Carving an Ultra-Mindset
For most of us, the thought of engaging in any activity that includes the word 'ultra' sends a shiver down your spine. Whilst it's certainly true that multi-sport is an endurance event, the prospect of getting your head around running or cycling 'ultra' distances, takes a little adjusting...
So we're always in awe and intrigued when we hear and read about athletes who take this stuff in their stride - almost like they're wired differently to others or have some insane ability to handle pain.
For this reason, Guy caught our eye. Any bloke who cycles 240 miles through the middle of the night and day, must be missing a screw surely!?
But we love that... and secretly wish we had the mental capacity and drive to do the same. The fact that much of Guy's activity is driven by a desire to raise money for causes close to his heart, also ticks many boxes.
We wanted to find out what fuels an 'ultra-athlete' and is it possible to 'embrace' some of those qualities - to perhaps enable ourselves to push that little harder or longer. Meet Guy:
I've never called myself an athlete, let alone an endurance athlete. I never seriously engaged in any kind of sport until 2017 when my life changed dramatically and I used that to start to live to a different set of values.
Falling down is how we grow
I've got a long history of depression and anxiety - as a child I could never escape the feeling of never really fitting in anywhere. In 2014 I crashed mentally. This story could have had a very different outcome but thankfully, I was pulled back from the edge and got the help I so desperately needed.
I've got one of those slightly obsessive personalities. For a long time my career was my dream and I threw everything I had at it, striving for progression and sacrificing everything else for it. With a young family at home, that very male 'provider' mindset drove me harder. I worked long hours, fuelling my days with coffee and convenience food and alcohol in the evenings. I became increasingly angry, frustrated and exhausted - I had no outlet or way to manage how I felt, my coping mechanism was to bury myself in work and drink to numb everything else. I felt unfulfilled in so many ways but had no means to express any of what I felt. I think I lived like this for a year or more until one day my body just couldn't cope.
In 2014 I was rushed to hospital with acute pancreatitis, spending 5 days in the care of the NHS while I started my recovery.
I was publicly told by the Consultant that I was an alcoholic and that if I didn't stop abusing myself I'd be back or worse, dead. It was, at the time a shaming, sobering experience. What is probably more shameful is that I couldn't break the cycle, I fell back in to all the old habits again and began drinking again 4 months later and within a year I was back in hospital. I hadn't learned and I hadn't resolved any of the underlying issues about my physical or mental health.
In 2016 I decided that to get better, to make the changes that were needed, I had to take myself out of my family. The day I walked out was the hardest decision I've ever made. It's something I've tried to write about, but I find it always come across as sounding selfish and I feel guilty for putting myself above them. So, when my wife and I separated, I resolved to make a change, to fix myself and to build a better relationship with my kids and be the Dad they needed.
I bought a cheap pair of running shoes and started running before or after work. Nothing far or fast, but it quickly became a form of therapy for me, going out and blasting myself after a stressful day at work. It became the time I needed to get inside my own head and work through things, to destress or start to plan the future.
Wanting to push myself to see what I could achieve, I signed up to a Half Marathon. This soon became a 12 in 12 challenge, where I was taking on one new challenge every month of 2017. I wanted these challenges to mean something - so I decided to raise money for Make-A-Wish UK while doing them.
Miles for Wishes started as a search for redemption through pain, a way to challenge and change both myself and also inspire some people to do the same along the way.
Completing JOGLE in November 2017 (cycling from John O'Groats to Land's End - 940 miles solo over 9 days) was an incredibly emotional experience for me. It was cathartic - it took nine days of being alone on the bike, inside my own head to realise that I am enough. That I needed to let go of some of the guilt I felt, to stop beating myself up for all the hurt and wrong I believed I'd done.
I'm not over it no, but the journey has changed - what started as a search for pain has become a pleasure, a test that I enjoy.
Everything I'm doing now is building towards that goal, to be a serious competitor in the 2022 Race Across America, the toughest bicycle race which spans the 3000 miles from the West to the East Coast of America.
Of course, like many others, my 2020 season is going to be very different now - this period is about being adaptable in the short term, while remaining focused on that long term goal.
What makes the 'ultra-mindset'? For me, this is always what it comes back to. Having a reason WHY, whether that's fundraising, your own story or because you want to win. If your reason to do something is strong enough, if you believe in it enough, it will be the one thing that keeps you going through the darkest of moments.
Solo is hard, but I love it. Imagine riding in a group - you can see how you’re doing in comparison to others. If you have good legs, then this will boost your confidence and push you harder. The days when you are not feeling great, well you've still got a wheel to hang on to. Solo cycling focuses your mind so much more on your body and how you feel instead of the race. This internal focus intensifies all those feelings of discomfort, doubt and negativity, and ultimately it reduces your ability to withstand the pain.
I think that's why I love it though, it's finding those moments when, instead of quitting, you tell yourself to go that extra mile, or to hit the next town. Those moments define us, it's the gold left when everything else has been stripped away.
Like I said at the start of this blog, I'm not an athlete, I'm just trying to be the best version of myself. I don't know what the future holds for me, I know I'm enjoying the ride at the moment. I do still worry, it's a different worry now though - my constant search for the next challenge, to push myself harder or further, that I won't ever be satisfied with the last thing I did. But maybe that's what it takes to be an endurance athlete?
Guy's most recent endurance event - attempting a 10 hour epic 'Sufferfest', raised much needed funds for The Trussel Trust. You can follow his endurance journey via his Instagram Page @guystapleford_ultra.