Two weeks ago I lined up at the start line of the Marathon des Sables, a 250km race across the Sahara billed as ‘the world’s toughest footrace’.
I didn’t sign up because I thought it would make me happy. I was under no illusion that tramping for a week across the world’s hottest desert will be great fun. And if I was, a cursory image search of ‘MdS+blisters’ would quickly quash that. I signed up to challenge myself, to see where my limits lie.
As it turns out, training for an endurance event has curiously close parallels with the Five Ways of Wellbeing. Hear me out.
First, I’ve obviously become more physically active. I’ve gone from a 10km fun runner to being able to run 20 miles in a morning. It feels brilliant! Not only do the endorphins give you a buzz, there’s a great sense of satisfaction and achievement to be gained from running a really long way. And you can eat all the cake you want.
As part of that progression, I joined a running club. That has put me in touch with a diverse group of local people who share the same interest. I’ve trained with them, raced with them, shared the pain of injury with them, drunk beer with them. Being part of a club makes me feel connected with my community.
Then there’s the great outdoors. I’ve run through, snow, wind, and fire (if you count British Summertime). With your sights set on a goal you need to train year round. There have been (more than a few) days when I’ve had to drag myself out the door, but running year-round means being outside in every season. Britain is beautiful in every single one. I’m treated to the first glimpse of primroses and bluebells in spring, I see the birds soaring over green fields in the summer, I’ve watched the deer clashing horns at Ashton Court; I’ve run under the full moon, watched many twilights settle over the city, raced the Severn Bore, trekked over the rolling Brecons and clambered up leaf-littered banks. I know where Bristol’s best view points and lesser trodden paths are; I see the Big Issue vendors cheerfully selling their wares in the morning and the street cleaners dutifully tidy the city by night. Without a reason to get outside and go, I never would have noticed.
Having rediscovered a childlike curiosity, I’ve seen things that I don’t recognise: certain leaves, pretty flowers, signposts, historic ruins. This being the Google age, I’ve looked as much up as I remember and I’ve learnt a great deal about Bristol’s local history and my natural surroundings. That’s before I count everything I’ve learnt about the human body and what it’s capable of. Ladies and gentlemen, you don’t know how wonderful a craft we’re steering until you put it to the test. Trust me.
As it’s such a big challenge, I’ve been fundraising for charity on the back of it, which brings me to giving. We’ve raised over £16,000 so far, smashing our £10,000 target. The support has been overwhelming. It will allow us to give money in support of needy children around the world. We’ve worked hard to raise sponsorship, awareness and host events, but it is genuinely staggering how generous people are. Giving a substantial sum to Smile Train and All As One will be the icing on the proverbial cake.
That’s five. All five ways covered just by lacing up my trainers and getting out there!
I’m fitter than I’ve ever been before. I’m more connected to my community. I can identify goshawks and elderflower. And I can enjoy startling quantities of brownies sin free.
Wellbeing comes in the most surprising packages.