One ship sails East,
And another West,
By the self-same winds that blow,
Tis the set of the sails
And not the gales,
That tells the way we go.
Like the winds of the sea
Are the waves of time,
As we journey along through life,
Tis the set of the soul,
That determines the goal,
And not the calm or the strife.
Ella Wheeler Wilcox
In my previous post in this series, I said that ‘Consistency is the cement which holds the bricks together.’ And for me, Mindset is the foundation on which the whole thing is built. Let’s turn the question around a little and ask why do you want to ‘run 100 miles’ (swap this for whatever it is you want to do)? The motivation, which I find is very often a deeply rooted personal one, is going to be the buoy to which you cling when struggling in the throws of the roughest parts of the race.
In the second blog post of this mini series, I say that under the control of my brain, I’m able to run 100-mile races. Of the four factors (Training, Diet, Reading, Mindset) which I believe have enabled me to tackle ‘The Miler’, mindset is the one that underpins the whole thing. Even if the other three elements are as strong as they can be, without the mindset as the foundation, nothing will happen.
But let’s face it, if you decide you’re going to run 100 miles, you’ve got to really want it. You have to want it enough to spend up to 4, 5 or 6 hours in a day doing the long training runs. You have to want it enough to carry on when everything hurts, you’re tired, feel like you have no energy, feel sick. You run with your legs, but you keep going with your head. It will hurt. Check out this article, The 15 Stages of Suffering! You need to figure out why you want to try to do that thing that seems like such a challenge. It doesn’t have to be running 100 miles, it doesn’t even have to be running, it just needs to be something that you want to do which you find hard. Figure out your reason why, ask yourself the hard questions about what change it is you want to affect, and then develop a mindset to allow you to succeed.
How to develop a mindset
I read a good book recently called ‘The Ultra Mindset’ by Travis Macey. One of the really excellent points he touches upon is that you sometimes need to tell yourself that there is no choice.
Remove the options to not do the hard thing, and the hard thing is the only thing you can do.
This is the approach I take. As an example, I’ll focus on the backbone of my training – cycling into work and back. Sharon will testify that sometimes, when I get up on a Monday morning and can hear the wind howling outside and the rain slamming into the bedroom window in sodden gusts, the last thing I feel like doing is getting on that bike and riding to work. Bless her, she always offers me a lift, but I always say no – honestly, always. The only time I’ve taken a lift from her is when I sprained my ankle and needed to get it better for a marathon that coming weekend.
By telling myself that I have no option but to ride in, and refusing the temptation to think another way when that temptation comes along, I have got into the habit of doing it. Habits are crucial. I wouldn’t say – when I can hear the wind and rain, or I’m really tired – that I don’t get the odd fleeting thought of taking Sharon up on one of those offers. But I would say that those fleeting thoughts are much less frequent now, through being gradually exterminated by my stubbornness to not listen to them. I’ve formed the habit of thinking in the right way, which in turn feeds the habit of doing the physical thing that I set out to do.
So in reference to running 100-milers, my mindset is this. I don’t believe that there is any other place to stop running (or at least moving) other than the finish line, unless I physically can’t move (this has only happened to me once so far, and I’ll tell that story in another post). I don’t believe that just because my training hasn’t gone according to plan (mine rarely does!), that this gives me an excuse to drop early from the race, or even to not start it in the first place. The first time I ran a 50-mile Ultra my training had gone especially badly. The race was in the April, and Sharon and me had been backpacking with great friends in India the previous November. I got ill out there, ending up in isolation on the Infectious Diseases ward in Nottingham when I got back. I lost a stone in weight and it took me 6 weeks before I could even think about running. I was weak and unable to do much in terms of miles, but I really wanted to do this 50-miler, so I kept at it, gradually noticing improvements to both my strength and fitness. Three weeks later I got knocked of my bike on my way home from work. Despite landing on my knee caps and my face, nothing was broken thankfully, but there was deep bruising in my right leg, and running was off the menu for another few weeks. I ran again towards the end of January, giving me about 8 weeks to get ready. We’d also moved house just before we went to India and there was lots of work needing doing around the home, which ate massively into any running time I had. To put it mildly, the training had not gone well. But not starting the race was not an option for me. And once I’d started, not finishing was not an option either.
I believe, simply, that if I keep moving forward, I will get to the finish. Dean Karnazes describes this mindset in a mantra – ‘Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must; just never give up. Never give up.’
I re-told one of the most incredible tales of mindset in a post talking of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance expedition. Here is another story, one from much closer in time, from the summer of 2016. A story of a guy who has run 100-milers before, but who has been suffering for over a year with an under-active thyroid. A guy who struggled to run even 6 miles in training, and who, despite all this, decided anyway to start the North Downs Way 100. Here’s a link to a few short videos where he tells the story in his own words. Please watch this, it’s one of the most inspiring things I’ve seen, and illustrates the entire point of this blog post perfectly.
For me, that’s what a mindset is. It’s the doing what you say you’re going to do, and not giving in when things gets hard. Know the reason why you’re doing something, and make that the reason you do that something.