I discovered between 1987 and 2009 that one can exist without living. There is a strong cultural influence on how you lead your life and this may not always be a positive thing. I realised early on that accepting as fact, those mores steeped in tradition with no base in fact, are generally destructive. We can stop giving logical thought to things and accept that undefined voice of authority, following blindly convictions born of faith and favour. Instead of using logic and factual reasoning, human beings act as a herd, bleating untruths as a mantra for belonging. For the purpose of this blog, I will refer to this as lazy thinking. One effectively exists in a self-imposed bias-bubble. Living is being free.
Earlier I wrote about those three barbed words, “You are finished!”, and to me, that became my voice of authority. The relentless war of attrition I had allowed to influence my life had turned me into everything I hated. I was overweight, unhealthy, eating badly, smoking cigars, had stained teeth and only exercising enough to constantly reinforce how far I had fallen. I was not only finished, but I had given up trying. After rebelling and resetting in 1982 I spent all the years from 1987 becoming an extra stomach in a phalanx of others, side-by-side at a metaphorical row of sinks. Those predictors of my demise had long gone, so in giving up I discovered another thing – nobody noticed.
On January 1st 2009 I gave up smoking for the second time in my life. I started to jog a bit more and upped my training at the gym. In an act of over-exuberance I booked a climbing trip to Ecuador. I had 7 months to get fit. I also reduced my drinking and “became boring” as my partner was fond of saying. “You are finished!” resurfaced, but my lowest point was behind me, I was taking back control. Yes, you really are what you want to be, and if you are not happy, change things. That was my nascent philosophical mantra. It was a fight, however, because my new drive had shown I may not be finished and I was projecting positive energy. This was a threat to a deluded drinker. Ecuador was not very successful. I’d lost 16lbs, but was still a hefty 15 stones, and I had not really started to reverse the damage inflicted over the previous decade or so. Suffice to say, I reached 5000m, but was wiped out. Then, just as I was feeling better, collapsed on the slopes of beautiful Cotopaxi with an explosive bout of food poisoning.
Phone calls home were tepidly reserved at best and upon my return, she announced she was off. By October I was alone in my house, broke, with a bed, some sun loungers and a TV. A ton weight was lifted, and even though it cost me every penny I had, I was finally free to try and get back to sanity and fitness.
Ecuador was not a total disaster. It had shown that my inner strength was still intact, I had seen a beautiful country and met my great friend, Harvey, who convinced me to start writing. It has also allowed me to start Racing the Reaper Man, to develop a philosophy and apply ideas about health, wellbeing and fitness to myself. So, I gave up once, and nobody noticed, but as I got back on the road again, as a real runner, I was a happy rebel once more. At the very end of 2009 I stood in the debris of my own lazy thinking, yet I had my thumb on the reset button. It started with sunrise in a Tunisian salt pan, on a trip into the Sahara. Then, upon my return, by sheer accident, met the woman who became my Passepartout.
My Passepartout accepted me for who I am. She became my companion and equal in all things, but most of all believed in me. As well as being an exceptional artist, a free thinker and a fierce protector, she is the kindest person I have ever met. Our lives had taken us through similar filters, but we each have different strengths which make us a single, extended being. The knowledge that if I fall, she will always be there to catch me is a priceless gift. For the first time I can feel love as a beneficent infection.
This Introduction has a purpose. It gives a biopic of who I was, how I got to now and where my philosophy comes from. All our lives are peppered with many, many events. Each road is unique, but we all have one thing in common – we get older. This book is aimed at those of us who reach and surpass 50 or 60, mainly because I have. Of course, my life has been far more complex than the synopsis that I’ve recounted. What I have aimed to do is keep it focussed on health, wellbeing and fitness. We were all fitter at one time, whether through youthful exuberance, military careers, football, tennis, fit classes or walking, ad infinitum. My tale is just another take on the same theme. Racing the Reaper Man’s staring point is not when I was in the prime of youthfulness. Most of us have pictures of our younger, naïve, slimmer selves. My starting point is where I had fallen into a terrible state in my 50s.
As I write this Introduction I am 63. I intend not only to recount how I returned to fitness, but will also cover the future months of my journey, to which I am still applying my own methods. This has been compounded by the Coronavirus pandemic, which also means I’m writing this under the lockdown conditions first set up on 23rd March 2020. This has given me a new challenge – to stagnate, or try to exit lockdown in better shape. Ultimately, I will finally compete in my first organised ultra marathons, my entries now having been pushed back to 2021.
So, as I am my own experiment, I give you a book based not only on what I have done and why I did it, but also a narrative of how it is panning out ‘live’, as it were. I will share the past and the coming months with you. Starting over was the hardest thing I have ever done, but worth every minute. Rather than existing, race the Reaper Man with me and see what we can achieve when it comes to living.