You and what army?

If you witnessed Travis Pastrana to get on a Suzuki RM250, ride it full tit toward a large jump and then do a backflip, then you might shrug your shoulders, maybe nod your head, semi impressed.
However, if I got on that same Suzuki, managed to actually work out how to start it, figured out what makes it move forward, and then rode that thing at top speed toward a huge jump and then pull a backflip, you would go insane right? So why the difference in reaction? We both did the same thing, we both did a backflip while holding onto a loud, wheeled bullet. So whats the reasoning here?
The reasoning is, Travis Pastrana is a motorsports champion. As the mastermind behind Nitro circus, X-game gold medalist and legendary stunt performer, Travis could do a backflip on a bike in his sleep. He does double backflips. He jumped into the Grand Canyon.
I am not a motorsports champion. (Sorry to let you down)
I don’t even know how to start a motorbike. Thats why, if I managed to ride a motorbike and stay upright without training wheels, it would be quite impressive, but if I were to pull a backflip… well then I would have accomplished the impossible.

There are people that run every day. Its their thing. There are some who train for fun or for mental clarity, others for fitness and some for endurance. When it comes to endurance running, you get those who train for 42 Kilometer marathons. There are others who take it a step further and train for 100 Kilometers. Then there are the runners who achieve the inconceivable. 250 Kilometers, 300 and 400 kilometer events, right up to the 1600 kilometer multi day event. Astonishing.

I am not a runner. I have said before many times that I despise it. I am no good at it, it doesn’t make me feel good about myself, and my undies always go up my bum. Therefore, running to my letterbox is problematic. Running 10 kilometers? Impossible.
I say this because I understand that many people are going to read this and go ‘Pffft! 10 kilometers? I run that every day as a warm up! Thats nothing but a leisurely stroll for me!” Well you know what, good on you hero, I get it, you’re more fit than I am, congratulations, but unless you can also go and do a double backflip on a Suzuki RM250 into the Grand Canyon then i’d suggest you hold off on beating at your chest with your closed fists as if you are the boss of everything, because we can’t be good at everything all the time okay. 

When I first tried my hand at running, I made that outlandish promise in Pain is weakness leaving the body that I would run the 10 kilometer Bridge to Brisbane on September 2nd. I think I had probably had one too many wines when I wrote that, but the trouble is, I said I would do it, and so I had to do it.

On the morning of September 2nd, due to unforeseen circumstances, I was unable to make the trip up to Brisbane.

I decided to complete the run, but I would have to do it all by my little self, here on the Gold Coast, and I would have to lace up my trainers sooner rather than later because the more I thought about it the more I wanted to just crawl up in a hole and die. Why do I say i’m going to do things I know are impossible for me to do!!

I pulled my hair up into a high bun, put my trainers on, threw on a backpack carrying 3 liters of water and pushed play on my ipods running playlist and walked out my front door and took the first step.
500 meters in my undies really started riding up my backside and I cursed myself for choosing scratchy, lace panties to do this in.
What were you expecting Vanessa? That at half way you might stumble upon a naked mer-man who you could woo with your lacy delicates?
Due to that error in judgement, I spent the next 90 minutes with my hands up my backside fishing lace out of my intestines.

If it were possible to eat lava and not die right away, I imagine that it would feel like I felt about 2 kilometers in. The burning in my lungs was unbearable. Turns out eating carrot sticks for snacks doesn’t make you fit. I was afraid because I was very familiar with the road I was running as I drive it at least once a week. I knew I was not even 1/4 of the way through and that if I didn’t organise my mind and get focused real soon, this just wasn’t going to happen. They say that the mind will give up 1000 times before the body does and at that 2 kilometer mark, I felt the burn in my chest and remembered that saying. My mind raced through what I could do to try and get into some kind of zone, or make my mind go to some place far away from the pain in my chest. It was then that I recalled being in labor.

I had both my sons, at home, without drugs. Yes, without drugs. My first labor was 21 hours. My second was 10 hours. A total of 31 hours of undiluted, unforgiving, 100% pure agony. How did I do it? I went far, far away in my mind. I made a rule before I went into labor that no one was to address me or speak to me unless I spoke to them. I knew that if I were to make it through the hurricane of pain I was about to endure, then I would have to withdraw deep within myself and my breathing, my thoughts, my soul, spirit, mind and physical being would have to be completely in agreement with what I was about to endure and no one must distract me, lest the dreadful panic set in.

I realised that all I was experiencing was a bit of burning in my chest. It wasn’t like my whole body was tearing apart from the inside out, so if I was able to endure giving birth with nothing more than a bit of focus, then I could sure as heck complete the remaining 8 kilometers by harnessing the same thing: A little bit of focus and a whole bunch of making my mind go far, far away.

It took about 5 or so minutes before I stopped feeling the pain and just started focusing on my heart beat and the rhythm of my legs striding, one two, three, four, one, two, three, four.
This was working well until I was attacked.
Now I want you to try and tell me what kind of no-good, dead-beat, good-fer-nuthin Magpie would see a poor innocent, blue-eyed girl like me running along the road, clearly in a lot of pain and decide that the one thing she would probably need in that moment was a whole bunch of beak in her face.
Well, this bird did.
There he was, up on his branch, probably bludging on the Bird Benefit day in and day out, and he see’s me running toward him and this bird, he starts looking at me sideways. Now you know that when a bird starts looking at you sideways, somethings about to happen. It means they’re fit to strike your ass.
So i’m running, and I see this bird looking at me sideways and the very next thing I know I have a whole bunch of beak all up in my face and I reacted with some jumping and some screaming and some arms all flying about my head and then this bird finally retreats and I have to run the next 250 meters with my body pointing forward and my head pointing backwards so that I could keep an eye on this damn Magpie. Well, after 250 meters I start to feel like I am out of those woods and I can relax, so I turn my head towards the front and I keep running and then BAM! This damn bird is at me again! And its flapping about my head and beating my neck with its wings and I react with a whole bunch of jumping and screaming and more arms in the air and I would love to talk to the people who were driving past me at that exact moment to ask them what the heck I looked like, wearing an angry Magpie on my face and all…..

Anyway, back into my zone after my unprovoked attack I somehow found myself at the 5 kilometer mark. Cobai Drive.

I took photos along the way… Kind of as proof I had really done it.
My half way mark: Cobai Drive

At Cobai Drive I had to stop. I just had to.
I bent over double and spent about 30 seconds heaving as if I were drowning before turning back upon the footsteps I had left and began to make my way home. I realised that there was no pain in my legs anymore. I must have gone numb, which suited me just fine.
Approaching the location of my near-death experience with the magpie, I outsmarted that stupid bird and crossed the road so it couldn’t get me again. When I say road, I actually mean four lane mini-highway. And on the other side of the road there were decorative trees, which I ran behind to get more cover. Stupid-ass bird won’t see me here, across a four-lane road, behind these lovely trees.


The sun was behind me now, beating upon my back, and from somewhere out of my worst nightmares I see a shadow descend upon me.
A beak.

Then I am being attacked again by that same bloody bird!
It had crossed four lanes on a busy road just to give me one last kick in the ass.

Turns out it was the kick in the ass I needed as after I realised I was actually being hunted from the skies, you can bet your bottom dollar I ran hard. I was running away from a magpie that wouldn’t stop looking at me sideways. 

I’ll skip the next 4 kilometers. I can sum it up with 4 words: breathlessness, tears, weakness and agony.
It hurt. The last 250 meters I wasn’t even really running. It was more of a Forest Gump type hobble-hop as if I had metal scaffolding framing my legs. My knees were knocking together and in the last 20 meters I actually put my arms out in front of me, reaching towards my home.

Did I make it? Yes. I made it.
How did I feel when I collapsed in my bedroom covered in disgusting sweat and feathers from a rogue bird?
Like utter shit.

I will never, ever, ever, never do that again. Ever.
But I don’t have to, because I did it once, and thats enough.
I did it, not because I wanted to, or because I felt like it, but because I said I would when I had a glass too many and I stand by my word but you can also bet I will watch what I say from now on because that was the hardest promise I have ever had to keep.
I had to run it alone too, which actually became somewhat of an irony.

For weeks I have been watching what I eat and training. Alone.
Very much alone.

When you first decide that you are going to change your circumstances, your body, your fitness level, your life, you may be enveloped by encouragement from people who love you who carry words like ‘you can do this, I am behind you, we believe in you….’
But then they will go away and it will be just you.
Just you and that dream.
Will you wake up the next morning and still mean what you said?
When you open your eyes and its cold out and its several hours earlier than you would normally arise will you choose to not only remember your words, but stand by them?
Or is your talk cheap?
I really think it is those moments where you are alone and you have no one beside you telling you that you can do it, where the true intention and desire of your heart comes out.
I clearly remember a morning at the gym about 10 days ago:
When I got there I realised my ipod had run out of battery. This is a problem.
Next thing, my cross trainer is out of order. Brilliant.
I am sick to death of the bike, and the only cardio equiptment left is the rowing machine. I hate the rowing machine.
I climb on and strap my feet in and begin rowing and then:
This thing hasn’t been serviced in 100 years and while the ride is smooth enough, the sound of un-lubed metal, grinding upon un-lubed metal is agony. Don’t even have my music to drown it out.
At that point I actually stopped rowing. I sat there and sized up my situation.
I was alone.
I was tired because I didn’t get enough sleep the night before and I didn’t have any music to drown out the ‘nails against blackboard’ screams that were coming from beneath me and I was hungry.
I began to loosen the straps that were holding my feet in the machine.
I wasn’t doing this anymore. I wanted to go home and eat something.
Then I stopped. I asked myself if this was me? Was this all I had?
When my friends are far from me and the words of their encouragement are diluting in the reality of my day to day life, am I just going to give up?
When the crowd has gone and the images which carry the inspirational quotes about changing ones life and reaching for ones dreams are fading from memory, am I just going to slump in my seat and say to the empty room  ’I won’t… can’t…..

It was a strange thing that happened then. Not visible to anyone that was observing, but only visible to me, I kind of saw a vision-y thing in my mind and it was me, standing before something.
It was not definable, but I recognised it as being everything I hoped my future would be. A big mass of accomplishments and conquers and victories and happiness and health. 

I stood there with my feet still loosely strapped in that rowing machine and I know this sounds crazy but I felt like I had arrived at a crossroads.
I saw the future that I wanted before me, but it was lying behind rows and rows of stumbling blocks and circumstances and weaknesses and poverty and exhaustion and hand to my heart I swear I looked those circumstances and weaknesses in the eye and if you were walking by that little gym at about 8:45am that morning you would have heard a female voice scream out ‘I can overcome you” and the reply came “Yeah? You and what army?”

Army? There is no army. Its just me…but thats enough.

That morning I re-strapped my feet into that machine and I found a leaf on this tree outside and I focused on it and I worked out so hard that I didn’t stop until I actually fell off the machine because my arms couldn’t hold onto the bar anymore.
I fell sideways onto the floor and lay there with one foot still strapped into the machine and I couldn’t even see. I just felt dizzy and worn out and… kind of out of it. Like high, but in a really, really bad way.
I crawled/limped to the strength training gym and sat on a padded bench and then fished behind me for the bars and then began to do those ab-pulldowns. I had done them before, but not like this. I felt like a crazy lady.
I set the weight to 10kg heavier than I had been pulling in the weeks before and I sat there and pulled one, two, three, four, five, six and then 65 and then 100 and then? I burst into tears.
All alone in that stupid gym with no stupid ipod and no stupid person to tell me to keep going and no stupid hope and no stupid help. Just me, crying like a sissy baby, all alone with nothing but her ideals for her future to keep her moving,
In my 28 years I have not worked as hard as I did in that lonely 60 minutes in that little gym.
This wasn’t just about being fit. I think that being fit had almost taken a backseat to the real purpose I was trying to achieve: re-inventing my life.
And the similarity between changing my body and changing my life seemed to become strikingly obvious:

At the end of the day, this is my battle, and my battle alone. Sure I may have friends and family around me who express words of encouragement and hope and say things like “you go get em” and “you can do it!‘ but at the end of the day, the’re not going to be able to be with me in those moments where I wake up and size up the new day. They may not be there when its just Vanessa, facing the old me, which is battling the new me which is trying to emerge.
This battle, whatever it is that I am facing, whether it be a change in size, a change in fitness, or an ultimate change in life is mine to fight for, and I must fight for it alone.

And so too, must you.

Support is valuable. Encouragement? Priceless. But the hard truth is, no matter how bad your circumstances are, no matter how much you cry over your wee life… at any given moment, you have the power to say “This is NOT how my story is going to end.” And you may re-write the ending of your own story however you want.
But dear, I know first hand that it is not easy. It means many mornings of waking up alone, with no one beside you to be your rock, your cheerleader or your support. But how much you want the change depends on whether you get up and go for it anyway.
Are you going to be weak? Probably.
Going to cry? Yes.
Are you going to scream at an empty wall? I sure hope so.

Has something gone awry in your life? Something ended up not how you hoped it would?
You gonna claw at it?
You gonna tear at it?
You gonna fight for it even when there is no army to stand to your left or to your right to fight with you?

You get what you wish fight for.

You don’t need an army. What you have in your own two hands is enough.



5 responses to You and what army?


    It’s kind of ironic that there was no reply to this post! I like your guts, you’ve got grit. I broke my leg skiing and had to be hauled up a mountain with the broken leg strapped up to the jet ski thing and the full weight of my body hanging down behind it. There were no drugs and I knew, if ever there was a moment to breathe, it was now. For the first time in my life, in spite of several vipassanas (and lack of commitment afterwards) I was able to simply focus on my breath. My pain receded noticeably, and that 20 minutes of hell became bearable. The mind is an incredible thing. Your post is very inspiring, thank you.

    I’ve also had similar realisations about doing it alone but they were existential, albeit just as frightening and courage needing. I’ve only just come to realise the relationship of that to exercise and health – thanks for the affirmation of it. You’re very brave, and I don’t say that lightly.


      I like your guts, you’ve got grit. I broke my leg skiing and had to be hauled up a mountain with the broken leg strapped up to the jet ski thing and the full weight of my body hanging down behind it. There were no drugs and I knew, if ever there was a moment to breathe, it was now. For the first time in my life, in spite of several vipassanas (and lack of commitment afterwards) I was able to simply focus on my breath. My pain receded noticeably, and that 20 minutes of hell became bearable. The mind is an incredible thing. Your post is very inspiring, thank you.

      I’ve also had similar realisations about doing it alone but they were existential, albeit just as frightening and courage needing. I’ve only just come to realise the relationship of that to exercise and health – thanks for the affirmation of it. You’re very brave, and I don’t say that lightly.


    AHA! At times your passage was so funny, especially about the bird chase. But on a serious note, I find that you are mentally strong in many facets of your life. And for the record, there’s no way I would’ve endured the labor, then the birth of my child(ren) like you did. Take care lady! 😄

I would love to hear from you, please feel free to comment!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s