May 09, 2016
Filling the void
There is no entertainment, no music, no screen to watch or internet to browse. Just think about that for a moment. We are living in a world of assault, bombardment and distraction. How long can you go without watching something, being contacted in some way or having some alert going off in your life.
Just imagine all of that stops! What are you left with? A huge void and time gaps to fill.
One could argue that this is more of a 21st century problem than perhaps what was faced in the 80’s, 90’s or before. A time where information overload was less as was our seeming ability to communicate with the world whilst we are anywhere in it from the very palm of our hand.
People often ask me how I occupy my time during the longer more “mundane” looking challenges that I do, no matter if its rowing for a couple of hours or embarking on an ultra run.
My answer is simple in that the longer I am without constant engagement but alone with my thoughts the more I get to know myself and learn about what life really is. The response I get from most is a look of confusion as the very answer I have given seems so deep in itself but just imagine being without any form of entertainment or connection with the world for a straight 9 hour period, and then whilst you are doing it, run 72km up a mountain of 1,000m ascent. There you have a void to fill. But how?
The saying it’s all mental could not be further from the truth, it really is and as we know from certain situations in life the mind seems to play tricks on us, but I believe that only happens when we allow it, when we are weak and when we give up before we even start.
For me I see the time alone different, it excites me, nervously but positively. It’s a roller coaster of mental and physical emotion that once you have made a decision you are going to endure be it weeks or months prior, is something you have to embrace, you have to want for, you have live for and you have to learn from.
So what do I really think about? How do I occupy my mind and how do I deal with the physical and mental suffering of physical activity over a prolonged period?
- I do maths: Everything is calculated, re calculated, checked and then re checked. I am a geek for numbers and when you are without communication tools you are also without a calculator so everything is done in the mind. If I am running I am constantly calculating projected speeds, average speeds and different situations based on the figures my GPS watch throws out at me. I can tell you at any point everything that is happening and not just by reading of the various settings on my watch. This for me is a game and it is sometimes a very long one in that the more you become physically drained the harder some basic maths is and there reaches a point where if you let it frustration kicks in that you are not able to do the most simple calculation. Thats another challenge I relish.
- I wander: This may sound contradictory or counterintuitive as we are constantly told to focus on the job at hand. Trust me there is only so much focussing on the job at hand in an ultra, over focus causes insanity. Of course there are certain things you have to be on top of but at times you have to wander. I don’t dream tho, and by that I mean I am not trying to convince myself I am somewhere else doing something else, that would be an awful waste of the moment I am in and the reason I am there. But I think about stuff, articles I could write, things I could do in my business, my relationships, my life. I often find it is this alone time that has delivered some of the more successful ideas and concepts I have come up with.
- I play with my body: In running this is especially applicable, in that there are so many muscles in the body responsible for powering us forward, I try to feel them, to be aware of them and to call on them at different times. I adjust my running style of course based on the terrain and situation but also to occupy my mind, to shift certain pain I may be feeling or anticipate arriving. The feeling of being alive in that you can tweak certain muscles by your running style is something quite unique and reminds me of the awesomeness of the human body.
- I remember why: Why am I there, why did I do that particular challenge, how did it all start. Revisiting those things is so important and delivered so much motivation and a wider through process. I am always clear as to why I do any challenge, there is always a story, a background and a clear reason and it is during the void that I often revisit these reasons. This is a cool part of the process as it is a double edge sword that also lets me think about the positive outcomes of finishing the challenge or the job at hand.
- I think “Whats Next?”: I think one of my fears in life is not having a next, there has always been one. I have zero desire to stop challenging myself mentally and physically for as long as I live. Therefore during the void is a great time to plan new challenges, new things that are going to expose me, take me out of my comfort zone and most importantly allow me to learn more and more about myself and life. There always has to be something “next” on your radar, no matter how big or how small, and during the void is a great time to think about it, plan and get super excited.
Our relationships with ourselves and what we put our bodies and minds through are incredibly important. There is no need to wish you were not there, wish the finish line was under your feet or try and transport yourself to a moment where you are not. I believe that the lessons I am able to learn during the void in the physical challenges I undertake not only help me in my next challenge but also help me on my journey of life.
Of course it is a battle and often hard, painful and relentless but if we are ready to fight it, endure and pain and be relentless in return then we will fill the void, we will learn and we will develop as human beings beyond our wildest imagination of what we once thought was our limits.