Part 2: The de-brief, the lessons learnt, moving on!
You can read Part 1 here.
It has been 6 weeks since I returned home after completing only 1 week of an epic 7-month endurance challenge to run across Europe. I know, that’s a pretty monumental fail, but that week shuffling through Spain may in fact have turned into one of the most significant weeks of my life, in a very good way!
The adventure and endurance world is notorious for suffering and discomfort. Over the years I have got the hang of how to suffer, and would go as far as saying I sometimes quite enjoy it! The reason I can usually battle on is that I am acutely aware of how the euphoric feeling of accomplishment on achieving your goal, is directly proportional to the hardships and suffering you went through to get there.
As a little reminder, for those inevitable low moments, I print out short and punchy motivational quotes and stick them to my equipment prior to an expedition or competition.
“Winners never quit and quitters never win”
“Don’t give up”
“Quitting is not an option”
“Pain is temporary, glory lasts forever”
“I can, I will, end of story”
“It always seems impossible until it’s done”
With 20+ years of drumming these quotes into my head, it therefore surprises me a little, that for the first time in my life, I am okay with the concept of quitting! Well, quitting for the right reason that is!
You need to tune in to your inner voice and decipher why you really want to give up. If it’s because you’re finding it difficult and uncomfortable, persevere. If you are scared of failing or the unknown, persevere. But if you feel like something is wrong for you in your gut, then maybe, quitting might be the right decision.
“We don’t lose credibility for making mistakes, we only lose credibility when we fail to admit that we made that mistake.”
So in a bid to conclude WHAT went wrong and WHY I have asked myself a lot of uncomfortable questions… Am I okay with just being, without chasing down some crazy goal? Am I looking for a purpose? Am I trying to impress? Do I feel inadequate for not achieving my dream of an Olympic medal? Is adventure self-centred? Etc etc, and the list went on.
Many were the kinds of question that you don’t ever really answer honestly because you are worried it might not make you sound like a nice person. For example… If I were a professional 100m runner, it would be perfectly acceptable for me to say that my life goal is to be ‘the fastest runner on earth, ever!’ Whereas if someone asked me “why do you want to do these adventures?” and I answered “because I want to be better than everyone else and achieve what others daren’t even try,” people would be pretty quick to label me arrogant and self-absorbed. Thankfully this is not the reason I seek out challenges and adventure.
I go on adventures to feel happy, to feel free, to feel complete. I challenge myself to overcome my fears and to remind myself I am capable of far more than I know. I travel to make new memories, see new places, meet new faces, so that nothing feels familiar & therefore everyday becomes extraordinary. Society is always trying to make things more comfortable, convenient and easier, but struggle is good, it builds character. An adventure is an experience, filled with risk and reward, guaranteed obstacles, and surprising results. We grow and become at our best when we take advantage of new adventures.
BUT… I would be lying if I said that ‘attempting what others haven’t’ isn’t at least a tiny part of the draw to challenging oneself through the world of adventure.
So what went wrong
What was the massive mistake I made? Why did I add 5000km to my journey? 5000km that was never on my bucket list! The answer is simply because it would be a world first. No woman had ever run the length of Europe!
This in its self is not a problem or a bad reason to run 7000km, lots of people attempt to break records or complete world firsts, but personally, I think the record should be a secondary goal. When I had the idea to walk the Great Wall of China, it hadn’t crossed my mind that it may become a record. When I crossed the Southern Patagonian Icecap it was because it is one of the very few places on this planet that is still to be mapped, and my chance to be an explorer in a world where there is little left to explore. It then happened to be a record!
Somewhere along the line, this trip had evolved into something that primarily was about getting a record! Tarka (my ex-husband) had taught me that you should only do an adventure that you would do even if not a single person in this world ever knew about it. I had broken this rule, my head had overruled my heart… but why?
Why it went so wrong
The feeling of not being ENOUGH!
The sad thing is that I hadn’t realised that this is how I felt until the day I left on the expedition.
My mum arrived at the flat to pick me up and take me to the airport. As she came through the door she saw me all set, packed and ready to go. She joyfully asked, “You excited?”. “No, not really” I replied, fighting back the tears that were welling up in my eyes. “You don’t have to go” she bleated out before I had time to mutter another word. “I do, I need to achieve something” I muttered. I could no longer hold the flood gates back, and my emotion poured out through uncontrollable tears. Her tone instantly turned to complete bewilderment, “but you have achieved so much in your life?“ “Not enough, nothing big” I replied. She looked shocked, unable to believe I could possibly think that, but then the look in her eyes turned to sadness, sad that she could see her daughter had got a little lost. I looked down at the floor. Mum set about trying to persuade me to stay, but I wasn’t really listening. I was having a little word with myself, internally ‘pulling my socks up’, and telling myself that it’s just the nerves talking, you can do this! The tears stopped and I announced, “I will be fine mum, I just to need to begin!”
I put this feeling of needing to achieve ‘something big’ down to two things.
Firstly, comparing my current life to my life in years gone by.
Growing up I was fortunate to be a successful and competitive horse rider. Then after finishing my degree and my masters degree I found myself immediately working as a model; photo shoots, catwalk shows and even body doubling in blockbuster movies. Then I met a polar explorer, and before I knew it I was off completing world first expeditions in some of the remotest corners of the planet. I was in newspapers and magazines, a guest on TV couches and cooking shows, was a motivational speaker to many famous large corporations, as well as having my documentaries win awards on the adventure film circuit. It was a whirlwind. I never had time to stop and think “what will I be doing next?”
Then last year, I think I was overcome by the feeling that perhaps my greatest achievements, my most adventurous years, may have already been and gone. Is this what we call ‘a mid-life crisis’? Well, I am 40 this year, haha!
Secondly, by comparing my achievements to others through the world of social media.
I love Instagram, I am inspired by many of the images posted every single day. When I scroll, I don’t tend to compare myself to the ones I see on screen, I have no desire to be like others, I am happy to go against the grain, rather than follow the crowd. I am very perceptive of what is bullshit, and that most social media accounts are just ’highlight-reels’ after all! That influencers images are strategically staged and edited, depicting a so-called ideal body and perfect, happy life. But what I did let affect me, was just how many incredibly amazing people there are out there doing monumentally tough challenges and adventures. Take Mark Beaumont cycling around the world in 80 days, Ross Edgly swimming around Great Britain, or Jamie McDonald running 220 marathons across the USA in a superhero costume raising money for sick kids, for example. They all blow my mind, I am in awe! The scale of these adventures, the tenacity it takes to complete them. This is where I felt ‘not enough’! I questioned my accomplishments. My little bike rides suddenly felt so meagre.
But that was a mistake. “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I will never again allow myself to make a decision based on comparing myself to others and the feeling that I’m not enough.
We must do the stuff that makes our heart beat faster and our eyes glow when we talk about it!
I also now realise, that many of my most enjoyable days in the great outdoors, are not in search of records, but when I am sharing my love for adventure with others who are new to my world. Encouraging them through their fears and their tears, helping them with knowledge and technique where I can, helping them see things they’ve never seen before, getting them to a tremendously beautiful place that they may never have known existed and watching their smiles when they achieve what they thought they couldn’t. So to make this happen its back to school. Qualifications have been applied for, business plans are being written and a new chapter in my life begins.
Of course, my own personal adventures will continue, they are after all, what fuels my soul. With my week in Spain, shuffling along the hard shoulder of dual carriageways and passing blackboards galore advertising ‘full-english breakfasts’ on the beach front, I am definitely in need of going somewhere wild! Open Spaces, no people for days, landscapes like I’ve never seen before… So I am heading to Iceland this July, the land of fire and ice! Inhospitable volcanic desert, dominated by huge glaciers, active volcanoes, and mighty lava structures. Wahoo, I can’t wait!!
P.S. My fractured foot, that I did on day 3, is now better and I am back out training.
Images of Iceland’s volcanic desert