‘A comfort zone is the most dangerous area anyone can stay in. It is a place of no growth and no challenges.’ Brian Cagney
The older I get, the more I agree with the quotation above. Turning fifty last December gave me the opportunity to ponder the dangers of slipping into a comfortable middle-aged stagnation, just allowing life to pass me by in a predictable march of time. Life is such a precious gift and I am determined to live it as fully as I possibly can. So, during a sunny birthday walk along our local coast path, my plan was hatched: time to run a half marathon and raise money for a charity very close to my heart.
When choosing which half marathon to enter, Lake Vyrnwy was the obvious choice for several reasons. First, apart from the first mile and last short stretch, it is almost completely flat or downhill (sometimes I’m not quite as daft as I look!). Second, we lived locally for many years so it’s familiar territory and a much-loved spot; we have spent many happy hours walking, cycling, having picnics and even wild swimming in a deep pool at the top of a waterfall there. So many happy memories! Third, it would be a beautiful place for my support team to pass a few hours and if all else failed, I knew I would at the very least have a long walk in stunning scenery.
Ironically, it all looked rather more stunning than I’d expected at this time of year. The water thundering over the dam wall is a tremendous sight but can only mean one thing. Water. Lots of it, pouring out of the sky and filling the lake to overflowing. Good job I’d had my Drowned Rat training run at home in Asturias because the land of soggy trainers was beckoning once again. Well, I’d wanted a challenge . . .
The race was pretty much everything I’d expected it to be: pre-race nerves jangling and a long queue for the portaloos – I don’t want to do this; a slightly claustrophobic feeling in the starting crowd – I really don’t want to do this; very soggy running shoes within minutes, thanks to the sheer amount of surface water on the road – yuk; hitting a bit of a ‘wall’ between nine and ten miles and feeling some serious self-doubt creeping in – count to eight over and over, sing ‘King and Lionheart’, picture Lewis’s sunny smile, tell yourself you can do this, come on, come on, come on; losing all sense of what my body was doing at 12 miles – just put one foot in front of the other . . . and repeat, don’t think – just move; an enormous sense of relief as the finish line came into sight – I’ve done it! and an overwhelming sense of joy at the sight of family and friends (and a completely delicious chunk of chocolate brownie!) – I am very blessed to be so loved (and so well-fed!).
Soaked to the skin, cold, aching from head to toe, tired and very footsore . . . not a comfort zone in sight. It felt fantastic. Truly fantastic.
Back in a noticeably less soggy Spain and reflecting on this personal challenge from start to finish, what do I feel? The overwhelming initial feeling has been one of gratitude to all those wonderful people who have supported me with their unstinting encouragement during training and braving the awful weather to be there on the day. I am indebted to everyone who has sponsored me so generously with their donations: the amount raised for Rachel House Hospice currently stands at £752.50, 150% of my initial target and more than I ever imagined possible. Thank you!
I feel a deep sense of achievement but not in a boastful or big-headed way, more a feeling of fulfilment and contentment and self-belief. If I can run a half marathon, anyone can – please be inspired! If I can run a half marathon, what else can I do if I try? What has surprised me during the last week more than anything is an incredible feeling of balance and calm, as though the hard physical and mental challenges of the past months have picked me up, shaken me out and set me down on firmer ground. It’s hard to express adequately in words but I feel stronger and tougher yet more relaxed and pragmatic. This shift has already changed my outlook. I’ve always been a nervous flyer and was secretly dreading our return journey – the first time I have flown for seven years – until I stopped and asked myself why I was nervous. If I can run a half marathon, surely I could cope with a 90-minute flight? Yes, of course I could . . . and I did. I’d even go so far as to say I enjoyed it and I’m looking forward to next time! Perhaps I’ve grown up at last? What a great gift!
So what next? I will certainly carry on running a couple of times a week as the benefits can’t be denied, but I don’t plan to run another half marathon, just enjoy it as recreational exercise. For now, I’m planning to catch up on things I’ve been neglecting during training – gardening, walking, yoga, Spanish study – to name but a few. However, part of me suspects when early December comes round once again, there will be another whiff of madness in the air and new challenges taking shape. Well, I don’t want to let myself get too comfortable now, do I? 🙂