It was once said to me that for extreme feats of physical endurance, it was 70% mental, 20% mechanics and 10% nutrition.I recently had the opportunity to put this to the test.It also made me think how the attributes required to complete an endurance event could be related to the workplace and setting goals in general.
The final weekend in August saw the 16th edition of the mythical Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc: a 170k race with over 10,000m of ascent, through three countries around Mont Blanc, Europe’s largest mountain.This is a major rite of passage in the world of ultra running, starting and finishing in Chamonix, with a 46 hour time limit.Some of the field were professional trail runners, but for the majority, running is a pastime and a means of testing oneself to the limits.
Having been a regular visitor to the Alps, I was well aware that the weather could change dramatically in the mountains at any time of year.The race organisers were too, hence the strictly enforced mandatory kit requirements, including waterproof jacket, thermal top, leggings, hat, overtrousers, two headtorches with spare batteries, whistle and emergency foil blanket.
I arrived in Chamonix on Monday, giving myself four days to acclimatise, relax and soak up the atmosphere.In reality though, I had too much time to work myself into a nervous wreck and panic about the enormity of what lay ahead and whether I’d done enough training.
Sure enough, the weather forecast continued to deteriorate and on the morning of the race, the organisers sent out a message to all participants, warning that temperatures would be as low as -14C degrees and that cold weather kit was essential.
As the race unfolded, my climbing legs seemed to desert me.I felt like the slowest person on the course as others came surging past me on the ups, but I was making up more places on the descents so my overall ranking improved from about 2,300th at the first checkpoint to 700th at the end (out of about 1,700 finishers).Crossing the line and completing the loop was an incredible feeling. The Chamonix locals and tourists lined the finishing chute and gave every runner an amazing reception.And inwardly, the achievement of finishing was palpable.
The key to finishing races like this I believe is all in the mind.Sure, you have to train hard, you have to manage your race strategy, nutrition, nausea, exhaustion, aches and pains, blisters etc, but there are countless times when you feel like throwing the towel in.At these low points, I would just give myself a proper talking to, remind myself that I’d regret it the next day and the rest of the year if I quit. I’d remind myself of the reasons for doing it and think of the sacrifices I had made along the way. I had also developed a strategy with how to deal with the tough times. In Neuro Linguistic Programming the psychologists refer to triggers so I had spent some time working out what my personal positive triggers were to make me feel better at times when I most needed it.
People ask what do you think of when you’re running a race for 40 hours?I’m not particularly philosophical.I just focus on what I can see ahead of me, not falling over, breaking up the race into small manageable chunks.I try and enjoy the scenery and occasionally chat to others in the field.Most of all though I am envisaging the finish.
The other thing people ask is: why? What is the point of all of this?For me, I love the outdoors and running in beautiful surroundings.But I also love a challenge.If I can complete an extraordinary physical challenge like this, then I will feel better about myself. I can then relate it to my work and life in general.Mountains can be a metaphor for life.They are tough to climb but the satisfaction of reaching the summit is incomparable.
As individuals or teams, at times we are all motivated, driven and successful.However, in my experience, too many of us lack self-belief.But with the right focus, mentality and motivation, we can all achieve so much more than what we might think possible.It’s all in the mind.The vital ingredients are having a determination to succeed and a bloody-minded refusal to fail.