Hey I’m back on the mic after an usually long jaunt in South Africa to run my first ever ultra marathon. 31 hours of travel 3 continents later, I was ready to run my first ultra on the other side of the world:
- The oldest ultra marathon in the world.
- 56 miles / 89 kilometers
- 18,000 People
- 11+ hours.
I’ve got a full writeup on the experience coming soon, but I wanted to share a little of what was going on in my mind during the race & 3 mantras that I used to get myself through it.
While I used them during my race, they’re useful in any endeavor you might dive into where endurance is key.
Where To Listen To This EpisodeImpossible FM #005 Transcript
Hey everybody. Welcome to Impossible FM – the show where we talk about pushing your limits and doing the impossible in fitness, gritness, business, and life. I’m your host Joel Runyon, welcome to the show. Let’s get started!
Hey everybody. Welcome to Impossible FM. I’m back on the mic after being gone for a little bit, I was gone in South Africa for a good little bit. Last 2 weeks I’ve been a little bit MIA but I am back, I’m better than before. The reason for my trip to South Africa was I was running Comrades Marathon, which is, if you guys know anything about ultramarathons, which you may or may not actually, Comrades is the oldest ultramarathon, I think, in the world. It’s about 18,000 people which is pretty much a major-… It’s the same size as a major marathon if you’re in the States, but it’s 18,000 people, about 16,000 of them are South Africans so it is a big deal in South Africa, and a… slightly smaller deal in the running community internationally.
And so I went down there for a 56-mile jog, if you will, it was a 56-mile, 89-kilometer ultramarathon so that was the farthest I’ve ever run in my entire life. Ever. Ever ever ever ever ever ever. If you guys remember a couple years back, I ran a couple of 50Ks while raising money for Pencils of Promise and we built a school in Guatemala and I’ve decided- for some strange reason- I’ve decided that I wanted to get back into feeling that sort of pain again, so this was sort of a warm up race, a 56 mile warm up race, they get it out there to test my legs, to see how I could handle the mileage and I finished as the main goal. The main goal for this race is to finish, not break any legs, not die, so the race itself was pretty interesting. I had a really really good time on the race.
In today’s episode, I’m actually going to talk about three mantras I told myself during the race. I think it’s useful in other places as well but specifically for ultramarathons, specifically for Comrades, this is sort of how I got through 89 kilometres (or 56 miles for those of you not familiar with all the K’s). So the the three mantras that I told myself So you’re out there in the middle of the road and you just start running and you start at 5:30 in the morning and you get going, yo’re out there for a while, you’re probably gonna finish it right…. right around 5 and a half, 6 hours somewhere in there. Something stupid fast. If you’re a normal person, you’re not gonna finish like that <laughs>. So, basically, you’ve got some time out in the road to think. <laughs>. To put it lightly, you’ve got some time out there to kind of talk to yourself, deal with your own demons, and kind of like shake out things going on in your head.
One of the things I really really like about running is the fact that it allows you to sort of sort out… it sort of- It gives you a defragging opportunity for your brain. It sort of lets you rearrange and work on and pick on problems that have maybe been bugging you, either at work or personal life or wherever. You basically have nothing but time and the open road out in front of you. So that’s a good time to sort of “defrag” your brain, if you will. But basically I told myself three things at the beginning of the race and throughout the race that really really helped me keep going for the entire duration just about 11 hours that I was out there so…
And the first one, and this is the most important one in my mind was “do not stop”. Do not stop, don’t stop, do not stop. Whatever you do, don’t stop. I’d been told before the race that this is, you know…. Ultras… The reason I like ultras is mostly mental. There is some physical preparation you have to do for it, but at the end of the day it comes down to whether or not you’re gonna decide to actually run the race or not. And so with this mantra, I basically sat down and told myself at the beginning of the race, “No matter what you do, you’re never gonna stop. You can go slow, you can walk, you can run in a really really ugly fashion, but you cannot stop.” And so that sounds easy enough, but actually when you get to like, the water stations, which are about every kilometer, kilometer and a half, two kilometers in the race, there’s 18,000 people out there, so there’s quite a bit of crowds at the water stations and so if you want to sit down, if you go to the bathroom or whatever, and you go take care of that, if you’re grabbing water or even just waiting in line for water, there’s always so many volunteers out there, that if you if you wait long enough for the water, you’re kind of abstaining or stopping. And so I decided, the most important thing in all the race, and this may or may not be the best strategy, but for me personally I knew that if I stopped, the decision to start again would just be another decision that I would have to make. It had to be another “Okay… aaaand we’re gonna go again.” And I didn’t want to have to deal with that. And so the number one thing I told myself was do not stop. So if I came to a water station and there were volunteers that were swamped by runners, and you’d have to wait to get water or wait to get food, I just skip that water station and kept moving. That may or may not be a great strategy if you don’t have a really well stocked race, but Comrades had so many different water stations and aid stations along the course, that I knew that if I didn’t pick up something at this aid station, I could do another one in another kilometer. And so for me the priority was do not stop, keep going no matter what you do, don’t stop, don’t stand still, always be moving forward, always be making progress. and over you know, 12 hours, or… not quite 12 hours, but over 56 miles continually moving at every single chance that you get, it ends up adding up quite a bit. So that was mantra number one.
So mantra number two that I started out with and really started to focus on throughout the race was shut up and run. I read a post– it was on one of the Comrades– there’s a ton of good resources out there if you’re training for Comrades or looking at pacing charts, or just training schedules, or whatever you’re looking for, but there’s a bunch of really helpful articles, because 18,000 people run in the race every single year, so there’s a good amount of people who’ve done it, who’ve aced it, who’ve done it multiple multiple times, and they’ve got sort of a bevvy of experience with it… And so I read this actually somewhere else and I really like it because it kind of underscores the impossible ethos and also talks about the best way to handle yourself when you don’t want to do something. The mantra was just shut up and run. Your legs hurt? Shut up and run. Are you tired? Shut up and run. Have you been out there for 8 hours? Shut up and run. It doesn’t matter what you tell yourself, your brain is, you know, kind of on overdrive, it’s got time to think, and so it’s coming up with all these excuses on what you should do, why are you doing this, this is stupid, 40 miles in, why do I keep going, I’ve gone farther than I’ve ever gone before…. and every single time you bring up a question or you bring up a doubt or your mind starts bringing up whatever excuses you’ve got in your head, basically, shut up and run, shut up and run, shut up and run. So that’s a, that was mantra number two.
Mantra number three was something that I’ve been actually… I actually wrote it down on my white board the other day. I’ve been doing some videos lately and I have a whiteboard in my office space and I wrote it down because it was one of those things that you sort of don’t realize at first but it becomes really important and it changes completely the outlook that you take whenever you go on and try to do something difficult. What I did was I wrote the word “I have to” and I changed them to “Get to”. So instead of saying “I have to do this”, or “I have to run 56 miles”, or “I have to run 89 kilometers”, or “I have to be out here all day”, I changed it to “You get to do this.” So I get to run 89 miles, and you get to run all day long outside here in South Africa. And the….. it’s one word, it’s a really really small change, but the difference it has on your outlook is a really really big deal. Basically what it comes down to, is it changes it from being an obligation and something that you have to do or that you’re forced to do or that you maybe don’t want to do, or even if it’s just hard, you have to do it. It sounds like it’s such an obligation. What it does when you change the word “how” to “get”, it changes your outlook to a place of gratitude. I’m not gonna get really hippie on this at all, but basically what it comes down to is instead of thinking about “Oh I’ve gotta run 56 miles” or what, you start looking all reasons, like “How awesome is it that I have the ability to run 56 miles” or that “I can move myself across a distance of 56 miles”, that “I’m in good enough shape”, that “I have all the ability to travel to South Africa”, that “I’m able to take, you know, all day and do it and not bend over puking all day”. It really changes your whole outlook. And it doesn’t sound like much maybe right now, but maybe when you’re 40 miles in and you’re saying “Hey, what reasons do I have to do the last 16 miles”, and you start realizing you know, you get to do this. You don’t have to do it, nobody’s gonna yell at me if I just walk off the road and go home, but I get to do this. I paid money for it, I signed up, I flew 31 hours to South Africa and I get to do it. And when you look at things like that, all of a sudden, your outlook shifts, and you sort of, you have a new perspective, but you also have a new appreciation for the ridiculously challenging hard things that you’re going out and trying to do, and it’s not just you have to do it, you get to do them, you’re choosing to do them, and when you choose to do something, you’ve got a lot of power over it, so that’s kind of awesome and I think I’m rambling now, but I think it’s a big deal especially when you’re setting out to do really difficult things or things that you know may not make a lot of sense to most people, you get to do that and it’s pretty freaking awesome.
The last mantra that I picked up, and this is actually a bonus mantra. I’d name this three mantras, so you’re gonna get 3 mantras and a bonus mantra. And basically, I picked this up from Kyle Maynard who is… If you guys don’t know who Kyle is, he’s pretty badass. I’ll have him here on the show sometime in the future. If you don’t know who Kyle is– he is a motivational speaker and athlete. He’s born with a condition that basically doesn’t allow his arms to fully develop, so he doesn’t have any arms or legs, he doesn’t have fully developed arms or legs, but he’s super badass. He’s a crossfit competitor, he used to be a wrestler, he has his own crossfit gym, he does ridiculous stuff like climb Kilimanjaro without any arms or legs. Literally crawled up the mountain out of sheer willpower which is ridiculous. I’m gonna have him on the show, we’ll get a story. But I’ve met at PaleoFX a couple of weeks, uh a couple of months ago. And one of the stories that he told, you know, he’s halfway up Kilimanjaro and the mantra that he came up with while he was on Kilimanjaro was “Not dead, can’t quit. Not dead, can’t quit.” And I really like that for a bunch of reasons: one, it was super short, it had a rhythm to it where you can just kind of tell yourself over and over and over, like “Not dead, can’t quit, not dead, can’t quit, not dead, can’t quit.” But also, when you’re in the moment and again, you’re asking yourself why am I doing this, is anyone gonna notice if I go home? And you kinda just set the standard for yourself by saying, you know, if I’m not dead, I can’t quit’ you know. If I quit, if I die, then quitting is totally an option. But if I’m not dead, then I can’t quit. And I think this is really cool because it really lays the options out in the table for like what you’re willing to give up doing something. In the show, and I also I have a link to this post, you know I talked about a lot of times, you know, if you’re going through something that sucks a lot or if you’re going through something that’s really really hard to do, say what you’re willing to give up out loud. Like, say it out loud and just give it up. And then when it happens, expect it. What this does is that basically it allows you to say like my stake here is, if I’m not dead, then I’m going to finish this. And it just lets you kind of unleash this willpower to go do whatever it is you say you’re gonna do no matter what that is. And so, those are the things that I was just telling myself. People ask you “What are you thinking about during the race besides trying to do the miles to kilometer conversions and figuring out your splits and all that fun stuff.” You know, those are the things that are going through my head as I was pacing myself hour after hour continually deciding to move forward and continually deciding to go, continue to move on.
And so yeah, those are my three mantras for Comrades marathon. If you guys have not run Comrades, there is no other race like it. It’s one of those unique races in the ultra running community, but it’s also just.. its a beautiful race, there’s tons of people, and it’s a big big big big deal in south Africa and so people are out there all day long and the crowds supporting. All the race is amazing, there’s people handing you all sorts of crazy stuff from water and Gatorade and all the all the standard fare, to like potatoes. Salted potatoes, which is a first that I’ve never ever ever had on a race before. So yeah, check out Comrades race, it’s a heck of a race, there’s nothing quite like it, I’ve ever seen quite like that before, and it was a heck of a race, really really tough but really really good. So those are the 3 mantras that I use to get myself through the race, I’ll be using them in races to come and hopefully they’ll be helpful for you guys, if you guys are doing a race or doing anything that’s gonna take endurance and take mental fortitude to kind of get through to struggle through and to make happen. So that’s the show for today. If you guys like the show, go to iTunes, leave a review, Impossible.com/iTunes. Alright then. Well, until next time. I will see you guys on the next show.
Hey everybody, thanks for listening to the Impossible FM podcast. For more tips, blog posts, podcasts, videos, and a whole lot more, check out impossiblehq.com. Until next time, I will see you guys next Monday morning, right here behind the mic, at 8:00 AM eastern standard time. Until then, get out there, go do something that pushes your limit and do something impossible.
Well done Joel! Comrades is biggie on my list especially since it’s on my doorstep.
Hey Joel, Well done dude! Was great to meet you while you were out in SA. Looking forward to possibly catching up in Switzerland and again for your back to back.