I was recently one of the four main guests at SBS Insight night on "Pushing the Limits".
We discussed different aspect of endurance sport, physiological and psychological, sharing the personal stories behind what we do and experiences in taking on endurance challenges.
It was a great night and I took home great insights by the other guests and experts in the audience.
In hindsight, I wish I answered some questions slightly differently, giving a bit more depth and express myself better. Particularly one question around the WHY I do what I do.
To put things in the right context, we were discussing the possible long term risks of endurance events, the toll on the body, the dependency on the mind.
This is what I would have liked to say:
It is a bit hard to explain to those who are not part of this wonderful and fast growing niche of ultra runners. Admittedly, fellow ultra-runners also look at me a bit perplexed given the oddity of the challenge, the incredible boredom and complete lack of social appeal of running on a treadmill for 24 hours… but they get it.
All ultra runners have their own reasons to test their limits.
I started running long when my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer late 2010. It was my way to try to make sense to what was happening, to get hold of my thoughts and to flush out all the negativity before summing up the courage to speak to her. Later running became a way to make my contribution to the race against cancer, getting others involved with my OUTRUN CANCER Corporate Treadmill Marathon events, spread awareness, advocate for prevention, and raise funds - over 600,000 AU$ to date - for specific and innovative prevention programs.
Now, running long distances, taking on unusual challenges, pushing my physical and mental limits through running, is my way to be in peace with myself and be authentic.
When I go for my long runs I am a better husband and a better father. I can deal and overcome my worries, personal doubts, fears and pressure of a busy life and high expectations. I find a more balanced perspective on things and all the noise subsides. Running also improves my general health, as I seek healthier food and make better lifestyle choices, and boosts my overall energy levels.
I have the belief that pushing through the moment where you have the choice of quitting or carrying on, functions as a way to prepare for the curve balls life inevitably throws. I doubt I’ll ever need to run away from or chase somebody for 24 hours - although that is a useful skill to have. But I am pretty sure there will be many cases when I’ll need ultra resilience. This is my way to practice the ability.
“How did you train your mind to tackle 24 hours on a treadmill?”
This is the question I get asked more often about my 24 hour treadmill stint. And it's the right question to hard as that run was 99% mental and 1% physical.
I feel I was lucky to recognise this disproportion about the run and be very intentional with my mental preparation, to which I dedicated more time than my physical training. If for no other reasons, while running all the time is physically and practically impossible, the opposite is true for thinking about running!
What worked well for me was becoming 100% crystal clear on my WHY, WHAT and HOW. And be comfortable with it, removing choices and options to bail out.
I am a strong believer and advocate of Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why” movement. If you don’t know him I encourage you to read his books or simply watch his TED Talk.
Essentially he describes a pattern adopted by successful leaders and companies, which he calls the golden circle. These successful people and companies, think, act and communicate from the inside of the circle to the outside, which is the complete opposite of everyone else. They start from the reason they get up in the morning or their company exists (the WHY), not from the process (the HOW) or their product (the WHAT). In other words they start from a purpose, not from the product.
I believe this applies to many other aspects of life, including endurance running. Particularly for something out there like running on the spot for 24 hours!
Everyone has different ways to find their clarity. Some people love their spreadsheets and data, others draw their path from start to finish with the obstacle half way to find the way around it.
I visualise things and love dot lists. And to marry the two things I create mind maps.
My mind map for the 24 hours challenge evolved over 4 months. I printed it and hung it up on my bathroom window so I could see it daily and add leaves or improve points continuously.
By the end, the map was so clear in my head I could go back to it on my daily decisions and, most importantly, during the race.
In the lowest moments, when I was hurting mentally and physically, I found comfort in knowing it was all part of a big plan. “It’s all-right” I kept saying to myself “Here are the reasons WHY you are doing this.. and here is WHAT you are actually doing.. and here is the HOW”
Admittedly, this is the first time I formalise my WHY/WHAT/HOW for a running race but I am hopeful I can find a structure and a set of "rules" which I can use for other challenges.
Like most runners I suffer of FOMO every weekend when I see posts about races. It would be great to use this mind map as an independent judge on the races I should take on and those I should miss.
Check out a great free tool Xmind - happy mind mapping everyone!