And I would run 160 miles…….

It’s been a while since I wrote, and the other day a friend kindly said, “When’s your next blog coming Andy? You have an audience now!” I did write one and lose it in the ether so this one has had a practice run. Also I think my confidence took a bit of a hit.

I started the last blog with a quote and the one that springs to mind as I write this time is:

“It takes discipline to be a free spirit” (Gabrielle Roth)

It appealed to me because after losing my job, I was surprisingly for me, filled with a sense of freedom. It did feel that some shackles were cast off and though I would miss many people, I would not miss the stress and the relentless busy headspace, the long hours, endless data and desk bound death by email.

This sense of freedom ran alongside the more negative feelings of having my choices taken away and worries about paying the mortgage and the “what the hell do I do now?” and a partially frozen feeling that came, accompanied by some sense of shame. My self confidence took a hit. Questions about who would want me to work for them now came, though I got offers of work and what a difference that made.

As I started to dream up ideas of what to do with the rest of my working life, a dream and a strong thread based solidly in the outdoors started to emerge.

I have always loved wild outdoor spaces, and have been lucky to travel and adventure in many beautiful places from high mountains to jungle. I started to think more clearly about coaching running and immersing myself in the world of self employment, and daring to think I could be doing something in my work life that I genuinely would love doing, (like I used to love social work in some distant memory). But me, a freelancer?!

To make these dreams a reality will take discipline and commitment and a sense of self belief that has wandered away at times over the last couple of months. Some of the biggest struggles have been about getting beyond my own doubts. So many people have said, “You’ll be great!” “Do it, do it!” I have such gratitude for that belief in me.

I have marvelled at my wife Lynn, self employed for many years and I have seen how hard she applies herself, but to be honest I have struggled at times to adjust to keeping on top of things that need doing. Maybe part of this is not being used to the space in my life. No 6:20am train and 9pm finishes.

I am trying to have compassion for that part of me that is unsure or late doing something, or forgets, or does not put that advert out or complete that Facebook page, but I am very good at beating myself up before that compassion comes.

It’s not that I have not been busy.

Things worthy of a mention are rescuing newts, working with some truly lovely people, running away with the circus, serious garden makeovers, watching Santa Clarita Diet and Peakie Blinders (we all need sofa downtime), making a Facebook page about running leading, planning a coaching weekend, visiting the Kiln in the Ouseburn Valley more times than is healthy for caffeine levels, making it to an aerial conditioning class and handstand classes at last, and updating my mountain leaders and rock climbing instructors log books!

I’ve had admiration for self employed people everywhere, including these lovelies above.

I have not gone to Trinidad for a planned jungle trip, and not gone to work in the Alps (because not doing things takes work too and having to entertain thoughts about leaving that solid base of home and family). I have had three catch ups with ex work colleagues and one of these being my own leaving do, or sacking do if you like. I’ve arranged an appeal, caught up with many friends and family (away from the Kiln) and attended two tender and beautiful wakes.

And I have ran. Not loads, not obsessively, just running for pure enjoyment and air and space and occasional warmth and sand, mud and trail beneath my feet. After I ran the Sandstone Way last year I commented on how ultra running was like giving myself, maybe my inner child self, permission to play out all day and all night with my friends and not have to come home for tea

Now, as the title of this blog suggests, I plan to run 160 miles on the 25th to 27th May 2018. I will not be home for tea, breakfast, lunch, tea, breakfast or lunch.

Also, “Run” sounds a bit grand. Some running, some limping, shuffling, maybe a bit of crying, walking but edging ever nearer to that finish line at Helmsley in North Yorkshire. Supported from afar by many but close up and personal by Doug the drummer and Karen and Jonny.

I guess the free spirit and discipline thing really speaks to me when I prepare to run and then actually run long distances. Nothing empties my head like a long run, few things feed my soul more than being in nature. I love challenging myself and throwing myself at the mercy of the elements. The camaraderie of the ultra running world takes some beating. With my loved ones wishing me well and being the wind at my back, the freedom to take part and be out in nature all that time is a privilege.

The preparation takes discipline. Mandatory kit to collate and remember. Maps, route descriptions, food, making sure my support team are well looked after and sorted. Weather reports, clothing, travel arrangements, sleep beforehand, arrangements afterwards. Think about what interference there is- what’s going to get in the way of hitting that finishing line? Will the pizza shop be open at Saltburn? Will I make the cut offs? The weather can’t be as bad as the 55 can it? Where might my head go down? Bloworth Crossing again? If I didn’t keep making it past Bloworth Crossing it would be my nemesis.

And all of the preparation and build up is worth it, for those moments of freedom, that moving lightly over the earth, the first glimpses of sunrise, sunsets, wildlife, seeing your fellow runners pitting themselves against the course, sharing words of encouragement, cheery marshalls at all hours and reading the encouraging signs at the checkpoints like, “Call that a hill? Wait until you see the next one”.

And though there is no way this won’t seem like a shameless plug, I want others to share this. I want to train, cajole, coax, lead and encourage others to feel the feeling of completing a challenge that they have set themselves. I have taken young people and adults into the mountains since 1990 and brought most of them back! (All of them really)

I’ve held my Mountain Leaders Award since 2002. I have coached rock climbing from the same time (1990) indoors and then obtained my Rock Climbing Instructors award (until recently SPA) in 2005. I’ve completed my Fell Running Leadership level one and I am booked on to complete the full coaching award this year. My 20 plus ultras include the Hardmoors 110, Sandstone Way North and 120 and the West Highland Way and I want to put all of that time coaching and leading and being in the outdoors to good use. I genuinely love being outside. I see it as a privilege, that freedom and physical ability to pull on some trainers and run. I would like to share that joy and if I can make a even a fraction of my living from it then that would be a great feeling.

The initial freedom I felt when I lost my job, may have allowed me to open another door. If I can get over the imposter syndrome and listen to the encouragement a bit more. It strikes me that as much as I try to pretend I am coping with being sacked, there is still shame, sadness and injustice to contend with. I can choose to run whenever I like, but I did not choose to lose my job at 53.

And yet, last Sunday as I completed the Hardmoors Wainstones Trail Marathon, there it was again, that beautiful sense of peace and freedom and an empty brain, drained body and a sense of deep satisfaction. I choose this though. I choose to run 160 miles in less than 4 weeks time and though my stomach flips a little every time I think about the distance, I totally choose to stand on that start line. And during Sunday’s marathon and many times during the Hardmoors 160 those choices will feed my soul.

Earth under feet, fire in my heart and belly, air in and out of my lungs and airy spaces all around, and over a May bank holiday every chance of a fair bit of water too!

If you fancy spending some time in the outdoors, climbing, scrambling, running, walking, navigating, or a combination of any of them, or if you know anyone who would, please get in touch. I’m a bit tied up between the 25th and 27th May though! Thanks for reading. Next blog circa 28th May, whatever happens on that 160 mile journey. Discipline to prepare and show up and to run with a free spirit.



6 Responses to “And I would run 160 miles…….”

  1. Richard Fergie Says:

    You should put in some details on how people can get in touch with you

  2. Lyn Watson Says:

    “It takes discipline to be a free spirit” That’s going on my fridge right now Andy! Lovely read as always…. The daily routine is such a key thing for finding your flow – Mine used to be great with the B&B and now I find it much harder (hence the quote on the fridge!) You ARE great – kick that story-telling imposter into touch lovely. Have a fabulous weekend XXX

  3. andystephenson Says:

    Ah thank you Lyn! Kind words xx

  4. Kay Ashley Says:

    I LOVE you, Andy Stephenson. Have been off work since Xmas so was not aware of your situation. You will succeed in everything you do. Kisses all over your face. Kayxxxx

    • andystephenson Says:

      Thank you so much lovely. Sorry to hear you’ve been off. Thanks for all your support while I was “there” xx and now xx

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