Milestones, Hurdles and A Brick Wall

Why is it that Milestones sound positive and Hurdles just don’t? Maybe it’s because milestones are somehow viewed as achievements whereas hurdles are things that get plonked in the way of progress. But surely if hurdles take more effort to overcome, whereas milestones just happen naturally, then hurdles should be the more highly esteemed of the pair? Perhaps it’s a sign of too much time on my hands that make these things bother me. There’s less internal controversy in my head about a Brick Wall. A Brick Wall is a Brick Wall. You know when you hit one. Like I have.

Forgive me this rambling entree but I’ve had a tough few weeks and am only starting to come to terms with it. You see I recently passed more than one significant milestone – or were they hurdles? The first one being an age related one which highlighted to me in no uncertain terms that without imminent major breakthroughs in medical science then I am now closer to death than birth. The second, courtesy of my Nike Run Club app, was that my new found love of running has led me to run over 1000 miles (not all in one go). This has been achieved in just over 18 months, and though I have on occasions felt like death would be an easier option, it is an achievement of which I am proud. Layered on top of these is something else – neither hurdle nor milestone but very definitely a Brick Wall. Death. A whole host, from the Holy Ghost, of untimely and disconcerting deaths – of hero’s and icons, acquaintances and friends; the most recent of which has quite frankly knocked me for six.

Ageing is a funny business. 50. So what? It’s only a number after all. Well maybe, but it’s a number that’s playing with my bloody head. How can it be that overnight I feel so different? And why suddenly does everyone look so much younger than me when last week they looked just like me? It’s even started meddling with my running. One of the surprising and delightful things about becoming a runner has been the camaraderie with other likeminded souls as you pass them (or more realistically they pass you) whilst pounding the tarmac. The knowing and respectful man to man glances with eyebrows raised, and best of all the beautiful smiles reflected back from the sleek agile female runners. Gone. All gone. My last few runs have been epitomised by sneering superior glances from ironclad males runners as they soar past leaving me gasping in their wake, and the female smiles have all at once been replaced with the most blatant eye contact aversion and downward glances I’ve ever known. By all of them! And yes, I know how this sounds. Classic moaning middle aged old git failing to come to terms with his mid life crisis. Yeah. And? What I really don’t understand is why I can’t pull myself out of it. I’m pretty savvy and self aware, and I know most of its in my head anyway. Any tips gratefully received on a postcard.

A big age milestone does force you to reflect though. And that is definitely a good thing. What have I actually achieved? More importantly what have I bottled out of? And why? I give myself a bit of a break here and a bit of credit. From an adolescent age I decided the best way to judge how you’re doing in life is to break it into 5 big categories and give yourself a rating. Formulaic and simplistic I know, but it works for me, even now. Early on in life these categories included – “car” “beer” and “fun” – but like all things in life they morph as time goes on and my current categories are “social life”, “work”, “love”, “health” and “finances”. Without giving to much away I give myself a strong rating on 3 with work to do on 2, so at least I’m winning. Although the work to do is some serious stuff.

The literal milestone of 1000 miles run took me by surprise, and this time in a good way. After all, The Proclaimers only walked it and I’ve run it! Go me! On a semi serious note since deciding a couple of years ago to grab life more by the horns before it is too late, my running is one of the few examples in my life where I have actually stuck to my guns, and achieved what I set out to. And much much more. The lesson? It proves to myself I can. And it gives me renewed belief that if I can over achieve in one part of my life, especially one that I used to abhor, then I can replicate this in other, more terse and swamp like sectors of my existence. Here’s hoping anyway.

My running story certainly gave me hope. I took up running for myself. But I committed to run a marathon for someone else. A real inspiration to me and many many others. And last week he passed away. And since then for me it’s been The Brick Wall.

When you have time on your hands you tend to over analyse. Or at least I do. Ageing and dealing with it was one thing. Death is a whole different level. There seems to have been a spate of deaths recently which really force you think about your mortality, making the head in the sand approach temporarily obsolete. There was the 28 year old marathon runner, well known to a good friend of mine. There was the sportsman from my era, that I’d met countless times, who still seemed so young. There was the icon who made the best pub game in the world a world event. All gone in a flash. And then there was my inspiration.

In truth it shouldn’t have been a surprise. Diagnosed 18 months ago with MND – the ultimate one way ticket – there was only ever going to be one outcome. But so fast and so unexpected and so unfair. I’d been keeping in touch with him from afar regularly with occasional visits, one of which was imminent. Throughout my marathon training regime it was he who was the most useful in terms of sage advice and support. And it wasn’t only me. He was the sort of man that went out of his way to help everyone. Always. It cost him two marriages and ultimately his life – convinced as he was that the disease had been triggered by falling on a charity walk he had committed to do for others, and despite his better judgement. And whilst post diagnosis the outcome was always going to be the same, the hollow feeling of emptiness and unfairness just will not go away.

This is normally where I try to pull my thoughts together into some sort of summary – part witty, part profound – but today it just won’t come. Because let’s face it life is really unfair. All you can do is try your best to deal with what it throws your way and keep you head above water. Today I’m going to look after myself. Tomorrow I can get back to helping others and making the world a better place.


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