Summer’s Here – Goodbye Will Power?

Recovery week

I know, I know…this post is late. I normally post at 06:00 am every Monday morning, but now I am officially on holiday. That probably means that the next few posts will also be late – well, better late than never!

After last weekend’s Spitfire Scramble, it took until Wednesday to say convincingly that I felt physically fine….well, as “fine” as I had been before the Spitfire Scramble! My lower back still ached if I sat down for too long and I was in desperate need of an intense massage, stretching and spinal manipulation of my neck and back.

Instead, of those productive “post race” measures, I ate and I drank. I just couldn’t find it in me to be merry!

In the morning, instead of my usual healthy green smoothie – which was far too much effort to make – I drank what remained of my Lucozade sport and protein drinks – despite the promise to myself to reduce my sugar intake (if I remember rightly my exact words were, “I am never eating or drinking that s*** again!”). “I need to stay hydrated”, shouted the devil on one shoulder, “what’s wrong with water FFS!” whispered the angel on the other. “Electrolytes”, was the devil’s response.

If I managed to get into work on time, I ate a fried breakfast before my morning meeting.

I drank copious amounts of black coffee to stay awake and focused (read, semi-functioning) at work…and more than a few chocolate biscuits were consumed, also in the name of “productivity”.

Lunch was whatever sandwiches were left on offer, and some sugar-laden desert to follow.

In the evenings, after a carb-laden dinner, red wine was my poison of choice. Half a bottle – nothing excessive, not for a drinker – I on the other hand, not being a drinker, become a bit of a liability i.e. I get the kids too excited just as my wife has settled them for bed (did somebody say NERF WAR?!?!?), or eat anything and everything in the fridge – forgetting my usual 7 pm eating deadline. Will power? Gone. Fitness? Decreasing. Body fat? Increasing.

By Friday night I came to the conclusion that, recovery week was over and a long hard look at myself in the mirror was necessary. Thankfully, I’m part of gen X and not some melt who doesn’t believe in a bit of “tough love” as and when needed. I also have some reliable people around me to give me a slap or kick up the arse if that fails. Here’s what came out of those conversations.

reading

I normally read, or at least listen to an audiobook every day for at least 30 minutes. I couldn’t bring myself to do that after the race. Instead I put on the radio, but invariably ended up skipping from one channel to the next, never listening to a song the whole way through. There’s so much crap on there now – I can’t stand the adverts, or the DJ waffle, or “the news”. I have a shockingly limited CD collection in my car…another thing that needs remedying.

Anyway, I’m committed to making reading part of my daily routine again – especially over the summer, while I have so much time. I need something life-affirming or inspiring, so I’ve downloaded Atomic Habits by James Clear. Using one technique from this book, Implementation Intentions, my goal is as follows:

After waking up, I will read a book (or listen to an Audible audiobook) for at least 15 minutes every morning in my chair.

meditation

I know why I stopped this temporarily. I just could not focus – or I ended up nodding off! The last race took so much concentration, “one more step – you can do this – one more lap,” over and over again in my head – not to mention the sleep deprivation. I just didn’t have it in me to follow my breath for a minute or do a longer body scan – which is a great shame, as it’s exactly what I needed.

So as well as reading, meditation is going to once again be part of my morning routine. Even if (like Chade Meng Tan in Search Inside Yourself suggests) it’s just for one breath, maybe I can extend that to one minute, and build back up from there.

After I have read, I will meditate for at least one minute every morning in my chair.

writing

My journalling has been reduced to daily to-do lists and body fat percentages. Considering that these journals are meant to be left for my kids to read, I wouldn’t be surprised if they found their way into the bin shortly after my departure. There is plenty going on in my head – even if I’m emotionally flat-lining right now – and I function far better when I get most of that mess out of there and onto a page! It would be far better for me to brainstorm these weekly blog posts rather than write a stream of consciousness…but more time consuming (I felt the weight added to the task by making it too laborious).

I have ideas for two novels, whole plots, characters, titles…but I have yet to commit, even to ten minutes, of writing these stories down.

I think “writing” could be replaced with any creative endeavor, any attempt at story-telling. It’s understandable now that the band has folded, that I want to blog, vlog or write a book or two. I need that creative outlet…but maybe starting is just a bit overwhelming? I know, I know, “break it down…” but even that first word, “break” sounds like a lot of effort! To read. Really, writing, seems an insurmountable task.

Anyway, each day I am committed to writing “something”. A blog post, a scene in a novel, a song (blimey, that’s been a while). Something.

After training (triathlon in 8 weeks) and breakfast, I will write for 30 minutes in my journal or on my phone or laptop.

family photo albums

Every year I put together an album of our year, September to August. It’s a time consuming activity, but the reward is worth it. Laura loves that I do these each year. We normally have plenty of great memories to look over, and we’re onto our 11th album this year I think?

What photos do I want to take this August?

What photos do I want to see in next year’s album?

This is something I need to be working on each day – photo album 2018-2019. Taking photos of our family holidays, sorting through the masses of blurry and ugly pictures, selecting the best for the finished product. No Photoshop. No filters. Not as standard. Not to date anyway.

After the kids have gone to bed each night, I will complete one page of the photo album on my laptop.

Family photo albums – an annual summer project for me

sleep

This should probably be goal number one. I’m turning off my 4:30 am alarm. At least for a few weeks. I’m going to try to get to bed by 9 pm most nights, but that is definitely harder when there’s no work the next day – the temptation to stay up watching Netflix is much stronger without an early morning commitment.

If I want a nap in the middle of the day, I will bloody well take a nap (but not after 3 pm or that will mess up my 9 pm bed time plan). I can’t do without sleep like I used to. I don’t want to go without sleep, like I used to. I no longer see those all-nighters as heroic or worthwhile feats of endurance and will only participate in these in the rarest of circumstances i.e. seeing old friends, or suddenly being inspired to write (not just to meet a deadline).

I will go to bed at 9 pm and wake up no later than 6 am.

diet

As I’ve said on more than one occasion, my weight is not a concern. My body fat percentage and how much (little) of that weight is muscle, is something I want to monitor though. And not just monitor, I want to have some goals in this area – like being 70kg (ideal running weight for my height) and sub 15% body fat.

I no longer want to be He-Man or be considered for a role in The Expendables, but I’m not willing to submit to dad bod mode (just yet). I admittedly suffer from being skinny-fat, and my diet is one reason for this current state of affairs.

I have a sweet tooth, love carbs in all their incarnations (rice, pasta, potatoes, bread) and add to that beer, red wine or whiskey and the likelihood of me consuming even more carbs to excess is 99.9%.

I will restrict my carb/refined sugar and alcohol consumption and increase protein intake to reduce body fat percentage and maintain muscle mass. Ideally I want to be 70kg and sub 15% body fat – I’m currently 75-ish kg and 21-ish % body fat.

20th July 2019, 75.7 kg (PM weigh in), 21.9% body fat

exercise

My third and final (this year) triathlon is in just 8 weeks, and it seems a sensible goal to get closer to the 2:45 mark this time around. It’s a goal…it doesn’t get me excited or fired-up, but it does give me a reason to do some cardio every day (swim, cycle, run).

It’s a more immediate target than the Berlin marathon, which is over a year away…or my second Spitfire Challenge, which is a little less than that – but it’s a triathlon. I’m still a runner at heart.

I am more excited about improving my swimming technique, and finally committing to adding some strength training into my weekly routine. Cardio alone is not going to improve my skinny-fat situation.

I will train (swim, cycle, run, strength training) every morning after reading and meditating, and before eating breakfast.

1500 m swim, 42.4 km cycle, 10 km run – must fuel my training, and work more on technique.

play

A close second to sleep, is PLAY! Ralph has just started to learn how to play chess, Robyn is into magic tricks…these are tiny windows of time that I need to make sure I don’t miss. Ralph asked me to go Jump Giants with him yesterday, after he had been with Robyn – and I am grateful that I’m fit and well enough to do that. If I was older or in worse shape, I might not be able to. Robyn wants to go to an escape room with me, and is still hooked on Rebecca Zamolo YouTube videos. I need to put together another treasure hunt for them. While they’ll still enjoy that sort of thing. They both want to do mini-driving lessons. They will both enjoy camping over the summer.

I want to be present for these experiences with them, capture as many of them as I can without losing that presence for too long, and I want to drag myself away from whatever else I’m telling myself that I would rather be doing.

I’m sure Laura has fun things she wants to do as well, and I want to be a willing and enthusiastic party to these (Saturday’s Tribute Festival was one such example).

summer schedule

And so, despite not being at work, I clearly need a routine. I’ll need to flesh this out a bit – the devil is in the details – but so I don’t completely waste the next few weeks, this is what my days are going to look like.

  • Sleep 6-9 hours
  • Read
  • Meditate
  • Train (swim, cycle, run, strength training)
  • Write (journal, blog, novel)
  • Diet (clean, low carb. high fat/protein)
  • Play (whatever they want e.g. chess, tennis, football, Jump Giants)
  • Photo album (once they’re in bed or otherwise occupied)

summer goals

  • Refreshed and rejuvenated – not hungover, stressed, dreading the return to work
  • Wiser – doing some things differently, being more effective and efficient
  • Calmer – less type A, still motivated and goal-directed, but with less urgency
  • Triathlon-ready
  • A few chapters of my novel written
  • No more sugar binges and an added bonus would be 6 pack abs due to lower body fat %
  • Great memories of fun with Laura and the kids
  • Great photos of our year, complied in an album, delivered for our birthdays

Spitfire Scramble 2019

A Reluctant racer

To be perfectly honest, I was not looking forward to this challenge. I have been in a bit of a funk for some time and this has resulted in little enthusiasm for, or consistency with training. This could just be a bit of “sporting burnout”, or maybe it’s work, diet (poor recently), sleep, hormones? I’ve got my suspicions, and have put corrective measures in place to dig myself out and get back on track.

At my best, I run 4-5 times a week, cycle once or twice, and swim once. If I’m really on fire, there will be a body weight strength training session or two thrown in for good measure (this happens as frequently as the proverbial “blue moon”).

My training leading up to this event was sporadic and of poor quality. I lacked the mental discipline to stick to a MAF pace, as I knew there was so little time to prepare for the event. I just chose to focus on getting a few 10 km runs in wherever possible (all morning workouts are fasted – I earn my breakfast).

After the triathlon on 16th June, most of my time in the gym has been spent stretching and doing core work – but I did manage a few runs in the build up to the Spitfire Scramble.
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Open water swim with Hadleigh Plungers

A post shared by Dean "Deano" Saunders (@norocketscientist1980) on

Apart from this event, having booked myself up for a triathlon on the 15th September, I have managed a 22 mile cycle into work (and done the same back) once – and I’ve been open water swimming twice since Windsor. I have completely plodded along at my own pace with these – no speed in mind – just happy to be doing something other than running.

weekend of the event – 24 hours of thinking “how does jack bauer do this?”

It’s Saturday morning and despite the lack of training in the run up, I’ve got an inkling of what could be called “excitement”. I have woken up at my usual 04:30 am, despite not needing to wake up until 07:00 am at the earliest.

I use this extra time for a last minute trip to Tesco for spare head torch batteries and food supplies. I also take advantage of a 2 for £8 book offer (Billy Connolly’s new book and something on serial killers – just mixing things up). It dawns on me that I’m probably going to look pretty unsociable reading a book during a team event with 4 other blokes, but I pack them nonetheless. There’s bound to be a quite moment, I tell myself.

Laura and the kids are just planning to drop me off with my massive cool bag and the camping beds borrowed from a friend of one of our team (weirdly, that friend lives literally just around the corner from me, same side of the same street, but 37 doors down). But then, we’re informed that there may be spaces for the kids to sign up to do a mile race! Robyn isn’t interested, but Ralph is all over it! He absolutely smashes his first race ever – and I am so proud that despite almost stopping, he didn’t even walk ONCE! He ran the whole thing, and paced himself much better than his spontaneous “Dad, I’ll race you” efforts.

27th out of the 59 children who ran! At 6 years old! He didn’t stop to walk once!!!

the course

The course is 5.75 miles of off-road trail running. There are some paved sections, and gravel paths, but you also have some woods with precarious tree roots (marked with illuminous paint) and slippery grass sections like at the 3.75 mile mark as you run past/through the campsite. The worst part of all for me – Ingrebourne Hill – a short bit of incline work right near the end of each lap. If you’re not worried about your time, then this is a great place to stop for a selfie with its amazing view of London at night.

3.75 mile mark. The first lap was SO HOT!

The TEAM

So the running order is Gary, me, Kieran, Liam and finally Noel (no, the Gallagher brothers are not running this event), kicking off with a first lap in the midday sun. The heat you feel as you pass through the open fields, is uncomfortable enough (apparently, it was 10 degrees hotter last year!) but there are also a couple of awkward low bridge gates to negotiate. You get some shade as you wind your way through the woods, but then have to stop yourself from tripping over the raised tree roots as you whizz down the steep-ish decline (all fine during the day, but during the two night laps, this is the part I’m most concerned about).

Kieran has been the driving force behind organising the event – for this I am both grateful and resentful, in varying percentages throughout the weekend. Liam has provided us with a tent – which took up all of his weight allowance on his flight in from Glasgow! Noel has a nifty little notebook, which he uses to make a note of our start/finish/lap times in…which is great, until he goes for his run…and we realise that none of us were looking at the clock (that may have happened the second time around – I’m pretty sure we were all on point during the first lap – but my mind has turned to mush).

12 hour clock, 24 hour clock, block capitals, mixed case…it’s far less consistent than our lap times!!!

We slap a high-vis wrist band onto the next runner’s wrist at each lap – easier to carry than a baton for this relay I suppose – although I still see some fails i.e. people missing the next runner’s wrist, or the next runner holding out their hand to take it instead of the “slap and roll” technique.

By lap 3 my back is in agony and my right knee injury has reappeared to haunt me. A 15 minute massage gets me back into some sort of running condition, and I manage to run laps 4 and 5 as a double lap, in the dark. Before laps 4 and 5, I drench myself in ice cold water from a 2 litre bottle, and change outfit. Cleanliness and new clothes…WHAT – A – FEELING!!!

Running at night is weird…without a swag bag, or the police giving chase…it just seems strange. Maybe it’s some prehistoric part of my brain kicking in and reminding me that unless I’m being chased, or I’m chasing potential food, I should be conserving energy in a safe little hovel somewhere? The quiet, apart from my panting and the crunch of gravel beneath my swollen feet, is definitely part of that strangeness. The world disappearing each time my head torch refocuses elsewhere must also contribute. Maybe under less sleep deprived circumstances, it would all seem far more normal.

I sleep* for a while after my double lap, and really don’t think I’m going to be able to do any more – but I can’t let everyone down, or miss out on a medically supervised chance to push my body to run 34.5 miles in a 24 hour period! (*when I say sleep, I mean “pass out”. Only regaining consciousness to 1) the realisation of how cold I am, covered in cool sweat in the sleeping bag or 2) the high pitched buzzing of a mozzy in my ear. My body is now covered in bites).

Apart from some sanity saving banter (tellytubbies, toilet lice, and suspected sex tents) as sleep deprivation takes its toll, I am cold, damp, angry and feeling very pessimistic. I have not trained enough mentally, forget physically, for this event. I am disappointed with my lack of resilience. My whinging. MAN UP!!! I take a last minute vow of positivity, and limp along for my 6th lap. I’m done, spent, finished. I’m praying that the pain will go away and that there won’t be any lasting damage.

We all end up running 6 laps each, except for Gary who heroically pulls a 7th out of the bag! LEGEND. We end up in 3rd place, winning ourselves a trophy each, on top of the medal we’ve already won.

An amazing effort, by a great group of lads – but that 3rd place is a BIG PROBLEM. Knowing that none of us had trained optimally, or dieted, or restricted our alcohol consumption in the run up…it begs that inevitable question: What if? What. If?

Like a successful bank robber…I’m out…I’ve done my last job…I’m off to live on my ill-gotten gains somewhere sunny, and drink Sangria (out of a third place trophy). But I’ve read too many of those novels, and seen too many of those films. I know that when the call comes, closer to the time, about that ONE LAST JOB…as hard as it is to imagine right now…I will find it hard to resist. I know me. I’m shaking my head at myself already.

Suggested improvements to the event:

  • Live music – the DJ was great and the music selected was enjoyable, it would just be even better if the recorded music was broken up with some live local acts. I’m sure some young bands would be willing to play without needing payment (we played T-Fest for free each year).
  • Mosquito/Gnat warnings and deterrents – it would have been useful to have had that warning in the starter pack. I go camping a lot, but there was a particularly high number of blood suckers at the campsite. Some citronella or spray on sale somewhere could be a good money earner for them.
  • Bring back the Spitfire flyover. I was informed that it is too expensive to do, which is a shame. I was looking forward to the event’s namesake flying overhead at some point.
  • No ball games after 19:00 KIDDIES!!! They were only slightly less annoying than the mosquitoes! We had all escaped our own children, only to be annoyed by someone else’s!!!

Things I would do differently:

  • Bring multiple changes of clothing, i.e. socks, pants, shorts, t-shirts, and a towel
  • Use their shower shuttle service every second lap
  • Use their massage service very third lap
  • Run multiple times a day in training (try a three 10 km run on a Saturday or Sunday)
  • Eat little and often. Protein (20-30g) straight after each lap. You want nutrient-dense food, not big, bulky, hard-to-digest, “make you feel sick while you’re running” slop.
  • Carbs two hours before your next lap. Drink some coffee for it’s laxative effects and later, skip rope for a few minutes, if you’re keen to “unload” before your next lap
  • Have a 20 minute power nap, straight after your protein and before your carbs
  • Take gels or cliff blocks on each lap
  • Bring your own food. OK as the noodles, burgers and chips were, they’re more of a spectator food – but also quite pricey
  • The Spitfire Scramble t-shirt is the only “team t-shirt” you need. Other than that, wear whatever you’re comfortable it and this again, keeps the cost down
  • NO DOUBLE LAPS!!! Not unless it’s my last two. Stopping and starting is a killer, but I’d still have recovered quicker from a 6 mile lap than a 12 mile lap!
  • Toothbrush and paste. My mouth felt disgusting my the end.

Left to right: Kieran, Liam, Noel, Deano (me) and Gary. Legends, each and every one of us!!! HA HA!!! What if…?

Knowing Thyself – Dealing With Post Race Blues

Blues, NOT “D”

Writing is hard! Keeping this up on a weekly basis is no joke. This will be brief and I will be looking at my schedule to make sure future content is of better quality!

Before I begin my weekly blog post, let me just be clear – I am not a doctor or mental health professional – I can only speak from personal experience and I am purposely using the word “blues” as opposed to the “D” word. This is not to belittle anyone else’s experience – but to put my own low mood into perspective, and in the right position on that spectrum of emotion. It’s also not “advice”, it’s just what I do, for me. You do you, is basically what I’m saying.

I have a tendency towards “Darkness”, in mood, humour, superheroes (Batman rules, sorry Iron Man), and at times this makes the “9-5, 2.4 kids, yes sir, no sir” kind of life quite challenging – but I can get myself out of bed each day (usually on time) and into work (usually on time) and I am generally sufficiently productive, despite a lifelong procrastination habit.

Coincidentally? I wear a lot of black, grey and blue (mainly because I’m colourblind and there is less chance of a colour coordination disaster), and I don’t feel compelled to wear the trendy summer colours. I do own purple suit – but I bought it believing it was navy blue ( I deserve a parking badge, this is definitely a disability). I have been told that red looks good one me, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to purchase an item of clothing in that colour – as it would probably be green or brown anyway. Also, red = anger, aggression, etc. and like Dr Banner, I try to distance myself from these. Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.

Anyway…post race blues…I suffer from this, despite kidding myself that it is NOT A THING, or that only weak people experience it. I have read plenty of “how to” articles on avoiding or overcoming this experience with actions such as “booking your next race” – which works by the way, to an extent, but most of what I’ve read seems a bit like the “hair of the dog” advice to someone with a hangover. Maybe with good reason.

THE SUDDEN VOID

Whether you have trained for 6 or 16 weeks, you have dragged yourself out of bed or to the gym after work, with your race in mind. You want your performance on the day to be your best (yet) and you want as few excuses or nagging self-critiques as possible when you cross that line. As you look over your splits, or analyse your Garmin report online, you don’t want any regrets about the training sessions (missed or half-halfheartedly completed) before race day. “I wish I would have….” or “I wish I hadn’t…”.

So far, despite my none of my performances being impressive in the big scheme of things, I’m incredibly proud and satisfied with my progress ( I was 36 when I ran my first half-marathon and full marathon, so I’ve been an endurance athlete for just 3 years). I haven’t had these negative thoughts, post-race, because I have trained as well as I could have – in spite of work, family, injury, etc.

But even without these kinds of thoughts post-event, after any effort lasting more than 2.5 hours I have too frequently found myself physically, psychologically and emotionally empty on Monday morning. Part of it must be down to the recommendation to rest and recuperate, which I’m sure my body appreciates but my mind rebels against. My mind misses the routine. It misses having a target. An objective. A follow-up mission. A reason for getting out of bed. My sporting ikigai. I think the repetition acts in a similar way to meditation, where the chaos that is my inner psyche is calmed before the day ahead.

Our mind can be our own worst enemy though. It’s not always to be trusted. So my plan of action is as follows.

3-4 Events per year

I need to rest after an event. This needs to be planned just as thoughtfully as my training.

If I wake up full of energy, I am allowed 10 minutes of cardio maximum, to flush the lactic acid and get me mobile – but that’s it. I can spend half an hour stretching – but no more.

That way I’m out of bed, maybe even at the gym before work. But my body gets the rest it needs, without breaking the mental routine.

Last year I ran 3 marathons in one year – each 4 months apart. Obviously that’s no big deal when people like David Goggins or Eddie Izzard have run that distance day after day…but anyway…3 events like that was plenty (if not slightly too much for me).

But I do love a challenge…at least the idea of one…so I followed the marathons up with my first sprint triathlon, and a week later my first Olympic distance triathlon. I and have now passed the point of “too much” and it’s not over.

Next weekend I will be running the Spitfire Scramble, as part of a five man team. It basically consists of 24 hours of running 10 km laps of a country park.

This will be followed by the Olympic distance triathlon, Season Finale on Sunday 15th September. And a few weeks later, I will complete the national 3 peaks challenge in 24 hours. That’s it then. I’m done. No more…for a bit!

I messed up this year. I have taken on too much, in an effort to avoid the void. I’ve over-committed myself. It puts unnecessary pressure on my mind and body…but what is the alternative?

Waking up with no goal? No purpose? No immediate reason to train, or to be disciplined with my sleep and diet? No reason to abstain from weekend binge drinking or binge eating? No reason to do any more than the bare minimum – which I don’t think will be sufficient any more to achieve those highs that have kept me exercising.

PROMISE TO MYSELF

In September I’ll be 39, and it is definitely time for me to be a bit more sensible about these things.

3-4 events is a maximum, and the longer those events are, the fewer I should be doing, and the more spread out they should be. Recovery is key now I’m getting older.

I have two marathons (Rome and Berlin) in mind next year, which will mean short triathlons if I do any.

I must become more fat-adapted, as I’m sure the sugar I consume during these races is another reason for the post-race hangover.

I must not be greedy. I just need enough of an objective to keep me training. I don’t need to race more than 3-4 times a year. Yes I would love the new PB, I’m not so bothered about the medal, and I do like the goodie bag at the end! But enough, is enough.

Signing up to these events feels good. But before I purchase my ticket in future, or agree in a drunken stupor to some insane challenge, I will have to pause. Stop. Wait. It’s not just about whether I can afford the event financially or whether my calendar is clear that weekend. What about the time commitment? What about the energy? What about the mental space it fills up?

Life itself (marriage, parenthood, career) is THE overarching endurance event, the one that I have to have enough in the tank to PB in each year. All else is a distraction.

This article should have been entitled “Pre Race Dread” as I’m 99% certain I will be booking another event straight after the 24 hour Spitfire Scramble this weekend! Unless saner heads prevail!

I am dreading this run. I love running. I love camping. But if I wasn’t part of a 5 man team, and it wouldn’t be letting them all down, I would definitely be pulling out of this weekend. I just don’t feel up to it psychologically. I’m sure my legs will cope and recover well enough. I just need to find that mental carrot (or stick) that will keep me going.

Next week’s post will be all about my experience of the Spitfire Scramble…and as you can see, it’s going to be a challenge for me – if not physically, then in every other way!

Late Bloomer?

Some musings on time going by…

Nine years ago today, on the 30th June, my daughter Robyn was born in Romford, Essex – just as I had been (albeit in a different hospital), almost 30 years before that. I think it’s natural to make comparisons with our same sex parent, and my dad having me at 27 was yet another sign that I was behind.

July 2010 – Petrified: “You must be kidding, but I’m just a kid myself.” How Far We’ve Come, Car Boot Tetris

Hours after her birth, and massively sleep deprived, I was at a job interview in Canterbury, Kent.

I got the job, which was a relief as my wife Laura was now going to be at home with our daughter – making me the sole breadwinner. We were DINKs no more (Double Income No Kids).

We had only got our mortgage and moved into our first home a few months before the birth, so it really did feel like a baptism by fire. Like I’d been catapulted from bouncing around from job to job, or rented room to rented room, to suddenly….”No! Grow the f*** up, you’re 30 in a couple of months, and now there’s 2 people depending on you!” It all seemed a bit too…mature.

OK, I managed to keep some semblance of youth and independence, by starting to play guitar in a band, but it definitely felt like the rest of “youth” had been ripped away – pretty viciously.

Like with these sporting events I’ve recently started to participate in – I had gone up an age group – but without seeing it coming. Our marriage, mortgage and daughter had all been planned…none of it was an accident, or unwished for…but the reality of how “adult” it all was didn’t really hit until I was in the thick of it.

My job was hard work as it was new, but it would cover the mortgage and bills so that was compensation enough – even if it meant only seeing Robyn awake at the weekend. I heard her at night, but Laura was what Robyn needed as she believed, “breast was best” (no arguments from me)!

I admit to feeling like a complete impostor at work and home – and still do to a large extent. Not because I’m trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes, or be all style without substance – it’s just that it has taken me a long time to figure ME out, let alone LIFE or anyone else. In fact a three year psychology degree was nowhere near long enough…I barely scratched the surface. What I did see on the surface, was pretty disappointing, and that was when I acknowledged one of my biggest fears.

I could ignore, and probably had ignored for the first 29 years, disappointing myself or other people I didn’t have much respect for. But here were two females, dependent on me – I had dependents – and although I might have had plenty of verbal encouragement and reassurance from them (oh OK, it was mostly Laura as Robyn had yet to learn to speak), I had a nagging feeling that THIS was the thing to avoid at all costs. Disappointing them. Being a disappointment. Less than. Not – good – enough.

I thought that by the time I had children I’d already be successful in my career, financially comfortable, have the body of a Greek God, a PhD, and have a song publishing deal and be a best-selling novelist. I thought I’d be rich, be in better control of my emotional states and feel confident about who I was and where I was going.

I had checked some other things off of my bucket list i.e. got my degree, travelled the world, lived abroad, learned to play guitar, learned to speak Spanish, written stories, screenplays and songs…but when I looked at it all, none of them had been a rip-roaring success by anyone else’s standards.

I kept telling myself, “I must just be a late bloomer, there’ll be some hidden talent inside you that will make an appearance any day now – and you’ll be saved.” Saved from mediocrity, from being average, from being a disappointment.

“Maybe I’ll win the lottery, then none of it will matter. Money will buy me love (or pay off my disappointment debt) via presents and holidays, and I’ll get a personal trainer to get me my Greek God bod…!” was a frequent fantasy on the train to West London each day. *Greek God bod syndrome comes from being given He-Man action figures most likely…SEE girls, it’s not just Barbie that’s the problem LOL! #metoo

I never had any serious thoughts of “not going home”…I might have been a bit of a loser, but not a selfish loser. I am fearful person by physiology, but I’m no coward – I don’t run to escape. I confront, I chase (mostly marathon goals these days). There were plenty of tears and tearing into punchbags when the opportunity presented itself, which wasn’t often as my work was all-consuming, time-wise at least.

If I think logically about how much has happened since 2010, “of course it’s been that long,” I tell myself. But the right half of my brain feels differently – it’s gone by in the blink of an eye. Robyn is growing up…FAST…another 9 years and she’ll be off to university or starting some other journey without us. It’s scary…and exciting.

9 years served…

I’ve often wondered how I’d spend my time if I was ever incarcerated (for a crime I didn’t commit of course), and I’ve come up with the following:

  • I’d make sure I read a lot
  • I’d write loads with no interruptions
  • I’d get in the best shape of my life
  • I’d save any money I could earn while inside
  • I’d help anyone I could – it might serve me when I got out
  • I’d see family and friends during visitation, and be as happy as I could be while they were there – share stories, have a laugh, ask how they’re all doing (but I’d be gutted when they left, and I had to go back to my cell alone)

So when it’s all put in perspective, my work is not actually as bad as a prison sentence. I get to come home each night – eventually. I get to do all of the positives that I would do in prison and don’ t have to face the scraps, showers, screws or solitary confinement. I have been here to watch Robyn and Ralph grow up so far, and I wouldn’t want to miss any more of that than necessary.

For that reason, my answer to the hypothetical question “would you commit a financially rewarding crime if you could walk away with X amount after X years in prison,” has changed over the years. As much as prison itself doesn’t scare me, disappointing my family and missing out on them growing up is enough to keep me on the straight and narrow. It’s certainly not purely out of a desire to be a “good citizen”, not when so many get away with so much, without consequence.

June 2019

Anyway, I digress. I am currently thinking a lot about the next 9 years. Robyn will turn 18, Laura and I will be nearly 48 (OMG)…and I feel optimistic.

I have some fantastic role models around me, and no shortage of encouraging friends and family. I still haven’t found “my thing” at 38, but I have a lot more useful energy and confidence than I had at 28, and some money saved for when I finally do find it.

Someone asked me my age last week, and I seriously had to stop and think about it…I had started to say twenty-…then I remembered I’m almost out of my thirties. F***! Was the next thought. I really don’t feel/believe I’m that old. Maybe that’s something I need to hold on to for as long as possible?

A famous old person once said, “At my age, you judge success by how many of the people you love, love you back.” Apart from embarrassing Robyn with my dad dancing at her 18th birthday party, I hope she’s proud of the rest. I’ve got 9 years to make sure that’s the case…but I won’t kid myself into thinking that 9 years won’t whizz by. Time to start blooming.

The Family