Friday, 16 November 2012

Your walk talks louder than your talk talks. However…………

This post has been two or three months in the making with the previous two as deliberate prequels. It is hoped that these three posts together can be pigeon holed into my first two pillars of ultimate performance i.e. motivation and mental strength; only time will tell.

Originally it started as another proclamation – something along the lines of “at next years Highland Fling, I’m going to go under 9 hours”. What do I mean by another proclamation?

Well, most of my life I’ve had an urge to prove people wrong and then do everything I can to get my next win - including being vocal about how I intend to do it. Anyone who’s ever worked with me will vouch for what I mean but here are a few examples to illustrate my point;
·         Getting Highers at school when my start looked so bleak – I said I’d do it and I did, I even predicted what I was going to get and was right.
·         Leaving home (and university) to join the Army at the expense of an already frayed relationship with my father. I always said that I was going to be a soldier one day and no amount of dictatorial vigour prevented me.
·         I did a hell of a lot of walking and talking when I was in the Army and was both loved and hated for it - in equal measure. There are too many things to mention which is the fantastic thing about the forces – it gives you so many opportunities/challenges. They’re there for the taking, if that’s what floats your boat.
·         Leaving the Army. I was flying and all those close to me said I was mad to leave when I had it all going for me but I told them they were wrong because I WAS going to be a success on the outside. Materially - that might seem like it’s yet to happen but inside, where it matters, I’m the biggest winner.
·         My Bob Graham Round - in spite of my naivety.
·         Last years WHW.
·         But most of all – still being here….

Its not all been ‘i’m fricken awesome’ though - when I was in the Army I talked a fair bit about going on the All Arms Commando Course (to get a green beret) and that never happened!

Yes it would be great if we all shared the principles found within that short film. But alas, life is full of characters; some simply exist, some do a lot, others talk the talk but few walk their talk. And a short time ago I pressed the self destruct button………………
Those who are used to reading this blog will know that I’ve been spending a large portion of my recent spare time studying towards a distance learning honours degree in Building Surveying. Well, within the last two years, a couple of blokes that I work with recently completed theirs too; Bill got a 2:1 (day release) and Ben - a first (distance learning).
Before I go on I must describe to anyone who doesn’t have the foggiest what the difference is between distance learning and day release – night and day. For example, I’ve got a mate who sat the same course as me at the College of Estate Management (distance learning) and failed his 1st year – twice! His employer then relented and sent him to Glasgow Caledionian Uni’ on day release – and 4 yrs later he got a first.
Now, until Ben achieved his first he was massively overlooked by our colleagues and management. I don’t really know why to be honest, perhaps because he is English he seen himself as an outsider but that would only have been in his head if that was the case. He was certainly perceived as having difficulties expressing himself in a positive manner. Consequently, I often found myself telling people that they were wrong about him.  
Why? Well in my eyes, Ben had been written off for too long; he was wounded. This hons degree was his chance to prove he wasn’t a victim anymore. He began to take responsibility for changing his own life through the qualification; he knew that anything except a first would’ve simply reinforced his position as a nobody. He left no stone unturned in his quest. And it paid off – he was the only student in his year to be awarded a first!
So just as I was entering the final year of studies (12 months ago) someone at work (the G-Man) reminded me that I would have to get a first because “Ben managed it”. Hang on (I thought), this guy had more reason to do it than me – was more motivated. And besides, he didn’t have any kids and he certainly didn’t train, even a fraction of what I did.
In fact, Ben lived in the office and burnt the midnight oil practically every night for his entire final year. Privately I thought, “You can’t compare us that would be totally unfair”. But of course that’s the nature of folk; we make up ours minds with what we can see and are entirely ignorant of the things going on behind the scenes.
I had hated every minute of my studies so it should come as no surprise that I wasn’t exactly ‘top of the class’. In fact, every day I wanted to give up. But my fallback is always what is in my gut – that the right thing to do is often the hardest!
So instinctively, I knew that G-Man was right. For me anything other than a first would just have been a waste of the last 8 years – since leaving the Army. And so, I agreed with him and went a step further by announcing that a first was already in the bag!
I got a 2:1.
I failed (to get a first). I’m now no longer walking my talk and could even be called delusional! I say that taking nothing away from the 2:1 though because the truth is I couldn’t have worked any harder. In fact, until I opened that email I was still convinced I had got a first.
The thing is a lot has happened during the last 8yrs. I could go on and it might seem like I’m making excuses but in short LIFE has sidetracked me so thank goodness for the joy my wife and kids have brought me.
You see failure can have some positives. I’m oddly rather relieved for one. I now feel as though I’ve had a burden removed – one which drives me to prove myself. To who? Well that is the million dollar question because no-one would’ve batted an eyelid had I got a first. In fact, I dare say, I’d have been as satisfied with that as I am with what I’ve got now!
This has ramifications for my running too. In fact, I had this stuff pre-prepared on the assumption that I was going to get a first. The story was going to be about how I got a first but it came at a cost - the pressure I put on myself. Well the pressure was still there regardless of the final outcome - and I’ve still learnt from it.
What the hell am I talking about? Here’s what I mean;
From my teens through to my late 20’s I was very outgoing, socialised a lot and was everybody’s friend. Looking back now, I’m always amazed at the confidence I had. I’m not making this up. I’ve had people who knew me back then tell me that I’m a completely different person now – couldn’t be more different in fact! I was once known as a joker; the life of the party, very popular with girls, in with lads of all age groups (which is important when you’re a young lad) and sometimes the leader of a certain pack. People used to want to pass the time of day with me. When I was young, Dumfries for me was like a permanent episode of ‘Cheers’
However, in the here and now I can’t remember what it’s like to socialise, in fact I get nervous if I go out – even if it’s for a family meal!  I’m anxious in social groups of people unless there is a task to undertake. So much so you’d be lucky to see me out with a beer in my hand twice a year, tops; I now understand why some people need a drink or two before they can settle into a group on a night out!  
I’m very different from the young man I used to be. I don’t know if this is just what happens when you grow up? I mean, I thought I’d had a fair bit of being humbled already (compared to others my age). I honestly think, I’ve put too much pressure on myself – and taken on too much – some of which was completely unavoidable.
But gobbing off about getting a first was entirely my own doing - as would’ve been me saying that I’m going to run a sub 9hrs at the fling next year.
Perhaps the last few years has taught me that there’s maybe a different goal worth aiming for and I have a number of people to thank for helping me realise this; namely, Allie Wilson and of course, Rob Kennedy – though for entirely different reasons – one directly and one indirectly. They’ll both know what I mean.
Although time is a good indication of what level you’re at, perhaps focussing too much on it can have a negative impact. Maybe the real victory is quite simply – satisfaction, regardless of what time you get.
Maybe I should just try to focus on training as best I can up to the day and then let the rest take care of itself. I mean it would be tragic for me to go under 9 hours and come away unhappy with the way the day went.
Put another way, if I train properly and avoid injury and illness then whatever happens will be a direct result of what I’ve put in. There’s no point in stressing about something that can be altered by so many variables. Just train and do. The maths will take care of the rest. If I train as well as I’ve ever trained and run the fling in 10 or 11hrs then that will be what I’m capable of. It’s as simple as that.
Although I’ve loved walking my talk in the past; I think the time has come to be a bit more humble. I hope that I may be turning a corner - in 2013 – for the better. And having more or less dealt with my ‘issues’ (for now) it is my intention to put an end to these stories and follow with some specifics. So here are some quick thoughts for future posts;
·         Food; the basics
·         My new training regime – it’s nearly the same as what I was doing but with one major difference.
·         Consistency should be everyone’s top priority.
·         Glycogen.
·         Injury prevention and maintenance.
·         My long run nutrition strategy.
·         Strengthening your mindset.
·         Tapering nutrition strategy.
·         The super carb!
·         Should you train with a cold?
·         Running economy training.
To be continued……………

Thursday, 1 November 2012

The problem with words

It’s been a while since I last posted or at least it feels that way because I’ve had 3 or 4 themes floating around in my head that I’ve been too busy to do anything about. Sound familiar? The reality of juggling life, right?

Anyway, there is a valid and positive intention to this post (I hope).

I had a few days off work recently and during the rare moments of spare time I had a wee look through some of my previous blog posts. Something unsettling occurred; just who on earth did I think I was?

It’s a question I’ve been openly asked quite often (not so the last 10yrs or so – more when I was in my late teens and early 20’s) and now the penny has dropped. I now understand why some people would’ve asked it and now appreciate how I may be perceived at times……..PRETENTIOUS and PATRONISING.

In other words, claiming superiority with great importance in what I have to say and being boastful, obnoxious and vain. Hindsight really can be a wonderful thing, especially as it now affords me the opportunity to put a few things right.

First and foremost; an apology. There are few things more annoying that some twat speaking at you, talking down to you and telling you what to do. I’m not apologising for what I’ve written and I’ll come to that in a bit, I’m apologising if I’ve made anyone feel as though they were reading the words of said condescending knob. For me life is precious, it’s about leaving your mark. So if I’ve done that in a bad way through my blog, a way that gets under someone’s skin then I find that regrettable because it has never been my intention and nor would it ever be.

It might not seem like the best thing to say to prove my point but…. I do believe that what I have to say is important. Otherwise I wouldn’t write it. What I write is simply my opinion. It is what I have learnt through reading and experience. None of it is fabrication or a colourful misrepresentation of the truth.

Stuart Mills alluded to this very thing recently (his opinion) when he posted in relation to a comment made by one of his readers i.e. me. And another recent post by a well known blogger reinforced my belief that it was time for me to clear the air.

The long and short of it is summarised by me stating this; what I write is what I wish someone would’ve told me 4 years ago. It’s as simple as that.

I’ve always felt that if I can commit to something and give it my all then I’ll do myself justice – I’ll come back to this. It isn’t just about running but is applicable to everything in life and it comes back to the ability to juggle things; keeping all the plates spinning.

Anyone who cares about being as good a parent as they can be will instantly get that – and if that statement makes you wonder ‘just who on earth does he think he is’ (again) – then alls I can say is that I know that there are too many people out there that don’t really care about being a parent as much as they should.

I’m afraid I never skirt around the truth and I have a habit of telling bullshitters exactly what I think of them. It’s just the way I am, I suppose I may be perceived as having a problem with fake people – I don’t see it that way though.

The way I see it, is that the vast majority of people who do ultras and who may even read this blog do not fit into that category. So whenever it might appear as though I’m going off on one again, it isn’t directed at you. It’s more me dealing with my issues; ‘externalising my anxieties’ as Richard (the Beruit Taxi) might say.

Ask yourself if you’ve ever met someone in your own life and been instantly taken in by them i.e. impressed – so much so that you strike up a bond with them, one you hope will last a long time. The positive side to this is that these individuals make you sit up straight and take account of your own life. They inspire you to do better. These individuals are precious and within the ultra running community there is countless numbers of them.

The problem comes when someone is exposed (think Lance Armstrong) or when it strikes you one day that all that stuff that didn’t quite add up was for a reason – the person in question was/is a bullshitter. All of what you were striving for (in association) becomes meaningless, you start to question who you are and begin to consider if your morals are sound. You see, as far as I’m concerned this goes way beyond the likes of Lance and has far more to do with the ever expanding fake society in which we live. Image is so important that some people can’t help themselves.

I follow that we are all equal; we come into life with our skin, bones and organs and will die with same. The only real difference is the mark we leave on others. Whether it is felt by a few or the masses - it is our legacy/lifetime actions that should define us.

I’ve always felt this way and had an urge to seize the day - without looking down on others. In my view, it shouldn’t matter where people come from, what housing estate they live in, what school they went too, who their parents are, how much money they don’t have, who they know and are friends with, their age, their lack of qualifications, their previous minor discretions, how they dress, how they speak etc – regardless, we are all capable of great things.

And by the very same token I don’t look up to anyone, and never have. Sure, there are a slack handful of people that I admire and respect but never once have I ever looked at someone and thought them wholly better than me simply because of their widely perceived standing. For example, I do not think of the Queen in any particular shining light nor of any politician, millionaire or person who might have a thousand friends on facebook.

The fact is, no matter how much money you’ve got or how privileged you are (or think you are) you are still as accountable as the next. As far as I’m concerned, although we are all unique, we are concurrently and paradoxically - the same, until we prove otherwise - by our actions, not our possessions. Your morals say far more about you than the style of your hair, the car you drive or what your occupation is.

So coming back to committing to something and doing myself justice; my actions are to do as best as I can at everything I take part in. I know that very statement will wind people up the wrong way – but look, that’s just the way I’m made. I can’t help it.

This is why I’m banging on about ‘The Four Pillars of Ultimate Performance’. It’s my hope and intention that this can be designed and subsequently used as a blueprint for any novice or aspiring ultra runner. Or again, if it makes anyone feel any better, it’s what I wish someone had told me 4yrs ago; it’s only my opinion.

I can understand if some people look at my blog and wonder who the hell do I think I am. After all, I’ve done nothing in this game and won zilch. However, I think that stance says a lot more about those people than it does me.

I guarantee that 2013 will be a very different year in terms of my ultra running performances and it’s all going to be due to the knowledge I have amassed over the last 4years; something I am willing to share. How many of those people would want to do that?

What I can say is that I am very unlikely to offer some magic advice or add to the vast array of literature that already exists. It’s just me and my thoughts supplemented with what others say on certain areas. I have a good idea of what to write next and how the four pillars will take shape and I could be right or may be wrong. What I will do though is put the stuff I know and have learnt down in layman’s terms and make it as brief as possible.

Now think back to that scene in Dead Poets Society.

For those who can’t remember or who have never seen the film; the teacher (Robin Williams) makes a name for himself by inspiring his students to think for themselves – among the young people their parents and his peers. There is a tragedy late on in the film that spurs the parents and some of the teachers to apportion blame to the teacher. The Head Teacher ensues to bully some of the students into taking sides, his side, in a bid to get rid (of the teacher).

Being so young and impressionable and given the strict culture of the era it is easy to understand why the boys all folded to the pressure. However, at the end of the story they each individually manage to muster the courage to make a stand in support of their hero.

What do you notice?

For me, courage aside (i.e. it is a given for me – and wish it was for everyone despite what they claim) I noticed that there were a lot of boys still sitting and with their back to their previous teacher. This for me is the problem with words. Sometimes they mean everything; some people get it and some don’t. Such is life.