Why do we always strive for more?

Have you ever wondered why we are always looking for more in this sport of OCR?

Whether it be new obstacles, longer distances, new environments to race in, more goodies at the end of a race, we always seem to be asking for more of the experience we invest in.

There often seems to be an underlying drive to increase the level of what we do or receive from our efforts.

So where does this come from?

Jaak Panskepp, an Estonian neuroscientist and psychobiologist, argues that there are seven core instincts in the human brain – anger, fear, panic-grief, pleasure/lust, play, maternal care and seeking – with seeking being the most important. He proposes that all mammals have this seeking system, which is closely bound to the dopamine neurotransmitter that controls the brain’s reward and pleasure centre, as well as movement.

Therefore, when we pursue an activity for the first time, or have a new experience in an already familiar arena, dopamine is released…we enjoy the feeling…and subsequently we want more.

However, with familiarity comes a lowering in the level of dopamine released. As we repeat an experience, our brains recognise and react to a lot less information as to what is going on in that moment, so our dopamine response is not triggered to the same extent.

But, knowing that achieving something gives a great feeling is our bodies way of saying that it  craves that dopamine response, and the sensations of reward and positive emotion that come with it. So, to get more of that sensation, we make the challenge harder for ourselves, or seek more reward.

A simple way to demonstrate this is the response we observe in children when they get a new toy. Elation, smiles, raised energy levels. But over time, that toy doesn’t trigger quite the same response as it did at first, until eventually there is a request/plea/tantrum for another new toy.

So what’s this got to do with the price of bacon, or more importantly if you’re reading OMR, us as athletes?

Simply, know that this is going on inside. You can’t do much about it, and why should you.

The drive to achieve more and experience the sensation of reward that comes with it is healthy. It’s never going to stop because your brain subconsciously wants more of it.

If it’s a new sporting challenge, a new level of difficulty, a faster time that requires more effort to achieve, or a complete change in trajectory to learn a new skill or capability. As long as you are pursuing something, you are satisfying a part of you that is curious, enlightening and ultimately rewarding in a variety of ways.



Credit: rawpixel.com via unsplash

Is it better to try and fail than not try at all?

There’s a quandary becoming more apparent amongst many in the OCR community, one that might be ringing true for you right now…is it better to try and fail than not try at all?

On the one hand you’ve got those who are all for the challenge, whatever the outcome. They seek the enjoyment of being with the community that provides a relaxing escape from the every day hustle and bustle. They relish the chance to penetrate two-inch think ice at Winter Nuts lap after lap because it puts them into their unknown, and although they might not make it to the race finish line, or over the obstacle in front of them, they get to a place where they learn something about themselves that they can take back into that hustle and bustle.

On the flipside, you’ve got those who feel they’ve pushed their limit to their max, and are quite content with the position they have gotten too. They race happily, pursuing that bling but get to an obstacle on the way that might require a little extra effort, and make the decision to bypass that carry, climb or crawl.

The fact of the matter is OCRs are tough. They’re not just a run, which in itself can be tough enough. OCRs require training – in the gym, on the road, through the mud. They involve moving weight, under weight, over and over again to condition oneself to be able to handle what an RD decides to throw at racers.

All this conditioning often requires several psychological compromises along the journey to be in the best possible place to take on the challenge thrown at us.

A decision to sacrifice an extra hour in bed to get through an early set of hill repeats, or to decline a glass of pinot on a night out because there’s a killer session happening the next day are our brains way of telling us to sacrifice in pursuit of our goals and dreams.

However, there comes a day when those goals become a reality. That decision many moons ago to pursue a challenge like an OCR to get yourself off the sofa, embracing fitness for both your physical and psychological health, finally pay off when you complete all the obstacles and cross that finish line.

And on that day, there’s an acceptance of all those sacrifices, and your brain starts to say it’s ok to have that glass of wine, snooze that alarm, and you start to skip an obstacle here and there because you’ll still get the medal at the end.

At this moment you may be thinking it’s the RD’s fault that the rules and enforcement of those rules let me get away with, but lets operate with integrity and focus on our own actions, rather than those of others.

In truth, the decision to take something on or not is your brains way of finding balance – seeking parity and protection from the compromises you make that put you under stress, where you triggered your fight or flight response and start choosing to fly from the perceived pain, rather than fight through it.

So, what can you do about it?

Well, there are a few things you might want to consider.

One is to ask yourself if you have honestly, truthfully and with a critical eye on stretching yourself, evolved your Why for taking part or competing in OCRs. This redefining of your purpose, and consequently your goals that align towards that, can reinvigorate that drive to pursue the person you now want to be.

Another is to consider the ripple effect you would like to leave on the world around you as you face that fight or flight decision.

And finally, instead of the decision being around to try and fail or fail to try, reframe the proposition to one of learn and grow, or grow and learn, and see what perspective you gain about yourself as a result.


Ispire | Motivational Coaching Photo credit : Jason Rosewell

We all need an ear sometimes


Generally we have two of them, we are advised growing up to use them more than the one mouth we have, and they’re often the first things we look to cover up when Jack Frost comes to town.

But just how useful are our ears, and the space between them?

The ear is the avenue to the heart

The importance of ears came to mind this week when appreciating recent achievements, defining news ones to pursue, and genuinely feeling a little bit unfocused.

I’d just broken into new ground in terms of distance I could cover in one continuous training session – an important milestone ahead of the inaugural Spartan Ultra World Championships taking place in Iceland in a few weeks time – and I felt a little directionless.

Yes, the achievement was substantial to me, being twice as far as I’d previously ran. Yes I’d had the support of some amazing friends and family to get through it, and it showed that preparation really does increase the chances of success.

However, in the days after, I felt a little lost, with no clear plan on what to do between this moment and the race itself.

It was then I reached out to my trusted athletic brothers, a team of elite competitors who understand the balance of life, work and training effort, for some guiding words.

Their words ranged from factual assessments of what maybe causing my current state, through humourous jibes with a genuinely positive intent behind them, to supportive words to reframe the challenge positively – each in its own unique way enabling me to move to a different state, get through my mental block and wake up raring to go the next day.

So why were their ears so important at that moment?

It is not the voice that commands the story; it is the ear

The trust was there for me to feel like I could bring my whole self to the conversation – my thoughts, feelings and emotions, without fear of judgment.

The ears of those guys were pointed with the intent of listening and supporting my needs in this moment, not their own.

The environment in which we spoke supported the level of privacy I needed.

And the timing of their responses worked in a timeframe that worked to support me.

These moments arise for many of the Millennial talent whom I coach, where a particular challenge has been achieved or a trusted sounding board is needed to explore something that matters to them at a deep level.

It is experiences like my own and the reflection upon them that allow me to appreciate what those people might need, and work to understand those needs so that they get the support they need.

So next time you’re faced with a friend, colleague or confident who is looking for support, or who usually support you, remember we all need an ear sometimes, and being wholly present for them could be all the difference they need.


Ispire Motivational Coaching | How does social media impact your ability to perform?

The impact of social media on performance

When was the last time you sat and considered the impact social media has on your ability to perform?

It may be something you’ve never thought about. It may be something that occupies every 3rd thought you have in a day.

With the tools to connect with friends, family and potentially the entire world at your finger tips, what impact do the likes of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Strava, Messenger, Whatsapp and alike have on our ability to be fully present in the moment where we need to step up and shine like a star?

What performance are we talking about?

Whatever performance you are thinking about right at this moment.

It could the performance you give when asked to present to management. It could be how you perform in the race that got you off the sofa, into the gym and now you’re faced with a 5km road or obstacle race. Or it could even be that big project you’ve been handed and you want to do well in.

Performance in this context, is about how you go about doing something which you have a vested interest in achieving, and to a standard you have an emotional attachment to attaining.

Like most things in life, start with the ‘why’

The motives for engaging in social media are often unique and complex.

The decisions to post a picture of one’s workout, the environment you are currently in, the experience you’ve just had or the memory you wish to share can take minutes to make, and potentially leave an impression for a lifetime (depending on the state of those who see it).

But why might someone have taken the decision to post that image, video or wording, and the narrative that accompanies it?

Are they looking for support? Are they looking to share their self-perceived success? Are they after sympathy?

A study by the New York Times Consumer Insight Group found 5 reasons why people share on social media:

  • Self-fulfilment
  • Supporting a cause
  • Relationships
  • Self-expression
  • Entertainment

This gives rise to a mix of the origins people are posting from, intending to give some insight into the world in which they live, how they live in it and what reaction they have had to it.

Simply put, sharing often feels good to the person sharing it, giving them a boost from the knowledge they’ve shared with those they care receive that message, and the number and types of reactions to it.

What happens when these tables turn

It’s from here that the impact on performance can begin to be felt.

The point when sharing moves from being a ‘want to do’ exercise to a ‘need to do’ exercise can start to increase the pressure on the publisher to find interesting things to post about. Pressure to live up to an expectation, whether set by yourself or others, has long been a catalyst for limiting performance without the appropriate balance and objectivity.

There is also the impact when sitting in the recipient’s point of view.

In the first instance, there’s the emotional response felt to seeing the post. Some posts inspire, some challenge, some antagonise and agitate, some excite, some deflate. All entirely human reactions to the context created from the post that was seen.

Over time, that initial reaction can foster seeking out of others with a similar point of view, challenge back to those who originally posted the content, or inspiration to set your own bar for performance as high if not higher than that in the original post – reactions that will increase performance in some, and decrease performance in others.

Without taking action, these feelings can grow and grow, establishing belief patterns that can ultimately hold you back from you realising who you want to be or what you want to achieve.

What to do…what to do…

From a recipient’s perspective, being aware of your own emotional response is the first step to helping yourself reduce the impact social media can have on your ability to perform.

Taking a moment to ask yourself ‘how was reading this made feel?’ or ‘what action am I thinking of taking from seeing this?’ can lead you to engage with your response, and make a conscious decision to take a different course of action…to digest, disregard, or positive direction from what you have seen.

Remembering that unless explicitly discussed, you are working to an assumption of the true intent of the message being shared by the sender, can also help to contextualise that message so that it doesn’t impact you negatively.

From a sender’s perspective, taking the time to consider the impact intended versus the impact likely to be felt can ensure a post that was designed to inspire does exactly that. Alternatively, a post that has it’s origins in a cry for help can be treated as such by the recipients, who’s heartfelt support to help the sender can be felt in response.

And if your intent is to engage others, the STAR model (Storytelling, Triggers, Amusement, Reaction) proposed by Tiago et al (2016) may be worth remembering in articulating the origins and positioning of your post. That way, when you share your success, you can do it in a way that engages others in your moment, rather than push them away.



The steam engine slows to a halt if there’s no coal in the fire

Two weeks after my Agoge DNS and I’m back at the beginning of another Spartan Endurance event – the HH12HR – an event designed to test every facet of your mental, intellectual and physical abilities through the use of mental challenges, non-linear problem solving, morality, as well as teamwork and individual performance under physical duress.

No easy task after the relative disappointment of two weeks before. I’d deliberately let my training be light between the two weeks, partly trusting the conditioning work of the previous few months leading to these events, and partly not feeling up for the challenge.

Some swift words and exploratory conversations with people I trust helped me to define my mantra for this event – “I am strong. I am capable. This is for me”, and I went in focused.

As we began at 6.00pm, these words started to play as we began the PT, containing firemans carries, bear crawls, casualty drags, backwards bear crawls, hill repeats, over and over again for nearly 3 hours.

People started to drop out, leaving their self-made tombstones as a marker of the time they drew a line in the sand for their event.

Packs on (~13kg for men, ~9kg for women), we set off for the first teamworking challenge – relocate 60-80 haybales one mile from their current home to begin making the monument in the middle of the festival area.

Oliver suggests we move the bales in distance shifts, covering 20% of the distance each time with all bales, before starting the next block. Slowly but surely we get everything back.

Next up more PT, mental challenges, punishment for failing the challenges, before our first individual time hack to a rope climb. Miss the deadline, time to mark your tombstone.

Making that time hack comfortably, on to 200+ burpees and the ‘stories’ of the Krypteia, how they like this bit to get a rest, make a bet of a meal on someone to quit, etcetera etcetera.

Next up, the first heavy challenge. 3 telegraph poles. First movement with it, then move it under 50 metres of uphill barbed wire crawl, then PT with the log. Teamwork and communication skills being developed, tested and honed by the group, with the call to move the log being excellently lead by one of the ladies in the team.

After that, time to rehome those logs on top of the monument…nearly 2 miles away! A herculean team effort keeps each log moving, switching, rotating positions to keep arms fresh as possible and spirits up as best as possible.

It’s approximately 4.00am, we’re given a 10 minute break before the next individual time hack – visit the cinder block pull 1-mile away, return with one block, 25 minute time. Miss the time = tombstone time.

Losing nearly half of the group, 26 are left to take on the final block of challenges. And with a good 20 minute break, there’s time to catch some breath and gather thoughts.

First, complete the ninja rings with the packs on. Fail. 30 burpees to the total. Double or quits on the last man, and after a sterling effort, we owe the Krypteia 600 burpees.

Second, as a group, move 8 truck and tractor tyres of various sizes a mile, then send 150 car tyres around the loop (including 20% gradient incline and decline).

Finally, a ‘lifeline’. If we agree to do one hydro-burpee each in the river, only 3 tractor tyres and 4 logs need to return to the monument one mile away, without putting anything down.

The 26 battle through, get the job done, and begin the final challenge – burpees…600 burpees.

First 100 with the pack on, then onwards without the weight of the pack, but the mental weight of the challenge and the nearing pot of gold weighs so much heavier.

150 in and my body starts to feel broken. Form is going, and the Krypteia are noticing…160…this is getting difficult…170…I’m wobbling…where can I get support…there’s no-one near me…180…this is getting ridiculous…190…what am I going to do…

And then, in one swift moment, I decide now is my time. I bend down, pick up my bag and tombstone, and draw my line. I can’t pick up my body any more. I’m broken. Physically and mentally in almost every way possible.

Little did the remaining 24 or I know they would have to finish all 600 before burning their tombstones, and crossing the finish line. But for those 24, the sensation was no doubt incredible.

Upon reflection…

It’s never easy missing a goal or target you set yourself. The feeling wretches at first, then comes the frustration, then comes the reflection, then comes the disappointment, then the learning.

After the events in Skye two weeks prior, I’d set out to prove to myself “I am strong. I am capable. This is for me”, and for 95% of the challenges laid before us, I managed this.

However, this is a tier 1 Spartan event. The crème de la crème of what Spartan have to offer. In my experience, high difficulty events require everything to be in place to achieve the successful outcome.

Physical training has to be tailored to the needs of the event. For this, strength in both ability to lift weight as well as have a strong engine to retain movement are key.

Mentally, it’s about being prepared to manage oneself, one’s energy levels, but crucially recognise that the tasks can’t all be completed individually, and the ability to collaborate, communication and conjugate together in order to efficiently and effectively complete the tasks at hand.

But, this is where I slipped up. I didn’t use the down time after the second time hack effectively. I rested, which yes I needed. However, I didn’t use the time to acknowledge the position I’d reached, and refocus on my goals for the remainder of the event.

I also didn’t feel hungry, so I didn’t eat. In previous endurance events, a sound nutritional plan was key, providing fuel to keep on going. Not eating meant I was running on empty. In short, I’d bonked, I’d hit the wall.

I loved the event. I loved the challenge. I loved the team I was part of. I also loved the acute reminder that in order to succeed in endurance, it’s about the preparation, it’s about the self-awareness, and it’s about retaining the focus on yourself and your condition throughout, no matter the circumstance.



I DNS’d the Agoge and loved it


It’s midnight last Thursday into Friday. I’m lying in my Airbnb, pulse racing from the adrenaline supercharged from the events of the last 24 hours, and the unknown that lied ahead.

The day of travel to the Isle of Skye, Scotland, had finally arrived. With months of training, planning, speculating and connecting with my fellow participants behind me, I set out to Luton airport unsure of what lied ahead.

Tension built throughout the journey. Taxi delays for my travelling companion Marc T, flight delays for unknown reasons from Easyjet and sheep in the road meaning, Mari and Martin W, Marc and I were feeling the pressure to get to the 1700 briefing on time. No show at the briefing meant no participation in the event after all.

#43 was my number perscribed to me on the way into the briefing, where we learnt about the requirements for survival on Skye, were given 10 tartans to remember, and finally, the first pressure point of the whole event – you have 30 minutes to finalise preparation for the test of key skills we had been asked to come ready with; navigate using map and compass, ensure your kit is fully waterproof, tie 4 knots. One chance at each test. Fail and you cannot start the event. No exceptions.

In between a set of 300 burpees, where the dynamics of this group of 81 started to come to the fore, we were called up one by one to navigate.

I passed by the skin of my teeth (read my compass bearing upside down at first).

67…159…284…the burpee count kept on rising.

Next up, the water test. 10 minutes, bags fully submerged in a noticeably cold estuary, no talking. Kit comes out wet, game over. Fortunately, my essential kit stayed dry (we shalln’t mention my spare glasses case or zip lock with first aid kit in).

Finally, with my heart pounding, the knot test. Alpine butterfly…passed. Clove hitch…clove hitch…clove hitch!!! A knot I’ve practiced for 2 months every day…and my mind goes blank when asked to tie a clove hitch onto a caribiner. As Krypteia pulls the rope, I can see the ‘knot’ untangling uncomfortably, and in the 2 seconds that felt like a lifetime, my Agoge dream was apparently over.

Months of planning, a high level of investment in time and money, and in that moment all of it had seemingly gone.

Emotions across the group were riding high. Now-lifelong friends who’ve passed are rocked, those friends who haven’t clueless as to what lies ahead.

Then, Joe De Sena, Spartan CEO, offers us something. Having accepted our fate, the fate that we would not be part of the Agoge, would we step out at 4.00am on an unknown journey with the legendary Johnny Waite, and see what the future holds?

So I’m lying in my bed, I’ve spoken to my wife (who’s words and encouragement drove me on) and my mum (men still need a virtual hug sometimes) faced with a 3.15am alarm call and the unknown that lies ahead.

The Unknown

The next two-and-a-half days were incredible, and I can only try to put into words an experience I could never have invested enough in to get so much out of.

One goal – arrive at the Talisker distillery to see the Agoge’s finish. One direction from Johnny – you guys and girls are in charge. You set our destiny.

21 started this unknown path, in the pouring rain, equipped only with the packs and the equipment we had on us. After the first hike along part of the Skye trail, we were 8…the 8 who for their own reasons, became fixed on getting to that finish line.

What followed were adventures across the island, into ourselves and our dynamic as a team.

Day 1 included a 2.5 hour hike down what we thought was the right path. Upon reaching fast-flowing rivers and no clear trail, we turned around, unflustered and set on a hearty meal at a local pub. A night on the side of river, wrapped in sleeping bags, bivvys and a tarpaulin between two bridges and cascading waterfalls was never on the cards at 4.00am that day.

Day 2 and we set our sights on the Faery Pools. 1.5 hours up the ‘right’ path, only to find we 2km off course. The choice to disconnect or connect was an easy one for Team Anoge, we pulled together, assessed the options, and using our collective skills plotted a course safely to the path we needed to be on.

A dunk in the Faery Pools, more belly laughs than is humanly possible in a weekend, a collective underwear-drying session on the side of busy Skye road later, and we set out to find camp for a night, just outside of the distillery.

Target one, a forest. Arrive. No-go. A bog. Midges. Onto plan B. Alex scales a peak…”awesome guys…get up here”. A flat, round, dry base that was once the lookout tower for the estuary was the perfect home to build fire, set shelter, and continue the bonding that had taken place over the last 2 days.

The Learning

Upon arriving at the finish line to see those that had survived the grueling Agoge itself, we were seen as epitomising the values the Agoge looks to instill as much as them.

The Agoge is one of the toughest challenges on this planet. You are broken down, you are faced with adversity, you are faced with the goal posts constantly being moved, and somehow, you have to find a way to stay focused on your goal.

My goal for the whole event had been to test myself under the most extreme of challenges. To open me up to what I fear, and to see if I could remain strong, remain focused, and crucially learn.

I had focused my whole year on this event, and with my apparent failure I was faced with the choice of stepping into the unknown.

Without that moment, I would not have been placed into a situation where I and others would have to work with what we had in the moment. I would not have been given time to learn about others, to learn to trust others with who I am, and to build bonds that will last a lifetime.

For this, I will always be grateful.