I had every reason not to go running today.

I was recovering from a cold, it was raining heavily and I had work to do. But the established habit told me to get out.

To be fair, it wasn’t pretty. It was one of my usual routes that had turned into part stream because of so much rain.

Actually, when I was out there, the weather didn’t bother me at all. In fact nothing did.

Yes, my feet were wetter than normal and trainers covered in mud but I felt much better for doing it.

The dog still had fun chasing squirrels and I came back in a better mood than when I left. Job done.

On the drive back home, I thought about the analogy to mental health and the weather – it’s so apt; the constant changes and element of predictability make it the perfect metaphor.

But when the weather draws in and the rain begins to fall, it can be tempting to stay in doors and be at mercy to it. But getting out and not being a slave to it can make a huge difference.

I recently invested in a sign to hang by my front door. It says:

It’s serves as a reminder that I do have an element of control over how I feel and handle tough situations.

Today seems like such a small step to many but the result of lots of smaller actions before that which are leading to a happier life.

Rediscovering Pleasure

I can’t decide if it is the way my brain is wired or if it is just the way of the world to identify the bad in something. If something isn’t right, we pick up on what has gone wrong first and then later start to unpick the good.

I feel this way when leaving a film or a play. Upon leaving, I complain about the seat, lack of leg room or the annoying person sat behind me. It’s not until I get in the car or a bar that I think about what I liked about the show or film.

Think about the news – are good stories ever reported? We seem drawn to the pain in life. Do we really think that if we surround ourselves with negativity then that will, somehow, make us feel better? Or does it make our life’s sweeter somehow?

I am fascinated by the reality show-ness that consumes how we live our lives. We all need to overcome something – myself included. We choose to see our lives as riddled with pain and obstacles and this magnifies our achievements.

Recently, I emailed a charity in response to hearing from people living who had overcome mental health illnesses. I didn’t hear back. I can imagine the people at the other end of the screen deciding whose story sounded worse in order make them sound better. I regret emailing them, not because I wasn’t successful, but because someone was judging the health of other people for audience appeal in the name of charity and removing stigma. Others like me would feel left out, like our story didn’t matter – unheard again. Maybe a subconscious response was to start this blog. I digress.

The main point is that I feel that many of us naturally look to the pain we feel first rather than the pleasure. I am perhaps the worst culprit. When people ask at a dinner party – ha ha – whether I am glass half full or half empty type person, I, first, have to resist punching them before answering that my glass is totally empty and smashed against the wall. I get the tilted head confused looked before they move on.

Thinking about the potential ‘pain’ of a situation means that we reason logically before deciding to do something. It minimises risk. It is safe, which is perhaps why so many of us do it.

So, identifying the things that bring a lasting pleasure has been difficult to do. Much harder, and yet much simpler than I realised. Trying to cut through the streams of negative thinking that brings up what ‘pain’ or discomfort can bring is a challenge.

There is much of the Polonius in this:

To thine own self be true. Hamlet Act 1, Scene 3

or the Roman maxim

Nosce Te Ipsum – Know Thyself

Whilst writing this blog, and thinking about how we understand ourselves better to improve our mental well being,  the idea of having a detailed insight about how you, as an individual, functions is vital. To be able to strip away external factors and take the time to focus on what is important to you is a vital step in personal recovery.

If you constantly fight demons of what others say you should do or societal pressures on to how to act, personal recovery will always be out of reach. Obviously, don’t go justifying that a crime spree is part of you recovery as there are still functional rules and laws to go by but there different ways to live your life.

One big bugbear of mine at the moment is the idea of career. Because I went to a good school and university, I feel I am expected to be in an established career. And in a way I am. However I am unwell. My health prohibits me from doing this. But I still feel the expectation but I place that expectation there. I believe it. It is a mental pain that I feel.

But I am slowly trying to see the good in not being in a ‘career’ at the moment. I spend more time with my children. I can write (should I choose to). I walk the dog. I go running. I make bread.

Life is actually quite simple. We can put the barriers in place that actually prevent us from living a good life. Sometimes it’s when things don’t go as we expect them that we can start truly finding out what’s important.

It Began with a Book.

I know I have and never will be the smartest person around. After all, as Socrates said:

As for me, all I know is that I know nothing.

In the world, there is too much over confidence in what one knows and perhaps not enough of wanting to listen and learn from others. What I do know is that when I have thought that I know a lot about something, the world comes along and reminds me that I don’t. And this includes knowing myself.

At school, I was not setting the world of academia on fire. I was about as average as they come. I knew this and, occasionally, other would remind me. When I left school at 18, I was awarded a prize for sports coaching to young pupils. I had to choose a book to be awarded to me by the headmaster.

Others won won prizes for genuine excellence and were to go into the worlds of medicine or law. I was being rewarded for being a good chap – really I should have been presented with a copy of Where’s Wally and be done with it. But, wanting to show that I was perhaps not as dumb as I was, I chose a book from my University reading list that had just arrived in the post – Lucretius’s On the Nature of the Universe.

I chose it on the title alone. On the Nature of the Universe sounded immense. All I knew at the time that is was a Roman epic poem written by a philosopher for a philosophy class I would be starting in couple of months time. I can still remember the half-impressed, half-confused looks I received from former school friends and pupils as I was awarded me prize. They were probably thinking, “Is he really going to read that?”

And I did. A few months later, I was sat in a 9 am lecture, hungover and confused thumbing through this book trying to make sense of it all. Which of course I couldn’t. But it wasn’t until I was writing an essay about it that I had time to sit and reflect on it more that some of the ideas began to resonate with me.

Lucretius was a Roman philosopher and built upon the foundations of the Greek philosopher, Epicurus. The poem covers the atomic nature of the world and denounces the existence of the gods. It looks at the relationship between the mind, soul and body how they all work as one and a intertwined. Finally, it state that people live in accordance with nature and by design seek natural pleasure and absence of pain.

In fact, it recognises that, in the past, people were ‘wide-wandering like wild beasts’ and their needs were simple; warmth, shelter, food and water. And although we learned, adapted and created new ways of living in society and acquiring wealth, Lucretius states:

But if a man should guide his life by wisdom,                                                                          His greatest riches are a frugal life                                                                                            And quiet mind. In that there’s no poverty.

It’s nearly twenty years since I first came across On the Nature of the Universe and for most of that time it’s been sat on my book shelf gathering dust. However, it is only now that I can appreciate its message. The simple, more frugal things are the most important and can give the greatest satisfaction.

Therefore we see that human nature’s need                                                                              Are small indeed: things that take pain away,                                                                          And such a simple pleasure can supply.

Modern life is so complex and confusing that we can all forget the simple, often most natural desires. It seems ironic that many of the advancements we’ve made bring with them more pain that pleasure. I have certainly fallen foul to this. I am beginning to filter through unnecessary burdens to help life more pleasurable.

Over the past few weeks, I have looked much more in Epicurus and his ideas and hope to put them more into daily practice and record how this has changed both my mindset and well being.

Moving Forward

I have just deleted the idea of writing a review of the progress of this blog so far. What a terrible idea! I suppose we’re allowed the occasional bad idea – Teresa May is a prime example!

I am at bit of a crossroads with the blog at the moment. so far, it has been been of a purposeless vessel, which has been the point. I have shared how I have felt, written some half-hearted ideas about staying well, but now I think I am ready for a slight change in direction.

Last week, I took part on Stoic Week as organised by Modern Stoicism. A former lecturer of mine, Chris Gill, has been influential in the recent resurrection of ancient philosophies as a way of staying mentally well. I must admit, at the time (aged 18) it hardly seemed relevant. University in the year 2000 was a very hedonistic experience. That said, it has really made me think, which I suppose was the point.

I have always felt that thinking more philosophically about things would help me to lead a more fulfilled and purposeful life. However, as it stands, I haven’t actually fully embraced it. or, more to the point, I have read extensively about lots of different ideas but haven’t actually lived by any one mantra for a period of time. Reading about and actually doing are very different. After all, you wouldn’t call yourself a marathon runner because you read a book about it –  would you?

So in a round about sort of way, I feel that I would like to use this space as a way of recording how living a certain way effects my life and how it might help others in achieving a more fulfilling life.

That said, I don’t believe that Stoicism is the right starting point for me. I am someone who struggles to enjoy oneself. I quite often do things because I feel I should, not because I want to. I might do things because that is what a person my age should do, because it will improve how others see me, or to impress others. I have wasted huge chunks of my life making the wrong choices – choices that have brought more pain that pleasure into my life.

As I begin a new chapter of my life, I want to revisit the work of a philosopher that gets a little overlooked next to the Stoics. A teacher who looks more at the self rather than the community. A thinker whose ideas have become somewhat bastardised in modern definition and interpretation. I feel that Epicureanism is a better place to start in the hope of finding a bit more enjoyment out of life.

What to do when you’ve gone off track.

Over the past few days, as the dust is beginning to settle on the havoc that has ensued over the past months, I have begun questioning what the heck am I doing. I have begun thinking about lots of different aspects of my life including career, interests and, even more generally, where I buy my shopping. Now this is dangerous, as there would be a risk to through everything up in the air and start again only to get in one big mess in the not so distant future.

One thing I have done is sign up for the Stoic Week 2017. This is a week long, guided delve into Stoicism and how it can help in modern day life. I am a huge believer in how ancient wisdom can applied to anyone’s lives.

In fact, many principles have been pinched and re branded into what we now call cognitive behavioural therapy. But the wisdom is in the words and experiences of those who has gone before us. How can we use what they have learnt to make our lives better. Men such as Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus have jotted down many key pieces of advice, but simple reading them is perhaps not enough to bring about longstanding change.

I’ve signed up because I am rubbish at putting things into practice. I need dedicated time to reflect on these lessons and think constructively how to put them into practice and identify the changes that I want to bring about.

I have a good life, but I don’t believe it. Why is that? That simple view of myself and my life is not down to my circumstances but how I view them and the skewed principles that have morphed my self identity.

The idea of potential change is daunting, but also tremendously exciting as there is hope – there is always hope – that I might actually be who I’ve always wanted to be.

The foundations of tomorrow are built on the ashes of yesterday. 

I have thinking a lot about how things change. We live in a constant flux of change, nearly fluid. In many way, I am starting to think that making plans for the future is futile. 

My life has turned out nothing like how I planned as a young adult but ruing this is unhealthy and potentially damaging. Afterall, what’s done is done. No amount of thinking about it can change it. 

That said it is possible to change how you see things. Or change ideas of what you think is important. Recently my career and relationship have crumbled, practically down to the floor. 

Whilst I am devastated and temporarily paralysed by the impact of these collosal events, I begin think think forwards. I can’t change what’s happened, but I can alter my direction moving forward and I have hope of numerous possibilities.

I read in the newspaper about a story of the first national cricket stadium in Rwanda. It gave me a great sense of hope whilst putting personal problems into perspective. A British father and son had gone to Rwanda after the horrific massacres of the 90s to help those affected by the devastation. They did this through the medium of cricket. 

One thing struck me and that was that they were finding remains of the victims whilst they were playing.   Life in Rwanda will never be the same but there is still hope for their future.

The whole article is a testiment to how sport and people can help. What has been created looks beautiful and I can’t wait to hear about Rwandan cricket in tbe future. 

I’m not sure where I’ll be. I am getting used to the constant change and I’ll keep repeating the mantra: 

The foundations of today are built on the ashes of yesterday.

What I learnt whilst running – if you keep going, you will get there.

Yesterday morning I couldn’t run 7.5 miles. To be fair I had never tried until yesterday. Even when heading out, I didn’t think I could do it and was thinking of ways to either end the run early or not go at all. 

But I did try. I convinced myself to try. I knew I could run six miles over a similar route – I was just adding another hill. Just over a year ago I could only run two miles and now I have a year’s worth of practice under my feet which gave confidence to at least try. 

It took about and hour and a half – because of five hill climbs – but I did it! It got a little tough at the end but I slowed down a bit and kept plodding along. Now I am someone who can run that distance. I felt so proud and couldn’t wait to share what I achieved with other people. They all think I’m mad. Then again, I am – diagnosis and everything! 

The routine of running teaches me to keep going. That things will get tough but that’s ok because you’ll keep getting better and better. I can do it my way. I can do it on my own. Running alone can be strangely empowering; the mental fortitude is stronger than if I went to a club and be pushed along by others. 

Sometimes I feel that we have been brought up with a sense of entitlement and expectation. Growing up we are made to feel that we can do anything and that we are important. Only when we realise that we can’t and we’re not, life becomes bit of a diapointment. Nothing comes instantly, it will come much slower than we had hoped. It’s fine to have a goal on place but adjust the timescale. You will get there – just keep on going.