I also wrote another piece about the importance of support if you want to achieve anything.
This week I'm grateful that I take my own advice.
I've won a few competitions (not races) since I started running. I was invited to Germany to run in the Strongman Run in 2012, I won a place in the Virgin London Marathon this year and a month ago I got an email from Red Bull to say I'd won a place in the Red Bull Steeplechase. The format for this race is quite unique.
Four stages of the race, varying from 8-3 miles in length are run over the Peak District, totalling 21 miles and over 4200 feet of climb. But the catch is that at the end of each stage, the slowest 30% of runners are excluded, meaning that only 40 people ever see the finish line. But those that are knocked out earlier in the race are by no means failures, they are rewarded with medals, hooded tops, a goody bag and a free lunch and bar!
The successful few that make it to the end of stage 4 have the ultimate honour, but as I reflect on the race and my effort I feel nothing but pride at what was achieved by everyone.
My support crew on this race, described by last years entrants as the best and hardest thing they'd run, was my wife Kelly, who supports my adventures totally, but due to childcare rarely gets to enjoy(?) these things with me.
The course starts on a steep hill and goes immediately up the side of Mam Tor, the view from the ground was described to me by Kelly as like watching 500 multi-coloured ants climbing a mountain.
The top revealed miles of rolling hills and peaks and after a run along a broken trail for a good mile and a half it descends into grassy slopes and exposed rock trails. I opted not to take a camera or phone and I'm glad as I'd have probably lost it, but the scenery was stunning and at times breathtaking. Steppingstones across secluded rivers, running through sun dappled woodland and then trails alongside a huge reservoir, picturesque doesn't even cover it.
Stage 1 totalled 8 miles, with 580 metres of climb, and initially I thought I'd made a mistake even turning up. But I didn't rush on the big climbs at the start and I found the run at the top comfortable and for the first time in ages, fun. The exposed rock became my targets for small jumps and the steep descends, with long wet grass became my slides as I first fell, then slid along them. Overtaking runners using a lot of energy to slow down, I opted for gravity to do the work and cruised the downhills. After 8 miles I felt spent and immensely proud that I was well inside the cut off and allowed onto stage 2. But as hard as I'd run and raced, it wasn't my position or pace that I was really happy with.
I'll break at this point to explain. I have an annoying habit of turning everything into work. I over analyse every aspect of my life. I tend to focus too much on planning to ever enjoy most things and I have trouble letting go of that. But after my DNF at Stour Valley 100 last month, I actively tried to move on from that. I also took advice from a great Twitter friend Laura (@thelozzatron) and her post on the importance of having fun. Essentially, spend too much time on a plan and in your head, and you miss the brilliant things going on around you.
So it was at this point that I set off on stage 2 with a massive smile on my face. The world no longer looked like a gym, it looked like a play ground. It wasn't a treadmill, it was a rollercoaster. It was a place to run fast in, to fall, roll and get back up in. A place to enjoy and explore. The four miles of stage 2, ascended 310 metres of climb, the majority on Win Hill. I was running on a heady mixture of adrenaline, endorphins and Red Bull. And I was overtaking people, I was running hard and trying to gain every place I could.
I can't remember the last time I was so energised, not just to run, but to RACE!
At the start of the descend was a checkpoint which showed that I had a mile to go and the guys on the post told me I had 20 places to make up to make the cut off. Looking down the hill, all jagged rock at ankle twisting angles and single track trails leading to lower grass banks I turned to the guys and said "that's too tempting not to try".
Now a third person view would probably show me as a grinning idiot, all flailing arms, little balance and moving slowly down the hills. But in my mind, I was a gazelle, leaping from launch point to launch point, legs like springs, arms there to counter-balance, using body weight to shift and land lightly before instinctively launching to the next. I overtook people into the cut off, knowing I wouldn't make it through, but knowing I'd given it everything.
When I stopped I was exhausted, had more than a few grazes and was thirsty as hell. But I was happy, genuinely, huge-smile, talking to strangers, climbing up the walls happy.
A coach collected us and took us the finish line where I met with another Twitter legend Martin, whose race report from last years Steeplechase first inspired me to run this event. After a beer and bite to eat I hit the road, for the long journey home.
I walked away with a medal, a nice top, a cool towel with the map of the race on it and the start of a mild Red Bull addiction.
But more importantly I let go of a lot of stress on those hills. I realised how much I'd lost sight of the fun you can have when you're training. It doesn't make you a better or worse athlete, but it makes it a lot more enjoyable.
I've purposely avoided times and splits in this post. It's not even a race report, I only got halfway through the race and spent a significant amount of my time with either my arse on the grass or both feet in the air.
This is a reminder to myself and meant to motivate others on the importance of enjoying what you do and doing what you enjoy. Next few races for me will be prepared for and approached differently. Goal number 1 will be to have fun!
Few people to thank at the end of this post. Laura I've already mentioned, whose energy and persistence is very motivational, who learns lessons the hard way, becomes better for them and is kind enough to share that journey. Martin, a man to run mountains with. Partly because of his pace, largely because of his socks, but mostly because of his enthusiasm which is contagious, Sharon, for reminding me that all of this exercise is supposed to be fun, not a chore and of course Kelly for the non-stop support, hug at the finish, carrying my bags when I couldn't and telling me where the free bar is.
Red Bull, who despite being a HUGE company with apparently infinite resources still put on intimate little events like this and of course Ink'n'burn whose quality gear kept me looking good (got a few compliments on the course) and stood up to all I could throw at it.
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