What motivates you to run?
‘You’ll never be able to run properly again’ said the surgeon after I shattered my knee, broke my tibia, fibia, ligaments and cartilage after a sporting accident when I was 18 years old.
For most of us, our world today is so comfortable, so physically soft, and at the same time so terribly demanding and stressful that it can be hard to keep up with everything we feel we need to do in a day. For me, running helps regain a healthy balance between my mind, my body and my soul—that is why I do it.
It takes real discipline to train for an event, and then to give my absolute all in order to finish that race. With every race I enter, I know I am risking failure but I also have the confidence in myself to know that I will push myself to my very limits in the pursuit of success.
I love single-mindedly pursuing a goal. I find having a singular goal is quite purifying because there’s so much going on in my life in terms of commitments and expectations—the phone’s constantly ringing, emails are coming in, there are a hundred things that need doing—and I have to find a way to balance it all. But when I go to a race, I leave all that behind and I just focus on the trail.
When I go to a race, I don’t enjoy the pain of it—absolutely not—but I enjoy the focus that it gives me. While I’m racing, my mind is constantly preoccupied with taking the next step. I know I can’t let go for a minute, especially in desert races or when I’m running through the night. I’ve got to be watching where I’m going. I’ve got to be aware of how much fluid I’ve taken in. I need to know how many calories I’ve eaten. I’ve got to be listening to my body and where the pain is. I need to know how my mates I’m running with are doing. I need to worry about whether I need to be motivating them or if they are motivating me. My whole focus the around the clock is on getting to the finish line.
It can be extremely tiring because there’s no downtime. Even in the stage races, although there’s always the relief of getting to camp when I know I’ll be spending the night there. We sit around sharing war stories about what we’ve gone through that day. But the whole time we’re all still focused on that goal of making the finish line. The rewards for all that hard work are the sense of pride, of achievement, of tired satisfaction, and of confidence that come from crossing that finish line.
Another thing I love about ultra running is that when someone is challenged in such an extreme way, both mentally and physically, you get to see the true essence of that person. I think that’s something a lot of us want to do—to get to that point in a race, adventure or expedition where we’ve got nothing left,and we’ve given everything but we somehow manage to pull something out of ourselves to keep going. That’s what most of us want to find out. Have we got that in us? Can we push it that little bit harder? What mettle are we made of?
Through the sport, I have really learned to value people who push themselves beyond normal barriers and overcome obstacles. For me, it’s not about being the fastest on the course—that doesn’t impress me. It’s the guy who is last, it’s the girl I met during a race who had broken her back in a car accident and had fought back and was on her way to completing a 135 mile foot race or the kick boxer who was told he didn’t have the endurance in him to finish a 140 mile race through the Amazon, or the 75 year old ultra runner. They like me have had people say that they’d never be able to do it but regardless of age, standard, gender – we won’t let anyone tell us we can’t do it. Those are the stories that I really love and that’s what I love about the ultra marathon scene as opposed to the more competitive marathon and triathlon scenes. There it’s all about competing against each other. Our sport does have an element of that, but at the end of the day, most of us are in to compete against and test ourselves. It took me until the 350 mile Arctic race to realise that the competition wasn’t against the other runners, it was against the little voice in my head, telling me to quit.
It’s about facing your fears and conquering it. It doesn’t matter how many marathons you have run the fear still remains, it doesn’t matter how well your training has gone, how expensive your running tights are, or how many friends and family you have cheering you on along the route…we all of us that the single most terrifying prospect is…
…that we might not complete it.
I have raced in some of the world’s toughest races but I am not tough. The reason I have continued in jungles, deserts and the Arctic where I completed a 350 mile race with shattered feet is because my passion for pushing personal boundaries and finding new ones is an emotion too strong to ignore. It is in my blood; it is who I am. I do it for my family, my fellow competitors who help drive me on… but I also do it for me.
I learnt that the only hard thing I’ve ever done is having the guts to face my fear. And by facing my fears I have been on some of the most humbling and awe-inspiring experiences of my life.