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We hear a lot about broken society, we hear a lot about obesity, a fattening culture, a lazy culture, we hear about a disenchanted youth and a disinterested electorate and then I saw a tweet from @jedirider asking how many ultra runners have been called mental for the kind of distances we run. And this got me thinking – who is the more mental, the one who pushes themselves or the one who asks why you would push yourself?

So I’m asking myself ‘am I mental’ or is there something else that is going on? I wonder why this seemed to grate on my nerves and and the answer was to do with my opinion that as a society not enough of us push the boundaries of our limits.

Let me start by telling you about my grandmother. My granny is 85 years of age, she’s from a generation that survived, from a generation that ‘got on with things’. She comes from a time and place where traditional stereotypes are still okay and whenever I speak to her and tell her I’ve just completed a race she tells me ‘you run too much’. This is a woman that has never done a days exercise in her life, she would say she’s been active – she isn’t. She’s from a time that thinks that cleaning the crockery counts as calorie burning. She finds exercise for pleasure abhorrent and rather than congratulate me, her grandson, on successes she berates me. She’s the kind of person that thinks because I didn’t become a doctor I wasted my life – she doesn’t consider that my work as a designer has in some projects helped save lives, communicated important messages or simply played pivotal roles in ensuring success. I pushed myself to become a designer, I forced my way through university at a time when it was not the norm in my family. I struggled to get to the place I needed to be in order to achieve – but I did do it. And despite my grandmothers assertions that I draw pictures for living I’ve actually been a reasonably successful, occasionally well profiled designer but she doesn’t see the value – I’m not a doctor or a lawyer.

She thinks I’m mental, bordering on a failure.

My answer to her suggestion is that what is ‘mental’ is on a Friday or Saturday night I could go out and drink myself so stupid that I’d think Hollyoaks was worth watching and then spend the rest of the weekend recovering from my own inability to handle my beer. Not only is it an incredibly time consuming and expensive past time but it also runs counter to my desires to be a better runner. So does the not drinking in favour of running make me mental? I don’t think so, in fact I think it makes me more sensible. The point though is lost on her and I can understand why, it just wasn’t her thing, but aspiring to better things shouldn’t be a concept beyond anyone – regardless of age or whatever the excuse. And to my career choices my answer has been that I’ve worked and profited for my entire career – even during some of the slumps I’ve always managed to work my way through it. She was wrong about and I find that culturally there is too much of this negative attitude. I should point out I do actually love my granny!

And so to our broken society and why runners aren’t mental.

I grew up reading Batman and Superman comics, I grew up dreaming that I could be a hero, make a difference, challenge perception, lead by example. I grew up knowing that I should reach as high as it was possible to imagine and then imagine further. So when I finished my first marathon I knew I could go further, longer and harder. I knew that I could imagine further and that instinct to achieve, to push myself, to see barriers and say ‘fuck you’ was very much intact.

So when someone says you’re mental that shouldn’t hurt because you can be smug in the knowledge that you are simply fulfilling your promise, striving to go beyond and never give up. You’ll fail sometimes but I’d rather fail than never try.

Maybe our society is broken because we don’t chase dreams as vigorously as we perhaps once did, or perhaps more accurately, not enough of us do. Perhaps it’s also that our dreams have been softened to account for a celebrity and technology based culture where we need instant gratification.

Rather ironically on the subject of instant gratification I look through my twitter feed and there I see so many ‘insane’ people. I see people who have started virtual running challenges because they couldn’t find a race in January, I see people who’ve started micro bakeries to make beautiful crumbles, I see people who challenge the MdS and come back conquerors, I see asthmatics challenging marathons, I see people running 10 marathons in 10 days or 26 marathons in a year, I see people battle back from injuries to startle themselves. These are the types of people who should be making up the future and in these people and those like them I am confident that the world will always dream, we will always dream of going further and I don’t just mean running, I mean in all aspects of society. I don’t just push myself in running but in all aspects of life and maybe I am an extremist but I’m an extremist with a streak of common sense, ain’t that a contradiction.

I once heard Stephen Fry say that he treasures curiosity, the need to be curious. What are we without that drive to find, discover, uncover, eek out. How very true Stephen and it’s something I’ve always promoted – curiosity. So, in ultra running I am curious about how far I can go, how far my body will take me and what would I do to earn that medal. With UltraBaby arriving later this year I am keen that this sense of curiosity, wonder and imagination are at the cornerstone of their childhood, I would hate for them to settle for a life less ordinary and if I achieve nothing else as a parent, runner and dreamer if I can ensure they are curious then I’ll be happy.

As a side note to all my ranting… I’m very conscious that we all have pressures that surround us, for some people it’s financial, for others family, work, health or whatever – but within each of our own individual bubbles shouldn’t we be looking to make the best of what we have and then make the push to do it better or more complete? Pushing yourself doesn’t mean you have to be doing big things, just trying is enough.

I wonder if a society en masse could learn a thing or three from people with a mental attitude, because bonkers or not – they’re awesome. Just a thought.

Let me start off by explaining that the fear of FAT is not some sort of joke, the fear of FAT is my fear that there are certain factors in life that might overtake running. Family, Age and Time are the three things that send a bit of a chill down my spine and already I can hear the counter arguments that family make you richer in terms of heritage, immortality, etc and with age comes wisdom and that we must simply make time for the things we want to achieve. I believe all the counter arguments to the things I fear, however, fear of these things I have.

At 36 I’ve just acquired my second puppy and it’s exhausting – my family has grown by one (I already have one big puppy) and in the near future I am aware that my partner and her already stated ‘ticking biological clock’ are likely to want to start a family with a slightly less canine tint and more of a baby tint. This is fine in the grand scheme of things but the question it raises as a runner is how will this affect me? I’m already witnessing lots of tweets talking about the lack of training because of no babysitter or no energy or… well the reasons are many and varied. My ultra running often means I’m away from the house for relatively long periods of time when I run, it’s not like taking a half hour jog around the block or the 20 minutes I need to whip around the Parkrun course. A child might take away from the running and my key dreams of running the UTMB, UTMF and MdS (maybe WS100). Don’t get me wrong, extending my family is a lovely idea and I’m keen to do it but those centurion belt buckles are important to me and if I don’t start earning them now then being a good ultra runner might just pass me by – all of which leads me seamlessly into my second fear …

Age.

36 I’m fully aware is not old but I’m a few months from 37, I try to look after myself but I’m older, weight doesn’t shift as quickly, I spend more time stretching and keeping myself on the road as I do spend time on the road. On a bad week when knee, back, ankle and hip pain is bad I can be found languishing in a pit of my own making from years of overtraining and not looking after myself. If I could go back and tell the young UltraBoy what a difference looking after himself might make to his chances of running longevity then I would take that opportunity in a heartbeat. I’d tell him that running will become the thing that means the most to him and that actually ally that other crap, or life as some people call it, will carry on regardless of whether he runs. However, age has also given me appreciation for what I do have, it does make me grateful for the ability I have and it makes me savour it. I was at the Folkestone Coastal 10k a last year and there was a man running his final competitive race, he was 80 years old – I want to still be doing that, the only difference is that I don’t want to walk it, I would want to run it. So I guess I’m mindful of age because time can pass us by and I’m doubly conscious that my ability to even contemplate 100 mile ultra marathons is not infinite.

And so to time … ‘Time is a predator that stalks us all captain’ Star Trek Generations.

I’ve been working exceptionally long hours the last 6 months or so (well the last 15 years actually), coupled with the strain of being in a job I don’t like, the hours of this job killed my training and my attempt to complete the TG100 – I went into that ultra more exhausted than I have been in a very long time. I’m sat on a train this morning exhausted and as writing this I’m thinking that my hour long journey to London Bridge would be better used by getting some sleep. The arrival of a new puppy is adding an interesting dynamic with some through the night howling and all in all I wonder how I’ve fitted running into my daily routine. We all have our crosses to bear, I am fully aware of this but I’m keen to understand how the hell people manage to fit in running for ultra training. I already get up just after 5am, I never get home much before 8pm – I do tend to RunCommute where possible, I often need to start work again soon after arriving home and rarely get to bed before midnight or 1am and tend to be a crappy sleeper anyway. I have the upmost respect for the people who run before work, I see them tweeting and think ‘wow’ and the RunCommuters who push out 10 miles before most normal people are awake. RUNchers, mothers, fathers, Parkrunners, racers, jobbers, walkers, running clubbers you guys amaze me.

Solutions?
Ah, you didn’t think I’d write all this negative stuff and not have some solutions did you? Hmmm

1. New job, closer to home
This means that I’d have more time for a family, see more of the family I have, perhaps even have time to join a running club. My current daily commuting time (without running) is over 4hrs, often closer to 5hrs and those 5hrs could be better used.

2. Less hours
Over the summer I was working every possible second, laptops on the train, emails as I walked, at one point I didn’t sleep at all for 5 days in order that work was completed on time and to the correct standard.

3. Less rigid training
Go with the flow, find the time around things, look for opportunities and don’t let opportunity wait to find me

4. Eat better
Slow down the signs of ageing with an improved diet

5. Listen to advice
My partner, my physio, my body, etc. I can be stubborn and a bit of a fuckwit by listening to the advice of the people who care, or who know I might well benefit from some excellent pearls of wisdom.

6. Don’t give up
Nothing is impossible and everything can be reached by finding small compromises, especially for a fun runner like me. By remembering I do this because I love it I can break the shackles of my slightly creaky and worn body, I can find the time and I can have a family who appreciate me.

7. CaniX and a baby buggy with bloody big wheels
Take the family with you.

So there we go, I might fear FAT but FAT can be faced and with a reasonably sensible plan the future doesn’t have to mean the end of my running career just as it’s about to get into full swing.

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