Fitness (His Edition)
Living life 1km at a time...
At the end of November last year I had the privilege of running my first mountain race. We travelled across the border into Lesotho, heading for Maliba Lodge in the Maluti Mountains, located in the Tsehlanyane National Park, to run the Lesotho Ultra Trail – Africa’s first Skymarathon.
At a minimum elevation of 1943m and topping out at a breath-gasping 3144m, it’s a serious challenge for any runner. The route traverses intricate networks of hiking and livestock trails that exist along the valleys, mountain flanks, and mountain tops of the national park.
Having never taken on a running challenge like this, I wasn’t sure what to expect or how my race would pan out. Regardless, I started the run filled with feelings of excitement and wonder, rather than trepidation and nervousness about what lay ahead. And while I definitely struggled with the technical terrain and some muscle cramps midway through the race, at no point did I ever wish I wasn’t out on that trail.
At no point did I wish away the experience or fret about how much further I still had to go. And I attribute this to two factors. Firstly, despite ramping down my training volume substantially in the lead up to Lesotho Ultra, I’ve had my most consistent year of training yet and have managed to maintain a base level of fitness that enables me to take on physical challenges such as this without too much extra work required. Granted, I didn’t run a great time, but other than the cramps, my body and physiology stood up to the punishment the mountain and altitude dished out. It’s a testament to the approach of never taking time off voluntarily from training. Rather keep your routine with a maintenance programme than take time off completely, which leaves you starting over from scratch when you get going again.
However, more important was my mindset. I went into the race choosing to take each kilometre as it came, facing whatever challenge it threw at me as best I could with the energy, strength and skill I had available to me at that moment in time. Worrying about the 12km climb up a mountain that lay ahead was never going to make it any easier, or change the outcome. So rather than let it consume my mind as we approached the climb, I chose to remain in the moment. I took in the spectacular scenery, smelt the fresh air, revelled in the crisp morning cold as the sun’s rays slowly crept down the valley to meet us. I spoke to runners as we passed each other and I took every moment I could to tune out of my head and into my surroundings. By doing so I ran every step in the moment. I ran the race 1km at a time, never getting ahead of myself and, in so doing, never felt overwhelmed by the massive challenges that lay ahead.
A friend of mine had actually asked me the day before if I felt nervous. I laughed because, after all, it’s just another run, isn’t it? All you need to do is place one foot in front of the other, dealing with the terrain as it presents itself, until you reach the finish. When your mind starts to wonder off, thinking about what lies ahead, snap back to the present moment, realise where you are and remind yourself that the only moment that matters is ‘now’. What’s so hard about that?, I retorted. And it’s actually a mindset that’s applicable to everyday life. There are many things to get bent out of shape over, especially in South Africa at present. But until you’re faced with them, just keep putting one foot in front of the other, doing the best you can in each moment, living life one kilometre at a time.
That’s how I plan to tackle 2018 and the many challenges it will undoubtedly toss my way. I hope you too have your head in the right place.
PEDRO VAN GAALEN