"Make friends with pain, and you will never be alone." ~Ken Chlouber, Colorado miner and creator of the Leadville Trail 100 mile race”
In a recent correspondence with the African 24 hour record holder, Johan van der Merwe, he told me that he had been dealing with injury before and during the Washie 100 miler held in South Africa in July. He won the race in 13 hours and 21 minutes. I asked how on earth was he able to run 100 miles in that time with an injury. His reply was “I think my mind overruled my physical ability”.
Being an Ultra-distance runner myself ( WR fastest 100km barefoot), I know how powerful the mind can be and what a huge influence it can have on the outcome of a race. We often experience extreme highs and lows and the body sometimes just wants to shut down. The only thing that can drag us out of these deep troughs is our minds. The motivation and support of others is also vital to help flip the switch but at the end of the day the only finger on the switch is that of the runner him/herself.
Why do we do this to ourselves?? People have different reasons for running extreme distances or participating in any endurance sports. It is the personal challenge, pushing yourself to the limits and discovering your own capabilities, the love of nature, finding peace., for charity....................................there are so many reasons and they all have validity. Possibly all of the above. I have come to realize that the people that do these extreme sports are highly motivated individuals with the ability to endure extreme physical and mental conditions and ensure that their minds take control.
The ability to manage pain is something we all have. Most people don't ever put themselves into a situation to invoke this ability but when they do it brings a sense of achievement. We have all seen this happen. A runner can collapse in heap of extreme pain. 5 minutes later they come running past at an incredible pace with a smile on their face. How is this possible?? Are we able to run through injury? A lot of people would give up at stage and pull out. Others seem to pick themselves up and continue for another 2 hours, 10 hours or even days ( in multi-day events). Sometimes a little stretch, a cup of hot mashed potato or a pat on the shoulder from a stranger is all it takes. What inspires me is witnessing how people deal with these physical challenges. Be it 10km, 21km, marathons, 12, 24 or 48 hour, 6 day.....whatever the distance, we find ourselves constantly being challenged mentally and physically. We are capable of achieving more with our minds than what we think is possible.
I find it fascinating how running can clear ones mind. Some say it is the endorphins that give us the runner's high.. I experience this constantly. It may be due to sucking in large amounts oxygen or just being at peace with nature. I don’t know but I enjoy whatever it is. Be it in a race or just training for an event, my mind seems to slow down a bit. The mundane noise of life seems to become silent. Even though I am totally awake and aware everything happening around me, I am able to start thinking on another wavelength. I become in tune with my body. All thoughts seem to be intensified and focused. My senses seem to be heightened.
It is at this stage that I feel the ability to manage my system with my mind. If I do feel pain anywhere, instead of making it a problem, I isolate and focus on it. I then try manipulate it in way that I can use it to my advantage. I could either change my posture or shift the pain to another area. It often goes away. I think we have this ability to manage the way we feel. This isn’t always possible and many factors could be the cause of having a bad run. Like not being fit enough or having something dodgy to eat. Your mind has no control over these external factors . It is up to every runner to be adequately prepared. During a long run itself, the thinking process seems to slow down somewhat. One thought could hang around for a few hours. Generally thoughts become positive and exciting. You sometimes feel so motivated you can take on the world. I do find that it does take me a while to process a thought. This is particularly funny when doing an event when required to run around a loop or track. A supporter or crew member may ask a question or say something. It may often take a few laps to process this and come up with a sensible answer.
Crew and support can have a big influence on a runner's psyche. A positive vibe along a trail, road and track can be a huge motivational factor. Just having someone giving you a cheer or clap 23 hours into a 24 hour race can pick you up. It is as if you get a second or maybe even a 7th wind but it certainly helps.
I run because it just seems to make sense. It is a hobby that allows me to clear my mind, relax, enjoy the outdoors, challenge myself and spend quality time with people that share the same passion. I am constantly inspired by those around me. There are so many runners doing incredible things for charities and raising the profile of the sport. It is not always easy to stay motivated especially when weather conditions turn foul, feeling exhausted form work or time doesn't allow you freedom to train. Knowing that I could inspire others is my motivation.