The Other 90%: The Eleventh Hour

The Other 90% is a series of posts referring to the common saying that exercise is 10% physical and 90% mental.

It’s been a while since my last Other 90% post, which prompted Sam to ask “What’s your usual way of dealing with the mental aspect of ultrarunning?”. Sam then went and ran a storming race at the South Downs Way 100, finishing in 2nd place with a time of 17hours and 23 minutes so I think he’s in a far better position to be talking about this than I am. Not only that but I can’t claim to have a “usual” way of dealing with ultrarunning as, while I have some experience with endurance events, I’m relatively inexperienced when it comes to ultramarathons.

Now I find myself with two days to go and I’ve been spending most of the last two weeks with an eye on the goal and what it will take to acheive it. This post is (the last) part of that mental training and may seem a little random but it’s a snapshot of where I’m at right now.

My training is done and I’m happy with it. It’s not important how much I did or what I did because it’s done now and I can’t change it. It doesn’t matter how my training compares to other people because we all train differently and our bodies respond in different ways to training stimulus. What’s important is that I’m happy and confident and do not doubt my training. Doubts mean lack of belief. Doubt leads to failure. Doubts are bad. Belief is everything.

The event
Last year I woke up early on the morning of the event and suddenly realised I might not be able to sleep again for over 48 hours. That’s a long time. A very long time. I doubted my ability to do that – there’s that word again, doubt. This year, I embrace it. I won’t panic about waking up early on Friday. I won’t worry about being up for longer than I’ve ever been up before. I can sleep when I get to the finish line.

Actually, I can sleep on the course too if I need to. A quick power nap, set my watch alarm, revitalize my legs. What if I don’t wake up? Sleep at a checkpoint – ask the guys there if they mind making sure I wake up. Or just take caffiene tablets. Don’t give up if you want to sleep – wait, no, that’s wrong. Keep going even if you want to sleep. The words “Don’t give up” can easily get shortened to “Give up”. You don’t want to give up, you want to keep going. Keep going with

Relentless Forward Progress

If you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.
Martin Luther King Jr.

105 miles is a long way and there’s no way you’re going to run it all. The goal is to finish, not to run every step. Walking is fine. Break the distance down. You know you can run 20 miles – you just have to do it five times. Each step is a step closer and each section is between 6 and 10 miles. One section at a time. One step at time. Thinking about giving up? Get to the next checkpoint, have a rest and a cup of tea. Then leave the checkpoint. Take the first step out of there and the rest will follow. Don’t worry about the finish, just get to the next checkpoint. Which isn’t going to be more than 10 miles ever and you can do 10 miles. Get to the checkpoint and treat yourself.

Rewards are good. Small rewards – a handful of jelly babies when you get to the top of the hill. A bacon sandwich when you get to the next checkpoint (note to self – make bacon sandwich before setting off). Smoothies… mmm, smoothie. But also, think about that nice, cold bottle of champagne in the fridge at home. Think about the fillet steak and baked potato that will be your Victory supper after the race (note to self – buy champagne and steak before leaving for the Lakes). You’ve already got your post-race beer, the one called “Death or Glory” because that’s what it’s about, Death or Glory. Can’t drink it if you don’t finish and you really want to drink it, don’t you? Oh yeah, and the medal – you really want that nice shiny medal after not getting one last year.

(I don’t know why I’m talking to myself now. Obviously having a Tyler Durden moment. Oh well.)

Doing it dragon style!
(I’d like to give credit for this pic I got sent a while back. If it’s yours, please let me know and hope you don’t mind me cheekily using it without getting permission first)

The weather
So, forecast isn’t looking good. Forecast says its going to be raining. A lot. Yeah, and? Been like that most of the summer. What’s the alternative – that it’s 29 degrees in the sun like today? It might be – you won’t know until the day but do you know what? There’s not a damn thing you can do about it. I know you’re not religous anymore but remember this?

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

Be wise, know the difference. You can’t change the weather, but you can plan for it. You’ve got waterproofs, they’ll help keep you dry. It’s only water – last I checked you weren’t the Wicked Witch of the West and you’re not going to melt. Remember your Real Relay experience? Learn from it – take a spare top or two for overnight that will keep you warm because saving weight will mean nothing if you get too wet and cold to continue. Oh yeah, and be glad of the fact that you might be able to take less water.

And the sun? You only need to worry about that on Saturday so put warm weather gear in your drop bag. An extra (empty bottle) to take with you and fill at Howtown before the long slog up and over to Mardale – you can ditch it again there. If it is hot, enjoy it – we haven’t had enough of it this summer. Getting pissed off by it isn’t going to help. Take it easy, relax, keep moving forward.

But if serenity, courage and wisdom don’t work, you’ve always got the old reliable to fallback on:

Sheer bloody-mindedness.

Felled by the fells? Not a bloody chance. Legs hurting, muscles aching, finding it tough? Man the fuck up and get angry, get even. Nothing can stop me now because I just don’t care anymore. Do you think a few hills stopped the forces of the Galactic Empire forces? I find your lack of faith disturbing. Come on geek, you know the Sith code, make it your mantra:

Through passion, I gain strength.
Through strength, I gain power.
Through power, I gain victory.

And when your MP3 player has run out of batteries, keep that internal jukebox rolling. Running along the top of the fells, riding flying coming into checkpoints, until you finally finish your adventure at Coniston.

People are going to call you crazy for even thinking of attempting this race. They won’t understand what it means to you and will ask why you’re doing it. Your only response is the mantra that will keep you going over the last few stages, the same mantra you’ll greet the fine folk manning the final checkpoints with: “I’m the goddammed Batman!” (note to self – bring cape and cowl). Because if the absurdity of that statement in the light of the absurdity of the challenge doesn’t put a frakking smile on your face, you may well be dead.

Let’s do this!

So that’s it. Two days to go and short of watching John Kynaston’s route videos and Sarah Wildes map flythroughs again, sending out the Live Tracker link, repacking all my gear at least twice and picking up some last minute essentials, I’m as ready as I’ll ever be. See you on the flip side.

Lakeland 100 – Fuck Yeah!