how ultra running can save the world…
(The power of reframing)
I feel a bit nauseous. The reason? Since crossing the finish line of the UTMB 4 weeks ago, I’ve ingested far too many social media accounts and blog posts in an attempt to understand how to communicate my own experience. I read of suffering and loneliness. I even read in one blog that described a UTMB start line full of fearful entrants waiting to begin the terrifying task of running over a mountain in the night. Now let me give you some real talk - for those that haven’t run trails or mountains or ultras. We - the UTMB starters - are not afraid of running over mountains in the dark. That is not because we are super heroes it is because we have practiced and proven our abilities in night running to earn our starts bibs, we have head torches and spare head torches and so many batteries in our little running back packs, and finally, because with some 2500 other runners all climbing the same mountains at the same time on a well lit night- well quite frankly it really never is that dark at all! I just needed to get that out of the way because sensationalised accounts like this - whist exciting are in danger of making our sport elitist and with women making up only 13% of entrants we just simply can’t afford the vanity of such accounts. The truth is - you can do anything that you want to do. If what you want to do is to run the UTMB then get outside and run on trails and start small - build up with consistency and patience and when you get there - you will be ready.
Sorry I digress… oh yes the same article went on to suggest that our ‘Why"‘ for running a long way is because perhaps we are not challenged enough in our normal lives that we need to challenge ourselves on the mountain. To truly suffer. This is a sentiment that does not resinate with me. I feel so grateful for my turn and I feel that as runners we have a responsibility to remember those who have supported us and the sense of community that sustains us.
My reality is that true hardships and challenges are faced in the day to day of life. The work-a day struggles or the bigger hardships. Each person encounters, in their lives, periods of time in which they must truly endure. In these moments, it can be hard to find the real life equivalent of aid stations volunteers or strangers to cheer us on and congratulate us for trying our best. It can be difficult to see the line of head torches snaking along in front and behind us - a symbol of others facing challenges similar to our own - and it can at times feel a lonely struggle.
As runners what we experience isn’t suffering but a privilege. We can be grateful to choose (and even pay for) the opportunity to explore nature and our selves. It is through this experience of facing and literally running through discomfort, frustration and joy that we learn so much about ourselves. We learn to live through the lows. We experience first hand - the impermanence of all things environmental and emotional; weather, terrain, highs and lows. We can choose in the harder moments to look for beauty in nature or to simply take comfort from the pure joy of continued forward progress by foot. In this controlled environment of movement, where we know the end destination, we can choose to view our responses to these things with curiosity. And, as people we grow from each experience - emerging each time a little wiser.
We runners are hungry for experience and fortunate to have bodies that allow us to test ourselves outside of the true gauntlet. The opportunity to hone our life skills in a practice ring where there is ready encouragement, aid and reward. We have chosen to face discomfort and we have seen it through with patience and forward movement to transform into moments of pure joy. We have felt disappointment, empathy and real gratitude towards ourselves and to other folk we haven’t met before.
So what is my point? Let’s share our stories. But lets make them truly honest accounts of our adventure and courage with the support of others. And perhaps more importantly - lets share that spirit. In times like the London marathon weekend or the UTMB we come together as a community and we foster achievement and self belief in each other. It is in this environment that ordinary people achieve extraordinary things. Lets use our experience to foster empowerment in our communities.
We runners can choose to bring those things which we have learned on mountain trails and hard roads into our lives and our communities. We can become ready cheerleaders of friends and strangers, We can offer encouragement where it is not asked for, We can view challenges and discomfort with the evenness of one who has faced down her foes and seen them through, we can enjoy happiness with the gratitude of one who has traversed the highs and lows of mountain and valley. We can choose to greet each other with the openness and non judgement of one who will not be defined by any race result.
Lets go back to our little communities in which live. The trails we trod every day and see that we are providing the environment for each person to grow and the support that flourishing takes -what ever the journey is for them.
You are enough.
You are doing great.