What Next?

Whilst I was in Antarctica, I was advised that I would need to have an answer to the ‘What next?’ question that would inevitably be asked by the media and others.

On the face of it, it is a simple and innocent two word question, but one that holds expectation and challenge. The honest answer at that point was ‘I don’t know. I need to digest what I have achieved and consider the possibilities and options’, but that is not the answer that was wanted.  The expectation was that I would have a clear plan and the next challenge lined up. I did have something lined up. Before leaving I had entered the new Great Glen Ultra event. That was a start. The unspoken question, however, was, would I be going for 7 Continents, and the obvious answer was to say ‘yes’ or at least that ‘I was considering the possibility of 7 Continents’ and the latter was the answer I gave.

Truth be told, the ‘what next’ question was also lurking quietly in my own consciousness too, along with the knowledge that there would be the inevitable post event and achievement low. It has been a while since I had experienced that. Each of the major events I had done throughout 2013 was a milestone leading up to the Antarctic races, so no low. I had been surfing the crest of a wave for most of the year and was about crash into the surf at the bottom of the wave. There was a minor dip in the days that followed the 100km as the adrenalin finally worked its way out of my system, but I needed to try and avoid a major crash after getting home.

The other question that was implicit in the ‘what next’ one, and which some also asked was: ‘how are you going to top that?’ I had already thought about that one. That question was in a sense less loaded and far easier to answer. The answer was ‘I’m not’. I always knew that the Antarctic challenge would be a once in a life time experience, a bit like reaching 50, it is only going to happen once, so make the most of it and accept it for what it is. I do not expect to top it, it will be there as a particularly special highlight in my life. It is not so much a case of ‘topping’ but can I build on it, use it as a foundation to move on and do other and different things and challenges.

Expectation, especially other people’s expectations, can be a tricky thing to deal with. As I have got back into training and entering events (more about this later) it has occurred to me that there is probably a significant level of expectation out there in terms of what I can do: how I will perform. Was my Antarctic achievement a fluke? Was it like the one and only time I ever dipped under 50 minutes for a 10k?

In one sense it was. I trained for 14 months specifically for it, and it was singular and focussed training. The conditions and terrain were unlike anything most marathon and ultra runners will ever experience. On the day my steady strong determined plod seemed suited to it.  There was also that magical and elusive alignment of elements.  I got the training and preparation right; I recovered well; I got the refuelling right; and, yes, there was a bit of luck there: I had two good running days when everything seemed to come together. It could have been different, a bad day, poor recovery, gastric distress, injury could all have reared their heads and played a part, but I was lucky and they did not. The net result was that I performed beyond all expectation and even left some doubters eating humble pie.

I am under no illusions though, and am managing my own expectations, and will avoid disappointment. They breed ultra runners fast and strong in Scotland so I expect to still be the ‘slow old bird’ plodding along at the back of the field, and I know there will be bad days as well as good days, and there will be other influencing factors too which will effect performance and outcome. As for other people’s expectations: I have learned that really I should not be overly concerned by them because at their worst they have the potential to undermine my confidence, determination, self belief, goals. I run and will continue to run to my own tune.

What is next for me? 2014 will not just be about my running aims and aspirations. I am going to set about diversifying what I do and bring a bit more creativity into my life: I will continue to blog and start a gentle foray into writing beyond the blog, and a synopsis for a book based on my experience over the last 12 – 18 months is taking form.  I will do some speaking and have my first talk lined up. A new website will be launched for my continuing blog activity, speaking and writing news and information.

I will continue to raise money for Alzheimer Scotland in whatever way I can.

As many of my blog readers know, my foray into race direction continues with the 2nd Loch Katrine Running Festival, which has proved to be even more popular this year if the entries are anything to go by. I will commit to continuing to hold this event and making it a regular fixture in the race calendar. In addition to this I will initiate the research into the possibility of setting up an ultra, assuming there is room for another in the already healthy and vibrant Scottish ultra schedule.

Running: I have always chosen my events carefully and for specific reasons. I have never run any of the big city marathons and don’t intend to make that a goal. For me the joy of marathons and ultra marathons is the beautiful combination of challenge and landscape.

Up until now most of my running has been in Scotland and its beautiful landscape has served me well. There is a wealth of events covering a wide range of distances and terrains, and I still have plenty that I have not done. When family were young and we were all travelling to events there was a distinct advantage to running on home turf. Now it is two of us or just me on occasion and so I have broadened my horizons and will continue to do so, bank balance permitting. I have had a taste of the exotic and extreme and I liked it. My participation in events will be based on what appeals to me and the goals I set myself: extending distance; improving endurance; new and different terrain; challenging environments and conditions. If my race/event choices take me to the remaining continents all good and well, but at the moment this is not a specific aim: likewise the West Highland Way Race.

The reason I entered the Great Glen ultra before my Antarctic trip was because it appealed and I wanted to support a new event in a new location. It gave me a focus for after the trip, for getting back into my training and my next goal: extending distance. I would also get more experience of nigh time running, this time in the dark. It also served its intended purpose of keeping the low at bay. As soon as I got back home I started to look at events and think about what I wanted to achieve.

My pride came into play and I quickly decided that I wanted to revisit one of my less successful events of 2013 again, the Hoka Highland Fling, and make a better job of it; not make the stupid mistakes I made last year and do it and myself credit. Having made that decision it made sense to do the D33 again as part of my training and preparation. I had a good day and run at the D33 in 2013 and it would be good to see if I can achieve the same again this year. On the continuing theme of extending distance and endurance, and after a bit of thought and procrastination I entered the Glenmore 24. That is going to be a whole different experience, not to mention world of pain, and it going to require a lot of thought in terms of training, approach and strategy.

Some good challenges for me over the coming year and a clear aim to extend distance and increase endurance and gain further experience on hills and technical terrain. But I remained restless, scanning about for something else. A bit like with the Antarctic Ice Marathons there was an event that I kept going back to, kept thinking about, and finally, one a wet dismal day that was also a bad day in the office I cracked. Richard Donovan who organises the Ice Marathon had set up another event: the Volcano Marathon. This marathon is located in the Atacama Desert in Chile, the driest desert in the world. It starts at a height of over 14,500 feet on the Tropic of Capricorn adjacent to the Lascar Volcano, one of the most active in Chile. Over the course of the race there are views of up to 10 other volcanoes. It is run on a mix of dirt track and rough technical terrain, hills, and dropping to just under 12,000 feet where the temperatures could reach 30+ degrees. The opposite extreme of what I have just done, and not an ultra, but it will feel like an ultra, and like no other event I have done.

Just too tempting, too hard to resist; having experienced Richard’s Antarctic event the promise of another amazing run and experience was irresistible. Altitude and thin air, challenging terrain, heat and the opportunity to feed my newly acquired appetite for adventure it was the answer to my restless spirit.