Control The Controllable
The start of an ultramarathon is a time a filled with curiosity and excitement. I hear the gun and timidly set off with anywhere from 100 to 2,000 other runners, each one of us thinking the same thing, will I make it? At this point there usually lies 50 to 80 miles—depending on the race—ahead of me. Various factors have to be taken in at this early stage. I do a mental check and start to visualise the whole course. Is it hilly? Where are the refueling stations? Do I have enough water with me? Will my legs stay fresh or abandon me at the halfway mark? In this situation my mantra is, control the controllable. Prep is key to running these distances and even on a day when you are under prepared, it can all turn out fine. Other days, when it feels like everything is dialed in and the body is ready, it can be a disaster. Let me share an example. I have run two competitive ultras this year. The first one, in March, was a tough 50 miler and I came through really well even after losing two weeks of training due to the flu. I attribute this success to being realistic and allowing myself to adjust my goals as the day went on. Plus, I was very prepared and kept my mind on putting one foot in front of the other. The second race, at the end of May, was a different experience. It was 40 miles and I went in over-confident as I knew the course well and had run it before. I set my eye on the prize because I knew there was a possibility I could go top three. Well, after about three hours of running, I hit the wall. Vomiting, dizziness, alternating between a walk and a shuffle. I nearly bailed four times and if it weren't for some friends who turned up to cheer me on, I never would have made it. You can imagine my surprise at the finish line when I was told I had won! When I look at those two days it's the first one that stands out by a long ways. The reason being is I took a seemingly insurmountable task and broke it down into chunks of time. Each footstep took me to a new place with a new view. I was a far better manager of my circumstances and didn't panic when I tripped over a root or felt like the end would never come. I just kept moving and celebrated the fact that I am sober and should be dead, really. In the second race all I saw was the finish line and the prize! I didn't want to put in the effort and face the struggles, I just wanted my trophy because I felt I deserved it after all the work I had done. And even when I got the trophy the experience felt hollow, I felt I didn't deserve it.
My life is exactly the same. If I handle the daily difficulties in the same way as the first race then I will come through OK. If I decide to just look at the end goal with impatience, like the second race, then I am going to get frustrated and bitter when things don't go my way. As I go through a major transition in my life right now I am trying to hold onto to these lessons that running has taught me. I am looking way too far ahead of myself at the moment and trying to influence things that really I have no control over. Control the controllable! Each day can be like a race, too. There are days when I feel extra prepared and I envision how the day will go and it ends up being a self-perceived disaster. Whereas if I roll out of bed with no great expectations and take what I am given, then there's a likely chance I am opening myself up to greater adventure and possibility. I'm not saying this is always the case, but I definitely need to focus more on my daily steps than the things that may or may not happen.
One other thing that makes ultras so amazing is team spirit. They are not run by one person, but by a team of supporters. People have invested time and money to share in my dreams that may sometimes seem absurd and in doing so, have become invaluable friends. I very much need to learn to be better at letting them do it in my daily life, too!