“You must be crazy” is generally followed shortly afterwards by “Why?” I wish they asked “How?” If they asked that, I could give such a cool answer. I know how I do it, because when you have pushed your body so hard, your mind gets blackened to the point that you can no longer hold a conscious thought, you can’t really see straight and you aren’t able to talk with anyone that may be there, the ‘how’ is all that you have the capacity for. You take mental drive and apply that to whatever physical strategy you have left, and away you go. But ‘why’, that’s a lot harder to answer. A LOT harder. It’s my least favourite question to be asked. It’s a harder to answer, and the answer takes longer to get to. The answer is bloody good though, I wouldn’t pay the physical and mental tolls that I do if the reward was not high.
The motivation to do what I do is internally sourced. It has to be. To be reliant on an external factor to keep you going when all seems lost, your entire body is shutting down, and all you want to do is stop, you are doomed to failure. Certainly external factors such as raising funds for charity, setting a new record or even winning a prize can serve to inspire someone, but motivation can only come from within.
I was asked at a recent leadership training course whom inspires me, and I struggled with an answer. The truth is that I respect what a lot of other people do, but they are doing what they want to do, with their back ground and skill sets as their tools. Everyone has their own unique stories and capabilities, so why should I want to try to follow someone else’s path? External inspirations will desert you eventually, likely at the moments when you are finding it the hardest to continue. At this time only internal motivation or drive is what will keep you going, sometimes this drive is the only thing that you have. So I questioned what motivates me?
A lot of people instantaneously think that I must undertake the challenges for a charity. It makes sense, you see this plastered all over every major event that comes along. Every endurance race you wish to compete in will have a charity as a major partner. It certainly captures people’s attention, and raises funds for noteworthy causes. I have done so myself on several occasions. I raised money for a children’s charity when I ran the New York Marathon, and I raised funds for the people of Nepal during one of my Everestings. It was nice to help in this way, and I am glad that I did. But without the fund raising, would I have still done the events anyway? Probably. In the times when I was really struggling, and had to push through a deep, dark place to make the finish, I would love to say that the thought I was helping people in need spurred me on, but it didn’t. It wasn’t why I was doing it, it was just a ‘nice-to-have’ thing that was a small part of the journey. Maybe if those charities had an intense personal connection that I could draw upon, it might have been different. I can appreciate that this may be the case for some people, but it isn’t for me.
So the next thing someone might assume is that I’d do it for some sort of reward. I won a race once, The Adelaide 12 hour in 2010. It was a running race around a 2.2km track, whoever ran the most was the champ. Running concurrently was the 6 hour and 24 hour events. Now in full disclosure, there were only 4 of us in the 12 hour race, but I went and ran to the end, 111km, and I won. I got a small trophy for that. That trophy takes pride of place in the back of a cupboard in my spare room with all of the other medals I get for finishing things. I might look at it once a year when I clean the cupboard out. In all of the other events, you might get a medal, a finishers jersey, or even just your name written for eternity in a hall of fame on a website. But that’s it. No sponsors bonus, (Ha! Could you imagine?…) no prize money, no financial benefit at all. Even in professional ranks, most guys are making a poor living at best. The largest percentages of cyclists, triathletes and runners trying to make it as pros are living well below the poverty line, and scraping by on the smell of an oily rag.
So if charity and material gain aren’t it, what is the reason? Why do I do it?
Some guys when you aske them why they do these things will say stuff like “Because it’s there”, “Because I can”, or “Because bicycle” (James Raison’s amazing level of comic genuis on full display here..). To a point, there is some relevance in this. I have a cycling kit from the last Everesting we did, with “COS I CAN” written on the right thigh. Having the capability to be able to complete these challenges is part of the reason, but it’s not the full story. Catchy by lines like this serve more of a purpose to just provide a comical answer, rather than show the real meaning behind the motives for these actions. The real reason is it’s because of the feeling you get when you complete something that you believed at some point to not be possible. When I look back on the events that I have completed that I hold the dearest, the ones that mean the most, it’s not the ones where I have performed the best. It’s when I have suffered the most that counts the most.
When my daughter was first born I made it my mission to undertake 2 marathons and 2 ultra marathons in the 4 months immediately following her birth. I ran the Pichi Richi Marathon, the Adelaide 12 hour running race, the Adelaide Marathon and the Yurrebilla 56km trail ultra marathon all in those 4 months. In those events, the two marathons I went okay in, the 12 hour event I won outright, and at Yurrebilla I fell into a massive heap. 20 kilometres into Yurebilla I was running really well, on track to run as fast as I had targeted and feeling really good. Then the wheels fell off. All of them. Within 1 km I was struggling to breathe, and both legs were in serious pain. I could hardly run, and I barely just managed a shuffle. I had now 35 kilometres of very hilly off road trail to run, and I didn’t believe that I could make it at all. I called my wife and told her as much. I told myself that I’d go to the next part of the trail and stop. Then I’d say the same thing, and go to the next part. And the next part. And the next part. I was being overtaken by everyone else, and I was moving more slowly than a glacier, but I kept moving. I cried a lot, and I was still 100% convinced that I would not make it to the end. Sure at some points I’d be able to jog a little bit and feel better, but then very quickly the pain would come rushing back, and I’d be back to shuffling or walking.
Eventually I made it to the top of Blacks Hill. That was a very large and steep climb, but I made it to the top, and there was someone on hand to take photos. Immediately after these shots were taken I had a huge spasm in the muscles around my right knee. It felt like someone had driven a screwdriver into the side of my knee. I screamed, and hit the ground. Not now I thought. There are 6 kilometres left. Just 6 damn kays. 6. I could run that whilst drunk and eating a whole pizza. Not now, I can’t finish here. So I got up, and shuffled another 10 metres. The spasm happened again, I screamed again, I hit the ground again. “FUUUUUUCK OOOOFFFFF!!!!!” I screamed loudly, followed by: “C’arn mate, let’s go.” I stood up, rubbed my knee, and shuffled off again. I still didn’t know how I was going to make those 6 kilometres. They were all down hill along a rough trail. With aS bad knee, this would only make it a lot worse. How was I supposed to do this? It’s so close, but so very, very far away. It seemed impossible, but I kept going. I kept going and I made it, I even ran the last 250 metres at a good pace! I was so excited. My beautiful wife, Sarah, and our darling little daughter were there waiting for me. Sarah even brought beer, sandwiches and cake for me for the drive home.
I failed in this race. I got beaten by my friends Maurice and Matt, I was an hour and a half slower than I had targeted, and I had walked huge sections. It was the worst result I had had in a long time, but I still view this race as one of my greatest successes. I was never going to win an event like this, so my goal was to finish, and give it my best. Any time goals are pretty irrelevant for a regular person, even though people add them in all the time. They have no relevance on your performance, only a mark on the clock as to how long it took you. My performance that day was a result of me giving absolutely everything that I had to give. I had been absolutely convinced that the task I was undertaking was impossible, and that I would not make it to the finish, yet I had. I had succeeded in this race better than any that I had been in before it, as I was required to dig deeper than I ever had to get there.
I recently read a blog called ‘That Emily Chappell’,which is sensational, and really well written. It’s about Emily’s travels around the world competing in ultra distance cycling events, and what she goes through along the way. One phrase she wrote really stood out: “Maybe none of it is impossible. Maybe not knowing how you are going to survive doesn’t mean that you won’t.” That really sums up a lot of my mindset from days like Yurrebilla. I thought the challenge impossible, and didn’t know how I was going to complete it, but these two points didn’t stop me from succeeding. Having the confidence to continue when it seems pointless to do so is what makes the success so much more rewarding, and that’s the ultimate reason why I do what I do. The knowledge that I can complete something that even I believe impossible is truly rewarding and empowering. It is a feeling of rational confidence that you have proven to yourself of your own capabilities, even when you doubted their extent.
This is also why I take on challenges of ever increasing difficulty. Each time I start an event, sitting in my mind is the thought that perhaps this time I may not succeed. Perhaps this time the challenge may be too great. It’s also why I don’t generally like competing in shorter distanced events, as the challenge just to finish is not there. Sure there is a challenge to go fast, which is difficult in itself, but the reward is not the same. Looking back, the events that stand out like Yurebilla are the 24 hour running race I did a year later, the Everesting I did on a city share bike in Melbourne, and the Ironman I did a week after that. All of these events became entirely about surviving. They were events that took 100% of the effort from my soul just to get to the finish line. My mind went into some very deep and dark places, my legs and lungs went through incredible levels of pain and I suffered like I didn’t think it was possible to suffer and keep moving. But at the end of each of them, I was still standing, somewhat crookedly, but I was standing.
There are of course lots of other reasons as to why I undertake endurance challenges – a love of being outdoors, the comradery with other like-minded people, the satisfaction of completing certain events and the feeling of being very fit and healthy. But the empowerment of defeating my own doubts is the greatest reward I take. It is something that you can take through your life in everything you do, every day. When you have seen how far you can take your own mind and body, then nothing else become too hard to do. There is no laziness and no excuses that you accept within yourself. Think of every time today that you thought that you wouldn’t do something as it was too much effort to do, you couldn’t be bothered, or there was something that you thought you weren’t capable of doing. You don’t realise how debilitating this can become until you remove that from your life. It is a freedom to know that in all things, you have a choice whether you wish to do something or not. It is not out of your own hands, it is not determined by others for you. You have the capabilities to do whatever it is that you wish to do, and you must simply only decide to do it.
Confidence, empowerment, and the freedom to make your own choices. That is why I undertake these challenges. It is a journey in self discovery.
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