Mind Over Matter

Last year before my 100 marathons, my good friend Larry McGuire recommended a mantra that he replayed in his head as he ran; relax – strong. When I adopted it, I added the word; light, and whenever I wanted more speed, I would say; fast.

…relax, strong, light, fast…relax, strong, light, fast…

Repeating this phrase in my mind has been incredibly beneficial to my performance. The rhythm of the phrase falls in sync with my pace and has a soothing effect on my mind. But what’s even more influential is the actual meaning of the words.

Saying ‘relax’ helps me to let go any worry, doubt and fear. It also releases any physical tension or discomfort. By focusing on remaining calm I am affirming that everything is flowing perfectly through my body.

‘Light’ – it’s important to feel buoyant and free when running because then your feet hit lightly off the ground. When I don’t feel weighed down by anything, I can run with long, smooth strides.  ‘Strong’; strength is vital to endurance. Reminding myself that I am stable and steady and works to reinforce my stamina.

And then ‘fast’, I imagine my legs pushing me forward, accelerating speed with each step. The combination of words complement each other and the result makes me feel agile and unstoppable. The process reminds me how our minds and bodies can work in harmony. What we tell ourselves has a huge impact on what we do and how we perform, not just in exercise, but in all areas of life.

Our inner dialogue is our single greatest influencer and so the language we use should be chosen wisely. If that voice repeats negative information, citing all the reasons you can’t, won’t or shouldn’t, then eventually that’s all you’ll believe. The mind will find a way to make those things true.

But the good news is, just like my running mantra, it also works in reverse. As a results coach I help people to eradicate their limiting belief systems by allowing things to be easy. To anticipate the positives, the prospects and the possibilities that life offers. Whatever you focus on, you feel, and what you feel defines you.

Every one of us possesses great tenacity, passed on through previous generations. Our ancestors faced many hardships and for that, we are all here today. That power lies within our genes. To access it, we just need to listen, very carefully, to ourselves.

The Hand of Friendship

I tend to use the word ‘challenge’ to describe my upcoming adventure around Ireland and yes, it is a challenge to run long distances day after day, but there are so many people in the world who face greater adversity year in, year out. These are people to be admired and from whom we can gain great wisdom.

I am running 60 ultra-marathons in a row for a few different reasons. First and foremost it’s to raise money for three worthy charities; The Paddy Wallace Fund for Autism, The Keith Duffy Foundation and Fighting Blindness. Each organisation works hard to improve the quality of life for people with autism and blindness and it means so much to me to be a part of that.

But I also hope to inspire others to overcome challenges in their lives. Every single person faces obstacles and hardships and it can be easy to get trapped in a cycle of self-pity and procrastination. There will always be excuses at hand to keep us down and hold us back. But the truth is, challenges are there to help us grow and gain a deeper understanding of ourselves. With every challenge that we conquer we become stronger and more durable.

YellowHandBut one more significant factor behind this road trip is that I want to encourage people to be more open and understanding towards others. Painting my hand yellow every day for 60 days isn’t just symbolic. It’s a genuine invitation for friendship. Building relationships can be challenging for many people with autism and blindness, but there are times when communication can be challenging for everyone.

Friendship is a powerful force that can ease anxieties. Friendship can cross all kinds of divides, different ethnicities, religions and political groups. By talking, sharing and getting to know one another, we form a common ground. I think if every person lowered their defenses to strangers, the positive impact would be boundless.

So I’m asking everyone to pencil my epic adventure into their summer calendars. Let’s do it together, so pick a day, come out and join me. It doesn’t matter what fitness level you feel you’re at and if you walk or run the route. I just want you to get involved. There is a limited edition Hand of Friendship medal for everyone who registers which not only marks each accomplishment but will hopefully serve as a reminder to keep your hearts and minds open in the future.

But if you feel that an ultra-marathon is more of a spectator sport then that’s ok too. I’m hoping for a supportive audience in every town. Bring your friends and family – play music, sing a song or dance, but most importantly, please donate.

One Foot in Front of the Other

A lot of people ask me if it was always my dream to run 60 ultra-marathons in 60 days, and it’s often met with bemusement when I answer honestly that no, it wasn’t.

But throughout the past few years I have allowed myself to be open to possibilities and opportunities that feel right to me. That feel right for me. Visualisation is a term that comes up frequently in the area of personal development (it basically means concentrating on a mental image of your dreams or goals) but I believe that when you allow yourself to be open and attuned to your feelings and desires the visions will come to you.
That’s how endurance running kicked off for me anyway. I literally saw myself doing it. It was unexpected but the image lit me up and I had the sudden, innate sense that I could do it.

To be honest I believe that applies to everybody, that we can all harness an instinct for the things that pop into our heads. I also think this power is hugely underestimated.
I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of a man called Earl Nightingale, but if you haven’t, I definitely recommend looking him up. He wrote and spoke about life with such wisdom but one thing always stood out for me – he said, “the definition of success is the progressive realisation of a worthy ideal.

I love it. It’s a reminder to go easy on yourself as you work towards your goals. Getting the result you want is important but not if it is to the detriment of everything else along the way. So many people don’t consider themselves to be a success when they’re on their journey, that they’ll only be successful when they’ve reached the top of the mountain, see the extra zero’s on their bank statement or fit into those jeans but that’s not true. The definition of success is the progressive realisation of a worthy ideal. When you have that ideal in your mind and in your heart and are taking steps towards it you are already a success.

And I’ve learned that the hard way; in the past I’ve set myself goals and when I eventually reached them it felt anti-climactic because somewhere along the way I stopped enjoying the experience of the process.

But the worthy ideal goes further than any goal, and that’s how I am approaching these 60 ultra-marathons. It’s not just a matter of getting them done, I plan on enjoying every step of the way.

In and Out

I had no trouble bouncing out of bed this morning thanks to the sun streaming in my bedroom window. But, with just over three weeks left to go before I begin my 60 ultra-marathons in 60 days challenge, there’s a pep to my step regardless of the weather.

To get the body ready for the race of my life, I’ve recently been beginning my days with hot-stone massages, 24 carat gold facials and a quick seisiún inside an arctic sauna.

Ok. I’m joking.

In reality this morning was like any other, getting the three wee ones ready for school in a flurry of French toast and made-to-order eggs (my own preference taking the least effort: crack, crack, swallow.) But I love this time with the kids and wouldn’t change it for the world.

After my lovely wife Catherine had carted them off to school, I went out for a run. From now on, I’m aiming to do 22 miles at least five days a week but today, with the sounds and smells of summer surrounding me – I honestly felt like I could have run forever.

I don’t think the rest of the country was as lucky as Armagh but by mid-afternoon the temperature was up to 22 degrees here, lifting spirits with it as it climbed. It’s amazing how rejuvenating something as simple as warm, fresh air is.

It made me think about the nasal breathing technique Tom Herron taught me a few months ago. It’s pretty straightforward (it’s all in the name really) instead of using my mouth, I inhale and exhale through my nose only and I’ve definitely felt the benefits since adopting this method.

When you breathe through your nose you access a chemical called nitric oxide, which relaxes your muscles so it helps to keep your body loose and limber during exercise. Nasal breathing has also improved my recovery time.

But you don’t have to be an athlete to feel the advantages of nasal breathing, I would definitely recommend everyone to try it. The word ‘relax’ in Latin means to let go off so using your nose to breathe helps to alleviate stress. It can also help with sleep, mood and digestion.

So let me set you a challenge now; every day for the next 7 days, take 10 minutes to yourself and practice nasal breathing. Find somewhere quiet, sit with your back straight and begin to breathe deeply, in and out of your nose. Clear your mind completely and concentrate on each breath. The process itself is calming, like a little break away from the usual routine.

So go on, try it!