Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Becoming a bandit!

Yeah, I can see myself as a bandit. Would I be the one with a white and black striped sweater with a mask and a bag saying 'Loot'? How about a 'Adam and the Ants' Dandy Highwayman'? Maybe a cowboy bandit with a stetson? Okay, it has to be the 'wild west' version because we all know, "Stetson's are cool! I wear a Stetson now!" ;)

My friend Jason from Barefoot Running University wrote an article about 'Banditing races'. For all those who are now wondering what becoming a criminal has to do with running races, let me explain; if you run a race without paying the entry fee, then you are a 'Race Bandit'.

It's frowned upon in most running circles, because Race Bandits take from the race, from the aid stations, getting in legitimate runners ways and in some circumstances may require first aid, taking away from those that are allowed to be there. They also may course trouble with race organisers because the may break licensing and/or invalidate insurance which is tied to the number of runners on the course.

However, the 'Bandit' Jason was describing wasn't attempting to take from the race, but give to it. They would start from the back of the field, help other runners, pick up litter, not take aid either from the water stations or medically. They also wouldn't cross the line. The would pull up just before the finish and just walk away.

A lot of people didn't understand why you would do this, when you could just volunteer, or even, enter the race and still do these things. I think the reason I could see the point behind 'volunteer banditing' was because I could see where Jason was coming from. It's all about personal validation and getting something back. Or in the case of Volunteer Banditing - Not.

I have been to many races and I appreciate the volunteers immensely. The race couldn't happen without them. However, when you look at the volunteers, what do you see?

You see those that generally want to help for nothing more than the shout out at the end and are able to post a picture of themselves on Facebook. You have the high-school kids who are helping out to gain extra credit for their CV or college application. You see other runners who will get a free entry for the next years race for volunteering. There are the friends or family of the race organisers, who are doing a favour. You have those that volunteer or work or the charity involved.

They are all admirable reasons, but they are still reasons. If you took all of those out of the equation, how many volunteers would you have that have just 'done it'. I wonder.

When you volunteer, you are placed in positions and you don't deviate. You have a specific role that is attached to you and you perform that role to hundreds or thousands of runners. You are a fleeting blur (although an appreciated one) in their race.

I think the point Jason was getting at, was that the 'Volunteer Bandits' would be the opposite of these principles. I likened the idea to the group 'Anoynomous'. Admittedly, some of the things this group does are frowned upon --but so is Banditing a race-- but there is a reason for their actions and they do it without recognition or benefit. They are attempting to change the way we act, the way we view our society and right social wrongs. They are there when you need them and then disappear. They chose who they help and when. You never know who they are, but they have tried to change circumstances, albeit in seemingly socially unacceptable ways.

This is how I see it. I have run races where I have run with no goal. I have tried to help other runners and tried to give more back instead of taking. However, at the end of the day I wasn't truly anonymous. I had a bib number; I could be traced. I ran the race and I received the cheers at the end. I took appreciation from the people I helped and I blogged about it, to the 'pats on the back' from my friends.

So in fairness, although I gave to the race with no intention of taking, I still received back more than I gave. I gained personal validation and appreciation.

If you bandit a race then you have NO number. If you don't finish the race, then you disappear without ever leaving a mark. I have to admit I have never bandited a race, but I am fairly sure you don't give your name to people on the course.You help but you are never traced. You don't blog about it, you don't post about it. As far as everyone is concerned you spent the morning in your PJ's, eating raisin toast and watching TV.

I like this idea. It challenges the concept that we should always 'get something in return' but in a way that challenges the idea that this can ONLY be done in acceptable ways. Sometimes we have to remember that to change the dynamics of society, we have to go outside of convention to do it.

I accept that this won't work in some cases. On an open course of a small race, then this idea would be easy. You usually have lots of other runners around, not related to the race and you can't prevent them from running the same route. On a closed course --especially if the race is large-- then this is harder. By banditing a race, you are invalidating the races insurances and permit - which are there for a reason. This then becomes taking away from the race - you are ensuring that next year the organisers won't be able to setup the race because they can't get insurance or permits again. At this point, if you want to be 'volunteer bandit', you may have to work within the rules a little. Register, enter the course, but don't wear your bib, or turn it around so the number isn't visable. Place the number on a shirt and cover it up with another one; something I have actually done. Follow the same principles: Enter at the back; don't run to win; help along the course; and then don't cross the line.

The idea is to challenge societies concept that you can only help if you gain something in return. You are challenging the notion that the good in society can only happen if its traceable and noted.

I know this idea seems stupid, infantile and probably unhelpful to most runners out there. People would say we are acting like six-year-olds. Yes, but  frankly that's me all over. However, we have to remember that if we want to change the world we sometimes have think outside of convention, and frankly when we think about it, how conventional is a  six-year-old?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Dusting off...

*cough*... testing, testing. Can you see me through all of the cobwebs? It's a bit Dusty in here.

When I left you last time, I literally left - Canada, that is. I last posted a few days before I left what I counted -and in some cases still do- my home and headed back to the home of my birth. I was a bundle of mixed emotions. All I can say is that although the location has changed, those colliding emotions are still apparent.

This post is hopefully going to be a cathartic release. I need that. I need to vent and rail against the last few months. I need to release the blinkered, 'let's get this job done'.

There are some times in your life you feel you are at war. You are on a constant stress level and every moment seems to be a case of a deep breath, gritting your teeth and mentally shouting 'Only X number of days', or 'This won't kill you'. You aren't living life, you are just dealing with the on-going onslaught of challenges. Every day sees at least five battles and ten mountains, all of them you have to deal without breaking. It's similar to running a trail Ultra every day, except I am sat on my arse eating chocolate and gaining more weight than a small elephant.

This move was like that. These last four months have been a constant battle in trying to settle.

We initially landed in the centre of Birmingham. A war-front in itself some would say. It's a bit of a culture shock going from one of the prettiest suburbs in one of the prettiest cities in Canada to what the party central of a post-industrial city. The first two weeks was spent ferrying a seven-year-old around a number of government offices trying to get our paperwork in order.  Forget jet-lag, we were house-hunting, sorting out mortgages and trying to buying cars on our first day in. The first weeks were only made bare-able with bribery, threats and apologies. Not our parenting finest hours I must admit.

After a couple of weeks, D and I kicked M off to work and we had some fun.  We discovered the expensive pleasure of trains to visit Castles and Museums.  We had breakfasts on Canal barges and tackled 'creepers' in the dungeons of castles.  M worked and we played ;)

We only had one month paid accommodation in Birmingham.  Our hope of getting our housing sorted pretty much failed as we found we had to jump through more hoops to buy a house than we expected.  We couldn't afford to keep up the apartment we were in, so we had to make the painful decision to split our family up. Something we had never done before. I was going to single-mum it. Having lived in those shoes for a while I now have a new respect for single-parents everywhere.

M stayed in a B&B in Derbyshire and D and I went to live with my in-laws for a while. At this point we had put in an offer for a house and it had been accepted. Our time in South Wales would be as long as the house sale took to go through - a couple of weeks surely? We had forgotten that the speed of the law is sometimes slower than an asthmatic snail who is just recovering from a cold. We had been told that our sale would go through before Christmas, but when a week before Christmas we were told the sale wouldn't happen until the middle of January, we had to pull our punches. We threatened to walk away from the house and after making some serious legal threats, the solicitor causing problems -not ours- picked up the speed and we had a house on the 20th December. Sometimes you have to play nasty to get people to take you seriously.

D and I's time in South Wales wasn't wasted though. When you live -albeit temporarily- in a country filled with history, it's only fair you visit it. ;) We brought wooden swords and shields.  We took our battle with the relocation and we moved it to a more appropriate setting. We battled Dragons and creepers. In the freezing temperatures we learnt about Knights and Kings. We learnt that power corrupts and total power corrupts totally. We discovered that not all Kings were nice and that in some cases they had to be disposed of in equally unfriendly ways. Edward II was killed (possibly at the authority of his wife Isabella) with a red-hot poker up the bum. As you can imagine his Grandmother wasn't too happy when we always brought up these topics during tea-time :) Hehehe

We spent Christmas with family, mainly because we had no white electrical goods in the house.  Seriously, how much washing can two guys make? Going two days without a washing machine produces a pile of clothing only rivalled by 'Dobby the Elf's wardrobe. (We've been going through a Harry Potter phase in this house).

So, now we are in our new house and we are fudging freezing. Why did we chose to buy a Victorian Villa during the coldest snap of the year? A week of snow and temperatures never making it above freezing. Sweaters are our newest fashion accessory. I have also worn slippers for the first time in about  ... well... ever. A barefoot runner having to resort to slippers is a bit of an awkward admission to make, but when your toes are blue you have very little choice. I thought I had left Canada, so why does my garden look like a scene from Winnipeg?

As we begin to unravel this house and it's quirks -none of the doors hang straight and the heating system has been put on back to front- life is beginning to settle. D is in school: We managed to get him into the Autism unit of one of the local schools. It should be interesting to see how that progresses. The paperwork trail has started. I have been inundated with forms and assessment schedules. We have to document this and record that. All the while trying to keep D off the 'Cross spot' as he tries to fit in a routine he has never been accustomed to. Again the Bribery aspect of my motherhood failure is rearing it's head. At least I know enough about behaviour management to call it 'Positive re-enforcement', which is a good thing. That's my get-out-clause and I am sticking to it!

The settling of life has made me face up to a few facts I have been using the move to avoid. Sometimes when you feel a certain way it's easier to blame your situation than admit the problem and fix it.  I have used the move as the reason I have let a few things slip. My work at BRS, my blog and my running have all suffered. I know people would turn around and remind me I have an excuse for not keeping on top of this. The truth is, I don't need that. I need a kick up the arse. The reason I have not done the things I have enjoyed is because I am wallowing in my own depression. I have not accepted my situation and taken ownership of it. I found it easier to say, 'I don't want to run/blog/help at BRS, because I moved and I didn't want to'. Yes, I had to move from a country I loved, but it was a decision I made. I did have options and I -with my family- chose this one. Yes, it sucks, but in the scheme of things it was the best decision at the time.

I accept that it is going to take me a while to settle. It will be a while to make connections -to build relationships. In that interim, I will be lonely and a little stir-crazy. I will be stuck in a cold house with packing boxes everywhere. Not my ideal scenario, but it isn't forever. However, it will never improve unless I make an effort to make it better.

Okay, this isn't a cheery post to write, but it's one I needed. I now know why I should blog. It's a way to get this crap off my shoulders. It's a way to put down everything that's happened and to let it go. It's a way to remind myself that the being happy is something you make, not something that is given you. If I don't work at getting my 'smiley' back then 'pats-on-the-back' and commiserations will not do it for me.

Thanks for that. Thanks for listening to me Internet. Now I just need to STFU and get on with my new life.

[Also as a note, I have stopped using double-spacing after the period/full-stop. After much discussion on FaceBook -which we know is the source of all knowledge, (after Google and Wiki)- that double-spacing was replaced by single-spacing in the 1990's and is a typographical no-no. It also pisses off some of my Graphic Designer friends. We wouldn't want to do that Krista and Trisha, now would we? Krista you know I < 3 you! ]

Just as I finished this post, this came on the radio. I think the universe is trying to tell me something, and it's not 'get off your arse and go to the store to pick up chicken', although I do need to do that too.

The Verve - Lucky Man