the fear of making people afraid

IMG_1872Those who read regularly (hi!) will know I’m a some-times runner.

I’m not that good or that fast, but I enjoy it, and I run. When I travel for work or play, I’ll usually pack the shoes and go for a trot to explore new places. It’s a nice way to start a day, and to get to know the lay of the land wherever I happen to be.  I sometimes do the same with my bike…but it’s not quite as portable as a pair of running shoes!

Those who know me personally will also know I’m a bloke, and a fairly big and tall one.  That matters too, in the context of this story.

A while back I was on the Sunshine Coast, and early one morning laced up the shoes and headed out for a run from Coolum down to Mudjimba. It was a beautiful early morning, and quiet, with not many people out and about yet.  On the return leg I started taking little detours off the main road, into little beachside streets or waterfront walking tracks and then back out onto the main road. It was a nice bit of variety and a few extra metres each time.

The first time I did so, I came back out onto the main running track just in time to see a fellow runner (a woman, and yes, in this story, it matters) join the trail from a side street a little in front of me. I was traveling a slightly quicker, so passed her by, offering a quick “hello” as a greeting often shared by runners, and continued on my way. Soon after I turned off the trail onto another little side route, and when I returned to that main trail found myself just behind the same woman. As I said, I was running a little faster so I went past, and continued on my way. I took the next side-route and on rejoining the main road, once again found myself behind the same woman.

This happened about three or four times before I made it back to my starting point, turned off the trail once and for all and went home for breakfast.

Later that morning (I’m a bit slow to pick up on these things) it occurred to me that I could well have been causing my fellow runner to think she had a stalker…a middle aged, dark-sunglassed, huffing-and-puffing stalker who kept on detouring and then running up behind her.  She could well have been quite anxious about my presence, really worried in the quiet early morning about my motives.

I have to say it was a horrible feeling, that I could have been causing anxiety or fear in another, and even worse that I hadn’t realised the possibility until later (when it was too late to take a different route for example). It matters not that the repeated encounters were totally innocent. It matters not that I was there (on the trail) first. In some ways it matters not whether she actually was afraid or anxious (I have no idea). The very possibility was real.

What concerned me then, and concerns me now, is that we live in a world where the very presence of one (man) can and does cause anxiety or fear in another (woman). We live in a world in which I understand women are continuously targeted for harassment or intimidation. Where men (yes not all men, hopefully including me and most men that I personally know…but surely that’s not the point) continue to inflict violence upon women that they know (and don’t know).

And that my feeling of anxiety and fear about making another afraid and anxious while palpable to me completely pales into insignificance when compared to the experiences and feelings of many women every day.

We live in a world in which this video (released yesterday) depicts an everyday reality for some/many women. I can’t say from personal experience if this is genuinely what it’s like (for as already canvassed above…I am a bloke), but women I know and trust tell me that it is:

And we live in a world in which a well known V8 Supercar driver (my sport of choice, please don’t judge) said today:

Hello Adelaide! In town for the 2015 @Clipsal500 launch. Most pressing item for the day, what do the grid girl uniforms look like?

This is a man with a huge public following, and with a wife and young daughter. And who continues the culture-wide objectification of women. And who is defended in social media commentary as “just having some fun”. And this is the relatively innocent end of the spectrum.

And….I don’t know what to do with all of this. Really, I don’t.

I’m a man. Men cause this.  Maybe not me personally (to my knowledge). Maybe not many of the men who might read this.  But we do, collectively, harass, objectify, instil fear in women everyday.

And that’s just not right.

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workshop description: the art gallery

I’ve had the pleasure of hanging out with ministers and leaders of Uniting Churches in a Queensland city in recent months as they work together to try and figure out what the future looks like.

It’s been enjoyable to be a small part of what is a gentle process of sharing stories, getting to know one another, and slowly activating an imagination about a shared future.

Last night was the next step in the process, and a fun way of encouraging imagination, creativity and building something together.  We had about 35 present for an evening event we dubbed “The Art Gallery”. Read on for a description of what was a fun, creative and imaginative night of resourcing leadership. Continue reading

what happened to joy?

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There’s a 7-year old who shares my house, and my life.

She is ridiculously, relentlessly, noisily happy.

I mean, within moments of her eyes opening in the morning there’s a smile on her face, and it rarely leaves until the last giggling, cackling, out-loud goodnight tickle fades away.  She is just happy.

Her happiness is out-and-out infections, and those around cannot help but be swept up in the joyful life that bursts forth involuntarily.  She is just happy.

Even when disaster strikes (like a stubbed toe or an uncooperative older brother who refuses to play by her rules) the smile doesn’t fade for long. Wherever, whenever….just happy.

I feel the need to include an emoticon….  😀

It struck me this week, as once again I found myself marveling at this seven year old and her crazy antics, that somewhere along the line, we seem to have gradually lost this kind of general happiness.

And when I say we, I partly mean those of us who are a little older (and dare I say it, more sensible) as individuals.  But I mostly mean all of us collectively, our society.

It’s rare that I notice outright happiness, infectious laughter and non-stop smiling kind of behaviour.  How about you?

More and more we’re prone to expressing our frustration, disagreement, disapproval or downright dislike.  It seems like there’s a constant flow of dissatisfaction in our public discourse, and even in our private moments.

We’re more likely to be sadly observing how busy we are, how hard life is, how expensive everything has become, how the people around us just aren’t doing a good enough job (at anything!) than we are to just be loving life, out loud.

Maybe it’s years of advertising rammed down our throats 24/7 with the singular message “who you are, what you have is not good enough/beautiful enough”.

Maybe it’s the constant assault of “it’s all about you.”

Maybe it’s wall-to-wall media that is focused on stories of conflict and anger because they sell more advertising space.

Maybe it’s none or those things, or all of them.

I just know…when I watch the seven year old, I see in her this kind of raw happiness that I don’t observe anywhere near as much in the rest of my life.

And that makes me sad.

So my new month’s resolution (is that a thing? I think so!) is to strive for happiness. To find and enjoy moments of pure joy each day. Join me (if you’re not already there)?

PS: Happy birthday PG!

Gold Coast Marathon 2014: 75% fun….25% pain….

IMG_2255 It is early, the sun just poking its nose over the horizon on the kind of picture postcard winter morning that turns the tackiness of Surfer’s Paradise into something beautiful – all silver and gold, shimmer and shadow. It seems like a nice morning to go for a run. The air is cool but not cold, with the promise of warmth to come. So I join with a few others (well, 5000 others actually) and off we trot.

At first we go south, heading over the bridge at Southport before finding the waterfront at Main Beach and then turning to follow the beach 15km to Burleigh. Some charge like there is no tomorrow, running at unimaginable speeds, secure in the confidence that overflows from elite athletes who can do anything. But most of us are a little slower – just moving at a pace we judge sustainable, conscious of the many miles to go that day.

I don’t know anybody around me, but we run in comfortable companionship. The rhythm of pounding feet and beating hearts accompanied by cheering strangers and screaming kids becomes the soundtrack of a lovely morning. Every so often we find a table laden with blessed relief – water and sports drink – and there is a mad scramble (not quite panic….but not too far away either) to grab some of that liquid gold to feed dry mouths and even drier muscles.

And every so often I find a familiar face in the crowd. A wonderful friend, a son, daughter or wife. There are banners, encouraging words, lolly snakes, wide smiles. And a lift of spirits too, followed shortly afterward by a strange feeling of loss and loneliness as unknown faces once again crowd peripheral vision.

GCmarathon 2014At Burleigh the crowds swell. The noise raucous and infectious. Somewhere a band plays “Take me home, country road” as we turn to head north once again, faces set now into the morning sun. The sense of rhythm is strong, the miles pass easily by.  Surfers ride, crash and paddle. Kids play. Dogs bark. Coffee shops overflow onto the pavement serving Sunday morning breakfast.  Eggs Benedict invades my nostrils. Helicopters buzz over the fastest of all – showing the rest of us just how far ahead they really are. All is well in the world. I could do this again. This is fun. Somewhere else a different band plays “Today I don’t feel like doing anything“.  And even as we run, we laugh at the irony. It is still a beautiful morning. Everything according to plan.

Gradually, as the half-way point falls behind, as the 3/4 mark starts to appear in the distance, things start to change a little. The comfortable cadence becomes a little strained. Calf muscles start to burn a little more, knees ache, mouth just a little drier with each step. That 3/4 mark is welcome. Family to wave and smile and laugh with. Crowds to play with. A finish line to see as we pass by and continue on our way. Not long to go. Not long. Just 12 kilometres more I ponder as I run away, suddenly feeling all alone among the crowd. The knees, the calves, the thighs start to insist now. You haven’t run this far before. You didn’t warn us. You can’t ask this of us on such a beautiful morning.

The lovely morning sun starts to burn a little, the road hot beneath the feet, the water stations seem further and further apart. And still we run away from the finishing line, further and further from where every muscle, every cell wants to be. At each drinks station the temptation to walk a few extra steps becomes overpowering. Of course I want to run the whole way, every single step – but those shrill voices in my legs start to chant one word over and over “No. No. No.” I relent, they quieten down for a moment. I run again. They protest again. And so the cycle goes. A battle that plays out in my mind, just as the same goes on in the minds of those around me. The friendly banter of earlier is gone. Each locked in a silent war of will.

We turn, now just 5k from home. A distance I run without thinking any other day of the week. A light jog after work with friends. A quick rip around the block on an early morning before family preparations for the school day call me home. Only 5k. How can 5k be so far? So insurmountable? So impossible? And then it’s four. And three. And two. And the finish line seems just as far away, as if I’m running in quicksand, stuck fast to the one spot. I trudge on, now beside another. We share the agony of the moment. Agree to overcome our screaming legs, run one last time, to finish together. A thousand times in those last metres I want to stop. To lie down. To rest. To silence my muscles. A man is down at the final turn, being helped into a wheelchair by an Ambo no more than 250m from the finish line. I want to stop, to help, to cry with him. So close. But I know that if I do, I will not start again.

So my new friend and I run on – somehow he motivates me to keep going. Faces to the sun, the noise of the crowd at last silencing the complaining quadriceps. Carpet. Fences. Grandstands. People. My family. My blessed, loving, suffering, encouraging family. My friends who drove an hour just to stand there for this moment in the sun. The clock ticking. My target time a few minutes gone. I no longer care.

If I could capture and bottle those final metres. The moment of knowing it is all but over. The moment of finally being sure I will make it. The high fives from my girls and boy, and a thousand other kids I’ve never seen before. The announcer saying who knows what, his words floating away on the morning breeze.

2 1/2 years of running. A year since this stupid idea occurred to me as I stood on the other side of the fence, cheering a friend home while having no idea what he had just endured. 6 months of training. 600km of pavement pounding.  Countless early mornings, blisters, aches and pains. And it is done. Not one metre past the line I stop running, sure and certain I will never run another step as long as I live…not even for chocolate cake. My new running friend and I shake hands, wish each other well, knowing we’ll likely never cross paths again. We shared 2km. 12 minutes. It might have been a lifetime.

I wander in a daze. I wonder in a daze. Water. Banana. Orange. More water. T-shirt. Medal. Gate. People, so many people. Vision grey at the edges. Knees weak. Muscles empty, so, so empty. Mind blank. Emotions raw and beyond control. I find my 12 year old, so proud of her dad. I hold her in the middle of the crowd, tears in my eyes and on my cheeks, knowing if I let go I will fall. I’m sure I must smell terrible and look worse, all salt-caked, sweat-dried, haggard and showing each of my years and more. But I hold on. And she holds me back.  I love this girl in this moment more than ever.

And then Sheri, and Mitch, and MK (who is the only sensible one…flatly refusing a congratulatory hug as only the rambunctious seven year old can!). A chair. A drink. My family an island in the sea of people. The sun shining. Voices chattering. Laughter. Stories. Triumph. Tragedy.

The Gold Coast Marathon.

It is done.

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PS: The next day when I arrive at the office, somebody holds the lift for me as I cross the carpark. I am forced out of sheer guilt to break into a jog to get there quickly and not delay them. It hurts my legs. But it also hurts to know I have already broken my promise never to run again.  Oh well, promise now meaningless…..I may as well run on.

PPS: So many people encouraged me in preparing for this day. In the grand scheme of all that is horrible in our world, it’s just a guy going for a run. But for me it was a big deal. Thanks to my family and friends. To Tracey. To Steve. To Andrew. To Dugald. To Paul. To another Paul. To Matt. To Ben. To the GCAM14 organisers and brilliant volunteers. To strangers by the roadside.  Most of all to Sheri and our wonderful kids.  Thanks.

PPPS: You could too. If you wanted. I’ll do it with you (don’t tell Sheri I offered).

the home run

So the end is nigh.  It’s 2 1/2 years since I first strapped on a pair of running shoes. It’s a year since I first ran a half-marathon distance, and  year since I first thought to myself “I wonder what it what would be like to run a marathon?”  It’s 5 months since I decided to actually find out and started training properly.

And it’s just now just five days until that ridiculous question is answered as I trudge power my way through the Gold Coast Marathon.

The training is done. The shoes are worn in. The eating plan for Friday and Saturday’s carb-loading is ready. The taper is well underway. Accommodation is booked. Race pack retrieved.

And now every moment of every day it’s all I think about.  Mostly those thoughts are “why?” and “this cannot end well” and “this is going to hurt”.

But occasionally there’s anticipation mixed in as well, moments I’m really looking forward to:

The energy in the field in the moments before the starter’s gun fires. Crossing the Nerang river for the first time. Running past Cavill Mall. Seeing my family at Nobby Beach and friends along the way. Turning around at Burleigh Heads to head back north again. The half-way point.  The last kilometre through swollen and noisy crowds….and so on.  I’ve played these moments a thousand times in my mind, looking forward to each of them.

I’m pretty much blocking out everything that might happen between 30k and 41k. I think that’s just going to be a world of hurt, so why bother anticipating it? 😉

There are lots of unknowns of course. Have I trained sufficiently? Have I designed my training program effectively? Will my dodgy knee last the distance? Will I get the anti-chafe stuff in all the right spots? Will I get super bored in four hours of running? Will I hit my A, B or C target times? Will I even finish?

So many unknowns.

And it occurs to me that’s pretty much how life is any time we try something new – whether it be running, starting a new job, living in a new city, becoming a parent, proposing marriage (still the most nerve wracked moment of my life….even though I was fairly confident of the answer!).

What’s your new thing? What are you preparing for that you’ve never before tackled?

We can read, we can talk to those who’ve gone before, we can surf the net and watch hours of youtube videos.  We can even train and practice, experimenting and simulating.  We can examine every possible outcome, ponder the good and the bad, mentally rehearse, get the right gear, eat the right food….and so on….ad nauseum.

We can be totally prepared.

But ultimately there comes the moment when we have to get out of bed, eat a banana, strap up the laces and run out the door.

That’s ultimately what I think I’m looking forward too the most. Standing at on the start line at 7am next Sunday morning, knowing that everything is done. Knowing that everything I can control is now controlled to the best of my ability.  Knowing that the outcomes are still unknowable. Knowing that all there is left to do is run.

And knowing that all I can do from that moment onward is deal with whatever comes my way, trusting that the preparation will give me all the tools to respond.

So here I am.

On the home run.

Thanks for reading these last few reflections about this adventure that lies ahead.  If I’m not in hospital I’ll let you know how it all turns out!

the best laid plans

I’m right in the middle of the biggest week of my training for the marathon – with a 35k run scheduled tomorrow morning marking the start of my taper toward the event now just three weeks away.

Or I should be.

Truth is, I haven’t been able to run since a really nice 20k hit out last Saturday. The rest of the weekend was spent preparing for a retaining wall construction, handling the business end of pick, shovel and jackhammer. Somewhere along the line I overdid it, and did some abdominal damage.  The Doc has been good, but recovery slower than I would have hoped. Even as Friday rolls around, I think I’m still a couple of days away from being able to run again.

Ouch.  No tears yet, but it’s been frustrating.

So, 7 days of no running has had two consequences.

First, and on the positive side of the ledger, my legs are feeling great.  All the little niggles, daily aches and pains are gone. I don’t wake up with sore ankles, don’t feel tightness in calves and shins. Everything feels fresh and ready.

But the head is not doing so well. It’s been a hard week to manage the mental side of not running when the event is so close, and the preparation so far has been so consistent.  I’m definitely glad to have had this hiccup this week and not in another week or two, but I wish I hadn’t had it at all.  I’m not sure of the impact on fitness levels. Hopefully the base fitness is there to get through this little hurdle without serious consequences for the race weekend itself.

The training plan from here is a little up in the air now.  If I can get back on the road Sunday or Monday, I’ll probably try and fit in a long run mid-week and then go back onto the plan as it currently stands.  If I can’t run until mid-next week it will be time to reassess and seek some advice on how best to use the time remaining. Maybe next Saturday might be a longer run that originally anticipated.

All of which goes to remind me, that the best laid plans never really survive very long.  There are always situations and circumstances that interfere and force us to consider change – no matter how meticulous the preparation process has been.  Whether that be a corporate strategic plan, and new year’s resolution, a family’s plans for the year ahead, or something as relatively unimportant as a marathon training plan, their is always the likelihood of change forcing its way into our reality.

Which reminds me of a reflection I wrote a little while back about this challenge of interrupted plans.  It might be time to take some of my own advice, to ponder flexibility, resilience and creativity. To enjoy this interruption and the chance to sleep in just a little longer in the mornings…at least while it lasts.

Training Since Last Blog (details at strava)

5 June – 10k @ 5.30 p/km

7 June – 20k @ 5.26 p/km

 

the value of training

This week I finally admitted it out loud:  I’m sick of training to run a marathon.

I woke up Thursday morning, alarm set early to head out for a mid-week run, and just did not want to go.  It wasn’t the consequence of a late night the previous evening, or too many days of running in the week, just the cumulative effect of weeks and months of running to try and get my middle-aged body in decent enough shape to run 42km.

This day, I was over it all.  I just wanted the race weekend to be here, and to be over, so that I can go back to bed. So that I can choose to run if I feel like it, instead of running to a schedule.

But, my schedule said run, and the last thing I’m going to do is let the months of training slide because of slackness in the last few weeks…so I dragged myself out the door and onto the pavement.

And I felt rotten the whole morning. I felt every twinge, every ache, every step. And I ran slow, and not very far.  There’s no question that state-of-mind has an impact on performance!

The next day I ran into a PE teacher/sports-trainer friend and was telling him my sob story. He said “You know Scott, those training miles, the ones that you do even when you most want to be at home in bed, they’re the most valuable training miles you will ever run”.

I didn’t believe him at the time, but with a week to ponder, I think maybe he’s right.  The moments when we somehow manage to talk ourselves into what we know is the right thing, even when we’d rather be elsewhere…those moments are important.  Maybe it’s the minutes I choose to spend reading night-time stories to the six-year old instead of snoozing on the couch. Maybe it’s the yard work, or time invested with the family, or volunteering at my community group….whatever the category, it’s the times we go when we’re just not motivated that really matter.

Anyway, a couple of days later I was scheduled for my longest run yet – 32km.  I think you can guess how much I wasn’t looking forward to that experience!  My previous longest at a little over 28km hadn’t ended well, with a little walking mixed in the last couple of km to nurse home some injured legs. That memory, together with the general funk about the whole project meant I was dreading that alarm bell.

What a surprise then, and a blessed relief, to find myself thoroughly enjoying the whole run.  Pace was good (still probably a little too fast for training…but such is life), the few aches and pains that popped up along the way disappeared as I plodded along, and to top it all off, the river was shrouded in fog to lend an ethereal quality to the early miles, before the sun came out to cheer me home. It was perhaps the best “long” run I’ve had, and definitely the best in weeks.

Don’t get me wrong. I was spent by the time I got home, and nursing a couple of pretty painful knees – but way better than my previous long run, and way better than I expected as I headed out the door that morning.

And with my 32.7k including quite a few hills (where the Gold Coast race is almost totally flat), the whole experience gave me a much needed shot of confidence that 42km is going to be achievable.

Not easy. And not pain-free. But achievable.

I guess that’s the value of the hours and hours of training. Even when it doesn’t feel like it to me, it’s been building and conditioning the muscles to do what they could not have done before. To churn out km after km on one Sunday in July, hopefully going the distance and enjoying the journey.

On this second-last long training run, I think my brain finally caught up with my body.  Everything feels like it’s nearly ready. The training is working.  There are a couple of weeks of solid running left, one more long run (35km) and then it’s into the blessed relief of the taper and pre-race rest.

I got to wondering (as I do) about parallels.  About other areas in life in which long hours of preparation, weeks and months and years of training quietly sneak up on you, preparing you for some new experience.

Maybe it’s education and formal training. Maybe it’s on-the-job learning. Maybe it’s hours of training sessions at a sport or hobby.  Maybe it’s years of practice as a first-time parent helping to prepare you for each new stage of a child’s life.

I don’t know what the answer is for you, or even necessarily for me.

I only know that training matters.  It prepares us, equips us, enables us.

Even when it’s not fun.

Training Since Last Blog

24/5  –  20km @ 5.35 p/km

27/5 – 10.4km @ 5.36 p/km

29/5 – 10.2km @ 5.33 p/km

1/6   –  32.7km @ 5.41 p/km

4/6  – Ride 40km

Details at strava