Sunday, 8 October 2017

Is Your Why Bigger Than Your Blister?

This morning I awoke to sound of the wind whistling in the eaves and as I sipped my morning coffee, large snowflakes began to fall.  We are spending Thanksgiving weekend at my family farm in central Alberta and I was looking forward to a nice long run before turkey dinner.  I wasn't looking forward to doing it in winter.

As I stood on the door step looking at the snow swirling around me, I really didn't feel like I could make up any excuses.  I was dressed well.  It's not like it was -30C.  I am Canadian after all...and I planned to eat a lot of calories for dinner.  So I set out past the hay stacks and into the hills, adjusting my buff and cinching my hood up around my face.  As the snow pelted my face and the wind threatened to blow me over, I asked myself why in the world I felt so compelled to be out there this morning when I really didn't have anything to be training for.  Other than turkey dinner that is.

Providentially, I had hit play on the next podcast in my feed and it happened to be the fellows from Trail Runner Nation on the topic of Start with Why.  They got me to thinking even more clearly as I ran (and some lines from the podcast can be found as you read on.)

 It is at this time of year when my race season is over, that I return to examining my "why."  Before I can plan for next season, or even find the motivation to do so, I need to process all that happened this year and re-examine my reasons for running, for ultra running, and for racing.
Thanksgiving in Alberta Canada - seriously?
We all have reasons for doing the things we do.  Sometimes they are good reasons, sometimes they could use some refinement.  When I start coaching a new athlete, I always ask them to send me their reasons why they run, ideally at least 10.  As Simon Sinek discusses in this awesome TED Talk, one cannot begin to contemplate the HOW and the WHAT if they aren't guided by the WHY.

I run for many many reasons and am still reformulating my purpose for this coming year.  I can tell you that I currently run primarily to escape the city, to escape the chatter of voices around me, to recharge and reconnect.  I run to explore, to see beautiful places, to become a part of and to flow with the natural landscapes I run through. I run to challenge myself, to see how far my mind will let my body go.  I run to worship, to celebrate my health, life, creation and the beauty of human motion.  I run to inspire others.  I run to feel good.

HOW can I accomplish my purpose?  That is how I found trail running, seeking out races in places where I've never been with point to point courses, usually in the mountains because it is there that I find the most beauty, challenge, and peace.  I am currently deciding how I will continue to achieve my running purpose in 2018: which races I will aim for, which places I want most to see, how I can most celebrate the life and legs God has given me.  After that is done, developing a training plan specific to my goals (the WHAT) becomes easy.

As Simon points out, we too often start with the WHAT or the HOW without knowing why we want to do that thing in the first place.  It's easy to make a plan and train for months, arriving at the start line without a crystal clear and intimate sense of purpose or reason for being there.  During any race, but particularly an ultra marathon, your WHY needs to be bigger than anything.  It needs to be bigger than blisters, bigger than nausea, bigger than fatigue, bigger than fear. Because as soon as whatever is making you uncomfortable becomes bigger than your WHY, it's over.

It has happened to me.  It resulted in my first and only DNF.  Granted, I had some very valid reasons for dropping out of the Miwok 100 a few years ago, but truthfully when my GI system went into revolt at 80K, my WHY was not big enough to keep pushing on.  And I knew it.  I had spent a large amount of time and money to get to a race that was important, but not important enough to me.  That DNF didn't start with my gut issues.  It started way back at the beginning when I made someone else's WHYs my own and started with only the WHAT.  I vowed to never make that mistake again and can truthfully say that I have pushed through some serious discomfort since that day.  My WHY  has always been big enough to keep me pushing on and across that finish line.
Mid-run the skies cleared and the sun came out today- so glad I hadn't made excuses!
This is not simply the 'off' season.  This is when the most important work is done.  As your race season winds down this fall, take some time to run alone.  Take some time to really ask yourself those deep introspective questions.  WHY are you doing this?  What keeps you setting that alarm for 5 am?  What draws you out into the wind and the rain? What drives you and pulls you?  What are your reasons for planning that race with a friend?  Do you truly want to do what you are planning on doing?

A successful 2018 season starts now - how you define that success is up to you.

**Note some of these comments are influenced by and borrowed from the podcast and TED Talk mentioned above.