Struggling and suffering are the essence of a life worth living. If you are not pushing yourself beyond the comfort zone, if you are not demanding more of yourself... You're denying yourself an extraordinary trip. - Dean Karnazes
This is one of my favourite quotes that always pushes me when I am running in ultra marathons or multi day races. It makes me think that no matter how terrible I am feeling at that point, there is always more of an adventure ahead which no part of me wants to miss out on!
Lots of people have asked me in the past, "What do you do with your mind when you are running such long races. Don't you get bored, or lonely?", and to be honest it is has never been something that had crossed my mind, even before running my first ultra race. I have always been quite happy with my own thoughts, but even so when I look back and think about it, the thought of running for 18 hours over 100km does seem like a long stretch to listen to the voices in my head and the panting of a destroyed runner. When I ran my longest ultra marathon in September last year (Thames Path Challenge) I arrived at the starting area with the same mentality from every other race which I have run, keep myself to myself and mentally prepare for what lies ahead, although with this long ultra race things ended up being somewhat different.
As this ultra race catered to all types of people, athletes, runners, joggers and walkers, there was a much different feeling at the start line consisting of a mix between excitement and trepidation. Everyone was chatting with everyone in the starting pens and registration area and I am pretty sure that I ended up not even having a minute to really think about what was ahead of me. It was impossible not to make friends before the race even began as everyone was swapping stories of training and what was the driving force behind them taking on this insane challenge. I remember starting the race with a feeling I had not felt in many before, one that everyone there was in it together and this was not every runner for themselves.
The challenge had many staggered start times throughout the morning so as I ran along I remember passing a lot of the walkers who had started hours before me and as me and many others passed them we we greeted with cheers of "You're RUNNING the whole thing! You're insane!", enough encouragement to keep everyone moving along! A great bonus to this and many other ultras is that there is a long cut off time, this takes off so much of the pressure that makes you constantly think you must keep moving or you won't make the finish line in time. It gives you the time to have a walk when you need it and have a chat with some of the amazing people along the route. I don't remember a single point until nightfall when I had the chance for boredom or loneliness to set in, everyone was mixing with everyone wherever they were on the course, encouraging each other to keep on going.
Now obviously this feeling is easy to come by when you are running in an event with hundreds or thousands of other people, but what if I am running a race alone or even.... across a continent?
The loneliest you will ever feel is when in need. Whether from pain of an injury, cold or hunger, you will feel at your most lonely, most insignificant when you are away from people and in need - Aleks Kashefi
This is where you really need to be content with the voices in your own head as im sure there will be many points when loneliness will creep in. One of the best things I try to do is to take everything in steps, literally, take everything day by day, 5km by 5km. There is no point in thinking about that long lonely road that is coming up in the next state as it's in the next state. Enjoy the little stretch you are currently running along and celebrate the accomplishment of finishing it, before moving onto the next target. One other thing to think about which always helps stop the loneliness from setting in sounds simple but is ever so easily forgotten when you're tired from a full day of running. Talk to everyone, literally everyone even if it's a hello as you run past. Those tiny little interactions despite how small they seem are sometimes the things that keep you going at the hardest of times, you are not out there alone. Just like with the Ultramarathon last year, there are people everywhere who will be more than happy to have a chat and help keep your loneliness at bay.
It's not easy, and there will be times when everything gets too much, but no matter how far you are running, you are never alone.
If you enjoyed this post then please could you spare a minute! Most of you know already that I have been nominated for a running award in the Online Publications category for next year. I would love it if you could click on the image below and go to vote for this blog, "Corner To Corner USA". The voting for this round closes on the 29th November, so there is still time for you to help me get shortlisted :)
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