Coach Mike’s words echoed thousands of miles from San Francisco right across the American continent and the Atlantic Ocean to Maspalomas in Gran Canaria. His pre-race pep talk honed in like a laser-guided missile on my archetypal ultra challenge; exploding out the start line, all keen and ready to race and setting off far too fast.
Leading into the 2020 Trans Gran Canaria Advanced (65km ultra) my taper had been non-existent as this race was primarily a test. We’d only started working together two and half months earlier in mid-December after an end of season wobble when my entire programme had been ripped apart. The period of transition: developing a new coaching partnership takes time and it’s something I’m keen to highlight during the onboarding process with my own athletes. Change takes time to bed in, and the new Purple Patch coaching regime involved a heavy dose of running drills, mobility exercises and strength and conditioning all combined with cross training and more pool time than I’d ever embraced before – yes, a big dose of swimming for an ultra-runner!
The island of Gran Canaria lies nestled off West Africa and enjoys three hundred and twenty days of sunshine a year; a pleasant respite from the quagmire known as Wiltshire. In 2018 I’d tackled the Trans Gran Canaria Classic at 128km, but this time opted for the shorter Advanced mid-distance event, which offered a gentler start to my 2020 season. The course profile offered a different challenge from my sweet spot of mountainous races covering roughly 110km. The predominantly downhill route would be shorter, speedier and test my descending skills. But my BIG goal was to re-discover my race mojo and banish every last demon hanging on from my last two races. The plan was to smile, remain present in the moment, smile, chat with fellow competitors, volunteers and supporters, then smile some more.
Within minutes of the race starting I was dancing down soft and springy trails sheltered from the harsh sun under ancient pine trees, branches gently rustling in the breeze. Trading running chat with fellow competitors; exchanging high fives with volunteers at aid stations all whilst sporting a permanent Cheshire Cat grin. A couple of hours later, I was delicately bouncing across boulders strewn along a river bed lined with reeds touching the sky. Finally; I was gliding along the concrete banks of the Maspalomas storm channel before luxuriating in the final kilometre along the beach front, finishing under the watchful gaze of the iconic nineteenth century lighthouse.
A week on from the race, I’m reading through the words above which I captured on the flight back to Bristol airport. How things can change in just seven short days. The entire world is shifting and uncertainty tinges everything. The exquisite feelings of freedom which coursed through my body floating along the trails seem like a distant dream. The foundations of my world are being shaken as cancellations mount up. Corporate overseas workshops which inject the bulk of my financial income stream are cancelled, future speaking engagements are postponed until 2021, running coaching clients half-way through their onboarding process realise that with their own races being cancelled and their future uncertain then they can’t afford the coaching and take the decision to press pause; and of course my own future running events which offer focus and motivation for my training are all being cancelled too.
The concept of social distancing and enforced quarantine within the four walls of my military soul-less identikit house fosters internal turmoil and concerns for my mental and emotional health over the next few weeks and months. I’ve created carefully constructed daily rituals and patterns which support my progress through each day; breaking the day into chunks with time in nature and movement, supplemented with contact and connection with others through yoga classes, coffee with friends, short walks and face to face work coaching conversations. The thought of these precious pastimes and necessary distractions slipping away for an unspecified duration is scary.
Looking ahead I’ll be drawing on treasured memories of TGC Adv 65km whilst remaining firmly in the present moment with strategies to work through each day:
Move – It’s highly tempting to park yourself on the sofa and submerge into back to back Netflix series. Make sure to integrate some activity into your life whether it’s overloading on Zwift (if you’ve got a turbo trainer), signing up for online yoga classes, feeling your muscles burn following my favourite Nick Symonds core workout – link here - or simply dancing around the kitchen.
Catch Up – Dedicate some time and energy working through the never ending to-do list or projects which have been parked in the “when I have time” category. I’ll be cracking on writing my book which has been in the pipeline for over four years, streamlining business processes, rediscovering creative pursuits and picking up the phone to friends.
Fuel Your Brain – Think about a subject or skill you’re interested in learning more about. Sign up to an online learning platform whether it’s Future Learn, Coursera or similar alternatives.
Reach Out – Be honest with how you feel and speak up; whether it’s with family members or virtually with friends.
The next few months will be tricky to navigate with highs and lows for everyone. We’ve all undoubtedly got close family members and/or friends who are particularly vulnerable and susceptible to the worst effects of the virus. My parents are both aged over seventy; my father-in-law reaches eighty next month and has respiratory issues; while my bridesmaid has severe asthma; all of them are more likely to suffer severe symptoms if they are infected and I am worried for them. But to do that, make sure to look after yourself first, physically, mentally and emotionally to the best of your ability so you can be in the best shape to help them.
I’ll be drawing inspiration from my memories of the Gran Canarian trails to inject hope, optimism and courage to face each day.
What will you do?