Where from here? A reminder of what I know.
“At some point, everything is going to go south on you… everything’s going to go south and you’re going to say, this is it. This is how I end. Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work. That’s all it is. You just begin. You do the math. You solve one problem… and you solve the next one… and then the next. And If you solve enough problems, you get to come home” – Mark Watney in The Martian.
I have this need to write but I am not sure where to begin. What to say. I have written about so many things that have been significant in my life on this blog – challenges, success, injuries, victories, failures, relationships, death, life, mountains and dreams. Every single post I have written somehow always related to some race or running escapade. This one does not; in any way, shape or form. But it is very significant to me. And I hence feel like it belongs here as much as all the other things I have written over the past three years.
Running used to be the backbone of my life. It structured who I was as well as my interactions with the world. Ultras taught me true resilience, integrity, commitment and strength. They turned me into a much calmer person. They taught me how to deal with things when nothing goes according to plan. Back in the days where I used to run to levels I can barely conceive now, I just had this confidence that whatever life would throw at me, I would be able to deal with it. Because running in the mountains for 10 hours at a time literally brought up the best in me. I never counted my successes in running with times, medals or rankings. My best races, the ones I am the proudest of are the ones where I was able to dig myself out of absolute misery. I think to me, that was always part of what I was searching to an extent. I wanted to go in the pain cave, I wanted to go in the dark and explore the limits of what I can take. I wanted to prove to myself that I could take it. That’s not all there is of course, absolutely not. The love of the outdoors and the mountains, that’s what started all of this and very much nurtured it. But if that was all then I would just hike in those places instead of running them. It was the perfect mixed of navigating in landscapes of plain beauty and having to go in a dark place and control the pain at times that both attracted me to ultras so much. It is not the pain that I loved, it was learning to control it and erase it. It was exploring the edge of my potential, for, as T.S Eliot put it “Only those whose risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go”.
Bad injuries and the start of my professional life both contributed to put light years between running and me. It was not part of my life daily life anymore. As other aspects of my life were growing at exponential rates, running was dying in a corner. But now I need this back in my life probably more than I ever have since it all slowly came to a semi-halt. Because I can see it so more clearly than ever now, what an education on life racing has been.
What do you do when everything goes south on you and your two only options are to give up or work through it – with no time to think about it, take a break and consult anyone. Because the clock is ticking, the sun is setting and that one runner you have been trying to keep at bay for miles and miles is breathing down your neck. There is no time for a pity party, there is no time to reflect on the possible unfairness of things that is of a shocking lack of relevance anyway. There is no time for anything shallow. You brush the shallowness on the side on you get to the core of thing right away. You are alone in this. You forgot your map and your electrolytes and an aid station and realise miles and miles later, you are developing disabling blisters that will eventually completely impair forward motion, you throw up every time you see food, you wandered of course and are lost under pouring rain in the middle of nowhere, the night is catching up with you and you don’t have a headlamp because you were so confident you would be done before sunset, you are only halfway through a 35mi training run in the middle of nowhere and got so destroyed by the heat that you do really wonder how you are going to make it home before the end of the day. What. Do you. Do?
The thing I have come to discover through running is that the only way to deal with any of these situations is to remain hyper focus on finding a solution; to shut down literally every emotion and noise in the world that is not going to contribute to finding a solution. You go in that place where nothing else exists or matters – just a problem and you, and you work something out. Without wasting any energy on anything else – and that includes a pity party. And it becomes a habit of dealing with things. The American philosopher William James has been credited with saying ““Beyond the very extreme of fatigue and distress, we may find amounts of ease and power we never dreamed ourselves to own; sources of strength never taxed at all because we never push through the obstruction”. And it says all I want to say. If you want to grow you need to be in a situation that challenges you. That’s how you learn. That’s how you develop the tools that you need to go even further.
I am not sure why I am writing this. I am not even sure what I am writing about. Maybe I am mainly writing this for myself. As a reminder that time after time, I have been showed that the only thing to do when you hit a massive wall is to keep going. That is virtually the only option in the world. All the rest is secondary. And I just need to hear this now. I need to be reminded of this now. If the era of ultras is going through a break at the moment, the lessons they have taught me on the other hand are timeless.
I have no idea what’s next at the moment. I had my biggest dream in the palm of my hand and before I could grab a hold of it, it was gone. Obliterated in the seconds of a decision that blindsided everyone involved. And now here we are. But the reality remains the same. You can accept that all is definitely over or you can get to work – for it is literally all you have left. And maybe that’s what drew me back to this blog in the first place. Because this is where I keep the records of all these other moments where I wonder how on earth I was going to reach the finish line.