One step beyond

Circadian rhythms, seasonal affective disorder – call it what you will. But after more than 20 years teaching in higher education, September always feels like the real new year for me. And this New Year is starting like no other. On Saturday (September 14) I run my first ultra-marathon.

London Marathon 2013 and my brush with Clodhopper Kate – the name I have semi-affectionately given to my mis-directional foe (see previous post) – was merely the warm-up to achieving my long-held ambition. So the start of the new academic year’s going to herald fresh in-built confidence in me that I can overcome any obstacles and turn any glitch into an opportunity.

And this seems a good message to instil in new and returning journalism students in two weeks’ time. To find success, you have to work on two levels – your inner and outer worlds.

I have learnt a lot from the sports people I encounter as a runner and Crossfitter and amongst colleagues and especially students at Brunel University.  One of my graduating MA Journalism students is a middle-distance runner in his spare time, and has also cycled hundreds of miles back and forth in his quest for a career in sports reporting. His focus is incredible. He didn’t have a humanities degree so the shift to major skills and knowledge development was an immense shift. But he stayed resolutely calm and determined with his eye on his goal, spending hours honing his shorthand, news and feature writing and video skills while gaining expert knowledge in law, theory, ethics and public affairs. Sure enough, by May he had sports bylines across a raft of local and regional newspapers. He also excelled at sport alongside.

As well as unswerving focus – I’d say at least 50% of your success is dependent on a positive mental attitude – it also takes energy. If you really want to make it in journalism then you have to put the hours in and go beyond the basic day to day requirements of the degree or MA. Networking, blogging, finding your own stories and pitching. It’s all about going beyond

I take a lot of inspiration from interviews with runners – including the world’s fastest sprinter Usain Bolt who trains and inspires at Brunel frequently. What makes a true champion is keeping going when every fibre of your body and brain is telling you to stop. When it gets hard – KEEP GOING – as it is in those moments, however short or slow, that major gains are made.

if you’ve ever run 26.2 miles, you’ll know that from 19, 20 onwards you go into battle with your body and brain to get to the end. Sensibly, your brain is telling you your body is under too much stress and needs to stop. So you learn techniques for over-riding that, in my case thinking about how I will celebrate at the end, and the sense of achievement I will feel at running a whopping  32 miles and raising loads for the NSPCC.

If you are a journalism student struggling with the rigours of daily Teeline practice, learning law by rote, mastering nifty 20-word news breaks, then just imagine your future self doing your dream job. How to you feel? Do you want to cast that dream aside for the sake of a few more minutes in bed?

I am going to start the new academic year by helping students work on that inner resolve, their self-confidence and their daily training plans for success. Because writing this just four days before I run that ultra marathon I have no doubt whatsoever in my ability to reach my target because I have trained my brain and body meticulously. And now I want my students to feel the same way about their goals.


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