It's January and it's cold. I'm not yet out of the covers but I can feel it on my face. Waiting for me outside the bed. It's dark still. I can't really make out the shapes in the room as I look around, eyes half cracked open. The light from my phone screen pierces my eyes. It's 4.31. I quell the yelps from my alarm. I'm up. The cold immediately grips the soft warmth of my body as I shuffle over to the bedroom light. There's a damp heaviness in my muscles. Like someone has put me on an 800-spin cycle in the washing machine. I feel mangled. I sit back down on my bed and I can still feel the heat from where my body had laid. It would be so easy to salvage what heat is left in the covers and turn over.
Reset the alarm for a "normal" time and get ready for work. Is that what this is about Conor? Picking and choosing when you feel like putting in the graft? The first sign of a tough morning and we fold this venture up like a deck chair at the end of summer. Store it away for another time. No, this doesn't end here. I'm now ferociously rubbing my dry stubbled face in an effort to jolt some life into me. It's like the night's sleep is still draped thick over my face. I look across the room and see them sitting there quietly. Veiled in black with sharp slashes of white ripped across them. Firm and powerful waiting for purpose. My running shoes. I'm sore.
I haven't run much in the last four months but this week I've ran two half marathons in the last four days. And I'm off to run another. I'm training for the Enduroman 200 Mile Ultra Marathon. To say my body was tired would be an understatement. I was going against every good practice. Against everything that I would say to people who wanted to start running. Milling myself into the ground. People were saying I was overtraining. I was. But only in the sense that I was training a body. Which I wasn't. I was thinking about mile 55 in the Connemara 100 Mile Ultra Marathon I had run the previous August. How my body had flat out given up on me with 45 miles to go. I thought about that point in time when I couldn't run anymore as my knee looked like an angry grapefruit waiting to burst. I was staring down the barrel of a slow 15 hour walk to cross the line and darkness was creeping in. I remember thinking, "you came here to do 100 miles in less than 30 hours. There's only one way you're going to do that. One foot in front of the other." I hadn't been in that type of discomfort and pain before. It was completely alien to me. Even as a Thai Boxer, one of the most brutal sports you can do, I hadn't come to this point. My body had been shattered into pieces. But my mind was still there. It was still asking. "What are you gonna do?" I just started putting one foot in front of the other. It says 2 degrees on my dashboard, but it feels much colder. I can see my breath inside the car.
It pushes out and folds around the misty windscreen. I'm jittering with the cold, my teeth clenched tight as I push loud breaths from my nose. Stabbing blindly seeking the ignition with my car key. Sometimes we forget what real Irish cold weather feels like. We hop out of bed into a warm shower. You hop out with steam gathering in the tiled bathroom and you hurriedly wrap yourself in towels as you scoot into your room. Our warm winter clothes stashed away in our wardrobes. Thick fleeces and jackets. Hats, scarves (those of you into GAA waiting for me to say head bands) and gloves. We forget about the elements, the bitter cold. And this was a bitterly cold morning. I didn't wrap up or blast the heating on. I wore my shorts and running tee shirt and only turned up the air enough to clear the windscreen.
If my hairs stopped standing on my arms I knew I was getting too warm and would open a window. I wanted to stay in the discomfort as I would shortly be running half marathon number three of the week. It was on this third half marathon that the phrase "Tough Fucker Shit" was born. I said it as a joke to be honest. But in truth it encompassed everything I was putting myself through, so that when I reached the point in the 200 Mile race when my body was done, my mind would know what to do. It had been there 100 times over. I couldn't have expected how people would react to it. Sending me pictures and videos of them out running or working out in the gym with #TFS draped across the photo. It was giving something to people. It felt alive. But I still felt that there was a gap. To me Tough Fucker Shit stood for anything that brought you out of the comfort zone and had you pushing to find something fulfilling in life. But it took some explaining as those words don't encompass everyone that is following my journey. A lot of people would be anxious at the thought of even starting a running or gym routine.
For them getting up in the morning was as big a task as running that half marathon. It didn't fully include everyone who I was seeking to reach. I wanted any and all to be included in my journey because I knew what I was doing was positive and needed. But what would take its place. I wanted to keep the three letters TFS as I had grown attached to it in some kind of weird way. I had toyed around with some replacements, but nothing really sounded right. I was wracking my brain trying to think about something that would not only incorporate what I was doing but would keep TFS alive. I have made some seriously great friends since I started this journey that I'm on. Social media has played its part. Social media can sometimes feel like a barren wasteland. Everywhere you look its filled with people who want to take from the world. They want to suck away and swallow up what the world has to offer. Money, power, position and all the rest. It can feel as though the lifeblood has been drained from it and you are left with this Mad Max style wasteland of takers and exploiters. And then. There is an oasis in the distance. It's small, you can barely see it. But its growing. It feels fresh and alive. It doesn't want to take, it wants to give and share and built you up. It wants to create and explore and extend. It is small but it is powerful. To say that I myself am an oasis is wrong. But together with the people I encounter and the people I reach we can create this oasis of growth and positivity. An oasis attracts some of the best people. One person who it has attracted is a man called Tony who is the owner and head roaster of West Cork Coffee. It is only very seldom in life you will meet a guy like him.
A man who wants to share what piece of the world he has with others. Although he has given me many "things" there are two things he gave me that I will always be grateful for. His passion and his support. Two things immeasurable in monetary terms. And his most recent gift actually came from his wife Leona. Tony knew I wanted TFS to be more inclusive and Leona actually had a dream about TFS! In that dream she heard the words "That First Step." I remember Tony texting me the words and immediately saying "YES!" That's it! I had the perfect replacement for Tough Fucker Shit. It doesn't matter if it's a 200 Mile Ultra Marathon or just placing your feet on the floor in the morning. That's what That First Step means to me. Its universal in its meaning and application. I remember the days when I felt like I was glued to my bed in the morning. Unable to raise my head from the covers not wanting to face the day. Where getting up and into the shower to start my day was a huge task. I didn't feel like there was any meaning or purpose in my life. I felt like whatever greatness I may have felt was within me would never be lived. But a journey of 200 miles begins with That First Step. It feeds into a mantra I have had for a long time. One Foot in Front of The Other. That's all it is. There's not much more to it. You just have to keep moving forward. You might not feel like you are moving forward but think about your day. You got up. That's the first step. You got dressed.
Another step and another victory. Now start stacking these steps and victories on top of each other. Then you can start taking bigger steps. You can start having bigger victories. You get out for your first run in a long time. You get a gym membership and actually go. You buy a bike to cycle the 15 minutes into work. You start walking the dog regularly. Pretty soon you start feeling unstoppable. You feel unbreakable. The immovable object and unstoppable force wrapped up inside the same tee shirt. You start looking for bigger steps to take. You finally climb that mountain your friends always climb on the weekends. You quit your job. Start that business idea you wanted to start. Take that trip you always wanted to take. Ask that girl out. See if that guy wants to go for coffee. You start doing things. Taking steps. You don't realise the power that rests inside of you right now as you read this. It's like a freshly sprouted seedling. Small but powerful. All you have to do is take That First Step.