The past few weeks have been hard- very, very hard. And as time slips through my fingers, I begin to realise the upcoming 4.5weeks are going to be worse still. The endless ‘to-do’ lists have been continually circling my mind even at night, causing me to toss and turn until I awake myself by suddenly shooting up in bed and muttering the likes of, “boxes for bikes!” in a delirious state of confusion. Anytime I succeed in crossing one item off the list, several more sprout like weeds to take its place. Exhaustion and frustration are being chased by fear and apprehension until I seriously begin to question our sanity in making this decision. We’re packing up our entire lives to chase a dream and pulling our toddler along with us- why?! What are we doing??
The lack of organisation and certainty are perhaps the worst. Anyone who knows me will know from experience that I am a self-confessed ‘planning’ freak. I love my ‘to-do’ lists. I love knowing what I’m doing and when, planning things to the very intricate details, having endless charts and tables and drawings to record every aspect of whatever current venture I might be undertaking. Alas, I rarely succeed in following most of these ventures through to their fruitation- and have learnt that things very, VERY rarely go according to plan. But nonetheless, it gives me a sense of control. However, as we continue to ‘plan’ our trip, many aspects are still up in the air, unorganised… or simply being left to chance. The lack of control, to me, is almost frightening- and certainly unnerving. In fact, if I stop to think about it for too long, I begin to recognise the early signs of sheer panic. We don’t have return flights; we don’t know our route; we don’t even know how long we’re actually going for. When I stop and think about it, I want to run away, cower, and hide.
Or at least, I did.
Alongside the training and planning for our trip, I have continued to pursue my ‘first love’ in terms of running. Actually, I’ve only really been running for just under a year and despite being a member of the local running club, Deestriders, I’m still pretty much a complete novice. But I have grown to love and depend on running as a much-needed means of escapism, as well as the key to keeping myself fit and re-building a sense of ‘self’ after feeling I had lost my sense of identity to motherhood following the arrival of Theo. I was terrible when I began; able to run perhaps 20 yards until I felt close to collapse and wanted to crawl back home to the sofa and a large bag of Minstrels in front of the TV. Slowly, however, I kept dragging myself out of the front door, pushing myself to keep going, building up my mileage. I begun to appreciate running not just as a means for losing baby weight, but as a valuable tool for lifting my mental state also. I felt a buzz after every run; enjoyed being outside, listening to my music and knowing I was doing something for me. I started to enter races- cautiously, never particularly excelling, but surprising myself nonetheless. The support of the running club and sessions at the track pushed me further than I ever believed I could go, and I started to realise I could strive for goals I had always previously felt were far out of my reach. And as such, one of the challenges I was determined to rise to (and overcome!) prior to our trip was the half marathon- 13.1 miles.
I entered the Liverpool Half Marathon and in true Becki-style, I planned. I planned merticulously; created a training plan, a dietry plan, structuring my running in order to achieve my goal. And also in true Becki-style, I failed to comply with my own plans. Life, quite simply, got in the way. It wasn’t feasible to train as often as I wanted with the tour planning and training occuring alongside; and illness, family obligations and various commitments tripped me up continuously. I continued running, but not to the standard I hoped and knew I was capable of reaching. I began to despair and feel the continual ‘You SHOULD be doing X, Y or Z’ hammering away at the back of my mind. The trial seemed too great; I doubted myself and my ability to overcome it. I didn’t feel fit enough, prepared enough.
However, amongst my many shortcomings, I am also stubborn. And having announced I was entering to all and anyone, I was determined not to lose face. By hook or by crook, I would run that race. I began to downgrade my original goal, reaching a degree of compromise, as I told myself I would walk parts if necessary, take it very slow, and if I could only cross the finish line in some shape or form, I would consider it a success. I knew I couldn’t possibly run the full 13 miles- but I could run a good bulk of it, and the silver lining was that as it was my debut half, I was guaranteed a personal best. It would give me something to aim to beat next time around.
Already half defeated by these compromises before I even began, on Sunday 27th March, I made my way with two guys from the running club to Liverpool. But on that day, something happened to change my entire perception of trials and how we approach them- and succeed, overcome and excel in them.
Support. I hadn’t appreciated just how tremendous a difference having proper support and encouragement could make to your mental state and, in turn, your physical capacity. And at this point I have to offer my biggest, heartfelt thanks to Phil and Nick, fellow Deestriders who accompanied me to the race and gave me some much-needed pep talks ahead of the race. Their belief and faith in my ability to do the race- and do it well!- made me start to believe in it myself. They gave me confidence and adjusted my entire attitude towards the race. And as I ran, I echoed their words in my own mind and kept reassuring myself over and over- “you can do this. You CAN. Just a little further.” I recognised and celebrated my own small achievements along the way- “7miles and you haven’t stopped, you would normally have stopped to catch your breath by now, you’re doing amazingly well. Keep going.” To my immense surprise, I found the race wasn’t as tough as I had expected. My own encouragement was pushing me through my old doubts and fears- I was actually enjoying it.
At 11 miles, I realised I had run the furthest I had ever run in one go. And I was still going.
I took out my headphones and listened instead to the cheers of the Liverpool crowd who had turned up in masses to support the event. Strangers, who didn’t even know the runners passing them by, but continued to shout encouragement nonetheless. As runners begun to flag and hit the wall in the last few miles, I noticed fellow runners giving encouraging pats on the back and comforting words to those who had stopped to walk. People who had never even met previously were grabbing the hands of those who were struggling and slowing themselves down to run alongside those who felt close to giving up. The atmosphere was incredible- and I felt spurred on as a result.
When the finish line came into sight, I felt more like flying than running. My whole body was screaming at me in protest; my legs and feet barely continuing to function and I was exhausted. I was ready to collapse, and definitely ready to admit defeat and walk across the line, rather than run. And then I spotted Nick and Phil stood ahead of the finish line, shouting their encouragement. Their words were all I needed to give me that final push- and I flew over that line in the incredible time of 1hr56mins, 20mins less than I had anticipated. I was completely elated- stunned, overwhelmed, exhausted and proud. I had done it- I had run the entire way without stopping and far exceeded my original goal- I had pushed myself, and I had excelled. I had run my first ever half marathon.
That sense of achievement was the most incredible buzz- and I’m still buzzing from it now, 2 days later!- and re-instated some valuable confidence in myself and my own abilities. It proved to me just how great an impact mental state can have upon your ability to achieve things- how important the correct attitude is, rather than the amount of lists and plans you’ve completed. There truly is foundation for that cliched saying, ‘mind over matter’.
But perhaps most importantly of all, I truly appreciated the importance of support and encouragement in order to achieve tough and seemingly far-off goals. Even as I stood at the start line, I had friends on facebook sending me their good wishes and luck for the run ahead, boosting my confidence. And when I finished, simple, proud messages made me feel as though I had really achieved something. And as they do at the Oscars…thank you to all of those who offered their love and support- to my Mum, my Nana, to my best friends, Carl and Heather, to all the BW ladies who sent me their messages… to Matt and my gorgeous son Theo, who strived to be at the finish line (although sadly just missed me!) but were there to share my elation… and most importantly, to Nick and Phil. Words are so simple and easy to give- but they can make a tremendous difference.
We are incredibly fortunate to have an impressive support network behind us for our journey- from our families and our friends, to the amazing families we’ve connected with through Facebook, Twitter and the web. At times it’s heartbreaking to realise what we’re leaving behind, even just temporarily- and I have found myself seriously wondering how we’ll cope without that continual support once we’re out there, alone. Except of course, we’re never truly alone. And whilst we may be physically separated from our families and friends, I know that the wonder that is the internet will ensure we continue to receive the support and encouragement we need, even when times seem hopeless and we feel ready to pack it all in.
Theo in particular will I’m sure feel the separation from his family and the familiar key figures in his life, and we remain conscious of the need to strive to maintain his relationships with those we’re leaving behind. Although 5-6 months seems a relatively short time, for Theo, it may as well be a lifetime. Regular Skype calls- with video if we can- can help him stay connected; and we will try our hardest to continually show him photos and talk to him about his friends and family to ease the transition for him. Taking Theo away from those who love him, even just temporarily, will perhaps be the most heart-wrenching aspect of the trip… and so it means a great deal that our families continue to support us with our adventure, even when I know it must be incredibly hard for them to do so.
Learning from this experience and taking to heart the wise words of those who have sought to calm my need to control every aspect of the trip- and the words of one straight talking and comforting friend in particular! (you know who you are…!)- I am learning to adjust my mental approach the the trip preparations and indeed, the trip itself. We can’t control everything; we can’t plan for everything. But we will do it. And what’s more, we’ll be fine- better than fine. I have every faith in our capacity to excel in the challenge we have set for ourselves; to overcome all the obstacles that stand in our way before departure, to pull together the funds, to finalise our plans as much as they need and then put our trust in the fact that the rest will pan itself out in time. We’re about to undertake the adventure of a lifetime and I can’t be missing out on the experience because I’m so desperate to control it. So sometimes in life, you really do have to just take a deep breath and jump. So this is me. Jumping.
And I know I have the best safety net there is to catch me.