I completed a run last month. Not the ‘roads closed, people cheering behind barriers’ kind, but the muddy, wet, barbed wire, jumping through fire kind. The event was called ’Total Warrior’ - a 12km run around Bramham Park in Leeds interspersed with ice, mud, and 25 different obstacles along the way.
It had been a while since I’d set myself any kind of fitness challenge, and to be honest, since becoming a parent a year or so ago, consistent physical activity is less of a habit these days (more like something I try to do when I’ve had more than 5 hours sleep….not an awful lot). I’d gone from running 10km a couple of times per week, to the occasional parkrun, to shuffling after my toddler round the garden. Something needed to shift, and I needed a challenge to kickstart a change.
Ever since I was young I was told that I’d never be a runner. I'd inherited my mother’s short Burmese legs and would inevitably struggle with cross country runs at school. The teachers never picked me to represent my form on sports day, on any kind of long distance run - and I never put myself forward. Sprinting was more my game - I discovered that my short legs were great for bursts of power and speed, and I would always sign-up for 100m sprints or relays. But never anything over distance.
In my early thirties I started to question this narrative. One summer I challenged myself to sign up to a string of 10km runs around Yorkshire, and, with my goal in mind, I began getting my head around the switch from the comfort of gym classes and air conditioned spinning studios to running round my city. The difference was very noticeable - running up a mild hill in a faint wind on my first run out nearly floored me, and my recovery after those first training runs took days. But slowly it began to get better. I started to find my pace, get comfortable with the sound of my breathing and the road around me, until eventually, built from a couple of minutes running/walking all the way to a comfortable distance run. There was something delicious about being able to look back at a workout that my phone had tracked and say to myself “I just ran that”, coupled with the satisfaction of challenging all those people who said I’d never be a runner.
Which brings us back to Total Warrior. A messy, sweaty, experience one June afternoon that promised to be life-affirming stuff. And it was - the feeling of euphoria after crossing the line was incredible, as was the ice cold beer that awaited us afterward.
Whilst I was queuing for one of the obstacles - a series of plastic crates strung out across a pit filled with water (see above) - one of the other runners asked a marshall how best to cross it. Run, slow walk/balance, or on your hands and knees? The marshall’s reply was simple:
"It’s your race, mate”
His words stuck in my mind at the time and I’ve been thinking about them ever since.
We tend to treat life as a race, with a series of obstacles to be overcome. And in many ways it is. Some treat the whole thing as a sprint, wanting to be first to the finish line. Others treat it as a marathon, with a steady pace and plenty of stops to refuel. Most take a blend of the two - speeding-up and slowing-down at different points.
We rely on others for guidance, support and encouragement, but ultimately, it’s down to us to decide how we take on our obstacles, and how we choose to feel about them afterwards.
P.S. I chose to walk over those crates very, very cautiously.