It was 9:26pm last Saturday evening on a dark gravel track in the middle of the Wendover Woods in the Chiltern Hills. The temperature had hit freezing point earlier in the day and I had been on my feet for over 13 hours traversing through mud, climbing hills and making new friends. I had stopped at an aid station to gulp down a banana and a few slices of watermelon before the final stretch and climb to the finish.
I had 94 minutes to complete 4.5 miles to beat the 15-hour cut-off time and earn a finishers medal. Under normal circumstances that’s an easy distance to cover. The only problem was my mindset. I had accessed that part of the brain that oozes self-doubt. All I could think of was the four major climbs remaining and a tricky single track laced with uncovered roots and puddles of mud. It was time to get a grip and visualise the feeling of running across the finish line.
I flipped a ‘switch’ and after walking up the first hill I ran two of the quickest miles I had run all day to finish comfortably within the cut off time.
We all access this wasteful, self-doubting part of our brain, but one of the biggest benefits of running ultra-marathons is you really get to know your body and mind. Running off-road gives me the headspace I need from my city life and inbox. I listen to my breathing and I’m fully present, in the moment, focusing on the track ahead. It’s meditation in motion.
In my experience, a positive mindset is the largest component of completing any race. I haven’t done research to back up my theory but I’d say at least 60% of completing an ultra-marathon is the right mindset. The other 40% covers logistics, training, nutrition and remaining injury free.
There is no doubt training is crucial, but a positive mindset is a key component of running an ultra and navigating life. Flip off that negative switch in your brain and it’s amazing how many hills you can climb!