Chasing six stars and 7,000m through lockdown

I’ve planned to write a blog for some weeks now but haven’t found the words to share how I am feeling. I didn’t want a blog about my experiences of the current environment to seem frivolous given the hardships that so many are facing.

I know I’m one of the very lucky ones. I have family and friends who are supporting me, a spacious house and garden and a job that I love. I haven’t been ill and anyone that I know who has suffered from Covid-19 has safely recovered.

It isn’t easy though. Each morning when I wake up and think about the day ahead. Each time a milestone happens and I can’t be with the person celebrating. Each time an opportunity to be with people I care about gets cancelled. Each time I really stop and think about what is happening. If I dwell too long on any of these things, I feel tears welling up.

So, I don’t dwell on them. My way of coping is focusing on the positives.

Be the rainbow in someone else’s cloud

On the last day that I left my work building, not knowing when I would return, I bumped into a colleague. As we walked to the train station together, she said that she hoped I would continue using social media to share my adventures and views, to inspire others. Every night since, I have posted on social media a quote that will hopefully inspire others. I can’t tell you if it has worked but I know that it has helped inspire me. I therefore thought I would share some of them with you, together with my reflections.

Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It is learning to dance in the rain

The period since lockdown is the first time that I can remember when I’ve slowed down. I have always worked incredibly hard – at school, at University and in my career. I’ve wanted to be the best I can be. I’ve always thought that to achieve that, I needed to do as much as possible.

I’ve always felt that time is running out and I wanted to achieve as much as I could in the time I had. I wanted to push myself harder each year. I started twelve years ago to undertake challenges to raise money for charity – my way of giving a very little something back to a society that I felt blessed to be part of. These challenges have increased in difficulty from a 10km run, through marathons to ultra marathons and, more recently, mountain adventures. The training and preparation for these adventures has taken a lot of time and emotional energy. Alongside a busy job and a wonderful home life with a husband I love, family and friends has meant that I rarely sat down or relaxed.

But the last eight weeks have been different.

My job has continued to be very busy, challenging and fulfilling. I’m changing roles and joining a new team has been difficult in the current environment – it’s not easy to build new relationships remotely, particularly for an introvert, but I have been welcomed in and supported, for which I’m very grateful. My work days are therefore full.

But the weekends are very quiet. Normally, I see friends and family every Saturday and Sunday, mixing this with training and the usual home admin. Now, I can’t do this. At first, I found this very hard but I have slowly learnt to relax a little and put the time to good use.

I haven’t changed totally though! I’m someone who needs to have purpose and some structure. So I write a list each weekend of what I want to achieve. But sometimes that includes reading, watching a film I’ve always wanted to or knitting (I’m attempting a jumper which will probably be ready by next winter!). I’m learning how to make the most of this period – to learn new things, to reflect upon what matters to me and to make plans for the future.

Don’t let your dreams be just dreams

When I speak to people, they often ask me about my training and how it is going through this period. As many of you know, 2020 was meant to be a big year for me. I was hoping to get my six star medal in Tokyo in March for those runners who have run the six major marathons of the world and then to climb to 7,100m and summit Peak Lenin in Kyrgyzstan in August.

The Tokyo marathon was cancelled but I managed to achieve my dream of a marathon run in March and I’m so grateful for that, given that all other marathons since have also been cancelled.

My trip to Peak Lenin hasn’t yet been formally cancelled but I can’t imagine I will be able to go in August so my 2020 plans are moving to 2021. I am however still dreaming and therefore keeping my training going.

I am blessed to live near country paths, which mean I can go walking and I do so with my large rucksack filled with weights. I have now managed carrying 19kg – it isn’t easy for me but I am slowly getting stronger. I don’t see many people at all on my walks but those that I do see often ask what I am doing with the rucksack. Each time I explain, it puts a smile on my face.

I have bought a climbing rope so that I can learn how to tie climbing knots and practice getting in and out of my mountain harness.

I am also running, using different routes and just enjoying being outside, not worrying about times or distances. Oddly, I find I’m becoming slightly quicker and I’m loving the early mornings for running.

I am also doing weight training in my garden – what our neighbours think, I have no idea! Finally, I have taken up yoga. I have wanted to try yoga for years but have never found the time. Now I have some more time, so I’m trying to follow YouTube videos, at first struggling to do even the basic moves but slowly making progress.

Sometimes I question why I am doing all of this, when my next adventure is unlikely to be before next March when I hope to cross the finish line of the Tokyo marathon and collect my six star medal. But I know that it is keeping me mentally well, it is keeping me smiling and it is helping me to continue to dream.

There is magic everywhere, you just have to believe it

Who would have thought that eggs being in the shops would feel so special? Or being allowed out once a day to run would feel like a luxury?

Our lives are very different to usual. But the current situation has made the small things feel magical and special. Hearing the birds sing whilst I am running and seeing the bluebells blossom more each week on my walks. Having a quiz each Friday with my wonderful godchildren, seeing my parents through a zoom call and catching up with friends around the world more regularly than I would normally be able to do. And watching videos of my niece and nephew smiling and laughing on their bikes on the first day that they were allowed out of their house after weeks of lockdown in Spain. These are magical moments that I won’t forget.

The best way to predict the future is to create it

So, will my life be different after lockdown? I am missing many things – hugging my friends and family, travelling, exploring new things and places. But I have also learnt much more about what I value.

There are things that I will rush back to and I will value even more than I usually do – spending time with the people I love and care for, being in the mountains, planning adventures to challenge myself.

There are also things that I’ve learnt that I enjoy and I want to continue to do – keeping in more regular contact with my friends via video calls, yoga and having time to think. I’ve found that I can work from home successfully and whilst I wouldn’t want to do this everyday, I will definitely look to do it more, to help me to better balance all of the things I want to achieve.

There are also things that I will think carefully about. Do I need to travel everywhere to do things or can I do things in a different way? Do I need to eat out a lot to spend time with family and friends or can we find different ways to be together? Do I need to fill up every minute of my life to feel that I am achieving something?

So, yes my life will be different, hopefully even better than the life I feel privileged to have led up to this point.

At first glance it may look too hard. Look again. Always look again

When lockdowns were coming in across the world, I couldn’t imagine working at home every day, only leaving the house to run and not being able to see my family and friends in person. I probably used the phrase ‘I won’t be able to cope with that’. But I am coping, we all are.

I truly believe that when we come up against things that look too hard, we can always look again. We must look again. Because we are all so much stronger individually and collectively than we think we are. It is only at times of challenge that we really realise what we can achieve.

In previous years, I’ve used the quote above to describe the point in a marathon when I’ve felt that I just couldn’t go any further or the moment on a mountain trek when the steep drop has caused my body to shake uncontrollably. This year, in 2020, it is about surviving each day with a smile on my face. And it is still so true.

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