There’s a familiar line that echoed through my mind as I participated in a grueling 35k race in the Sierra Tarahumara this past weekend: “Run if you can, walk if you must, but whatever you do, don’t stop moving.” It might sound like a catchy slogan you’d find on a motivational poster, but its depth is far more profound.
You see, I’ve tackled a few Ultramarathons in my time, and if there’s one secret to crossing that finish line, it’s the relentless drive to keep moving forward. Even if you have to walk, even if every muscle aches, you push onward. But this isn’t just a lesson in endurance running – it’s a lesson in life.
During my preparation for these races, I was engrossed in David Goggin’s “Never Finished.” Goggins paints a vivid picture of a rather grim experiment involving rats. In a test of endurance, these rats were subjected to swimming to the brink of exhaustion. In the first round, their will gave out rapidly. However, in the second phase, after having the experience of being saved just before the breaking point, their endurance skyrocketed. One even swam for an astounding 80 hours!
The twist? It was about hope. The rats believed they would be saved again, just like before. But Goggins takes it a step further, stating that it’s not just about hope, but rather the more potent force of belief. And where does one find or forge such belief? Enter the world of ultramarathons.
An Ultramarathon isn’t just a physical challenge; it’s a mental one. It’s about sitting with pain, sometimes excruciating pain, for long stretches. Every step, every kilometer, is a testament to human endurance, a constant negotiation between the mind and the body. But once you finish, you’re not just rewarded with a medal or a certificate. You’re granted a newfound belief – a realization that you’ve reached a place you never even knew existed within you.
Courtney Dauwalter, another stellar ultrarunner, coined it as visiting the “pain cave.” After hitting the 120-kilometer mark or so, she finds herself confronting this metaphorical cave. But instead of turning away, she digs deeper, expanding its boundaries. It’s a testament to the human spirit’s resilience and the mind’s ability to stretch beyond perceived limitations.
The parallels with life are striking. Life throws ultramarathons our way constantly – be it in the form of challenges at work, in relationships, or personal hurdles. And, just like in the race, we often have the urge to stop, to give up when the going gets tough. But if we nurture that tenacity, that undying spirit of moving forward regardless of the pace, we inch closer to our finish lines, whatever they may be.
That’s why it’s essential to embrace every opportunity for growth and training. Whether you’re slogging it out in the office, burning the midnight oil for school, or even fighting through personal trials, remember the lessons from the ultramarathon. To train yourself to confront your pain cave, to dig deeper when you feel like you’re at your limit.
In the end, it’s about more than just physical endurance or mental fortitude. It’s about a deep-rooted belief in our ability to conquer any challenge, no matter how insurmountable it seems. So, run if you can, walk if you must, but whatever you do, never stop moving forward.
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