On The Run

Life Lessons From Running An Ultra | Part 1

It’s been three weeks since my Ultra-Trail Marathon on the mountains of the Eastern Cape of South Africa. It was an incredibly tough challenge that tested me on so many levels – but somehow, I ran, walked and crawled my way to the finish in 9+ hours. When we travelled back in the open safari truck, I left with more than just the new shiny medal around my sunburnt neck – I left with incredible memories that I will forever cherish as well as life lessons that will guide me for years to come. You’ve heard the story but let’s talk about the lessons!

“The person who starts the race is not the same person who finishes the race”

Don’t Be Scared To Dream Big. So often we limit ourselves and our dreams. How many times have you told yourself “I can’t because…” If you had told me five years ago that I would run an ultra, I would have laughed. But dreaming big is what pushes us to strive to be the best we can be. Do we sometimes fail trying to get there?! Oh, several times. But when we don’t dream big, we are already telling ourselves, it is impossible and we never discover our true potential. When I finished the race, I felt amazing – like I could do anything. Not just in running… but anything in life. What dreams do you have for your life? Do you want to set up your own business? Do you want to buy a house? Do you want another qualification? It’s all possible. Dream big.

Pain Is Temporary, Regret Is Forever. A year ago, I was given a new functional area at work. I was so overwhelmed, uncomfortable, intimidated. I woke up nauseous every day. I had the option to quit. But somehow I pushed through and a month later, I started enjoying it. Looking back, the month of nausea was all worth it. This lesson was cemented even further during my ultra training. There were many times during training I wanted to quit. But each time, I knew I would regret it. This kept me going for all those months and for almost 10 hours on Race Day. There are so many things in life that are hard, uncomfortable, painful even, but if you have the tiniest inkling that you will regret quitting, keep putting one foot in front of the other.

You Get What You Put In. I ran only 463km of 750km on my training schedule. Going into the race, I knew I had done enough to finish but I also knew that completing it in the 6 or 7 hours I’d initially hoped for and anticipated was not possible. You get what you put in. As harsh as it sounds, the truth is, had I done more training – run more kilometres, added strength training and core work, climbed more hills, I probably would have finished closer to the middle of the pack than I did. And the same goes for other goals in life – the more you show up and dedicate yourself to your goals, the more likely you are to achieving the levels of success you want.

Focus On What You Can Control. Of course, you can have every intention of putting in the work and crazy things happen. My training cycle was full of challenges but even with these, there were things I could control to salvage the situation: my approach – I lowered my weekly mileage, maintained my long runs, focused on hill-hiking and included more trail runs; my attitude – I stayed positive and upbeat; and finally, I lowered my expectations. A middle-table position was no longer possible, but I knew I had a good chance of finishing. On Race Day, I ran every section I could, pushed up every incline, and slogged it out for 8 ugly kilometres at the end to get the job done. In life, there are many things you can’t control – that neurotic client, getting sick or pure bad luck, but you can control your approach and attitude.

Embrace The Unknown. When I got to 30km, I was in new territory. I had never run further than 30km in my life. Was it scary? OMG, it was TERRIFYING. But once I’d gotten over the fact that I was in unchartered territory, I felt how strong my legs were and with each step I grew more confident. With each kilometre over 30, I realised I had the physical and mental strength to go the distance. My training and also consistency over the last five years were enough to carry me safely for 44km. Life – is pretty much the same. You are often faced with challenges you’ve never encountered but somehow all your life experiences prepare you for the unknown. Who is ever confident with a promotion at work? Who isn’t nervous when they are about to become a parent? But once we’re in place, we discover we are more prepared than we thought.

We Are Stronger Together. One just has to look at the Kenyan marathon athletes who year after year achieve great wins and records on the global stage because they work together on the course. But even in the world of non-elites, we achieve incredible things together. There were so many times during the race that I felt myself being pulled by others – sometimes it was just from watching them put one foot in front of the other and other times it was from hearing their encouraging words as I leaned over in anguish. In the last five or so kilometres, I saw runners who didn’t seem to know each other, pair up, just to help each other finish. And who can forget Ditiro giving four cramp block tablets to the 76km runner who was struggling? Back to life – how many times has the impossible been achieved because people stood together?

I meant to stop at five points for the FIT FIVE FRIDAY link-up but ended up with six! There’s just so much to say and I’m not done yet! In my next blog, I’ll pick up where I’ve left off but before I go – are there times you have thought a dream was too big but gone for it anyway? Have you regretted not pushing for something you really wanted? Have you been terrified about a work promotion and then done okay? Let me know – I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Excited to be linking up with My First 5K and MoreRunning With AttitudeRun Laugh Eat PieRuns with Pugs, and Zenaida for FIT FIVE FRIDAY! 

17 thoughts on “Life Lessons From Running An Ultra | Part 1

  1. Love this post. What you said is so true. I’ve never run an ultra but I can relate from my marathon.

    You get to mile 20 and you wonder how you will run 6 more. But the crowd pulls you through it. You think about the others behind you that are struggling with more issues than fatigue.

    I still pinch myself. Who knew that I could do it? Who knows what else I can do?


  2. This is lovely – and I can empathise with a lot of it. Mine gave me a lot of confidence – and I only had to go 5 miles further than I’d ever been before, too!


  3. All that confidence you have worked so hard to build up over the last 5 years just oozes out all over this post, and I love it Shathiso! I also love that you were in touch with your body, so adjusted your goals and still had the confidence that you would finish. Our body follows our mind, so that’s a great life lesson!

    I’ve done a lot of things that were scary to me over my life — others might laugh & think they weren’t very scary, but they were scary to ME. I grew with each challenge. Each challenge shaped me into the person I am today.

    I’ve also taken on a few challenges that I did quit — and I’ve never regretted those, either. I tried, but I wasn’t enjoying it, and what’s the point if you’re not having fun, right? Would I have grown even more if I had stuck it out? Well, we’ll never know, will we, but I never doubted my decision to quit those things. Maybe by quitting those things I created more space in my life for other things.

    Can’t wait to read more! Congrats again!


  4. These are all great life lessons. Running has so many parallels to life! I’ve always noticed in marathons how at the 19 mile point and beyond there is a kinship among other runners. We are all in that suffer mode so there’s no time for ego and it is at that time I can feel pure love and fellowship.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I love the quote about the person who finishes not being the same as the person who starts. The biggest lesson seems to be that you can do REALLY hard things! You are amazing for persevering through the training and every minute of those 9+ hours.


  6. I love this post so much. I’ve never done an ultra but I REALLY want to! I love how when your training didn’t go the way you’d hoped, instead of thinking you couldn’t do it, you were determined to do it anyway and figured out how to make it happen. I’m sure you’re a different person than the person who started that race. I’m looking forward to Part 2!


  7. You are amazing, woman! loved every word and gave me so much to think about. I may need to re-read this a few times and let it all sink in again when I start my half/ full marathon training again soon. x


  8. It’s been so inspiring following your journey to the Ultra finish line…and beyond! I love how you hit on the fact that once your crossed the 30K mark, you were in new territory. Isn’t that a moment surreal self-reflection! I remember having that same though when I passed the 26.2 mark of my ultra (I went 60K total for my ultra)…it made me kind of silly and giddy (probably from the fatigue and endorphins flirting with each other) 😉


  9. I just love all of this so much! I especially appreciate “embrace the unknown” – I remember hitting the 18-mile mark in my marathon and thinking … now what? I had never gone further in my training. You learn so much about yourself in those final miles/KMs don’t you? I am truly both in awe and inspired by your ability to preserve for 9+ hours. This has been an amazing journey – thanks so much for sharing it with us 🙂


  10. Everyone loves a bonus point!

    You are so inspiring and amazing! I love the lessons you gleaned from your experience and I am so proud of all the hard work you put in. And the incredible success you reaped from it! Can’t wait to see what’s next for you!


  11. Thank you for such an inspiring post! Running has often been a metaphor for life for me, and it continues to humble me and teach me lessons. Your ultra experience sounds incredible and I’m so happy that you pushed through! Congratulations!


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