I dug my hands into cold wet and deep mud, trying to pull myself up the steep slope.
My foot slipped, then caught on a tree root, and I was able to advance by 1 meter, feeling my heart thumping against my chest.
I dug my hands into the mud again, 1 more meter.
I was 6 hours and 40km into an 85km trail ultra-marathon in the hills of Cotswold in England.
It was June 2019. It was cold, raining, and windy.
I reached the finish line in 13 hours and 55 minutes, after having climbed 2500m, descended 2400m and covered 85km in distance over muddy and slippery terrain.
I was walking to my car after finishing, shivering uncontrollably, and my first thought was: should I register for a 100km race?
There are 2 types of people in my world: those who have participated in ultra-endurance events (e.g. Ironman triathlon, ultramarathons, ultra-distance cycling or swimming, mountaineering, etc), and those who haven’t.
When I tell stories like these to people from the first group, the reaction I get is one of:
Congrats! Nice job, when’s your next race? Or
What was your training plan? or
Do you think you could have gone faster? Or longer? or
What was your nutrition strategy?
When I tell stories like these to people form the second group, the reaction I get is one of:
Oh my God! That’s amazing! How could you do that? or
“I would never be able to do something like that!”
I want to take a few minutes of your time addressing this last one: “I would never be able to do something like that”.
Here’s what most people don’t realize:
A lot of people quit during these ultra-distance events (technically it’s called DNF – did not finish)
The vast majority of people who quit during a race do so NOT because they can’t go on physically
The majority of people who DNF break “mentally”. They get to the point of “I can’t take this suffering anymore”.
And this is what most people don’t understand about ultra-endurance events:
It’s not the best way to get fit and healthy (in fact, it’s probably not good for you physically to punish your body like that).
People who finish these races are not necessarily fitter than others: they just have that little extra mental strength...
When you train and race in ultra-endurance events, you “build mental resilience”, you become “comfortable in being uncomfortable”, you develop the ability to suffer for a long period of time and “not quit”, the ability to maintain “positive thinking during the darkest moments”.
During such events, you will have dozens of “internal” conversations with yourself. You will be tempted to quit 100 times during a race. You will develop the ability to see “through” the pain and suffering and focus on the reward on the other side.
These types of events strip you bare: you can’t fake it, you can’t put on a mask. You will see yourself at your absolute worst, and at that time, you will ask yourself the question: “what are you going to do now”?
All of these mental qualities translate extremely well to all the other areas of your life: business, personal, family problems, social problems, money problems, etc.
Imagine if, every time you were faced with a major obstacle in your life, you had the mental strength and conviction to “push through” the pain and come out the other side without collapsing.
The longer and harder the race, the more suffering you have to go through to get to the end, the more mentally resilient you become across all areas of your life.
You learn to embrace suffering instead of fearing it.
You develop a strong conviction that “nothing can ever break you”.
And that is a skill you can never develop in a gym or Crossfit workout, no matter how hard it is…