A couple of years ago, I remember watching an interview with Jim Walmsley where he said that he wanted to break the Western States record. This riled me. Here was this young, inexperienced – admittedly very quick – runner, saying something I saw as really arrogant. But, after watching him attempt it, fail, but gut it out to the end with real humility, I completely changed my mind. Why not say what he intended on doing? What was wrong with him wanting something and believing in himself? And why is there a trend now to pretend that we don’t want to achieve?Social media is partly to blame, as per usual. This is where we get the images and soundbites from all the elite runners who are only ever racing because they love to run; only ever doing certain routes for the adventure and not to break the record and only ever smiling and having fun while they’re doing it. How often do you see a successful runner recceing a route over and over so they have the best chance of a fast time? How often do you see the dawn starts, the baggy eyes, the niggles, the dull tarmac miles and the gym work? And how often do you hear someone say they want to achieve something amazing because they have worked really hard for it and they’d be gutted if it didn’t happen? Admitting that you want to do well seems to be seen as something to be embarrassed about. Of course the passion has to be there or they wouldn’t put themselves through the work, but why not admit that, sometimes, you really want to achieve something and you’ve worked hard to try and do it?
We all do it too. I don’t know how many times I’ve been on a start line and explained how I just had a cold/barely slept last night/ ate something funny/haven’t trained well just in case I didn’t get the result I wanted. I bet you’ve done it too… Never have I heard anyone say, ‘I want to win today’ or ‘I worked really hard because I want under 3 hours and I’m ready for it’. Why do we do it?
This changed for me when I lined up at Endure 24 this year. For the first time, I was very clear about what I wanted and was honest about it when asked. I was aiming big and I had to say it out loud, several times to make sure I believed I could do it. It meant that, from the start, I was able to really focus on that goal. And when it went wrong, I was really honest about being disappointed. Although it looked like I had been successful – I was 1st lady, 3rd overall and broke the course record – I didn’t get the distance I was after. Talking about it really helped though. Never did I say that I was disappointed because I was fishing for praise. I would have liked it if people had said that they understood, but only a few did because most people really want you to feel good, so they only ever tell you how well you did! I know I did well and was pleased with the outcome in many ways, but because I was clear in my intentions, I was able to learn more deeply from the whole experience. I said what I truly felt at every step and this left me completely exposed, which actually felt really liberating and made me more determined.
There is so much value in the idea that we can only grow if we are open to failure, whatever that might look like. As scary as failure is, not being honest and open about what you want is even more frightening: how will you ever know what you’re capable of if you always hedge your bets? We all know the stories about how many attempts it took great inventors to succeed: Edison attempting 10,000 times to create the light bulb and Dyson’s 5,125 tries at the bagless vacuum. He got it right at 5, 126. I’ll bet people told them over and over that it couldn’t be done, but they kept forging on because they obviously believed in their vision. C.S Lewis said that ‘failures are fingerposts on the road to achievement’, something that should surely resonate with us runners. Seeing each attempt at something you want as another step towards it, rather than a reason to stop trying will keep you moving in the right direction.
Ultimately, Jim Walmsley did take the WS record, it just took him a couple of tries. And I bet that made it so much sweeter than if he had coasted it the first time. He never stopped trying and never stopped putting himself out there: that takes real honesty. So I say, we should all have a go at this approach this year. Stop with the fake humbleness: if you’re going for something, talk about it. Tell people that ask how you have planned and worked hard for your goal, and that you’re going to try your damnedest to make it happen. Stop saying ‘I just want to…’ and have belief in yourself and belief that what you are doing matters. It will help you to believe it just by saying so and it will help other people to work towards their dreams too. I’m going to make 2019 the year that I get real, whatever the outcome may be. Will you join me?