Bouncing back from set-backs
On 29 April 2019, two friends and I set off from Fort William in Scotland on a record attempt of fairly epic proportions. Our aim was to run the entire length of the three peaks challenge from Scotland to Wales, some 450 miles, on foot in just eight days. Arriving in Glasgow at 11pm on the second day of our record attempt, I was in bits. Adam and Robbie, I later find out, wouldn’t arrive for another 2.5hours, a little after 1.30am.
Despite starting the second day together at around 7.30am from Tyndrum, I inadvertently found myself a few hundred yards in front of the two of them within the first few miles. Adam had given me the nod to go at my own pace, as he knew I was in quite a bit of pain from an injury that had flared up the day before. After looking over my shoulder on a couple of the longer straights, to try and spot them but failing to do so, I decided to plough on. Adam and Robbie would stick together the entire day. I, on the other hand, was in my own world, dealing with the pain from my right hip muscle the only way I knew how, by pushing harder in the vain hope a good night’s rest in Glasgow would resolve everything. By the end of the day I would find myself almost 9 miles in front of my two friends. Unfortunately, those extra couple of hours of rest I had pushed so hard for, made no difference. By the morning of the third day, I could barely raise my right leg, my part in the record attempt to run from Scotland to Wales was over.
The three of us gathered together in one of the hotel rooms early on Wednesday morning, where we made the tough decision to call it off completely. Robbie had also injured himself and was unable to walk due to a groin injury. Adam, whilst physically better than both Robbie and me, was still struggling and had also found out that his Nan had passed away the previous day - he needed to return home. Wednesday was mostly a blur of disappointment and sorting logistics. We had pre-booked accommodation that needed to be cancelled, travel arrangements to make and unmake, people and sponsors to inform and update.
We managed a few jokes in amongst the noticeable air of disappointment flowing through the camp, but the mood remained low. First, we said goodbye to the support crew who had the unenviable task of driving the motorhome back to London from Scotland. They made the most of a couple of the hotels we had booked, including a stay in the Lake District, on their way home.
Robbie and Adam were on an earlier flight back to Stansted which departed at 3pm from Glasgow. My flight didn’t leave until 7.30pm, so I found myself alone with my thoughts for the best part of 4 hours as I waited to board. Those hours alone proved quite cathartic. In my day job, I coach people to help them reframe situations and this was a good opportunity for me to demonstrate the efficacy of those techniques.
I had a head start, of course, because I was already using the experience as an active learning experience, which is one of the things I get people to think about: how can you grow from this experience? What can you learn about yourself, the situation or about others? Rather than staying stuck in the disappointment of what had happened, I was already looking forward. Our mood is heavily influenced by where we focus our attention, so shifting my attention away from the disappointment and onto something positive had an almost immediate impact on my mood.
Another technique I regularly use is to reframe the disappointment into something more positive, by looking for tangible evidence to support a more positive narrative. In any given experience there are hundreds if not thousands of data points to choose from. When we feel disappointed, we’re focused on a very specific set of data and looking at them very narrowly. By expanding our focus, we can reframe and reimagine the narrative we have created for ourselves.
I realised that some of the disempowering narrative I had created initially, included feelings of shame around not having done what I set out to do. I was concerned that our sponsors, the charities and our supporters would be disappointed in us. Yet, the messages I received from everyone was of awe and pride (I also talked to people, which is another great way to break out of a downward thinking spiral). Not one single person was critical, which was in direct conflict to the original narrative I had created about letting people down.
Whilst our adventure had come to an abrupt end, we had much to be proud of. Covering more than 120 miles (including summiting Ben Nevis) in less than 42 hours on foot was no mean feat. It was also the furthest that any of us had ever run within that time frame. I was also having to push through significant amounts of pain for the last few hours of day one and most of the second day. No one in my position would have been critical of the commitment I demonstrated. Their only criticism might have been to question why I didn’t stop sooner, given the risk of permanent damage of pushing through the pain with injury to my hip muscle.
Even if someone had been critical, it wouldn’t have mattered. Quoting Brené Brown: “if you are not in the arena getting your butt kicked too, I am not interested in your feedback”. In essence, I will never stop pushing through my own boundaries to understand what I am truly capable of achieving. It might seem more comfortable to play it safe, but if you don’t dare to fail, you will never dare to truly try.
After all was said and done we raised in excess of £15,000 (including gift aid) for two amazing charities and couldn't be prouder of what we achieved.