What if… A return to racing and a deep dive into being patient with yourself and life.
~ Words on life by Claudi.
NOW (2022) AND THEN (2019).
Two Maverick Race Peaks Ultra races. Two wins. Two course records.
The only thing that is actually the same: I’m still wearing those sunnies, still smashing my way through all food groups and I wanted a beer at the finish 😅
The Long Read – (author’s note: it touches on grief)
2019: THE CLIMB.
71km / 2500m. A lot hillier, remote and technical. A training run on tired legs. Just back from the mountains and back to back racing. Gearing up for UMTB® TDS (145km / 9100m around Mont Blanc, Alps) in a few weeks.
Well… as always going hard and fast, on top of the back and forth to Germany; with bad and worse news (three years on the bounce, a long depleting lead up). Trying to take it all in my stride and keep some normality. I already knew that I was preparing for something much tougher and bigger. I tried to retain some naivety around it, it’s just so unimaginable. You don’t really want to go there. Imagine not just the life without, but the moment you live through their last breath. Nothing will prepare you for it, that much I can tell you now. I DNF’ed (did not finish) TDS. My body sent me signals loud and clear (not injured thankfully). My whole being was elsewhere but not in it. I rushed home. We had some more time to spend together. It all feels very hazy, now looking back. I was tired. Exhausted by life.
2020 – 2022: THE PAUSE.
The end. The shock. The grief. Straight into the pandemic. The earth underneath me breaking away. That free fall felt endless. Best was not to try hold on to something but to let it all unfold. Fighting it versus accepting it – it truly was the hardest to do. It took me a while to understand this and then to actually practise and do it (or do nothing for a matter of fact). You’re floating in a space of deep uncertainty and questioning, it knocks your confidence for six. Running long distances gave me glimpse of it: the surprise challenges, the feelings attached to it, the powerlessness to go on, standing in your own way, finding a way around it and so on. Yet it wasn’t enough to prepare me for it, let alone see me through.
I eventually landed somewhere rock bottom. Hey. But on my feet. Papa always said; you have the talents and the right work-attitude. Do something with it. Make them work together. So I started to put one foot in front of the other (you know it!). Moving forwards, keeping our run community going virtually, then back IRL offline, outside, together. Holding space. Getting so much back in return. After all, WE ARE DAYBREAK is all about life… with some running alongside. Rooted and brought to life by the people in it.
The world and races opened up (briefly then some more). I wasn’t ready. I let go of years of continuous strings of GFAs, BQs, all the points (now stones) and my ITRA score. I promised myself to only race on curiosity and with the aim to have fun (for most of it). Not on anger, worry, sadness, grief or trying to fill a void. There is of course curiosity linked to those emotions, but it’s coming in too hot and from an angle that can overshadow the good work that can be done. I also refrained from burying (distracting) myself in work and commitments. I learned to say no better in that time, yet gone beyond a few thresholds here and there, of course. Taming some of that work-hard ethos is hard sometimes 😬 Pulling back. Letting go.
I had to stretch between London and home. I had to learn so many new skills fast. We all had to step up. Trying to fill my father’s shoes. Life went on at full throttle, even if it was nothing like the life as we knew it. You all have lived through the pandemic, too. And have your own version of it. I took strength in many things. I kept learning, turning page after page. I wrote. I kept my heart open, even when it was still shattered in so many pieces. I’ve reached out to old and looked for some new mentors. Mind, heart, soul, business. Found inspiration in my friends discovering their depth and strength on their respective running journeys far and wide. Gold dust. I spent a lot of time outside. I loved the miles and I also loved rest days. Going slowly. Steady. Never too fast. Sat down when I wanted to. Contemplated a lot. Of course I cried some: it’s really near impossible to cry, breathe and run at the same time. Mind. A lot of time I spent alone in solitude and sorrow. Kept my independence. I had to figure this out in my own head. And I needed to learn to appreciate time in a different way.
I stayed present. Connected back to myself. To my core values. I did open up and had many conversations. I didn’t seek professional help (I was close enough though). Instead explored the options with those close to me. After all everyone is proficient in life, right?! And everyone could potentially have different insights to share. I’ve listened. I’ve leaned. They stood and held. Every rock has a rock in their life ❤️ No one wants to be a burden. Include family dynamics into the mix, all of us grieving differently on different timelines. I got to know myself, my family and my support network on such a deep and different level.
Since TDS (34 months ago) I covered close to 10.000km on foot 😅 Most of it set to private or only written down on paper. I didn’t want to be seen, liked or commented on. Shout out to my followers: you all keep a positive and encouraging tone over the years; I know this is rare and I’m grateful we meet exactly there 🙏 I didn’t want to curate or share. Let alone explain, to provide the necessary context. Digitally placed and consumed means we’re taking away many essential nuances of communication. Everyone is fast to make assumptions based on their own experience… I also ran a good chunk without even recording anything. They say ‘miles make you’ – I say: make sure you truly move yourself with them. Nothing else really matters.
So those miles had to go somewhere eventually.
2022: THE RETURN.
54k / 1400m. Peaks Ultra take two, on a new course. So much more runnable. Yikes. I had to change my fuel strategy. Cheese wasn’t cutting it (IMAGINE). There weren’t enough (slow) climbs to do the hike up and eat. Still processing it all of course. We signed up less than a week before. A moment of courage… or insanity, that’s your call 😂 Training was far from specific. I knew the strength and miles were there. I can head out and play – and discover. Going in with no expectations whatsoever. Of course you don’t just turn up to ultras aimlessly. I’ve gone between ‘you probably DNF that one or you actually might win it’. I think that spectrum of extremes genuinely keeps me humble. Definitely dream big (without being too cocky), still also be ok with knowing when to say no and walk away with that decision. I can be ok and happy with either. ‘Failure builds success.’ And success is also only just another stepping stone.
I wasn’t thinking too much about the race, didn’t rehearse stuff (forgotten all basically). Learned anew how to pack my mandatory kit. Remembered it’s a lot to carry 😅
Found calm and confidence in these during my time out there running:
- Really it’s just one foot in front of the other. Nothing has changed.
- Stay present, take everything in your stride. Bring the curiosity and vulnerability.
- Pace it somewhat sensibly (by all means, I don’t even know myself what that means anymore. Where’s my ‘race effort’ at?! No clue. Chatting to other runners en course is a good start, non?!)
- Eat. You’re good at that. Keep pushing the calories.
- Run the race in-front of you. Run your own race. Always. If you get overtaken (by another woman), that’s still just the race in-front of you.
- Keep it simple. Stop the faff. Move through the aid stations swiftly. (Nothing has changed).
- Have some fun.
- What if…
- Soak it all up. Wow. The cheers, smiles, encouragement at aid stations and marshal points (‘You’re first lady!’ 😳😭), hugs and high fives, jokes. The shared miles. The solitude. Being happy being in your own head. I admit, I’m so happy I came back to this.
- The kicking and punching of your body to urge you to stop (20k in). The fire and passion in your heart to go on. Until that gets you into more trouble (25k in). The mind towering above all. The trick is to make all three sing in unison. Eventually they did (35k in). It’s the best feeling when you stop self-sabotaging and start excelling. Those feels may not be reflected in pace. Knowing you’ve experienced the shift, is what’s integral.
- Follow your mantras: I’ve written on my arm: The next 5 minutes (‘Excellence is the next five minutes or nothing at all.’ ~ Tom Peters). And on my hand: KDS ❤️
- If you want to do well, get into the front row. Then hold on. For dear life. (Nothing has changed here either).
- During the toughest miles I found this in my heart: what weighs you down, makes you stronger. What makes you fly, makes you faster. It’s a win win, really. (Stunned by my own thoughts sometimes ha).
- Grit & grace. Make sure you celebrate when you come home. (And let those emotions roll freely 😬)
On to living a new day in this life… (hobbling about on sore legs is still moving forwards, right?! 😆)
Take good care of that life of yours. Sincerely, Claudi x
*Race pictures by Maverick Race (then and now) Jake Baggaley / myself and the family.