From abseiling to half marathons, Lizzy Dening has deliberately spent 2016 doing things that terrify her
We’re often encouraged – generally by shoddily Photoshopped memes on Instagram – to do one thing every day that scares us. Unless you’re a particularly anxious person, it’s a tough ask to come up with 365 terrifying tasks, but there is definitely something to be said for taking risks. My life had settled into a comfortable rut by the end of 2015. I was happy enough, but time was a blur and each day started to feel the same. That’s why, as the clock struck 12 on January 1st, I set myself a handful of challenges for 2016.
At first, they were fairly simple. I’d just completed the Couch To 5K programme – in fact, I entirely blame my Year of Fear project on the rush of endorphins – and signed up for a 10K in March. I circled the date of the race in my diary. Every time I flicked again to schedule a date with someone, I’d see it looming there in red ink and my stomach would clench. The night before, I was a wreck and convinced there was no way I could run six miles, and then… I did it. I felt so insanely proud of myself – and the enormous medal I slept beside for a week afterwards – that I signed up for a half marathon. Ok, actually, two half marathons. And an obstacle race.
Thus began a year of diary-based panic, waves of nausea and plenty of Googling “Can you sweat to death?”. My particular fears were multitudinous, but basically broke down into a fear of not fitting in enough training, fear of something actually going wrong and not being able to compete, fear of starting and not finishing, fear of being last to finish, fear of being met by the dreaded “sweeper truck” (which removes slow runners from the route) and a general panic that I couldn’t really put down to anything specific, but which was located just below my rib cage for several months.
But you know what? I got through them. And even enjoyed them, both during and (especially) afterwards. There’s nothing like watching the mud and sweat of a hard race dissolving into the tub to make you feel like a superhero.
Sport was just the start. I saw an advert for an abseiling afternoon at Peterborough Cathedral and signed up without a second thought (those came later, as I peered down at the faraway faces of friends and family from the wind-swept roof). Something about literally signing your life away on a waiver for a completely unnecessary activity really gets the blood pumping. Now when I watch the – admittedly somewhat graceless – footage, I see a nervous, giddy girl grabbing life by the church bells.
The invincible feeling that accompanied these physical feats made me emotionally braver, too. I decided that, after dieting on and off since I was 14, this was the year I wanted to tackle my food issues. I signed up for the Green Goddess Academy which, along with tutorials and exercises designed to address your relationship with food, also has a wonderfully supportive online community. I was more honest with these women than I’ve been with anyone before. Out of all the scary things I’ve done this year, this is the one I’m most proud of. I know I’m not finished – I can still list the calorie content of everything, from Jaffa Cakes to duck à l’orange, more quickly than I could name my cousins – but I’m hoping one day it will be a footnote in a life of risk-taking. Plus, a pretty disarming party trick.
This year, I’ve discovered that fear is a wonderful teacher. I had no idea I had the inner resources to carry on running past the 10-mile mark when everything in me was screaming to stop; I didn’t know I had the grit to admit to a bunch of strangers that my relationship with food was damaged; and, perhaps most importantly, I wasn’t sure which people would turn up to all of my strange, tortuous events to support me. Fear taught me to commit to doing something that was hard, but worth the effort, and then to see it through to the end.
Expressing my fear (admittedly in my typically British “What japes – I’m going to die!” Hugh Grant-esque way) made me vulnerable to my friends, family and colleagues. But I was met with nothing but encouragement, sponsorship and even a few special folk willing to wait for their slow friend to cross the finish line. Fear taught me I have so much support that it’s OK to fail, but that, when it comes down to it, I probably won’t.