Ultra-running – the highs and lows of life
It’s fair to say that 2013 has already been a pretty mixed bag of ups and downs. For reasons I’ll come on to later I’ve been giving much thought to why it is I continue to run and what I really get from it.
Last week I was asked to talk at a WHW race ‘inspiration’ night to offer some insight into how I train and maybe provide some words of encouragement to those attempting it for the first time. It would have been nice to talk to more people on a one-to-one basis afterwards but by the close most people were probably keen to get home. It got me really questioning why someone would want to run the best part of 100 miles. To openly accept the inevitable suffering (at several stages throughout the race) as well the necessary sacrifices required to train for it.
For those doing it as their first big ultra, it’s probably pretty obvious. Most just want to really challenge themselves and to give it their all whatever the outcome. To be entirely single-minded about reaching Fort William and picking up that crystal goblet at the end. That’s a pretty special place to be in my book and if I’m honest, a position I’m slightly jealous of. After that it’s times, positions, or trying to do it better than the previous attempt. So, if you are doing it for the first time, savour it all – the good and the bad. It’s something that will stay with you for a long time. So what is it that stays with you?
Well, this is the point of the ramble. I think it changes something inside. It’s like an inner confidence. Not something that you’ll necessarily notice or even feel, but something that will lie in the depths of your being. Dormant. But something that may be awakened at a time when it’s really needed. When things in life are properly tough.
Yeah, yeah….the guy’s losing it….(I hear you say).
Maybe you’re right. I’ve never been stressed about delivering an important piece of work, or gone through difficult family situations thinking “it’s ok, I can handle this – I’ve run the WHW” and I doubt you ever will either. I have had to go through some challenging times however and it has given me a solid foundation, an awareness of my ability to endure, a determination as well as some ‘thinking’ strategies to help me see the bigger picture. To break down the mountain of doubt into more manageable chunks. I’m not sure I was doing that too well before ultra-running and the WHW.
So back to running – that’s what this blog is meant to be about. I went up to race the D33 a couple of weeks ago. Prep wasn’t great for a number of reasons – the biggest being a totally unexpected long-term relationship split. Someone I loved and cared about deeply. Whilst it’ll hurt for a very long time I know I have to keep moving. In the grand scheme of things, I’ve only reached the 50 mile mark of much longer race – yes I have cramp, the weather is awful, I’m cold, thirsty and hungry but I know if I can just get to the next check-point the clouds might lift and the blood may flow freely through my legs again. That’s what an ultra does for you and in general life. It helps you to make the most of the situation and use whatever you can to get you through that moment of toil. A smile from a marshal might be an email from old friend, some dry clothes like a hug from yer dad, or the sight of another finish line the successful completion of another project at work.
‘Absolutely…he has lost it”
I haven’t really. All I’m trying to point out are some of the parallels between an ultra and life, and for anyone completing one of these remarkable challenges the benefits are wider than just a ‘finish’, a position or a target time.
I thought about whether or not to post this, I know some will laugh – there’s always a slightly unpleasant under-current in any competitive racing and the Scottish ultra scene hasn’t escaped it entirely. I can live with that. There are ten times as many good and honest people. Expressing one’s feelings isn’t exactly ‘West of Scotland’ but on the most part people connect with honesty. Didn’t we all want Geoff Roes to win in the Western States 100 ‘Unbreakable’ blockbuster? Wasn’t he the most honest runner?
I received a twitter DM this morning from another runner who I don’t know very well but had the pleasure of meeting briefly in Aberdeen. It was incredibly well-timed and provided that little something I needed to keep moving. I took that as my little pat on the back and I’ve picked myself up again this morning. I even laughed out loud when I wasn’t shit on by a bird as I ran into work – missed it by a fraction of second. Maybe things are picking up already and I’ll cruise on past the next checkpoint 🙂
So thank you for that DM – it was kind, it was honest and it meant something.
I’m heading up to Perth on Sunday for the Anglo-Celtic Plate. 100K on tarmac is a whole new challenge for me. It’s well outside my comfort zone so I’ll get a lot from it no matter the result. If you’re around feel free to stop by – always welcome a friendly face and a smile.