Are you going to be a wimp or are you going to be strong?

“Running is a big question mark that’s there each and every day. It asks you, ‘Are you going to be a wimp or are you going to be strong today?'” 

– Peter Maher, Canadian marathon runner

Since coming back from the Gobi race, I have been totally overwhelmed with the support I have received from family, friends and colleagues, both within Afghanistan and abroad, on my (stubborn) efforts to compete in ultra marathons while living in Kabul.  However, along with the endless – and often undeserved! – messages of congratulation on the Gobi race, I have inevitably received a few messages of bewilderment, incredulity, wonder and confusion:

“What on earth has possessed you to do this?”

“You know you’re not normal…”

“Isn’t it tough to stay motivated running in circles in Kabul?”

“If I were a runner, I would never have come to Kabul.”

“Do you really think this is all worth it?”

“How do you stand the heat, the pollution, the monotony?”

These messages have all come from extremely caring, thoughtful and supportive people, and most of the messages have been in jest. However, at the same time, I know there is an element of truth in each of the queries.  I get the message – training for ultra marathons while living in a compound is neither normal nor advisable.

Normally, when confronting with the question “WHY???” I will answer “Why not?” I will use any potentially challenging questions as motivation for my next run. I hate being told I can’t do things – or being questioned why I’ve tried to do things in the first place – and I use any negativity or doubt to fuel my running fire.  Normally.

These past few days, however, I seem to have let these innocent and very friendly questions affect my motivation to keep training in a not-so-positive way.  It is only about seven weeks until the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc and I am TERRIFIED.  I should be out right now running in circles around the compound instead of sitting on my (magic) Afghan rug typing out this blog.  The problem is that now I am starting to wonder if everyone is right: maybe it IS out of reach to try to train for ultras in Afghanistan. Sure, I made it through the Gobi, but my next race is in the ALPS, competing against some of the top runners in the world… All I’ve got here is the same familiar loop around the same familiar compound, devoid of change, interest, hills, challenge, surprise…. Maybe it IS as hard as everyone is saying it is.

I seemed to be able to deal with the training alright during the six or seven weeks leading up to the Gobi. My training was regular.  What it lacked in interest, it made up for in consistency.  Sure, it was boring, but I had the broader goal in mind. However, now, back in the compound for almost two weeks, I am having trouble getting out the door of my apartment.  I’ve let all of those questions and doubts about my running (and my sanity) to creep into my brain, and now I’m having trouble pushing them aside. Sure, I’m still getting out for an hour or 90 minutes a day… but the motivation to break that 90 minute barrier and continue the loops for 20, 30, 40 or 50 km has reached rock bottom.  

This needs to change. I need an attitude overhaul and I need it fast!

The panic has really started to set in for UTMB, but still when I answer the daily running question mark, I seem to be coming up with WIMP instead of STRENGTH. I have to re-discover that THING that gets me excited about running.  I think we all have a THING that drives us down the road or up the trail. That THING may differ from person to person, but we all have it. Whether it is the feeling of crossing the finish line of a race after months of training, or simply the feeling of wind in our hair while bombing down a steep ascent, we all have something that motivates us to continue participating in this crazy sport.

I’ve been trying to figure out what mine is because as soon as I figure out my THING I will just try to get more of it and then it will solve my unmotivated running state. Truthfully though, I’m not sure what it is. I hope it isn’t the silence of the forest or the smell of ocean air – I don’t have access to either of these within hundreds of miles of my compound. I know I run to clear my head, but this is so hard to do when I’m running in a compound, breathing in heavily polluted air and dodging bomb-sniffing dogs along my route.

I’m going to give this a bit of thought and also a bit of running-gods-prayer that I will snap out of my slump and start clocking some major miles….sooon…. like tomorrow…. 

But I would be really interested to hear from you about the things that motivate you to train or compete, and what you do when you hit a running slump.

Much love to all from Kabul xx

Categories: Musings about life

10 Comments »

  1. Hi Stephanie! I am from Ottawa Canada, and found your blog from the Gobi event. I have been reading about Racing the Planet events for a couple of years now and hope to get the STRENGTH to sign up for one in a few years. I have run many 1/2 marathons and am now in training for my first marathon in NYC. Your stories are incredible, and the word WIMP should not be in your vocabulary. I think that you acknowledged the slump, tomorrow will be a new day!
    Kelly

  2. Reading this blog, reminds me of what I was going through last night. Doubt is a horrible feeling, especially when you know, deep down, you can do this! I have no doubt you have got this. Don’t let anyone’s words or actions bring you down from the running high that keeps you going. You are a strong woman and WIMP is definitely not a word that would be used to describe you. You made the decision to move to Kabul and you are making the best of the situation at hand. That is what runners do…they are fighters! So fight through this slump, and enjoy the UTMB 🙂 I know you will do great!!

  3. Hi Stephanie, I have been reading your blogs for a while and really enjoyed hearing about your exploits, particularly recently running round and round the compound! I have to say your strength inspired me to keep training for my first ultra, with the pressures of a full time job and three small children…I did not do enough training but I went for the experience and it was great – I completed a 50k last sat and have three large blisters to show for it:-) I think there are two things that inspire me to run, first it is a time when I am purely me, not wife, mother, colleague etc, just Cassa and second I love to experience what my body is capable of! I hope the running God’s answer your prayer soon 😉

  4. Hi Stephanie. I also am from Ottawa (Hi Kelly). I have been following your blog with great interest. I am in a running glut recently and am always inspired by your posts. If you can run around and around and around your compound and then head off an have a great Gobi ultra you are crazy, but aren’t all ultra-marathoners crazy. I have lost my craziness and you are helping me get it back. I have run a number of endurance events in the past and love the sense of accomplishment they bring. I have been following and wanting to run a multi-day race like Gobi for a few years now. So I am not sure if my post was able to motivate you to get out there and run, be it for 60min, 90 min or 100min. So just do it. Do it for the Afghan women you are so humbled to support. Hopefully by this time next week we will both have benefited from a motivational adjustment and are re-energized to train for the next round of ultra-craziness.

    Bill

  5. I’m a total wimp, doesn’t prevent me from enjoying myself at fun events. Just go have fun. Training is overrated anyways, maybe you’ll be well rested for a change 🙂 I won’t see you before the UTMB start, but maybe at the finish (no idea when we might be done …).

  6. Chica! Don’t listen to the voices of other people. Don’t listen to the doubting voices in your head. You know why you run….because you LOVE it!! Because there’s nothing better in the world than being out there, free, with not a care in the world. If it makes you feel any better, I’m in gorgeous Switzerland surrounded by stunning mountains and I’m sat here on my fat butt instead of training. Even in the best of circumstances motivation naturally goes up and down.

    Here’s a clip for you…..watch it, channel your inner Killian, and lace up girl……

    See you in Chamonix! Enjoy every step of the way to get there….

    B x

  7. I don’t think it’s that complicated…. Its what people do…Here’s a song…. You might know it
    The bear went over the mountain
    The bear went over the mountain
    The bear went over the mountain and what do you thinks she saw

    She saw another mountain
    She saw another mountain
    She saw another mountain so what do you think she did

    The bear went over the mountain
    The bear went over the mountain
    The bear went over the mountain and what do you think she saw

    Lather, rinse, repeat

  8. Hey, this is Agnes from Gobi March. I think it’s ok to slack and soul search every now and then. For some people, it’s the voice inside and for other people, it’s a sense of purpose that drives us running. My mom had alzheimers 14 yrs ago and she has always liked hiking. For the first couple of years I was able to go hiking with her and then she quickly lost that ability. Now whenever I run, I say to myself that I am walking the roads that she is unable to walk and so I am helping her to realize the dreams that she is unable to realize. That has become my inner voice. I do think that you carry hopes and aspirations of other people on your back and through your running, you are realizing a purpose which is greater than yourself. Keep going 😉

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