Five things I learnt running 350 kilometres

Kay Bretz has gone further on his own two feet than many of us ever will, and in the midst of his run, what he found out is pretty profound.

I often get asked why I love running so much. Apart from the daily morning boost of endorphins, I love immersing myself into running adventures.

Through running, I learn more about myself and maybe even about how to lead a fulfilled life. The longest race I’ve participated in so far took me over 350 kilometres along the Bibbulman track in Western Australia from Northcliffe to Albany and was fittingly called the Delirious W.E.S.T. 200-miler.

Luckily, instead of becoming delirious I gained a lot of clarity on the journey. Here are my top five insights.

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Lesson 1: Assemble a strong team around you

One of my biggest learnings in ultrarunning is not to attempt major challenges on my own. There is a much easier way than ‘fighting things out’ myself. Even in a solo sport, we are better off when we build a strong team around us.

Without a strong support team keeping me healthy, I probably wouldn’t even have made it to the start line. Certainly, I wouldn’t have seen the finish line without my support crew’s encouragement and them accompanying me in the later stages of the run. Regardless what challenges you are facing, take it as an invite to build a high-performing team around you.

Lesson 2: Take breaks to maintain momentum

Our biggest challenges typically cannot be tackled as if they were a sprint. On the contrary, we tend to be in for the long-haul. Therefore, our approach to recovery makes all the difference. While we spend most of our time worrying about what we need to do, we rarely consider how to become elite in taking breaks.

If we want to tap into our full potential, we have to have the discipline to regularly switch into ‘rest mode’. Learn how to use breaks well and you will maintain your momentum ‘in the long run’.

Lesson 3: Follow your own path

If I contemplate my biggest challenges over the last years, they all have one thing in common: There comes the moment when I get lost – sometimes literally, sometimes metaphorically. In the Delirious W.E.S.T. I got off course multiple times and added unnecessary mileage to an already long adventure.

Once, I threw a mini-tantrum, but even in my sleep-deprived state (less than 2 hours of sleep in total) I reminded myself that getting lost was part of the journey. Staying upset would have side-tracked me even further and, as I learned later, wasting only 10 minutes was a blessing compared to a four-hour detour of another competitor. We all have to follow our own path.

Lesson 4: Don’t underestimate the little things

I have learned that once things get tough (which is unavoidable in major challenges), it helps to cherish the little things.

Whether a hot home-made soup in the middle of the night or a fortune cookie when our fate seems sealed, the trick is to always stay open for what the world has on offer. It might be all it takes to re-energise you and get you around the next bend.

Lesson 5: Be your own cheerleader

Whatever challenge you are facing, don’t do it for the glory. After 68 hours and 52 minutes I finally reached the finish line in Albany. I was reflecting on the long way I had come, the close encounters with poisonous snakes and the instances when giving up would have been the easier choice.

It was almost 4 am, so I knew that I couldn’t expect many people cheering me over the line. In fact, only the race director waited for me, peeling himself out of his sleeping bag to hug me and give me my medal. I did not need anything else to be filled with deep satisfaction.

We don’t need cheerleaders when we back ourselves. Whatever you do, don’t focus on the achievement or you might be disappointed. Ask yourself who you have become in the process and you will be amazed by the answer.

To become all that you can be, most people don’t need to run 350 kilometres. All you have to do is to embrace your own challenges and learn your own lessons along the way.

Kay Bretz is the author of Turning Right: Inspire the Magic (Major Street Publishing, $32.95). He is a facilitator of transformation, executive coach and inspirational speaker. Turning Right is now available at all good booksellers.