Strap yourself in reader – this one starts off proper miserable, but it gets better I promise!
2020 has been nothing short of devastating for all of us.
As runners, it’s losing races and events that were a mixture of bucket list adventures, some planned and trained for for years, or long fought-for distance or time goals. Our motivation has been destroyed, our communities have been forced apart and for some of us, the one release from the horror of our mental health issues has been torn away. It’s just too easy to stop running when there is nothing to train for.
As race directors, it’s cancelling events. Most of our best loved race companies are tiny, not the gargantuan corporates that people think they are. A lot of them run on passionate, often part-time staff and volunteers who live for what they do. Event directors are facing having to refund or reschedule their events meaning their financial forecasts for the years to come look more than bleak. Some of them just won’t survive. The events that DO run are completely different now. There are no hugs, there is no help. Those volunteers who love what they do so much are forced to just stand by and watch as we make our way along the course, completely alone to a finish line where nobody is waiting.
For ALL of us it is losing the essence of being a human being. The very basis of human nature is that of being social; of shared experience, of being close, of touching, of physically supporting each other, of having goals, structure and certainty. That for now has gone. But we all have it in us to start planning it’s return.
And that is what we all have to focus on as runners, race directors and human beings. It may feel like we have nothing to hold onto. As each of our boats are tossed about in this messed up storm, we absolutely need something to hold onto. We need hope and we need strategy. We need to look forward. We HAVE to plan now. Not when we’re fifty, not when the kids have left home, not when we win the lottery. Now. There isn’t another time, there is just the now. As runners we move forward. As humans we need to do the same. Let me tell you a story.
Last week Rat Race opened entries to what is their most ambitious event yet. It’s my pet project – something I have dreamt of doing for years. I’ve been helping cook it up in the kitchen during lockdown.
Run Britannia is a 1000mile journey on foot from Lands End to John O’Groats. It’s a completely different route to the one people think they know; 50% off-road taking in some of the most famous pathways in the UK including the South West Coast Path, Offas Dyke, The Great Glen and the West Highland Way. It will take 40 solo runners 35 days to complete the whole thing, fully supported. The event isn’t until June 2023.
Run Britannia 2023 sold out on 6 and a half hours.
This illustrates hope. It illustrates the idea of standing up and looking forward. It’s evidence of planning for the day that we can get back together and do something amazing. Here we see a strategy; something to start getting out there for now. It may be two and a half years away, but it is there, it will happen and it will be completely amazing. More importantly people believe. Run Britannia is a beacon of hope and accomplishment for those signed up to focus on in times that have no focus. To every single person that signed up to that event, I promise you, with all my heart, the adventure of a lifetime. The wait will be so, so worth it.
We all need that. Be it an event we sign up for, a far-off holiday we plan for or a change in lifestyle we will absolutely make when we are free to do so. We all need that.
I’m not telling you to get out there and sign up for something as extreme as this. But I am telling you to sign up for something you can use as a carrot, with whatever race company you love and support – just sign up for something. It’s going to benefit the race companies that have, in the past, given you these amazing experiences and it’s going to help you focus on your future. The further in the future the better. It gives you time to train, research and plan.
It’s my actual job to help plan and recce routes all over the world, test them, report back and then open them up to the world via Rat Race Bucket List. There is a big chunk of that job I can’t do at the moment. But there is a hugely important part I can do. Sure I can plan those routes, but vitally I now have time to talk to people about what they want to do with their lives. I have time to listen to them and suggest what we can do when all this is over.
Every time I get off the phone to a potential test pilot, I know that I have given them hope. Almost every time someone signs up for something amazing, I get an email saying how excited they are and how their whole attitude towards the current situation has changed.
Every time I set up a new facebook group for an event, it immediately fills with people introducing themselves and telling the story of why they are doing something so spectacular. A virtual hug with a bunch of strangers – soon to be fellow adventurers. And that, to me, is not only the most special thing about this job but also the most life-affirming. It’s about giving people a slice of the experiences that I have had and getting them to believe in themselves and their abilities and what they can achieve in the future. It’s about giving them focus and hope and an aim. It’s about reigniting that part of them that this global pandemic and all the uncertainty it brings has taken away.
I wanted to write this piece not as a sales pitch (I’ve only mentioned one actual event which is definitely a fail) but because I truly believe all of it. I want people to look forwards. As runners we are good at that. This time is a gift. It’s an opportunity to change things, to challenge yourself, to plan for time for you, to plan to really live. Believe me, I haven’t I coped brilliantly with the lockdowns or the pandemic as a whole, in fact for a lot of it I have only just kept my head above water.
But I have coped better that I otherwise would have because of the experiences that I have had as a runner and adventurer. The adversity and uncertainty of the jungle, the lonliness of the desert, the fear of dying in my sleep, in temperatures of -47. The idea that maybe I won’t finish a 100-mile race because I am not good enough. I have battled all these things time and time again, in my own boat in my own storm. I know I can battle this one. It won’t be easy but there is a big world out there for the taking when it’s done. I will run. I will train. Because I am in training for when the end, whenever that may be.
The places I have been, and the adventures I have had have allowed me at times to face down those voices in my head without distraction, and to learn how to cope with constantly moving finish lines. And that’s what this pandemic is – one really long multi-day ultra with a finish line that keeps moving. There are certain things we can control and certain things we can’t. Take control of what you can control. Plan now. Adventure later.