The power of the crowd… why take it all on alone?

So far most of my training as well as my own challenges I’ve tended to do solo. Certainly, this was true early on in my fitness journey. Although I enjoy my own company there was a root feeling that as I was setting myself goals to achieve I should look to achieve them alone. I’ve recently been reflecting a lot on this, it’s something I started to question and write about last year after the end of my challenges.

Two recent events reignited my thoughts on this…

Earlier in May, I was excited to start the Ultra Challenge season by volunteering, for once not participating, on the Isle of Wight 106km Challenge. Seeing the weather forecast of sun and warmth I knew it was going to be a challenging event. Hot conditions seem to catch more people out then wet and miserable ones.

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A random message on the route of the Isle of Wight 106km challenge… “You are awesome”

Part of me was, in fact, dreading it, as I know I do find hot conditions challenging. My shift started at 1AM on Sunday morning, and I ended up walking almost the whole second leg of 54km+ over 16 hours with a team of six amazing ladies, midwives, who by the time we got across that finish line had been on their feet for 38 hours. Simply astonishing commitment and willpower, the real pinnacle of what these challenges represent. All they needed from me was some gentle nudging, a touch of optimism and a few words of reassurance. I knew within just a short time of walking with them that they each had the mental power to get themselves to that finish. It was a real experience, one of those memories that’ll last a lifetime, for me as well as them. The opportunity to witness, and in just a small way help along, such a story is why I simply love to volunteer on these events.

A couple of weeks after the Isle of Wight I had one of my own personal goals to achieve. At the start of this year, I set myself a running goal, to complete a 10km race in under an hour. Despite having never trained for running before I hit my 10km time goal during a training run after I decided to just carry on running. However, I soon learned that although I was generally fit I wasn’t ‘Running Fit’. I was plagued with little niggles and injuries throughout the first part of the year due to me pushing my body to do something it was unaccustomed to doing. Despite me feeling powerful and strong enough to do distance my muscles and movement just were not ready for a new type of movement, so I kept falling into the trap of doing too much too soon. Along came the date of the Great Manchester Run, the original 10km I had signed up for, and again conditions were very very hot. My expectations low I set off hoping to at least make the sub one hour. My final time was 52 minutes, a 10km PB and I felt great at the end of it!

When I look back on both of these events it was the support and energy of others that I believe made a real difference. For my 10km challenge, the atmosphere of the Great Manchester Run was simply electric. Crowds lining the street, offering cheers and support for every single runner (All 30,000+ of them on the day). Bands, DJs, choirs, buses full of people along the route all made a difference. All these people were stood out in blazing sunlight for hours on end to cheer for complete strangers.

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Me with a good friend who finished close to me. We had a few laughs during the race and again reminded me I shouldn’t focus on doing things alone…

On the IoW, the Ultra Events are much quieter yet there was still support; random members of the public stopping to cheer on the participants. People stopping to give cash to those challengers raising money for charity. For me, it was a bit of a juxtaposition to the 10km race. I was a supporting role, a stranger offering some semblance of help and support to a group of complete strangers as and when they needed it. I also watched as they supported each other. At different times they each got their own second wind and were able to up their pace, bringing the others with them. When one hit the wall there was energy from the others to help them through.

Looking ahead I intend to push my own boundaries a little more and try training more with new groups. Thanks to a group from the gym I do have a group of people I regard now as real friends who I occasionally walk with and regularly train within a boot camp class setting. I remember when I first started joining in the classes and it wasn’t easy then. I also have a local running group where I live, and that’s where the next challenge lies. With running I am still a novice, and there are some VERY advanced runners in that group… and that, for me, I think is the crux of the issue…

I have a niggling feeling I chose early on to train alone and to work towards my goals alone as I still, years into my journey, worry about what people think of me in times of weakness. It’s not a sense of moral responsibility to complete things alone, more I still want to be seen as strong and capable and certainly with running I show weakness which in turn translates to showing vulnerability. That vulnerability, at least in my own mind’s perception, is then amplified in the presence of those much stronger and able than I.

So, my next goals are not so much based on times or distances, but more the feeling of finding peace and enjoyment from sharing my weaknesses with strangers with which to become not just stronger physically, but more balanced mentally. To embrace showing vulnerability. I was certainly weak running around Manchester in the scorching sun, yet caught up in the experience I didn’t feel vulnerable at all, I felt energised, alive, and happy… and that’s got me curious…