“The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, the next best time to plant a tree is today”
In roughly four years time I will be qualified to do the job I’ve been doing for the last 20+ years.
Yes, at the grand-old age of 41 I am just about to embark on a BSc (honours) undergraduate degree in Computing and IT. I’ll be doing this through the Open University and will focus my learning on web development modules. At this stage I’m planning on doing the following modules:
It is strangely daunting and exciting at the same time. In the 20+ years since I’ve left school and college I like to think that I’ve continued to learn and develop. I’ve done several professional certifications and progressed to a technical job in which I am more or less happy. Year-on-year I select a work-related reading list and actually enjoy working my way through it. However, this will be a different challenge and yet one that I believe (hope) will suit me.
In the last few years I’ve taken up long distance running, in particular marathons. This has helped me to discover a number of things about myself. One thing in particular is how to set a large goal and then break it down into smaller specific components to actually achieve it. I like the process of defining a training plan and feeling the sense of achievement when I have the discipline to stick to it.
The degree course gives me this opportunity. It is a large goal but it is one that can be treated like a marathon. It is already broken down into specific modules, blocks, parts and learning outcomes. I can create a ‘training plan’ that contains study sessions in much the same way as I do running sessions. It will be highly structured with obvious points to define how successful I am being. This particularly appeals to me after years of unstructured self-study into IT and web related subjects.
Will it be easy to achieve? No. I have no doubt that it will be difficult. I will have to adapt to a different way of learning. I will need to conform with higher education methods and practices. I will need to balance study, work and family. However, I believe it will be worth the effort for a number of reasons.
First and foremost I suppose I just want to prove that I can do it. I work day-to-day with people who have degrees. While possessing a degree doesn’t necessarily make any real difference I’ve had this nagging doubt at the back of my mind for years as to whether I’m inferior. This has led to a desire to obtain a degree.
Next on the list is the example I want to set to my teenage kids. I hope that by seeing their dad doing at degree at this stage in his life they will catch some of the lifelong learning desire. If that leads them to a university education then I’m happy to support them.
Finally if I’m being truly honest then future career prospects do come into it too. This breaks down into three areas - career development, career enablement and career protection. Something will be far wrong if I don’t learn and develop new knowledge and skills in the four years. This will hopefully have a positive impact on my career development even if I never change jobs. By obtaining a degree it also opens doors that have previously been locked by application process requirements that value academic achievements over work experience. Last and by no means least I hope that in these turbulent times it shows a willingness to learn and remain employable.
I don’t regret for a moment not planting this tree when I left school 20+ years ago. I’ve had a good life so far and rarely look back with regrets on any area of life. Instead I am looking forward to planting this tree today and seeing how the next 20+ years go…
If you want to run, run a mile. If you want to experience a different life, run a marathon.” - Emil Zatopek
Unitasking – The Simple Beauty of the Solo Long Run -
if I have succeeded in getting in a run that day, the mundane, superficial, sometimes-hard-to-define stuff is a little easier to justify and that is why the long solo run is a place of such solace. When I am running, alone, on the trail, with only the sound of my breathing and my foot plants in my head I have no choice but to unitask. Nobody can call me, interrupt me, or usurp my moment. Is this selfish? Perhaps. Is this my way of detaching myself from the Real World? Certainly. Is this some sort of an “escape” for someone who can’t handle the demands of 21st Century society? I’ll let others be the judge of that.
On Sunday 15th April I completed my fourth marathon since I started running again in January 2009. This one was the Lochaber Marathon in Fort William and was the most enjoyable of all my previous marathons. On reflection, there were a number of reasons for this.
Firstly, my training had gone really well. I was able to train throughout the 12 week lead-up without any injuries or interruptions. I had adapted my training routine to include runs at three different paces and also to do more hill repeats. All of this greatly increased my speed, strength and endurance. For the first 21 miles of the marathon I was able to run at a consistent pace between 8:20 and 8:40 per mile. This slowed in the last five miles to just over 9 minute miles but still brought me home in well under four hours. As I managed to run every single step I was more than satisfied with that.
The course was excellent. It was a good undulating route that allowed for a mix of muscle usage and it was also located in truly beautiful and inspiring surroundings. The highlight of the out-and-back course was running back into town with snow-capped Ben Nevis as your focal point. Strangely the final few miles felt more or less all downhill although on the way out they never seemed uphill. It may have been an optical illusion but it was a welcome one.
Once again I realised that the real halfway point of a marathon is the 18 mile mark. While this may not be arithmetically true, it is definitely physically true. It was around this mark that my brain started to strongly suggest that I stop. My body was tired but I forced my self to push through and keep on running.
The course was on open roads which was a slight concern during my preparation. I’d used Google StreetView to check out the roads and thought they could be a bit tight with runners on both sides and traffic going both ways. However, it wasn’t a problem and with a bit of awareness could be easily managed. The open road had one massive
positive. My family waved me off from the start line and then drove to the half-way point to cheer me on. It was a nice wee lift and they were still back in time to see me cross the finish line.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I knocked 10 minutes off my previous personal best and finished in a time of 3 hours and 47 minutes.
Lochaber is the smallest marathon I’ve done with a maximum of 600 participants. This is definitely a good thing from my perspective. That said there were some negatives. I’ve yet to see a start line. Everyone just started running and I started the timer on my Garmin GPS watch. This measured the distance and time and is what I’m using as my finishing time. To me my official finishing time was out by at least a minute. Bigger races have timing chips for each runner and an obvious start/finish matt to cross. On the course, I’d like to have seen more water stations between miles 17 – 21. However, these are just minor points and didn’t spoil my day. I’d happily recommend it to anyone and may return one day to give it another go.
So what’s next? I took a lot of encouragement from this marathon, especially my ability to set a pace and stick to it throughout the majority of the race. Over the next few months I’d like to get my marathon pace down to 8 minute miles. This would give me a shot at doing a sub-3:30 marathon. The next marathon I reckon will be either Chester or Kielder in October. Chester has the most appeal for now as it looks like a nice destination marathon and is somewhere I can spend the weekend with the family. It’s also more likely to give me a new personal best time.
One thing is certain, I will be running another marathon…