Running is one of the greatest metaphors for life. As I’ve been reflecting on my Ultra-Trail journey, I’ve found so many parallels and critical lessons. In my last blog, I shared some of them including the importance of dreaming big, remembering that pain is temporary but regret is forever, that you get what you put in but also that it is critical to focus on what’s in your control when challenges arise. Also, that you’re more prepared for the unknown than you realise. But there are so many more lessons so today I’d like to continue where I left off. Enjoy!
“I dare you to train for a marathon, and not have it change your life.” – Susan Sidoriak
Break Up The Journey. 44km is long and in training every time I thought about the distance, I panicked. I knew the only way I could do it was to break it up into chunks. There are four 11km runs in 44km. Or even better – there are eight 5.5km in that distance. How many times do I run an easy 5.5 around the neighbourhood? When we studied the race material, I found another way to look at it – there are five aid stations in total. During the race, I celebrated each time we finished a 5.5km chunk and each arrival at an aid station. Breaking up the journey makes it so much more manageable. In life, set smaller goals as you work towards those big ones and celebrate each step – completing a module of a course or your first month at the gym.
Its Not Always Fun. Long-distance training is hard – there are many terrible runs and on top of that painful chafing, blisters, GI issues, parched skin and hair, muscle soreness and that prevalent feeling of fatigue. Although I loved my race, there were elements that were just not fun – I didn’t enjoy the long climb at 12km, the rocky and uneven sections, the grit on my face and I really hated the hill at the end! We went camping for my daughter’s tenth birthday this past weekend. Goodness, did I hate packing for that trip, driving there in torrential rain and setting up the tent in the dark! But what a beautiful adventure we had out in the Kgalagadi Desert. The not-so-fun bits in life are are only a small part of the bigger picture.
You Always Have One More Step In You. When I was faced with that first mammoth hill, there were moments I thought, I just can’t do this. But I worked my way up that hill, sometimes pushing down on my thighs with determination, other times holding my hips in despair or leaning over in protest. After this 4km climb, I never imagined I’d have the energy to run again. But I did. In fact, the next section was my strongest. Towards the end of the race, when I felt I had nothing left in me, again… I was able to keep putting one tired foot in front of the other. When you feel stuck in any life situation, know you always have more in you than you realise. Just focus on your next small step. No matter how small it is, it’s a step closer to your goal.
Take Time To Smell The Roses. There was a time in my training where everything felt difficult. I wasn’t enjoying myself at all. At that point, I had to change my attitude and start focusing on all the wonderful things I was missing out on as I was pouting on the trail – the fresh air, the flowers, the birds, the butterflies. During the race, it was exciting to see the pops of beauty in the bush and even as I struggled, I continued to be struck by the beauty of the mountains, the diverse flora including the gorgeous protea and the vast expanse of orange and pink heather. 9+ hours is a long time to be out on a trail. Had I focused on how hard it was, I would have missed all the beauty around me. In life, if you focus on the misery, you’ll miss all its beautiful moments.
Visualise the Victory. During my toughest moments in training, I visualised crossing the Finish Line, the feelings I’d have, the amazing celebrations, the photos, the #MedalMonday, the gluten-free cake from the Woolworths Café, the holiday we had booked after the race. And during the race, I visualised the same especially when things were getting tough. Again, this visualisation doesn’t just apply to a race but to life goals too. When you’re having those low moments and even questioning whether it’s worth all the work, it really helps to think about the end. How will you feel when you accomplish your goal? What will it mean for you? What joy will it bring?
Celebrate Yourself! I’ve been so humbled by all the amazing comments I’ve received from friends and strangers alike. But there have been the odd comments questioning the legitimacy of my ultra – indeed, whether 44km can even be considered an ultra! There will always be people who try to pull you down or make your victory seem “less than”. That’s why it’s so important that we learn to celebrate ourselves. To celebrate my ultra, I carried a big Botswana flag across the finish line. Carrying a flag shouldn’t just be reserved for those who finish first – if that’s how you want to celebrate, do it! After that, I celebrated with several cappuccinos, good food, a couple of cocktails as well as an amazing holiday in Port Elizabeth. Very often, only you know the work that went into achieving a goal. This is YOUR victory. Own it. Celebrate YOU.
That’s it my friends – some of my key life lessons from running an Ultra-Trail! I’ve started running again this week and although it has been tough to get back into it, I’m channelling these lessons – taking it one step at a time, focusing on enjoying this new chapter and celebrating the small wins. But before I go, let me ask – do you break up your journey? Do you visualise the victory when tackling tough challenges? Do you take time to celebrate yourself?