It’s the 17th of December 2022 as I start to write this, which means there’s only 2 weeks of 2022 left. Each year I end up penning a lengthy post sharing my takeaways from each year, and despite my new found tendency to question habits purely for habits’ sake, this is one that just feels plain wrong to stop.
The last 3 years have had wildly varying themes…
2019 was the year of my life. There was travelling (8 countries), women, immense calisthenics progress and endless moments that bring the most genuine smile to my face even now.
2020 hardly needs a summary but was essentially the temporary end to life as we knew it, and a test of just what we were willing to take in terms of freedom sacrifice. Despite all this, we made the best of that year and still did some incredible things irrespective of all the ‘restrictions’. Nevertheless though, just like you, my grandiose plans were woefully unrealised that year.
2021 saw the slow crawl back to normality (to some extent) in terms of freedoms being restored, but also saw the ending of some relationships along with the loss of loved ones. It was also the year of injury and seemingly endless uncertainty as to whether I should carry on, on the path I thought was right for me.
Hiccups aside, 2021 ended really well and only good things lay ahead as 2022 was looming on the horizon. I remember seeing the new year in, in much better spirits than a year previous.
Get cold, get uncomfortable, get into your body!
2022 was the year I finally did what I’d always fantasised about: switched from cold showers/home ‘ice baths’ (loose use of the term), to sea/open water swimming. And virtually as soon as the clock struck 2022 – we did the ever growing trend of a New Year’s Day sea swim. At the time I didn’t even know this was a tradition. I knew cold exposure was magic because, well, Whim Hof, right?
Jokes aside, I’d done cold showers for years – as far back as 2013 actually. But I loved the metaphor of the new year’s swim. It felt cleansing. It felt as though we were being baptised. Hippy-esque, I know, but doing something different that takes you out of your head and into your body, with your friends, is laying a whole new foundation in my eyes.
And you know what’s even better?
We kept doing it right that way until the end of winter.
Me and a select group were some of the 1-5% that actually did another swim, and another, and another…instead of saying ‘yeah, this is great, let’s do this regularly’, and not being seen again until next New year’s day, we did it week in, week out.
This brings us to an important takeaway: never underestimate the power of a good community, regardless of how versed you are or think you are with, or in, anything.
I’ve written many times on my adventures with cold exposure and even with my years in the game, the group dynamic I had with the sea swims made it a million times easier, no question.
Accountability, healthy competition, sharing powerful experiences and ultimately, doing something you didn’t want to, and often times didn’t think you even could. Sharing this with like-minded people is powerful and magical.
We did some brutal swims as winter 2022 really set in. 10 minutes in 6 degree sea water being a particular landmark in my mind. People ask why the fuck we do this? My answer has changed over the years. I do this to get out of my head and into my body. When you’re in cold water you’ve got no choice but to feel your body; it’s hard to think about all the nonsense of this rat race, high paced life we live.
‘Yeah but it’s only for 5-10 minutes and you’re back in your head again for the remaining 167 hours, 50 minutes of the week!’
You are initially but with time you begin to apply the same mindset in other areas of your life. Some bitch tries to mess you around by going hot and cold, you breathe in slow and feel your body, suddenly it doesn’t matter anymore. Some dickhead wants to drive 10-15 mph below the speed limit on a clear road for no reason, you breathe in slow and feel your body, now it’s not so infuriating…
Your thoughts are filled with someone you loved and lost, and you feel sad, lonely and a sense of emptiness, then you breathe and connect with your body, and that sense is shifted to gratitude for the good times, the good memories and the fact you’re still alive, healthy and have much to look forward to.
There’s an appreciation for the merciless of nature when you cold swim too. The weather doesn’t care if you’re cold, or don’t like wind. It rages on regardless. You feel freezing when you get out the water, but you don’t complain. Instead you can’t help but think of people who don’t have homes to live in, who have to sleep outside in these conditions, day in, day out.
You then think of your warm bed, hot dinners and insulated house and you can’t be anything other than thankful. The savage cold gives a whole new appreciation for what the masses take completely for granted.
Forcing yourself to do something your body and conscious/subconscious mind want to do the least, is a metaphor for all walks of life. You do that chore when it needs to be done. You attempt that tough set you’re not sure you can do. You confront the issue that needs to be confronted. Or you at least feel more compelled to. It’s not a magic pill but a gradual process that leaks into the bigger picture, if you’re patient enough.
(And I can proudly say we’ve restarted our winter swim adventures come the latter part of 2022 – from October onwards. Here’s to another 3 months of getting comfortable being uncomfortable).
High & Mighty Adventures
There were some epic mountain climbing adventures in 2022, as well. But I’ve got to admit, at the end of 2021 it seemed tough to know where to go next, having done the 3 Peaks successfully in August 2021. I didn’t know how I could top it.
Our very first trip certainly did though, at least in terms of audacity. We climbed Crib Goch – the infamous knife edge ridge – and the scene of many casualties over the years. This was our Easter getaway: a remote cottage with friends (one of which I’d not seen since 2019), lots of wild exploration, topped off with a successful pilgrimage of Crib Goch – and in 40 mph winds!
Originally a friend of mine who had done the route multiple times was set to be leading us. Although he had to drop out last minute, which meant none of us had done the route before. While this was no massive issue, it certainly made it harder. I was forced to do some research and take a leading role when we attacked the mighty ridge.
If you don’t know, the climb to the actual ridge of Crib Goch is largely down to interpretation; you can take many ‘paths’ to the ridge itself, most of which involve some pretty epic scrambling. Nevertheless, you have to plot your route as you go, almost. And the lads left this to me which was a completely different scenario to all my previous climbs, be it solo or with friends.
It’s always ‘go, go go, get to the top as fast as possible and really bust your balls in the process. Don’t worry about the others, the path is relatively straightforward and conditions are reasonable’.
This time though, we’d made a pact that the task was simply to survive and make it across. Nobody was going to go off out of sight and we’d tread carefully as a group. I actually really liked this leadership role and the sense of responsibility that came with it. It was good pressure. Healthy pressure. The kind that focuses you and makes you feel alive.
And again we see an example of finding comfort in the discomfort. The wind was 40 mph gusts that felt as though they wanted to push you off the ridge if you weren’t careful. Crib Goch is incredibly exposed, too. I’m not scared of heights but you can’t not see how far down the ‘ground’ is. No matter which was you look you’re reminded of how high up you are, how exposed you are, and how dangerous this has the potential to be.
It was utterly exhilarating from start to finish and my friend summed it best when he said ‘you know I’m going to kiss you if you’re right!’ in response to me saying ‘I think the official end is just over that crevice!’
Thankfully he didn’t.
The takeaway here is: don’t shy away from taking the lead. Be brave. Trust yourself more than you do. Don’t let things stop you so easily. Focus, move strategically, stay calm and embrace the adventure. You’ll be glad you did; anytime you’re challenged in the future, you’ll fall back on this. And if that’s not enough, you’ll have some epic photos, memories and stories to share with others and those you made them with originally.
Reclaiming & Surpassing Old Standards, Meeting New Like-Minded People
Even if you’ve never heard of me or seen my site before, there’s still a chance you might have heard of the injury I had in 2021. Yep, I’ve spoke about it that much.
See, 2022 started with me seriously considering changing professions altogether. I’d had enough of it. I couldn’t stand not being able to do what I once could and feeling like a has been at 29/30 years old. I know time waits for nobody but that’s just too young still, no?
I’ve heard it said that sometimes being around the very things you can’t currently do is the worst form of torture. And it would make sense. It’s like the side-lined football player forced to watch his team play every week. Or the injured circus performer forced to take a coaching role for the immediate future.
Often times it’s better to be completely away from it. Then you don’t have the emotional and psychological torsion of wanting to get back as soon as you can, to find out you’re still not ready, and the wonder of if/when you’ll ever be where you once were.
What kept me in the game was very very subtle signs of improvement. Patience is a virtue and I’ve always said I don’t care how long something takes, as long as I get there or move closer to it, even if it’s glacial progress.
I’ll spare the details and technicalities as they’ve been extensively covered in many other articles.
In a nutshell though: I noticed the ups were slightly more frequent and the downs were slightly less frequent. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still not 100% cured now. If I push my luck, I can re-trigger symptoms. BUT, the symptoms aren’t as bad, go away much quicker and most important of all, I know how to make them go away.
A problem is only a real problem when you don’t know how to fix it. Knowledge is POWER.
Not only did I stay in the job I’m still just as passionate as ever about, but I started working at more places and networked with lots more people. Starting coaching at CrossFit CM2 was a particular highlight as this is just a perfect box to coach calisthenics/gymnastics strength training.
I’ve learnt so much from being around Rob who owns it and his years of experience as a coach, competitor and business owner have rubbed off really well on me. What’s even cooler is my old friend Ollie from Norwich (who I used to co-host workshops with) now comes down once a month and we get together for a group session/play/share ideas/have fun/explore new concepts.
Even after all this time, I still go away from these sessions with ‘ah-ha’ moments!
I’ve also rekindled other friendships within the industry once again and I’m truly blessed to have so many good people to train with, bounce ideas off and share growth with.
The take-home message here is: so often you’re closer to the breakthrough you’re so desperate for, than you think. Usually your emotions (need for instant or quick gratification) cloud your judgement and you want to throw the towel in. Something working slowly is NOT something not working. Mini Hiccups don’t mean you’re not moving forward in the bigger picture/grand scheme of things.
And as we touched on with the sea swimming, the people you associate make or break you; a good group or outlet is paramount. They will get you thinking not only outside the box, but outside your box. All my experiences this year have forced my mind open far more than it had ever been for the last 3-5 years previous.
Maybe I don’t need to only train that way?
Maybe there is value in these different modalities?
Maybe it’s a good thing I’m so sh*t at this new thing I don’t even understand yet and my ego already hates?
You begin to realise how much you protect your own ego by always trying to do what you’re good at, by avoiding those who challenge your thought patterns, and by always wanting to be in control.
I Still Have A Dad
This summer my dad suffered a major heart attack seemingly from nowhere. What he thought was a weird illness that he couldn’t pinpoint, turned out to be a severe heart attack. For the first time in my life, I saw him forced to take a month off all work after spending a week in hospital.
When the news broke, I didn’t know the severity; nobody can really know. You don’t know if it could be fatal soon after or if it will be a turning point going forward, and one he’ll never look back from. All you can do in these moments is remain optimistic and convince yourself the worst won’t happen.
But there’s no guarantees at all. At one point it looked like the saddest story ever: man works his whole life below his worth, for his family, putting everyone else first at the cost of an easy and early retirement, to lose the mother he loved dearly the year before, to then vow to finally live the life he wants while he still can, to have it all taken away from him not even a year later.
See, my dad was complacent for too long. Not eating right, drinking too much, not moving enough, letting every year blend into the next despite many naggings from me over the years to buck his ideas up. This was a wakeup call and thankfully, he was spared.
There were things we’d planned to do later that summer that we’d never done before, only we wanted to now that we’d been forced to appreciate the preciousness of life, since my nan leaving us last year, and I didn’t know if we would even get there.
But we did, many times and we are so lucky. Nobody gets a say in this really. Some people have heart attacks and it wipes them out completely. Others have a minor one followed by a major one that ends up fatal. Not everyone is spared by the good lord and offered a chance to use this as a wake up call.
I’m not religious at all but I use the good lord line because really, we can’t put it down to who chooses these things. Why am I alive and the 10 year old boy died in a car crash? Fate? Luck? Destiny? Some other higher power?
We could debate forever but whatever the outcome, we can all agree the only thing to do is be grateful for being spared and the sparing of your loved ones. Even in the shit moments, be grateful. I do it now. It’s Christmas time and I’m not a fan of it at all, yet my mantra is ‘I have my dad still here at Christmas’. Whereas if you’d asked me if that was definitely going to be the case back in July when he had that heart attack, I’d have said it was a coin flip. I really would.
The lesson here is revealing the beauty of what seems dark and devoid of beauty. Almost everyone I know was saying how bad it was, yet I was saying it was a good thing because had it not happened, the complacency would have been rife. He would have carried on in the hamster wheel until he got hit later and the odds of that being fatal, would have been ten fold higher.
And now whenever he pisses me off or I get the hump from focusing/hyper-focusing on his flaws, faults or downfalls, I halt myself in my tracks and think back to the uncertainty of July, and I remember I could easily have no dad. Those sentiments outshine and overpower any negative thought, feeling or mood, always.
Last year I did the aforementioned Three Peaks that coincided nicely with my 30th birthday. This set the bar high and left me pondering what this year’s birthday occasion would/could be.
This is always the predicament when you do grandiose things: how do you top them? Isn’t the only way down from here?
Sometimes the answer is yes, which then forces you to find beauty in other ways, or to think outside the box because ultimately, who says X is better than Y? It’s always down to perspective. Doing the 3 Peaks is considered a big deal because it’s hyped up on social media and it’s very charitable. But ask any real mountaineers – like the guy who’s climbed all 282 munros – and I bet he would tell you more than a hundred of those munros are more challenging, more stunning and more enjoyable than the traditional 3 peak mountians.
I really enjoy scaling mountains and wanted to bag my own munros, which I did this year courtesy of collecting ‘Bideam Nam Bian’ and ‘Stob Coire Screamhach’ (don’t ask me to pronounce or translate them!). These mountains lie in the ‘Lost Valley’ of Glencoe – the area where the section of the A82 that runs through it is in the top 5 most scenic drives in all of the UK.
Annoyingly, we scaled 4 mountain tops in the horseshoe of the lost valley of Glencoe but according to the munro connoisseurs, only 2 count despite the other 2 being well above the minimum munro qualification height of 914 metres.
Anyhow, this was a great adventure filled with wild weather swings and STUNNING scenery. On the trip we tried to bag 2 more munros (Sgòrr Dhearg & Sgòrr Dhònuill – via the famous ‘Schoolhouse Ridge’) but we screwed it up and got lost! All part of the adventure, I guess? But it cost us 2 more munros and denied us some amazing views and what’s supposed to be a seriously fun climb.
This goes to show although spontaneity is great, you can’t wing everything. Some planning is always required. Especially with the rugged and unforgiving nature of these mighty mountains.
But regardless, the trip was a major success and just what was needed. It was a disconnect from the mundanity of always doing _______ on _______ day, and more importantly, a disconnect from overpopulation and being away from nature for too long. As they say, fresh air, trees and greenery nourish the soul.
The last few days of 2022 were spent overseas on the small Canary Island of Lanzarote. This was my first trip outside the gloomy and over-populated UK in over 3 years. Prior to this I’d never done a winter getaway, or a hot one at least so being somewhere tropical/sub-tropical in the weird phase between Christmas and New year was totally new.
But it was great. I noticed my cuts healed a million times quicker, my mood was lifted and my zest for life increased. Of course it would; beaches, sun, longer daylight hours and away from the rat race culture of the UK.
I’ve heard mixed opinions on this, with some people saying ‘it doesn’t feel like Christmas’ and they miss the tradition, to others saying once you do it you’ll never stop. So I was interested to weigh in on the topic and see where I’d stand. Although with my feelings towards Christmas and the time of year in general, I’d say I was pretty odds on to love being away and not want to come back…
And that was every bit the case. Lanzarote is a great little island with an amazingly consistent climate, albeit us Brits have kind of infested it nowadays, but I guess without us their economy wouldn’t be half as good?
I did some training in the grounds of the amazing villa I stayed at, climbed a mountain, did some underwater exploring and loads in between. It was an amazing way to wave goodbye to 2023, and a great way to restart my overseas travels again.
When I was younger I was plagued with regrets. Every year would go by and I had a list as long as my arm of all the things I thought (rightly or wrongly) I should have done, with precious little I was glad/grateful I had done. That’s no way to live and despite times being better in recent years, I never let myself forget what it’s like to be unhappy, ungrateful and ultimately, not doing what you want in life.
With that in mind, 2022 seems even better. How lucky I am to have done what I’ve done and had the experiences I had. 2023 already has a good feel about it, too.
Oh and how lucky I am to have had you reading all this and sharing my year with me. I hope you gained something from it and it inspires you to seek the beauty in your life wherever possible.
Happy new year to you, your friends & family, too!
The 'brains' behind StraightTalkingFitness, a site all about discovery that leads to strength in all formats; fitness, mental, emotional and spiritual. Everything starts from within and projects outwards. Master the body, master anything and everything.