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Posts Tagged ‘happiness’

As I have mentioned before, some time ago I was lucky to have the opportunity to attend a talk given by the dynamic duo – Liz and Martin Yelling. You can read about the event here.

The talk wasn’t really aimed at people like me. It was a talk organised by the Yellings’ primary sponsor Adidas for a group of people who had won an opportunity to be given some high-level training tips and a free pair of shoes after a pretty cursory gait analysis. But Liz or Martin – I can’t remember which – did talk about something that is pertinent to everyone who runs and wants to be the best they can be. They asked us to each think about how big our training budget is. It is an interesting question; what are you prepared to give up in pursuit of your ultimate achievement?

Smoke? Well you’d better give that up. Junk food addict? A salad might help now and then. Three square meals a day? Might have to swap that for more smaller meals throughout the day. Working eighteen hour days? A job that takes less time will be required. Avid clubber out every Saturday until the wee small hours? That’s not going to help with the long runs on a Sunday. Getting married in two weeks?…

Well, I am getting married in two weeks, to the most beautiful woman I have ever met. And it is, without doubt so far, the most important thing I have ever done. It isn’t something I do every day. Indeed I never intend to do it again. And it takes time and commitment to organise a wedding – ask my fiancée because she is doing most of it. But I also have quite a bit to contribute and that is taking up both time and mental space.

The reality is that there are only 24 hours in a day and so as the wedding takes up more and more time, something else has to give. It isn’t going to be work – we are in a recession and every business needs to work harder than ever at the moment just to stay afloat. Oh and I have a wedding to pay for! Sleeping and eating are two of my favourite activities so they have to stay. And Julie and I have already stopped going out much!

So running is going to take a back seat for a couple of weeks. I will still try to run every day, unless I can’t… and then I won’t. The truth of the matter is that for the next fortnight I have no idea what my budget is, so I will spend when I can and when I can’t, I won’t. I think that one of the characteristics of my running has been a lack of flexibility and that has been useful to a degree. But foregoing parties and meals out and nights in and dancing and drinking is all well and good, because they will come round again. But the wedding… that is a once in a lifetime thing and I am going to do everything I can to ensure my new wife has a wonderful day.

It’s only two weeks after all and then I’ll start training for the Bristol half… I’ll have a HUGE budget by then!

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Since I started training under the watchful eye of Nick Anderson, there have been a number of changes to my training and approach to races. However one of the more radical changes, as far as I was concerned, has been Nick’s insistence that post-marathon I have a full week with no exercise at all and then another week with just a couple of light runs… I am in the middle of the second week and I am starting to crack!

The first week has quickly become part of the psychological process that I employ whilst racing – somehow knowing that I will have a week off after the race during which I am going to allow myself a few indulgencies helps me push through the tough miles. But the second week… that becomes a matter of self discipline! The following exchange between me and my friend Richard (a 2-30 marathoner in London this year) by text message illustrates the point;

Rich: I want to run. I don’t want to be in the office.
Me: I’m with you there! I’ve just about had enough work today. Going to the Chasers [my club] for an easy run tonight…
Rich: I get first post-mara run tonight… really looking forward to easy 20-30min!

If we sound like a couple of addicts I suspect that is because we are! So here we are – it is Wednesday and I ran on Monday and Tuesday. I have managed to ensure, through a combination of a diary full of meetings at work and then arranging to meet a friend for a drink tonight, that I won’t run today. But it is another long weekend coming up and I doubt I’ll be able to resist the temptation to stretch my legs at least a couple of times!

So here I am on the road back. Actually I am on the road ‘beyond’, because I am going to regain the fitness I had immediately before the marathon and storm past that to new heights and it feels great. The London marathon and the couple of runs this week have been a total affirmation that I love my running and as Paula Radcliffe has written in her new book ‘How To Run‘ her coach told her that “…to be a great runner you have to have the talent, the willingness to work hard and the love or running to put the work in” Well I guess for me having one out of three ain’t bad!

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Tomorrow is the 2011 London marathon and I am running it. I have spent the day today resting and eating and drinking… and thinking. I believe the marathon is a challenge that requires mental as well as physical strength and that is why I write down, before every race, the reasons I know I will succeed on the day. In previous races I have done this on a piece of paper in a hotel or even just run through it in my head, but this time I will indulge myself and stick it up here. So here goes…

  1. I am fitter at this very moment than I have ever been at any point in my life
  2. I define myself as a runner and as such races like this are the reason I get out of bed every morning
  3. I know what it will feel like to finish in my target time and I want that feeling more than almost anything in my life
  4. My 74:20 PB for the half marathon tells me I am ready to get the time I want in London
  5. I have met the most amazing runners, especially in the past few months and I am utterly inspired by them
  6. This race is the next step on the road to finding out what I am really capable of
  7. The conditions are predicted to be perfect. I ran 2:40:49 in terrible conditions in Florence so good conditions will be a massive benefit tomorrow
  8. I see succeeding in the marathon as one of the keys to happiness in my life and I will hurt myself to get that
  9. I want the people I love and admire to be proud of me
  10.  I have trained for this harder than ever before – I know I can succeed

I will let you know how I get on.

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Tonight I was invited to attend a Q&A session at Nike’s running shop in London’s Covent Garden, where the legend Carl Lewis and one of the UK’s most exciting young track prospects – Perri Shakes-Drayton – answered pre-prepared and ‘from the floor’ questions. It was another wonderful experience and I got to chat to lots of brilliant people.

On Saturday just gone I ran the hackney Marshes Parkrun – a 5k blast round to blow away the cobwebs – in 16:42. And on Sunday I enjoyed a 2 hour run with another athlete coached by Nick Anderson.

And today I talked to people about running. Wrote about it. Read a book about running. In short I really indulged my passion.

What is the point of all this? Well, as earlier posts have explained, I have not been enjoying work and that has had a very negative impact on my running in particular. I have decided to reverse that trend. I will have to be strong and determined and not be diverted by doubt and fear. But hell! I’m a marathon runner… keeping going when the going gets tough is what I do. Keeping going in the face of adversity is part of the training. This, right now, is the next phase in the journey and I am really excited. So, London marathon – here I come!

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Please excuse me for what could turn out to be the most indulgent and self-pitying blog post ever written… but I have a declaration to make.

There is a saying that one bad apple can spoil the whole barrel and I believe that if one, important area of your life is not going well, it will have an impact on all the other areas of your life. In my case I have been having a torrid time at work. I am not going to dwell on the situation, but it has been enough to cause sleepless nights, constant worrying and much sadness. Frustratingly this unhappiness has leeched into the other areas of my life – especially my relationships and my running.

This is not the place to discuss my relationship, but I will write about my running. The situation at work has created physical and psychological pressure on my running. The physical impact has been caused by a lack of sleep. My coach, Nick Anderson, has a very clear view about sleep and he says that the body needs 4 hours of sleep to get to the zone where it then really starts to repair itself. That pretty much means that while I have been getting 3 or 4 hours sleep a night, I am not even dipping into the recovery zone. Not good.

There have been days where I have got out of bed so tired that the idea of two runs that day is more than I can bear to think about and I am sure I haven’t got even close to running perfect sessions week after week after week. There have been times when I know I have just been going through the motions.

The psychological impact of not being happy at work has manifested itself as being distracted and starting to doubt myself. The distraction, I think, comes from simply being bloody tired and constantly worrying about work. I keep forgetting bits of kit (the number of runs I have had to do without socks is stupid and in the cold weather I seem to forget hat and gloves for almost half my runs) and I don’t seem to have been able to summon the enthusiasm to organise food in advance or work out the best way to even get to the track to do a session.

The self-doubt is, I think, an overspill from the fact that I feel like I’m failing at work and the harder I try to fix the problems there, the more problems I encounter. Then I go for a run and struggle with a session or run a slightly disappointing time in a race or time trial… and I start to doubt that I will be able to reach my running goals this spring and into the future. There is a creeping lack of self belief, which if left unchecked will have a serious impact on my running.

So! On Friday – my day off – things reached a boiling point at work with a job that went wrong. Unable to not check my emails, I saw there had been a problem and I felt the world closing in around me. My boss told me that he was extremely unhappy with the situation as well as my performance and the client decided that the matter was so critical that she would email my personal email address to express her frustration. I finally decided that I need to do something. I need to decide what I want to do with my life and what is important to me, rather than allowing a company to decide what is important. I have known this for a long time, but I finally acknowledged that my definition of a good and useful life is not ploughing on in the face of overwhelming evidence that I am being paid to do something that I am not enjoying and not good at.

I have decided that I want to work in sport – endurance sport in particular. I want to work out a way that I can help people fulfill the potential that exists in everyone. I want to help people start on the journey I have taken towards a better life (sorry, there is no other way I can describe it) and share the moments with them that will have them (and no doubt me) smiling from ear to ear whilst crying tears of joy and disbelief. I want to help future generations discover sport and activity, rather than KFC and computer games. I also want to know, when my running is in decline as it soon will be, that I fulfilled my potential and had a great time doing it.

As yet, I don’t know how I am going to help to change the world even just a little bit. But the experiences I have had so far – hopefully inspiring the athletes I run with at my club in some way, giving advice and support to the most wonderful group of people at the Run Dem Crew, meeting people from running companies, especially Nike and Brooks as well as interviewing hugely successful and hard-working athletes, working alongside my coach and his team at training camps and learning as much as I can about running and everything that goes with it – tells me that one way or another, I will – I must – do my utmost to ensure that I look back on my life with pride and a sense of satisfaction. It’s going to be quite a journey!

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Yesterday I watched a video on my iPhone. Nothing unusual there (except it was the first time I had done it) and it had a profound impact on me. So much so, that I found myself wiping away a tear from my eye whilst trying to not let anyone see… after all I was standing on a platform packed with commuters at 8am in east London. Then later I read an email from a friend and fellow athlete and something he wrote really resonated with me. And then I watched another video this evening and something in that tied all the thoughts from the first movie and the email together… so here goes.

The most important thing we can do for ourselves is decide what we want as far as work-life balance is concerned and then make that a reality. Oh and I believe that at the moment I have it wrong.

Here is the first video I watched, whilst waiting for a train to take me to another day of relentless and probably pointless grind doing something that I am well paid for, but which ultimately I do not get any joy from. It is a TED talk by a chap called Nigel Marsh.

I think the reason the video affected me so deeply was because everything Nigel Marsh says is so blindingly obvious. I went cold when he said that if we do not design the life we want for ourselves then someone else will and we might not like their idea of balance – and moreover that if that ‘someone’ is a company it will be to our detriment. I realised that I spend almost all my time worrying about, thinking about, resenting or trying to be passionate about doing things for other people that I don’t really care about. And what makes it worse is that in theory I work 4 days a week – at least that is what I am paid for.

Then I got an email from my friend Neil. Neil and I used to work together and we had a shared passion for endurance sport. Neil is a triathlete, but I won’t hold that against him. In a corporate environment I was delighted to meet someone else who was as passionate as me about endurance sport. Sadly we no longer work together but occasionally exchange emails and in his last message Neil told me that he had negotiated a couple of days a week working from home to avoid what I imagine is at least an hour commute to work each way, every day. He wrote that this would have a very positive impact on his ability to train and bring him closer to his dream of a podium place in the World Triathlon Championships. A bold ambition but I have no doubt that he will succeed. Why do I think that? Because of his dedication – physical dedication, mental dedication and the the fact that he is taking responsibility in his life for creating the opportunity to make his dream come true. Those three together make for a very, very powerful combination.

And tonight, while my fiancée was out having dinner with a friend, I found an Alex Honnold video on a Chinese version of YouTube where this incredible climber was free soloing the face of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, California. A truly amazing feat. But what struck me more during the video was the lighthearted comments that Alex made about living in a van and not having a girlfriend. His dedication means that he is prepared to live with minimal comfort in pursuit of his dream. He knows that meeting a girl is unlikely when ‘home’ is a shelf in the back of a Transit sized van full of unwashed clothes and a ton of climbing gear. But Alex is prepared to forgo the comforts that he could have (not to mention the career and earnings he could have if he had a ‘normal’ life) in order to dedicate himself to his passion.

So what does all this mean to me? Well I think it is all pretty obvious really. Fairly soon (although I hope not too soon) I will be lowered into the ground. And on that day I would like to think that I will have had a good and interesting and useful life and that people will have something to say about me that is not that I worked hard or that I was a responsible person or some other bullshit banality. I would like people to remember me for being the best runner I could be. For giving triathlon and climbing and hiking and cycling and many, many other things a go. For pushing myself to test myself and do more and be better. Because more than anything I believe more passionately than I can explain in words, that (to paraphrase Nigel Marsh) life is not a game of ‘who the fuck has the most money when they die’… so live on friends and follow your dreams.

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Like so many people who take up running as they approach their 30’s my primary aim was to try to look better by losing some weight. I also wanted to get fitter and almost as soon as I started running I wanted to compete with myself and see what I could achieve. But primarily it was about the spare tyre around my middle and the fear that at a relatively young age I was on a slippery slope to obesity and all the terrible damage that does to health and well-being.

After a couple of years of regular running, by the time I had completed my first marathon and was training for my first ultra marathon, I had slipped into a mind-set where I thought that I could pretty much eat whatever I liked because of the amount of running I was doing. In my experience that is a common feeling amongst runners. The club I run for – the Mornington Chasers – even has a t-shirt which proudly proclaims “we do it for the biscuits” on the back.

However I am now looking into nutrition and viewing food in a different way. Now that I have more challenging targets as far as running is concerned I am determined to maximise every area of my life to give myself the best possible chance of reaching my full potential.

Undoubtedly since I started running my diet has improved and when I met Julie it took a big leap towards being what I would call a well balanced and nutritionally sound diet. However I know that I succumb to my sweet-tooth all too easily and eat too many treats and too much chocolate. So I now find myself in an interesting position – leaner and fitter than I have ever been and yet possibly no less dissatisfied than when I gave up my old crappy lifestyle. The problem for me is that I know there are improvements that can be made… if only I had the discipline.

Last week I started re-reading Racing Weight by Matt Fitzgerald to try to find the motivation to make the small daily changes that will allow me to drop a couple of kilos and get down to the weight that I know I should be. Now I should say at this point that I am writing this at the end of an unbroken 8-day stretch with no running – post Florence marathon, my coach said that I should have at least a week off, so I have followed his advice to the letter and spent a week nursing a cold (OK that wasn’t on his orders), eating and spending my free time reading and surfing the web. And I have put on some weight. So the man in the mirror is part of the reason I am looking into my diet. But I also know that if the target my coach and I have discussed for the London marathon next year is going to happen, I will need everything to be perfect, including losing my love handles!

Fitzgerald’s book really is a mine of brilliant information and tips. He seems to be mindful of the fact that every athlete is different and that the audience for his book, whilst highly likely to be motivated and dedicated athletes, are also likely to struggle with the everyday issues of work and family and social commitments which can play havoc with one’s good intentions (another family Sunday lunch anyone?) I have taken a few interesting thoughts from the book and I’m happy to share them;

  1. we each have an ideal racing weight and it is not easy to scientifically work out what that is. It is a matter of judgement and experience and only when you get it right will you know. Like so much in running we just have to feel our way to the perfect balance for us.
  2. it is unwise, unhealthy and extremely difficult to stay at racing weight for extended periods. Much like Nick’s insistence that I should have a week or more off running after Florence, Fitzgerald suggests that it is both practical and indeed wise to add a little weight (he suggests 8%) in the fallow periods between training and racing build-up. Just don’t go mad like Ricky Hatton or Jan Ulrich!
  3. eating smaller meals more than three times a day, whilst highly unlikely to affect one’s metabolism, can help to reduce appetite and at the same time align the body’s need for fuel with the inputs it receives.
  4. body composition is much more important than actual weight. One of the things I really like about the book is its focus on being lean, not light. I know that my weight in itself is not the issue – it is the percentage of that weight made up by fat (useless) vs muscle (useful)!

So this sort of advice is how I intend to ensure that the relationship I have with food is absolutely optimised so that I have the best chance of reaching my goals. However I think it is also worth reflecting for a minute on how lucky I am to be trying to ‘trim’ and ‘adjust’ here and there. For so many people the issues they have with food are overwhelming.

I am forever saddened by the weight issues that so many people in this country (and indeed in the most of the richest countries on the planet) suffer with. Recent research tells us that one in 20 British adults has diabetes, according to new figures from GP practices, while data released by the charity Diabetes UK also shows that almost one in 10 adults, or 5.5 million people, in the UK are obese. At the moment the NHS is spending £9bn per annum (or 10% of its budget) treating diabetes. I think the numbers speak for themselves.

So I am going to try to continue to improve the way I eat so that I can squeeze the maximum from my training. And I am also going to try to see if I can help to inspire others to start running and realise that a bit of hard work and dedication will bring rewards that are tangible and sustainable – a healthy approach to food, improved health and a sense of achievement that running provides in bucket loads.

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