Scared – that’s how I’ve spent the last six to seven of the past nine weeks.
Exhausted most days, a restless sleep-onset-insomniac, waking up in cold sweats a complete ball of nerves a result of a racing mind, most nights!
In many ways that’s nothing new, over the last 12-14 months of planning for the World run, I’ve constantly yo-yoed on an almost daily basis through huge excitement and almost paralyzing apprehension!
One moment I’m visualising the world literally unfold before my eyes, one step at a time, and I can’t contain a grin as my eyes widen in excitement.. The next I’m watching events unfold which would spell the end to my desires to set the fastest record running around the world.
I visualise both clear as day and without conscious decision to, I just ‘see’ what could happen, it’s an understatement to say the run has been on my mind the whole of this past year!
The only Trick I can use to keep sane/keep moving forward with plans is to dismiss any daydreams of things that might go wrong as just that, things which ‘could possibly happen’ just like ‘you could win the lottery’ but remind myself that the amazing sense of adventure and challenge and the daydreams that make my heart beat faster, and remind me why I love pushing myself through adventure, those elements aren’t ‘maybes’ they’re definites – they will happen!
During training runs over Dartmoor, or just daydreaming while completing a mundane task I’m often somewhere else entirely, I’ve gone ‘walkabout’ my mind is far away-bivouacking in the Kazakhstani winter, I see every detail clearly:
I’m setting up camp following the second run of the day.
First I find somewhere that won’t obviously be spotted by most passers by.
I’m changing into heavily insulated clothing as soon as I stop running, the satellite tracker is used to confirm I’ve had a successful day, and I’m safe, then switched off to preserve battery life, in the short days of deep winter, every milliamp of power generated by the solar panels on my trailer has to be treated with respect, there’s no wasting power.
The stove is lit, tarp pitched to the trailer, food cooking, snow melting, the down sleeping bag lofted and carefully protected from moisture, I’m mulling over the next day’s route requirements, ‘do I need to find somewhere to buy cooking fuel and or food tomorrow?
Later after mobility exercises to release excessive tightness around the hips (where I tend to tighten after prolonged running) I use acupuncture to release trigger points in my ITB, the secondary benefit of the acupuncture, aside from rapidly releasing the tightness in trigger points ( which reduces injury risk by allowing the body to move as normal again), is the instant release of high levels Dopamine, natures very own Valium™
Self administered acupuncture seems to attenuate this response to a far higher degree, a few well placed needles and not only do I move better for the next few days, but within 2-3 minutes I’m having to calm my breathing, as I fight my mind from entering a mild ‘shock’ like state – it’s not natural to stab yourself!
Your mind has a very strong reaction in doing so, so long as you know how to handle the onset of shock and can calm yourself, afterward you find your whole body is incredibly relaxed and pain free, a deeper, rejuvenating sleep follows very soon. Deep sleep is the only time your body fully recovers and repairs the damage that results from prolonged exercise.
Then I’m back here, a few hundred metres further along the road on todays training run, the above doesn’t play out in real time, it’s a series of snapshots my mind runs through in order to see where I’ve left gaps in my planning, why was it done in that order? What would change if it was raining or windy or both – would the tarp and stove order change? how do I keep moisture away from my kit, if the ground-and hence feet get wet – then I run through the scene again, and the process repeats, hundreds of training miles have been ran this way.
Then there’s other runs where the worrying ‘what if’s’ come flooding into my mind, at first I tried to block these out, and fight them; this just resulted in vomiting into the hedge several times even in a shortish training run I might vomit two or three times.
That happened for a couple months before I stopped fighting the fears, and just let them run through like I do the scenes where I’m literally flying across the Nullarbor, it’s completely natural to be apprehensive, if I wasn’t then it’d mean I wasn’t facing a challenge, a true adventure.
For most of the last year i’ve alternated every few days between this excitement and fear, for six or seven weeks though I was in a rut of mostly fear.
A lot of this was down to the fact that I was no longer enjoying the majority of my training runs, following a training camp in Norway in january I began putting on weight, intentionally overeating to bulk up, I was scared of not having enough reserves to fight of cold snaps, food poisoning and just the ultra high calorie needs of the run.
Based on weight loss in one week in Norway where I ate every time I was hungry and intentionally ate fatty high calorie foods – I’d calculated over 19 months of the run I’ll lose approximately 26 stone!! I weighed just under 11 at the time!
I knew I couldn’t carry that in reserves, and the only real option is to eat enormous amounts every single day of the run, but psychologically it’s comforting to know I have some weight I can afford to lose – especially muscle bulk, I need muscles to have strength enough to tow a trailer for a thousand mile even after 17,000 miles of atrophy has eaten away at them.
It’s a tough balancing act to find a weight I feel gives me reserves for setbacks (shortage of food or food poisoning etc) but doesn’t leave me too heavy at the beginning that running itself feels labored, enjoyable and a downright slog of an effort!
Training for, planning and organising a challenge of this scale is incredibly stressful, but stress can be managed – for many of us an hour or two of running sets our minds up to handle most anything the day can throw at us.
But when you take the enjoyment away from the running, and the training becomes in and of itself a source of stress then there follows a real nose dive in mental state!
Deciding it’d be much more efficient to carry extra calories as food in my trailer rather than fat on my body I’ve started dropping fat to a far easier running weight.
I’ve dropped 5-7 lb’s over the last 2 weeks as I’ve decided on a starting weight for the run at just 11.5 stone not 12.5 stone (my weight for the previous 2 months) at 12.5 stone I feel the strain in my soft tissue the day following runs, and every hill is a slog, making me full of self doubt in regards to fitness as I end up breathing at a pace that’s normally imperceivable as an ‘effort!’
The good news is i’ve felt the ‘spring’ in my step return to my running gait, which just makes you smile, and this has instantly shot across all parts of my life, I’m still at a heavier weight than I’ve ever trained, but this gives me confidence that I’ve trained my tendons/ligaments and bones to handle the stress of running at this far heavier weight – as the weight drops both before the off and then during the run, as it surely will, the stress on the body with each and every foot fall will be significantly less than they have now been trained to handle. Injury risks should be a lot lower due to the strength adaption the joints have had to develop to handle running at 12.5stone vs 10 stone, it’s a massive difference in strain – and they’ve handled it!
I’m pretty much mostly excited now! On top of being incredibly busy, but when you’re enjoying your runs a couple of times a day, being busy/occasionally stressed isn’t a problem!
I can’t possibly visualise the whole of this run, before I ran across the whole of the United Kingdom 1,250+miles over Mountains of england and Scotland I visualised most of the route, rehearsing how i’d handle the varying terrain, the rolling hills, the brutally steep coast path and the bleak, bt majestic wilderness of the highlands – I knew which trails had the most ascent the biggest mountains to face.
With the world run I can’t do that so easily, I visualise handling extremes of temperatures and weather, handling language barriers, sourcing and preparing food etc But mostly I focus on my running becoming smoother and lighter every week. There will be aches and pains and some injuries but these are to be expected and worked through overall I’m looking for the ‘Running power’ I may not find it during the world run but I know mentally I will never be the same following the run.
The ‘running power’ is what lured me into ultramarathon running in the first instance. I read the book ‘Running Wild’ by author and runner John Annerino – the first person in recorded history to run the length of the Grand Canyon, he believed long before the arrival of the horse from Europe native americans ran hundreds of miles over all terrain to establish and maintain trade routes.
Some tribes spoke of ‘the running power’
It’s a native Indian understanding of the true runners high where you disconnect from any physical effort during running-no matter the distance.
The western translation of ‘Running power’ literally means to ‘teleport’ literal translations don’t always carry the meaning of an expression.
‘Running Power’ describes the ability few runners find, ones who become so at ease with running that they arrive at a destination and have to ‘assume’ that they ran there even though they have no recollection of having ‘ran’ or any feelings of ‘effort’
It’s when running becomes as effortless and as natural as breathing, pause now and try to recall how many times you have breathed while reading this blog post? You can’t possibly recall that – but you can quite correctly assume that you must have breathed as you are still here.
When one get’s the running power they have the same effortless-relationship with running as most of us have with breathing, you arrive at where you meant to be, but you cannot recall any conscious effort to get there, or any concentration needed to miss rocks or holes with your feet etc, you just arrive and you have to assume that you did run, even though you don’t recall anything except your thoughts along the way, which come and go as easily as thoughts enter and leave peoples minds when sat relaxing on a sofa, with the ‘running power’ which most runners will never try to find and of those who try even fewer will develop, running becomes just as relaxing as sitting on the sofa, perhaps even more so as it’s a natural state for our bodies to find themselves in, rather than the spine bent at 90 degrees for hours on end.
I’ve experienced this perhaps for less than an hour in total in all of my thousands of miles of running, it no longer feels like running but is nearer to the feeling of skiing on powder, you don’t feel anything physically, and no concentration is needed to handle the varying ankle twisting terrain, its all on autopilot! The landscape just flashes by as you look around and you feel like you’re flying just above the ground.
I want the record for the fastest run around the world, and I’m finally feeling incredibly excited about it once more, but running around the world is just part of the journey not the destination, the destination is ‘The running power’ – it’s tattooed across my chest (so its always in-front of me) as a constant reminder of what i’m chasing, yes it’s an obsession, and I freely admit a strange one, but it’s what drives me to do what I do. I have to push as far as possible to see if I can permanently reach the level of running I’ve only ever had glimpses of, I think this comes not from the mechanics of just running but in facing up-to fears that appear along the journey, you wouldn’t find the running power on the treadmill!