SHOO! I’m positively basking in the joy of an easy ‘recovery’ week after the completion of March’s big training block which culminated in an Ultra distance run. Just two measly hours of that very run had me seriously questioning why the hell I felt the need to run the Comrades marathon again.
Thankfully some vasbyt’ing during that doubtful period, followed by some amazingly inspirational videos, chats with Sibusiso Vilane and Ryno Griessel afterwards have put me back on track for now.
The Doubting Mind
Damn that doubting mind. Why does it consistently try to thwart your most noble goals and best intentions? I should know by now it’s an inseparable part of ultra-distance pursuits, but it still never fails to surprise me.
I suppose to many extents, it’s one of the key reasons we keep coming back for more. To see if we can keep overcoming those doubts.
I had been anxiously dreading the prescribed month-end Ultra marathon throughout March. While I’d easily ticked off the Township Marathon in at end-Feb, the extra Kilometres I’d need to put in on this run were proving daunting.
Without having signed up for any official Ultra, the other question was what distance should I do? With Two Oceans happening on the same weekend and the ‘conventional’ South African ultra-distance being 55km and up, my initial plan was to test out the advanced nav features of my Garmin Fenix 5x for the first time, by loading up a route map of the RAC long run (60km), and boshing it out on my own with a Camelbak and some tunes for company.
When a mate at work suggested I join he and some mates for 48km on Easter Friday as part of the Randburg Harriers Easter hundred weekend, it sounded a lot more palatable than my initial plan to program the RAC long run route into my Garmin Fenix watch and run it alone.
I managed a few runs with Al and his crew in March and while I enjoy running alone, time does seem to go by much faster on a long run with human company.
So I raced into the Randburg Harriers ground with a few minutes to spare (damn I must be better in getting to the start), and very fortuitously bumped into Al’s crew on their way out.
The run route was a very lekker circuitous route through the of Joburg, as seen in the image below and one I’d definitely run again.
The run itself, was not so lekker. The first 15-20 odd km’s were great, and running with others definitely did make the time fly by. The 10km’s after that were good in another way. I got into my own steady rhythm climbing the hills of Northcliff and left the crew to run at my own pace.
But then, as inevitably tends to happen in ultra’s, a couple of niggles surfaced (sore lower back and toe’s), which made the doubting mind kick into overdrive.
“You’re only at 30 and hurting, with 15 to go. How the hell do you think you’ll handle another 45?” was the type of internal dialogue coursing through my brain, repeatedly. I tried to concentrate on the points of pain and discomfort to consciously work out how I could ignore them / deal with them so that I’d know how to during Comrades.
I tried to call on every and all resources I’ve ever encountered from the heroics of incredible people like Dick Hoyt, Chris Moon, Reuben van Niekerk and Pieter du Preez, to chanting mantra’s (in my head – don’t worry) that had appealed to me in the past, as many recommend to do, to turning to my Complete Coldplay playlist on Spotify.
I don’t profess to having devised a perfect strategy for dealing with it in future, but in finishing those last 17km’s, I do feel I was able to minimise the discomfort by tuning in to some seriously emotive music, and making friends with the discomfort. In consciously dealing with it, I feel I’m many steps closer to hopefully being able to deal with the inevitable pains and discomforts that Comrades race day will serve up.
People often cite a post-exercise endorphin / Dopamine release as a reason they exercise. Whenever I hear that mentioned, I rather cynically think that it’s a vastly over exaggerated concept used to coax the lazy off the couch.
I definitely feel a huge personal feeling of pride and achievement at the completion of each successful session, but I assign that more to a psychological feeling than a chemical one.
Boy or boy was that arssy opinion jolted at the end of the 47km. I felt an incredible sense of emotion and euphoria wash over me for a period of about a half-hour during which I felt I could tackle anything. Calling on a “Comrades Pain Buster” playlist I’d constructed in 2013 for painful times during raceday, I ended up standing shirtless in the sun with my eyes closed singing along loudly while I stretched against my car.
It really was a magical feeling that already had me feeling that the pain and doubt during the run weren’t that bad at all. Were they??
Once the endorphin high had dissipated, I still felt great, but not good enough to completely discard the earnest questions that had plagued the latter parts of my run.
So I went looking for inspiration. Thank God for the internet. If you can’t find inspiration there, then you’re going about it wrong. I’m not sure what people used to do in the past, but the internet is chock-full of articles, videos, photos to inspire even the most disinterested and lazy of humans.
A couple of the videos had me so inspired and teary-eyed, that they even had me reconsidering whether a 100 miler was completely off the bucket list.
Simply put – humans are amazing and there are hundreds of amazing human stories out there with different enough back stories / themes / hardships to appeal to anyone. After watching a few, I was inspired enough to hit the Virgin Active Morningside that late-afternoon to bosh out an additional 13km’s to round out the day at a very gratifying 60km’s. How quickly the doubting mind can be set straight.
I’ll list 2/3 of the video’s that really motivated me that day, but think I’m going to start curating them into a library of sorts to call on when required.
- “The Why – Running 100 Miles” – director Billy Yang personally examines (by running himself) why people run 100 milers – in this case the brutal Leadville 100.
- “How to Run 100 Miles” – the beautifully filmed and very emotional story of Brendan, who decides to run the Run Rabbit Run 100 miler with best friend Jayson to test out Jayson’s life philosophy, which is basically that you can do anything you dream up, as long as you put in the work and refuse to quit.
- The FKT Grand Himalaya trail – Ryno Griesel and Ryan Sandes’s recently completed fastest know time (FKT) for the Grand Himalaya trail. Overcoming frostbite, a knee injury an almost complete body shutdown (all suffered by Ryno), the pair made it through an incredibly difficult 25 days for the record.
I think the reason the above 3 stories inspired me so much, is because the events they detail are all so significantly more difficult than the Comrades Marathon that it puts the Comrades in perspective as tough, but not nearly the toughest.
Ryno Griesel’s story of his GHT effort was particularly inspiring. Described to me during our Ultrabloke podcast interview – yes I’m starting a podcast (more on that soon) – Ryno really is testament to the strength and power of the human spirit and enough to inspire one to keep working towards ones goals. My meeting with him couldn’t have come at a better time.
And so, I’ve decided to carry on and suck up each training session one at a time. Altogether, the remaining training and 90km’s that await on raceday often seems like too daunting a task. In isolated single sessions, it’s a lot more palatable. And with help from the inspiring stories of a legion of amazing human beings that are tackling much harder goals every week, I think it may be eminently achievable.