We have all made New Year resolutions or set ourselves up for challenges which at the time made sense and were feasible. But when circumstances change do we change our goals or targets or even cancel our challenges altogether – probably not. We just persevere and try to bundle our way through them because we do not want to let everyone down or appear weak.
Having spent almost 30 years as a RAF Aviator, the one thing I was taught from day one was flexibility. Know when its unsafe, unwise or just plain stupid and be prepared to restructure your plan or even ‘get the hell out’ and head for home. Its like the old saying in the mountaineering/hill-walking world – “getting to the top is optional – getting down is mandatary”.
Yet despite my military training and over 50 years in the mountains I have recently found myself persevering with a challenge that I know full well I would not achieve.
At the end of last year I set myself a challenge to walk the equivalent distance of the River Nile from Khartoum to the Mediterranean. A distance of over 1600 miles requiring me to walk approximately 136 miles a month. No great problem, I was capable and fit enough to complete this challenge. But then disaster struck on Christmas Eve – I caught the worse flu that I have ever had (and I don’t mean man flu) I mean the real McCoy.
For two weeks I was completely ‘out of it’. Off work and incapable of doing much more than eat and sleep. I felt as though all the energy had been drained from me. The slightest effort was exhausting. The whole affair was completely debilitating rendering me incapable of any activity or exercise.
By the second week of January I was well enough to return to work but was still feeling very tired and weak. I knew I had the launch of the 2018 Ordnance Survey #GetOutside Champions coming up during the last week of the month and wanted to be fit enough to be able to take part in all the planned activities, including the 6 mile walk on the Friday morning.
Throughout January my biggest concern had been how quickly I became short of breath and was constantly wheezing as if I had developed asthma. Several trips to the Doctors confirmed that there was no serious underlying problem and I was prescribed inhalers to make breathing easier.
This worked and I was able to attend and partake in the Champions launch but as January moved into February I noticed a worsening of my breathing. Further returns to the Doctors again could not uncover any serious ailment and the breathlessness was put down to the long-term recovery from this particularly vicious strain of the flu.
It was not until March that I started doing any form of walking. Up to this point I had not been out, with the exception of the Champion walk, since well before Christmas. I was now very unfit, physically, and struggled to walk 3-5 miles let alone the 12-18 miles would should have been walking during each outing.
I tried to increase my work load to recover my fitness levels but found that this was pushing me further backwards and I felt I was ‘getting nowhere fast’. It was obvious that I was still suffering from the long-term effects of the illness and was also battling the added issue of having put on a stone of weight during that period.
So what did this mean for my challenge? Well obviously I was never going to be able to play catch-up and the stark realisation struck me that I would have to put my hand up and say I can’t do it this year. With almost half the year gone I would now have to walk 240 miles a month or 60 miles a week at a time when I am only just getting back up to 6 miles a day!
However, all is not lost! To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin:
Out of adversity comes change
I may not be able to walk the equivalent length of the Nile this year but what I can do is focus on recovery and training. Take a more sensible and pragmatic approach to my walking.
I had been goal and target orientated for too long and it had got to the stage where I was walking to achieve a target rather than spending the weekend walking for the enjoyment and the pleasure of the outdoors. Inadvertently I had discovered that I had lost the pleasure of walking.
Almost immediately I started enjoying my walks again. I noticed that I was planning walks to enjoy the area rather than to achieve distance or elevation gain. I was walking for me and not for a goal or target. Yes I will still have my goals and targets but they are about pleasure not endurance.
I don’t need to prove myself anymore, I know what I have done and where I have been. I have walked the mountains of Scotland and Wales, the fells of Cumbria and the ‘backbone of Britain’. I have explored the empty quarter and scaled the highest mountain in Oman. I have conquered the deepest caves in Britain and Europe. I have slept under the stars and seen the sunrise. Now I can enjoy myself!