Oxfam Trailwalker: Why you need to be more afraid of this little thing than 100 kilometers

ithinkicanIt is Oxfam Trailwalker time again, and there is one thing way more frightening than 100 kilometres: a negative thought.

Tomorrow marks the third year in a row I will be heading out to the MacLehose trail – this time, however, not to run 100 kilometres (phew!) but to run just a small part in support my incredible friend Nora and her team, “Team Green”, as they take on this feat.

Two thoughts struck me this morning as I started preparing for my own small part of the adventure: firstly, how seriously phenomenal it is that these runners will be travelling 100 kilometres – one-hundred-fricking-kilometres!!!! – on foot, over some of the most challenging terrain Hong Kong has to offer, and secondly, how seriously underprepared I feel to run just a mere 20 kilometres of it.

Hong Kong is a funny place. It’s got to be one of the few places in the world where the prospect of going for a mere “100 kilometre” jog is barely shrugged at by the city’s community of hardcore trail runners. Nora’s team (which originally included myself), has had many different iterations over the last few months with runners signing up, then having to pull out, then others getting on board at a moment’s notice. She has cobbled together the team in the final hour- two runners have never run the distance before and Brendan, the team’s sole male signed up less than a week ago. Can you imagine that? Just agreeing, on a whim, to run 100km? (And with a 16 kilometre time target, no less?)

Although I once too felt like a bit of a superfreak who would munch up the city’s trails without much of a thought, I am feeling very far from h-kore and trail-ready these days. Looking for a new challenge, I’ve recently been training for a 10-kilometre road run instead. And yes, road running has made me soft. The thought of running double-that-plus-some tomorrow is daunting, to say the least.

And so the negative nellys – those nervous, unhelpful thoughts that drag you down – have been dominating my mind. Which got me thinking about the scariest part of running the Oxfam Trailwalker…

No, it’s not the 100 kilomeres of winding trail, the hundreds of stairs and hours of climbing. It’s negative thoughts, just like these. Those harmful, destructive, good-for-nothing self-beliefs that permeate your consciousness, seep into your muscles and weigh you down, so that the concept of 100 kilometres, let alone the physical act of doing it, becomes impossible.

And it starts with just one negative thought. I can’t do it. It starts to play over in your head. And once it takes hold, the flood gates are opened. I’m not good enough. Everyone is better than me. It’s too far. I suck, like really suck. This will never get better. Soon, everything starts to hurt, you begin to feel weak, and your body follows the destructive patterns of your mind.

We’ve all been there. Heck, I’ve been there just recently. And I’m telling you now, you have to, absolutely must, shut those bandits down as soon as they start to flutter into your mind before they settle and take hold.

Whether you’ve trained more than you ever had before, or think you have not trained enough, if you’re getting to that start line tomorrow I promise you, you’re good enough. You’re incredible and amazing. I promise you you’re strong enough to make it. Trudging over 100 kilometres of the ‘Mac’ is as much as mental act as it is a physical one, and it’s the strength of your mind that will triumph over the strength of your body at the end of the day.

Last year, when I was part of the incredible Team Green, I felt I was the weakest one of the lot. That’s a pretty negative acknowledgement to begin with, I know (but it was one based on fact and experience I swear!), and instead of letting it bury seeds of doubt in me (which would then be watered during the day with negative self-talk), I embraced it. You have one job to do today Rach, I said to myself. Smile and keep up.

I asked for as much help as possible from my support crew, who carried my water, my poles, my food, and lifted my spirits. I told my teammates my fears straight away, and they blasted back how silly I was being, helping to quash any negative nellys that might have been building.

During the day, I focused on using as little energy as possible, in every step, to keep up. I kept a smile on my face, and kept the communication up with my team – nothing is worse than letting a conversation, particularly a negative one, play out in your head without letting others have the chance of rebuttal! So get chatting – a burden shared is a burden halved, after all. And Trailwalker is a true team effort.

Our incredible team worked together for just under 16 hours to get over the line, in what has been the most incredible act of team sportsmanship I’ve been lucky to be a part. I am a firm believer that it was the positivity, the happiness, the love, good laughs and good fun that we had that made it possible.

So, tomorrow, if you’re running Trailwalker, stay positive to stay powerful. You have everything within you to make it that long way. I believe it. Now it’s your turn to believe it too.

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