At the risk of sounding like a mix between Jarvis Cocker, Tolkien and a motivational meme, every journey must start somewhere, so it might as well start here.
So, where is here?
I don’t look like someone who’d do challenges. I am 45. I am very overweight – the scales indicate 113 kg (17 st 12 – yeowzwer!! I would like to get to 95 by the time I’m racing – it makes life easier!) though blessed with very good underlying health given what I’ve put my body through. I have the medical OK for the challenge. My mental health is not so hot. I have bipolar disorder, and in episodes when I am not ill, do a lot of campaigning, working with the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, and with Oxford University’s Disability Advisory Group. And I care for my wife, who also has bipolar disorder, and has recently been diagnosed autistic (you can read her remarkable, brave blog here). I have a day job that is decidedly not what I had hoped it would be before illness, but which I can manage full-time, and where my colleagues are remarkably supportive. That means a lot. I also write, and am an active part of the literary world, hosting a poetry night at my local Waterstones, writing a weekly column in my role as news editor for the Alliance of Independent Authors. And, of course, I am building this place.
I feel weird, putting this video here. Most people these days who look into lives that combine a whole gamut of activities come to Emilie Wapnick’s talkin on Multipotentialites. It’s a great talk, and you should watch. But it comes several decades after Hank Pfeffer’s somewhat drier article “Danger: High Voltage” on the “Too Many Aptitudes Problem”, which changed my life by giving me permission to flit.
So, what are my baselines for the challenges I am undertaking?
Running – Well, I have run Race to the Stones twice. In 2015 I did it in a not very quick 19 hours 42. That’s my high point. It’s a lot higher than where I am now. This year, mindful of the need to lose about half a stone before I run real distance for the sake of my joints, I have run 5k in 37 minutes. My target is to beat 18 hours.
Powerlifting – It’s been a long time since I lifted. 16 years in fact. Back when I was a discus and hammer thrower for Oxford University Athletics Club. Because of injuries, I am focusing on deadlifting. Back then I managed 195kg. That’s not a benchmark though. I begin again in 2 days’ time. I will update a “now” mark, and a target, then.
Indoor Rowing – two years ago I rowed 108 kilometres. It nearly killed me. And 15 years ago I managed 2k in 6.53.7, just squeaking under the magic 7 minute mark. Where I am now, as of yesterday, is a half marathon, 21097 metres, in 1hr38.37, that’s 2.20.4 pace. My target is to complete 100 miles within 15 hours, and manage a 7.30 2k
Mental Calculation – it’s harder to set targets for mind sports. There are many disciplines within each subset, so to make things concrete I will pick one. In this case 8 digit multiplication – that is, multiplying an eight digit number by another eight digit number in your head, writing only the answer – no written working allowed. I can now do 3 calculations in the regulation time of 10 minutes. I would like to get that to the full 10.
Creativity – As the reigning world champion, this is the one I am unlikely to improve on. As the same person never retains their title, I’d love to do that. But I’d settle for any kind of medal.
Memory – I will pick playing cards as my benchmark. At present, I can memorize the order of 21 cards in 1 minute. I would like to memorize a full pack within 5 minutes.
There we are, some of the boring stats. The place from which I start.
In a way, I feel a semi-fraud. I know I *can* do this. The real thing is doing *all* of this. To a decent standard. While holding life together! And documenting the whole process.
Oh, and the challenge has a name. One that is obvious now I think about it – the dandelion challenge. In honour of Neil Gaiman’s famous speech to London Book Fair, urging publishers to be like dandelions, sowing 1000 seeds in the hope that 100 may blossom. I could also have called it the High Voltage challenge in honour of Hank Pfeffer’s wonderful article that pretty much sums up my butterflyish life.
The Dandelion Challenge is in aid of Apopo Hero Rats. You can find out more about their remarkable work and donate here.