“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