I’m running a 100Miles/160km in 4 days and the website countdown thingy is causing me a lot of anxiety. I’d prefer not to be constantly alerted to the fact that it all starts in 4 days, 7 hours and 32 minutes. I am basically running from East London to Port Alfred. Crisscrossing some minor mountain range. On mainly single track. And every time I really think about that I can’t breathe for a minute or so because of the intensity of the panic. Fortunately I have learned to con myself by breaking it down into manageable chunks so I do a deep breathing technique that I learned at antenatal class deconstruct100 miles into 32 Park Runs (I mean anyone can do 32 Park Runs, right?) and the panic dissipates. That is until I am forced to engage with people who don’t run about the race. “So when are you doing your big walk dear???”
“Ummm actually it’s a run, not a walk and its in X days and I’m mildly panic stricken at the prospect.”
“Hahahahaha don’t be silly, you’ve done it before you’ll be FINE! You have such a strong mind!” And then I have to resist the urge to assault some dear well meaning granny who is just trying to be reassuring because I WILL BLOODY WELL NOT BE FINE! And neither will any of the other 39 or so poor sodswho will be lining up at the start in 4 days 7 hours and 31 minutes. You can’t run 100 miles and be fine no matter how bionic you are. At some stage the pain will get you. It will stalk you the whole way and when your resolve is at a particularly low ebb it will pounce howling with evil glee and it will very possibly take you down. At the risk of sounding dramatic we will all run through the valley of the shadow of death at least once (unless there are some very good drugs out there that I know nothing about). So telling me that I will be fine is much like suggesting to a mother who gave birth naturally and without drugs once a long time ago that there is no need to worry because she’s done it all before. It’s preciselybecauseshe’s done it before that her natural inclination is a general anesthetic.
So with all this in mind I am focusing on a good mental strategy. What I will need to remember from the start and again at every big milestone is that this is a choice. Nobody is forcing me to do it. I choose this race, this experience and the inevitability of the miles of pain. It’s hard to explain to non runners why one would do such a thing. I’ve had a lot of time to think about this question on my long solo training runs (long indeed but not quite long enough according to all the training programmes that I occasionally glance at but never follow!) I think the closest I can get to a coherent explanation is that it makes for an exquisite certainty of the fact that I am truly completely free, truly completely alive and fully engaged. When I am alone, surrounded by wilderness and high on nature and the beauty of the E Cape night and possibly experiencing intense suffering it becomes an interesting exercise to weigh the pain against the passion (resolve, determination) to achieve what I have set out to do. As long as I continue to put one foot in front of the other, passion is winning. If I give up, pain is the winner.There is a particular brand of elation in keeping just ahead of the pain. It becomes a visible tangible exercisedemonstrating to me the extent of my passion to achieve what I set out to do. If it feels this bad but I am still determined to continue then I must be unstoppable. Right?
I have a lot of in flight entertainment prepared for my outing with myself in 4 days, 7 hours and 25 minutes. I have completely accepted the possibility that I may well be alone the whole way. If I have company I will be delighted but I will not crave it or run faster or slower than planned in order to have it.I have a mental play list of songs I will sing to me featuring pretty much everything from Pink Floyd to “If you happy and you know it clap your hands!” I have memorized some rather rousing speeches (Shakespeare, Winston Churchill, Maya Angelou) and will make up a few of my own along the way. I visualize myself delivering them at sunset on the plateau that overlooks Algoa Bay and the entire Sundays Valley and I am sure I will move myself to tears. This is of course bizarre and will then lead to hysterical laughter which I will embrace. When its 2am and I am at my lowest ebb or when I have 30km to go and it seems impossible I will play the games I always do in these moments and will imagine myself in a war zone pursued by people who are intent on capturing me. I will imagine a hostile army tracking me relentlessly who will catch up with me if I don’t keep moving. I will entertain the dreadful fantasy that if they catch me they will harm my child and that the only way to ensure her safety is relentless forward progress. I will later focus with gratitude on the fact that there is no such army and that instead there are race organisers and volunteers who are staying up all night to make sure I am having a great time. (I will only think about this when the end is in sight in case I am lulled into complacency).
If all else fails (and with grateful thanks to my brother Craig who introduced me to this compelling image) I will concentrate on the fact that a wounded buffalo which could be stopped by any one shot can maintain his/her relentless forward progress despite taking 50 such shots once it has begun its charge. Absolutely nothing can take it down once it has begun that charge. I will be the buffalo.J
I have decided that when I feel my form beginning to slip and my shoulders hunch inwards and my core strength begins to dissolve I will stop and I will power pose until the testosterone is coursing through my veins and my smile muscles are aching with the thought of how ridiculous I would look to anyone who might seem me and I will feel better and more powerful and altogether less weak.
I will break the distance down into 8 half marathons (which for me is the most manageable breakdown) and I will reward myself with peanut butter sandwiches and new socks at the end of every 20km. I will need a Sherpa for my socks and peanut butter sandwiches. I will have conversations with my imaginary sock Sherpa for whom I feel an inordinate fondness (oh dear). I will devote every 20km to one of my mates/family and I will think about them, pray for them, chat to them in my head. I will imagine they are running with me and suffering much more than me which will allow me to focus on someone other than me.I WILL NOT succumb to the evils of check point yearning (a phenomenon to which I have devoted a lot of research) and I will embrace the journey for as long as possible.
I know that mantras are supposedly an excellent way to motivate oneself but I haven’t yet managed to come up with one that is punchy enough too motivate me or short enough to remember. My mate Sally sent me a great quote the other day. I immediately forgot it in its original form but retained the gist of it and brought the words out to play with and reorganiselike Lego blocks (on one of those not quite long enough long runs) and in its revised custom built format it goes like this:
“I will make broken indestructible then strong invincible and I will gather together every gram of agony and hammer it into a pair of wings.”I rather like it and will say it to myself repeatedly. Sometimes I get confused when I’m tired and get it all wrong but its like doing a magic cube and will entertain me for a while as well as motivate me.
I will remind myself what a privilege it is to be fit and strong, to have access to the astounding wilderness area and to have the resources to do this race. I will remind myself that any strength I have comes from Joy and that my aim is to prolong it as deep into the race as possible. I will remind myself that although I may have done the bare minimum wrt mileage I am stronger in my head and my core than I was 8 years ago and that Tim Noakesonce said its better to be over weight and undertrained than the other way round. I have embraced that idea for most of my life so please God let him not have made an about turn on that opinion too!