The late arrival to the DREAM BIG! party…

I was a late starter when it came to the whole ‘Dream Big!’ mantra. In fact, I arrived at the party just as they were emptying paper plates with discarded Wotsits into black bin liners and stacking up the fold-away chairs. But, Agadoo was still playing, so I hung around a bit.

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…Push pineapple, shake the tree…

And it’s funny, because even when I DID achieve mini life victories, I explained them away as being a fluke, or a freakish never-to-be-repeated piece of good fortune, or an Act of God (forgive the legal reference.) I never ever took the credit for them. Not ever.

Aged 18:

I passed my driving test, first time. On my 18th birthday – the day itself (oh, the pressure) – and very nearly flunked it. One more ‘minor’ error and it would have been game over. I answered 3 out of 3 of the Road Safety questions incorrectly, one example given below:

Q: What does this sign on a motorway mean?

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My Answer: ‘Erm, three lanes, two lanes, or one lane?’ I stammered, whilst offering up a pathetic little smile.

No, Rachel. It doesn’t. But the slightly aging man in the tweed jacket with a clipboard gave me a ‘Pass’ anyway. It’s because it’s my 18th birthday, today! I reasoned with myself. He couldn’t fail me on my birthday! It couldn’t possibly be because I’d just about managed to negotiate the L-plated Vauxhall Corsa around a corner without wiping out an old lady. I couldn’t give myself the credit for that. It was a fluke.

Aged 22:

I got a 2:1 in my Law Degree – against the odds (seriously, we won’t go there just now.) I’d had a virtual breakdown, taken a year out, changed universities, and returned to find myself Billy No Mates sitting at the back of a Leeds University lecture theatre wishing I’d never started the damn thing in the first place.

When my result came through, I had no Plan B. Pretty blondes floated and skipped around the University Campus telling of their impending next steps to Law School where they would become Daddy’s Little Protégé. I sat with a full fat latte in the canteen and wondered, What the hell do I do now? I wasn’t expecting a half decent result. It must have been an easy paper, this year, I told myself; the dissertation must have been semi-plagiarised. Did I cheat? I couldn’t be sure.

Aged 26:

I qualified as a solicitor – against the odds. (Again, you don’t need a full breakdown as to the disparity between my real, hapless self and the person I portrayed.) How have I even secured a training contract?

I dropped my biscuit in the milk jug during one important client meeting… AND THEN STUCK MY HAND IN TO RETRIEVE IT much to the horror of the Litigation Partner and his very wealthy client (in my defence, it was one of those posh biscuits covered in foil.) How was I not sacked? I qualified, but it was more by accident than by design. An Act of God, perhaps.

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Couldn’t waste it, could I?

(There are many, MANY more such examples, but for the sake of time and convenience we’ll skip the minutiae. And the Virgin London Marathon 2011. That’s in the book.)

***

Aged 36

I ran the Yorkshire Marathon 2014 in 3 hours and 16 minutes, averaging 7:30 min/miles for 26.2 miles. WHAT THE FUCK?! I went into overdrive with the IT’S A FLUKE / HAPPY ACCIDENT / ACT OF GOD apparently logical reasoning. After all, I couldn’t POSSIBLY have simply worked my arse off and achieved that time, could I?

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No sooner had I limped off the York University Campus post-marathon than I was already filled with dread and panic that this was somehow entirely outside of my control – a thing that had (fortunately) happened TO me, and not BECAUSE of me. I feared I would never again run like that, or achieve such a freakish result again.*

Remember, they’ve already binned the plates and stacked chairs at the DREAM BIG! party, and now Black Lace has finished on repeat play, people are slowly ambling outside into the car park. I’m left dancing on my own to The Conga whilst I try and mop up the last remnants of the DREAM BIG! happy vibe – along with a few crusty sandwiches and slightly warm cucumber sticks.

But it WAS my doing. All of it was my doing. I achieved all of those things, despite it appearing as though I am walking, talking anti-proof for the ‘Expectancy Theory’ (i.e. that proposes an individual makes choices based on the belief that there is a positive correlation between effort, performance and outcome.)

Dream big? DREAM BIG, you say? Even when I’ve LIVED the bloody dream, I STILL haven’t believed it!

So here we are. I am now aged 38 years old. The book I have written (‘Running for my Life: My 26.2 Mile Journey to Health and Happiness’ – Blink Publishing) is about to be listed for pre-order on Amazon. It won’t be released for another nine months – not until January 2018. But, I am refusing to allow myself to make up excuses for my dream being a fluke / happy chance / stroke of luck. It isn’t. I have lived that story, and I have written that book. It’s my party, and I own the fucking paper plates.

And as I sit browsing through my back catalogue of Dream Big! party invites, I can take myself within a millisecond to each and every one of those experiences, where – despite my putting in every ounce of effort humanly possible – I hadn’t dreamt about some fantastical, out-of-this-world positive outcome. I found that the effort sort of took care of that anyway.

It can happen anyway. It DOES happen, anyway! It is – perhaps – possible to Dream Big! in retrospect, to realise that simply by continuing to turn up / pound the rock / grind the stone / run the miles / write the words, the outcome is already being choreographed somewhere far grander and more exotic than the Black Lace Agadoo-playing dance floor.

That’s the party I want to be invited to. Hell, that’s the party I’m going to!

See you there.

* I ran 3:17 at VLM 2015. It wasn’t a fluke then, either.

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Dream Big, Tills. Dream Big… (or just work your arse off. Either will do.)

 

London Marathon Diary 2017, Sunday 5th Feb 2017: Who am I when I can’t run?

London Marathon Diary 2017

Sunday, 5th Feb 2017

Who am I when I can’t run?

Today is Sunday, 5th Feb, and it’s exactly 11 weeks – or 77 days – until the 2017 London Marathon.

How’s my training going? It’s going shit. I’ve already vented my frustration at having two weeks’ worth of KFC family-bucket sized, ‘Do you wanna go large with that?’ flu rampaging through our house, knocking me sideways, off my feet and away from any semblance of ‘real’ marathon training (ref. ‘Lemsips and Race Disasters’ Blog post.)

And then. AND THEN it got worse. I kicked my own arse so hard on the bastard treadmill playing some misconceived game of ‘catch up’ that I brought on an injury to my lower calf/Achilles area. This caused me to go all E.T and Phone Home on Thursday morning, as I stood by a wet, lonely bench high on Norland Moor with wide, sad eyes waiting for my long-suffering Other Half to pick me up 3 miles from my own front door (ref. ‘Beware: The Dreaded Treadmill Overkill’ Blog post.)

It is now Sunday. By my basic calculations, that is a mere THREE DAYS after the E.T Phone Home incident, and subsequent emergency Physio appointment at which he (Magician Dave) said – and I quote – ‘So, you WON’T be racing on Sunday then, Rach, will you?’

I didn’t answer.

I did believe in miracles, and I did turn up to the start line of the Dewsbury 10k race this morning. I knew it was a gamble: my leg would either handle it, or it wouldn’t.

It wouldn’t.

I set off knowing the grumblings were still there, and by only ONE MILE into the race, the pain was intensifying. At 1.7 miles, there was nowhere to go, and so I limped off the course and made an about-turn, facing the Walk of Shame back to the start.

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Runners stared at me as though witnessing a resurrection, as I trudged slowly down the street in the wrong direction, back to the centre of the toilet bowl that is Dewsbury.

‘Are you OK?’ A kind marshall asked, as I hobbled by, pathetically.

‘Injured.’ I said, feigning a sorry smile, whilst hobbling and pointing to my leg.

A St. John’s Ambulance pulled up, and a kind chap shouted out of the window ‘Do you want a lift back to the start, love?’

‘Yes. Yes, please, I do’ I shouted back, as the prospect of a 1.7 mile shuffle back down the Dewsbury U-bend wasn’t altogether appealing – certainly not in (short) shorts and a thin running top. I hopped in the van and made polite chatter with the crew, who looked grateful to have something to do. I turned down their kind offer of emergency Lucozade, having barely broken a sweat, and confirmed that I didn’t need bandaging or carrying anywhere, which seemed to dampen the mood slightly.

Once safely dropped off back at the Dewsbury bidet, I conveniently bumped into Andy, a lovely runner also hampered by injury, and a true gentleman. I stood with Andy, still slightly stunned from the wilful disobedience of my left leg, whilst wrapped up in his warm, winter coat with the oversized arms hanging down around my knees like a homespun Mr Tickle costume. We chatted about our recent running experiences and respective misfortunes, whilst my very own Hero in Human Form Cheryl (#FlyHighEdie) and baby Annie joined us. She hugged me with a warmth to challenge Andy’s overcoat, and the world seemed just that little bit brighter.

We waited for our respective Running Other Halves to cross the finish line – which they did in 41 and 43 minutes respectively (well done Tom & Dodd) and hobbled off to Weatherspoons, where I dunked my emergency non-branded digestives into a refill coffee to ease my running sorrows (I brought them along from home… just in case.)

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It’s all smiles… then RICE

And once back at home, it got me thinking. Two things:

Firstly: Who am I if I can’t run? How does it make me feel? What is my state of mind? And how does it– and will it – impact on the rest of my days, until I am free to bounce around the hills and vales once more in serotonin-enhanced bliss?

This may seem a little melodramatic (it has been known to be a particular penchant of mine) and also rather hasty, as I don’t yet know the full extent of my lower limb’s blatant refusal to play along with my marathon hopes and aspirations.

But these are questions that I will ponder, as the coming days of cross-training, rehab and ‘rest’ (NO! NOT THAT WORD) are on the menu. It already makes me shrink and recoil in my own skin to think that I am ALREADY struggling with this as a concept, whilst there are

  1. a) PLENTY of other people who are experiencing similar minor irritations like warts on an otherwise peachy arse; and
  2. b) there REALLY ARE FAR bigger problems to be facing in the world (and I know plenty of lovely, incredible people personally who are having those daily battles right here, and right now.)

I will put some more thought to this, and to the glaring flaws this highlights in my own ability to handle even mild adversity (of which I have had a reasonably generous dollop across my 38 years of spinning around like some preoccupied Tasmanian Devil on this oversized revolving marble, I must confess.)

Secondly: This is the start of my NEW Virgin London Marathon 2017 journal. It came to me in a lightbulb moment. For the next 77 days, I will document the ups and downs, the triumphs and disasters and the bumps in the road that will see me to the start of the VLM 2017… or not. I last did this on the run up to the VLM 2015, and – hell – it ended up being the very first chapter of my book ‘Running For My Life’ (which will be published Jan ’18 by @BlinkPublishing with signed copies also available on the free table at Tesco’s shortly after.)

 So, on Instagram* (Cullen_Rachel) I will post a photo EVERY DAY for the next 77 days to document that journey. Some days, it might be a photo of a bar of Dairy Milk and a Foam Roller, but it will all be a part of my journey to VLM 2017.

The question is: Will I make it?

*I still don’t quite ‘get’ Instagram; the whole hashtag thing, or the fact that I only have about 7 followers (you know who you are, and I love every single one of you :-D)

But my Mum loves me.

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Instagram?? Hashtag? Mum – Are you there?

WHAT’S YOUR DREAM?

What’s your dream?

Right at the end of Pretty Woman, when Julia Roberts is (ahem) rescued from the skanky down-town bedsit by her Knight in Shining Armour as he pansies his way up the fire escape, red rose gripped between his chattering teeth, the voice of a local vagrant can be heard, saying ‘Welcome to Hollywood. What’s your dream?’

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Well, fortunately for me, I don’t need saving from a life of prostitution, and Gav’s really not good with horses, so I eliminated the need for him to gallop anywhere on his trusty white steed some while back.

Let’s also get the obvious Miss World responses out of the way for the sake of completeness:

  • World Peace;
  • Obama to remain as US president for an eternity, in the absence of any viable alternatives;
  • Anything at all relating to my daughter and her having a joyous, prosperous and pain-free future (including not ending up falling for an arsehole, avoiding a legal career, and generally deferring adulthood for as long as humanly possible);
  • A permanent end to the persistent problem of ‘roots’ for a pseudo-blonde (I actually gave this as a ‘serious’ answer during one Training Contract assessment day at a high profile City law firm in my mid-20s. I was unsuccessful.)

One Monday morning in May 2015, I walked into Waterstone’s bookshop on Princes St in Edinburgh. I gazed around at the thousands of titles lining the shelves, and felt mild panic at ever having to leave. ‘This is it,’ I remember thinking to myself. ‘This is my dream.’ I knew in that moment that one day, I would have my very own pristine, hard copy book for sale in that bookshop. Not in any bookshop: in THAT one.

Things have moved on in terms of bookshop layout and design, and boy, do these guys know their craft: Tables piled high with silky, smooth hard copies; crisp paperbacks stacked up like Jenga next to chalk boards displaying handwritten notes about The Author. A peace transcends the floors as bookworms and other general moochers peruse back covers, whilst the more focused muse over the self-helps (* the obvious exception to this being the Children’s Book section. I quick-stepped through this one, and hurdled at least two semi-abandoned toddlers.)

The day before, I’d completed the Edinburgh half marathon in a dream time of 1:30 (…and 45 seconds). I inched my way up the stairs (there are shit loads of them – especially on dead legs) thinking I couldn’t fall any more deeply in love with a bookshop.

And then I did.

I saw the coffee shop. Now, this really isn’t an advert for Waterstones, in Edinburgh. I am unashamedly a bookshop fanatic. I cried real, heartfelt tears when Borders closed through insolvency some years ago. ‘But how could it go bust? I spent a FORTUNE in there!’ my logical brain grappled to comprehend, but found no answer.

There was something special about that day, back in May 2015. I lined up and ordered my Extra Hot Skinny Mocha, and then took my seat at the one remaining table. It just so happened to be the two-seater with a perfectly unspoilt view of the castle.

I sat down, and began to write. I was writing the book that would sit stacked up – like perfect, polished Jenga blocks – on a table near the top of the stairs, enticing passing mocha-drinkers and rocky-road eaters on their way to the Café with a View. My chalk board would stand next to the table, with a short biography of The Author, Rachel Cullen. I saw it all: My Dream.

A year went by and I continued to write. Races came and went; chapters were written and rewritten; successes intermingled with disappointments, and life – as tends to happen – moved on.

August 2016 came around, and I somehow piggybacked a low cost return trip to Edinburgh by virtue of Gav’s business trip (he’d be lonely without me – for all of one night – I reasoned.)

As Gav left for the Edinburgh Office early next morning, I set off walking in search of my bookshop. I ignored silver-sprayed street entertainers mid-performance, and barely glanced at the kilted man giving his bagpipes CPR on the street corner; I weaved through bemused tourists and their oversized luggage, and hop-scotched small children in prams. I blanked dazzling SALE displays in otherwise debt-inducing dress shops, and I even walked straight past the latest running gear on show in a funky sports shop window. All to get to my literary spiritual home. Will MY table be free? The two-seater with a castle view? I wondered. What if someone else is sitting there? Do I politely ask them to leave? You can see this getting a little out of hand.

I saw the ‘W’ sign approaching in the distance and increased my pace. My bags felt heavy, weighted down with laptops and other apparently necessary plug-in devices, but once there, I didn’t plan on moving for quite some time.

Once up the stairs, I turned right. My table was taken, but I had a plan.

“Large Extra hot skinny mocha, please,” I said to the kind looking assistant who looked at me and smiled, as though she’d seen me before.  Telepathically, she knew I was in for the long haul.

I sat down to write. Only this time, I wasn’t writing my book. I was packaging it up to send out into the universe, to see if someone, somewhere would also share my vision – the hardback Jenga table display in Waterstones, Edinburgh with accompanying chalk board. I wrote for hours. I broke down my synopses to cover all of the possible why’s and how’s necessary to convince some invisible, unknown publisher that my book should be spared from the Slush Pile. I knew it wasn’t perfect; I knew it still needed work, but I believed it deserved the chance to stand shiny, polished and proud on that table.

The universe listened.

It’s now early November, 2016. And as things stand, my dream looks like it may well become a reality in January 2018.

*and again, for the purpose of concluding matters, my imminent and pending dream list also includes:

  • a sub-3:15 time at Virgin London Marathon 2017;
  • to run Boston marathon 2018 for my 40th birthday (I already have a qualifying time);
  • A vision relating to my work, which would be unfair to share at this moment in time;
  • A permanent end to the persistent problem of ‘roots’ for a pseudo-blond (Or even a semi-permanent one will do.)

I can write! Belief in a box…thanks to Pip the Three-Legged Dog

I can write. I know I can write – and I know I’m good at it. Ever since I won a school writing competition when I was 9 for my story about Pip the three-legged dog who lived down my road, I’ve known I can write. I felt like a bit of a fraud at the time – there actually WAS a three-legged dog called Pip who lived down our road. All I did was write about her – I didn’t make it up or anything. In my mind, where was the talent in that? I was simply telling the story of a dog who lived down our street.

I was well aware that my story of Pip the three-legged dog wasn’t some work of imaginative literary genius. I didn’t even have to use my imagination! The story was there – right in front of me. I thought that REAL stories were made up, coming from a place that doesn’t really exist. One of my absolute favourites being Roald Dahl’s Matilda. Now THAT was a real story…

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The original story of Pip, the three-legged dog

I wondered if my teachers had misunderstood, and given me credit for creating something I didn’t even conceive. Anyway, I sheepishly took their kind, encouraging comments and I held on to them. I filed them away in my box labelled ‘Self-Belief: Proof that I Can Write.’

Even now, I have to force myself to commit to such a brazenly confident, self-assured statement, but I keep winning that arm-wrestle with my nemesis, Self-Belief.

I’ve been writing a book over the past year. Just like my story of Pip the three-legged dog, it is based on my reality. It proverbially comes from ‘down my street’ and not some far-off, distant imaginary land. And just like my thoughts when I was 9 – how is that a real story? Is it even worth telling? It’s hardly Harry Potter and the Stones of Azerbaijan (apologies – I’m not fully up to speed with all the Potter works – it’s not my genre.)

Regardless, I rifled through my box of Proof that I Can Write, and I found my evidence. And so I kept on writing my story.

I gained a bit of momentum, and eventually began putting out some tentative feelers on my work. Armed with my weighty doorstop copy of ‘Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook 2016’, and fully geared up for the ego-bashing of endless visits to the Slush Pile, I braced myself for the ride: I’m told the Channel can be choppy at this time of year.

Hours of composing synopses, covering letters, market research on potential readers.

Endless hours.

“What did you do on Saturday night, Rach?”

“Oh, erm, I spent the best part of 3 hours completing one submission to a single publisher, in the knowledge that I can most likely expect a one-liner email in response titled ‘Thanks but No Thanks’… Yeah it was ace. You?”

“Right. Yeah… Is Gav ok? What did he get up to?”

“Yeah, he’s good thanks. I didn’t see much of him to be honest, although he was sitting right next to me…”

Hmmm. Sorry Gav.

It felt like I’d personally dredged the bottom of the canal by the time I ticked off my first five hand-picked publishers. Each submission had taken hours – no – days of my life, and also a little bit of me thrown into the mix.

Monday came, and as I stood in our kitchen, the first one-liner Slush Pile email response came through. It was softened by the inclusion of some genuinely helpful feedback, and kind, encouraging comments, but I was in the Slush Pile nevertheless. I’d braced myself for this, so I knew to prepare for the blow. Within the space of a few hours, four of my first five submissions had replied: they seemed to appreciate the thorough, extensive and considered nature of my proposal, and my writing style, but it wasn’t for them.

“Jesus. I may have to wade through hundreds of these, Gav. Even then, I might have to consider self-publishing. This is the hardest thing in the world.” (The Dubai marathon came a close second.)

Best get settled for a long old ride, then…

I jumped off the treadmill on Tuesday morning, after a particularly successful speed session. Back in the changing room, I did my usual brief iPhone email scan. Like Charlie Bucket slowly peeling the corner of his very last Wonka Bar, this was my fifth – and only – remaining submission. And there it was.

Hi Rachel

We are attracted to this submission…”

To be continued…

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The original box – Belief in a box