On My Way to an Ultramarathon II

It was almost a kind of relief when the first tears started to fall. Every step was painful, and that only fueled my sense of desperation. I felt both the pebbles and the large stones of the dry forest path with every step I took, poking me through the soles of my shoes. A look at my fitness watch would be reason for celebration for many people, but I was only left feeling flat: 44 kilometers and over 1800 meters in elevation were already behind me. And I had still 8 kilometers to go, back down into the valley below. The soles of my feet were burning like they were on fire. Up until this point I had run every meter, over three summits, through endless alpine pasture, both below and far above the tree line. Blue sky and a merciless sun were my companions throughout.

I had begun my training a few months back — two runs a week for twenty minutes each. That was November, so I mostly ran in the dark and cold. That beginning seemed to be far away to me now — now when I had almost completed my first “ultra” training run of 50 kilometers of Austrian mountain paths under the burning sun. Far away was the joyful anticipation that I experienced when I took on the first miles of this training run. Far away seemed my motivation to go out and to run for hours on. Only the exhaustion and the pain were as close and intensive as never before.

I realized that this was The Moment — the time when it became so difficult that there is almost no more place for happiness. You can talk about the moment in a relaxed way as long as you’ve never been there yourself. In the naiveté of never experiencing the moment, you might be thinking “ oh well you just have to get through it.” I had read a lot about this moment. It could happen at a time in which one is standing in front of a well-stocked refrigerator after working on eating better and losing weight for the last few weeks. The moment could also strike after a drink or two, when you start to feel that craving for a cigarette that seems so powerful…even though you’d already quit smoking. Maybe you still have the last 20 pages of a big paper to write, and you just don’t want to do it. These are clearly the times that one would rather give up than keep on going. It’s the moment in which it’s so much easier to find a lot of reasons for not sticking with your goal this time.

Nonetheless, if one does not give in to this first impulse, then this can also be the exact moment when an inner strength appears that says “keep at it, and don’t give up.” Such holding out and staying with your goal makes one more driven, in contrast to the short-term relief that one feels when giving up on a goal. It’s about moving forward: closing the door of the refrigerator, refusing the cigarette being offered, sitting at the keyboard just a little while longer. The question is how does one find this strength inside. I am sure that there is no one perfect solution for this, but I want to describe three of the methods I’ve found to be most reliable:

  • Be prepared for obstacles

They are a completely normal part of moving towards a goal. Succumbing to hurdles is not a sign of weakness or a lack of commitment — maybe they are even a logical outcome of working on something. If you appreciate this fact, these obstacles lose their power and become more easy to overcome; you might even be able to avoid more of them. Films and books about people doing ultramarathons have prepared me for this situation — I knew that the moment would come and I knew that I would be tested. Now, when I was at this point myself, I remembered the many anecdotes about difficulties and how they were overcome. I used the stories as a way to motivate myself to get through this moment in exactly the same successful way as the role models that I had read about.

  • Visualize the goal

Look into the future and imagine how you’ll reach your goal. Feel the pride and joy of having arrived successfully at your goal. Try to look more deeply into the difference between feelings like “I kept going” and “I gave up”. Here on the forest past, I imagined the flowers that adorn the village sign: that formed my imaginary finish line. I though about how I would turn around and throw my arms into the air with joy. I did it. I stuck with it. Visualization is important because it makes it possible to achieve the the most incredible things. That’s how you can wake up the creativity and the unused potential within you — you make whatever you’ve visualized into your goal!

  • Be your own biggest fan

Keep an eye on how you are doing. Look at how you face a decisive moment, one in which you have to make a decision. Encourage yourself and add to your own feeling of power. Be proud of everything that you’ve already achieved, and also what you still have to achieve. Believe in yourself and your abilities. Cheer yourself on like you would one of your idols. When I was just putting one meter after another behind me, I was becoming my own hero…and cheering for myself all along the way.

These images and thoughts took me out of the moment and carried me further down into the valley, step by step over the dry forest path. With every step my strength grew as I was moving through this moment. I wasn’t thinking of the moment in a sentimental or inspirational way. In such times, one can only look to the possibility for showing willpower and proving one’s determination. It’s about the power to stay true to your goals, and not give up. Somewhere during the last few kilometers I reached one of my three amazing sisters on my mobile phone, and her encouraging voice and motivating words carried me further toward my goal. There the village sign was awaiting me, and the wonderful flowers all around it. I turned around, looked at the highest peak of the day and threw my hands into the air.

Keep at it!

Michael

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