After what feels like a hibernation in which much of my physical training has been set decidedly to “ticking over”, this week marked a return to training. That has coincided with a number of things, the first of which is the utterly arbitrary calendrical one of it being the beginning of March.
Second, this week I had the pleasure of giving Oxford University’s first Mental Health Awareness Day lecture under the heading “The Consolation of Solitary Sports”, which gave me the chance to talk about the joys of ultra running, alongside my colleague, Verity Westgate, who gave us a wonderful tour of the world of wild swimming. I was able to explain the magic of the moments in the middle of the night when all the world melts away save for the few feet of trail lit by a tiny torch. You can read the full transcript, and see the video here.
And so, it’s time to set the first foot on the official path for my 2017 mind and body challenge. The reasons behind setting myself a mind and body challenge were simple. First, I wanted to see how far I could push myself in every direction. I have never been good at staying focused on a single goal. Having five goals means that I will never tire of training, and I will always have something to write about.
Second, I love the idea of seeing how far I can actually go at things that aren’t supposed to go together. Though one of the things that has been so fascinating about delving even a little into some of these worlds has been meeting so many amazing people whose lives take them on treks through some of these apparently contradictory territories. But I want to go the whole way. In a year. And when I’ve done that, and taken stock, in 2018 I want to turn it up to 11. And the hope is that part of pursuing activities that are very different but all share a simplicity – a single, easily definable task, taken to an extreme, with concordant training – I will learn something not just about myself but about the ways in which the brain rewires itself to handle such competing demands. What better way to launch a truly creative organisation than to make myself an experiment in divergent activities.
So here are the things I will be pursuing:
One (alleged) left brain activity, one right brain, and one combination:
Mental Calculation (left brain) – I will be adding columns of 10 digit numbers, multiplying 8 digit numbers, and calculating 6 digit square roots at the Mental Calculation World Championships on 22 August.
Creative thinking (right brain) – I will once again be taking part in the Creative Thinking World Championships on 27 August.
Memory – who knows where the competitions will end, but I will be aiming at the MSO Natural and Speed Memory Championships on 21 August.
One strength, one endurance, and one combination:
Powerlifting – because there is a very rigid qualifying structure, I will be aiming at a much smaller meet for this, at Oxford University, in October. I will be deadlifting, and aiming to set the kind of weight that makes me not out of place, at least in that company.
Ultra running – I will once again take on the UK’s leading ultramarathon, the 100 kilometre Race to the Stones
Indoor Rowing – the perfect combination of endurance and strength, I will be taking on a 100 mile row in November. Entirely under my own steam because (as yet) there are no competitive 100 mile open races. But I will take in the an Indoor Rowing Championships along the way.
I will, of course, be seeking to take every opportunity that presents itself to talk about this challenge, to lecture, to present, to encourage, and to explore the boundaries and possibilities we might have thought were beyond us, hopefully rounding everything off with a lecture at Oxford University at the end of November. And yes, there *will* be a book.
If you are in any way inspired by this challenge
– to take up your own challenge, I will be providing resources over the next couple of weeks as I look closer at each discipline.
– to donate, please do so to my charity of choice, Apopo, who train rats to detect landmines and tuberculosis, transforming lives in some of the most dangerous places on the planet. Donate direct to them here.
– to help – there are lots of ways you can help me practically if you are so inclined. I am looking for sponsors, specifically great, innovative and ethical companies I would be proud to represent, and whose kit I would be proud to use. I will be producing a sponsor information sheet this month, but if you would like to offer your products in return for publicity, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org