Why I Try pt 1: Exercise and I

I’m going to start with a quick thanks for all of the overwhelmingly positive support I received for last week – cheers guys. Like so many people I don’t really discuss matters of mental health a bit much, and it was an incredibly daunting prospect, so thanks.

When I look towards my motivation for taking on this slightly ludicrous task I’ve set myself, a whole lot of things come up at once. Running a marathon is pretty hard enough. Cycling 100+ miles is a serious undertaking. Swimming for two and a half miles might legitimately kill me. In fact, judging by this morning’s experience at open water training, it will definitely kill me. The seas will have risen and there will be no dry land left on this planet by the time I’m ready to get out of the water. I’ll be stuck in some hellish Waterworld-esque existence; I think that would be the last straw. It will be too much; I shall wilfully drown myself. Waterworld was terrible.


That there is a piece of paper I have electrical-taped to my door. On it is scribbled a few affirmations/tenets/words of wisdom, or whatever you want to call them. The idea is that I give it a quick browse before I leave my room each day, and pick one or two points to ponder or act on. It’s also the first thing I see when I come home and need to process something tough. I feel it’s probably one of those little things that could explain a lot about the person that wrote it.

Let’s tackle the first one. It’s where a lot of this exercise schtick comes from. ‘If you don’t enjoy what you are doing, why are you doing it?’ I interpret this in two ways.

It can be a warning against wasting time doing stuff that’s not necessary for your happiness – life is too short, and it feels even shorter for one who conceivably may view himself as having lost a decade of his life to self-abuse/drugs/alcohol/general idiocy. I used to have a problem with persevering through unhappy situations that I had got myself into through blindly following other people’s advice, because I was too scared and confused by life to make my own decisions. I need to avoid that, and be a little more selfish and self-confident.

When I am ‘on’, feeling motivated or whatever, this is what gets me through. I exercise because I love the weightlessness of swimming, the feeling of real speed and power on a good bike road, and the freedom of running. I neglect to do other activities that I am less enthused by (say, re-watching Waterworld) in favour of these because, frankly, I can’t be fucked (no-one should be fucked about re-watching Waterworld). I would rather be doing one of the above, so I do one of the above. Life’s too short.

If the above interpretation is about motivation – doing what feels good in the moment – the second interpretation is all about discipline. It’s about forcing yourself to justify your actions – if it doesn’t feel good right now, then can I justify continuing to do it? What is the end goal? For example, a job that you don’t like – why not quit? Because they pay you money, and you need that money to buy that shiny new aero helmet that’s going to make you and your colour matching lycra look like a right smurf-cosplaying knob in Richmond Park. End goal.

Author’s note – I am guilty of colour matching Lycra. And everything else.


See how those shoes work with my club Tri suit? You might not be able to in that pic, but trust me: Beautiful. I am a pretty, pretty triathlete.

Discipline is what you need to justify the 5.30am Sunday starts (thanks again, open water swim) when it’s a bank holiday weekend, and any sane person would be in bed, cocooned in duvets and hangovers. It’s what you need to get you out of the door to go and do evening bike intervals when it is bucketing it down with rain, and there’s a hundred and one perfectly valid excuses for sitting this one out floating around your head. Its what you need to push yourself to do that last rep of your brick session and do it well, because that bastard in the black t-shirt overtook you on the track last time and you are going to hunt him down like a hungry lion. It’s the ’embrace the grind’ mentality.

It can also be a very dangerous mindset if you’re a certain type of person. There is nothing than feels good in the immediate here and now about cutting or burning yourself. It’s incredibly painful. This is where a find an overlap between self-harmers and athletes – both groups are pushing themselves through physical and mental stresses far beyond comfortable for most of the population. Both groups do this with an end goal in mind, and I wonder how similar the two groups might find their end goals when you boil it down.

Within the space of five minutes last Monday, while I was still coming to terms with the response to my first post on this blog, two people – first one of my housemates, and then my Mum (hi Mum!), had recommended I look into an article published on the Guardian website that day by Zoe Margoulis (Running Saved My Life). Zoe’s article described how running has been of great benefit to her in dealing with a bout of depression, where other methods (medication/counselling) were of much less use. She doesn’t specify exactly what it was about running that helped her – largely in part, I feel, due to the article reading like it’s too damn short to adequately explain the subject at hand.

On the other hand, I can’t 100% accurately convey what my end goal for all of this is either. Does exercise help with depression? I would say yes, if for nothing other than the fact that it gives me something else to think about. Latest self-therapy technique: spend hours putting together a financial spreadsheet detailing, month by month, how I am going to fund this Ironman endeavour of mine. I have never been so in love with a spreadsheet.

But if exercise helps with depression, I don’t need to be going so mad over it. I could just stick to casually running every now and again when I feel low, wouldn’t that have the same effect? Obviously not, to me. I need to be pushing myself, testing my limits and pushing them. I need to be proving, to myself and others, that I can take it, that I can handle this thing that not everyone can. There’s that overlap with self-harm again – I need to feel like I am able to cope with something, like I can survive something. Obviously it’s not all doom and gloom; one of these acts develops my body, the other destroys it. But the goal is still there. Push through, because you can, and you need to know you can.

Because you can. Motivation and willpower, two interpretations, in one. That’s the slightly nihilistic core of it – I can, and I like that I can, and I want to continue can-ing.

Next week: why triathlons in particular? Also, a job advert for an editor to tidy this ramble up.

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Also, part of the reason I’m doing this is to raise funds and awareness for The Maytree Respite Centre, a small charity in North London that provides support for people going through a suicidal crisis – so if you’d like to support my fundraising efforts, please click here. Thanks so much!

5 responses to “Why I Try pt 1: Exercise and I

  1. I think there is a huge link between the mindset that makes a competitive runner and some of the drivers of depression.

    Obsession is what drives what I describe as “runners” which is a totally different mindset and attitude to the Bingham-esque “I run and therefore I am a runner”. To my mind that is the equivalent of dipping a toe into the ocean and declaring yourself a swimmer… You need to throw yourself wholeheartedly and abandoning all reservations into it and it’s not nice and it’s not pretty – but if you work at it you might come up with a time that you can be “happy” with.

    You then you need to dig into why you’re happy with that time when realistically what difference does it make that you’re a minute faster over 10k? It seems to me a bit like a video game (and we’re straight back into obsessions…) where you grind away and you level up and become more powerful.

    When you put your effort into running then (generally) it rewards you. You get faster. This is then backed up in the club environment by further positive re-enforcement (“You’re running so well at the moment!”). It becomes very addictive.That’s before you even start looking at the endorphins!

    Life can be very confusing and progress can be far from linear. Running provides a pathway and easily followable / logical path. I think that structure to the day / week / month / year can help a lot of people.

    What I think is important to do – is to make sure you’re enjoying the process (and I think you do this!) – training shouldn’t be a chore (although it will always be difficult) – but enjoying the process of going and seeing people, chatting to people, doing crazy stuff sometimes.

    It’s really interesting reading your blog and understanding the challenges you’ve gone through. Your “can do” attitude in Chasers has been great and a real inspiration. You’ve got a real natural talent and am looking forward to seeing you realize some of that potential over the next few years.

    Liked by 2 people

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