I’ve listened to two inspiring speakers recently, the amazing James Ketchell interviewed by Sarah Archer on her podcast and Jen Le Marinel from WildfireWalks who walked from Lands End to John O Groats.
James has “done a few things” in his time as he modestly describes including rowing across the atlantic, climbing everest and cycling solo around the world. He has now gone onto be a successful speaker. But what James really talks about is not the physical challenge itself but rather the mental resilience it takes achieve such things.
Jen has walked solo 1400 miles from Lands End to John O Groats, an epic journey by all accounts.
Now I can’t claim to have achieved anything like the kinds of feats that these two have achieved but I do like the odd physical challenge. I’ve run a few marathons, cycled from Lands End to John O Groats and am currently training for a 4km swim in the River Thames. What really got me thinking though, when listening to James’s story is what can we learn from undertaking outdoor challenges, whether it’s working up to running your first 5km race or cycling solo around the world. Is there anything about the challenge of being outdoors which makes it different or unique to any other kind of challenge?
It never fails to amaze me how adventurers such as James keep motivated both through the training and then during the event itself especially when it is some kind of endurance feat such as rowing the Atlantic. Most of us who undertake less extreme adventures whether that be running your first 5k or completing a marathon suffer with self motivation. I know I do. Some days you feel like you can’t be bothered to train. Sometimes when running a race it’s just not working and you feel like giving up.
Giving up on something just after you have got going is extremely common, whether it’s a business venture, losing weight or a beginners running course. So how do you get over that hurdle.
I know some people swear by positive self talk such as saying to yourself “I am strong” or “I can do this” and it might work for you. Thinking about loved ones, your friends and family if they are waiting at the end of an event or training run can be another way to motivate yourself.
Another thought trick might come in useful which is to think “what would a friend say right now?”. Well, they’d probably be supportive and encourage you to continue. So try talking to yourself like a friend would rather than being critical about yourself or your performance.
However much you try, however, staying positive may prove hard when the pressure is on and you are tired. Most of us have been there – things don’t work out – you’re exhausted and you want to give up. In an event this may be when your progress isn’t how you expected it to be. In life it might be because you’ve experienced a failure or rejection.
Personally I believe its important to recognise that you will feel like that at some point. Acknowledging this rather than trying too hard to avoid those negative feelings is more realistic. It’s how you deal with it that’s crucial. There are four I believe can help:
- Keep moving – This could be literally if this is a physical activity. If you keep moving forward one step or one turn of the pedals you are one step closer to your goal. I use the reverse counting strategy. Count down the number of miles you have left to go rather than counting up. In my head it’s much better to feel the numbers going down than going up. Now I’m quite good at doing this with physical challenges but less so in other parts of my life so I could teach myself a thing or too! If its a business challenge or another non-physical activity then the mantra would be the same. Keep moving. If you get knocked back then work out what went wrong and try something different. Keep the goal in mind and keep taking steps towards it.
- Thoughts are only Thoughts – Your feelings about any particular situation come from your thoughts. Thoughts aren’t a real tangible thing. They are in your head. If you meditate then you’ll be familiar with the idea of noting thoughts and then letting them pass. The trick I use is that when something negative occurs in my head I consciously step to one side of it, noting that yes, that was a negative thought, but it’s not actually real. You can then focus back on what you are actually doing and how you can keep moving towards the goal.
- Reach out for support – Getting support when you are struggling can be a great help. Whilst this might include getting together with someone and having a moan, be careful with this strategy and if you spend too much time doing this it can just bring both of you down. Instead ask some questions of yourself or others – what could I do differently? What would a friend do? What steps can I take to move forward again? Now if you are on your own literally then getting the support of others might not be so easy.
Dealing with setbacks and flexibility
There is no doubt that it’s important to plan any outdoor adventure (or indeed indoor one for that matter!). Breaking your goal down into achievable steps and planning how you are going to achieve them is fundamental. Both James and Jen talk about dealing with the unexpected, whether that be not quite getting to where you thought you were going to or facing challenges when equipment breaks down.
Injury can be another problem which stops you from progressing the way you want. It can be very tough to have your goal disrupted by injury or illness but it will probably happen at some point. Learning to reset and readjust your goals can be difficult but is an important skill. This might mean taking a day off and readjusting your schedule or if longer term then setting new goals to work back to where you want to be.
The ability to cope with change and to be flexibility is a key skill. Outdoor challenges can be unpredictable and varied. The weather may change and slow you down or stop you in your tracks, you may lose your way or you may break something. I was close to end of cycling the South Downs Way by Mountain Bike and my seat post snapped in two. What were the options? Stop and walk or cycle on and don’t sit down! I chose the latter having weighed up that we were close enough to the end to manage it.
Learning to adapt, to be flexible is an important life skill. Coping with it mentally can be tough sometimes when it throws your plans out of kilter, but learning to readjust your goals or to find different ways to get there is a skill you can transfer to any area of life.
Dealing with the elements
The weather in the UK is fairly unpredictable. Yes, it can be forecasted, but knowing exactly what type of weather you might experience in a year, a month or even a day carries with it a degree of uncertainty. If you are taking part in any sort of outdoor event then this is something you have to contend with. We recently experienced uncharacteristically cold weather in March 2018 which include substantial snowfall not seen in this country for a number of years. Many outdoor events in including a number of popular half marathons at Bath and Reading were cancelled because of it.
If you are training for an event then there are two attitudes to adverse weather. Get on with it or postpone and hope conditions improve. The former can seem daunting if you have to face the elements, with the added complication of what to wear and how to stay comfortable as you training. Learning to adapt to different conditions is an important part of training and a useful skill more general as you get used to coping with changes in the environment within which you work or live.
Within the realms of safety, I would always say carry on with the training, regardless of the weather. It makes you stronger and more resilient so that when it comes to the day of your event you won’t be overawed or surprised by what the elements throw at you on the day. Buddy up with someone so that you can share the experience.
Deciding when not to go out can be difficult. This will depend on the type of activity. For example you might be willing to walk/hike in icy conditions but not to run. An element of common sense and a review of any weather warnings will steer you to the right decision. Look to reschedule.
Success and failure and getting to the end
Reaching the end of an adventure large or small is a huge sense of achievement and can give you an enormous sense of satisfaction. However what I noticed from Jen and James is that they valued the whole journey itself. It can often feel like the challenge is an ordeal in itself. Those who struggled through the heat of the London Marathon a few weeks ago may have well thought so. But whilst getting to the end and receiving the awards that brings is great, the actual journey itself is where the greatest value lies.
We all love success so I am sure that when we set out or an outdoor adventure or a life adventure we want it to succeed. But it doesn’t always. People make mistakes, things happen, some of which are in control and some of which aren’t. On your outdoor adventure the weather, injury, illnesses, unexpected hazards along the way can all delay or prevent you from reaching your goal. It is quite difficult to guarantee that you will reach the end, valuing each step along the way, ensures that you get something out of it. The F word scares us all – Failure, but sometimes it won’t go our way and we will have to give up or scale down our expectations. Learning to accept failure and to use it positively is one of the hardest things to do.
“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm” – Winston Churchill
This puts a different perspective on things in my view. If you can value the journey itself whether an outdoor adventure or starting a new venture and learn from it as you go then if something does go wrong and you fail or you can’t get to the end then you still have something to take away from it.
At Wild Goose Gear we’re out to help you find ways of exploring the outdoors by providing affordable, flexible products to enhance your adventures.
Have fun out there!