Mary Jane Flanagan on personal challenges and how to succeed.
As a trainer and therefore someone who constantly challenges others, every year (perhaps through sheer lunacy), I decide to give myself a difficult personal challenge. It's always something that takes me completely outside my comfort zone. This usually means some kind or exercise or physical activity – as I am most comfortable in front of Grey's Anatomy with a glass of wine and my good friends Green and Black.
It started in a relatively modest way a few years ago with 'Race for Life'(Cancer Research UK challenge). This might sounds quite tame to those seasoned athletes out there. However as I could barely even run to the end of the garden it was one small step for female kind and one large stitch ridden leap for me. Filled with the euphoria of completing in a reasonable time and warmed by the adulation of husbands, friends and family the following year I decided to go even further.
Then came the Moon Walk: I began the long walk (26.2 miles) looking quite fetching in my sexy bra to the light of the moon. I still remember passing the FedEx head office thinking 'they'll get me to my destination before 10am tomorrow and my feet will stop hurting', it was 3am. Complete it I did – too tired to lift my son and hug him and with blisters so big I had to wear a pair of shoes a size bigger for a week (very fetching!) – but I had finished.
Now I find myself training again for my biggest challenge to date. I decided not to walk (being a trainer and having sore feet is a lethal combination and as I have always liked sitting on my behind) instead I have entered the London to Brighton bike ride. 54 miles of sweat, tears, sore bottoms and steep hills…HELP! I do keep thinking that maybe this is a challenge too far. I was last on a bike in my teens and so have had to learn all over again. I have only just mastered the standing up pedal to climb up hills, my son taught me (he's 7). He is usually somewhere close by when I am training shouting as he speeds off: 'Come on mum you can do it, I'll be Lance Armstrong you can be Christ Hoy'. 'Why can't I be the attractive girl that won a medal?' I rasp breathlessly – not in a Marilyn Monroesque sexy way, more of a last gasp for air kind of way).
Whilst cycling the many routes I have set out around my house, three things cross my mind, 1. How many calories have I lost 2. I must be losing it big time to even attempt this and 3. does my bum look big on this?
Having said all of this, there are many advantages to challenging myself. I feel more alive, the training means I am keeping the weight off that I lost lasy year (another personal challenge) and it gives me some 'me time' – something every family women I know craves. I have received so much support from friends, family, work colleagues and clients it keeps a smile on my face even when other things are challenging me at the moment. My cousin is even flying over from the states to do it with me lured by the offer of a drink in every pub along the way. (I think I may have to back-pedal on that one).
Setting yourself new challenges can be daunting, so here are my top tips from the bike. These could apply to any challenge – personal or otherwise:
- Break it down into small manageable chunks (from here to the pub up the road today, then the one in the next village, and so on)
- Write down your planned steps and tick them off as you complete each one (maybe a wall-chart?)
- Choose a challenge that will benefit others as well as yourself.
- Reward yourself along the way (see point 1.)
- Let people know about your goals, it will help you to remain focused. When everyone keeps asking how it's going, it's harder to back out.
- Don't be hard on yourself if you fall off the bike (don't reach the targets), just get back on and keep going.
- Visualise the end goal and imagine how you'll feel when you get there.
- Find others to help and support you (having my son's encouragement really helps).
- Find a mentor for inspiration and top tips along the way.
- When you do arrive – celebrate!
Next year Mount Kilimanjaro? We'll see!