Going long

The world exists solely within what your eyes can focus on, thoughts dare to appear only 5 seconds ahead at a time. You have surpassed all earlier warning signs from your mind and you now reek of reckless abandonment. This could be mistaken for the work of amphetamines, but it's not.

Once every few months an incredible craving takes over, it stirs in the mind over and over again. Like an addict, plans get put into place to satisfy the craving. Mountains are moved, non negotiable areas of life are negotiated and it's set. A task of taking the body and mind away from its comforts, into the ‘improvement zone’, is now a reality… It is time, to 'go long’.

Let's define it, going long is relative. Only ever run for 2hrs before? Going long might look like 3… Only done a 5hr triathlon before? Going long might look like 12… Only ever done 15k on a rower? 42.2 will do just nicely. In order to gain from going long, long just needs to be enough to put you into a place of unknown. Also, it doesn’t need to be exercise. Maybe you are tackling 500 piece puzzles by now, in which case upgrading to the 1200 piece is definitely going longer.

The caveat here is, the longer you go, the longer you must go again to satisfy the craving. This last point toils with me a lot, as how long is too long? Will I end up one day just going out and doing a Forest Gump to satisfy the craving that occurs? Maybe, but I don't think so, here’s why.

Covid 19 ( I KNOW!!! SORRY, but this is important). Covid 19… what a lesson, one that we will keep learning from but one that I have already learnt from so much. 

Sunday 22nd March, every cognitive feeling I have ever had in an ultra event I got on this day and I didn’t do any exercise. We put together our Covid 19 strategy, all business, no training talk. Overwhelmed, doubtful, anxious, reckless! all these feeling washed in as I realised the true extent and impact of the future we faced. 

As we sat in an empty gym chatting through all that was happening these thoughts came in and got swatted away, we brainstormed for 3hrs on how we would retain our endurance community and clients, these thoughts continued to encompass my mind. I continued to battle them away. My mind was getting Ultra F’d and I didn’t have to do a single minute of exercise. 

During my first IRONMAN in 2016, I spent 4hrs stressing over my bike breaking, my legs bonking and taking a wrong turn. A catastrophic waste of time and energy. About 3hrs in to the bike course I could hear something rubbing, this really got to me. Stress levels went up a notch. I couldn’t stop, no way. I had already refused to stop for nutrition I had dropped during the first 10miles of the bike and now to stop again was just out of the question. So for 30k I listened to the rubbing, looking around at my back wheel, I even asked a fellow competitor if my back wheel was flat? 5km more went by and I simply had to stop, my back wheel had locked up. I stopped and pulled a small stick out of the gap between my rear wheel and frame. Problem solved. I had just spent 4hrs worrying about my bike failing and 1hr of that time really worrying about it being broken. Why didn’t I just stop as soon as I had heard it and removed the stick before it had to be…

Since then, instead of theorising what the problem is I make sure I have a look and know what the problem is, if there is one. So when business D-day came instead of theorising what the problems were I put into place action points to combat them. A lesson only learnt through spending enough time in a state of worry before. 

Day 3 of the Atlantic coast challenge bought blood seeping through my socks before I had even begun it. This was my first multi stage event and every hour thoughts of doubt and injury were there. Thanks to pride and ego, I left every checkpoint amazed I was still in the race as the urge to quit was enormous. Weirdly though, as the finish got nearer my body got stronger. Runners who had been ahead of me were dropping out or dropping way back. Runners who looked so strong only yesterday were so weak today. All I had done was kept showing up, and kept the refusal to quit at a check point in the forefront of my mind. I was learning, the key to going long was to keep going.

7 weeks into Lockdown I get so excited to start the new week, with the knowledge that all we need to do is to keep going and we will make it. Each block in the road is a check point and we move through them and out the other side, onwards to the next. To wrap this up, the reason I don't believe all ultra athletes end up Forest Gumping is because the cravings we satisfy by doing events that take us longer than we are used to can be replicated into other areas of life. What’s a longer challenge than raising kids? Or growing a successful business? If you’ve only ever baked toast before then baking banana bread is going to hit all those mind stimulants that going long in exercise does! It’s the unknown areas of life that intrigue us the most. So figure out where you’re coming up short, and Go Long.

By; Tom Walker, Endurance Coach