Challenge Accepted…

December 14th, 2017. I was lying down at home in full-on “recovery mode” following my back operation, contemplating all of the guidance from my consultant and my physio. Beyond the immediate recovery from the surgery, I knew there was a lot of work to do to regain a reasonable amount of mobility. Years of adapting my movement to minimise the pain and discomfort have left me with quite heavily restricted movement in some areas, and seeing the faces of both my consultant and physio when they realised this gave me a real kick from behind to step up and get myself in shape.

Back in the 90’s, myself, my brother and a few friends rode mountain bikes. A lot. As we have all grown older and gained more grown up responsibilities, for me at least, it became something that I did once or twice a year as a treat. On this particular day, my group messaging app pinged with a message from one of our little group. It read “Sam Houghton Challenge. 9th June 2018. 46km loop with 1400m of climbing. Entries don’t open until March but I thought I’d see who fancies it?”

46km. I thought about it. 46km. Far further than I’ve ever ridden in one day before. I decided to look into the event myself. In May 2006, Sam Houghton (who was a keen mountain biker) lost his battle with cancer, aged just 22. The challenge is organised in memory of Sam, and participants raise money for Cancer Research UK. Something clicked in my head – I wasn’t going to turn this down. In the condition I was in, 3 weeks post-op, I could quite easily have let this pass me by, but I couldn’t. I needed this as a goal, a target, and my word has it motivated me.

Since getting the go ahead from my consultant and physio to get back on my bike, I have been building up the miles gradually, increasing the distance on road and adding in off-road riding as and when I became more comfortable and I knew my body could handle it.

As well as riding and walking, I have started doing body weight exercises at home as part of Break-Point UK’s Prime Evolution programme. This is something that I begun at the end of January and the first phase runs over a 12 week period. Broken down into three sections – Mind, Body & Nutrition – the course is aimed at developing a more positive approach to all aspects of life. I’m currently 6 weeks in and already I’m seeing changes in the way I think, feel and look.

I’ve never been able to get into working out before really. I’m not a gym person. Confidence issues have meant that on the occasions I have used a gym I’ve never really worked to my full potential – I’ve always been too worried about what the guy on the treadmill/bike/weights next to me might be thinking. Ridiculous I know, but they were thoughts I couldn’t keep out of my head. I still have those thoughts, but now I am learning to block them out and work past them. In a number of contexts and from a number of people I have heard recently about the impact that negative thoughts can have on our lives: more accurately the impact that removing negative thoughts can have. For example, in an endurance situation you ultimately end up with two options – either finish or don’t. Not finishing however, is a negative. So remove it. The option you’re left with now is finishing. This new mindset has led me recently to making a number of decisions that I perhaps wouldn’t have made in the past, and stepping up to things I perhaps wouldn’t have.

Having always been a bit of a tech-head, I also find that gadgets that can help me, motivate me. The more I use them and learn about their potential, the more I want to use them. And this is where my trusty Garmin Fenix 3 watch comes in. I’d be lying if I claimed to use it to anything like it’s full potential at the moment, but I do use it every day to support and inform my training, and in the last few weeks I have not only been using the GPS tracking and heart rate features but also the route navigation. Having been on a quest to up the distances I have been walking and riding I have found myself straying from the beaten track shall we say. 5 minutes is all it takes to plan a route on Ordnance Survey’s website and upload it to the watch. Then it’s simply a case of selecting the route in the navigation menu, choosing which activity you will be doing, and hit go. The watch then guides you at every junction as to which way you should be going.

I know this isn’t exactly new tech. Garmin actually announced the Fenix 5 two days after I bought my Fenix 3 almost 18 months ago, but what I do with it works for me and keeps me motivated. And that is what I need. At the time of writing this there are 83 days until the Sam Houghton Challenge. I have less than 12 weeks to up my fitness and do my bit for a cause close to my heart.

A Period of Evolution

So 2017 turned out to be a pretty crazy year and not necessarily in the best of ways. Don’t get me wrong, there were a lot of great things that happened last year – things I’m extremely grateful for, but I also found myself in a number of situations I would happily never be in again.

This isn’t the time to go into detail about these things, I would far rather focus on the positives that have come out of those events than the negativity of the events themselves, but doing that is impossible without a little background.

There were 3 key events for me last year, each stemmed from a different area of my life yet heavily impacted every other aspect. Over the course of 5 months I left a job and went self employed, watched a friend battle for his life following an accident and then underwent repeat surgery myself for a back problem. Now I don’t imagine for a minute that I am the only person who has been through a sequence of events such as this, but I do believe that life is what you make of it and you have to take what you can from all situations you find yourself in.

These three events all had a significant effect on me in the moment, but more than this, I believe they have had a cumulative effect on me which has ignited into an ongoing flame, a drive to do the best I can, be the best I can, as you just never know what is around the corner.

As a result of this new-found drive I have made a number of changes in my life and I am already starting to see and feel the benefits. Firstly, I made a commitment to myself to exercise more. Following my first round of surgery years ago I didn’t really acknowledge the importance of physio and exercise, and as a result my range of movement was quite limited. This is changing already after just a few weeks, partly thanks to my physio and partly thanks to the Prime Evolution programme from Break-Point.

Another element to the Prime Evolution programme is cleaner eating, which I have really embraced and even gone as far as ditching sugar from my tea (which anyone who has ever made me a brew will tell you is a big thing!). The thing I have found the hardest is making changes to my mindset. On good days I have noticed that I have felt really positive and it’s hard for anything to get me down. All it takes though is a night like last night, when my youngest woke at midnight and wouldn’t go back to sleep until almost 2:30am, and that has such a huge effect on my day. I’m working on it though, and through a range of little things I think I am starting to cope better.

One thing I have found that really helps is being outdoors. I have always loved the outdoors and you would be amazed at some of the places you can find right on your doorstep. Remarkably close to home I have discovered some public footpaths that might as well be 20 miles into the middle of nowhere they’re that quiet and peaceful. I try and get out with our Border Collie, Sami, for at least 2 miles every day, and I’ve started making good use of my Garmin watch for tracking all my activities (there’s more about Sami and the watch coming in a blog soon…).

From a business point of view, there have been and will be more weddings to shoot, another season of powerboat racing starting in May, and I am in the process of applying for a PfCO from the CAA so that I can add drone operations to my list of available services. All in all, I’m excited about 2018. There are some new opportunities on the horizon and in myself I’m feeling the best I’ve felt for years.