Congleton's Joshua Barrow on the Lure of the Wild
PUBLISHED: 00:00 21 November 2019
Joshua Barrow could have taken the path of least resistance. But the Congleton trail runner decided to climb mountains to discover what he truly wanted from life.
We've all done it - made that decision we're going to commit to a healthier lifestyle, eat better, spend time outdoors and do more exercise. It's a promise many make to themselves at the start of a new week, new month or new year only to hit a bump in the road a few days, weeks and months later.
But for Joshua Barrow, it was different. Once he decided he wanted to make big changes in his life, he stood fast. He was keen to swap the bars and restaurants near his then Hale home - which until then had taken up a good portion of his social life - with something more meaningful.
'I knew I wanted something different,' said Josh, who now lives in Congleton with partner, model Sophie Sparrow. 'I was living in Hale and life very much revolved around leaving work and going to a bar. That makes a lot of people happy and there is nothing wrong with that.
'But I was at gridlock. I reflected on my life and realised I had to be careful about how I should spend my time. I started to expect more of myself.'
The changes Josh was proposing were far more involved than a new diet, cutting back on alcohol or more gym visits. He wasn't craving small changes; he wanted a complete life overhaul, he wanted to rewire his brain. It was after reading research on dopamine and its powerful effect on motivation and the ability to help people make changes; he started to think about what he could do.
He believes his childhood experiences - he was one of five siblings - meant he already had an in-built sense of adventure and ability to cope and adapt. He'd grown up in Bowdon before moving to Florida when he was 12, then Lake Como two years later with his dad Chris' job - he is a life coach helping budding dentistry businesses flourish. But there was one major milestone that changed everything for Josh - running the London Marathon, aged 18.
'My dad's always been a runner,' said Josh. 'I'd decided to do the marathon with him and raise money for charity, Whizz-kidz. My dad and I spent a lot of time together preparing and doing the run and it remains one of the best experiences of my life.
'We got to the point where there were people from Whizz-kidz stood at the side, cheering us on; it was a really overwhelming moment. That was what showed me what the good stuff in life is. I remember looking at my dad, my eyes were welling up. It was a special moment.'
Josh had continued to run and loved the camaraderie and sense of belonging there was with the running community. But when he started to think about making a change in his life, he knew it would take sacrifice. That came when he moved to Windermere in the Lake District, where he lived in almost solitude for two years and took up running up mountains.
While he spent his days working in pharmaceuticals, all of his free time was spent running up and down mountains in this spectacular part of the North West. A trail-running novice, Josh soon started to routinely run the perimeter of Windermere -a not-so-coincidental 26.2 mile marathon distance - as well as scaling peaks around Wastwater, Coniston and Keswick.
'Lots of people live certain lifestyles and it might not be the best for them. I'd started to come to this realisation. But it's hard to detach yourself from that,' said Josh. 'I wanted to create things and experiences that made me step out of the past and be proud about my future.
'Moving to Windermere was a lightbulb moment for me, a defining moment that changed me for the better. I'd moved away from everything I knew - all my friends and family, I didn't know anyone within 100 miles. I didn't know what I was doing, either. I'd run up a mountain in a thin Fruit of the Loom jumper and shorts in the middle of winter without my phone.
'But it was a fantastic, totally new experience, one of those that helped me change my way of thinking. I absolutely craved and loved the way running made me feel about myself. I hadn't really felt like that before.'
Josh started sharing his experiences on his Lure of the Wild website and Instagram account as a way for him to document his adventures. But then people started asking for advice on the best routes and the most spectacular runs.
Now, he uses the website not only as a way to chart what trail running he and partner Sophie do, but also show that it is possible to make big changes as well as put your energy into something positive.
'If you've been through or are going through difficult times, running really can help you have a better, healthier life. It can be a fantastic thing for people who are struggling too, perhaps with their mental health. Believing in yourself is the most powerful tool for new habit forming.'
To date Josh, who now works in sports medicine, has run 25 marathons - and counting. His weekends and spare time are spent with Sophie - who now runs Lure of the Wild with him between modelling jobs. Together, they explore the mountains of the UK, in particular North Wales and the Lake District.
'The mountains are the time Sophie and I spend together and it's that time that feels most honest and authentic. We'll walk, hike and run up mountains and then are rewarded with the most spectacular views.
'At weekends we leave our suburban life to explore. The trips hurl us into the present day and help us take care of ourselves with attention and skill. We capture moments we hope inspire others to do the things that inspire them.
'A lot of us take the path of least resistance. I don't think I've done that and there have been real benefits for me. I like to think I have figured out what I want from life.'