I had the chance to run in Iceland earlier this year. It was amazing, but as you'd expect, it was tough. I twisted my ankles on the volcanic rock and moss covered terrain so many times it was starting to mess with my head. One minute I'd think "this sucks, why are you doing this? It's ridiculous." and the next It'd be " shut the hell up! Stop complaining, just take a look around at the scenery, soak it in. You're so lucky to be here."
Of all the things I've learned from doing ultramarathons, the most important has to be the power of my mind. You tend to go to some dark places during these runs and you're going to face a ton of self doubt, self pity, and negativity in your thinking. The trick, however, is to focus on changing the words you tell yourself. Once you can learn to do that, you can change the entire experience... And so it goes with life.
When I ran the 900km Bruce Trail this autumn, it wasn't just about setting a new record. That just helped give the run a timeline. I'm generally not motivated by extrinsic factors. I knew there'd be a lot of self discovery along the way, and that's much more valuable to me.
Since running it, one of the most common questions I've been asked is, "what did you think about while you're out there running for so long?" And there's no way I could honestly answer that without going into some very serious subject matter. I thought about a LOT of things. Good and bad. Positive and negative. Important and nonsense.
But I definitely thought about words. About how they've shaped me. About the ones I've given power to, the ones I've ignored, and the ones that I listen to when I'm in the dark places.
So while I was out running for ten-and-a-half days, I came up with this:
“You have cancer”
The three little words that changed the direction of my life
I’ll never forget sitting in my doctor’s office, hearing them ring out in the still air
The inflections in his voice when he spoke, the faint hint of an accent, the pitch and volume of the words
Strangely though, I have absolutely no recollection of what he said next
My mind had instantaneously blacked out everything else
All I could hear were those three words repeating on a perpetual loop
You have cancer. You have cancer. You have cancer…
And yet, they’re just words
We say and hear thousands of them every day
Maybe it’s not necessarily the worlds themselves
Rather, how we interpret, rationalize, internalize, and translate them that give them their power
Besides, they say actions speak louder than words
There are words that are so loud they’ll bring you to your knees, even if spoken at a whisper
The loudest words of all don’t even make a sound
They’re the words we tell ourselves
And they’re what determine the actions we take---or don’t take—in this world
And for a very long time, the words I told myself weren’t what I truly believed
I was living a lie
I told myself I could do anything. I told myself I had no fear
But deep inside I was terrified. Deep inside I didn’t feel good enough
Deep inside I was fragile and wearing a mask of false bravado
And my mask, my ego, was the size of a boat
And not some rickety row boat, like "old man and the sea"
But a ship, colossal in size, perched arrogantly afloat
Upon the ocean of life—unyielding and unsinkable
But history has taught us that “unsinkable” doesn’t exist
A breached hull can send even the biggest ship spiraling into the abyss
And it’s there, in the depths of our own misery and darkness, clawing our way through adversity, that our eyes are forced to adjust and we’re finally able to see things for what they are
Who we really are
I only know this now, because I’ve been to that place
The one where your façade’s come crashing down all around
And what I’ve found is that when you truly hit rock bottom…
It’s the place so deep you have to look up to see ground
What I’ve found is a beautiful truth
Fear will hold you down, but courage will set you free
And it is so profound to realize we don’t have to be bound by any particular words or fears
You have cancer... You’re afraid. It’s okay to be afraid. You have resolve. You can be brave. You have perseverance. You can get through this. You can get through anything
We don’t have to be ashamed of our fears
But if we ever want to pursue our passions, we need to summon the courage to take a step
We need to tell ourselves, and then convince ourselves, to just "start"
Start wherever we are. Start with fear, with uncertainty, and with trepidation. Start with a wavering voice and trembling hands.
Start wherever we are. Start however we can. Take a step... start