No Man is an Island

The news has always been a divisive thing. On the one hand we all want to feel connected, to know what is going on ‘out there’ in the world. On the other we do sort of suspect that the version of life we are spoonfed by the media is skewed and distorted like a picture taken through a fish eye lens.

Is it getting worse? That’s hard to say. But my own experience as a Brussels resident who has been reading news reports from the UK media on the recent bombs at Zaventem airport and the metro would suggest it is – or at least that the media is as sensationalist as ever.

Both to loved ones and idiots on social media I have defended this city I love, which, if you believed every BBC news report you read you would think was besieged by jihadists on every street corner. Contrary to public media opinion, who take great delight in filming some dickhead reporter roaming the streets of ‘jihadi capital of Europe’, Molenbeek (incidentally also the suburb in which I work), or the use of water cannons against a small group of self-declared fascists downtown, it is still possible to walk down the street here without the need for police protection and an armoured vehicle.

The thing I love most about Belgium, and Brussels in particular, is people’s resilience; their ability to stay clear-headed and articulate in a crisis. And also, as the police cat food Twitter episode so clearly demonstrated, their sense of humour.

Though I will always love it, increasingly I feel glad I left the UK, and am experiencing life on the ‘outside.’ Because when you are inside the Kingdom we ironically still call ‘United’ it is frighteningly easy to adopt the media’s attitude to issues such as terrorism; to become closed-minded and biased without even realising it, due to the diet of twisted information you are fed by power-hungry media outlets and politicians.

If you listen to the likes of Boris we are far better off out of Europe, away from all these nasty jihadis. Raise the drawbridge! Keep Britain safe! What good can Europe do us? Look at the mess France and Belgium are in! Though I have neither the political knowledge nor inclination to address these tenuous arguments here, I will highlight one thing, a poem by John Donne, entitled ‘No Man is an Island’:

Entire of itself, 
Every man is a piece of the continent, 
A part of the main. 
If a clod be washed away by the sea, 
Europe is the less. 
As well as if a promontory were. 
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s 
Or of thine own were: 
Any man’s death diminishes me, 
Because I am involved in mankind, 
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; 
It tolls for thee.

Whether we are part of Europe or not (and I personally believe we should be), none of us is an island. We must stand together in the face of terrorism and not let it divide us, by faith or for political gain. The media and politicians have ulterior motives. It is for us, the ‘normal people’, to look past those, to look past religion, past race and past hatred;  to look into our own hearts. Because it is only there we can find the good, the pure and the true; and understand that love is the only answer there is.

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The End of the Road

Today I took what was probably the last ride on my Norco hybrid bike. Despite the fact it has for the past five months been out of use and cluttering up the hallway of my flat so much it’s nearly made me and my boyfriend come to blows, I must admit I feel a certain sadness now the time to part is nearly upon us.

I’m neither a natural nor particularly keen cyclist, indeed the only reason that I bought the bike in the first place was because I was coerced (or was it me who did the coercing? I forget) into doing a sprint distance triathlon back in 2009. After the first sprint triathlon I did another, and last year I took on the Olympic distance. Throughout it all my trusty bike was on hand, taking me out training no matter what the weather was like outside. We had good times and we had bad times but we never gave up, and we chalked up some surprisingly impressive results over the course of those three races – results I will be proud to share with my children one day, ensuring its legacy lives on.

But since that last race back in September 2012 the bike has been in premature retirement, and spending some of the best years of its life languishing unwanted in a hallway just isn’t fair. We both need to accept that it’s time for us to move on with our lives, separately. I’m pleased to have found a good home for it with a friend who has also now committed to an Olympic triathlon next year – really, neither of us could ask for more.

And so with a heavy heart I bid my bike adieu, and wish it well for its future endeavours, whatever they might be. I’ve given it one final service and am handing it over with love. Bye, Norco, you’ve been great. Ride well and prosper.

Running (out of motivation)

Exercise is good for us. Not only does it burn off calories so we can continue to eat chocolate to our hearts’ content without turning into fat lumps of lard, it also releases endorphins that are physiologically proven to make us feel happier. So, seeing as exercise has so many benefits, why oh why (oh WHY) is it so difficult to find the motivation to get off our lazy behinds and do it?

Given my current (pitiful) state of reticence to go out for a run, new readers of this blog might be surprised to learn that less than two weeks ago I completed a half marathon (in a very respectable one hour fifty six minutes, I might add). In the ten weeks leading up to the race I managed to (virtually) stick to a training plan consisting of four weekly runs. And you know what? It felt good. Not always in the moments before or immediately after the runs, of course, but overall. I felt fit, healthy and energised. Now I feel fat, unhealthy and utterly lacking in the joie de vivre that an active lifestyle induces.

The problem, to my mind, is no longer having a goal. When you have an event to train for it’s harder to let yourself off the hook where training sessions are concerned. Sure, you can miss one here and there without too much drama, but if you miss too many you know you’re just making it harder for yourself on the day of the race. And so you train – come rain or shine, whether you are tired or not. You do it because you have that finish line in mind at all times, and because, well, you’d ideally like to not collapse and suffer cardiac arrest half way through (not a good look for the official photos).

It’s fair enough to have a few days’ rest after an event, but it’s vital to get back on that horse before the motivation ups and leaves for good. In my case I’ve left my trusty steed a bit too long – taking a full week off after the race and only getting out twice at the beginning of last week for short runs – and the bloody thing’s bolted. But the situation is not beyond redemption. As I write this I am gearing up for a thirty minute run around Clapham Common to get the blood pumping again, and a return to running club mid-week is also on the cards (group motivation being a great way to re-discover the benefits of regular exercise).

And then there’s next year’s London Marathon. I have to admit when I crossed the finish line two weeks ago I swore to myself I wouldn’t even consider doing it, but no sooner had I recovered than I felt the stirrings of enthusiasm for another, bigger challenge (and let’s face it, the London Marathon’s about the biggest challenge there is). The ballot results are out in a couple of weeks and all of a sudden I find myself crossing everything in the hope I’ll bag one of the few hallowed non-charity spots. If not, I can fight for one of the two spaces my charity has paid for, though this does come with the added pressure of a fundraising target (all in good cause…).

Challenges are good because they push us to the limits of endurance and give us goals to focus on. Without them we weak-willed humankind are prone to drifting on a sea of lost intent. So it’s with this in mind I don my running gear and venture out. Wish me luck…

Just do it

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I thought this had uploaded last night but evidently not (thanks Dad for pointing it out!) – in my post-race haze I must have neglected to check before collapsing into bed, but I did write it on time, honest!!

I did it-completed the Run to the Beat half marathon in 1 hour and 56 minutes, which was just inside my target time of two hours. I’d like to say it was easy but it was actually pretty tough-in particular the final couple of miles which were mostly dominated by a horrendous hill.

I’ve got to say I was unimpressed with the general organisation of the event-at around the three mile mark there was a bottleneck getting into part of the course where there was a hydration station which brought the people queuing to a total halt (and which was obviously frustrating for anyone looking to complete the race in a target time). The music stations were a shambles too, some weren’t even manned with djs which I thought was a poor show considering everyone had been charged £49 to participate in what had been billed as ‘London’s only music half marathon.’

To be honest I think the concept as a whole is flawed because the static music stations can only be heard by the runners for such a short time, and there are big gaps between them when no music is playing at all. Personally I think a silent disco setup would work better-give everyone headphones to run with and have different channels playing different djs that they can choose between as they run. But then what do I know, I’m just a lowly (and now also very sore) runner…

 

Distraction techniques / Running to the Beat

Special thanks to Royal Mail for failing to deliver my race pack, meaning I spent a good portion of this afternoon familiarising myself with tomorrow’s route.

Out of sensitivity to my friends I’m still reluctant to discuss what’s made me so sad and contemplative this week. But given that it still dominates the majority of my waking thoughts I find myself at a loss to think of any other subject matter – except, perhaps, tomorrow’s half marathon, which has snuck up on me somewhat with all the other things that have been going on. It’s probably best that way really, as I haven’t had the chance to get too worked up about it (though I take great comfort in knowing I managed to complete the 16 mile Wholefoods run in sub-zero temperatures in March – surely it can’t be anywhere near as bad as that?) I’m not fundraising this time around, purely because I’m saving myself for when I do a full marathon (dare I say hopefully next year?) and really will need all the help I can get. I see this as a dry run (literally) for the main event, something to tick off the list along the way. I’m as physically and mentally prepared as I can be, and I have a target in mind (sub-two hours if you please), so all that’s left to do is some serious carb-loading this evening before a nice long sleep. I shall report back post-event – wish me luck…

 

 

All in the mind

Yesterday I was berating myself for falling off the exercise wagon by neglecting to complete my weekly half marathon training with a planned nine mile run. My guilt was compounded by the fact Friday night had gone from ‘one quiet drink’ to a jagermeister-fuelled 4am finish, which meant the traditional post-booze self-loathing kicked in at about the same time as the lack of exercise self-loathing i.e. a double whammy of shame.

Fortunately, however, I managed to redress the balance of yin and yang by completing the missed nine mile (well, eight point nine nine miles, to be precise) run this afternoon – which is bordering on a miracle considering that I’d spent a good portion of yesterday afternoon and evening drinking punch at a tropical themed birthday party.

A few kilometres in I had serious doubts about completing the full distance, but then I remembered a conversation I was having with someone at the party yesterday. We were discussing sporting challenges and how mental strength is as important if not more so than physical strength when it comes to both training for and completing a race. If you don’t believe you can do it then in all likelihood you won’t – not because you can’t, but rather because in failing to believe you can do it you are, whether consciously or unconsciously, making the decision to fail. As I ran today and remembered the conversation I felt physically as well as mentally lighter, and the remainder of my run, despite my initial lethargy, was actually enjoyable.

Of course, the concept of believing you can do anything you set your mind to should not be limited to sporting challenges. It’s something each and every one of us should try to incorporate into our daily lives. Positive mental attitude isn’t just a state of mind, it’s a state of being, and if you can achieve it then you really can achieve anything.

This was me metres from the finish line after the Blenheim sprint distance triathlon in 2010. You could say positive mental attitude is written all over my face – or maybe just relief it’s nearly over!

The lapsed athlete

Just when you think the Great British Summer is drawing to an end it pulls out all the stops for one last week to show you exactly what you’ll be missing for the next nine months. It’s somewhat appropriate, then, that I should today be attending a friend’s tropical-themed birthday party to make the most of this final hoorah. Without wanting to be selfish, however, I must admit I’d rather like the temperature to be a fraction on the cooler side for next Sunday’s half marathon. The closer the event has got the more my training seems to have tailed off, so I need all the help I can get to avoid keeling over half way through.

I was reminiscing yesterday (over my second pint of cider) about how seriously I took training for my first sprint distance triathlon in 2009. So terrified was I of being unable to complete the race that I went cold turkey for a month beforehand, giving up booze and fags (these were in the days of my being a dirty smoker) completely. With the second sprint I was a little more relaxed with my regime, though when the Olympic distance triathlon came around I really knuckled down with the training to avoid full scale cardiac arrest half way around the course.

My first long distance run was the Whole Foods Market run in Kingston in March this year. At sixteen miles it was a serious challenge for someone who had previously never run further than ten kilometres. I trained hard and, fortunately, it paid off, as I don’t think I would have managed to get around the course in the freak weather conditions (zero degrees and snowing at the end of March? Really?) had I not been at the peak of my physical fitness.

This time around, however, I seem to have adopted a rather more laissez faire attitude. I’ve put the time in and roughly followed the same schedule as for the March run, but if circumstances (read: social commitments / pub) have made it difficult to fulfil every running obligation then I (literally) haven’t sweated over it. The only big run I’ve missed to date is the nine miler I was planning for today (see previous comment about ciders in the pub to understand why that hasn’t happened), but there’s always tomorrow, right? Or maybe the day after…?

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