The trouble with New Year goals

I’m going to start by saying that I’m not rubbishing those of you who have set New Year goals. I’ve got some for 2018 too. But the trouble with goals is the pressure you put on yourself to achieve them.

Take my 2017 goals.

• Do winter ML training and also do 15 winter days for log book – ✔️

• Lead climb VD outdoors

• Try ice climbing ✔️

• Half marathon ✔️

• Climb 6b indoors by the end of the year and be able to lead 5s.

• Reach 60 parkruns

• Lead an Alpine route

• Try skiing ✔️

• Learn to ride a motorbike

Now the ticks hide the real story behind last year. I’d already committed to doing the winter ML training and where’s the stress in going on a training course? Getting 15 days for my log book became quite stressful as this winter started though. I found myself putting unnecessary pressure in myself to do routes and weirdly became quite nervous about navigating in white outs. No logical reason why, I love navigation challenges, and I had a blast in Storm Eleanor on a rescue team night nav training this week. The pressure to be out in Scottish winter became less fun though.

Lead climb VD and reach 6b and lead 5 sport climbs. Where do I start with that one? Climbing terrifies me. It’s the one thing I do that I really have to be in the right frame of mind for and I’ve learnt I have to be with the right type of people too. So last year wasn’t that successful for climbing. I had lots of incidents of crying seconding routes and only managed to lead 3 diffs. I did get up to leading 5s indoors but again it matters a lot who I’m with and I found myself having wobbles on 4s sometimes.

Ice climbing seemed an easy one to tick off, weird since rock climbing scares me. But it was a holiday with friends who knew it was my first time out so there was no pressure to perform at any level. As it was, I loved it.

I managed 2 half marathons and a 25km race, with mixed success. The trail races nearly killed me but the Great North Run felt like a blast. I’ve failed to get a proper training pattern though so I never reached 60 parkruns, although I did get to 50.

While I did have a fantastic Alpine trip and did some great AD routes I did not lead anything, again down to confidence and being with people more experienced than me.

Skiing was an easy tick at the end of the year and I lost interest in riding a motorbike.

So you see my dilemma?

The things I really care about succeeding at are the ones I fail to achieve. The goals I set to achieve them become my barriers, no matter how small they are.

So here’s the plan for 2018.

To be kind to myself.

• I want to lead 3 severe routes and 7 VDs.

But it’s ok if I cry. It’s ok to say no to a route. It’s ok to pick easy stuff too. It’s ok if I get to the end of the year and have only got part way to this too. I’m going to try to second more harder stuff too though.  I have a friend who would thing that’s a poor attitude to learning climbing and I should be sucking it up and getting stuck in. That approach didn’t make for happy climbing last year so I’m not doing that again.

• I want to run a marathon.

I might find this easier to do if I can find the time to train as I’m not the competitive person who needs to beat a certain time. Finishing is always my goal.

• I wanted to do my winter ML assessment in early 2019, but my recent winter experience had made me rethink this goal. I’m putting too much pressure on myself to perform, so instead I want to just get 20 winter days in and have fun. Then I’ll see what happens.

And that’s where I’m leaving it this year. I want to be kind to myself. Life isn’t about smashing out goals and punishing yourself for failures. I want to have fun in my adventures.

So if you have set goals for 2018, make sure you enjoy them. Don’t punish yourself for any set backs, just get outside and have fun.

The relationship of Fun/Fear

You’ve probably heard of type 2 fun – when fun challenges you and might scare you but otherwise leads to massive personal development.

I actually imagine fun to be a bubble that I’m in. Its a fairly massive bubble that most of the time I never notice the edges of where it becomes fear. As I’ve pushed myself to do harder and newer things the bubble has grown.

For example, I now love running in the dark on my own. I enjoy hiking long distances in the mountains far from civilisation and love being out in the cold Scottish winters with my face freezing. I love travelling alone to countries that don’t even share the same alphabet, let alone have English speakers.

I like to test the edges of the bubble to work out how far I can push it without popping it. For me this translates to sobbing pathetically or having to concentrate so hard I can hardly think straight and end up with a massive migraine.

There have been some surprises on this journey to stretch my bubble – for example I’ve never been great with heights so was surprised to find I loved paragliding.

I never expected to want to climb higher after reaching Kilimanjaro summit and to continue to want to push this limit in Nepal and Bolivia, going higher and more technical. And to wonder what else I could achieve too…

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I never thought I’d enter a 25km trail race after my first 10km only 2 years ago. While I was physically knackered at the end I was proud of my time, given the heavy rain and sliding around on the rocks and falling over in the mud. I certainly never thought after feeling broken at the end I would run another 2 half marathons in the same year and be considering a marathon.

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I still have a love/hate relationship with climbing due to harbouring a fear of falling. I really have to be in the right frame of mind and with the right people that I trust to feel confident. And even then I can still break out the disco legs and drop an f-bomb.

Trad lead climbing is still on the edge of what I’m happy with, I still shake with fear too much but its a fear I want to conquer. It’s on the right side of the edge of the bubble. I know if I conquer this fear there’s a whole world of challenges to complete.

There’s been few activities that I’ve tried and would never do again; things that were just too far the wrong side of the bubble for me. Caving is possibly one – I don’t enjoy abseiling at the best of times but in the dark and wet was possibly a step too far. Sobbing at the bottom of Alum Pot wasn’t my finest hour, and I’m grateful to Ben and Aly for giving me the opportunity; but sometimes in life you find things that you just don’t have the stomach for.

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In striving to expand my bubble and I’m either going to run out of experiences to try, or keep finding myself shaking like a leaf wishing I was somewhere else. Thats the thing with the fun/fear relationship though, trying to find out which side of the bubble you’ll be is addictive.

Dealing with injury and getting active again

Sorry for the lack of posts for the last month. I’ve done nothing worthy of writing about. By that I mean I haven’t walked more than a mile in a day – its been mind numbingly boring and cabin-fever frustrating.

After a fantastic trail run at the Keswick Mountain Festival and then completing the Dovestones Diamond 10k in the rain a week later I felt fantastic and totally ready for running a half marathon. Nevermind the summer months rock climbing and peak-bagging over the fells.

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Then I managed to tear my right calf muscle which put pay to any ideas of running more races. I wouldn’t mind if I did it on a long romp across the moors, or during a race – then I could understand it being from overuse. Instead, I stepped off a kerb crossing the road and it went just went pop! I knew right away that it wasn’t going to be something I could just walk off.

So for the last month I have spent a massive amount of money (I dread to think) on physio, but its been worth every penny. Nothing means more to me than being able to enjoy being active outdoors, so I don’t care about the expense. During this period of hobbling around and calf stretching I have also learnt that my left knee which I twisted 6 years ago has a degenerative tendon so I need to start strengthen around it. And my left big toe which causes me agony when climbing is degenerative arthritis – nothing to be done about this according to the specialist, just deal with it when it gets worse. Not good for 33! Can I trade in my legs for an upgrade?

So lots of physio and a steroid injection in my toe later I managed to get back out for a hike this weekend. Nothing spectacular – I picked a couple of peaks that were on the tick list, but would normally be a terrible dull romp over the moors on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales. I didn’t want to over do it, and the hills need ticking eventually… (even injury doesn’t stop me being addicted to peak bagging!)

I was also dog sitting Ted, my favourite border terrier, who has also been suffering from a limp. Once out on the hills though you’d never have known we were both injured – Ted especially, as he pulled me along all day wanting to chase sheep.

We headed up Gragareth, a hill supposedly the highest point in Lancashire sat firmly in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. I’m not going to lie, its not a fantastic ridge with miles of interesting terrain. It is a moorland fell top which stretches out as miles of grass and sphagnum moss bog which would be awful in the depth of a wet winter and midgy ridden on a hot summer’s day. Thankfully it was neither yesterday, so while we got soaked bog trotting, it was otherwise a perfect day for such a walk. Ted did take a dive in a bog up to his neck though which wasn’t ideal.

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The whole round only took about three and a half hours, which was good, as by the time we got back to the car, my knee was screaming and my calf aching. I was also hoarse from shouting at Ted to slow down. Well, at least we got out!

Finding my project

Mountains are like an addiction. The more you climb them the more you want. The need to feel the cold biting wind on your skin or the sun on your face. The desire to walk until you’ve reached the top and to just keep going.

But there comes a point when the thrill of a bimble up a mountain (however hot and sweaty you get) isn’t enough anymore and routes have to be harder and higher.
I’ve had a lifetime of climbing mountains and long distance walks and now I find ticking mountains off lists isn’t enough. (Though that is an addiction that’s ingrained in me now!)

Climbing Kilimanjaro in 2013 was something I’d wanted to do since I was 15 (also the year I decided I wanted to walk the Pennine Way).  Having achieved it, the combination of realising I could deal with altitude and a desire to be out in the snow pushed me to the Himalayas last year. And while my first 6000er didn’t go according to plan, with strong winds at high camp and feeling wiped out, it hasn’t deterred me from wanting more. And let’s face it Mera Peak is awesome but it’s a long walk in to do 3 days of mountaineering, winding through crevasses, sleeping high on the glacier. I’ve done technically more challenging stuff in Scotland though the altitude takes some beating!

How can I keep stretching myself?

And then I finally understood the meaning of the term that I hear climbers use a lot – project.

I have a project.

Not one I’m willing to commit in writing for fear of failure, or my idea being stolen.

There’s a good chance I’ll never be good enough, or time, cash, skills and fear will hold me back. But it’s nice to have a long term goal to reach for. Something to work towards. Something to frame everything I do.

A bit like a jigsaw, I need to learn all the pieces and fit them together in the complexity of life for it to come off, and even if I fail I’ll have had a blast trying. It was after all, the goal of my ML which turned me into a summit addict, constantly seeking out new places to go.

So in reaching my goal:

I need to be fitter – so running harder and longer should sort that. I have three races booked for May and June. Considering that this time last year I didn’t run at all I think I’m doing well to commit to two fell races and a half marathon already. And there’s the rest of the year yet too. And how much further could I go?

I need to climb harder – I climb weekly indoors and my goal this year is to get outside regularly not just a couple of times a year and to lead, even if it’s only easy routes. Overcoming my fear is important. Eventually I might set myself a grade to push for, right now just leading outdoors will be good.

I need to winter climb – I missed two winters through life getting in the way so it was good to get out a lot this winter, but I need to get vertical! I’m not going to attempt to aim for anything ludicrously difficult, I just want to be able to reach Scottish grade 3 happily eventually, and Alpine D. (That one will take longer to achieve.)

Be good to my boss and save up – the project will require a fair amount of time off work over the years it might take to achieve. (No it’s not Everest, I work for a charity I’ll never afford that!)

So that’s a bit of a late New Year’s resolution, that’s more like a life resolution. Along with me already committing to doing my winter ML at some point. Blimey, I’m going to be busy!! If nothing else it’s bound to generate a lot of funny stories.

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Why we run

Running was not something I planned to take up this year, but thanks to a couple of inspiring friends who are parkrun addicts, I’ve become one too. I started in May, shocked that whilst I have no problem walking a marathon I struggled to run for 5km without my lungs burning and feeling like I was going to be sick!

Now I’m not only beating my personal best and running fast than I ever imagined, I’ve also done my first 10k this year and thinking about a half marathon next year. Yes, it’s really that addictive.

Running and remembrance

I was just happy to finish the 10k but to have managed it in under 1 hour and to feel like I could carry on was amazing.

I’ve also met some truly inspirational people this year, running because its part of them. Running for charity, running stronger, faster and harder than I could ever imagine and yet inspiring me to push myself further.

I met Emma Timmis through helping Womenclimb, a bunch of fantastic women aiming to inspire more women to get climbing at whatever level, and to breakdown the boundaries which prevent women from taking up the sport. Emma is an amazing climber, but is also an awesome running. Just check out her blog – www.emmatimmis.com– having the length of Africa last year, this year she cycled to the Dolomites to climb and then cycled home.

I’ve also met Brendan Rendall – another powerful runner who’s not content with running multiple marathons, ultra marathons and then the coast to coast route in 8 days, he’s now planning to run the length of Malawi next year in order to raise funds to build a school. If you’re on twitter check him out @helpfomo35 or his justgiving page.

And while my running endeavours pale in comparison, having such amazing people, who are still real and not turned in to caricatures of themselves by avoiding celebrity, inspires me to try harder. I’ll probably never run a marathon but to feel the wind on my face, the rain on my skin and to feel powerful (even if only for an hour) is all I need.