Lessons from multi-day ultras in a time of pandemic
These are strange and scary times.
Multi-day ultras have taught me so many lessons. Here are some of those I am finding myself applying to the current COVID-19 health crisis:
1. Follow the Rules. Yes, in ultras it is a right pain in the backside to have to carry gear that you likely will never need – wet weather gear, cold weather gear, that second headtorch…and plenty of us have moaned about it. But we do it because we know that things can change rapidly, and the rules are there for a reason. So - while some of us may moan loudly about lockdown and social distancing – just do it anyway. . 2. Work from good information. We’ve all been there – a new event means the need for new knowledge. Route description, weather, gear, it all needs to be researched. And to get it right we choose quality sources: official sites, tips from actual experts and past participants. We don’t use our dream adventure to try something new from an untested source. The same applies now. Avoid clickbait links, scams and fads and stick to official information and peer reviewed academic study.
3. Boredom is survivable. Multi-day ultras, and training for them, are LONG and for those, like me, at the back of the pack, they are REALLY long. Up to ten hours a day on single trail, 24 hours in a long stage; often with absolutely no one around for kilometres. And we learn to deal with this – through focus, or singing, or writing a book in your head. There really is no limit to what you can do to keep yourself amused for long hours. And boredom doesn’t kill you.
4. There is always a point of fear and that is ok. At some point in an event fear raises its head. Fear of being lost off course in the dark, fear of snakes/bears/buffalo, fear that niggling injury won’t hold up, fear that I have misjudged my water and will run out before reaching resupply. And what I have learned about fear is that it is not weakness. I can be bloody afraid and steely strong at the same time. Fear does NOT define us.
5. Ignore the noise. Multi-day ultras are a mental game. Our mind tells us to give up WAY before the body is spent. It tells us that there is no point, that we can’t make it, that we are failures. It tricks and cajoles, it takes us to dark places, and brings us to tears. And I’ve learned that there are times I just need to ignore the noise around me and do what needs to be done. Take little steps in the right direction. And focus on what I CAN achieve. Because, in the end, little steps still get you to the finish.
6. Complete strangers can inspire each other. At the start line of a multi day ultra, we are all strangers. From different backgrounds, with different experience and different ability. And by day 3 we have laughed, and cried and hurt together. Attached tape. Mended gear. Eaten terrible food. Congratulated. Commiserated. Encouraged. And we inspire each other over that finish line. And now we have the opportunity to see our neighbours are just like us too. With a common goal. Some will inspire us and some will need our help to get over that line.
And finally -
7. Value medical staff and volunteers. Out on course these are the real champions – the people who want us to succeed, who give us their time and expertise. We value them in events – and we REALLY value them now. These are the people who will save your life, or your parent’s life. They are our heroes.