Let’s Start at the Very Beginning

In this post I’m going to talk a little bit about the significance of my musical theatre adventure, explain what it involves and give you an idea of where I’m at with it right now.

You might look at the four adventures I’ve chosen for 2019 and think that my musical theatre adventure is, somehow, the odd one out. Of course, when I follow an adventure impulse, I’m not really thinking logically; I’m not really looking for a connection. And, to be honest, if I try to look ‘consciously’, sometimes it isn’t easy to see the connection. But the connection is always there!

When I’m out on my long runs, I usually run myself into a place where insights come thick and fast. Only trouble is, I’m all out of long runs since starting my track adventures. My mind is taken up with counting lengths in the pool, so there’s no ‘idling’ time – no crack for the insights to squeeze through. And powerlifting, for me, is all focus: 100% of my mind-body is 100% on the job.

Where I am getting idling time is between sprints. It’s not much time, but it seems to be time enough for the message to be transmitted and received. Last week, during an early morning session, I was (literally) idling my way back to the start line for the next repetition, when I had the thought that my musical theatre adventure holds the essence of all my adventures – and it holds an echo of the original ‘call to adventure’ I had in my teenage years. Let me explain 🙂 .

In order to sing, you have to have full control over your instrument: your voice. Your voice is supported by your whole body, both physically and emotionally (and, yes, the more physically and emotionally fit you are, the more control you have over your instrument 🙂 ).  It takes a while to master your instrument: you have to learn how to move your voice around your body, how to pull emotions out of long-forgotten places, how to be ‘in the song’ and connect ‘through the song’ at the same time. It isn’t easy! But once you have control, you can really start to play your instrument. And that’s the insight right there: I’m remembering how to play and I’m playing full out! I’m playing the life out of myself. I’m playing as if my life depended on it – because I think it actually does. When I’m singing, I feel fully alive, connected and ‘all in’.

So playing full out is the connection between all the adventures – and that spirit of play drives the impulse for adventure. For all my physical adventures, I need to have full control over ‘my instrument’ – and that’s starting to happen as my body and mind respond to the new training loads. As my mind-body responds, I’m able to experience a kind of play. It’s not easy to explain exactly what’s going on, but the more I ‘show up’ for each of my adventures, the harder I play. And the harder I play, the more the world around me seems to play right back  and I find myself in a perpetual state of playfulness (more on this in another post!).

I think the musical theatre adventure was the first to announce itself because the part of me that’s driving these adventures is a part of me I heard, but ignored, a very long time ago. Music was my thing right from primary school days. When I was at secondary school, I was in all the school plays and loved being in the musicals, often taking the lead role. The thing is, I never took music to be a serious thing. I thought it was too easy. I thought that academic study had more value, and so when I went to 6th-form, my focus gradually shifted entirely to academic subjects, and I eventually stopped my music lessons just before going to university. (I should add that the singing part of me must have been pretty desperate for me to carry on because it made me teach myself the guitar just before leaving home, so I could keep on singing if I needed to!)

From a Hero’s Journey point of view, I’d had the call to adventure and that call was loud and clear. Up until just before I went to university, music was my life: when I was performing on my own or in an orchestra or a choir, I felt ALIVE and CONNECTED – and it felt so easy and natural to me. I knew what the call meant. I knew it would mean ‘ditching’ the academic path (which, by the way, was also a brilliant and adventurous route 🙂 ). I made what I thought was the sensible choice and ignored the call.

Now in my 50s, I realise the call never stopped. I just tuned it out and now I’m tuned back into it again. And I’m listening. And I’m hearing it properly. I’m letting it in, and I’m following it this time. And there is still time. There’s always time. And, somehow, I think if I follow this call, then everything else will follow 🙂 . (I’ll keep you posted about that theory 😉 ). What that everything else is, I don’t know – but I do know that something is there waiting for me and that it’s been waiting a very long time! And I also know (don’t ask me how!) that the other adventures are part of a readying, a ripening, a quickening – and that’s a thrilling feeling. I’m getting read to play my whole self full out: my life-concerto.

So where am I at with my musical theatre adventure at the moment? Well, I’ve entered the exam (grade 8) and I’ve chosen my pieces. The exam will be in mid-March and I’m at the stage where I’m having to let go of the manuscript and make each performance my own. For the exam, I have to perform 4 pieces (and talk about them) and a piece of libretto, and I have to sight-read a piece of libretto too. If you’re interested in the nitty-gritty, you can find out more about what the exam entails here.

Here are the pieces I’ve chosen. My aim was to build a balanced programme and to sing pieces which meant something to me. First up is ‘Lili Marlene’, which I’ll be singing in German. This piece reminds me of my grandparents who used to tell me stories about their experiences in World War 2. I think of them when I’m singing it.

My second piece is ‘Send in the Clowns’ from ‘A Little Night Music.’ I chose this because I’m old enough to have regrets and to know that I’ve been a fool (on many occasions)! The first time I heard this I was a child and Bruce Forsyth was singing it. I really loved the song and I understood the clown-sadness behind his performance (there were even pierrot dancers). But the song is really not about that kind of clown at all.

My third song is full of yearning passion – and it’s from an opera (‘Marie Galante’) that completely failed! I’m all for standing up for brilliant failures: in fact, I consider myself an expert in the field of brilliant failure 😉 . The song is called ‘Youkali’ and it’s sung by a character who is a prostitute. I’ll be singing this in French.

My last song is a Gilbert and Sullivan classic from the Mikado: ‘The Sun Whose Rays are all Ablaze’. It’s really playful. It’s a bit panto-mimey and it’s a bit show-offy. So, really, it’s very me! (My required piece of libretto  is from this too.)

I’ll keep you posted about this adventure as things develop. My next posts will be about what my physical adventures entail.

I’m just going outside and may be some time.

JT 🙂

Introducing my 2019 Adventure Support Crew!

I know, I know. It’s been a while 🙂 . In fact, it’s been long enough for a new year of adventure to brew itself up! During 2019 I’ll be doing a series of adventures under the banner #OldDogNewTricks. You can find out more about what the year involves and why I’m doing it here.

I’ve spent most of January doing lots of research to support each of my upcoming adventures (more on that in another post 🙂 ). For these adventures, I knew that I’d enjoy the experiences far more with a bit of expert help and moral support.  I’ve got a strong sense that ‘the support crew’ may grow over the course of the year, but here’s how things look right now 🙂 :

My Musical Theatre Adventure
My son is a huge fan of musical theatre and loves to perform. Right up until the middle of his lower 6th year at school, I used to take him to the Causeway School of Music in Coleraine for musical theatre lessons. When the AS level exam pressure got too much, he said he didn’t have time for his music lessons any more, so I took them instead!

I’d had a rigorous classical music education as a child and thought the obvious choice would be to learn to sing in the classical style. I took my first singing exam (grade 4) and managed a distinction. (I put this achievement mostly down to my ability to do the whole Stars in Their Eyes  ‘Tonight, Matthew, I’m going to be …..’ thing 😉 and letting another persona take the strain. If you’re interested, the persona taking the strain was always the Wagnerian be-helmetted and be-plaited ‘belter’ 😉  .)

My singing teacher, Sophie Shiels, is my adventure crew member for my musical theatre adventure. I’m going straight in at grade 8, and I’m taking a bit of that there Wagnerian ‘belter’ with me. I’ve chosen my 4 pieces, I’ve entered the exam and my first adventure will take place in March 2019.

Sophie started singing publicly at the age of seven, mainly singing in various churches and school concerts. She studied music at Magee university. She’s sung  in many wonderful venues across Northern Ireland and even has even sung for former U.S president, Bill Clinton.

Sophie is brilliant at coaching adults and certainly seems to have no difficulty working with my larger-than-life alter ego. I think this adventure could go places 😉 .

My Track Athletics Adventure
As an endurance athlete, I’ve always found it easy to locate resources to support my sporting endeavours. My bookshelves are creaking with books about running marathons, and Runners World magazine is my go-to place for state-of-the-art training schedules. It’s even easy to find plenty of books about ultra-marathons these days.

Obviously, then, when I hopped over to Amazon, expecting to find heaps of books about track running, I was in for a rude awakening! There aren’t really any – and those that do exist are aimed at the younger (school / college) athlete. (Note to self: there’s probably a very good reason that there aren’t any books for older track athletes …. )

If you Google ‘training schedules for 200/400/800m runners’, the results are interesting. The articles usually say something along the lines of ‘track athletes have differing needs and so require tailored training programmes’.

Fortunately, I stumbled across Track Star USA and was able to access detailed training templates for 100/200m and 400/800m (400m and 800m looking the most likely at the moment ). Even more fortunately than that, it turns out that Richard Lappin, one of the coaches at Causeway CrossFit (where I train regularly), is a former 800m runner (and medalled to boot 🙂 ). (Maybe my unconscious mind knew exactly what it was doing when it sent me along to the local CrossFit box 😉 .)

I’ll be adapting the Track Star USA programmes (which include drills, sprint sessions, weights work and mobility exercises) in line with Richard’s advice. He’ll give me feedback on my running form and help with some of the  technical aspects of track running (like using starting blocks, for example). I think he’s even going to compete at the Northern Ireland Master Athletics Championships himself this summer.

CrossFit, powerlifting, strength and movement work all make up Richard’s human-centred approach to coaching and personal training . He’s a CrossFit Level 1 Trainer, GBPF Level 1 Coach, CrossFit Endurance Coach, and a Mindset RX’d Coach and affiliate. He’s one of the few to complete the Strength Education Head Coaches Course under Chet Morjaria, and he’s been to many seminars by great coaches and athletes: Eddie Hall, Dan Green, Bill Kazmaier and Chad Wesley Smith to name a few.

As a runner, Richard’s had the most success at 800m, coming away with a few medals at the NI schools championships and with ‘one of each colour’ at club level in the Northern Ireland Championship competitions. He’s won races from 200m to cross country and has flirted with the long jump, too. Later in life, he decided that ‘running long’ was the way forward, completing both the Dublin Marathon and the Highland Fling amongst others.

I’ll be having two track adventures in June (one in Nuneaton, England, and one in Belfast), and I’m convinced that I’ve definitely got the best coach for the  job. At this stage, the real question is this: how fast can Forrest actually go?

My Powerlifting Adventure
You’ll never believe this, but one of the coaches at CrossFit Causeway is a weightlifting champion! When there was talk about a rookie powerlifting competition for NI lifters being held in our box (gym) in July 2019, I immediately thought ‘I’m in!’ . The stars were definitely in the right place for this adventure,  and even though the cut of me isn’t necessarily ideal for this sport, I’m going for it.

Paul Cullen spent his early forties representing Ireland in all-round weightlifting. He holds two current IAWA (International All-Round Weightlifting) world records: behind- the- head military press and push press from the rack. He’s a CrossFit L1 Trainer, GBPF L1 Coach, and Precision Nutrition Coach. Coaching from local to international level, he coaches CrossFit, powerlifting and nutrition.

Paul is a lot of fun to work with and a professional through and through: it’s clear that he loves to support people in achieving their goals (no matter where they’re starting from). I’ve already benefited a huge amount from his coaching (my deadlift is more alive than dead these days 😉 )

My Butterfly Adventure
I have to admit that even I was surprised that this adventure impulse emerged. When I was at school I had a rather humiliating experience involving this swimming stroke (it’s a long story and I’ll save it for another post 🙂 ). I wonder if it’s because I’m back in the pool twice a week, using swimming as a recovery and mobility session? I wonder if there’s a part of me trapped in that old butterflying trauma that’s calling for release – and the only way of releasing me is through … yeah .. very unfortunately … actually mastering the butterfly 😉 😉 😉 ?

For now, I’m not questioning it too much. I’m going with the impulse and that’s that. There’s definitely a weird pattern emerging, though: nearly everyone I talk to about this adventure has a talent for the fly or knows someone who has. My neighbour is a former Ulster Youth champion. My son’s friend’s father is a former Ulster Youth champion. Samantha at CrossFit is a former butterfly specialist. Hmmm…. This is getting interesting. (I’m starting to feel like I’m the only one in the world who can’t swim the fly!)

There are, of course, plenty of books about swimming – and there’s plenty on YouTube, too. However, this feels like an adventure where in-the-pool coaching is going to work best for me. I asked my neighbour if she knew anyone who could help. She said she’s heard of a guy in Belfast  with an ‘endless pool’ who coached triathletes (and so was probably a front-crawl specialist). I contacted him, and, to my delight, I found out he is a former BUTTERFLY CHAMPION (yep 😉 you read that right 😉 #TheUniverseIsOnMySide ).

David Graham runs Trinetic and is a former Irish champion in swimming, triathlon and duathlon. He still competes occasionally for fun, but most of his time and energy now goes into coaching others. He coaches triathlon for clubs and individuals who range from beginners to experienced Ironmen athletes. He also works with people learning how to swim or those looking to perfect their technique in his endless pool facility in Belfast.

I have my first session with David just after the powerlifting competition in July. He’ll do an initial swim analysis and then give me a programme to follow. I’m giving this adventure a full three months of my time – maybe more.  Who knows what’ll happen?…

Moral Supporters and Inspiration
I’ve known Fiona ‘Mad Dog’ MacDonald since 2010. I was looking for some female running company for an unofficial 24-mile mountain race I’d devised. The race was called ‘Man Versus Mare ‘ and covered the last section of the West Highland Way in Scotland. The running club in Fort William put me in touch with Skye-based Fiona, but she couldn’t make the date. However, we’ve remained in touch via Facebook over the years and become firm friends.

I’d say that Fiona and I are cut from very similar cloth: we’ve a tendency to hurl ourselves at projects and keep on going when most folk would stop. When I ‘met’ Fiona, she was a seasoned ultra-runner. Over the past year or so, I’ve watched her turn into a very talented powerlifter; she’s been a major inspiration and encourager as far as my powerlifting adventure goes.

Fiona now competes in the 55.5 kg category (you compete in age-weight categories in powerlifting). When she began lifting, her  back squat was 65kg (that’s Fiona demonstrating a back squat in the picture), her bench press was 30kg, and her deadlift was70kg. She now squats 85kg in competition but has done 90kg in gym.  She now benches 55kg in competition but hits 60kg in the gym. She deadlifts 130kg in competition but hits 135kg in the gym.

Fiona has taken a few records in the British and European 50.3kg class and has several titles in the 53kg category for her age group. She qualified to go to the world championships in Boston and won her category, returning to Scotland to compete in the Scottish championships, securing 3 records in squat, bench and deadlift. (If you’re wondering, Fiona is in her 50s, too. #TrailBlazer 🙂 And if you’re wondering, it’s highly likely that we’ll cook up some kind of Thelma-and-Louise adventure to undertake together in the next ear or so 🙂 .)

I’ve known US-based Fritz Homans since 2008. Again, we only know each other ‘virtually’, but over the years we’ve got to talk about all sorts of things: our children growing up and flying the nest, Brexit, kale chips, and Donald Trump. I’ve always known that Fritz was a swimmer – and a very good one at that. What I didn’t know (that’s right. You’re probably way ahead of me on this one) was that he is a butterfly man!

At the US Olympic trials (1976) he finished 13th in the 100 fly (56.11) which was good enough for a 19th world ranking for the event.  He also qualified for the 1980 Olympic trials but didn’t compete due to injury.  He has competed in many international meets, open water and masters swimming over the years, setting several masters records.

Whatever I’ve undertaken, Fritz has always been a brilliant supporter. I’m sure our conversations will now take a very interesting (tumble) turn 😉 !

I’ve been going to CrossFit since September 2018. The very first session I attended was a real ‘wow moment’ for me. It was so inspiring to see so many strong women – of all different ages. Over the months I’ve  learned so much from training side-by-side with them.

Sarah Dickinson is a long-distance runner and CrossFitter. She’s a brilliant encourager and made sure I knew how everything worked when I first joined ‘the box’ (like writing down what you need to do for each workout so you can keep track of where you are ). Sarah is always the one to say ‘Well done’ – and, my goodness me, you should see her handstand press-ups. (So, that’s a handstand against a wall and then doing press-ups in the vertical position!) One day, I hope to do press-ups just like Sarah 🙂 . Sarah just quietly gets the job done. I’ve never heard her whinge once. Definitely something to learn from Sarah, I think.

Tracey Morrow (on the rower) is my lifting buddy. She’s great craic, a demon rower and has bags of grit.  She’s most likely to say, ‘Only lift it once, pet. You don’t want to be wearing yourself out’ and ‘I’ve just added another 20kg to the bar.’  Samantha Russell-Morelli (behind Tracey) is (yep 😉 ) a butterfly specialist (I’ve already received some top tips for leg drills and hip flexibility), blue belt (Brazilian jiu jitsu) and all-round powerful woman. Samantha is most likely to say when deadlifting 100kg+ ‘That’s still an 80kg bar.’ Samantha also appears to have absolutely no fear of failure. The bar doesn’t seem to phase her, no matter what the weight of the plates loaded onto it.

Gail Mahon‘s focus is absolutely incredible. I definitely could do with some of what she’s got. When Gail’s at the gym, it’s like training with a Shaolin monk. There’s a stillness about her that whips itself up into some sort of phenomenal (and graceful) force – seemingly at will! Gail is competing in the powerlifting competition too. (I think she’s going to do really well). Most likely to say  ‘Put the chains on me while I do my pull-ups’ and ‘I think I could have gone heavier’ 😉 .

Cheryl Kasparian is another brilliant just-get-the-job-done-r and all-round cheerleader. She’s the one most likely to say ‘You’re doing well’ during a workout – and sometimes, when you’re having a Near Death Experience, those words can get you through. If there’s a run involved in a warm-up, Cheryl’s always the one out at the front and I try to keep up with her. She’ll breeze back into the gym saying ‘I really needed that’. I don’t say anything because I’m gasping for breath trying to keep up! (That’s Aidan, Cheryl’s son, in the picture. He’s a very accomplished athlete himself and has a lovely confidence about him.)

That’s the team for now. Just writing this, I’m realising how important human connection is to me and to this adventure project.

*UPDATE* 21/04/19 A dance adventure is now in the offing for autumn 2019! Read all about it here. My dance teachers are going to be Peter and Paula McAuley of Tango Northern Ireland. This intrepid couple have danced in New Zealand, Hong Kong,  Long Island, New York, England, Spain, Scotland, Ireland and Argentina. They’ve performed in the Grand Opera House in Belfast and choreographed dancers performing in the Opera House. Having taught at various venues in Buenos Aires, Argentina, they are now teaching in Belfast.

I’m just going outside and may be some time.
JT 🙂