I went into Snowdonia Trail Marathon talking myself into all sorts of failure scenarios. For example, I would pull out at mile 18. Mile 20 would see the mountain rescue team winch me off the Snowdon slopes because my legs had fallen off. I’d collapse in a whimpering heap at mile 23 and not complete the run. I’d scroll through the results and be awash with mortification at the big black ‘DNF’ next to my name.
I’d go home without the obligatory medal and t-shirt.
Of course absolutely none of this came true.
Instead, I conquered this feat which involves 1,685 metres of ascent over spectacular trails, a brutal climb of the Pyg track towards Snowdon’s summit and a quad-decimating three-mile descent back to Llanberis. I came home with lovely post-race goodies and a fizzy-fuzzy feeling of triumph.
This negative thinking is perpetual for me. I rarely see myself crossing the finish line, arms aloft, big wide smile. You’ll often find me in the margins of drama with air ambulances, kindly medics and emergency foil blankets.
For those who, like me, sometimes feel the challenge could get the better of you, I have a message: just because you think about failure doesn’t mean it will happen.
Life, like trail running, can be tough. Over-committing your internal and exteranl resources won’t just damage the chances of finishing but runs the risk of hurting your body too.
I thought about this a lot when I was running in Snowdonia.
Here are my simple tenets that’ll help you overcome whatever feels insurmountable.
First rule: be realistic.
I was not in the best of shape for the race because my training had gone sideways. I’d not managed anything over 18 miles and an injury persistently reminded me of its unwelcome presence.
On the plus side, hiking big sections of the South West Coast Path provided a base of endurance as did consistent strength and conditioning sessions alongside long, hilly runs.
Still, I was not quite where I wanted to be. Having originally entered the ultra I dropped to the marathon distance. While my ego was snippy at this revision, I felt much more confident I’d reach my objective.
Second rule: Start with a strategy that’ll see you over the line.
Despite not hitting the high end 20+ mileage in training, my strategy was to go slowly, walk the hills, equip myself with food and water and focus on getting over the line. No matter what. This kind of works as a metaphor for life when it feels like you’re wading through pea soup.
Third rule: take five minutes out. Maybe laugh at yourself while you’re there.
Halfway up the pyg track my legs were cramping and I felt sick from the lactic acid build-up. Sally, my running buddy, took control and imposed a break.
We plonked down on a rock, rested, sipped water, ate energy bars, chatted to fellow runners and admired the insane views. We roared with laughter at the sheer ridiculousness of what we were doing.
Rewind to childhood: I often endured cruel jokes about my weight and school PE lessons were nothing short of exercises in self-consciousness. Yet here I was, a 40-year-old woman who’s partial to a Daim bar and has an aversion for hockey, sitting on the slopes of Snowdonia 20 miles into a mountain marathon with a close friend cackling like hyenas. Up yours, haters.
Fourth rule: Help others in situations like you.
In my experience trail running offers a camaraderie like no other sport. We’re all pretty insane to willingly bound up and down rocky edifices for fun, sometimes in the freezing rain.
We all go through rough patches – checking in with each other creates a bond that helps you move towards your goal. Running is deeply personal yet overcoming obstacles becomes a shared experience with others. It’s social support for the struggles, pack mentality when the going gets tough and joint jubilation when you reach the end.
We crossed the line in eight hours. We were exhausted, elated, sweaty, sweary. “I’m not bloody* doing that again” we chorused. (FYI: Less than four hours later we’d entered another race).
If you’re struggling physically, emotionally, financially, professionally, or whatever, try looking from another angle. Maybe focus on what you’re capable of achieving, what you’ve achieved so far and where you want to go.
Each one of us is climbing a mountain every day. We’re not failing. We’re simply mid-conquer.
*more colourful language may have been used.