My Comfort Zone Challenge: Brighton Marathon

Brighton Marathon

Things I knew in my head before the marathon:
– I would finish
– It wouldn’t be easy
– The crowd would be helpful
– My body is going to hurt

After casually assuming the challenge of a marathon 6 months ago – during my phrase of being a yes man – the day finally came around to run 26.2 miles. Can I first say, this was one hell of a commitment. As a guy who had never attempted any kind of distance, trying to complete 15 miles a week quickly became a chore.

We’ve all heard the story, do one marathon and you catch ‘the bug’… Well, I didn’t. Not even in the slightest. Apparently, it’s not that contagious. Don’t get me wrong, going out for a quick half hour to an hour jog, that’s really nice… A great chance to clear your head whilst getting a bit of exercise. When I had to start running 10 miles and upwards, my body just did not agree. First, the knees –dodgy at the best of times, yet alone without the relentless pounding onto concrete. Then, the shin splints – Christ, if you’ve ever had this, you’ll know what I mean and won’t need me to elaborate. For those who haven’t – consider yourselves lucky. Finally, the mind – The boredom and constant plea with my body to stop running was often my most painful injury – the hardest to prevent and sooth.

It’s said you should get up to about 20 miles distance in your training, ahead of the big day. Well, I got nowhere near this distance – 14 miles was my best effort. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.

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I started the day with my new trainers on, my new vest, and with a sense of optimism. This was only enhanced as David Bowie – Heroes was played minutes before the start of the race, which then I quickly added to my running playlist. I was inspired and ready to smash it. The first 13 miles, whilst hot, I found easy. I had run this far and was used to the distance. I really enjoyed the experience.

You’re told before the race you’ll hit ‘The Wall’… around 20 miles, a part of the race where you feel you can give no more. I didn’t hit The Wall. I smashed into The Wall face first, and got flattened like a pancake upon impact. I had nothing left to give. Every muscle in my leg got attacked by cramp. I’d try and stretch one out, for the opposite muscle to cramp. Like a game of whack a mole that you can’t win, and except it wasn’t a game. It wasn’t fun. It was a pain unlike any pain I’ve had before.

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What comes with pain and exhaustion, is the mind playing tricks on you. With a rough goal of trying to finish under 5 hours, as I was cramping, I was convinced I had messed up and was on for a 6 hour time. I was gutted and  convinced I’d failed. It only took my work colleague Lisa, who was there for the final stretch to give me some motivating words, as I was on the edge of breaking down, to keep me going.

I’d accepted every sweet, drink, gel, biscuit along the way but it was half a mile from the end, where I saw my good friends, Jake and Holly, who were there with my favourite chocolate Minstrels, that I knew “this is the last of the on route treats” and I was metres away from finishing. I shoved the minstrels in my mouth in the least polite fashion. I then continued with my walking pace jog and lapped up the applauds to the finish line. The exhaustion brought tears to my eyes. I have no idea why, I had finished and there was nothing to be emotional about. Perhaps tears of joy? It was over – 6 months of training for this moment. It was brilliant.

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I didn’t get the bug, and I couldn’t walk for a good week after finishing. After promising myself a few days after I would never do a marathon again, I sat there watching the London Marathon, and thought ‘Never say never’. There really is something about achieving things that is addictive. My mum told me a good analogy, it’s like giving birth – after the first time a woman will say never again, but 5 years down the line she will sit there with two kids. Pain is temporary.

A lot of people told me a lot of different things in the lead up to the marathon. Some true, some not. My advice to anyone doing a marathon, try to ignore the advice. Get yourself a half decent pair of trainers, and work the rest out for yourself, it’s part of the fun. Everyone is a different standard, and it’s not a one size fits all approach – just get out there run. My second piece of advice, don’t do it!

Things I learnt from the marathon:
– I did bloody well just to finish
– Running 26.2 miles is BLOODY HARD
– The crowd are simply incredible
– Cramp in every single muscle in my leg is the most painful experience I’ve ever had

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Running the Brighton Half Marathon

The half way point in my current goal to complete a marathon. I made a promise to myself that once I reached the 13.1 mile mark in my training – I would return to posting. So here’s the story so far.

Whilst in full flow of accepting challenges in 2015 – I signed up for the Brighton Marathon. A decision that was made with no real consideration to how much it would impact my life. It’s only since new year, I that I really started to take training semi – seriously. Sunday’s can’t just be hangover days anymore.. they’re meant to be for long runs. I’ve never been a distance runner, in fact, I’ve always despised it. Give me a 100m sprint all day – anything over 200m and I’m struggling. I think prior to starting this challenge the longest I ever ran is 5k – so not a great base to start with.

Training has consisted of running three times a week on Brighton seafront, gradually increasing the distance of the run. It’s a frustrating process, some weeks you think you’ve made some real progress, only for your body to tell you ‘no you haven’t’ a week later. Add on the fact, my body doesn’t seem to agree with running. First my knee then my shins – everything seems to be in pain post runs. Having said that, there’s something therapeutically about running – particularly after a stressful day at work. Plug in, listen to your tunes and just free your mind.

It was my aim to be smashing half marathons well before Brighton half marathon race day came around. However, injuries and illness, for the two weeks lead up to the event I couldn’t really train. The closest I got was an 11 mile run on a Monday evening before my body completely shut down and gave up on running. I was hoping to complete 13 miles on this night, but I crashed. The body had nothing left to give and had to walk myself home, tail between my legs.

The start line
The start line

My preparation didn’t feel quite ideal coming into race day. The 6.30am alarm in order to get my porridge down me was painful but the view walking towards the start line was special. It was a perfect day to run – not too hot, not too windy. Over 8000 people turned up to the start line – way more than I ever imagined. All the runners filled the waiting time by doing their stretches, jogging on the spot, looking the part. I try to join in at this point, and act like I knew what I was doing. There’s only so many times you can stretch your quads though.

Barefooted!
Barefooted!

The run itself started off feeling quite easy – the atmosphere of the day and nervous energy seemed to make the first few miles feel comfortable. I ran past a gentleman, running without shoes on and thought now there’s a challenge! I don’t know how this man got on, but he was cruising at the 5 mile point, fair play to him. I wanted to complete the run without stopping or walking, so I would find myself just getting into a zone where I would just be looking down on the road just concentrating on each step. In this zone, I became completely unaware of the crowd supporting me, no idea what song I was listening too and not really sure if I was thinking about anything!

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The 11 mile point came along. Where in training I had previously failed. At this point, I was no longer in the zone. I was exhausted – using every little boost from the crowd to pick me up. Touching signs for energy, taking sweets of strangers for sugar and shouting at my legs to keep running (followed by a few laughs by runners around me).  It was hard by this point.

But as I jogged towards the Brighton i360, I noticed the time I was doing. I didn’t really care what time I finished in, but at the 12 mile mark my running app told me I was at 1 hour 51 minutes. At this point, I did start to care what time I finished in. Could I finish under 2 hours?  Could I run an 8 minute mile?

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No. My jelly legs had nothing left in them and my face was pulling all sorts of expressions. The crowd cheering made it possible to get to the end and the feeling at the finish line was an emotional relief. 2 hours 1 minute and 16 seconds. A time in hindsight, I’m very happy with. At this point, the thought of running double the distance is terrifying. Two days later, at the time of writing this post, I can’t walk down a set of stairs without a gasp of pain coming from my mouth. Half way point – It all gets harder from here. I’ll report back in April.

Exhausted
Exhausted

In the words of Dory from Finding Nemo – Just keep swimming. Or running in this case.

I must thank Rockinghorse Children’s Charity for letting me represent them in the race, and for the free killer post-race massage. They’re still looking for runners for the Brighton Marathon, so feel free to join me and represent a good cause. A shout out to Rachael Phelps – alarm clock, baggage holder, general support and putting up with my post-race moaning – Much appreciated.

2 hours 1 minute 16 seconds
2 hours 1 minute 16 seconds

Week 52: Tattoo

Week 52 of my comfort zone challenge – a tattoo.

Had you have spoken to me in the other 23 years of my life, I honestly would have told you I would never get a tattoo. It’s something I’ve never been interested in. I never really understood why people would want something permanently on them that didn’t really mean anything to them.

Nervously waiting
Nervously waiting

That, however, all changed as I’ve embarked on this year. To be honest, it was only in the last couple of months I warmed to the idea of getting one. You’ll notice at the beginning I set the rule “nothing that effects my personal appearance”. Well here I am sitting here having broken that rule. It took 10 months to decide to break this rule, but the thought of having a permanent reminder of this year, is something I actually wanted.

So having overcome the fear of getting one, the question now was what to get? This was easy… Simply, the quote that inspired this whole blog. “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone”. The positioning of the tattoo was a tricky one in my mind. I wanted to be able to show it off, but I wanted something I could hide at the same time. The arm felt like the most obvious place.

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The getting the tattoo itself was quite a funny experience… In a tattoo parlour where you could barely stand without hitting your head, the experience was rather quick. The tattoo artist shaved my forearm and began to draw on the font. For 15 minutes, it felt like a cat (ironically the artists name was Katja) was scratching me. I actually found the pain really annoying. How people sit there for 5 hours getting tattoos, I’m not sure.

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As quick as that, there it is, this quote that will sit on my forearm for the rest of my life. Safely healed and with a ridiculous shaved patch on my arm, I sit here with a stamp that will forever remind me to live outside my comfort zone. Some people, including myself, laugh at the thought of me having a tattoo, but I’ve grown to like it. It means something to me, which is something I never understood until now.

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Week 51: Busking/TV

Week 51 of my comfort zone challenge.. This week I’m kind of merging two challenges into one. Would you believe it I ran out of weeks in the year?!

First things first… Busking. Having recently performed in a pub with a captive audience and my family, I decided to make things that little bit harder and head to the streets and play.

I haven’t become a superstar player over the course of a few weeks, and this was just as difficult. The challenges with this way of doing things:

1 – It was freezing, I could barely feel my fingers
2 – The wind made it impossible to get any notes out
3 – nobody was interested

The last point was probably the key here, it felt as if you were playing to nobody. Horrible little feeling, really.

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I was joined by the cameras of ITV Meridian News who proceeded to give me an interview. This was quick and easy and I continued to play. I was however, moved on. The gentleman moving me on said it was because it’s private property but I got the feeling he was sick of my voice. Who could blame him? I barely lasted an hour before being moved on.

I do think it’s sad these days buskers get quickly moved on… Feel they are hardly causing any harm, but what do I know?

Despite the interview going out to thousands of people on air, I was barely nervous. I had taken part in another TV interview not long before this, and this seemed to give me a bit of confidence going into it. I have a face for radio and voice that mumbles, so I’m not the ideal candidate for TV… However, I told myself to relax and don’t think of failure.

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The interview for Latest TV was one of the funnier moments of my life. Backed with a green screen and some bright lights on me, I started to feel the spotlight somewhat. I couldn’t quite expect the 15 minutes of interviewing that came up: I didn’t think I would be asked about my love life and certainly didn’t think I’d be taking a selfie live on TV. Mike Mendoza made the whole thing relaxing, even if I did see “Tim Rose” coming up on his auto-queue and praying he remembered my name was Tom. Thankfully, he did. The support over the last few weeks from the media has really been quite humbling and amazing in terms of building up support for my two charities. I am very grateful.

Check out the ITV MERIDAN interview here and watch the Latest TV interview below.

Week 49: Rugby

Week 49 of my comfort zone challenge took me into the muddy, aggressive world of rugby.

Those that know me, will understand that Rugby is so far outside of my comfort zone. I’m a skinny, passive guy that has never even been close to any kind of fight in my life. Granted rugby isn’t a fight but it feels like you need to be up for a fight to be any good at it.

Having been badgered by my friend Berwick to play rugby since back in January when I started these challenges putting it off until December was a good effort by me to not play. However, persistence beat resistance and I couldn’t say no any longer.

Before.....
Before…..

His team, Hastings & Bexhill Rugby Club, agreed to host me and promised me game time. I agreed to play, but suggested I only needed about 10-15 minutes’ game time as I’m unfit and will be useless to the team. I might be up for a challenge, but one of my biggest hates in life is losing and letting a team down because of me.

Of course the match I picked to play in was away to Whitstable, a place I’d never even heard of, and seemed to be a pilgrimage from where I live. However, the hour and a half journey gave my team mates the opportunity to tell me the rules, how to tackle, tips and tricks for my 20 minute game time.

We got to the ground, got changed and I started to practice some tackling on guys at jogging pace. It was only after a bit of touch rugby, the manager told me “Tom, you’re starting. Wing.” I originally thought it was a joke, but no, I started and played the full match.

It’s one thing tackling people at jogging pace, but when a guy taller, bigger and faster than you runs at full pace at you, with a palm to aid him and having never tackled someone before, it’s fair to say it’s not so easy. I must have missed about 5/6 tackles through the game and it’s something I never got used too. It goes against everything your mind tells you to through yourself head first into somebody running full speed at you.

The good news is, I played the full 80 minutes, I came out alive, I quite enjoyed it and WE WON by just one point! It says more about the team I was playing with than myself, but I’m glad to say my rugby career has a 100% win record.

After!
After!

The amazing thing of rugby, which I’ve never really appreciated quite enough until I played was the sportsmanship that comes with it. Guys have been in battle for 80 minutes but it’s all left on the pitch. There is a real respect for each other, which is shared over a beer and chili con carne in the bar. Just brilliant.

A massive shout out to the guys at Hastings and Bexhill Rugby Club, who were nothing but accommodating and encouraging the whole time. I’d miss a tackle and they would tell me what I did wrong but and how to improve. An extremely welcoming bunch of guys, who even gave me the man of the match. If you’re interested in playing rugby, you’d do well to find a better group than these.

 

Week 48: Public Speaking

Week 48 of my comfort zone challenge – Public Speaking

This was a fairly unique challenge for me. I have done presentations, quizzes and now even stand up comedy… but this type of public speaking was something very different to me. I was asked by The Seaview Project, to speak at their Christmas concert, about my time sleeping rough. It was something I was more than happy to do but struggled to know where to pitch in my mind.

On the night, it was made ten times harder. The night opened with two service users of Seaview talking about what Seaview meant to them. Both the girls, ended up in tears, along with the 200 people in the audience. It meant everything to them, at the time they didn’t have anything. Seaview gives help when nobody else will.

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I found myself crossing out half my speech through my watery eyes. How can I talk about being homeless, when I have no idea what it’s like to be homeless? I really didn’t want to come across insensitive, so working out what I should and shouldn’t say seconds before speaking really threw me.

I stumbled and mumbled my way through the speech. The words were true and hopefully I came across in the right way. I found it slightly embarrassing being up there compared to the other speakers, who’s issues were so real, meaningful and emotional. My experience is that presenting at work or even stand up comedy was much easier than this. You may find that hard to believe but this his was difficult in a far different way.

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What the evening really did do, was confirm in my mind, that I am raising money for such an amazing charity. Listening to the stories of all the service users, watching the Seaview choir sing, hearing just how much of a family the charity is, made the evening one of the most emotional hours I’ve had. I have no qualms in sharing that a tear fell from my eye for the first time I can remember in a long time. The tear was in sadness of these people’s stories but their thanks to Seaview was heart-warming and inspiring.

I urge you all to read this article on the work Seaview do and if nothing else read Bob’s, head of the Seaview Choir that performed, story. One of many stories to confirm the amazing work of Seaview.

 

Week 47: Comedy

Week 47 of My Comfort Zone Challenge – Stand up Comedy.

A couple of months prior to actually doing this task, I was approached by work colleagues, Tony, saying I should do stand up comedy at one of our corporate events. My instant reaction was “No way, not a chance”. I consider myself to have a good sense of humour, but I don’t see myself as a funny person. Over the years, I’ve made a name for myself for having terrible gags and being proud of them. So going up on stage, and actually trying to make people laugh… I’d given myself no chance.

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It took a few weeks of peer pressure and convincing until I agreed to do it. Out of all the challenges, this probably took the most convincing. I’m no great public speaker, and adding the ingredient of laughter felt like a recipe for disaster.

Two months on… And here I was, just days away from writing my stand up comedy. Tony, who does lots of after dinner speaking and event hosting, gave me some advice. Find a theme and go with that route. Don’t just reel off one liners, you’ll forget them. Make it unique. I thought to myself, what is more unique than the challenges that I’ve been doing? So writing the jokes wasn’t actually too hard.

The ‘acting’ element of stand up is where I really needed my practice. I’ll be honest, using a presentation may have been cheating a bit, but I needed all the help I could get. In the build up, I have no shame in saying I would practice in my room alone with a hair brush as a microphone. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. Thankfully there is no photographic evidence of this.

I’ve always been one to hate roleplaying and practicing things that aren’t in the real situation. So I only practiced this in front of my flat mate once. He gave me some laughs, so I was happy.

I got to the day of the event, and it was borderline torture. All I wanted to do, was get it over with. My hands were sweating. I was pacing up and down the office all morning. People were winding me up about the microphone not working. I was a mess. I even struggled to hold conversation in the hour leading up to it. This was even with two glasses of wine to try and settle the nerves!

Looking on with nerves
Looking on with nerves

I have to say though, once I was up there. It was fine. It all came out… I missed one joke, but the rest was okay. PEOPLE LAUGHED. It may have been from sympathy or humour, I don’t care, they laughed, I’m having it.

I was congratulated many times after doing it, and many people said to me “Well done, I could never do that”. That was me, 12 months ago. It’s an old cliche, but if I can do it, anyone can do it. Fear of failure is what often stops us from succeeding. This, to me, was a success. It felt overcoming a hurdle, doing something I doubted even I could do. I joke that life doesn’t begin at the end of your comfort zone, but challenges like this have amazed me to what one can really do in life.

It is with great pleasure to share that this even, raised just over £600 in donations from the kind people at The Boundary Club for The Seaview Project and Surviving Christmas. I’m still amazed by this, and so grateful for everyone who donated. It takes my total raised up to £1,038 with gift aid! You can still donate here

Have a watch of the set for yourself!