Running from Darlington to Southampton over a period of thirteen days created plenty of time to think. And to give you a better idea of exactly how much thinking time we’re talking about here, it was roughly sixty hours. That’s equivalent to two and a half days! There are people in the world who can meditate for that long, but for me it was a whole new experience! But what did I think about, and did I have any major epiphanies on the road? Well – the simple answer is yes, and no! There were definitely a couple of eureka moments, but most of the time I just had to concentrate on running! I’ve tried to boil down the main thoughts and have created a list of the thirteen most important points that I feel are ‘take-aways’ from all that time I had to contemplate and conclude -see below.
13 Things I Learnt from 13 Days of Running:
1. Say Yes! Yes to opportunities that present themselves – such as radio interviews two hours after you finish an ultra run. You never know what’s around the corner.
2. Understand the power of the mind. It will shout, it will scream but it’s all just noise. Multitudes of questions would often run through my mind such as why did I decide to do this and what if I break down? Or when is the next turn in the road or when I am next meeting the support car? And more importantly when did I last eat and drink? I had to quickly learn that filtering out the real (nutrition and hydration questions) from the background chatter (why & what if?) was essential, especially if I was to reach Southampton!
3. Know discomfort. There is no doubt that running can be painful. But understanding your own body allows you to move past that thought of ‘hurt’ equating to ‘permanent damage’. Of course pain is not always gain, but knowing that some pain is only temporary does help – as it did with my knees!
4. Stay focused on the task at hand. Focusing helped me to reduce the mental chitchat, especially by concentrating on the physical aspects of the run. I would go through a body check of sorts: keep the core engaged; run from your glutes; stand up tall; and don’t forget to breathe!
5. Keep breathing. It may sound silly because we breath automatically but being conscious of our breath can really help us to run more efficiently. Using deep belly breathing at times helped me to endure physically, and mentally the tough patches of the run. I would often find myself counting my breaths too – or trying to align inhales and exhales with my footsteps. Keeps the mind engaged!
6. Relax. Drop the shoulders, soften the face, and smile – words you might hear in a yoga class that can also be applied to running. I found that by staying relaxed I saved a lot of energy during each run. Effort where effort is needed (I think Sage Rountree originally said that!).
7. Have a recovery plan and stick to it! Eat, drink and take BioAstin, ice, use compression gear, foam roll, do yoga, eat & drink again, sleep. Great advice I was given that I followed after every run.
8. Use technology but don’t be afraid of the basics either! A GPS and smart phone are very useful but so are good old-fashioned paper, foldable and portable maps. Understanding where you are in the world is so important for safety and security whenever you are out on a long run, and it was vital to the success of RAR.
9. Be appreciative for the availability of great gear & products! Without doubt my Adidas Gortex jacket and shoes (Boost Glides), Smartwool socks, Oiselle strappy running bra and Mountain Hardware hydration running pack filled with nuun electrolyte drink were vital staples of the run.
10. Be in the moment. The magical moments of running, when you transcend the physical, and mental chatter and are purely and simply engaged in what you are doing – in the zone – that’s what it’s all about.
11. Be inspired and keep inspiring. People around the world complete incredible feats of endurance every single day. I tried to think about those people during every run and used that energy to inspire others around me. We are all capable of so much more than we think.
12. Listen to the world. Some of my favourite sections of the run were through farm fields, when skylarks would dart up into the air as I passed them – signalling beautifully that they were aware of my presence. Despite the mud I’m so glad I went off-road at times but even in the middle of a town or a city there is life all around to soak up – free entertainment is everywhere.
13. Be thankful. The run gave me an opportunity to see parts of England I had never visited and experience the country from a new angle. I’m also extremely grateful to my family and friends and all the people who came out to support the run. The words of a Hawaiian chant often rang in my ears: “Be thankful for who you are today, and who you will be tomorrow.”
In the days following the run, my brain was buzzing and my legs were twitching – signs that recovering from the miles was going to take a while. But now that the recovery process is well underway and I’ve eased back into running again, I need to settle my mind to ensure that the transition to the next stage of the project goes smoothly. To aid that process I’ve started meditating using an online practice with Sally Kempton after a suggestion from a friend and fellow yogi (thanks Lauren!). And so far so good – my mind and body are coming back into synchrony again and using the above points as a checklist, in part for what to expect, I feel almost prepared for South America. Come April I’ll be ready and maybe after the ride I’ll be able to update the list. However I have a feeling it’s going to take many more than thirteen days to cross the Andes and the updated list may be much, much longer!
Wish us luck!