It’s not a matter of if things will go wrong, but when.
That’s what I’ve learned from competing in long-distance endurance races. No matter how long and how hard you train, you will inevitably encounter numerous obstacles during your event. You can only control so much. Some obstacles will be small. Some will be huge. But make no mistake about it, you will be challenged. That’s a big part of what makes these types of races so special.
Races Around the Globe
I have been extremely fortunate to have competed in dozens of endurance events all over the world: From marathons to ultra marathons, Ironman triathlons to multi-day adventure races. The challenges I have experienced during those events have been varied and numerous: Typhoons in South Korea and New Zealand, a bike accident in Australia, swimming open-mouthed into huge red jellyfish in the South China Sea, altitude sickness while running to the top of Mt. Haleakala on Maui, oppressive heat and humidity in Malaysia, sharks in South Africa, horrendous winds in Brazil – to name but a few.
One aspect of endurance racing that I love is the shared suffering. Everyone out on the course is suffering together, fighting through their own personal battles and facing their own challenges. And it’s not just the physical demands that make these events so difficult, it’s the mental struggle to persevere through them as you fight your way to the finish line. It’s often said that the person who wins the race and the person who crosses the line dead last both suffer equally. The bottom line is that everyone suffers. Everyone.
Choose the Challenge or Embrace the Excuse
There comes a point in every endurance race when you want to pack it in and quit. In racing lingo it’s often referred to as “DNF,” or Did Not Finish. It might be a flat tire, a bad blister, bad weather, a crash, a fall, or feeling sick. You’ve had enough. You’re feeling sorry for yourself. You question why you are doing it in the first place, and there’s a little voice in your head that is telling you to call it a day. It is at this moment that you can either choose the challenge or embrace the excuse. The choice is completely up to you.
The longer and more difficult the race, the more obstacles you will encounter and the more times you will be faced with making this choice. Having multiple challenges thrown at you will wear you down, both physically as well as mentally, making that little voice inside your head that is telling you to quit grow louder and louder.
Keep Moving Forward
A big part of becoming an experienced endurance racer is learning to stay in the present moment, not thinking one minute or one mile ahead. That is much easier said and done, often requiring a great deal of suffering to achieve that capability. Thinking about how much farther you have to go when you are experiencing a low point can be disastrous during a long-distance event. What is absolutely incredible is that you learn no matter how bad things are or how bad you feel, if you keep moving forward, they will get better.
You also learn that, no matter what is thrown at you, your goal is to not dwell on the negative and to just keep moving forward. To the next tree, the next swim buoy, the next aid station. Small steps forward get you that much closer to the finish line.
Everyone Has a Story
I love the day after an endurance event, when the competitors recount all the challenges they faced during their race. Everyone has their own personal war story about the battles they had to fight through to get to the finish line. Some inevitably gave up. Many persevered. But everyone has a story.
You Control the Ending
The parallels between endurance racing and life are simple yet extremely powerful. It’s not a matter if things will go wrong, but when. We will struggle alongside one another as we are faced with constant challenges. We need to avoid dwelling on the negative and continue to move forward, realizing that the bad times will indeed pass.So embrace the excuse or choose the challenge: You control the ending to your story.