• Advice to runners - including myself

    Tomorrow I'm going to start running at 11am Finnish time (9am UK time) and I'll keep running until 1.20pm (11.20am UK time). 26.2 hours along a street that's 250 metre long. There's even a hill on the street (I can't seem to avoid a hill).

    I'll be running in silence because this is a performance art piece and it's called Running Beyond Language. Language encourages order and sense and reason, but sometimes in life there is no order, there is no sense and there is no reason. For me, running is a reflection of that: when you run far enough there is no sense: definitions slip away, boundaries fade. You become part of the world just as it is; just as you are. There is no sense to it, there is only the experience of it.

    And those of you who run will have that experience.

    Tomorrow, I will have that experience.

    When you commit to a run you have to balance home life, work life and spare time commitments with training for a run. Sometimes the event will arrive and you will feel prepared, you will be pleased with what you've done and happy that you've done as much as you think you need to have done. But sometimes the event will arrive and you'll feel as if you haven't done enough training, maybe you didn't go on enough long runs, or your long runs weren't far enough. Perhaps you had a last minute injury or unexpected commitments that meant you couldn't do as much as you planned. Or maybe you just struggled to motivate yourself to get out the door and train.

    Everyone has a different reason for entering a race, a different reason to run.

    For those who enter a marathon, the event starts with the decision to enter. The marathon itself stands as a pinnacle: for some a distance too great to even contmeplate covering by foot, they don't want to do it, EVER! For others it's a distant dream: one day, they say, I'll run a marathon. For others still, it's a goal. They might not know if they can do it, but they try, they'll give everything they've got to find out. For some people, it's a memory, they did it! They actually did it! And they are NEVER doing it again! For yet others, it's an addiction. A calling. They hear their name and they come running, again and again and again. Some people run for the first time, some people run for the last time, some people run to raise money for charity, some will be chasing a Personal Best. But everyone who runs is relentlessly moving forward.

    In 2013 I ran 26 marathons in 26 days. This was another performance about running: I ran during the Edinburgh Festival on The Royal Mile. It's incredibly busy along the Royal Mile in August so the performance had to negotiate and navigate it's way through the crowds. The Royal Mile is a one mile stretch of road, and it's a hill, running up and down each day was equivalent to climbing Ben Nevis each day. I was interested in the idea of motivation: how do we keep getting up and trying to something if we have no idea if we are going to do it?

    And I had no idea how I was going to do it. How would I, then a mother of two sons in her very late thirties run 26 marathons in 26 days? Previous to that performance I wasn't a runner: I had even spent part of my life as a sitter. In my early twenties a series of unfortunate events, the last of which was a motorbike accident led me down the path to a breakdown whcih manifested itself physically. My legs stopped working and my body gave up. The road to recovery was slow and very sleepy. So I wanted to find out how do we get out of that chair? How do we motivate ourselves? How do we face fear? How do we ask for and accept help?

    I asked people to run with me and I spoke to them about these things too. And I found that the reasons we have to motivate ourselves are as rich and diverse and beautiful as we are. And when you run, it is important to remember what motivates you because there will come a time when you'll need to draw on that reason to give you strength.

    A long run isn't easy. There will be times when you'll feel on top of the world, like a super hero, as if you can conquer anything. But there will also be times when you feel as if you can't possibly take another step, when the distance seems beyond reach, unattainable, unachievable. That is the time to be kind to yourself. To remember that all moments pass. The only certainty we have is the moment we are in. We know that moment will pass and we hope another will come.

    My low point is inevitable. I'll be tired, I'll be sad, I'll be angry, I'll struggle to take another step. If I fight the low point it becomes stronger, more insistent: it wants to be recognised. But if I acknowledge it, it passes. Sometimes I can move a feeling on by taking a physical action: if I feel I can't take another step I surprise myself by taking another step, and then another and then another. I find out I was wrong and it's ok to be wrong. I can keep going. In a beautiful contrast though, the acknowledgement of a happy feeling doesn't always cause it to pass, sometimes it can intensify it. And when it does move on the memory of that feeling remains and I can use that to power me through the next low moment. Each step is an opportunity; a chance to do it again. Each time I turn around at the end of my 250 metre running track, I have the chance, the opportunity to repeat myself, to re-invent myself. A chance to do it again, to do it better, to do it worse, but a chance nevertheless.

    In training for my performance I've been lucky enough to work with sports scientists from The Human Performance Unit at Essex University. They give me advice on what to eat, how to train, how to think. They helped me to identify that a low moment can often be triggered by a physical need: I might not have eaten enough, I might need to drink more, I might be too hot or too cold or I might be tired. And the way to deal with those needs is to address them: to eat something, to have a drink, to adjust what I'm wearing, and sometimes (Oh, the horror!), to stop and walk - or if I'm doing a 12 hour or a 24 hour or a 26 hour run to stop, lay down and take the weight off my feet. Because sometimes, stopping allows me to reset my head to go. Think of the end goal - if I want to run for 26.2 hours I need to run slowly. My ego would like me to run faster, but if I run faster then I won't be able to run for that length of time.

    So when you're running, think about what you need: do you need to run with someone and chat to them so you don't notice the miles? Do you need to run on your own to get into the zone? Do you need to walk the hills? Do you need to eat something? Do what's right for you in that moment, even if it's different to what everyone else is doing. You need to be brave to run. But you've already been brave in choosing to run. So go out and carry on being brave, find your strength and find your determination .

    I used to worry that I wasn't good enough, but Dave Parry, one of the sports scientists, said to me, it isn't about being good enough, it's just about getting out there and doing it.

    Running allows us to enter the world as it is: we can drop our labels and drop our masks. I'm an artist, a 40 year separated mother of two teenage sons, a daughter, a sister, a theatre practitioner, a clown doctor and they are all things I love being, but when I run: I just run.

    I'm as fluid and as changeable as the seasons. When I run I step fully into the world in all it's beauty. When you run, you can do the same. You can choose to be brave. You can choose to trust yourself.

    When I arrived in Finland my mum emailed me and said this:

    "Remember you can do anything you want to in life so long as you put in the effort and have the desire to achieve it"

    So go out and do it.

    And tomorrow I'm going to go out, put some effort into it and run for 26.2 hours in silence.


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This blog is about my thoughts, my practice, my incessant ramblings and so on and so forth.

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