A lens on 2017: 10 things I made progress with

Updated: Jan 18, 2018

1. Experience breeds confidence. After no less than two years of thinking about it and feeling intimidated by starting a business, I took a deep breath and jumped in. Pulse Pots was born and turned into a nine month market trading experiment. Designing plant-based dips gave me the creative outlet I’d craved. I’ve decided not to carry on for 2018 as it’s not a sustainable model – heaps of my time and tiny profit – but I am taking the confidence it gave me into new passion projects. When you have an idea that ‘clicks’, make a simple plan and go for it, tiny action by tiny action. Properly research, plan and prepare but don’t overdo it. It’s so easy to get stuck in a fear loop, procrastinating with more and more research. Just try it and you won’t look back.

2. It’s not that hard to stop drinking for 3 months. OK, this may be down to personality type – a big fat A – but last spring I started a 30 day sober challenge, “stop drinking and start a new habit” and it felt like a huge sigh of relief. I either do something more frequently than most, or not at all once I get into a cycle, and I found it easier to not drink anything rather than continually battle decision fatigue over when, how much and what. Our British culture is interesting to say the least when you view it through the lens of not drinking, it’s so normalised that people see you as an anomaly if you don’t take part. Some friends even said they hoped I’d be drinking again the next time they saw me. I’ve just started another 3 month stint and will see where this takes me. My new habit of meditation? Not so successful, I managed a mere 10 days out of 30.

3. Starting (re-starting) a writing practice. I’ve written my running 'blog' since 2011 (Chapters in Running) but it’s occasional. As in two or three times per year. Recently, I’ve had a restless urge to write more and differently. As a teenager, creative writing in English class, together with Art & Design, was pretty much the sum total of my interest in school. My stock reply for why I love working in fundraising is the creative writing it involves; capturing the value of worthwhile projects and causes in a language that speaks to big donors. Even though creative and lateral thinking can be super useful for planning campaigns, quite honestly the bid writing can be formulaic and entirely different from sitting down to put together a piece, from a burning motivation just to write. Over the past few months I’ve started writing essays. No pretty bow tied around any of them, but it feels good. I’ve also written a couple of articles for running magazines and websites such as Trail Running UK and Multidays.com, which I would love to do more of this year.

4. Strength through climbing and yoga, not gym. My gym regime went like this: follow the same circuit of strength training equipment two or three times a week in a packed, windowless room, fail to feel gains in strength, invest in a ‘proper’ personal trainer, suffer in the male-dominated depths of the fixed and free weights rooms, and continually count down the reps until I could escape into fresh air. Then two things happened. I discovered kundalini yoga at Soulshine in Marchmont and flew to the Alps for the training weekends mentioned above. I felt more strength and conditioning gains from yoga and hiking up monster climbs than I ever had confined to the gym and immediately and cheerfully cancelled my membership. I’ve never experienced yoga like kundalini and fell for its unique mix of pranayama (breathing), asana (postures), mantra and boatloads of meditation and relaxation. It threw me challenges that reached further than holding a physical posture, such as the ‘breath of fire’, a superpower breath technique designed to deliver you to calmness, focus and peace of mind. The teacher, Siri Kaur, has the most peaceful presence of anyone I’ve met. I was drawn into yoga not just for its whole body and mind benefits or feeling closer to my Mum’s history (she was a yoga teacher) but for the opportunity to find a little more equilibrium after a long summer of tough, one dimensional trail training. It’s a perfect re-balance of that type A mindset. In fact, kundalini was originally created to help people strengthen willpower and break bad habits, and it’s also a popular practice for those in recovery from addictions.

5. All eggs into the UTMB basket: Last year was a departure for me in racing. After five years of running ultras, far too many each year, I learnt that less is more when it comes to performance for me. I fully shaped my training around UTMB and headed out to Chamonix for three intensive weekends circling the course over three days in alternating directions. We had wild thunderstorms, blazing sunshine and I discovered what it felt like to have a bout of food poisoning on the trail – by far the hardest stretch of my entire training year. I also threw all my spare time in Scotland into as much climbing as I could handle, up northern Munros and dotting around the Pentlands. By August I genuinely enjoyed trekking endlessly up with poles, and my tentative descending had improved. On race day, I knew the course in fine detail and despite fierce conditions – sleet and wind chill of -9 on the cols – requiring me to wear everything I had on my back I felt strong, with an unshakeable self-belief that I could cope with all the day (s) threw at me. The specificity of my high-alpine training probably accounted for a huge chunk of my racing readiness and confidence, a learning that is closely linked to my first point.

6. Just say it. Difficult, heavy conversations, a few times this year. Words you know will be remembered and like a loaded weapon will cause someone pain or a change of behaviour, and expose your inner thoughts like an exhibition. They might make your palms sweat like you’re about to leap from a bungee platform but they need to be said otherwise the outcome will be worse in the long run. Something I have understood for years without testing the muscle much. Many times I have still pushed down a needling intuition asking for a voice. The experiences of speaking unpolished truths without adding a positive spin was empowering and did not result in the dramatic fallout I’d imagined, but instead fostered different and more honest relationships at work and personally. Disappointment in relationships and projects is hard to take, but is better than not daring to take any steps in the first place because you are fearful of failing. Disappointment means you have tried hard, and cared hard.

7. Big miles, big questions: Last year was my seventh year of racing ultras and brought questions. Do I want to rehash the same races? When you know that you can finish a race – injury not withstanding - is it still a true challenge? Should I push myself in new ways, or in new races? I haven’t yet worked out the answer, but know I don’t want to race all year, every year. I had such a good experience at UTMB that a huge part of me wants to use all that knowledge on the course again in 2018, but all instincts point to less racing and more phasing of the year to make room for fresh creative projects that aren’t centred on running. Our life minutes are finite and the more years I spend training for races, using most of my spare time outside of work, take away from other goals and experiences.

8. Have faith in your efforts: 2017 was without doubt the most stressful year of my fundraising career. In August 2016 I moved to a new role for a small education charity doing hugely impactful work in sub-Saharan Africa. With this came towering targets, chiefly nearly £1M over a year for a huge school building project in Ethiopia, and a much smaller but critical goal to raise core funds to run the central office in Edinburgh sustainably. Both ambitions rested mainly with my four-day per week post. To top this off several sources of funding had grown insanely competitive and those funding international education still account for a tiny share of the market. I spent ten months locked down in anxiety overload, receiving negative response after negative response on bids I’d spent long days and weeks writing. The extent to which the bids fell through became almost comical, and I had to constantly remind myself of ultra-running mantras about pacing, patience and keeping strong faith in your ability. Yet I frequently questioned my approach and the reassurance I’d given to the Board that investment in my role would pay off in a year, maybe less. They’d hired me after I’d written a strategy as a consultant and this investment had used precious financial reserves that were not currently being replaced through fundraising. 14 months after my appointment and in the space of just a month we had a string of six-figure successes which finally proved justification and return for efforts and strategy. There ain’t anything quite like the peaks and troughs of fundraising to keep you on your toes, and awake at night, and we all learnt a lot about trusting in tried and tested approaches whilst setting a realistic timescale for return.

9. Fell for reading again: I’ve fallen down a reading rabbit hole for relaxation this year, and consumed a lot of memoirs and a few novels. Favourites have been Drinking, A Love Story by Caroline Knapp, the entire Tales of the City series, The History of Love by Nicole Krauss and Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs.

10. Life balance: A cheeky entry, given I can only honestly say I stole back some life balance in the last month of 2017. Not a word that would describe my 2017 overall. I trained like a demon for UTMB, started a micro-business and put all possible spare hours into huge fundraising challenges at work, with bucket loads of stress and pressure thrown into the mix across all levels. But since my last race in November, I’ve kicked back, started yoga again, cut back to three or four runs a week and am endlessly motivated to curl up under a throw with a mug of Yogi tea and get stuck into some new projects, like this one right here.

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