The Ice Bath Epiphany - samantha-mcclary

There are many reasons some of us take on stupid challenges but the lesson we learn is ultimately the same but never really the one we intended to learn.

It wasn’t until about 18 months ago that I realized I liked taking on stupid challenges. That I wanted to see how to go beyond. Beyond what? You ask. I’m buggered if I know, I would have responded back then.

I was never anything more than mediocre when it came to sport and athleticism. But I was a fixer of things. So if there was a gap in a team that needed filling, I’d stick my hand up; if no-one wanted to do cross country or run the 1500m, I’d do it. Not well. Not so we’d win. But I’d do it. Because someone needed to.

I’m not really sure how I went from mediocre to mad.

To people now expecting more than the norm from me. From being the one in the middle that no-one really noticed, to the one that is often greeted with “you’re the girl who…” by people I don’t even know.

I don’t know how. But I do know when.

It started when I thought it might be “fun” to run and ride the length and breadth (kinda) of the UK. A sort of giant duathlon. And, I’d found a way that I could do it for work (kinda) and raise a lot of money for very worthy causes (no kinda about that).

So, for work, to help promote a new UK real estate conference (I’m the deputy editor of Estates Gazette, the industry bible for property folk) I would visit every major city of the UK under my own steam in 15 days, finishing up in London for the conference. Any distance between two cities that was 50 miles or fewer I would run, anything over I would cycle. I would start in Edinburgh, run to Glasgow, cycle to Newcastle and so on and so forth all the way down to Plymouth before heading back to London. Easy, right? Sounds fun, right?

Then it became real. I’d spoken to enough people about it, told the wrong people (well, the correct people in that they made me do it), got a charity on board, got royal endorsement and started to get pledges of thousands and thousands of pounds.

It was only then that I started to wonder whether I could do it.

Was it possible for a mediocre athlete, a “normal” person to run and cycle more than 1,200 miles – what I have now discovered to be the wrong way down the country? I asked people. People I trusted. I could see they weren’t sure but spouted that automatic favorite of ours: “you can do anything you put your mind to.”

Hmmm. But I now at least knew what I was seeing if I could go beyond. I was seeing if I could go beyond people’s expectations. The lesson I thought I would learn from this adventure was yes of course you can do anything you put your mind to. If you do the work and have the mental strength, nothing will beat you.

I did learn that and it is a great lesson. But it is not that one that really changed me. I knew that already really. It was always there deep down inside, otherwise I never really would have thought up The Challenge. I never would have told those wrong (correct) people. I never would have made it a “work thing” that I “had” to do.

The lesson I really learnt was on the second day of this 15 day adventure. And on day three and again on day 12.

Day two, after running 46 miles on day one, I cycled 200 miles across the Scottish borders to Newcastle. It was windy, hilly and something horrible was going on in one of my knees. I lost my head. My mind went to that dark place that chants that horrible word at you – can’t. I lost it. On day two. I thought it was game over. I got to our hotel – one of many, many Premier Inns I got to sample en route – got in an ice bath and got my camera out.

I had asked a Twitter adventurer friend for some advice about sharing my story online. She said share everything. Every feeling, good or bad, happy, sad, indifferent. I was fine with that. Mostly. I did not want to share weakness. That wasn’t the me I wanted people to see. I wanted people to see this kick-ass chick running and riding the country, getting a bit tired, but still being witty and cool and nails. But day two, in an ice bath, I thought, fuck it. Share. I was too tired to think anything else. It was just going to be randoms seeing me. And I could explain to my friends that I must have just gone a bit weird. I’m not that sensitive and emotional. Honest.

So, the video camera goes on. I try my best to describe the day. But I just weep. I weep. In an ice bath. In a Premier Inn. In Newcastle. It was one of the lowest points of my life this far. It was just sad.

But it is this moment, and the ridiculous flow of tears that just wouldn’t stop on day 3 and the uncontrollable weeping on day twelve, that really taught me the most amazing life lesson. That 100% changed the way I thought about myself and my attitude to life.

A belief that I had held for years that I was tougher if I didn’t let my bottom lip quiver, a belief that people would think less of me if I leaned on them and showed weakness was shattered. Completely and victoriously.

People don’t care if you show emotion and weakness.

If you open up your soul enough to show people that you need a little help, a little love. People respect that. They think more of you. You’ve let them see the whole you and what could be more rewarding to someone than that?

As human beings, we ultimately want to help others. We all have different ways of doing it. Some in business, some through art, some by opening that ridiculously tight lid on that jar of jam you are so desperate to spread on your toast.

Some might not yet know that that is what they ultimately want to do. Until you let them.


  • portia

    When I had to take my children and live in a women’s shelter for domestic violence for 9 1/2 months I learned all about this….we are all just human beings….and we NEED one another….

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95% of life is spent on autopilot.

Then there’s the other 5%.