Getting Started With Elephants

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I have a secret: I’m actually okay with not running. It’s nice to sleep in on a wintry morning and not have to go out into the cold trussed up like a chicken with water in my backpack that feels like it’s been in the deep freeze.

It’s fun to be able to go to brunch with my friends. To organise dinner and stay up beyond 9 pm. I have time in my day to get things done. And I’m not always fighting the mental and physical demons of exhaustion.

Yup. This not running thing is actually okay.

But here’s the deal. I believe in something far bigger than me. It’s this pesky thing that lurks around in the back of my mind. It’s my passion.

Right now, it’s getting me to plan crazy things like running across our planet. It’s had me putting together a team of people, talking to the media, and creating goals and outcomes.

I can see where I want to go, and I can visualise how I’ll feel when on February 10, 2019 once I’ve completed 100 marathons. I’ll feel amazing – excited and inspired by everyone I’ve met. I’ll be fit, happy, sun-kissed even, having run across six continents on our precious planet. 

The problem is I’m a long way from there. I haven’t run since December 22. I’ve grown in foreign directions and have a body I don’t recognise. I walk around town and find myself breathing heavily. I’m unfit and I have a long road ahead of me.

When I was preparing to give a speech once, a colleague, who was trying to help, asked: “How do you eat an elephant?” I was stressed at the time, and couldn’t figure out what he was getting at. “One bite at a time,” he said.

I thought it was a ridiculous thing to say. What’s eating a metaphorical elephant got to do with anything?

I’ve had some tough times over the years and at the ripe age of 47 that’s not unexpected. Through many of those times, family and friends have been there to comfort, guide and support me.

I met Larry, the husband of a very dear friend of mine, in Washington D.C. Larry was one of those incredibly kind people – the kind of person that would go out of his way to help, support and encourage. A strong cyclist, Larry could hold his own at the front of any peloton, but would always be at the back looking after the weaker riders and making sure nobody got left behind.

Over coffee one day after a ride, I was chatting to Larry about my feeling of being overwhelmed. Of having too many things on my plate. Of looking out across a metaphorical canyon and seeing the other side, but not knowing how to get there. I had lots of demands from people, demands from myself. I felt my life was in a mess and I didn’t know how to dig myself out.

Larry’s advice was to take one simple thing and get it done. Something easy, like putting away the mail. Doing the washing, or cleaning up a table. When that was done, take the next thing and get that done.

I didn’t understand the elephant, but I understood Larry. Unfortunately, Larry died of cancer several years ago. Wise, kind to the end, meeting Larry changed my life.

Now when things get hard, complicated or tough, my mama asks me: “What would Larry say?”

This week as I look down the barrel of a long six months of preparation, I have been thinking about Larry and asking myself that same question.

  "What would Larry say?"

"What would Larry say?"

I know what he would say. He’d say start with something simple, something you know you can do. Start with something that doesn’t frighten you. Just get that one thing done.

For me right now, that one thing is getting out and doing something. It’s putting on my sneakers and going out for a walk.

Swimming, cycling, the gym. Those things seem far away right now.

But walking? Walking I can do. I can take little small steps, knowing that the rest will come when I’m ready. And ready I know I will be, because at the end of the day I see where I want to go and that’s not what scares me. What scares me is the journey I have to take to get there. The pain I know I will have to go through. The sacrifice. The fear I will have to overcome.

I’m so terrified that my natural tendency is to sit happily on my side of the canyon, frozen in place. I find other things to do – other distractions that I can put into my life to provide an excuse from pursuing my goal. Coffee. Sleep. Catching up with friends. Meetings.  

But the thing with passion is that it doesn’t go away. The goals I want to achieve are relentless in their ability to lurk in the corners of my mind.

So here I am. Determined that I am going to do this run. I’ve announced it publicly and talked #RunningDry to the media. I’ve committed to myself and to our planet that I’m going to do this.

I’m scared of where I am, and where I need to go, although I know I need to get there.

But the only way to start, is to start. Small steps. Forward. Because eating an elephant can only be done one bite at a time.