After completing the Mile Swing I always get asked how hard is it to do, how do you stay focused, what motivates you and such like.
So in this blog post I want to talk about all of that, in as succinct and bullshit free way as possible.
First off, why do I do it?
The first Mile Swing challenge was a few years ago when the Mental Health centre I work with needed to raise funds for a refurbishment job in the centre. They needed to rework their rear fire exit to meet new regulations and that meant a complete redesign of their back room. So somewhere on the line I came up with the hair brained idea to swing a kettlebell for 1 mile.
2011 with a 16kg Kettlebell on Sandymount Strand
And while all my kettlebell peers sneered and said it wasn’t possible, I went ahead and did it with a 16kg kettlebell.
That was hard.
Next time we wanted to furnish the centre with an IT suite and hopefully leave enough in the bank for whatever else they needed.
I used a 24kg kettlebell for that one and managed to complete the whole mile without stopping or putting the bell down in less than an hour.
Crossing the line with the 24kg bell photo credit: cestheday.com
As far as I’m concerned, that is the gold standard by which all other mile challenges are to be measured. It’s just a shame there wasn’t any official recording of the event.
So this time, we had people with clickers counting reps and timing.
This time I used a 28kg kettlebell.
And this time I couldn’t manage it in a single hit as I had with the 24.
Within the first 100 meters I could feel the deep core musculature working hard, maybe I hadn’t warmed up enough I don’t know, but the abs and lats felt it from the get go.
That said I completed two full laps non stop and on the first bend of the third lap I had to stop and put the kettlebell down.
During the second lap my hands had started to tear and I was struggling to keep a grip on the increasingly slippy handle.
That and my strength was quickly being sapped away.
This was recorded by my clicker, Brian, with this comment:
“At 48 minutes and 1720 reps into the challenge Dave had to change both his grip & technique from single to double hand swings. This marked the first time the bell was set down.”
Consider that for a moment. 48 minutes of continuous hand to hand swings totalling 1720 unbroken reps. I did that and I can’t believe this numbers.
But it was from this point forward that the challenge really started.
Having dried the handle of the bell and my hands with my T-Shirt, I still had around 750 meters to go, that’s 1 and 1/3 laps of the track.
If I’m honest the rest of the journey is a bit of a blur.
But this is where it also becomes a parable about Mental Health and the guys that we are fundraising for.
You see, I’d made a promise.
I’d promised to walk a mile swinging this 28kg kettlebell.
And when I put the bell down that first time, a moment of doubt crept into my mind.
Maybe I couldn’t fulfil that promise.
So I picked it up again and swung on. But didn’t get very far before the bell went down again.
Frustration built in my head bringing with it anger.
Anger gets a bad press as an emotion, but as far as I’m concerned it’s one of the primal driving forces in our species. But like all strong emotions, it needs tempered and focused to be useful.
So I got angry and picked up the bell again and swung. Again, I didn’t get very far and anger turned back to frustration.
I felt I was letting the guys down, letting my kettlebell lifters down, my mum was there, my wife and worst of all, letting myself down.
I have a tendency to judge myself harshly, hold myself to a high standard. I’ve no problem with this, but when I fail to live up to that standard, it can be hard.
So I made a choice. I was going to finish no matter how much it cost me or how long it took.
And off I went.
Short burst of work. Put the bell down, dry the hands, go again.
At some point I ripped of my shirt, I honestly couldn’t say when or where I was on the track, it’s very vague in my mind.
At some point Shay, one of my members turned up at my side with the chalk bucket.
And he stayed by side.
Shay knows me, he’s worked with me for a number of years and I’ve seen him go through plenty of his own struggles.
But now he was there for me, and that was awesome.
Until that point I was working until my strength went and I had to drop the bell, then getting straight back to it. My hands were dripping with blood and my strength reserves were shot to pieces. My frustration was getting the better of me.
So Shay started talking to me. Using my own words, my coaching cues, the ones I’d used on him so many times over the years and saying them back to me.
We finished the third lap, one more to go.
We were pretty much down to clusters of ten reps by this point. Shay picking out marks on the track for me to aim for. Ten steps, bell down, ten steps, bell down.
We were caking the chalk on to soak up the claret coming out of my hands.
Ten steps, bell down, ten steps, bell down, chalk, ten steps, bell down.
All the while Shay walked beside me, talking in a low voice.
As we hit the last bend the crowd around me was thick with people all cheering, shouting and encouraging. But the only voice I heard was Shay, my coach.
We crept down that last 100 meters, ten steps, bell down, ten steps, bell down, ten steps.
There was abso-fucking-lutely no fucking way I wasn’t going to finish.
That was the only thought in my head.
My body was drained, strength had given up on the third lap.
My mind nearly quit, except for that anger, and then for Shay helping keep that frustration at bay.
But I was not going to stop, not until this was finished.
I’d made a promise.
So we did, a lot of growling, grunting and shouting from me. A lot of cheering, encouragement from the crowd, many of whom had completed their mile.
And Shay’s quiet words.
And then a different voice, “Go Dave, Go. Go, Dave Go” This was the voice of one of the service users. A man with such complicated mental and physical health issues simply leaving the house each day to attend HOPS is a massive achievement, yet he does it.
A man who rarely speaks and will never raise his voice.
Yet here he was, off to the side and behind me somewhere, his voice, low as if wanting to be heard but not be heard at the same time. He was shouting for me.
So the bell got picked up and swung and put down. Again and again. Until that start/finish line crept closer and closer.
After 2 hours and 3 minutes I crossed that line.
3030 swings counted.
The relief of dropping the bell for that last time was insane.
My Wife who’d walked beside me on the day, and the last 10 years. Many more to come.
But I know that I can put down my weight anytime I want and choose whether or not to pick it up again.
It’s my choice.
I can walk away.
I can leave it.
If I’d have left it on the track that day, somewhere on that third or fourth lap, I’m sure no one would have said anything bad.
It’s a choice.
The people that I did this for, they don’t have that choice.
Their weight is in their minds permanently, all day, every day. They can’t put it down.
Nor is it a bright orange kettlebell that everyone can see, can feel, can have a go at lifting, can relate to, can appreciate.
Theirs is invisible, unknown to anyone who doesn’t know them, doesn’t make time for them.
And the HOPS service is there to give them what Shay gave me. The permission to break the challenge down into stages, to offer little manageable goals along the way. For me on the swing it was “get to the white line Dave”
Ok, the white line is only a few more steps, I can make that.
HOPS give the guys those white lines. Strategies for getting up and out in the morning, getting into HOPS, and how to cope with the evenings and weekends when HOPS is closed.
They let the guys know that while their 28KG kettlebells may be invisible to the public, they can still rest it here and there. They learn how to apply that mental chalk to stem the blood and maintain grip on the handle, even if just for a few more paces.
HOPS is there so that those that are further down the mile can reach back and offer support from a perspective of someone who’s been there, someone who’s hands are also blistered and bloody, their brows sweaty and their backs sore. Who know the words to say, the goals to set and when to rest.
As I’m always saying to my clients, and as Shay said to me on the mile, it’s “one rep at a time”
Do one, then do another one.
For the guys that attend HOPS it can be one hour at a time, one day at a time.
And that’s why we do this silly challenge for them.
My clear and obvious physical struggle, the blood, the sweat, the roaring and growling. The chalk, the kettlebell. The obvious mental struggle to keep swinging despite the ripped calluses and the fatigue.
All this is a physical demonstration of the mental struggle that goes on in minds and bodies of the people who attend HOPS and other Mental Health services like it.
Crossing the line with the 28kg, a relief that real mental illness does not allow
So thank you to every one who has donated cash. Thank you to everyone who took part in swing kettlebells for a mile. Thank you to everyone who came down on the day just to support.
You have let a small group of people know that they are not isolated, not invisible and that people do care.
And between us we’ve inspired them to dig deep and keep grinding, just like they inspired me to do on the track.
The donation page will remain open until Dec 17th, you have until then to make a donation before the entire total is transferred across into the RehabCare HOPS centre, Westland Square, Pearse St, Dublin 2.
Here’s the link to the donation page: https://give.everydayhero.com/ie/mile-kettlebell-swing-challenge
Thanks for reading.