I love this talk by Alan Watts.
I play it to Year 9 students when they have to choose their GCSE Options. Continue reading “Do What Makes You Happy”
Roll up, roll up, for one man’s journey from Dib Dab to Dibaba. Over the next three months, in an occasional series, I will chronicle my friend Junior’s attempt to transform himself from a man sometimes seen munching through a six-pack of McCoys to the owner of an abdominal six-pack as he trains for the London Marathon. Continue reading “From Dib Dab to Dibaba”
If you do not run then you must cheer. Such is the mantra at Run Dem Crew, a London family of creative heads who run marathons led by their mentor and crew-founder Charlie Dark. Last Sunday I spent the day cheering on runners in the Brighton Marathon, and with the Virgin London Marathon about to drop this weekend, I wanted to try to capture what Cheer Dem Crew is about for those who might be new to it.
Sunday April 6th was the date of the Brighton Marathon. It had been in my diary for some time, as several friends in Run Dem Crew were running it, raising money for good causes including the Teenage Cancer Trust. Paul Bains and Claire McGonegle had gone to great trouble to take care of the logistics of getting over 20 of us to and from Brighton, choosing the best spots to cheer from, and booking a pub for drinks and food afterwards.
I was up before 7.00 and met the crew at St Pancras Station at 8.15. Paul had organised group-save tickets, so we paid just £5 each to travel to Brighton and back. It was good to see familiar faces and to meet some new ones. Two of the crew had hardly slept after big nights out, but you would never have known it from the enthusiasm they showed all day. The train journey was full of jokes, interspersed with checking the progress of our runners in Brighton and Paris on the race apps. Danny Wood was smashing it, coming through the first 10K in 41 minutes. All our runners looked strong, and we were eager to catch up with them in person.
Once we reached Brighton, we had a fair walk to the first cheer spot. I was excited to be back in town as I lived there for 3 years while at the University of Sussex. As the seafront swung into view we could see the runners streaming past. Paul had identified a good cheer spot that the runners would pass at Mile 14 and then again at Mile 18, where things often start to get difficult. We’d brought with us four large Run Dem banners, and were quick to get them set up. Glancing at the app, we realised we’d missed Danny Wood through Mile 14, so some of use positioned ourselves on the other side of the road to make sure we caught him at Mile 18. We’d just gotten settled when suddenly Emily Ackner came through Mile 14 looking incredibly strong. At this point, Cheer Dem erupted in the first of many explosions of noise, high-fives, whoops and cheers. Emily’s face lit up and it was hugs and gunfinger celebrations all the way before she sped off. Next was Nathaniel, just a couple of minutes behind, and from then on in it was non-stop shouting and cheering. At Run Dem, we don’t just cheer our own runners. Anyone on the course gets a healthy dose of crewlove. To add to the voices, we had whistles, a cow-bell and high-fives.
Soon Danny came powering through at Mile 18, looking like an absolute don, completely in control. Once Emily Ledbrooke and Deborah had come through Mile 14, all of the crew switched to the other side of the road to catch our runners at Mile 18. We stayed there till every crew-member had come through, as at Run Dem, no one is ever left behind.
Our final cheer spot was just a short walk away on the seafront at Mile 24. At this point, many runners were reduced to walking, and cheering can really make a difference. One member of the crew was almost overcome with emotion when they passed through, and Paul Bains ran a little of the way with them to make sure they were ok. Some of the cheer crew were already beginning to lose their voices, but we continued shouting and cheering for all our worth. As Deborah from the crew approached, Jason and I decided to tunnel up on the course for her. This is a Tuesday night crew tradition: when we reach the mid-point of our runs, the first group to finish forms a human tunnel for the next group to run through, and so on, creating a tunnel of noise and good vibes. The course wasn’t too crowded at this point, so we hastily got one together for Debs to run through. This may be the first time this has ever happened during a race, and I hope we can continue it when the course isn’t too congested this Sunday at VLM. Finally, after almost three hours solid cheering, our work was done. We assembled for the traditional crew photo and headed off to get food at the North Laine pub.
Props to Claire for organising an excellent post-run venue and meal. As each runner from the crew arrived, they were treated to a hero’s welcome, to the surprise of the other punters. The endorphins were flowing as freely as the ale while we shared photos taken on the course and hugged and congratulated our friends. A good non-running friend of mine who lives in Brighton came to join us for lunch, and she was so inspired by what she saw that she has bought a pair of trainers and signed up to do Parkrun this weekend.
The journey back was full of weary fun. I really enjoyed getting to know some of the newer crew-members better, and eventually we rumbled back into St Pancras and Jason and I got the bus back to N16 together. Getting off the bus outside my home, I went into a shop and bought a Mars bar. When I opened the Mars bar I found out I’d won another Mars bar, which just about sums up an awesome day.
Supporting other people running marathons is one of the most rewarding things you can do. You get back what you put in tenfold. Words can’t express the transformation in a runner who has been broken and is walking, locked in their own internal mental struggle, when they hear you shouting their name. I lost count of the number of times on Sunday these lost, troubled souls looked up, made eye contact and were transformed by the strength of human warmth directed towards them from the crew. In today’s modern, fractured society, the sense of goodwill that is shared on a marathon course is increasingly rare and precious. Many people running marathons are doing so in memory of loved ones who have died and it’s all too easy to become caught up in the burden of feeling you are letting someone living or dead down if you’re struggling to complete your race. But that’s why the marathon is such an inspirational distance. It takes you beyond the limit of human endurance and then asks “What have you got?” Cheer Dem Crew is as much about making sure that no runner has to go through their struggle alone as it is about celebrating the triumphs of those smashing their way to PBs.
Big ups to all the crew who held it down in Brighton, Paris, Manchester and elsewhere on Sunday. Big ups to Cheer Dem for having our runners’ backs. Here, in the words of those who ran the races, is what it means to the runners:
“Having never experienced a Run Dem Race before, I’m beyond words and can’t wait to repay the cheer dem vibes next weekend. Thanks to everyone who cheered/hi 5ed and everything in between. Buzzing.” (Danny Wood, who finished in a PB of 3:20:00)
“The support at 24 miles was next level. Thank you SO much guys. I was really struggling to run at that point and from then I just got faster. Huge thanks to Paul Bains for your lovely words and excellent organisational skills!! You’re all the best.” (Michelle Allen)
“You guys were awesome, so grateful to see so many supportive smiling faces. Thank you cheerdem and bring on London!!” (Emily Ledbrooke)
“Total inability to get to sleep, still buzzing and can’t get over you guys’ efforts with all the support. So grateful, thank you. Next weekend’s gonna be immense.” (Emily Ackner who finished in a PB of 3:47:44)
All of which brings me to the plans for this weekend. Cheer Dem Crew will be based at Mile 21 of the London Marathon course, cheering on Mo Farah in his bid to win the race, all of the crew, and every single runner that comes through. We base ourselves at Mile 21 because that is traditionally where runners hit the wall. There will be over a hundred of us bringing phenomenal vibes to that section of the course and I can’t wait. Check out mile21.co.uk to see what went down last year, and to follow remotely on the day if you can’t make it personally, as the feed will be updated in real-time.
To get involved, come to housekeeping at Run Dem Crew tonight, or email Mile 21 mastermind Chevy at email@example.com
There will be a sign-making, fund-raising session taking place at Shutterbug in Shoreditch from noon this Saturday, so come down if you can to help prepare banners and personalised signs for our runners. Later on the Saturday Night Ninja Crew will be putting the signs up on the route pre-race. This has to be done late enough in the day that they won’t be taken down again.
Then on race day Cheer Dem Crew will convene at Docklands Tyres and Exhausts, 767 Commercial Road, E14 7HG. It’s just before Mile 21. Come early and be prepared to lose your voice, shed some tears and feel goosebumps as the adrenaline takes you on a rollercoaster of emotions almost intense as running the race itself.
Virgin London Marathon this week is gonna be insane, jubilant, emotional. It will be the ultimate manifestation of #crewlove in 2014. If you’re running, as Charlie says, you’ve done the hard work in training, so the race is going to be a celebration. For those not running, this is a great chance to give back a small portion of what we get from being in the crew. Bring it on.
Photo credits: Ash Narod, Cara Conquest and Mark Fleming
The FlatLine 10 is a race/ training event organised by EnergyLabBTS. It involves 10 suicidal laps of a one mile course up and down the steepest hill in London- Swains Lane. This beast of a course will tame even the most talented runner, but the sense of achievement on finishing is incredible.
The hill is well-known to cyclists but it is unusual for runners to make more than one ascent during a run. For those who understand the technical aspects, the maximum gradient is 18%, height gain is 63 metres and the distance we climbed during Saturday’s race was a third that of Mont Ventoux, one of the most gruelling climbs in the Tour de France. Doing this on bike would be difficult but running it is either heroic or foolhardy. As my alarm woke me early on race day, I had serious doubts about doing the run. I felt tired. It had been a stressful week, so I hadn’t been sleeping well. My quads felt tight after changing up my training plan, and I was tempted to crawl back under the duvet. I’d publicly committed to going, though, so I dragged myself out of bed and got ready.
As I headed to the top of Swains Lane on public transport, the day dawned crisp and bright. By now I felt glad to be alive and knew I’d made the right decision to race. I bumped into my friend Felix as we headed up the hill, and we noticed how our heart-rates quickened just from walking up. Barbara from EnergyLab gave out our race numbers and we did our best to keep warm while the other runners arrived.
This was a small event, with a maximum entry of 30. The road was open during the race so we had to be mindful of traffic and pedestrians. I was surprised to learn that Richard Keller, who had won the previous event, would not be running. I’d raced in that August edition, and Richard had set the tempo. There were other fast runners, but none of us had really considered this a race until it was declared one on the Facebook Event page. Still, we all knew we would be pushing each other when the first descent began and the adrenaline kicked in.
First and foremost, though, this event is about the sense of achievement you get from completing it. The camaraderie on this course is amazing. You run so many loops that you’re always making eye-contact with the other runners, and everyone is going through the same pain as you. We all support each other, and that helps get us through. Running is not about being better than someone else, it’s about being the best you can be and that includes helping others. As the race began, I settled in behind Manni and Felix, who went out hard on the first downhill- our pace was just over 5 minutes per mile on the descent, but it would be much slower on the way up. This race is notoriously difficult to pace because you are always climbing or descending but you can build up a head of steam on the descents, particularly in the middle where the drop is steepest. My strategy was to go as quickly as I could downhill each lap, and then climb steadily, taking smaller strides but maintaining a quick cadence on the up-hills. I told myself there would be no walking, no matter what.
As we passed Karl Marx’s tomb and reached the cone at the bottom of the hill, I was third. We began to climb, and my small steps took me into second place towards the crest of the hill. As we began the second descent, I swept past the leader, and suddenly, for the first time in my life, I was at the front in a race. I was very surprised, but beyond a fleeting thought about what it would be like to run without someone pacing me, I didn’t have time to think about it. I concentrated on accelerating as quickly as I could through the descent, making sure I kept my footing over the speed bumps. I felt certain the runners behind me were on my shoulder, so as I began the next climb I was stunned to see I had built a gap between myself and second place. I knew my climbing skills were pretty good, so for the first time in a race ever, I dared to dream about winning.
The next few miles were a blur. Nods and cheers of encouragement from me to others and from them to me. Claudia yelling that I had a big lead. Concentrating on breathing, form, counting, looking at the top of the hill each time I had to climb. Trying to shake out the limbs and land on the forefoot each time I descended. Throwing my gloves and running hat on the ground at the top of the fourth mile. And the growing realisation that victory was possible. With that came nagging doubts. What if we had gone out too fast on that first mile? What if my body just refused to keep going? The only way was down, and to lose from this position would be hard to take. But this race is so challenging I couldn’t think those thoughts for long. I could feel my muscles working hard on the ascents, while the down-hills were equally demanding. Your body is constantly under assault. And that’s what makes this race so special. It’s comparable to completing a marathon. You cannot stay in your comfort zone when running the FlatLine 10. Because of that I salute everyone who takes it on.
As I hit the penultimate lap I had built up a lead of about half a mile. I called out to Richard, who was taking photographs, asking him to pace me on the final lap. The temptation to stop running and walk up the hill was getting very strong, and I knew Richard wouldn’t let me give in. He pushed me hard on the final descent, talking all the while about good form, encouraging me to beat his course record. I knew that was beyond me. My body was crying out and I just wanted to get over the finish line, but I’m grateful for his support. As we made the final ascent, he urged me to sprint, but my body wasn’t having any of it. At last, we reached the top and for the first time in my life I learnt what it feels like to win something. There was pain, sure, but there was a huge sense of happiness, no little pride and a new-found inner confidence. As I stretched out, I couldn’t help beaming. I thought about the injury I’d sustained in September, which had set my training back three months. I’d trained through December to catch up, preparing for the Berlin Half Marathon, but my body hadn’t been able to do what the training plans were asking. Then I hit January, and pow!- it just clicked back into shape. I felt a deep sense of satisfaction that when I’d been putting those miles in, I’d been laying the platform for the feelings I was having at the top of Swains Lane. Consistency of approach is what reaps rewards in running. I hope I can apply this lesson in other areas of my life, too.
Steve Layton was the next person over the finish line, meaning Spurs fans finished first and second. Sorrell was the Queen of the Hill, being first woman home. Over the next 45 minutes the rest of the runners completed their race. Everyone finished. There are so many inspirational and incredible stories. Chris Cannon was doing his first proper run of the year. Azra Zakir had spent large portions of 2013 unable to run due to ITB pain. Melissa has grown so strong since having a major health scare a few years ago. One runner tried to end her race at the top of the hill with three miles to go. Others gathered round, supported her and gave her the self-belief to finish, which she did in style.
Best of all, Claudia had baked cake for all of the finishers, and as we nursed our aches and pains, we made light work of eating it.
FlatLine 10 is a superb event, in spite of the severe DOMS I’m experiencing as I write this. Full credit to Barbara and Claudia from EnergyLabBTS for their organisation, and to Richard for the photographs and slideshow. It’s the camaraderie that makes it special. Perhaps it will grow and become a sanctioned race. In the meantime, I urge you to come out of your comfort zone and test yourself next time it’s on. The Run Dem Crew mantra is “Go Hard Or Go Home”. You’ll have to go a long way to find a harder or more satisfying run than this one.
July 1st 2012 was the date of my first race since the 2007 London Marathon. A difficult recovery after an operation had given me a new found gratefulness for the fact that I am able to put one foot in front of another. I could not have seen then how running would transform my life. It has taken me to Amsterdam, Barcelona, Bournemouth and soon Berlin, but the friendships I have made through running will last beyond memory.
Last Sunday, I went back to that Regents Park course and ran 10K 9 minutes faster than that day in 2012, but the first race will always be the most special to me. I keep the race number hanging on a wall in my flat.
In order to see how far you have come, you must remember where you came from.
2013 has been a year of huge growth for me and so many others through running with Run Dem Crew. Today I’m going to pick out some of the many highlights of an amazing year. Thank you all for being part of the journey.
The day we gave back to Run Dem Crew founder Charlie Dark, who has given so much to all of us, was a special one. Charlie was presented with his own hard-won marathon medal, and we gave speeches explaining how he has changed our lives. Big shout out to Paul Bains for organising it all without word getting out. This day will live long in the memory.
The night the Olympic Park was our playground
It meant a lot for us to finally be able to run to and through the field of Olympic dreams, and as dusk fell our inner children escaped for a few glorious Peter Pan moments as we took over the adventure playground.
What went down at Paddington Rec this summer was nothing short of beautiful. Every week we arced like shooting stars across the same cinder track that Roger Bannister trained on to break the 4 minute mile. Massive props to Jeggi Elinzano, Cory Wharton-Malcolm and Knox Robinson for the training plans and Tirunesh Dibaba for the inspiration.
A certain member of the crew had us cry-laughing this summer when he asked “What’s all this about dibdablife?” It was the hash-tag dibabalife that he was referring to. The term dibdablife has now become synonymous with The Only Fools and Horses approach to training.
Always the most important part of Tuesday evenings at 1948, housekeeping is our opportunity to remind ourselves why we run as we come together as a community. The medal speeches are always a highlight but special mention goes to Paulie Roche for his New York Marathon epic, combining comedy and tragedy in equal measure. To quote him:
“Make pain your friend and you will never run alone.”
Targets, PBs and Medals
We all have our own goals in running. I’m grateful that, through a lot of hard work, I was able to meet all the targets I’d set myself at the start of the year. These are the medals (and fridge magnet) I was able to win in 2013. Each of these achievements is special to me in it’s own right, but I would never have found the determination to achieve all this without the crew. My victories are your victories. Thank you.
5K target- sub 20. I managed 18:55
10K target- sub 40. 38:31.
Half marathon target- sub 1:30. 1:26:45
Marathon target- sub 3:45. 3:21:10
Cheer Dem Crew
Cheering on other runners is one of the most rewarding things you can do. I’m particularly grateful to everyone who had our backs in the East London Half. It was a pleasure to be part of the Cheer Dem massive on other occasions, especially the London Marathon and Run To The Beat. Big ups to Chevy Rough and Paul Bains for being Cheer Dem organisers extroardinaires.
In February, Chris McLean, Claire McGonegle, Paul Bains and I shared an apartment decorated entirely in orange as we took on the Barcelona Half Marathon. There were PBs and good times all round. Bridging the gap never felt so good.
When we chased the sun to Greenwich
An inspirational route on a beautiful day.
I knew Junior Robbani and Jason Lawrence before Run Dem and I owe my running journey to Junior, in particular. He dragged me round Clissold Park when I was out of shape and at the beginning of my transformation. They’ve both come a long way as runners in 2013 and have been making positive moves in their work and personal lives, inspiring me with each decision they take. They ran in Barcelona, too, and I can’t wait to follow their exploits when they take on the Tokyo Marathon next year.
I’ve got so much love for the Run Dem Elites. Each week we push each other to be the best we can be, and there’s a special camaraderie that develops between you and the group you run with. For me, no Elite has been more inspirational than Sorrell Walsh, blazing a trail for other women to follow and ready to take on the Country to Capital Ultra in January.
10 laps up and down Swains Lane of pain. Ouch. Maximum respect to all who have tamed this beast.
This was a special one for me. The last time I ran a marathon I hated it so much I didn’t run again for 5 years. I was privileged to run this hilly course with Noushi, Nathaniel Cole, Tim Jackson, Pistol Pete, Emma Hancock, Ricky Diaghe and Dave Cregan. On a course with many double-backs the #crewlove kept us going. The picture shows a guy called Michael I met during the race. We didn’t know each other before, but we bonded over those 26.2 miles and crossed the finish line hand in hand.
As Charlie says, “When you do well, I do well”. This was never more evident than when Ghostpoet took the stage at his triumphant homecoming gig at the Village Underground. As he surveyed the crowd, ripped and confident, I wondered how much of a part Run Dem had played in Ghostpoet’s personal and artistic development.
2013 for me was the year of the blog. I greatly enjoyed reading other crew-member’s blogs, in particular http://www.bangsandabun.com and http://www.runangelrun.co.uk In April, I took the plunge and started my own blog. My post on #crewlove proved most popular and I wanted to say thank you to all my readers for dropping by.
Ain’t no party like a Run Dem party
When Cory Wharton-Malcolm picks up the mic, Josey Rebelle is on the decks and shot dem crew are on the dance floor, there’s no better place to be than with the crew. The family that plays together, stays together. Berlin, here we come.
Thank you all for an amazing 2013. Here’s to 2014.
Marathon training sucks. There, I’ve said it. You train for 16 weeks to run a race that will take most mortals somewhere between 2 and 6 hours. 2 and 6 hours! Many of us struggle to concentrate on one thing for more than five minutes in this fast-paced, multi-tasking society. Why would you do something repetitively for such a long time? You sacrifice junk food, alcohol and social gatherings in order to bank the miles and ensure race day is an enjoyable experience. On the journey, you may get injured, hopefully not too seriously, or at least miss some training runs due to ill health. It stands to reason that in 16 weeks of regular commitment to exercise, there are going to be some troughs as well as highs. But this time, I think I cracked it. I actually enjoyed the training process, and most of the race itself. Here’s how…
1) Find a good training plan and stick to it. I got my training plan from the Runner’s World website (http://www.runnersworld.co.uk/training/). Hal Higdon also has some good ones over at http://www.halhigdon.com/. Pick one that’s the right level of commitment for you and stick to it. There’s no point picking a 6 day a week training plan if you’ve only been running once a week. Received wisdom seems to be that 3-6 training runs a week is required- with 3 being the minimum: one tempo run at a pace outside your comfort zone but which you can sustain for the duration; one track or hill session, involving shorter intense bursts interspersed by brief recovery periods; and one long run, in which you gradually increase the mileage each week. I made the mistake of over-training during the build up to Bournemouth.
6 years after my last marathon experience, I chose to run the Bournemouth Marathon because my friends were doing it and because it would allow me to do the bulk of my training over the school summer hoilday (I’m a teacher) when I would have more time to recover. However, I was enjoying my training so much I got carried away, and ended up doing crazy blocks of really intense training back to back (read all about it here… https://anotherwisemonkey.wordpress.com/2013/09/28/one-week-to-go/ ). This resulted in my left calf blowing up like a ham five weeks from the race. I was fortunate enough to recover well enough to be able to run, but I’m sure I hit the wall after mile 18 because I had to massively reduce my training load over the last 5 weeks. Consequently, I’m sticking to 4 runs a week for the forseeable future (down from 6) and building more yoga and strength training into my training plan.
2) Set yourself challenging but achievable goals and be easy if you can’t quite reach them. The marathon distance is not a joke. Just completing the distance is a significant achievement in itself. Nevertheless, some of my friends running Bournemouth seemed a little down after the race because they hadn’t quite reached the time they wanted. I felt exactly the same after my previous marathon experience (which you can read about here… https://anotherwisemonkey.wordpress.com/2013/05/30/my-london-marathon-experience-or-why-i-stopped-running-for-five-years/ ). They really should be incredibly proud of themselves, as it was a tough, hilly course and a very hot day, which makes a huge difference over such a long distance. Factors on race day such as the weather, the elevation on the course, the amount of sleep you got the night before- are all going to affect you.
I was really lucky this time around, in that I’m a much fitter person, and a much better runner, than I was last time I attempted the marathon distance. Unless things went disastrously wrong, I was going to get a PB. But there is an art to not getting too hung up on your time, so I made that my main objective for this race. I was determined to enjoy the scenery, take in what was around me, and smile my way round. Running along the Bournemouth coastline was more beautiful than I had expected, and race day dawned warm and sunny. I’m glad that I got to see Bournemouth at her best, and will definitely be heading back there next summer to chill out on those glorious sandy beaches.
3) Get plenty of rest in the run up to the race. Obviously, I had some enforced rest through getting injured, but I also made sure to taper properly in the last 3 weeks. I was very tempted to run a 20 miler at the end of my first week back from injury, but on the advice of my friends and family, I decided not to. A good decision. I also managed to get plenty of long sleeps in during the week of the race, winding down earlier than usual during the week and hitting the hay early. There were some bad germs going around at work, so I made sure I took every precaution possible to avoid catching a cold. I dosed myself up on vitamins and ate as healthily as possible.
I’m glad I’d stocked up on sleep, because the night before the race insomnia struck, caused by the excitement, and perhaps the pressure to do well, in the marathon. I haven’t had this problem with half marathons or 10Ks, but it’s affected me both times I’ve run a marathon. The distance is so much further than what I can comfortably run, so I was anxious to get to sleep, and this of course prevented me from sleeping. In the end, I only managed two hours, in separate 1 hour blocks. In the end, not being able to sleep was a blessing in disguise. I expected my body to hit the wall sooner rather than later, and saw every step I took as a bonus. I was glad to have gotten two hours, rather than none, and I had no qualms in allowing myself to walk from mile 18 onwards.
4) Have a race plan. Mine was to run roughly 7 minute miles for as long as I could, and then to allow myself to walk if I hit the wall. I managed to hit my target pace for 18 miles. There was one really hard uphill mile where I fell behind, but I was able to make the time back up on the downhill on the other side. This plan took all the pressure off me. 7 minute miles were fairly comfortable compared to the pace we often run in Elites at Run Dem Crew. It also meant that when the wheels came off, I’d gotten to mile 18 in such a quick time that even if I walked the rest of the way, it was probable I would still PB. This really freed me up and gave me permission to walk and enjoy the scenery.
I want to stress the fact that us relatively faster runners in Run Dem elites have struggles in races, too. I actually walked several times over the last few miles, and had my first experience of cramp in a race. My heart and lungs were ready to continue, but my legs just didn’t have the strength. It’s something I can work on for the future, and I was happy to accept where I was at on race day. I discovered an unexpected plus side to walking. You get cheered on more vociferously by the supporters along the route, and if you actually start running again, they raise the roof. On discovering this, I may have deliberately slowed down to a walk just to get the cheer when I started running again. The Bournemouth supporters were a lovely, energetic lot, more than happy to high five you as you ran, and I’m grateful to them for helping me to the finish line.
5) Enter with friends. Before I joined Run Dem Crew I used to race on my own and it can be very lonely. It’s so much easier to enjoy training and racing when you are doing it with other people. There’s a real camaraderie from the shared experience of putting the miles in, especially on those long runs. On race day, and in this case over the whole race weekend, my experience was made so much more enjoyable because it was shared. It was great just hanging out with mates, eating good food, exploring Bournemouth and celebrating after the race. It was a happy accident that the course featured a number of double-backs. This meant that we all got to see each other multiple times during the marathon, and helped lift spirits when they were flagging. Double-backs are not great for fast times, but having said that, I’ve set PBs on double-back courses and a friendly face goes a long way when you’re questioning whether you can complete the distance.
The inaugural Bournemouth Marathon was a really good race. The views along the coast were beautiful, but I’m definitely going to pay more attention to the elevation chart in future, and incorporate more hill training when appropriate.
Pete, Tim and I muscled our way to the front of the Orange race pen, which made for an exciting start. We had a great view of the elite runners speeding off into the distance and it felt great leading out thousands of others after the starting gun. That said, the 10am start meant that we were running during the hottest part of the day. I’d favour an 8am start next year to avoid this, with the half marathon starting later.
There were moments when I questioned my sanity as I ran with a parched throat past people enjoying ice-creams and lollies on the seafront. Next time, I’m putting a pound in that little pocket at the back of my running shorts. On the subject of nutrition, after mile 14 I couldn’t stomach any more Clif Shot Bloks, which I was using to top up my energy on the course. Anyone got any recommendations for an alternative? Throughout the race, I kept the notion this was supposed to be fun in the forefront of my mind, and did everything I could to keep it there.
I crossed the finish line in 3 hours, 21 minutes, which was 1 hour and 5 minutes faster than my previous marathon PB. I finished hand in hand with a guy called Michael. I’d never met him before the race, but we kept passing each other during the race, and supported each other as if we were old friends. We bonded over those 26.2 miles.
The amount of training required for a marathon is prohibitive, so I don’t plan on doing another marathon for at least a year. Still, I was able to even up my previous negative marathon experience, and look forward to also doing an ultra some day. In the nearer future, I’m looking forward to running plenty of 10K and half marathon races over the next few months, and will be involved in X-Country for the first time since I was at school. I feel strengthened through the knowledge that I’ve been able to have an enjoyable marathon race.
Here’s to the next one, because over the past few months, I’ve revised my opinion about marathons.
Right now, I’m the fittest and healthiest I’ve ever been. I’m also the happiest I’ve been in a long time, and the two are inextricably linked. I can see a correlation with my development as a runner with Run Dem Crew and my increased reservoirs of well-being, inner strength and balance. That doesn’t mean that I’m naturally healthy or happy. I have to work at both, but it’s time well spent.
My journey to fitness has been explored here (https://anotherwisemonkey.wordpress.com/2013/04/22/how-i-ditched-an-unhealthy-lifestyle-and-got-into-running/) so I won’t cover old ground again, but will try to identify the factors contributing to my current state. I should also point out that in all our lives there are some things that we can’t control, and sometimes these bring unavoidable unhappiness, but we can learn to do the best we can with what we’ve got. Just because something happened one way in the past, doesn’t mean it has to be that way in the present or the future. I hope no-one feels I’m trying to teach them to suck eggs, and I hope that some of what follows will be useful.
One of my motivations for this blog post is gratefulness. Two people close to me currently have chronic illnesses. They are often incapacitated and unable to do the things they want to, which is very sad. This has made me appreciate my own good health and made me determined to take steps to safeguard it, although I know that there are no guarantees. I exercise for myself, but also in part for those who can’t, or won’t, or don’t dare to.
Part of life is death, and I’ve been unfortunate enough to lose some people close to me, while they and I were still young. This has taught to “live life while you’re alive”, to quote the poet Ben Okri. To me, that means being present in your day-to-day life, making valuable connections with others and being alive to the wonder of the world. It doesn’t mean YOLO, or exhausting yourself through being overly hedonistic. I’m becoming more aware of the value of balance in all things.
So here are my tips for a healthy, happy life:
1) Spend time with the people that make you happy
For most people this is friends and family, but I know sometimes relationships go through downs as well as ups. It’s easy when you’re feeling a little negative to just crawl under the duvet and hide from the world, but 9 times out of 10, if you actually make the effort and go and meet that person, you’ll feel better for it. We all need some time alone, and some people are more introspective than others, but regular check ins with the people that mean a lot to you are important so you can feel connected, loved, appreciated and restored.
I used to spend a lot of time chained to the games console, sacrificing hours at a time to unlocking the next level of Zelda or Grand Theft Auto. It’s true, those games are enjoyable in some ways, but the grind I had to put in to beat these games was probably not worth the payback at the end. Who cares about those worlds, apart from maybe a few other gamers that you know? So I’ve ditched the computer games in favour of running, often with others, and catching up with people. Multiplayer games such as Mario Kart and FIFA are better for your happiness and health than one-player games, as they at least bring people together, but let’s be honest, we all spend plenty of hours in private honing our skills before we go public with these games.
A lot of people also suffer from spending too much time online, chained to their laptop, tablet or smart-phone. Again, there’s value in the online world, for sure- it’s fantastic that there’s so much information available at the touch of a button, and the social networks are useful tools for keeping in the loop with multiple people,. But all too often the tool ends up controlling the user, instead of the other way round. The internet is a tool, like a saw, or a vacuum cleaner. Used effectively it can improve the quality of your life, but all too often it takes over and becomes your life. So, to paraphrase the old childrens’ TV programme ‘Why Don’t You?’, “just switch off the internet, go outside and do something less boring instead.”
Real conversations and time spent in peoples’ real lives, as opposed to the highly-selective glossy magazine version that some of us present on the net, is the way forward.
2) Eat healthily
Eating healthily makes you feel better and leaves you in a better state of mind. Chaka Bars once said that you don’t see people binge eating vegetables, because there are nutrients in them, and when your body’s had enough, you stop eating. We binge-eat Pringles, McDonalds and Haribo because these foods have little or no nutritional value. Really, what do crisps do for your body? I know it’s hard to give up all the snacks that we’re addicted to, but really, processed food is not good for you, so it should be the exception rather than the rule. Many people unconsciously engage in binge-eating as a way of dealing with anxiety or depression. You get a short-term satisfaction, but ultimately are left feeling even worse than you were before. So next time you find yourself reaching for the junk food, ask yourself, why am I doing this? Is there something you’re finding difficult to deal with that you’re avoiding. If there is, the short-term pain of actually fronting up to the difficulty will be outweighed by the long-term gain of dealing with it and then moving forward.
To take things a bit further, I’ve gotten into eating seasonally and healthily over the past year. There’s a great website, eattheseasons.co.uk, that highlights what foods are in season each week, and I try to buy and eat those whenever possible. The benefit is you’re eating food that has been produced more locally, therefore helping local farmers and businesses, you’re reducing carbon footprint because it hasn’t had to be transported far, and most importantly, you’re eating delicious food at it’s freshest and best. I now eat a far wider range of food than I used to, particularly seafood, and there are many studies which show a range of health benefits as a result of this.
Eating is a great thing to do with other people, so if you’re the creative sort in the kitchen, invite friends or family round for a meal or a barbecue. If not, head out to a good restaurant and enjoy yourself.
3) Get moving
Run, play sport, cycle, walk- do whatever you would like to do. Exercise not only makes you feel better physically, it makes you feel better mentally, as well. A recent survey showed that just 9% of people suffering from depression relapsed if they fought depression either through exercise alone, or through exercise and medication. This compared to a 37% relapse rate among those who only used medication. I’m very lucky to have found Run Dem Crew, a fantastic community of positive-minded running folk which is based near me in London- you can read more about them here (link). Since joining up with them, my lifestyle has changed massively. It would be possible to run with crew members pretty much every day of the week if you wanted to. The biggest change has been that now a lot of my socialising is based around running, whereas before the majority involved alcohol. Sometimes we go for a beer and/ or some food after a run, but it’s just a completely different mentality to the prevailing UK booze culture, which, in my case, I had grown tired of.
Whatever sport you want to do, you’re more likely to stick at it and enjoy it if you do it with other people. I know it can be really daunting to go along that first time- it’s like the first day of school all over again- but the benefits are really worth it. Taking things further, if you’re a goal oriented person like me, once you’ve taken up a sport, give yourself something to work towards, whether that’s a weight-loss goal, participating in a match, entering a race, etc. I find that having a goal to work towards gives me a reason to keep running on the days when I don’t necessarily feel like it- and I always feel better after running, without fail. In the case of running, go online and find yourself a training plan to help you get in shape for that 5K, or whatever it would be. There’s a wealth of knowledge and experience available on the internet, and if you tap into it you can train sensibly and safely, avoiding risk of injury.
4) Get outside
One of the biggest benefits I’ve found from running is that it gets me out of the flat and the workplace on an almost daily basis. I’m fortunate enough to have been able to run for a year now, and it’s been a joy to see the local area move through a full cycle of seasons. Being outside connects you with nature. We spend so much of our time chained to our computers or our smartphones, but none of this was part of regular life even 30 years ago, so reboot your system and do what your ancestors have been doing since the dawn of time and get outside. I just feel happier outside, particularly if the sun’s shining. Looking up at the clouds, or the stars in the night sky, can give you a sense of perspective on your problems which is a real blessing. Taking the time to notice the industry of a bee or a the dance of a butterfly will give you a sense of wellbeing which will fortify you for the rest of the day. I love this William Blake poem on this matter:
5) Be creative
We are all creative, whether we believe we are or not. Many of us have had negative experiences at school or growing up that have led us to believe that we’re “not that type of person”, but I guarantee you, there will be something you enjoy creating if you investigate. For some, it’s creating art, or music, or writing. For others, it’s DIY, computer programming or cooking. In this modern consumer age, it’s so important to take some time to make our own marks in this world, whether that is something that we share with just one or two other people, or a wider audience. If you haven’t taken time in the last week to make something just for the joy of it, I really recommend you do so. It doesn’t matter how big or small the undertaking, just do it. I guarantee you’ll feel better for it.
6) Let go of bad habits
We all do certain things that aren’t the best for us. I managed to give up smoking 9 years ago. It was incredibly hard, but the benefits have been fantastic. I feel better, I’ve increased my life expectancy and saved £13,104 on cigarettes. You can read more specifically about my misadventures when quitting smoking here:
Not all bad habits are as obvious as smoking, though. Sometimes, we can be guilty of having a negative way of thinking in certain situations. Just because something happened negatively in the past, doesn’t mean that it will in the future. Rewiring your mind to be optimistic and positive can be done quite simply, eg through taking time at the end of each day to write a list of things that you are grateful for. Try it. It worked for me.
7) Take in some culture
Go to concerts, the theatre, dance shows. There’s something very energising about watching skilled performers doing their thing in the live arena. If money’s an issue, there’s loads of free stuff in London: go to museums, check out some street art, attend a free talk on the South Bank. Absorbing culture is food for your mind and is best enjoyed with a friend.
8) Spend time with little people
Children know the things adults have forgotten. They see the magic in things and everything is a new experience. I’ve recently become an uncle and am loving spending time with the little man. A work colleague recently brought her baby into work and it was incredible to see the transformation in the adults in the staff room.
9) Be part of something bigger than yourself
I’m lucky enough to work in the teaching profession. I work in and for a community that is complex, diverse and faced with a huge range of challenges. I’m fortunate, because when I get caught up in my own problems, I can apply myself to helping others with theirs. It helps me to have some perspective on my own situation.
So if you’re not lucky enough to work in one of the so-called caring professions, find a way to reach out and get involved in a cause that matters to you. Maybe you will raise money for a charity. Maybe you’ll volunteer time or skills. Helping others is helping yourself. A smile is the shortest distance between two people. Make someone smile on a regular basis.
As part of Run Dem Crew, I’m privileged to hear incredible stories of some of the individuals I run with. I’m constantly inspired by the people I run with, and the young people that I work with. It’s so important to have something that is more important to you than yourself.
10) Do more of what you enjoy
This is the bottom line and underpins everything. I’m not talking about YOLO here. I’m not advocating a life without responsibilities, or hedonism without any regard to the cost to others. But I’ve found this year that by focusing on the things that I like doing, and doing them as much as possible, I have a smile on my face so much more of the time. We have so many things that we feel we “should” do, and it’s easy for a day to become one long to-do list. If that sounds familiar, be good to yourself. Take the time to build in a little mini-holiday in your day when you get to do exactly what you really enjoy. You’ll return to the to-do list feeling fortified and refreshed, and those around you will probably enjoy your company more, too.