Anyone who knows me, or follows me on social media, will know that I have been involved in trail running and other endurance events since moving to Hong Kong more than 10 years ago. My other passion is charity work, and has been since I first encountered homeless people on the streets of London, where I went to university.
Many marathon and trail running events nominate a Foundation or Charity, which receives a percentage of the entry fee, or to which entrants are expected to make a minimum donation. This was never a deciding factor for me, but I definitely paid more attention to race organizers that included a charitable element, and have competed in both the Unicef half marathon and the Oxfam Trailwalker on numerous occasions. I’ll never forget one race season, many years ago when my friend James provided my minimum donation many times, and I did the same for him.
The upcoming 4 Trails Challenge (www.4trailschallengehk.com) was not originally designed to be a solo effort, rather as a relay or a team event, with other people involved. Unfortunately, the logistical challenges and lack of engagement almost killed the event, until I put my hand up to do it solo. I’ve always been attracted to the challenge of endurance events. There is an added complexity to the preparation and planning that you can never get with a sprint or shorter event. Also, I love the perseverance, discovering how far I can push myself during an event.
I’m definitely not a natural athlete, so on many occasions I have resorted to sheer will power to push myself through and get to the finish line. I think this connection between endurance and charity is why I was so keen to push myself to complete the 4 Trails Challenge as a solo effort.
But, it has also been a very humbling and, in many ways, a steep learning curve to engage in such an activity.
At the time of confirming the event I was the co-chair for the St. James’s Place Charitable Foundation in Hong Kong and thought I understood the challenges of motivating people to get involved in charitable activities. By which I mean to do more than simply put their hand in their pocket, but my optimism had played a trick on me again.
With this challenge I had thrust myself out in front of an entire event, which I’m reminded of whenever I see my face on the large poster on the office wall (I really should ask what they plan to do with that after the event is over). I could no longer rely on the team marshals to guide my route (I have a tendency to get lost even when I know where I’m going), and most importantly, I could no longer ask James to put in the minimum amount to cover our fundraising target.
It has been a difficult journey getting people to engage, at times frustrating me to the point of affecting my sleep (and I’m not a great sleeper at the best of times). The thought that ‘just a little effort from a few would make such a difference’ has plagued me for months. Not to understate the great input I have received from numerous people around me (you know who you are, and I will thank you directly), but this experience has provided me with valuable insight into why people are somewhat hesitant to put themselves forward for challenges.
It may not be in my nature, much to my wife’s disappointment, but I can understand completely why other people give up on personal challenges or aspirations. Whether it’s a fear of failure, or lack of engagement from those around them, or concern over how they will be perceived.
The challenge for me is in not seeing that reluctance as a failure or missed opportunity. I know I’m going to be an eternal optimist, a chancer as my father refers to me, always looking at the positives, believing I can finish the next challenge, and the next, and the next.
I guess we will know in just over a week whether or not my latest challenge has been a success.
This blog post was supposed to focus on how to engage and tackle difficult challenges, and how to constantly motivate yourself to carry on. However, it has morphed into something less structured but very real, about how my mind has addressed the past week, as I phase out training and try (and fail) to eat as well as I should and get sufficient rest.
I’m sure many will read this as a journey of naivety, but I can only assure those people that there is always more to a story like this, if you take the time to engage. I hope that this post gives someone who has always thought about challenging themselves that little extra push, at least to get started and see where it takes them.
Whatever happens, I will tackle this weekend’s 4 Trails Challenge head-on, with the full weight of my ability to endure long arduous trail running events.
I will consistently remind myself why I’m doing it; to push myself and support worthwhile causes, because I believe it is the right thing to do. As always, my motivation as I run, walk, and crawl my way across Hong Kong is a feeling of success, and of course the cuddle I will get from my wife and children at the finish.
Finally, I am reminded of a comment from James, that always brightens my mood when facing difficult times along the trails: pain is temporary, but glory is eternal…