Looking back on a wonderful year: Remembering to see and appreciate the whole picture

I started 2018 with a dream. I wanted to stand on the summit of Mera Peak, in the stunning Himalayas in Nepal, 6,500m in the sky, looking out upon our beautiful world. I wanted to undertake this challenge to raise money for the important charity, Cancer Research. To help me prepare for this challenge, I planned to complete two marathons (the inspirational London marathon and the world record race in Berlin) and my first ultra marathon. In late October, I achieved this dream and felt incredibly privileged to look out, through my tears, at the wonder that is our world. I have tried to share my experiences and lessons learnt in The long trek to the summit of Mera Peak: lessons from an inspirational three weeks.

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My wonderful sister, who loves inspirational messages as much as I do, gave me a beautiful picture for Christmas which summed up how I felt about the year and about life in general. 

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When we look at our lives, or the lives of others, all that we often see is the end result and what we or they have achieved. In a world where technology allows us to share what is going on in our lives much more freely than used to be the case, we don’t always appreciate what is going on below the surface of people’s lives. We can focus on the picture on the summit or at the finishing line or news of the latest promotion or the happy family photo. These are true images and memories of a special event but they don’t tell the full story. They aren’t the whole picture. They don’t show the hard work, the persistence, the doubts or the failures that have led to that moment. They also don’t show the support networks and coping mechanisms that we all employ to allow us to be at our best. 

As I’ve reflected on this year, that has been particularly true. Yes, I feel very blessed to have had some wonderful moments crossing finishing lines and standing on the top of an awe-inspiring mountain. But what has led to those moments? What has my whole picture looked like?

My whole picture involved a lot of doubts and hard work which I overcame because I have been lucky enough to be surrounded by support and love. 

I have had a lot of moments during the year when I have doubted myself. I have doubted whether my relentless pursuit of my dream was fair to those around me. I know that the time and energy I have committed to following my dreams is at the expense of spending more time with my friends and family. The guilt I feel about this doesn’t diminish when I achieve what I have set out to and is something that always stays with me.

I have also doubted whether I could achieve all that I set out to do. I still feel like the young girl who moaned when her parents took her walking and got her lowest school grade in PE! The challenges that I set myself this year would have seemed ludicrous to that young girl (and on some days seemed so to the grown up version!) and she is still part of me, causing me to often doubt myself. 

The year has also involved a lot of hard work. The training that I have put in this year – five days a week and over 1,400 miles of running and walking – has felt relentless at times. Arriving home late at night and going to run in a cold garage on a treadmill for an hour before going to bed is, perhaps understandably, not something that I enjoy doing for its own sake!

The hard training was, however, my way of coping with the doubt I have over my abilities. I wanted to arrive in Nepal knowing that I had done everything possible, in the time I had available to me, to be physically and mentally prepared. There are many things that I couldn’t control in Nepal, in particular the weather conditions or how my body would respond to altitude, but I could control my fitness levels. 

Knowing that I was doing the training and trek to raise money for a charity close to my heart helped me immensely with the long runs, the extreme weather conditions (including the hottest London marathon on record, following a 20 mile training run in the snow!) and the hours and mileage I put in across the year. Whilst it was hard, I have thoroughly enjoyed (almost!) all of the training. 

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Another hard element has been the need to balance appreciating the event I am privileged to be part of with keeping my focus on the end goal. Everything I did in training in 2018 was geared toward getting me to the summit of Mera Peak. This meant that I had to not push myself excessively in any of the events leading up to the trek. This has been hard when those events have been very challenging in their own right! Particularly so in the wonderful Berlin marathon where I knew I needed to come back injury free, given that I was leaving for Nepal three weeks later.

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I’ve tried hard to enjoy and embrace each step of this journey whilst making sure that I had enough physical and emotional energy to get me to the summit and, importantly, back down safely. 

I am very lucky to be surrounded by support and love, which helps me cope with the doubts and helps me to remember to appreciate and enjoy each moment of the journey and not just the finish line or summit. 

I experience this support and love most strongly when I feel part of a team. This team can be people undertaking a challenge together, as I felt on the trek itself with the wonderful group of people I was privileged to share the amazing three weeks with. This team can also, however, be a virtual team. I have rarely run alongside anyone in an event, as most of my running friends are much quicker than I am, but by sharing the challenges and delights of the training, celebrating together and supporting each other through the tough moments make us into a team and make it so much easier for me. This has been particularly true this year, but in a much wider sense. 

The team that I have felt part of this year has been made up of so many kind and generous people. I have been overwhelmed by the support and love shown to me by so many throughout the training, the events and the trek itself – people being interested in what I am doing and asking about it, sharing their stories with me and sending me inspiring messages whilst I was in such a remote part of our stunning world. I truly can’t put in to words how much I have appreciated this but it certainly helped me to reach the summit and I know I couldn’t have achieved all that I did without it. I have felt incredibly blessed.

So, I finish 2018 with wonderful memories of overcoming the hard work and doubts to achieve what I had dreamt of. I have only been able to do this with the support and love of my family and friends, for which I am immensely grateful. Whilst I have achieved things that I am very proud of, I have, more importantly, had some wonderful moments with my husband, family and friends, simply enjoying special time together.  

As I look ahead to 2019, I have been keen to decide on my next challenge as I find that all parts of my life are happiest when I have a challenge to focus on, alongside my wonderful family and a career that I love. Many people tell me I should relax for a while (!) but I know that preparing for my next challenge helps me to be at my best.

I hope that 2019 will take me closer to one of my other aims – to receive the Abbotts world marathon majors ‘six star medal’, for those runners who have run each of the six major marathons of the world. Together with my wonderful husband and friends, I have been lucky enough to run four of the six so far and have been privileged to be given a charity place in to the Boston marathon for April. If I am able to complete this iconic marathon, I will have only one more of the six majors to enjoy. I’m hoping that will be in Tokyo in their Olympic year of 2020!

I have also entered my second ultra marathon in the summer – a daunting 100km run along the North Downs Way. 

And I am planning my next high altitude trek, likely to be in 2020. To help me prepare, I have two weekends booked in the winter in the stunning scenery of Scotland to have some basic ice climbing lessons. This will help me to know if I can go to higher altitudes in Nepal, which will require some more technical skills than I have needed so far. Whilst I would love to achieve this, my fears of drops and exposure may not allow me to. I’ll see what the winter holds!

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In the meantime, I look back on 2018 and appreciate the whole of the picture – the moments of achievement and the doubts, immense hard work, support and love that lies underneath and without which the achievement wouldn’t have been possible. 

As we all move into 2019, I will try and remember that everyone has a whole picture and I am only seeing part of it. The challenges people are dealing with are not always visible to others and we need to be kind, understanding  and supportive to help every one of us to be the best that we can be.

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