The emergence of Must

Last April, I became aware of a Thing called the 100 Day Project.

It was created by the artist Elle Luna, partly as a follow up to her book The Crossroads of Should and Must, which was a follow up to this article on Medium that went viral. Properly viral.

I loved the idea of the 100 Day Project, I came up with my own idea for what my project could be, or so I thought, but it quickly ran dry and other things got in the way. It turns out that committing to 100 Days of anything other than running is awfully hard work.

What did happen though, some months later, was that I bought the book.

My birthday was approaching and I was off to spend it alone on a Scottish island. Well, I was going there to run the Tiree ultramarathon, but other than that it would just be me.

At the time, I had recently broken up with my boyfriend after almost two years together. It wasn’t a very nice ending and it left me pretty distraught and reeling from what had just happened. I was at the stage of starting to contemplate trying to put myself back together again, and accepting that yet again I had ignored signals that were right there in front of me, and had let things go beyond a stage where I should have acted on them.

I bought the book on Kindle because I was flying on a very small plane and only had limited bag space. I am a very fast reader and with three full days away, there would be a lot of reading time. I was a little concerned as to whether the images would still come across as intended, but there wasn’t much option in this instance. My rucksack, with everything I needed for three days loafing and one day to be spent running an ultramarathon, only just fitted in the overhead locker on the plane, which was slightly bigger than the one below on the way out (this is the one for the way back home).

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I sat on the plane on the runway and started to read while the plane filled up with passengers. I was hooked immediately.

And then, the roar of a jet engine, the sudden rush of speed, the bump of the little wheels hurtling along the runway, the pressure on my chest as we took off and climbed up into the sky. The tipping sensation as we banked to turn away from the airport, and then the wonder at Scotland’s west coast lochs, mountains and islands seen from above on a beautiful clear day tore me away from the book.

flying west along the Clyde, looking over to Loch Lomond and its islands, destination Tiree

This was my first taste of what I needed to accept as one of my Musts, and it was one I’d not felt for a while.Memories of riding my motorbike fast, of being lined up on a grid, my left hand wrapped round the clutch lever, right hand holding the throttle, waiting for the lights to go out, launching myself carefully off the line, of tipping into a bend, of dragging my knees on the tarmac, of the oppressive heat of a hot day spent on a hot bike in hot leathers.

No. 6, on a 583cc Ducati Monster. First ever race, first ever knee down. Clearways at Brands Hatch, April 2007. My least favourite corner. Almost.
No. 6, on a 583cc Ducati Monster. First ever race, first ever knee down. Clearways at Brands Hatch, April 2007. My least favourite corner. Almost.

This was Me, or rather a huge part of me that I had had to let go a long time ago and one that I desperately wanted back.

But this Must competes with another one…

And I’m still not sure how and if they fit together or not, and if not, which one to choose and how to go about it, and how to let go of the other one. There’s still a whole lot of Should in there when I think of the other Must.

I wheeled my road bike out of the garage recently to give it a bit of attention before its MOT this weekend. It has been a long time since I rode regularly, longer than I care to admit to. I used to ride between 350 and 500 miles a week, riding an ever changing list of bikes 40 miles to work and 40 miles back in all weathers, and then out again at the weekends with friends. Circumstances changed and I had to stop for a bit. There’s a story for another time.

And then it wasn’t the same when I started again in Scotland.

Riding became about fear, about feeling constantly under the spotlight, about every mistake being noticed and scrutinised, always being asked why I didn’t want to go out. The road surfaces near my house are absolutely dire. The weather is less than bike friendly here, and we had a dreadfully wet summer last year. My drive is mostly gravel and on an awkward corner with an equally awkward slope, and it’s not wide enough to get my bike in and out without moving my car. These are all small things that would never have stopped me years ago, but seem to now. I’d really like to ride on the track again, but I’m only too aware of where my confidence is and I’d like to get some of it back before I put my race leathers back on.

Last year though, only a couple of weeks before we split up, we rode down to the ferry at Wemyss Bay and then headed over to the island of Bute.

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We ended up coming back via the Rhubodaich-Colintraive ferry, the shortest ferry trip in Scotland.

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This brought us back to the mainland via the Cowal peninsula, empty, remote, wild in places. The roads were tremendous and R started to feel a little of the pressure of having someone behind so he pulled over and waved me past.

Just for a while, I opened the throttle and left him and the rest of the world behind for a bit, and I rode.

I really rode. I could still do it, and it was still there.

Everything was still there.

The tarmac was warm, smooth and flowing.

There was no one about and I was completely in the moment, looking only as far ahead as the next corner while still planning for what or whatever was on (or might be just over) the horizon.

I wasn’t riding enormously quickly, but I was back to the smoothness that I had known so long ago. The bike felt fantastic, I moved quickly and easily through the gears, clicking up without using the clutch as I’d learnt on the track. The brakes were perfect and my new adjustable clutch lever meant my small hands weren’t straining to reach.

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an unscheduled pit stop in Arrochar. a cup of builders’ brew, milk and one sugar. a large portion of chips with loads of vinegar and ketchup. heavenly!

And then I had my first ride out in ages a couple of weeks ago, down to the bike shop to get said MOT. It was nerve-wracking, I didn’t ride particularly well, and it was extremely hot. I got to the bike shop a bit late, heart pounding, hands shaking. But I’d made it, and I’d loved it. MOT certificate in my jacket pocket, I started the bike up to ride home. I was mortified when I looked at the mileage on the odometer.

I can’t wait to rectify the situation and start adding to the pitifully low number. I’ve not set a target (very unlike me) but next year, I don’t want to feel that sense of sadness when I realise how little I’ve actually ridden.

I have a couple of longer rides planned in my head but first I need to grit my teeth, bash through and get my confidence back. It’ll come, and I’m looking forward to all the beautiful places I’ll see in the mean time.

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the only bike that has really turned my head in recent years. the gorgeous MV Brutale 899R. strictly a sunny day bike and so it will have to stay in the showroom.

On (not) giving up

I had a tough day today. I was a bit wobbly and a bit hungry when I toddled off down the hill at lunchtime, to see my osteopath about a sore bit on the long-ago-injured foot.

Unfortunately for him, he asked politely how I was doing and just at that moment I couldn’t quite keep the tears in. Up until that point, no matter how much he has hurt me in the course of treatment, I have managed not to cry. It was almost a matter of pride that I never cried no matter how painful it was. He knows to keep talking if he is working particularly hard on an area, and I know not to try and reply but just to keep breathing.

The afternoon got even worse.

At the end of the day I left, and sniffled all the way to the bus station, having repeated “I don’t know” and “I haven’t finished that yet” like a broken record for the best part of half an hour.

All the bad things came, the chimpiest of chimps put on his really nasty hat, shrieked some really nasty things at me, and I wondered how on earth I was going to shake all this off and get some decent practice done tonight.

But just now I popped over to one of my favourite websites and found this – What If You Didn’t Give Up? – as though it was meant just for me to find, right now.

And then I remembered a quote a friend had shared with me a few years ago.

Courage doesn’t always roar.

sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says,

“i will try again tomorrow”

mary-anne radmacher

Inspiration

People. People you’ve met. People you haven’t met. People who’ve done amazing things. People who have done nothing but sit and moan, and who make you determined not to be like them. People who have been ill. People who are still ill. People who have died. People who never lived.

Places. Places you’ve been. Places you haven’t been. Places you never knew existed and that you heard of while you were somewhere else. Places you always wanted to go. Places you went to accidentally on the way to somewhere else, and you never knew you wanted to go. Places you promise to visit again. Places you never ever want to go back to. Physical places. Psychological places.

Events. Races, challenges, celebrations. Big races. Small races. High. Cold. Fast. Things you want to do. Things you have done and want to do again. Things you never want or need to do again. Times you survived unexpectedly. Times things went right. Times things went wrong. Times when you were alone. Times when you met someone new, or old, or different.

Things. Actual physical things you can touch. Things you can’t touch but know to be real. Big, big things. Tiny things.

Visual art, music, theatre, dance, film, poetry, literature. Words. Quotes.

Concepts, ideas, ideologies, religion, lack of religion. Maybe even love.

What inspires us, what pushes us forward?

For me, inspiration is inextricably tangled with dreams, desires, hopes, aspirations, ambitions, motivation, commitment, drive, action.

I take inspiration from friends. A friend who has moved away to another country to fulfil a dream. A friend who has retired from the corporate world to fulfil a dream. A friend who lives her life in uncompromising pursuit of what she believes is important to her and that makes her happy. Friends who have survived the toughest times, addiction, serious injury. Friends who hear of something unlikely going on somewhere in the world and think I might want to have a go. Often they are right.

I take inspiration from acquaintances. Someone who ran across some ridiculously difficult terrain from one corner of Scotland to another. Someone else who stepped away from the corporate world to fulfil another dream. Someone who ran a race in a time I can only dream of. Someone who built a home they’d always dreamed of in a really difficult location to access.

I take inspiration from family. An aunt whose time was called way before it should have been. An uncle who recovered from a brutal form of cancer and continues to live with the significant and cruel after effects. An aunt who is on watch and wait with a different but related cancer.

I take inspiration from places I have been, and things I have done, that lead me to want to go to new places, bigger, higher, further, faster. I take inspiration from places others have been, or have suggested I might enjoy. Places where I have felt happy, or with a buzz about them that suggests a promise of good times ahead.

I take inspiration from music. Those who play the harp in a way I could only manage if I committed myself completely to that and nothing else. Those who sing, write, play their own music as well as that of others. Those who are brave enough to risk making a living from their talent in a world that wants music for nothing.

I take inspiration from words. Spoken, written, sung by those who have been before or have yet to go.

I take inspiration from people I’ve never met, possibly never likely to meet. The fastest. The best. The bravest. Those who have made a journey, those who have documented it, shared it so that I might find it and use it.

Most of all I take inspiration from time, and the knowledge that there is only so much of it. Sometimes this is all I need to keep me moving forwards. On some occasions it makes me stop, re-evaluate and change course.

(this post is part of the DIY Creative Club September challenge, which I’m a bit behind on (!) but am using to get my writing unstuck and out of my head)

Dreams

Recently, spurred on by the rapid approach of winter, a few changes on the domestic front, and just the plain old desire to do something different, I decided to make a big push and try out some new things.

A work night out at The Stand a couple of weeks back led me to look for some more gigs to go to there, and something about the flyer on the table for Scott Gibson’s debut solo show really appealed.

Social circles are difficult to establish as an adult in a new city. Having left college a while ago, changed job again and now needing to step away from the running scene for a while, I realised that didn’t leave me with many people. And so, with another potentially long dark cold Scottish winter coming up, I decided I’d better press on and take some action.

I booked two tickets, not knowing who I’d take with me.

A Facebook post led to a dear friend agreeing to come along, he’d always wanted to go to The Stand and as we sat there fizzing away with excitement, I realised I couldn’t have come with a better person as we were both looking forward to it as much as the other. The club was packed, we were sat in a sell-out crowd and the atmosphere and anticipation was building by the minute.

The club is in a basement, bar in one corner, no frills, furniture tightly packed. The tables and chairs go right up to the edge of the stage, which is only slightly raised above the floor. I’m not sure whether it’s more intimidating for the comedian or the audience who happen to end up in the front row. Intimate is not quite the word.

The show was absolutely excellent. It’s hard to go into much detail without giving away massive spoilers, but as promised, it was dark in places, incredibly funny and brilliantly delivered. We were spellbound for each half of the two hour set.

What has stayed with me (unsurprisingly for those who know a bit about me) is the brief statement made at the close of the show, about life being short, almost being taken away from you before you’d begun, and subsequently going after your dreams.

I moved to Scotland three years ago this month, having needed to make a huge change in my life before I ended up in a box, and not really knowing what my dreams were or what kind of a life lay ahead of me.

One of the best bits of the show was realising on our way home that we had just sat through two hours of somebody literally living their dream and appreciating and savouring every second of it. It was incredibly powerful and deeply moving, and both of us will remember it for many years to come.

I’ll finish with a quote that opened the show last night…

A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.

Mark Twain

On reading

I am what could be politely described as a voracious reader. I have loved books from a very young age, thanks to my gran and my mum both being primary school teachers. The most treasured possessions I kept when my granny died were some of the rare children’s books and embroidery books that she had collected over her lifetime.

Hours can pass by, until the only thing that stops me reading is a sore neck or a dead leg.

There are several books in various stages of completion next to my bed, as I love having real books around me. (Looking at them, I’m also reminded some of them are not mine and I need to get on and read them then give them back!)

I made the transition to a Kindle last year, or rather the Kindle app on an ipad mini. I had a 50 minute bus commute twice a day, got hopelessly travel sick when reading an actual physical book, but seemed to manage OK on the screen. The bus was meant to save me money on transport, but before long my monthly book expenditure was swallowing all the savings I was supposed to be making.

It has really changed how I read. I can have several books on the go at once, never losing my page. Best of all, my holiday suitcase is now much lighter. One holiday I took Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom, which is a huge book, and several others. I read three, but had been stricken by indecision when packing so I took everything I fancied.

As well as books, these days I love reading blogs. I have many favourites, but one I return to regularly is that of Alastair Humphreys, an adventurer, writer and speaker known for many things including his #microadventure concept.

His site is truly inspirational, with several main themes – finding adventure in small ways, not spending a lot of money, documenting the journey, making the most of life, and calling out excuses. His 20 questions post is probably the one I read the most.

A couple of days ago, he tweeted a link to a piece he had written on Medium:

I read the link, I loved what he had written and it resonated very deeply. I was also on the hunt for a new book after finishing one recently, so I decided to buy his book There Are No Rivers.

Yesterday morning, I happened to read a chapter titled Flabbiness, which he has also published on his blog as part of the serialisation of the book.

It’s about going from being a bit lazy to finding your life has slipped away before your eyes. It was a particularly powerful piece for me, and it reassured  me that a painful decision made recently was ultimately the right one. There have been a couple of big adventures since, there are more to come and I can’t wait to see how they pan out.

(this post is part of the DIY Creative Club September challenge, which I’m a bit behind on (!) but am using to get my writing unstuck and out of my head)

On Learning

September 1st, back to school, another new start. Or so it seems, certainly if you are south of the border. Scotland has been back for a couple of weeks already.

Despite my protestations that it had to still be summer because it’s not my birthday yet, the Scottish weather outdid even my determination and threw some really heavy rain at me on my run this evening. There are fallen leaves under the tree in my front garden and there was a real nip to the air this morning when I took my dogs out for their morning walk.

I met a friend for lunch today, someone I hadn’t seen in a couple of years but who had been a huge part of my life for a couple of months back in 2013 when we were working on Carousel at the RCS.

We talked about all things musical, and part of the conversation involved some reflection on what I’d learned while I was at music college. I had to leave before the end of my course sadly, but I had made my peace a while before and am now happy I made the right decision, and even better, I felt I had taken away everything I needed from my time studying.

I desperately miss the freedom to structure my day to suit my own productive times, and to enjoy the best of the weather when it comes, and the creative inspiration that comes from being surrounded by other musicians and artists, but I am finding ways to make the best of things all the time.

Another thing I’ve taken is an understanding of what I need to look after myself and keep myself happy. It boils down to just a handful of things (and surprise surprise, they’re not actual material Things!).

Over the last few weeks, there was a time of enforced rest and healing, as I was physically prevented from dashing about by the stitches in my leg and the pain from the initial injury. This gave me a bit of time to slow right down and get myself back on an even keel. It helped that I was in the beautiful surroundings (and equally beautiful weather!) of the Austrian/German Alps and being looked after by a good friend.

I’ve learned that it is time to get on and enjoy having some really big dreams about the future.

This was partly inspired by seeing a car I’ve wanted for years while I was away in Austria, and partly because my finances are slowly improving meaning I can start to tentatively make a few bigger plans.

The latter means that perhaps indulging in the former might, just might, be a possibility in a few years.

20 Questions

This is one of my favourite posts on the internet, ever. I come back to it frequently, particularly when things are feeling a bit muddy or needing a bit of an overhaul.

Alastair Humphreys’ 20 questions worth answering honestly are seemingly simple questions, but as you get into them, they will start to make you really think about what you want and where you’re going.

He published his answers, and invited others to be brave enough to do the same. I’m not sure I’m quite ready to, I’m on about my fourth revisit since I first discovered the post and each time something holds me back from sharing my answers.

If you’re feeling a bit stuck, or just curious, I recommend giving them a go.

PS Huge thanks to Graeme Hewitson for the fab photo of me running down Conic Hill in last year’s Highland Fling relay!