WORDS by Fiona.
I have no desire to win races. For many, times and medals and instagramable pictures and being competitive is a huge driver to participating in sport. But it just isn’t for me.
I was once told by an incredible ultramarathon runner I know, that if you don’t stand on the startline of a race not knowing if you can finish it or not, it isn’t a challenge. Not because you haven’t trained hard enough, or put in the work, or aren’t healthy but because exploring your own boundaries of possibility and limits is where we discover who we really are.
When I first took up running I remember finding the idea of running for a kilometre without stopping mind blowing. Now I feel confident running for about 8 hours without needing to walk. As I’ve tested my own boundaries and limits I’ve been consistently shocked by just how much further and faster and higher I can go. Months of training, hard work and a huge amount of dogged determination has seen me complete marathons, ultras, mountain races and even Ironman.
Along the way though I’ve realised that I have no desire to stick at one thing and ‘be the best’. My passion and enthusiasm is in my desire to pursue adventure. Relentlessly. With abandon. Passionately. Adventure is calling.
Don’t get me wrong: PBs are amazing. For me personally as a coach, there are two that are particularly joyous to watch: new runners shocked at achieving things they never thought possible and runners who’d counted themselves out for a long time and suddenly surprise themselves. As we all probably have, I’ve been through both of those. I’ve cried my eyes out at finish lines for achieving times that seemed ‘too fast’ for the runner I assumed I was. And yet, when I look back at my favourite memories in running: numbers don’t feature.
There is the moment in my Ironman where my husband, an hour up the race from me, crossed paths with me and we shared a kiss before heading off to finish our respective marathons. There was the time I paced my Mum, who’d promised me she’d never do any sport in her life, to complete her first 10k at the age of 70. There are the miles and miles I’ve spent traipsing up and down some remote mountain in Scotland with my Dad talking about anything and everything.
Fear of missing out and defining yourself by others achievements is a dangerous and unsatisfying pathway. There is a fantastic old tale of King Solomon, the richest man the world had ever seen who no matter how much wealth he had still felt unsatisfied. Will that medal or time or race really give you the fulfilment you are looking for? Or are you stuck on a relentless cycle of the next challenge, and time, and distance? When you achieve the time you’ve been putting so many hours in are you satisfied? Or do you then change the goalposts and look to shave off ever more minutes?
What if we all put aside the relentless marathon cycles and 5k PB hunts and just pursued adventure? Maybe we’d miss our time goals and what our peers might consider ‘good’ times but instead we might find something our hearts had been yearning for.
John Muir, one of the great advocates for the power of the outdoors in the late nineteenth century, famously said ‘The mountains are calling and I must go.’ I feel that call. Trapped in our city lives surrounded by constant noise and busyness and progress it’s easy to feel the overwhelming rise of fear and anxiety that grips so many of us. When I am in nature, I truly feel I am in a space where I remember what matters: not my job title, PBs, finishing position in some random half marathon but connection, love, passion, joy.
So this Autumn what if you put aside traditional goals and instead reconnected with why you run. What if we pursued being outdoors as passionately as some people pursue qualifying for big city marathons? Give yourself fully still: commit, be passionate, work hard, dig deep. But pursue something less black and white. Measure your achievements in emotions and how well you slept rather than times and medals. Run with perseverance wherever your legs will carry you. Just run. And be. And exist.
Adventure in out there and it is most definitely calling. Let’s go.
Fiona is working towards her CiRF (Coach in Running & Fitness) qualification with England Athletics and has lead some of our Tuesday DB / FIRST LIGHT sessions, helped guide our trail runs and is an integral part of our community. When she’s not busy running a theatre company in Islington full time, she’s most likely out in the fells hunting trig points #hillbragging with Graeme or her dad. You may see her as RD at Hampstead Heath Parkrun or swimming in the ponds training for her upcoming Ironman 70.3. 2020 is going to be a big year for Fiona, make sure you follow her inspiring journey!