Learning lessons from not achieving your dreams

Each year I like to set myself some challenges – in terms of what I do at work, how I behave and in my adventures. For the last two years, I started the year with two aims for my adventures. I wanted to run the Tokyo marathon and claim my six star medal, for those runners privileged enough to have run the six major marathons of the world (Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London, New York and Tokyo). I also wanted to stand on the summit of the remote and stunning mountain Peak Lenin, 7,000m above our beautiful world.

Both of these adventures had been delayed from 2020 due to the pandemic and I was excited about trying for them again in 2021. As we start 2022, I didn’t achieve either of these aims and probably won’t until 2023. Despite this, I’ve learnt a huge amount this year, both from my adventures and as a result of the pandemic, and start 2022 full of hope and expectation. So what have I learnt from not achieving my dreams this year?

Cherish the moments that make you smile

It is easy to focus on the major events in our lives and miss the special moments that happen every day. The small gestures by those who care for us, the smiles between friends sharing experiences and the simple things that build memories that last a lifetime.

My husband and I boarded a flight to Gibraltar in June to finally spend time with our brother, sister in law, niece and nephew after 20 months apart. Despite the wonder of technology allowing us to speak and see them each week, it hadn’t been the same as being together in person and we were desperate to be with them. At the time, we could go to Gibraltar from the UK and they could go there from Spain and the thought of being with them caused tears to well up in my eyes even getting on the flight! The moment when our niece and nephew ran up to us and gave us huge hugs will be one that I remember forever. As I move forward, it is those types of moments that I will cherish the most and I want to make sure that I recognise that at the time and wring every piece of joy from them.

When something looks too difficult, look again, always look again

I challenged myself this year to take on a new running training programme. When I first considered it, I didn’t think it would be possible for me. It involved 6 days a week of running (alongside my mountain training and the career that I love) and at paces that I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to do. I wanted to run a sub four hour marathon but didn’t think that would be possible for me. I have always loved the quote above and I thought I would use the extra flexibility I had due to the lockdown to look again at what I could achieve. It was incredibly hard work but on Easter Saturday when I ran the fastest marathon time I’d ever achieved, or had thought would ever be possible for me, it was so worthwhile. I crossed the finish line at the beautiful Dorney Lake in a time of 3.37, crying tears of joy and surprise.

It taught me that we should always look again – we are all capable of so much more than we can ever imagine. I believe that so many people have been tested during the last two years and the capabilities we have shown should give us the confidence to look again at the things that we’ve always wanted to achieve but felt were too difficult. If we can manage through the challenges of the last two years, what else can we do?

The biggest adventure you can take is to live the life of your dreams

Whilst my marathon adventures this year, at Dorney Lake and in Berlin where I felt so privileged to be part of the first major marathon since the pandemic started, have been amazing experiences and have allowed me to progress with my running journey, my mountain expedition was a very different story.

It was hard to comprehend, given that I’d spent the previous 15 months barely leaving the confines of the M25, that I was contemplating travelling to Kyrgyzstan, a country so remote that many, myself included prior to my planning, couldn’t identify it on a map. I challenged myself as to whether I should be even going given all that was still happening with the pandemic but I felt that life is too short not to live the life of our dreams and so I travelled with nerves, hope and determination to do my best.

The expedition was brutal, beautiful, heartbreaking and life affirming. The first two weeks were wonderful and taught me a huge amount – I learnt so much about how to live on a remote mountain expedition, the technicalities of different terrains and about how I cope without my wonderful family and friends around me. I saw amazing views, I met interesting people, I laughed, I cried and I was incredibly happy despite the challenging conditions.

As many of you know, the expedition came to an abrupt end when a member of our team sadly lost their life. That tragedy stays with me, coming into my thoughts at different points and without warning. I think it will always be with me. I feel horror at their last moments spent all alone. I feel so sad for their family who have lost someone wonderful. I question why I want to go back to the high mountains. I worry that I am being selfish and reckless. But the indescribable beauty, the feeling of pushing myself to the limit of what I can achieve and the stunning sunrises and sunsets bouncing off of the deep snow will also be with me forever. And I hope that I can take this indescribably sad experience and use it to help me be a better person.

Kindness costs nothing but means everything

The kindness of my family, friends and colleagues when I returned from my mountain expedition was so generous. I was emotionally fragile and I’m not someone who is always able to easily put into words how I am feeling. The calls to check how I was, the invites to catch up and the hugs I received made me feel so cared for.

I’ve seen this level of care so much during the pandemic. I think it is important that, as individuals, as organisations and as a society, we’re becoming more open about what is going on in our lives, the challenges we are facing and the support that we need, enabling others to help us when we need it. I really hope that this remains as we come out of the pandemic. The care and thoughtfulness means everything and allows all of us to be at our best.

Go the extra mile. It is where the magic happens

It would often be easier not to go the extra mile – to do enough but not more than that. During the pandemic, our day to day lives have sometimes felt like the extra mile. And that extra mile has seemed to extend and extend. We haven’t had a choice as to whether we go the extra mile or not. We’ve had to. And we’ve achieved so much by doing so. I believe that when we go that extra mile, the magic happens. We push ourselves to be better than we could have believed. For me, I’ve seen that magic in the lives of my wonderful colleagues who have coped so well with the challenges we’ve all faced. They’ve inspired me every single day.

For me, planning and training for my adventures has helped hugely to cope with the last two years. Despite that, the extra mile is never easy. On the late night runs on the treadmill in my garage, on the days when I walked for miles around local parks with my huge rucksack filled with weights, I often questioned my sanity but it is this effort that allows me to do what I love doing. It is what makes me smile and it is what fills my heart with joy.

That extra mile, both actual and metaphorical, may be challenging but it gets you to where you want to be.

The best is yet to be

The pandemic, and the events of my mountain expedition, have reinforced for me that life is far too short. We only live it once and we must make the most of it. We must do what makes our heart soar. I’m planning mountain trips this year – to the stunning Scottish highlands and the beautiful alps – to continue to build my skills and confidence levels before a longer expedition in 2023. I am also incredibly excited to be running the Boston marathon as a qualifier and am contemplating another ultra marathon in the summer. What I am most excited about, though, is spending time with my wonderful husband, family, friends and colleagues. We haven’t been able to spend enough time together over the last two years and I want to make sure that we can do more of that this year.

So I’ve learnt a lot this year, despite not (yet) achieving my dreams. I am looking forward to all that lies ahead for us as we come out of the pandemic and learn to live in a new world. We’ve all been tested and have been so much more resilient than perhaps we had thought we could ever be. We’ve all learnt what matters to us. The best is definitely yet to be and I, for one, am so looking forward to it. Happy new year everyone.

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