Week 6 Techniques to achieve your goal & stories from the Sahara

Once we’ve committed to a goal, be it taking part in a marathon, or anything else, we naturally want to achieve it. So how can we maximise the likelihood of achieving said goal?

Whilst we’re familiar with techniques such as Visualisation and Meditation, I came across a different relaxation technique some years ago. Originally known as Pulse-mediated Relaxation (PMR), I have used it for both myself and patients who wish to have a straightforward and effective relaxation technique which is easily implemented. It uses the radial pulse in conjunction with the rhythm of breathing, to bring about relaxation quickly and effectively.

Research into this technique in recent years, including blind studies, have demonstrated it’s effectiveness on a physiological level, by removing lactic acid from muscles post-exercise, at a rate which is statistically significantly faster than the control group. This has enabled athletes to recover more quickly from exercise, and thus be more effective in their training schedule. Renamed the RBC technique — the Re-Booting Cognition technique, it has proved effective for many athletes, including Olympians. To discover more about the science behind the technique, check out the website www.rbctechnique.co.uk. In addition, there are demonstration videos by Dr Pabbathi and a book — ‘Winning Begins Through Recovery’ — available in hard copy or as an e-book. The technique was developed by Dr Vijay Pabbathi and has auspicious foundations . Originally trained as a vet, his background includes research physiology (where he gained his PhD at Bristol University) and for more than a decade he has been a senior University lecturer in Anatomy and Physiology. One aspect of the RBC technique that appeals to me is the speed with which one can achieve results — between 3–7 minutes for those well practiced. Whilst I appreciate the benefits of traditional meditation, it is not always possible to find the necessary time in today’s hectic lifestyle, to make this time for oneself. As such, when we find ourselves juggling one too many balls, something has to give. For me, this is often time to invest in myself. To balance the needs of the mind, body and spirit, as well as one’s work and home demands, children, spouse, wider family. Enjoy the exploration !

When I entered myself into the Marathon des Sables, no English woman had ever taken part in this self-sufficient foot race across the Sahara Desert. It was a little know ultra-marathon in the Moroccan part of the Sahara with fewer than two hundred participants from across the world that year. I had never done a marathon, half-marathon or 5K before — I wasn’t even a jogger. But I loved walking and I could walk fast and for hours. That, and the unshakable belief that my brother had in me, without which, I most certainly would not have entered what seemed like a madcap idea. My brother, by way of contrast, was very fit and spent weekends in army training camps — he was in the Terratorials. His activity and fitness levels were in sharp contract to mine. I took comfort in the knowledge that he would be doing the ultra-marathon with me. Little did I know that once in the desert, it was each man for themselves. The extreme heat, the physical exertion, navigating a featureless landscape and heavy backpacks meant that the most efficient and energy conserving way to tackle the marathon, was to go at one’s own pace — no quicker, no slower. I learnt quickly what others surely already knew — that to go at a pace slower than one’s own natural rhythm was energy-sapping and unsustainable, so I mentally said goodbye to my brother as he sped off into the Sahara, leaving me somewhat bereft. Having zero experience of foot races, I was blissfully unaware of this before I started. Naivety can sometimes be useful.

No time for self-pity. I was in the Sahara desert, the temperature was steadily rising from a balmy warm on waking, to a menacing heat as competitors made their final preparations for the start of a 245km race across one of the hottest places on Earth. So, at the sound of the first foghorn, I watched as most of the competitors, including my brother, raced off into the distance, in a flurry of sand. As it transpired and to my eternal gratitude, I found others who had a similar pace to my own and spent many hours and days with a cheerful girl called Charlie — a police officer back home. During the 50km stage which was in the middle of the week, we found company in a couple of medics, one of whom rather bizarrely, was sporting what looked like a full sheepskin rug on his back. To say that it seemed superfluous to requirement in a desert seemed like an understatement. Given that we had to carry everything we needed to survive for a week in the Sahara desert (including a snakebite pump) carrying a full sheepskin seemed like one very big and very bulky luxury too far. The idea was that the sheepskin would prevent chaffing of the heavy rucksack on his shoulders during the endless hours and days in the desert. Whilst it may have offered some additional comfort, I think the main benefit would have been at night, putting one’s sleeping bag on the desert floor, to shield against the stony ground, or add an additional layer of warmth during the very cold desert nights. So, maybe he had the last laugh after all.

It is interesting for me to note that, years later, and with the benefit of hindsight, the defining premise on which I entered this extreme ultramarathon was my brother’s solid belief that I could complete it successfully. Most others, including myself at the time, thought it was a folly, and a potentially dangerous one at that, to entertain spending the best part of a week in a desert, with no previous experience of running — and never having been to a desert before. It was the time before mobile phones, so there was very little in terms of safety nets, should help be required. The organisers did issue us with flares — fairly perfunctory should a real need arise — which happened on several occasions alone, that I witnessed.

Having only ever lived in a temperate climate such as the UK, and being a Londoner to boot, it was to be a baptism of fire.

In the intervening years, I have been fascinated by the raw, spectacular beauty of deserts and the feelings which they conjure up — isolation, peace, endless expansion, the fragility of one’s own life — all the superlatives one hears about such places, don’t come close to the feel of being there, on one’s own, in the silence, at the mercy of the environment. It was to be one of the greatest adventures of my life.

Next week: You Really Are What You Eat

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