At the weekend my fiancée swam a mile in Loch Lomond as part of the Great Scottish Swim event. He’s been training for a year and has seen his fitness, stamina and speed improve in that time. Some of our friends thought he was a bit mad to do it, and some of them thought he was courageous. In reality you probably need to be a mixture of the two!
It got me thinking about why people take on these sorts of challenges: climbing a mountain, swimming a loch, running a marathon, abseiling from a tall building. For some people it’s about raising money for charity; doing what you can for a good cause. Tony has raised, so far, over £500 for a small MS charity that provides support to MS sufferers and their families, though for him that wasn’t the prime motivator, it was more about the personal challenge.
Sometimes it’s good to have an objective focus for our efforts. As someone who has multiple long term health issues, getting fit, and staying fit, is always a challenge due to my energy (lack of) and pain levels (high). At the start of the year I decided to challenge myself to run a 5k. I chose the Loch Ness Marathon because it was far enough away in the calendar for me to stand a chance of achieving a degree of fitness and managing to put in some training time before the date, and also because I love their strap line: ‘If you have to put yourself through hell, you may as well do it in heaven’. This applies to the gruelling rough terrain marathon, but for me it sums up my attitude to the 5k – any distance in fact- as I enjoy being out in the open to train. I could have got fitter without signing up for a 5K race of course, but there’s something about setting a formal challenge that motivates me to achieve my best. I guess a lot of people are the same.
The swim on the bank holiday weekend in Loch Lomond was a joyous affair. There were people of every age, sex and colour. Participation in these events is open to everyone who can complete the distance, regardless of any other factor, and that is also part of their attraction. The oldest participant was 80 years old. He swam a mile in under an hour. I’m not sure of the age of the youngest participants, but there were certainly people there in there early twenties. There was a great community spirit from both competitors and supporters, with everyone focused on the same thing: taking part.
For some people a 5K is literally a ‘walk in the park’, for me it’s a really big deal; for some people a marathon is hard and for others it’s relatively easy. There were a high proportion of first-timers taking part in the swim, and I will be doing the Loch Ness 5K for the first time in September. A lot of people decide to take action in their 40’s and 50’s. With youth long gone and the prospect of getting old on the horizon, many people make the decision to get fit, take up a sport, take on a challenge, or otherwise shake up their lives in some way. I have friends who have taken up cycling, rowing, dancing and running now they are into their 50’s. I like to think it’s more than a fad, or worse fear, but more a life-affirming joy of living; knowing that we can hone our bodies into some sort of physical shape that makes it possible to swim lochs, cycle continents, climb mountains, for as long as we have the strength to do so.
People have always taken on challenges. Some are more risky than others – mountain climbing or sailing around the world- but the essential reasons why people do these things are the same. We do them because we can: the mountain is there to be climbed, the loch is there to be swum, the race to be run. It gives us a sense of adventure and challenge; the adrenalin rush and the achievement; it instills some sort of discipline and routine and encourages us to learn lessons about ourselves – what motivates us and makes us tick. We understand on a fundamental level that these things can be good for us both mentally and physically. We know in our bones that we weren’t designed to sit still in front of gadgets for hours on end. As it says on my fiancée’s t-shirt ‘if you think adventure is dangerous, try routine – it’s lethal!’ We are designed for thrill, challenge and adventure in the physical world – our ancestors are testament to that, and we are testament to the fact that sedentary stressful lifestyles are not what we are made for. So, I would urge you to get out there. Challenge yourself. Do something adventurous; take a risk. You will enjoy improved fitness and better mental health. Find something you enjoy and you will come across others that enjoy the same thing. There are clubs and societies and events up and down the UK.
If you’re struggling with health issues or have disabilities, there are still active things that you can do. There’s a father who has pushed his disabled son through a thousand or more marathons in a specially designed chair; there are disabled athletes of every discipline. And if like me, you are in pain and suffer with a lack of energy, aim for something small – a walk around the block, a length in the pool – enlist the help of a friend to support and motivate you. We can all benefit from being outside and having a bit of excitement in our lives.
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Support Tony here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/theweeappshop
British Paralympic Association – Find a Sport. https://parasport.org.uk/find-a-sport/?gclid=Cj0KEQjw3ZS-BRD1xu3qw8uS2s4BEiQA2bcfM9fbdHAiskWcx8FsaYR-fhYQo82Zf10zDUuZjGUbR6kaAje58P8HAQ