What follows is the start of a book i began to write, however for various reasons i never got round to making it long enough to warrant calling it a book. I did it for a similar reason to my first book, to get things out of my head and down in writing so i could look back and make sense of a lot of thoughts and decisions i have whizzing around in my tiny brain. I may be being a little selfish here but i think that’s why it stayed short really, the issues were fairly basic when i look back at them, over-complicated by not seeing them clearly, but now they are easier to see and things are becoming clearer, there’s no need to over-complicate matters by writing more words for the sake of things.
I still wanted to share this as i hope others will find this useful, amusing, or whatever other reasons they may find for persisting through to the end. I know some will say this is too long to be called a blog, i agree, but as it’s too short to be a book it’s better than never sharing. At the end of the day it’s free and won’t take long to read so you’ve not lost much by reading it.
All the best,
Wind back almost 5 years, I was an over enthusiastic runner, well actually not even a runner to start with.
I was an over indulgent career person, 13 years in the corporate world, travelling loads, meeting nice people, staying in soulless hotels watching business people sit at breakfast either on their own staring at their laptops or with colleagues talking about work, eating far more than they needed to with their waist lines giving their belts a nudge to tell them enough is enough and the worry lines on their faces doing similar as they looked in the mirror. Many were highly successful, but when I looked at them I didn’t see the kind of success I wanted to achieve, so I had to do something.
When travelling so much it’s easy to make excuses, you don’t have enough time for yourself as most of your free time is spent in taxis, trains, planes getting to work to do your work time. Excuses not to exercise are as easy as excuses not to make time for family, and to me this is really poor. I decided to stop making excuses, start carrying trainers, shorts and t-shirts in my hand luggage, and get outdoors to learn to run. Truth is, learning to run was more about being able to eat as much as I do without feeling guilty, I was never going to become a proper gazelle like runner, but I could definitely move quicker than I already did.
What followed was the usual Couch To 5km course, rapidly moving to half marathons, getting bored of half marathons so doing a full marathon, realising a full wasn’t making me happy to making the dumb decision that more distance equals more happiness so doing ultra-marathons. This was all within a year, so the inevitable then happened and I injured myself.
4 months on being laid up at home lead me to writing my first book “The Diary of an Average Runner” in which I self-reflected on what I’d done, shared it with people, and shifted over 10,000 copies of the diary. It wasn’t a great book by any means, I don’t pretend to be an author any more than I pretend to be a runner, but it made people smile, motivated several, and helped me improve myself. I gave most copies away during the periods Amazon allowed me to, I did this because I love the free world Google seems to have got us used to now, if you don’t charge for things then things are more accessible to more people, the value you get back when people write to you saying thank you is worth far more than pure hard cash.
I did recover in the end, I returned to running, but the self-reflection ended up changing many aspects of my life and what follows in this book is a summary of those changes.
Please accept this book for what it is. As with the first one it’s not going to be a masterpiece, it’s not be proof read, I’ve not got others to edit it, I’ve written and published it myself in the hope that at least one reader will smile while reading it. Can you imagine a world where that happens every day, one in which we touch just one other person’s life in a positive way and make them smile, creating an infectious movement, distracting us from all the bad and fake news we seem to see far too often nowadays.
Anyway, enough of that, if you’ve decided to persist with the book then I really hope you enjoy the read.
So as I mentioned in the prologue, I made the mistake of thinking further is better.
I was running to lose weight, well to eat more and not put on weight, and I thought further distance meaning more calories burnt would allow this. I was also hoodwinked by social media, the effortless YouTube videos and Instagram posts of people skipping through 50 plus milers with a smile on their face, fantastic physiques, in beautiful locations, with not a sign of sweat on their brow.
I would knock out 20+ mile runs before work in the early morning, get home feeling absolutely knackered, devour a ton of oats and then limp into the office blaming my trainers and age for my pains.
Truth was though, I was beginning to hate this feeling. I love running early mornings, but such long runs bored the hell out of me. Maybe it was because I mostly run alone, I call this my headspace time, and maybe that’s what’s the problem, the headspace gives me time to analyse all this, but rather than listen to my thoughts I continued to push through the mental pain, ignore the physical pain, and just motivate myself at the thought of being able to enjoy more calories.
I ended up doing several ultra-marathons as well as countless other trail races, all of which I enjoyed but not because of the achievement, I usually finished in the top 20% but never troubled the podium positions, but because of the people I was meeting and the locations I was in.
The best people I met were never the quick ones. Whilst I admired their results I never really met any of them as they zoomed off at the start line and were never seen again, finishing ages before me, showering and then probably back home before I crossed the line. The people I admired most were those who rocked up on the start line in what I expect they called their lucky shorts, vest and trainers, often wearing nothing more than a basic Casio watch, and simply ran. There was no competition between them regarding which watch or shoe brand is best, they weren’t bothered about Instagram likes, and they had obviously been doing this for years as many were far older than me yet appeared to still have the same enthusiasm as they did when they were kids.
There were also the many hikers I passed while on my travels, in no rush to complete their route, happy to stop and say hello with a smile, still climbing hills despite being of an age when others tell me they are now too old to do such things. These people show me there is no fear with growing old, the fear is more about growing old and giving up, such an inspiration.
I wanted to be like these people, I realised that speed or distance were less important, so this was a key learning point on my journey.
Having decided longer distances were simply not doing it for me I changed tactics, I decided to get high.
When I did my trail races and observed the people I wanted to be more like, I noticed many were what is known as “fell runners”. I’m not going to get into the exact definition of what a fell runner is, but to me they are people who race with minimal kit, minimal course markings, in amazing locations, but usually up stupidly steep hills known as fells in many areas of the country.
I believe that if I also ran up steep hills I’d be more like them.
Problem was, I was in my mid 40’s and had lived all my life on the relatively flat South coast of England. My skeleton was now very much adapted to the flat, the steepest hill near me measured less than 150 metres from bottom to top, and let me tell you now it’s not just your brain that gets stubborn with age, it’s also your body, I learnt this the hard way.
To motivate myself for the elevation goals I wanted to achieve I entered a number of Sky Races. I’d already done one in the Peak District, but now I wanted to take it up another level of scariness so entered my first race abroad in Madeira (actually two races, a Vertical KM and then the next day a Sky Race), and then another one in Northern Ireland (Mourne Mountains Skyline).
Encouraged by what I’d seen several of my pals up North achieving, 2000+ metres of elevation gain every week, I set off to match them. I didn’t think about distance any more, that was so last year, so treated myself to a new Garmin watch that had a barometric altimeter allowing me to accurately measure this new metric I was obsessed with. For my Northern pals they could reach 2000m with just two trips up a local mountain, but for me it involved far too many trips up and down the local hills, it bored me stupid. Why was I putting myself through this, I didn’t see it at the time but I had already come to terms with being non-competitive and happy to settle for simply finishing races. I knew I had plenty of strength in my legs to hike up mountains so pummelling my joints trying to run uphill was doing me no favours, but like the distance episode the year before I ignored these thoughts and continued until it was too late and I injured myself.
The dreaded plantar fasciitis struck, too much springing as I stomped up the hills had damaged by feet and I spent the next 12 months feeling like I was walking on a bed of pins. I could still run, but it was painful, so I had to take extended rest weeks, reduce the elevation training, and endure the most painful first steps out of bed every day. I don’t necessarily blame the training for this, others were doing far more elevation than me, but the difference was my body simply wasn’t adapted to hill running and probably never will be, plus my bodyweight of 85kg (on a good day) didn’t help.
I had also developed painful knees at this point, caused not by going uphill but more from the downhills, poor form was not helping here, every time I landed on my foot it was like yanking up the handbrake on my car, none of the skipping or even sliding I saw others doing. I compounded this problem by skipping the gym more and more in favour of extra metres of elevation gain which for someone who had always loved the gym and been strong was a stupid thing to do, not just for injury prevention but also for motivation.
Anyway, it wasn’t all bad, I still did the races I’d planned, none were ultra or even marathon distance but all involved mountains and fabulous views above the clouds, plus I met more of those amazing people that I admired so much, so I was getting closer to my happiness goal.
Another thing I’d noticed about many of the people I admired was there was no status when it came to career or job titles. Fell runners were often farmers who worked out on the fells, many still are, but there are still lots of fell runners who have other kinds of jobs which they never really discuss. I’ve met tons who are more interested in talking about the hill in front or the reservoir down below, than they are about work. Even if they earned good money it didn’t show, they still wore old kit, you know the kind, extra short shorts and old stringy club vests.
Coming from a world where people were proud to show the red soles on their shoes or their hand embroidered initials on the shirt cuffs, this was a welcome change to me as the closest I wore to a designer label at work was George by Asda.
I decided I needed to make a change so took the chance to leave Zurich at the end of 2017 after 13 good year, grab some redundancy as a buffer, and take a chance doing something different with my life.
The following 12 months I tried various things. I knew I enjoyed helping and coaching people so did some volunteer work taking people out trail running and running coaching courses. I loved doing this but the problem here was my hobby became my job, not a job in terms of money but in terms of commitment. It also meant I was running more distance as I was still training myself as well as doing mileage with others, so I began to feel niggles and effects of over training. Mentally I was returning to not looking forward to running again which probably affected those I ran with, so I did the wise thing and stopped doing this.
I then went to work in a gym and also as a personal trainer. The gym was good, I had run a gym in the past and loved those days, difference was back then it was a tiny back street gym and now it was a corporate leisure centre type gym. I was finding a lot of my time was scheduled for me with cleaning duties and less time was spent training people. I found this soul destroying, I went there to help people get fit rather than criticise them for being unfit. I had an interview where I was asked to describe routines and customer persona types, I was never asked “how are you with a mop and bucket”. I reduced my hours more and more so that the shifts I did were so short the time I was there was pretty much just when there was a HIIT class to run or inductions to do, I wasn’t bothered about losing money as it was minimum wage anyway so I wouldn’t lose much, but then eventually I left as I wasn’t enjoying my time there. I left feeling sorry for so many others doing minimum wage jobs, so much potential in people is ignored or lost because employers seem to think minimum wage minimum brains which definitely isn’t the case.
I moved on from there remembering what an old boss told me, “Others will only perceive they are getting value from you and listen to you if you cost them money”, so I set up as a self-employed consultant and went to work back in the City of London at an insurer where I had contacts from Zurich now working. This was without doubt the best move I’d made.
I love going into London, the energy is infectious, the buildings inspire me, the people are fabulous to work with, the problem is I don’t love a 5 hour round trip to London and home each day, so I decided right from the start to balance my work and life by working part time. I didn’t see this as a bad thing, it was win-win for both sides as they would only have to pay me for the time I was adding value, I called it a flexible resourcing model and it worked well. I had the pleasure of getting to know some amazing people, both within the company as well as external suppliers, using my imagination and experience to stretch others minds away from the status quo and “think outside the box” (God I hate that phrase!). I also learnt a lot in return, the technology world had ramped up pace in the last year or two, the possibilities are limited only by our thinking (and a company budget), so I immersed myself in the world of robotics and artificial intelligence, whilst contributing via my world of process and Lean thinking. I really enjoyed the feeling of documenting the work I did in the form of a monthly invoice, putting a cost next to every item, and passing it over to be paid every month. Strange as it may sound, having to do this made me feel proud as I could justify the value add I was giving and in return I was getting rewarded, very different to the world of a salary where you basically get paid every month regardless of what you’ve done. For me this was me demonstrating to the company how value add works, by definition value add must meet the following
- Customer is willing to pay for the service
- Work is done right first time
- The effort transforms a request into a product
And this is what I was doing.
I did this role for 12 months, leaving on good terms when another job appeared out of the blue via a recruiter one day. I wasn’t looking for a new job at the time, when I left Zurich I promised myself I’d only work if I felt I could add value and for a company who matched my values and beliefs, but after a 45 minute chat with the recruiting manager I decided to take a chance and took the job.
5 months later I’m still there, it’s been a challenge at times, there’s definitely good and bad points, but then this is like any job isn’t it? What I’ve learnt through my running and other life experiences is to not give up, look at problems as opportunities and use my continuous improvement thinking to find solutions. I am doing this every week right now, I love working with the people I’ve got to know, I get frustrated by office politics and policies, but generally the good outweighs the bad. I often say to people “what’s the worst that can happen?” and I also say this to myself, and the truth is in this instance the worst that can happen isn’t that bad.
When I reflect I sometimes wish I’d never left Zurich and that I’d fixed the problems I was facing there, but I think with a company that big, whilst there are endless opportunities there are also massive barriers. It’s a fabulous company to work for, at the time it was going through massive change which I struggled with, so rather stay in an unhappy relationship I moved on. They are now coming out of this change period really strong and fully embracing the technology world, if ‘d stayed I’d have loved to have been part of this, however I’m not so need to keep looking forwards, not backwards.
The best thing about being self-employed or working part-time is you get more time off work. I was like a kid in a sweet shop with this, conveniently forgetting the fact that unlike with salaried jobs I would not be picking up holiday pay while enjoying time away, and filled up 2018 with trips all over the place. My wife and I ventured further and further up North, reaching the Lake District and then Scotland where I continued my love of Sky Races, as well as continued the pain of sore feet and knees. We went to Wales multiple times, Croatia, Cotswolds and Dartmoor, and many places in-between. Not all of this involved running races, often I would just search the internet for hiking or running routes, download GPX files to my watch and go explore.
I found I really enjoyed the simplicity of doing this, no time pressures, no waiting around for start times, no mandatory kits, and more time with my wife. She doesn’t run, but she hikes and loves taking photographs, plus she’s an ace baker, so we have plenty in common and separate interests that complement each other.
This travelling linked back to the search for more happiness, as I mentioned before I found I met more people I wanted to be like the further away I went. That’s not to say I don’t know nice people, I know plenty, and it’s not to say I don’t live in a nice place, I have a wonderful home, but over time your priorities and needs change, so that’s what I believe is happening to me. I want a smaller home, not a bigger one, and I want friends who can give me more time not those who can help my career, and I seem to find this the more I head into the countryside.
I now find Zoopla and Right Move apps on my phone, I have a vision of the kind of place I want Sally and myself to move to, a big day room/kitchen with doors direct out onto a wonderful garden which has a great view beyond, a cosy snug with a real fire, a nice bedroom with a good sized bathroom, a store to keep my bikes and Sally’s gardening gear, and a local pub. I know the winters will get harder in these locations but that’s part two of the plan, to winter somewhere abroad January to March then return in the spring so Sally can start her vegetable and flower growing. This is not my dream, this is my goal and I’m sure it will happen within the next 5 to 10 years.
I have found Google a great motivator when it comes to travel, each month it sends me an email with a summary of new places we’ve been to using Google maps tracking. I enjoy looking at this and thinking about the good times we’ve had, the fact we’ve not wasted time going to the same places every week, and planning new trips. I don’t want to live a Groundhog Day life, life is too short.
When I left Zurich I made a commitment to only work if I enjoy it, and to enjoy it I must feel like I’m giving value back to others not taking it in the form of money. If I can’t meet this simple requirement then I would go into what I called “early retirement”. Sally and I are not rich, but we have been clever with our money during our 24 years together, we have made sacrifices and not greedy. If I told you I’ve only had one smartphone of my own, ever, then I wouldn’t be lying. If I told you our last car was 15 years old I wouldn’t be exaggerating. If I told you we didn’t have Sky, Netflix, Amazon Prime, or any other subscription TV service I’d be telling you the truth. If I told you that despite being together all this time we have no kids, our choice, then I don’t want you feeling sorry for us. These have all been considered choices we’ve made as a partnership, swapping the need for material items to keep up with others or to follow the prescribed path of how to live your life, in return for having a great life together, forever.
The goal has always been, ever since I was a teenager, to have the choice whether to work full time, part time, or retire, by the age of 50. This doesn’t need to be an extravagant life, but it will be comfortable, not going without anything including time away. Recently the trendies are calling this the FIRE movement, Financially Independent Retire Early. This reminds me of how I started my Lean thinking, I did this because it was common sense and easy to do, then someone comes along, gives it a name, and it gains kudos which is just plain stupid because then so many people jump on the bandwagon without really understanding or believing in such things, they just want to be part of the crowd or secure a promotion at work.
I did have periods of this semi-retirement in 2018, I became a house husband, cleaning the house, washing the clothes, preparing dinner, visiting my mum more often, volunteering at events, and I enjoyed this. To me this was still adding value, it added value to Sally’s life because she didn’t need to do any of this, I was fabulous to see her get more time back in her life and enjoy being outdoors doing her gardening and allotment. Sally was happy to continue working for a bit longer, she’s been at her company for almost 30 years now, so I didn’t feel guilty about this life, but I often felt lonely.
I could fill my time no problems, I found myself reading loads which in my mind was learning as they were often still business or education books, but I missed being at home with Sally being around me. It made me even more determined to get us into a position where it was a no brainer for her to join me in this more relaxed way of living, after 30 years she deserved it. I now continuously try brainwashing her by watching programs like Escape to the Country, the Yorkshire Vet, and Great British Bake Off to show her what we could be doing and where we could be living. I flash up details of potential new homes around the country and mention selling points like “big garden”. I do the maths to show her that we could cope financially if we really wanted to do this. It’s coming slowly but surely, I’ve accelerated this by going back to work and getting more cash in the bank as well as getting closer to the age I can take my work pension early.
When I left Zurich I was scared to death of the future, now I’ve adapted to this change, I’ve had a taste of the simpler life I dreamt about when I saw those people in the hills, and it’s pretty good, there’s no need to feel afraid.
So I’d tried the distance, I’d tried the elevation, I’d tried the people and then the travelling. I’d learnt a lot about what I like, dislike what I want more of and what I can do without, none of these years had been wasted.
One thing I promised myself at the end of 2018 was to retire again, but this time from entering running races. I did this for a number of reasons, the first being the feeling I had when I thought of personal best times. I’ve always said a personal best doesn’t really exist in trail running unless you do the same races multiple times, every course is different unlike something like a track race. I have a rule that I won’t do the same race more than once so I don’t have, or want, the opportunity to beat previous times. I do have micro PB’s such as fastest 1 mile or Strava segment, but I’ve found that as I get older and as I pick up injuries, I struggle to get anywhere near those times and this causes me mental stress, I get really down thinking about my age and the fact there’s nothing I can do about this. I also got fed up with the fact I was paying to enter races, not really trying when it came to speed, and often finished feeling a fresh as when I started. What’s the point in that? It goes against what I was saying in the previous chapter regarding how I don’t waste my cash. I found through my travels that I can happily follow a course or trail using my watch, without the need to pay someone to mark the course or provide the food, so I decided to quit. Since doing this I have completed courses like the Fan Dance, the National Three Peaks, half the South Downs Way, and soon the Yorkshire Three Peaks, all on my own which isn’t really as lonely as it sounds as there’s always people along such trails happy to chat or simply say hello.
I also cleansed my medal collection at this point, I threw away every medal I had received over the last 4 years apart from those few that when I looked at the medal I felt proud thinking to myself “I can’t believe I did that”. I know this may be a bit drastic to some, Sally was a bit alarmed as I tore them off the wall, but that’s how I work sometimes, unpredictable.
One thing I was disappointed in though was that despite feeling I was setting a good example to people, I never truly felt wanted in the running world. I know it’s very superficial however I stupidly measured this in two ways, by “likes” on social media and by acceptance (or lack of) in ambassador roles. As luck would have it, having enjoyed running with a company called Maverick Race for several years, I was accepted as a brand ambassador by them. Amazing isn’t it, it’s like being single, when you’re desperate for a partner no one finds you attractive, and then when you’re relaxed (or with someone else) people do the opposite! I love their brand, it’s very inclusive to all levels of runners, has a really fun vibe at the events, and the owners are great, so I jumped at the offer. The deal was pretty simple, I got a few bits of kit from one of their sponsors, and I got to turn up at any of their events and run free of charge. In return I had to promote their brand through social media, chat to fellow runners and help out at events. I made it clear I wasn’t about to be a competitive runner again, they were happy with this, so I spent 2019 running at many of their events and having fun. I’m really grateful for this, Sally and I have had some great days out with Maverick, but for me it’s also had some downsides which are actually pretty dumb when I think about them.
I don’t use Facebook any more, it was too full up with fake news, hatred, and old memories that made me sad, so I moved onto Instagram where the focus is more about visuals than words. I post updates on races, news about brands, and stupid selfies about me, and then I check for “likes”. It’s at this point I get sad, I’m not as “liked” as others which really should not bother me as I need to remember the thinking I had about my first book (if I cheer up just one person it’s all been worth it), but I don’t because I compare myself with other ambassadors and then feel like I’m not adding much value to Maverick. It’s for this reason that this will be my one and only year of being an ambassador for Maverick, I will still support the brand but I just need to release this social media pressure from my head and continue the simplification of my life by removing the non-value add around me.
Back to basics
I’m coming to the end of this short little book, it’s much shorter than my first one and that’s okay. My first one I went down the more is better route, a bit like my running journey, and when I wrote my second book I actually just tagged it onto the first one rather than release separately as I thought people would value it more as they were only paying one price. Feedback was that the first book, despite being short, was better, and I’m happy with that as that’s also what I like personally. I struggle to maintain concentration for very long, as you may have gathered with my long runs, and I like to just start something and get it finished quickly, as people at work can tell you. If I told you I started to write this book this morning and now, at 2:30pm I’m writing this final chapter, I think you’ll get the message even clearer.
Decisions made over the years, and validated by writing this book, is simple is best. Don’t complicate my life by doing things I think others expect me to do or that will gain me popularity. Truth is there’s only a few people in my life that will stick with me regardless, I will do what is best for them and if others want to follow that’s fine, otherwise I’m sure they will move onto someone else, because that’s how the world is now, we are a throwaway society that is slowly learning the lessons that this brings in relation to mental awareness and how we look after our planet.
I’m going to keep on working for as long as I enjoy it, the moment I don’t then I either take a break again or go work somewhere else. I won’t apply for jobs, I will demonstrate who I am, what I believe in and what I want to be through places like LinkedIn, and then if someone “likes” me they will approach me (that’s how I got my last few roles). I will continue to not enter races, but will continue exploring trails, routes, and mountains, either on my own, with friends or with Sally. I will continue not using Facebook but will continue enjoying the visual stimulation of Instagram with less focus on likes because I will no longer have the pressure of comparing myself to others. I will (semi) retire early with Sally, we’ll have a little cottage in a nice safe village and we will winter somewhere warmer. I will look after my mother as she gets older, returning all the care and love she’s given me over the years back to her now I have more time. I will continue to learn from previous mistakes and continuously improve, that’s how i live my life, that’s what i enjoy doing at work.
Thank you to all those that read my first book, your reviews, personal emails and meeting up encouraged me to finally write this new book after so many years.
Thank you to all those who set me good and bad examples of who I want and don’t want to be, we are all different and bad examples isn’t a personal thing, it’s just not what I see myself wanting to be like.
To my mum, thanks for showing me that a simple life is a good life, no need to be greedy, and to my brother just being my brother but also supporting my mum when I’ve disappointed her.
Special thanks to Sally, you stick with me regardless of my ups and many downs. I do stupid things way too often, I didn’t take it for granted when you say “for better, for worse”, I really appreciate it.
If you’ve got this far reading this book, thanks for putting up with inevitable spelling and grammar mistakes, I wrote this quickly and Microsoft Word is obviously not as good as it pretends to be when it comes to spellchecking! If you enjoyed this book then please leave a review on Amazon (this drives the book position in their charts) or drop me a mail, feel free to hook up on Instagram/Strava/LinkedIn. If you didn’t enjoy the book then feel free to also leave a review then I can see where I went wrong, just remember the book is cheap/free J
LinkedIn/Strava/Instagram: Just search “Mark Cameron”