Begin! You’ll only regret it if you don’t

You have to begin. In beginning there is providence. “The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.” Goethe

Before beginning something new, there is often doubt (can I really do this? Little old me?!), coupled with fear (I’m gonna end up hurt/homeless/a fool/dead), to contend with. Explorer and adventurer Ed Stafford was assailed by all of these emotions before embarking on his epic walk along the entire length of the Amazon river, from the source in Camana, Peru on the Pacific coast, to Maruda Beach in Brazil on the Atlantic coast. A journey which nobody was ever known to have accomplished before, he estimated it would take him one year to do – it took him two-and-a-half years. He was told by all that it was madness to attempt, and that he’d die trying. His family said they believed in him, but to quote his tongue-in-cheek words ‘that didn’t help cos they didn’t have a f***ing clue!’ All the experts told him it was suicide or impossible. But he began anyway. He followed his dreams. He chose to live life, rather than wonder ‘what if’?

If you’re choosing to do something hard, it might and probably will all feel like too much. You’ve taken on too big of a thing, you can’t do this, not now at least. It’s too soon. I’ll wait. I’ll do it after x, y or z, we tell ourselves. Well, it’s not too soon. Now really is the time.

Start, even when you think you have a reason not to

I’m a huge fan of the London Marathon. Despite applying through the ballots, I’ve never been lucky enough to get in and so have not run it yet. But I love to watch it on the TV, and remember as a kid, watching all of those people running, and feeling a huge bubble of emotion at what they were doing, without really understanding why. The music that the BBC use each year for the coverage sends a shiver up my spine and mists my eyes every time I hear it. There have been some incredible performances over the years, but for the purpose of this post, I wanted to mention a great story from the 2006 wheelchair marathon. David Weir is one of the most successful athletes Great Britain has ever had, winning a total of 6 Gold medals at the Paralympic Games and 6 London Marathons. And it is his second London victory I want to draw your attention to, as he nearly didn’t start, nearly didn’t begin. He won the race with a (then) new course record of 1:29:48, despite the wet conditions, and being ill on the build up both to, and during the race. He was interviewed at the finish and I was staggered when I heard him say “I wasn’t even going to take part this morning. I’ve been suffering from a cold and it was 50/50 whether I would turn up or not.” He had a cold and still won, and in the fastest time ever! I remember thinking at the time ‘how would he be feeling now if he’d not raced? Wondering if he should have had a go? Should have gone to that start line anyway to see what he could do?‘ The same thought must surely have crossed his mind.

David Weir
David Weir

I thought about this a lot over the years, this fine line between starting and not starting, the tricks the brain plays on us to console us that it’s ok to not try today, there will always be tomorrow. Well that might not be the case. Better to live today to the max, before tomorrow. When tomorrow comes it will be today, and we can live it to the max then, in its own turn. So it was that I found myself in a similar situation to David Weir, on the build up to the South Downs Way 100 2016, my second hundred miler. I’d been struggling with the same groin injury that had nearly scuppered my race the year before. It had gone away in the autumn of 2015, but flared up again the following Spring, and my training had suffered greatly as a result. I didn’t dare run long on the injury for fear of making it really bad, so would split my long training runs up, covering perhaps 20-24 miles over two shorter runs, one at the start and one at the end of the day. As race day came closer, I really didn’t think I’d be able to get round. I considered deferring my entry to the following year, but David Weir’s story came back to me, and I thought about how I would feel on the morning of the race, as a spectator rather than a competitor. I decided to give it a go. I decided to begin.

Better to live today to the max, before tomorrow. When tomorrow comes it will be today, and we can live it to the max then, in its own turn.

I knew from my training that if I ran using a shorter stride pattern, the injury gave me less trouble. So I gave myself a set of rules to stick to – not to over-stretch my groin at any point, no sudden movements or direction shifts, keeping my legs facing the same way as my body at all times, and moving in a conservative forward motion in order to maintain the shortened running pattern for the entire race. Easier said than done over 100 miles of undulating trail… From the pervious year I knew what it felt like to be on my feet for 29+ hours, and prepared myself mentally for another long effort. We started running, and despite trying to tell myself not to, I couldn’t help but over-focus on my groin, half-imagining at times an increase in the pain, a teetering on the edge of that point where something inside me would snap and I knew I’d have to stop. The first check-point came and went, the second and third. Before I knew it we’d reached the main aid station at Washington, mile 54, and I didn’t only feel fine, I felt good. At the same point the previous year, I was feeling nauseous from a poor nutrition strategy, but this time I felt great. And the groin was still ok… The incredible people who helped me the year before were manning the Botolphs aid station at mile 62, and their positive energies and huge hugs vitalised me further. The night section came… and went without incident. Just before dawn, I reached Alfriston at mile 91, the watershed of my 2015 race, and left there feeling like I’d only just begun. I knew I’d get round now, even if the groin popped. I floated the last 9 miles, and felt like I flew around the athletics track in Eastbourne. There was nobody more surprised than me when I finished the race just under the 24-hour mark, earning myself a much-coveted ‘100 miles in a day’ buckle. And to think, I contemplated not starting…

My South Downs Way 100 medal from 2016. I'm glad I started the race. Begin your dreams.

Just do it, begin

It’s better by far to begin and fail than to die without even trying. Whatever that thing is that you have always wanted to start – go, and start it. Today. Not a tomorrow that will never come. If you’ve started something and are doubting yourself, take a step back – the hardest step is often beginning the thing in the first place, so enjoy the journey you’ve set yourself upon, soak all of the feelings up, for they will provide moods of future joys. When you succeed, your life will forever by the richer for it. But only if you begin… There really is a boldness and a magic in it.

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