Monday, 14 November 2016

Rising to your challenges

THERE’S something very magical about Rivington Pike. On a good day you can stand beside it and it feels like you can see forever. On a bad day, the mist gives it an eerie ethereal feel. Up there, you get a real sense of the power of nature, good and fearsome.
The wind rises at the top at times threatening to blow you off your feet, the temperature drops and it feels like you’re in a very dark, foreboding place. Yet there is always – clear skies or misty gloom --an unmistakable majesty about it. It is where the earth touches the heavens. 
Challenging it to a one-on-one battle six times a day, five days on the trot, is always going to be a contest heavily stacked in its favour. It is not for the faint-hearted. But then, no challenge worth its salt is ever achieved with a faint heart.
The sense of achievement should you rise to the challenge and defeat this hell of a hill for even just one day let alone five consecutive days, is life-changing. Five-in-five runners conquer this mystical peak 30 times to achieve victory, to stand at the top of this great hill as a conqueror.
Welcome to the Hell of a Hill Marathon.
Twelve months ago, after I had completed one day of it, the thought came to me to go for all five. I have rarely believed between then and last week that I could do all five, certainly not at the first attempt, but the thinking behind it was simple. I would start on the Wednesday and see how far I got. I might not be able to do one this time round – I had no idea. I only wanted to do my best, whatever that turned out to be.
Not knowing what your best is, that’s what makes us set ourselves challenges. Then when we achieve them, or as in my case this year, go further than I ever imagined myself capable of going, we grow as people; we build our character..
That’s the magic of the Pike. It not only brings out the best in you – it shows you a best that you never thought could exist. 
I was privileged to share this challenge with - and run every day alongside - some of the most incredible runners I have ever met. People of various shapes and sizes, but all sharing two things – an iron will not to be defeated and a physical strength to withstand the pain the Pike can inflict when you challenge it again and again, day after day. Awesome athletes, yes. But awesome characters, too. Every one an inspiration.
This was my first attempt. I must get better if I’m to have another chance. All I can hope is that every time I attempt it, I manage a little more than last time. 
But that has always been the way. It is not just a lesson for gritty endurance runners.
In April 2013, at over 24 stone, I lasted no more than a minute walking on a treadmill on my first visit to the gym. I had no idea then what I could achieve, what would be my “best” that day. I had no dreams to climb a Pike. All I wanted on the next visit to the gym was to try to walk on the treadmill for two minutes. Then three, then four… 
Just as I had no idea what I would manage as I stood at the start line in Wilcocks Caravan Park in Rivington that cold Wednesday morning last week, so I had no idea when I stepped on the treadmill three and a half years ago whether I would be able to walk on it for a minute more than I'd done the day before.
We all have our own challenges and our own agendas. If we constantly strive to do the best we can, our best will continue to surprise us.
So my first attempt is broken down like this: Five days, started every day. Two marathons, two 18-mile runs and one 9.5-mile run. A total of 98 miles. 22 laps of the Pike. 18,300ft of climb.
All because I dreamed three and a half years ago that I’d be able to walk for more than a minute on the treadmill. And wasn’t prepared to let it stop at that.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Good days, bad days... and how to cope with both

Some days are good, some not so much. I guess that is pretty much the same for everyone to varying degrees. But when you lose someone to cancer, the two become more starkly contrasting. It seems almost disrespectful to have a good day when you’ve lost such an important person in your life so cruelly.
But good days and bad days have nothing to do with emptiness and loneliness. They have nothing to do with the actual loss. That gaping hole in your life that is left will always be there. It’s right that it should always be there. You learn to live with the emptiness, that’s your duty. But the emptiness will never go away, how could it? How could someone that important in your life go and it not make a difference to the rest of your life?
My life changed the moment Diane went. It will never be the same again, even if I wanted to fill that gap, I wouldn’t be able to.
There is no need to fill the gap. My life is poorer for not having Diane physically here to share the highs and lows of it with. But I must simply accept it. I must learn to live with this black hole of emptiness.
But don’t confuse emptiness with loneliness. The emptiness becomes a part of your daily life. It is just something that exists, like a sudden, unforeseen disability. You learn how to cope with it. Eventually it becomes part of that which identifies you as who you are.
Loneliness is quite different. Whether you’re lonely or not is entirely up to you. The future is the only thing in your control. Not the past, that’s gone and cannot be altered. Surround yourself with friends, spend as much time as you can with family, fill your life with people. People are the cure for loneliness and eventually, if you’re lucky, one of those people will emerge as the one you want to share all your life with, not just some of it. If you’re lucky. I hope I will be.
For now, I have more good days than bad. I can ask for no more.
Even during the darkest times of Diane’s illness there were good days.
The day we got Bonny, the little King Charles Cavalier Diane had always wanted and who became her constant companion through it all. That was one.
The day we thought we’d beaten the terrible disease. That was a very good day.
The day I realised we hadn’t beaten it was one of the worst. One of many very bad days.
When you start having good days, there is a sense of guilt, a worry that you’re starting to forget her, to cope without her. Then you realise those are two very different things.
I will never forget her. The effect she had on my life, the joy she brought, the happiness she gave me just by being there. I’ll never forget any of that. But coping without her? That’s different. You learn to cope with the hole in your life that she left. But that hole never gets any smaller.
Now, nearly four years on, I realise I will always have that emptiness but It is possible to have fun, to enjoy life and to feel positive about the future while still having this emptiness in your life. And I will not feel guilty about having days when I feel like a million dollars. I know there’ll be days when I feel the exact opposite so I’ll take the good stuff whenever I can.
The emptiness reminds me what I lost and it is why I will never forget the woman who was so much a part of my life.
I’ve been reminded of all this by a magazine article out today, Thursday October 13 in all good, right-thinking supermarkets. Love It! magazine are dedicating this issue to the fight against breast cancer and a portion of the cover price will go to Breast Cancer Care, the charity closest to my heart.
The work they do to raise awareness of the disease and to help the 50,000 women and men newly diagnosed with it each year is incredible. We must never stop supporting them. I will never stop, thanks to Diane.