Brain Training for going into the Unknown
Recently I was asked to come up with some words about how I am training my brain for my challenge to run 1680 miles across the UK and back again, when the furthest I’ve ever completed is (just) 32 miles in one day.
My first thought was: am I training my brain?
I guess so, but I think I’ve been in this mind-game for so long now that the individual processes themselves have become a single, integral part of my daily life. However, I will attempt to prise apart the structure of it to clarify what actually goes on inside my head and what I do in order to go further —though not necessarily faster.
First and foremost, you have to see it in your mind’s eye. I’ve been practising visualisation techniques for as long as I can remember, without even knowing I was doing it. Fortunately I was given some helpful tips as to how to focus the image in my mind, and understand how to visualise effectively. I went through this practice with an NLP practitioner, but here’s a short guide: play a show-reel inside your head of the day in action as you would like it to go —from waking up and getting breakfast, to yoga, driving to the event, setting up transition or going through registration; see yourself at the start line; see yourself being drawn to the finish line with a smile in your heart, a sharp determination in your mind, steady breathing, and exhilaration as you cross that line.
It’s quite a magical show-reel when you think about it; you can shower yourself with champagne, throw bouquets at yourself, have others rush up to your for autographs, or even see your family running to you with arms open-wide. Make it your movie. And watch it on repeat.
I use meditation as a reset button, but also because I’ve come to learn that meditation is a clear link to our inner-self and our inner-thoughts and what we want to truly happen. Meditation allows me to send my energy out into the universe so that my plans can be aligned and come to fruition. Whether it’s a science, or an art, is neither here nor there, it’s simply about grounding myself and steadying the boat when it starts to rock. Meditation is a part of my daily routine, and will continue to be so during my 6 weeks on the road. I highly recommend Transcendental Meditation, you might have come across Jim Carrey’s speech in an orange outfit —that was a TM University. I’ve tried Mindfulness (as a course), but asking someone with Bipolar Disorder to not think of something is like asking frogs to fly a plane. It’s not going to happen, and therein grows all sorts of additional issues. Fortunately, I found TM and I’m not asked to not think of anything, I’m just asked to be. I do however apply mindfulness techniques naturally: instead of focusing internally when I run with headphones and heart-rate altering songs, I turn my focus outwards and look for distractions to the pain and the suffering that I’m putting my body through: I look for flowers, colours, cloud formations, nature’s patterns, quirky doors, beautiful vistas and even interesting people, and then I photograph them —again another reason to go and run more, to find more of what makes the world beautiful.
I have to set my goals in stone in order to know what I want to focus on because my mind likes to look at several plans at once and I get a little scattered. My goals may change from time-to-time, but as long as I am clear on what they are, I can focus my mind on what outcome I am looking for —this can be a certain day’s mileage, or a total for the week, or reviewing my routine or sleep patterns. My goals aren’t rigid, I give my mind a path to follow and then I coax it along, usually with treats and promises of food and sleep.
I write down what I am planning to achieve, and I write it several times and in different forms —online, in emails, on paper, on notepads, on sticky notes, on my iPhone. The clearer that I am on my goals to achieve, the more my brain is able to work towards those goals, because I am allowing my mind and my energy to synchronise efforts towards the same objective.
Being Clear on my WHY
Here is a term that I learnt whilst building my Arbonne Network Marketing business (believe it or not, Network Marketing is at its core all about personal development). My goals are different to my why I’m getting out of bed to do this. My goals are the objects to achieve, my why is the fire in my mind that will burn brightly and fuel the engine so that I can achieve them. Everyone’s why is different, even if they’re striving for the same goal. The stronger that your why is, the stronger your passion is for your entire plan, and the more intensely you will feel it deep within your subconscious being. It will penetrate your dreams, your thoughts, your speech, and your ideas: that’s when you know you have the power to achieve your goals, no matter what.
It’s like a dream come true.
I’m training at the gym, working to strengthen up my core, my glutes, my knees, my arms and my back because weak buttocks can ruin a runner (I read that in a book), and I don’t want a weak butt. And while I’m set with my morning and mid-run caffeine cuddle (TrueStart Coffee), my 100% amino acid vegan protein greens balance recovery fuel (a mouthful to say but ultra-delicious) (Arbonne) and my nutrition plan for a happy tummy (loadsa veg & 9Bars), along comes a magical little sachet that has just topped up my How to Run with Awesome plan to veritable Fierce mode!
Meet the newest member of the Fierce Mind endurance running family – Tailwind!
I asked another endurance runner who is starting out on a John O’Groat’s to Land’s End run (incidentally the same day that I start at the LE end) what his nutrition was for the run. He said tail wind. I laughed. My mind conjured up someone running with the wind behind him, relying on wind energy to power his trajectory. “What if the wind changed direction?” I mumbled to myself. Obviously, the more I raised an awkward eyebrow, the more he realised that I didn’t know have a scooby what ‘tail wind’ was. So he briefed me, and after I got home and googled and pondered and calculated the nutritional maths calculations with my calculator and realised that the calories and carbs were significantly increased compared to how I had intended to run (just add food), plus that it was (to my utter content) gluten free, I bought some.
First thing I noted was that they asked me what I was training for and when my next event was at the checkout – it’s worth mentioning that Tailwind are a US company that was brought to UK shores by a believer and an ultra runner who realised that we needed the goods. Thank goodness he did! With that in mind, this is the reason that you, like I, may not yet have heard of them. But the secret is getting out because of the results…the reviews page makes for exciting reading (if you get excited about reviews that tell you positive things).
So the wonderful thing is, the day after my order was put through, my little box of goodies arrived with a personalised postcard inside! They have a neat little tray of sachets with all the different colours that they send you so that you can try out the flavours before diving into a big tub. You can cut a sachet in half by pinching the line across the middle (directions on the packet) so that each sachet can be tried twice. It dissolves instantly in water. It doesn’t give me stomach cramps – n.b. I have never been able to use energy drinks for this very reason, and now have an option of endurance (tailwind) or short session (Arbonne) energy drinks as well as a hot hug (TrueStart Coffee) to boost my physical exertions. The taste is a hint and not a sugary explosion. Did I mention they are gluten free?
So taste-wise, customer service-wise, packaging-wise (lots of lovely bright colours that just make me go silly), I’m a happy bunny. But did they work for me?
The short answer is abso-blinking-lutely!
I wasn’t really sure what to expect. At the gym I put 20 minutes into a high intensity interval session on the bike, then went through my arms & core session, before moving on to glutes, single-leg balancing acts, arms again and yoga. I throw in planks (single, high and low), press ups, leg lifts, Swiss Ball control and burpees for my arms and core element, and by the third set (note, I’ve never made it to a third set before) I put my ten press ups to the floor in the fastest, swiftest moves I’d ever done them, not even fresh had I ever completed that third set so fast! I felt, note felt, physically stronger and lighter. The fuel has nutrition and hydration (not just the water), it contains electrolytes so my body was effectively recovering from the first two rounds whilst I was sipping away. Tailwind suggest sipping regularly rather than gulping, this is a good call as any gulping is likely to mean more frequent toilet trips.
Happy with my first round, my second gym visit with the fuel went even better. I was able to push myself further, no doubt as a result of delayed fatigue, which in turn is helping me to grow stronger. The big test will come with the running. I’ve delayed running, except a 1.5 mile the other day, in order to allow my muscles to strengthen and straighten where necessary, not because of an injury, but because I don’t want to be injured! I now have all the right ingredients in place for fuel and recovery, it’s time to shape up with the mental agility and get some mileage under my belt for February. March will taper after the first week so in effect I have 5 weeks left of solid training before reigning in the LSRs. Taking some sturdy ultra advice from many I’ve read, watched, spoken to, and befriended over the years, it’s Anna Frost‘s advice to run LSRs back-to-back to get the maximum out of the run without breaking the bank that is now firmly etched in my mind. With that plan, I can go far.
Here I just wanted to mention that I’m going through a fairly hypomanic episode and am falling in and out of consciously being aware of that (honestly, sometimes I completely forget that I’m not always so active, upbeat, productive, proactive, and funny). There are two campaigns running online at the moment that have empowered me to keep writing, keep talking, to remain open about why this run is happening in the first place. #imnotashamed and #itaffectsme are simple tags yet they are letting people articulate outside of their heads in a common language – compassion.
When I run I let nature be my sounds, in part because in doing so I am acting out of mindfulness to take me to places that we forget about so easily in this hectic world: the stillness of life sprinkled with the colourful melodies of other animals. Partly because it’s safer when running on roads without traffic. Partly because I don’t have a decent set of headphones/earphones and the pulsing thrum of cars as they pass is almost nauseating under the music.
But, a huge part is because music, to me, is intensely emotional. A single song can alter my mood before it’s half way through the first verse, sometimes for the good, getting me to bop along and even cycle or run in time to the beat. Sometimes it can cause me to stop and crumble. Or even to get angry and expend energy I didn’t really wish to use up so quickly, because I’m so intent on getting myself to be as strong as I can be, to power through the pain, the wobbly arms, the breathless lifts, so that I can complete the run and do what I set out to do. But two songs almost took me out of the game yesterday. It’s a good job the gym was pretty empty on a Sunday afternoon, and sweat looks like tears, because I had to stop and sit with my back to the wall like I was exhausted, hold my towel to my eyes and just cry. I was already breathing heavily because of the burpees I’d just jumped through, but I was very consicous of being seen weeping in my lycra.
The first song that hit me, rather mildly but was still a memory recall precursor for the one that followed, was Lukas Graham’s “7 Years”. A beautiful piece of writing, a beautiful melody, which just invoked memories of my childhood, my father and our broken relationship. And my path into parenthood. It got me thinking about my daughters and how creative and talented they are, that sometimes they literally take my breath away. My eldest has the voice of an angel, she is singing, dancing, and acting outside of school where she just excels at everything she does. My heart bursts with pride that she puts her heart into everything, just as I did (and still do). My second daughter has a writing talent for poetry and stories that astounds me, her emotional intelligence has always been far beyond her years, a wise little head on her shoulders. Teaching herself to dance freestyle street aged just 8, a runner, and a little lady who has already decided she wants to save the world and get into politics, everyone who meets her sees how she shines. How is it that I came to be their mum? I’ve gone through my years feeling a failure at everything, a failure for all of the relationships that failed, a failure for all of the careers that failed, and a failure for being here without a penny in my pocket and only a hope that I can make a difference to this world. Perhaps the real reason I am here is not about me, it is about my children.
The second song that caused the cookie to crumble was Naughty Boy ft. Beyoncé & Arrow Benjamin with “Runnin'”. No doubt an incredible song with a video that is mesmerising! But those words hit me like an arrow through the heart. Because I am running. I am running because I feel broken, because I’m afraid of losing everything that I hold dear, because I’m putting myself into a situation where it pretty much scares the crap out of me most days – oddly enough not the running part, but the interaction with other humans part. I’m scared of failing again, that’s probably what it comes down to, and in these two songs those fears managed to rise up to the surface and make me wobble.
Once the song was over I got on with my training. And I came away, not feeling shaken, nor stirred. But feeling alive, feeling vulnerable, feeling as though I’ve been touched by fire. This is my condition, and it’s an endurance run in itself, as it will last for the rest of my life. If I can endure that, then I can endure anything else because so far nothing has burnt my nerve endings like Bipolar Disorder.
It’s not just being up and down, it’s being so far up that I feel like I am helium, and feeling so far down that I feel like I am lead. It’s not being emotional. It’s feeling emotions so intense that they can knock the wind right out of your guts when you least expect it. It’s feeling emotions so intense that something that may appear to one as being banal, innocuous, or plain silly, could affect me so badly that I suddenly feel like the tiniest speck of viral dirt on the planet, and ashamed to even exist. A song doesn’t just make me feel emotional, a song has the ability to strum at my emotions and snap at my heart strings to the point of breaking them. Sometimes, they do break. And when they do they hurt so much that I am unable to breathe. When that happens, I am so far gone into my emotional existence that I cannot feel or think, I cannot imagine taking another breath, taking another step, or living another day.
This journey has come with so many incredible twists, that five months ago I never could have them dreamt up!
- I’ve revived my creative endeavours via photography and illustration, graphic design and blogging.
- I’ve started up a shop page so that I can sell designer products (my daughters especially love this) based on my running inspirations – be they people, places, words, or things, with 100% profits going directly to the fundraising effort (OK, so it’s 20% of the product price but every single penny counts!) and I’ve already made a sale! Whoop!
- I’ve asked, and I have received (sounds so simple but getting to the point of directly asking someone for help is my Everest).
- My return route has been created (I was face-planting my desk most nights just to get from LE to JOG!) by the superb team at Endomondo who are now supporting me on the challenge in a variety of roles, I cannot wait to share these with you!
- I’m receiving messages of support which fill my heart with glee.
- The donations are trickling in.
- My anxiety about where to sleep is beginning to diminish (a teeny tiny bit) now that I have scoured the country for hotels and B&Bs at my stopover points and have a list to contact (this is probably going to make me tremble in fear – having to use the phone!)
- I have my running fuel plan and the recovery fuel plan is starting to materialise.
I still have 9 weeks to go, and yet I feel like I’ve already completed the challenge and am celebrating with the wonderful people who supported me and helped me to survive and fight another day. I know that the meditation is making magical things happen, so I focus on those positives when the going gets tough. My battle here isn’t physical; the physical strife can be endured and repaired. My true battle is in my mind. I’m arming myself with the support, the team, the volunteers, the believers, the ones who show me love and compassion. I am making memories and storing them for the days when I need to dig deep and recall what the heck I’m doing this for.
All of those who have touched my life with support and love may not realise it, but they are slowly changing the world! The effect that they have on me helps me into a place where I am able to effect change to help someone else. Isn’t that empowering? We are all truly connected.
Memories and minds are turbulent and terribly torturous things, or they’re terrifically tantalising and tenacious.
Just a spoonful of alliteration for breakfast, now let’s talk tents.
One of my previous posts (Mindful Adventures) introduced some new characters to this adventure story, all of whom are significantly inspirational women who do things because they can, and/or because they feel they must. Whichever your style, or story, it’s what comes out of the experience that needs sharing, because these stories put the fire in the minds of others — young, old, middle-aged, and neither young nor old (depending on which way you’re looking at it).
The phrase that everything happens for a reason may be overused sometimes but it really does encapsulate how extraordinary things can occur as a result of seemingly innocuous situations.
We’re (the royal we) about three months into this current adventure of deciding to train for a run from one end of Britain to the other, and back again. That’s really not very long, and yet it feels like this has been my existence for many years! So much has happened in such a short space of time, whereas the previous six months were a drugged, sleepy, blurry fuzziness with only a few brightly coloured spots that I fortunately captured on camera to remind myself of. It’s been said that if you want a true memory, you need to look with your eyes, and not with your camera lens. I wholeheartedly agree, but on this occasion, I’m so glad that I dismissed that idea and made a point-and-shoot song-and-dance of the good days.
What I mean is, that my memory is not so good now. My Tom will probably argue the toss on this one, but actually the disrupted sleep, the fatigued brain, the emotional stress, the chronic fatigue, the paranoia and the anxiety probably all contribute to a memory bank that hasn’t worked particularly well for a while. I used to have a fantastic memory for numbers, licence plates, birthdays, faces, names. I think I scared quite a few former police colleagues when I could reel off case numbers from memory at 2am whilst travelling in a car because I’d overheard on the police radio the name of someone who’d been stopped on the street, in a different town. How that was possible (on reflection) isn’t obvious; I was still particularly stressed from a broken marriage, single-parenthood and full-time policing career whilst studying for a Modern Languages degree and training for triathlons. Perhaps my age? Has my mind-mapping capability diminished due to pharmacorps? Who knows!
(probably a neurosurgeon)
Our memories are wonderful when they remind us of wonderful things. The feeling you get from a wonderful memory can inspire you to go on and achieve; though they have been perhaps a speck on your life’s chartered course, that speck was there for a reason, and made all the difference. Always be grateful for the specks! Cue Dr Seuss…
“You have brains in your head, you have feet in your shoes, you can steer yourself any direction you choose.”
But our memories can also help us to remember that we have prevailed in turbulent times. And whilst the images invoked may not appear cosy and warm, we are still able to feel grateful for the strife because through it we triumphed by focusing on some form of affirmation, routine or exercise that got us through the torture. For Felicity Aston, it was a simple phrase of “just get out of the tent” that helped her to focus on the one thing that would get her going in order to complete her solo mission across the Antarctic ice sheet. Being in situations that call for the mind to respond, adapt, learn, review, and leap, whether we put ourselves there or we find ourselves there as a result of external forces beyond our immediate control, it is still down to us to take the next step. As Dr Seuss puts it, “You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”
We can set our course. Invictus (the movie if you prefer) by William Ernest Henley tells us…
“I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.”
On life’s high seas we can’t set the waves, the wind, the rain, the storms, the temperatures or the rocks and icebergs in our path, but we can steer towards and through, around or over.
My current memory is lacking in quality, I admit. I’m still sure I’ve misplaced some emails from people who wrote to me (sorry if that includes you!).
My current mind is still doing the loop-da-loop as I settle with medication, or accept it. I’ve been reflecting as to why this past month was pretty much awful compared to the first two, where motivation, training, mileage and energy were much higher. I expect that a fuzzy mind mixed with the swooping cycles of hypomania and depression is hampering my motivation to be able to run, and the confusion is feeding my body with funny signals, perhaps resulting in my stomach aches. Rather than fight that, I have to let it pass, like a rocky outcrop on my mind’s map. But in my mind…somewhere deep down…there isn’t a shred of doubt that this isn’t the right course for me, because…
- I have completed this challenge in my head and my heart many times
- Supporters are purchasing and sharing my inspired product designs on RedBubble and my ethical Vegan personal care on Arbonne so that they can walk with pride knowing that 100% profits have been donated to the fundraising effort
- Runners young and old (and the rest in between) are being inspired to get out of their tent to make a difference to someone else’s lives, and their own
- I’m visualising the celebrations of joy and hope from delivering five cheques worth £10,000 each to five incredible mental health charities, and the outcome of that fundraising will be undeniably magnificent for the service users who reap the benefit
Today, my just get out of the tent, is to simply get out of bed! I’ve never been a morning person by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m struggling to start in order to keep going. Focusing on getting out of my bed today started a chain reaction, which led me to writing this…