ultrarunning to understand pain and share hope

Heading off to the Menai Bridge for September upandrun

There is a purpose for my ultrarunning, and it is mainly to share hope.

You may have seen the tagline I was using for the September upandrun: ‘ultrarunning to understand pain and share hope’. Here is why.

Ultrarunning to understand pain

Running for long distances means being on your feet for hours, moving along. On the journey, you discover much about yourself — you find out what is under the hood.

Under normal circumstances, we use our resources to deal with challenges as they arise. Life is full of uncertainty (more than certainty), twists and turns. That is the way.

What we can do is to focus on controlling the controllables. What can we control? Our approach and attitude.

Suffering comes from the way that we think about any given situation. Prior to this, it is merely a situation. This has long been realised by philosophers and others.

Life is a journey — cliche yet true. How do you approach the journey? How do you deal with things when they don’t go your way? The style that you use will determine whether you see it as an opportunity (to learn) or an obstacle?

Ultrarunning is the same. You set out on a journey that will be full of unknowns. When you are trotting along and feel great, it is wonderful. What about when you are in pain, feel sick, are hit with fatigue and hunger and thirst and more? How do you respond? How do you keep going?

Sunrise from the Little Orme

The concept of the pain cave describes the place you can go. It is dark.

But, there is ultimate learning about oneself in the pain cave to the point that many embrace the experience.

Pain is inevitable on an ultra.

You become your own experiment (n=1) as you examine your perceptions and thoughts shaped by the very actions you are making. When you change the way you move, your thinking changes — embodied cognition at work. Thoughts are very much grounded in the state of our body, and the state of our body is determined by the focus of our attention. Expectations also play a significant role — we see the world that we expect to see.

As inevitable pain emerges, the opportunity arises to closely examine the sensations and how they change. Different perspectives and different language all shape the experience. Noticing a shift in running pattern, perhaps leaning forward or the head dropping, one can lift and be taller to notice the change in perspective.

What is the story I am telling myself in these moments? If I alter the words, what happens? I notice how attached I am to that particular narrative and how easy or hard it is to let it go. Bringing my purpose to mind, or a loved one and there can be a sudden transformation of state.

Heavy moments are normal. Body, legs, head suddenly feel like sacks of wet sand — have you ever tried to move one? But you know that this will pass, like all perceptions. Nothing is permanent. This insight alone pulls me back from the mire of thoughts.

Our perceptions and bodily sensations are dynamic — always changing. Life is not static, instead fluid and moving onwards. It is the story that stays the same. The one we have been conditioned to believe is true.

Then you realise that there are infinite stories and possibilities. Freedom.

Ultrarunning teaches you about freedom.

I can examine my own experiences under duress and elucidate my resources my journey continues. The finish line is of course the beginning of the next.

Sharing hope

My message is one of hope.

Both the knowledge of pain and what we can do to guide, support and encourage people to live fulfilling lives has grown enormously.

We have much better answers to the questions (start here):

  • what is pain?
  • why do we feel pain?
  • what is the purpose of pain?
  • what can we do to improve our lives?

Many of the strategies, practices and techniques to transform and overcome pain are taken from the skills of being well, peak performance and strengths based coaching. Over the past 10 years or so, I have called this Pain Coaching.

There is a simple principle. The more you focus on the pain and try to treat it, the worse the outcome. The more you focus on the person and how they want to shape their life, the better the outcome.

Focus on what you want, not what you don’t want. As soon as you are saying, ‘I don’t want this pain’, we focus right back on the pain.

Instead, re-focus on your picture(s) of success and the steps you can take right now in that direction. This is an approach and an attitude. You will need some help, it will be up and down, but

There is great hope for many. This is my message.

RS

Conversation with Adharanand Finn

I first met Adharanand in 2019 when I went on a writing and running retreat in Devon that he was co-hosting with Richard Askwith.

We kept in touch.

A few weeks ago I took the opportunity to whizz down to Dartmoor for a one day running camp: The Way of the Runner. This time it was co-hosted by Adharanand and Barefoot Joe. It was a great day, as I expected.

As we said farewell, getting ready to head home from the car park, we mooted the idea of a conversation.

And here it is. Eau naturale. Anecdotes about and idiosyncrasies of ultrarunning.

Enjoy.

Recovery

Having a break with Jeff @ 90k

Recovery is part of the journey

Much is said about recovery. This is largely because there is no single way to recover after a run. Each person must find what works for them: the art of recovery.

I’ll share some brief thoughts in the form of top tips, off the back of September’s upandrun along the North Wales Path. But, bear in mind what I have just said about the individual nature of recovery.

1. Recovery stops during an ultra

When I run, I now always opt for normal foods rather than gels and the like. This can include any of the following, depending upon the stage of the run: fruit, pasta, sweets, ginger beer, nuts, seeds, flapjacks, a bagel, samosa, coffee, water.

On the longer runs, rest and recovery stops are important for me. On solos, they are fairly brief, but nonetheless, there is relief in sitting down for a few minutes and having a bite to eat.

This is in keeping with my running philosophy that is just for me: finish line, not finish time. I want to fully experience the journey, enjoying the ride as much as I can. There is no rush for me. I am not interested in times, instead just building my belief that ‘I can’ in life.

2. Immediately at the end of an ultra

I enjoy a pizza and a beer.

The most memorable was ending up in Bath one evening, having run down from Gloucester along The Cotswold Way. It had been a pretty foul day and off the back of a period of serious rain in the UK. You can imagine the state I was in….

They were most welcoming in Pizza Express despite my appearance. I was served quickly. Looking back, this may have been so that I left promptly!

3. Recovery takes a little while

The things you do to recover span a period of time. It is an on-going process until you feel back to normal: homeostasis is the goal.

Choose your fuel and sources of hydration according to your needs. It can be a bit up and down after an ultra.

For instance, I will feel hungry and eat. Then feel a bit queasy. And then hungry again and so on.

Whatever you do to recover then, be complete and see it through. This could of course include all of the elements I discuss.

4. Sleep

This might just be the most important one.

Understanding sleep as arguably the keystone of wellness, creating a good habit is vital for recovery and performance at all levels of participation.

Unfortunately, in the modern era, sleep has taken a back seat. For some reason, a lack of sleep has been championed as some kind of machismo feat: I can work for 23 hours a day….how incredible am I? I can be out all night and then carry on….

But it is not. What that is, is a one way ticket to poor performance and health. And probably a shorter life. There are some brutal facts. But we know that people don’t always like to pay attention to the facts.

Bottom line. Try to get the best quality sleep (7-8 hours) as many nights as you can.

5. A special ingredient

When we pay attention, we can realise that there might just be one ingredient that makes a difference. On that, I have made a recent discovery.

CBD oil and balm.

Having had a good chat with Celine from Wholy Me, I was happy to try the drops and balm as part of my daily routine and recovery.

Acknowledging that it is a case study of one, me, I have been taking the drops each day, and massaging the balm as required into sore bits.

I finished the ultra on Monday evening, having started the previous night at 1030pm. My watch told me that I had been going for 18 and a half hours, covering some 120k.

It was time to recover.

Yesterday I was running again, albeit an easy pace and concentrating on form. I like to do this anyway: a slow run (speaking pace), focusing on being relaxed and tall.

I am fortunate to recover seemingly quickly after an ultra. Perhaps because of my monthly jaunts since May 2019.

But this appeared to be quicker than ever. Was it the CBD routine? One cannot say for sure. Expectations also play a significant role, and I do expect to be moving almost normally by day two.

So, I will continue with the CBD as part of my daily rituals alongside other habits: cold shower in the morning, various supplements, mindful practice, movement, attendance to fuel and hydration, and sleep to name a few.

For it is the small things behind the scenes, accumulating their effects each day that make the difference.

Just in case you are wondering, I do believe that the CBD is making a difference to me.

6. Bonus: motion is lotion

Keep moving.

It is tempting to stay still and rest. But it is movement we need to nourish the muscles, joints, nerves and more.

Easy movements, getting up, changing position, trying to maintain best form, and being regular are all important for recovery.

They are also vital day to day because the way we use our body will shape its form. And it is that form you take into running and other activities.

If you sit for long periods, parts of your body will tighten. You will then try to move those parts vigorously in sports causing adaptation and excess strain. This is one of the major reasons for the gradual onset of pain and sensitivity.

The body also keeps a record of every emotion and experience you have. We must look after ourselves as a whole if we want to perform.

RS