Choose one: career or sport. Not both

We all have our things we do might makes you – ‘you’, and me – ‘me’.

Without sport I wouldn’t be ‘me’.

It’s a good 50/40/10 split respective of work, sport and a tiny bit left for social beer drinking.

Returning to sport after a break, feels like coming back after an injury. Trying to get into the swing of things again, and formulate some kind of new routine in my new city. This feeling is heightened with added frustration when it happens over and over again.

More often than not, injuries occur when you’re close to your peak fitness, so the last memories you have – the last performance markers you have – are of elite performance. David Millar

Taking up triathlon and endurance sport was a big lifestyle change from horse riding and team sports. Not only in terms of physical changes: exercising more and changes in body shape, but change in mindset too which transpires towards everything else in one’s life.

Endurance sports give you the understanding that to succeed in anything one has to be dedicated to the cause and committed enough to overcome the hurdles in order to achieve the goal. Whether that’s in a race, in the workplace, or as a general rule in life. Good things come to those who work for it.

Yet, this attitude is rare, and many people give up too easily. In fitness, it can be a bad day at work which results in a missed run or a missed gym session. For some, that’s a one off; but for many it spirals out of control and in order to get back ‘on the wagon’ one must be seriously motivated.

Often my friends ask how I have the motivation to train after work. The answer is it’s mostly just a mindset and a lifestyle, and many people have the same mindset and lifestyle – if I didn’t train I would feel like something was missing.

I love my industry, and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else right now. However my frustrations come from starting over and over again when there is an interruption, whether that be injury or career. Injuries (which are non-self inflicted – in that they weren’t planned) and tend to appear when training is going well and the peak phase is about to begin.

New jobs are good in every other reason of your life, except the sport part, and every single time I’ve had one it knocks me out of the running for peak performance.

It’s certainly true that the 9-5 kills all hopes and dreams, but if one can endure the pain to go to a session regardless of a long or bad day at work, there is a genuine guarantee that exercise will turn those bad feelings into good ones. Nobody ever regrets a workout.

Don’t stop training

When an athlete stops training abruptly, the effects aren’t just mental with the stress of knowing it is going to be harder to get back to the performance state you were in , but physical too. Their body goes through an array of changes from weight gain and water retention over short periods, to muscle atrophy, a drop in metabolic rate and a loss of fitness for longer periods.

In addition to all of that, for me: my muscles ache, my sleep becomes disrupted, my eating habits change because my body stops telling me what it requires as fuel and I become extremely grouchy and even more short tempered than usual.

So not training isn’t as simple as missing sessions and relaxing instead – when all of that is going on in the background.

Love-hate are the strongest relationships

Fitness and exercise is something I dedicate so much time and energy towards. I wholeheartedly love it; but there are things I hate about it too. There are times when I wish my life could be ‘normal’ and didn’t revolve around exercise and nutrition.

Sometimes, I don’t like that 40 percent of my life is sport related, and I wish the majority of that 40 percent could be socialising, or just hanging out and not doing a lot, what it feels like the rest of the world does.

My way of switching off is suffering on the turbo or a weights session in the gym. Not relaxing in its most popular form. But, the burning of the body often means relaxation for the mind.

I would like to learn the art of doing nothing. For once be one of those people who after getting home after work, is happy vegetating on the couch.

That is the ultimate luxury for an athlete, especially in winter when it’s cold and dark outside. It is a luxury I hardly get to experience, but it never feels like such a treat as the when the feeling of guilt and disappointment sets in, the realisation arrives that one could spend their time more wisely by training and not lounging around, then outcomes the time management diary and the vicious circle starts again. Looks like I can slot in aimlessly browsing the internet, talking bollocks to friends, and watching trash TV three weeks on Thursday after the gym.

Moving jobs and moving cities isn’t easy for the average person. It’s even more difficult when new gyms, /running/cycling/triathlon clubs are added into the mix. On the bright side, exploring new routes is a good way to get to know the new local area, but since I came from one of the best swim/bike/run/gym locations in the country, the bar is set and as much as I love the city, my new found sport routine will never compare to the old one. Besides, I don’t even know where the nearest swimming pool is.

#strongnotskinny •• I get loads of comments on my #thunderthighs. Often at time trials folk will say "you've got powerful legs" which I'm never sure is a compliment or an insult. 😳 However, despite looking a bit odd in shorts I wouldn't have achieved any of my finest moments if they were half the size. •• They can squat almost 100kg, carried me around 4x half ironmans (one of which got me a European silver medal) I've scaled a massive proportion of Lake District peaks either walking or running, they can put out a load of #watts and do well in time trials, as well as countless other physical challenges; so they might be #thunderthighs but they're functional and bloody powerful 😏🍑🙌🏻 • • • • #hatersgonnahate #fitisthenewskinny #stronglegs #strongisthenewskinny #strongissexy #strengthtraining #strength #endurance #legs #pins #gym #health #fitness #fitnessmotivation #squat #peachy #squatbum #leanin15 #strongwomen #healthybodyhealthymind #cycling #cyclist #tri #triathlon #trife #athletelife

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New beginnings

Which brings me to my main frustration.

Eight weeks ago I was in the best shape of my life. I was healthiest I’ve ever been with a resting heart rate of 47bpm and the leanest I’ve ever looked. I had some good results constantly coming through on the bike, with my power output steadily growing, and my time trial results getting quicker.

I wasn’t the strongest I have been in terms of kg lifted, (earlier on in the year, I claimed a 97.5kg squat) but I had more all round body strength.

I spent the end of the summer stripping back my weight workouts to focus on technique, stronger individual muscle groups mastering body weight strength, and working on weak points before I wanted to lift heavy again. My body was very much being fine tuned to being a good cyclist, runner, and strong and functional.

I had the balance of nutrition down to a tee because when you focus on the food vs fuel concept, your body eventually tells you what it needs and you feed it, simple as that.

Since I came back from a long break in April I was very happy, and full of mojo to have a successful season, and to really be able to peak.

But, at the ripe age of 22, I decided it was time to take my career a little bit more seriously and got a new job – in other words, eventually I had to listen to my mother.

Here we are now

My 50 percent is happy and has significantly increased to take the majority, but my 40 percent has shrivelled into a measly 25-30 percent, while the social beer drinking has increased slightly.

All of those physical and mental effects took over. And as I’m in the biggest city in the North of England, I spend a lot of my training time stuck in the car.

I reluctantly said bye bye to my low resting heart rate and my bike which now lives further up North. I watched the power in my legs flitter away as my strength and leanness faded. Anytime I get back on the WattBike I look despairingly at my new low FTP, and wonder how we got here.

Now, I now sit in the traffic envious of the runner/cyclist commuters.

At the beginning, I was happy to take two weeks off to adjust to my new job, and the short period of rest would do my body some good, before starting to wind down into winter training.

But my days were too long, the commute to far, and eventually I had to move to a different city which resulted in a shift in everything. Finding a new gym, finding a running club, finding routes to run and trying to find time to cycle is impossible.

I love my work, it was an excellent risk and decision to I needed to make, and it means I have new projects to focus on. Despite it being no more hours than before, it is more mentally taxing, and the commute takes the most time.

I certainly still bat for the shift workers. The dreaded 9-5 makes one feel totally lazy. It drains the life out of you along with the motivation to do any exercise. Eight hours minus lunch never seems to provide enough time to be productive – the day is over before it has began, the weekend comes and goes, and Monday is spent waiting for Friday. Then there is the lack of movement while hunched over at a desk staring at a computer screen.

The dreadful effects of eight weeks off is a sad reality of sport and fitness. One cannot expect to stop training and still be lean and lift one-and-a-half times their body weight. Achieving the goal, as well as maintaining that physical shape takes hard work, and hard work I am willing to put in every time.

Again and again and again

David Millar’s description of coming back after an injury is the most accurate. Although this isn’t an injury, the last eight weeks have felt like some form of rehab:

“Returning from an injury is hard, though that’s not really due to the injury itself, but more to do with your head coping with the total inability it has to make the body do what once came easily.

“More often than not, injuries occur when you’re close to your peak fitness, so the last memories you have – the last performance markers you have – are of elite performance. Comebacks are at the opposite end of the scale, which is humbling for a professional athlete, but also it makes coming back an interesting and affirming experience.”

I’m all for change and new beginnings, I realise I’m in a fortunate position to be able to change jobs and re-locate as easily as this; but my frustrations lie in the drastic amount set backs and multiple times starting over and over. Every time, I will stand up and go back to it because it’s my 40 percent, my non-negotiable and I would be very different without it.

Every time I will build back up to where I was and more, but every time it makes me feel less enthusiastic and more exhausted to achieve something I once loved. Set backs make us stronger, but stronger for what?

The most upsetting part is in seven years of training, I have never managed to reach peak performance and reach my true potential in triathlon, cycling or power lifting. Something has always had to give, whether it be opportunities or injuries, they come along and wipe me off my feet like a game of snakes and ladders. And in every stretch, I drive to reach my potential in any given sport… until an opportunity comes along and the last tier to peak performance fades away.

I often wish there were more hours in the day, longer days would mean I wouldn’t have to choose between sport or career. I want to see a time where I can have both, not one or the other.

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NCS: Teaching the next generation some skills

Born from David Cameron’s strong statement in his 2010 manifesto: “there is a tragic waste of potential that shames the
nation”, NCS was introduced.

As part of the cabinet’s ‘Big Society’ project to bring together communities, National Citizen Service, was established under the Coalition government in 2010 to inspire 15-17 year olds to challenge themselves by taking on out of the ordinary activities and learn some new skills in the process.

Cameron set out in his manifesto to create a “programme which encourages young people and gives them a sense of purpose, optimism and belonging.” The ethos is set out with six main objectives aimed to encourage teamwork, communication, and independence in a social and challenging environment; and “above all, is going to help a generation of young people appreciate what they achieve, for themselves, and by themselves.”

NCS inspires young people to challenge themselves both physically and mentally through a variety of outdoor activities such as expeditions, wild camping, kayaking, and high rope activities. It allows them to increase their responsibility and independence through tasks such as budgeting, planning and organising, and cooking for a whole team; in addition to mixing with other team members, and socialising with new people in a new environment.

One of the main parts of NCS is to give something back to the community. Participants must undertake a social action project which encourages community engagement through volunteering, raising awareness or fundraising; all while reflecting on the experience to take their new honed skills into their future.

During the planning phase for the programme, Cameron anticipated something like National Service but without the military regime (hence the name), as “too many young people seem lost. Their lives lack shape or any kind of direction, so they take their frustrations out on the world around them.” But what the government did not anticipate while creating the programme is that the young people who take part are in fact already incredibly talented and intelligent people.

Young people get a lot of bad press, stereo-typically for being lazy, unenthusiastic and wasting opportunities offered to them. This stereotype continues into their early twenties as students. However, it is the young people of this country who are passionate and idealistic, they are talented and skilled, and NCS allows them to unlock their potential and enable them to demonstrate those skills, as well as learn new ones in the process.

The programme is truly remarkable to see the difference in participants from the beginning to the end, and to see them persevere with challenges no matter how big or small they may be. Participants are from all kinds of backgrounds regardless of medical issues and disabilities, poor or affluent, as well as different ethnic minorities. It challenges everyone in a different way; whether it is reaching the summit of a mountain on the expedition and wild camping in a remote place, conquering a fear of water, or even staying away from home for the first time. One of the main parts of NCS is social mixing which is about coming together as a team. Beginning on day one with a group of 11 other strangers, undertake physical outdoor challenges together, cook together, eat together, live together and by the end of three weeks, be carrying out a community project together.

Government funding for the programme is mandatory to “sow the seeds of the Big Society, and see them thrive in years to come” according to Cameron. The Big Society project has been welcomed across parties in the government, and by youth organisations to have a secure investment into the future of society. NCS is starting to take shape to transform a generation into the new society, with hope of setting the bar for engagement with teenagers and young people for generations to come.

However, with every government led scheme comes a host of problems.

In 2016, 93,000 people around the country took part which is an encouraging amount of people who have graduated with employability and life skills. The growth rate is a steady a 23 percent, with the aim of 360,000 participants by 2021 – which is a staggering number of young people to get through a programme each year.

This means the current larger waves of 72 people, broken down into teams of 12 with one member of staff will become teams of 20-30 people with hundreds of participants in any one place at a time.

But as teachers know very well, for every self-sufficient young person, is one who needs some extra support, and when the participant rate is growing so quickly, there are only so many 16 year olds one member of staff can handle for 24 hours a day before problems start arising. One of those problems is spreading their time to thinly across each member of the group, and the people who need the most support slip through the net.

The government has invested £1.26 billion of funding from 2016-2021, however, there is also a target to reduce the cost per person by 29 percent to meet these funding requirements.

In my experience of working on NCS as a team leader, it is a very intense yet rewarding job. The intensity comes from two weeks of residentials in which one takes part in most of the activities to ensure each person fulfils the ethos, in addition to the responsibility for the pastoral care of each person. If the group was any bigger than 12, this role would be extremely difficult to manage, not to mention the social dynamic within the group would alter as groups tend to divide with more people.

 

At the end of the programme, I left with the desire to become a youth worker and be able to work with young people 1:1, as for some people there was so much more potential they could tap into with NCS just being the start of their future – with some extra support this could be achieved for certain people. I was not the only member of staff who felt this way at the end of the programme, and it felt almost like a waste of skills and resources for a young person to be so close to reaching their potential when the programme ends. Just like the feeling of having worked hard to master a particular skill, yet not knowing what to do with it afterwards.

The job satisfaction comes through the presentations towards the end of the programme to see these young people socialising with their new friends, discussing the things they achieved, and presenting their experience to the other NCS participants.

For most members of staff, it brings a tear to their eye to see the impact they have made on 12 young lives through the NCS programme. To see the instant development these young people have made: from starting the programme shy and reserved, and leaving joyful, taking away new skills and the confidence to be able to interact with people they meet for the first time in the future.

However, there isn’t the facility to work with these young people afterwards, unless one happens to be a youth worker in their school, sixth form or college. And, for some of these youngsters, they slip through the net and don’t receive the guidance they need. Which brings me to my conclusion that the government’s targets of having 360,000 participants per year by 2021 is an impractical and overstretched aim. Shepherding as many people to get through the programme as possible is the goal, but there are more favourable ways of doing so without compromising on the quality of the programme and the time spent between staff and young people.

Unfortunately, government schemes are a numbers game and more funding allocation includes the aim of more participants. However, as it is the case on many occasions, quality of over quantity should be considered, particularly on the basis on the education and success of the next generation.

In the same way that university degrees have become the norm, the idea is the skills and personal development learned on NCS should be the standard for generations to come. We should be teaching our youth to be confident, to be able to socially interact with one another, to be able to give something back to the local community, and to be independent and take responsibility for their own lives.

We want to set our standard for British youth to be high achievers which is a bold vision to have for the future, but one which is achievable through the right means and one which we should have already had in place.

However, the target of 360,000 participants by 2021 in this standard can be dangerous if not managed in the right way. Firstly, it not only sets the bar, but raises it in making it more difficult to stand out, and difficult for people to succeed through the programme with so many people taking part.

Secondly, to reach over 300,000 people by 2021 there needs to be a 40 percent increase in numbers. Currently, not every place on the course is being filled – of the 93,000 who took part last year, there were 124,000 places available. Although, there is a steady drop-out rate before the course has started, which is a disappointing waste of money.

And finally, for those numbers to be achieved, there still needs to be a 23 percent reduction in programme costs bringing the average number down to £1,319 per person. There needs to be a significant increase in staff to be able to coordinate such a programme, and more opportunities to secure the future for those few who fall through the net, and never quite reach their potential.

After implementation, our youth may not appear so “lost” as if their “lives lack shape or any sense of direction” according to Cameron, but he has hope:

“The young of this country are as passionate and idealistic as any generation before. Perhaps more passionate. They march against poverty, they set up online campaigns, they push their parents to recycle and they care deeply about climate change.”

I have been lucky enough to work with some young people who are inspired and motivated to do good in the world and take every opportunity given. After my time as an NCS team leader, I celebrate the achievement, and have high aspirations for the successes of these young people to come, and the standard they set for the next generation.

Travelling, there is a world outside of your box

14355010_10210122666240354_4246429569703938970_nThere has been a long list of countries to visit and visit again on my bucket list. After graduation I had a hierarchy of things I wanted to achieve within the next five years. In no particular order these are: go travelling, study for a masters, buy a house, and get a good job on the career ladder. Four simple goals to work towards, but my problem was I didn’t know which order to put them in.

At university it seemed the logical thing to go straight into a masters, but I was tired of 17 years of non-stop education from primary school to university. I needed a break and to get some money behind me. I went full time at work to earn a living and start paying the bills which suddenly appear when you graduate. I thought about travelling post-university but it seemed cliche, and I didn’t want to spend my life savings on what is essentially a long holiday and come back without a job, a home and a penny to scratch my arse with.

So I started looking for my own place. I had a full-time job, a degree and I started applying for jobs in my industry at the same time. A couple of months went by, no houses were particularly interesting, and I kept getting rejected for jobs. Perhaps my ambitions were too high I thought.

Meanwhile my year started off bad, and it was getting worse. From being stressed and overworked to being physically injured I needed some down time so I went on holiday. A week away in the sun to relax, train, reflect on what a terrible year it was turning out to be (and only six months into it) and generally escape from life at home– Gran Canaria was paradise.

I came home and returned to the mundane work-life balance. I was injured which meant I couldn’t train and all races for the rest of the year were cancelled as I went through the rehab process, so I had nothing to aim towards, and nothing to focus on.

It didn’t seem like I was getting anywhere with the job or the house hunt, and one Monday morning I said to myself while stuck in traffic and late for work, there must be more to life than this boring little box of going to work, going to the gym, and going home.

Later on that day, I printed off the “time away from work” policy and went to see my manager.

One other thing which dawned on me on why I am going travelling is the trail of baloney that is going on with Brexit, the US presidential election, the British pound being most effective yoyo, Scotland’s pathetic second fight for independence, and the extremely bewildering war between Russia and the rest of the world.

In the western world, wealth and power are the two most important things amongst governments and the power elite. Normal people work to pay bills and taxes, which get spent on some things we don’t all agree with, decided by MP’s who buy a duck house and gold toilet seat and expense it through the tax payers as if their £74,962 salary can’t quite cover those ridiculous items, and who have their fingers in all sorts of corrupt pies. A Prime Minister nobody seemed to vote for in a by-election (who even voted for Theresa May?) and non-elected lords whom nobody knows how they got into the House of Lords in the first place.

There is so much more going on in the world, and before I get caught up in paying a mortgage, council tax, bills, my student loan, get trapped into the ugly thirst for a healthy income, and read one more story how ‘remain’ voters are creating a conspiracy to overturn Brexit, or how the certain Lords in parliament have had some dodgy engagements with EU dealings, I wanted to take a step back from the western world and see what the rest of the world has to offer (before Trump sets of a nuclear bomb and destroys it). Because something tells me that while visiting rice fields in Vietnam, and Baobab trees in Madagascar, these things aren’t important to the people who live out there.

I had no idea where I was going to get the money from to go travelling, but it was raised to the top of the list in my four goals in five years and seemed like the most spontaneous thing to do, so I started planning.

Four months away, eight countries, three long haul flights and one rucksack. The earliest I could leave was mid-December, so I decided to go straight after Christmas.

I bought a huge map of the world and pinned it to my bedroom wall, as I moved in with my parents temporarily at the beginning of the year to get back on my feet, I hid it from them until I had a plan, I didn’t want anyone else’s dreams or ideas to interfere with mine.

Route planning was the hardest but the most fun of all. I threw a pin in every place in the world I wanted to visit, and plotted it with a piece of string to find the best route; looked for corresponding flights around the dates I wanted, had to trim off a couple of places because it was either too far out of the way or over budget and I went from there. I bought guide books and travel insurance, had my vaccinations and then told everyone what I was doing. Now all I have to do is wait for December 27 to come around and I’m off; leaving this dull bubble of work, train, eat, socialise, sleep, repeat behind–for a while at least.

There is even time and a budget to turn up at a major European airport and buy a ticket for which ever place my finger lands on first.

What makes our greatest athletes?

Photo by: Jaguar Mena_Flickr
Chris Froome became the first person to ride through the channel tunnel. Photo by: Jaguar Mena_Flickr

Where does the grit come from at the very beginning of an athletes career? The grit which is the very reason they have won a gold medal at the Olympics, became a world champion, and won the yellow jersey.

The same grit, that shoehorned them into the sport, to put their focus into something positive. Channel the energy into something constructive; causes blood, sweat, tears and shows where they have come from, and where they are going.

Teams at the Olympics are handpicked. With a vast amount of reasons for competing in their chosen sport. Many, because they were told they would never be good enough, they don’t have the mental capacity, their body is not the body of an Olympian, or they fear the very sport they compete in.

Continue reading “What makes our greatest athletes?”

Everything happens for a reason: what’s the reason?

Week five of having a broken foot.

I got in my car for the first time today in 33 days. Despite everybody telling me not to drive, I just wanted to see if it was painful or not, and to have some sort of grasp of ‘normal’ life before the injury. I only drove to the doctors to get my sick note…

But for that 15 minute drive I felt free, the way I did before the injury. Going about my business in the car as usual. I rely on my car so much and I appreciate having it because of course others do not have that luxury.

Continue reading “Everything happens for a reason: what’s the reason?”

Education cycle comes full circle

I write this on final submissions day: 18 May 2016. One of the most important days of the year. The day when officially my university friends and I begin the transition from students to graduates.

Graduation isn’t for two months and one day yet… but as from today there will be no more studying, essays, deadlines, or university work to do, just pure freedom and relaxation for a little while until the real world catches up with us.

It is a strange feeling, and it hasn’t yet hit me that 17 years of education is finally over. Pressing the “submit” button for the final time was an experience in itself, knowing that everything you have worked for in the last three years is summarised into one grade, one day of wearing a fancy cap and gown, and one certificate. THREE YEARS. And it took 14 years to get there, non-stop; always looking ahead towards the next thing. In primary school it was taking SATs in the summer to get ready for high school, high school it was taking GCSE’s to get into sixth form, and then the pressure was on in sixth form to get the grades for university. Always, always, always aiming towards the next thing, and now it is done, it’s all over, no more education.

I’m going to take the opportunity to recover from the stress of final year. It’s difficult to explain this kind of stress. There are many who say university is a walk in the park, think there is no hard work involved; it’s all about partying, drinking and sponging off the government. Anyone who has been to university understands the pressure that final year students are under, particularly now tuition fees have risen. There is the cost of living for starters, in my personal experience of living as a student, if I didn’t work alongside my degree I would have been homeless, because my loan was never enough to cover basic rent. Students now have to justify  the £40k worth of debt in one grade, and if you don’t achieve that grade then… well you have a lot of explaining to do for a start. Then there is the academic pressure, the deadlines, the procrastination, the countless hours sat in the library trying to inject knowledge from a text book into your head with an empty can of red bull at three in the morning. Then there are the dark times, every student goes through the motions at university, some feel the pressure more than others, and as I learned, that’s what personal tutors are for.

University is not just a learning experience it is an expensive life experience. Learning to move to a new city and find your way around, live with a load of strangers, and if you go when you are 18 fresh from sixth form or college, you start as a teenager and you leave as an adult! You learn some independence, you discover what stress is, you find out what the small hours in the morning are, and by trial and error you teach yourself never to make big decisions after 2am.

You also discover some amazing people who will stick with you for life, whether that’s just one person, or a whole group of them. You experience some funny alcoholic combinations, you lose your memory on multiple occasions and you do some pretty scary and daft things, all in three years. And at the end you find yourself, your experienced, knowledgeable, wiser, more educated self, and you will treasure those moments for the rest of your life, and sometimes wish you could go back and do it all over again because three years felt like three weeks and it all slipped by too fast.

The person who moved to Salford three years ago doesn’t exist any more. I feel like Niamh Lewis version II. I found some confidence, I learned how to date, network, meet new people, look after myself. I learned how to look after my finances, how to drink, (and how not to drink), how to work nearly full time alongside studying full time, how to write, and how to be a journalist. Now I leave three years later, older, wiser, stronger, more confident and mature, and with a greater sense of life experience and achievement. For the time being I’m going to enjoy the time off. Concentrate on enjoying the fresh air riding my bike, and running on the fells without following a training plan, or without worrying about studying. Just enjoying the freedom at the moment until it runs out.

At the moment I’m not entirely sure what I want to do next, maybe a Masters, maybe go travelling, maybe look for work in my appropriate field, or maybe take a gap year of just working and training and take some time off to decide. Who knows, and who cares?

Here’s to the future, and thank you for the past.

 

 

 

Need inspiration?

Sometimes, inspiration is closer than you think. When you have lost your mojo, finding it is difficult; but following someone else’s journey onto a path (literally) into a world of new terrain, can do just the trick.

Continue reading “Need inspiration?”

London’s big city atmosphere

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I’ve always said I could never live in London, with the chaotic and busy stereotype of the city at rush hour, the way everything is more expensive, and the fact that anything can happen, good or bad.

But that was all before I really experienced it.

I left my small, very northern city of Lancaster and travelled down, this being my first real time in London on my own. I was volunteering at the ITU world final and was excited to say the least.

Volunteering at events like this has become more popular since the games makers at the olympics. The amount of volunteers and people that give up their time and effort to help out events such as these are what makes the event be so successful.

London is such a beautiful city; certainly like no other. Its exactly how you imagine it and so much more. Walking around the embankment, Westminster, and Trafalgar Square at rush hour and seeing everything you expect. Getting caught up in the rush of people who don’t take in the beautiful sights they see everyday, and take for granted things like the underground.

The underground is when rural and urban come together. Its so much more than you expect. Seeing buskers in the tunnels that look like they come from Camden Town. The stripy paint throughout the tunnels to each platform. The red and blue underground logo and the huge advertisements printed all over the walls of the platform. And the very 1960’s/ 70’s retro tiles on almost every platform is what makes it so strange that although it looks like it needs a refurb or a bit of money spent on it, the underground is what brings everyone in London together. There is the hot-shot men in suits that do the commute everyday, there is the people who are at the other end of the spectrum getting around the city and everyone else in between. Its what makes London all the more extraordinary and like no other city. Seeing the buskers in the tunnels is like something from a film, and walking past them almost everyday made me smile. Getting an oyster card and reading the Metro and London Evening Standard almost everyday whilst on the tube is the norm, but only in London. To anyone in the UK who has never been to London, or perhaps lives in the north like me. Things like the underground are alien to us. To someone who has lived in London all their life its a normality and to have a whole network 402km long, on different levels underground is incredible. And incredible that it didn’t incur as many problems and attempts as the channel tunnel.

The strange thing about London and the Underground is the deadly silence on the tube with the occasional lingering sound of somebodys music playing too loud through their headphones, and the turning of newspaper pages.

Its peaceful, in a lonely sort of way. Its peaceful to watch other people when they are surrounded by only their thoughts in sea of completely silent people refusing to make eye contact with anybody. Its as if everybody is reflecting on the day they are about to have, or have had. It seems to be the only time people are really alone in their thoughts, without a phone stapled to their hand, deep underground when signal is rare.

But its also lonely to be in a city that is so densely populated, and is so busy that nobody has time to talk to you, and nobody would be inclined to talk to anybody new because; anything can happen in London.
And that’s what makes it so awe inspiring and such an interesting place to be. Wandering around the city at rush hour watching people, looking at the stunning views nobody else seems to take in, standing back and looking at the bigger picture is when lonely becomes peaceful and pleasant. And suddenly London becomes the most beautiful place in the world, and there certainly is nowhere else like it.

London might not be what you expect. But its so much more.