Ultrarunning: eliminating the ‘poison’ of doubt


Not a day has elapsed since June 3, 2012, when I haven’t reflected on the events of those 24 hours: a successful Bob Graham Round, all 42 peaks, 66 miles and some 27,000ft of it. I am continually inspired by what happened that day, imbuing a (so far) life-long sense of if-I-can-do-the-Bob-Graham, I can do anything. But, as time passes, my reflections seek clarity and depth on not just what happened, but how, and therefore, why, it happened. The necessary physical preparation is a given. What had continued to puzzle me is how I had felt wretched for the first 10 hours of my attempt, but wonderful for the next nine-and-a-half. I think I’ve finally found the solution, courtesy of Matthew Syed’s Bounce, a book which has long been on shelves but is a new personal discovery. Ruthless self-belief and the eradication of doubt are the intrinsic ingredients for success, he argues.

The biggest transition on my round was mental, not physical. Three weeks before my effort, a niggle developed on an ankle. I stopped running. Doubt emerged. I obsessed about the injury. Doubt grew. I decided to attempt nonetheless. I paced up Skiddaw in the dark doubtfully. I descended Blencathra in pain. Doubt magnified horribly. I was utterly miserable as I ran across the Helvellyn range. I wanted to give up on Fairfield. I told my pacer so: ‘I don’t know how I’m going to do this.’ I felt no better on Steel Fell. The same thought: I can’t do this.

Then, something happened: a surge of positivity. I had suddenly gone too far not to succeed. A switch had been flicked. The change was purely emotional. After all, how can the physical state improve after 10 hours of punishment? I realise now that I had choices: to be doubtful or not. I didn’t give myself that choice in the first half of the attempt; nor did I give myself a choice in the second. Once I’d make that choice, the effect was dramatic: I was happier, more awake, more alert. The result? Running simply hurt less. I never realised the mind could be so powerful. For hours – as Syed notes – doubt had been my ‘poison’. ‘No man indulges his inner scepticism. That is the logic of sports psychology,’ Syed explains. I had indulged my inner scepticism to a three-course meal. Perhaps I should have read Bounce last spring? I don’t think it would have helped. I had to work it out for myself.

Syed goes on: ‘Progress is made by ignoring the evidence: it is about creating a mindset that is immune to doubt and uncertainty.’ My progress once doubt had been expelled was stunning. I ran with an assurance that I long to re-capture. I was utterly convinced in my own personal success. Maybe I’m stating the obvious? Of course, achievement is linked to the elimination of basic human doubts and insecurities. Understanding such a concept is the tip of the iceberg, however; putting this into practice is the challenge. That is the greatest lesson I could have learned from running 66 miles.

Dunmail Raise

Hindscarth

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. ZF says:

    Cheers that was a good one!

  2. stevemon50 says:

    Great insight. I too have not even got the book, yet. Been getting it for about 6 months. A journey of discovery but whilst I now see the benefit of `positive thinking` i.e. not thinking negatively I still think some doubt is good for balance ?

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