Fear has always been a useful emotion for me.
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always been a little bit excited by being afraid.
I used to head out on my bike at aged 10 and literally cycle until I got lost, I’d climb walls, and at the beach always go out just a tad too deep in the sea.
It made me feel alive.
When I signed up to my first full marathon back in 2011 it was fear that made me do it (the fear of never doing one), and fear that made me see it through (your first 26.2 miles is kinda scary). Fear had me join a running club, and fear had me training week in week out.
I’m afraid of deep water and yet I’ve swum in lakes and seas all over the world, in a canal in Paris with thousands of burly men swimming over the top of me, and in the docks in London (where my grandad reveled in telling me tales of dead bodies)
I’m afraid of cycling fast on my bike in case I fall off, and yet on occasions, I’ve done that too…not fall off, but ride fast…often downhill. I’m afraid of heights, and yet I’ve climbed mountains, and done tough mudders.
Feel the fear and do it anyway, right?
I’m always fascinated by how these challenges shift my perception of myself. How many of these fears teach me something about other areas of my life.
During Covid, I’ve experienced fear on a whole different level.
I was fine the first few weeks, and then BAM out of the blue I started having panic attacks in the supermarket, those ones that come out of nowhere and are in your body rather than in your head, so it’s difficult to talk yourself down, or even spot them coming.
I was afraid to go running. I was afraid when we occasionally went out on bike rides.
I was also afraid of other things like my business going under, weight gain, and losing my fitness and mobility. Exercise has always been the way I have managed my weight and my wellbeing, and in March I went from doing Crossfit 2-3 times a week and training for the London Marathon to spending all day every day in my 2 bed apartment…with no fresh food deliveries available and a fear of the supermarket….so you can bet your bottom dollar my food choices reflected that.
When my fear started to reside a bit I started making small trips to the post office, or to the shops to pick up essentials and I hardly recognised my body. I couldn’t do my Facebook lives while walking anymore, and I had lower back pain…I even struggled to put on my sandals (which to be fair had always been a bit fiddly) due to my flexibility being affected too.
I missed getting my sweat on.
I missed the challenge of sport.
I missed working with a coach.
I missed sharing my wins.
But mostly I missed having a body that did things I was proud of.
I tried not to beat myself up, we were in a global pandemic for goodness sake, and I was juggling homeschooling and running two businesses single-handedly…weight gain and fitness loss is not the worst thing that can happen to a person, regardless of what the TV adverts say.
But I knew I didn’t want to sit back and just accept it.
So I bought a Peloton Bike. I’d tried one a few years ago and loved it and knew that whatever fitness approach I chose would need to be done from home, and have some kind of competitive or gamification element…and I think I made the right choice.
I’ve had the bike for about 2 months now, and I use it most days.
I’ve gone from not being able to do more than 20 minutes, to being able to do 60 minutes of intensive sessions without too much problem….and still get on the bike the following day.
I feel better in myself, and I’m not so afraid.
Last week I took a much-needed break from work and went to visit a friend in Scotland with my daughter Rose. I hadn’t given much thought to what we would do, but packed my trainers just in case.
We have had a lovely break…just what the doctor ordered.
I didn’t end up going for a run, but we did walk a bit (with lots of hills which I’m not used to) and yesterday we went on a hike up The Law, a conical hill which overlooks the East Lothian town of North Berwick, Scotland, and stands at 613 ft above sea level.
We could see it from my friend’s apartment and when she suggested it, I was like yeah why not.
And then the fear set in.
Would I have the fitness, would my 7-year-old play ball…she hates walking at the best of times. Would I have to give up half way up? Would my lower back pain return, would my knees give way, would my fear of heights set in?
We started off OK…on the flat…but literally the very first slight incline Rose started to moan. Our tactic was to ignore the pleas to stop, and hit her with positivity and try to distract her with questions about the scenery.
There were younger kids than her happily skipping past, so we knew it was a reasonable challenge for her….and at least we could give it a go right?
My friend Mel does a lot of walking, and had already made her way half way up the Law a few weeks back before having to turn back due to really strong winds, but she was looking forward to getting to the top.
I wanted to reach the top too.
Rose wasn’t quite so enthusiastic. She soon realised though that even if we took mini-breaks the whole way up we were going to do it one way or another. And it was a beautiful day, and the views were breathtaking.
I found some of the climbs hard, my legs were burning, my heart was pounding…and managing Rose’s winning took up some of my energy and focus.
We did it though.
We reached the summit…the very windy summit and we took a few snaps before making our way back down….the inscription on the monument at the top said, “Live for the moment” ain’t that the truth.
Right at the top Rose was quite afraid. I think it was the wind more than anything, so we didn’t stay up at the top for too long. But on the way down we had a wonderful conversation about fear, and she turned to me and said,
“Are you proud of me mummy?”
And I was.
She’s a typical city kid after all, and she’s also been in lockdown not doing P.E at school, or going to gymnastics and the occasional parkrun with me.
On the way down she was a lot more chirpy, although still worried about her footing, wanting to hold my hands on the tricky bits.
But we did it.
7 weeks ago I could barely walk to the post office without getting out of breath, and yesterday I climbed a big fat hill with a 7 year old in tow.
And for my next challenge????
In 5 days time I am cycling 100 miles to raise money for Pancreatic Cancer in support of my dear friend Bryony Thomas who was diagnosed in December.
I signed up for this challenge around 3 weeks ago, and it’s really helped me to up my training. Could I do with a few more weeks to prepare…for sure…but will I cover the 100 miles 100%
My intention is to cover it during one 24 hour period, but I am giving myself the whole weekend if I need it.
Am I afraid…absafuckinglutely
I’m estimating anywhere between 8 and 10 hours…and cycling for that amount of time in one’s bedroom is a bit of a hefty challenge….even for me.
If I have learned anything that last 10 years…and in the last 6 months in particular, its that fear sometimes has us pull back, and retreat into where feels safe and comfortable, but it can also do the opposite, it can also help us expand and lead a bigger life, full of wonder, challenge and adventure.
How will you channel your fear this week?
PS. No small child was hurt in the making of this blog post, the fear lasted for all of 3 or 4 seconds while I took the picture, and Rose was laughing and looking through her binoculars at bass rock and asking for a snack a few minutes later. A massive thank you to my friend Mel for helping me take massive steps forward on all kinds of levels these last few days….and for letting Rose go for a ride in her little red convertable.