Thursday, 22 November 2012

Why I think you can do it (even if they say you can't)


In this sport of ultramarathon running, people are going to tell you what you can't do. Sometimes it's petty, like saying you can't wear the race shirt because you entered the 100 mile but only finished the 100 km—even though the 100 km runners got an identical shirt. Sometimes it's the rules, like when you miss a checkpoint cut-off and the officials say you can't continue. That's a bummer, especially when you feel strong enough to finish, but you get over it.

Then there's those other times when it cuts deeper, like when you're told you can't continue because you're too sick or sore, even though you don't feel all that bad, or when someone says you can't even start because you're not good enough to finish or even to qualify. When these words get fired at you in quick succession, it can be hard to tell whether it's being said with good or malicious intent.

I like to think that ultra runners are a friendly and generally encouraging lot. When I was starting out, I received so much encouragement that I genuinely believed there was nothing I couldn't do, so long as I had time to prepare for it and the good sense to accept my fitness and work within it. This feeling has grown over time and blended with the awareness that I'm not unique nor special; I now believe that anyone can do these things we do, given those same conditions.

But there have been times when I've doubted the goodwill of other runners, times when I thought maybe they said I can't because they weren't sure they could. Maybe they didn't want me to do it first, or maybe they wanted to feel better about their own decisions to quit, or maybe they wanted something they could only gain if I pulled out. Or maybe they just genuinely didn't think I could do it.

But even if what's said is said with good intent, where is the harm in encouraging someone to try? Why tell them they can't? I see no harm in instead saying, 'That is a very big task you've set yourself; I'm not sure you yet know how big. You will need to train very hard, and be very sensible, and I wish you the best and hope it all works out for you.'

Sometimes being told you can't spurs you on to great success, but it can also lead you astray, striving after goals that won't make you happy simply to prove someone wrong. It can be hard to stay true to yourself if you're a fighter by nature. Sometimes, just having one person believe in you is all you need to achieve great things—things that bring you joy—in the face of all that negativity.

Doubt me? I've seen some of my friends undergo remarkable transformations this year to the amazement of others—women who have gone faster and further than they ever dreamed they would. But not faster nor further than I dreamed, because I knew they wanted it and were determined to get it, and all that remained was for them to do it.

So I'm going to put it out there today: whoever you are, I believe you can train, qualify and finish that ultra, simply because the desire to do so burns in your belly. Finishing an ultra did not make me special or different; you are just like me. The only thing that separates ultra runners from the rest is that we've finished an ultra and, once you've done that, you will see that is really no difference at all.