Running and racing isn’t just based on physical prowess, much of the challenge is the mental game and your game plan to battle those naughty little voices that shake your confidence both before and during a race.
For me, the Snowdonia trail marathon became entirely a mental game where I could no longer muster the mental capacity to run the race I’d worked so hard for. In the week running up to the race the circumstances changed so it ended up being a reprise of my past running ghosts and man, did they come to play in some serious force. No amount of athletic ability was going to outbalance the damage the rioting past-life-running demons were doing and to say it was frustrating is an understatement.
As some will know, my first few years of running were spent targeting road marathons which all felt very serious and incredibly results-based so a good race with a fast time and you were in the good books, but don’t hit the magical target and you’d failed. As someone who is very linked to my emotional state, this creation of results-based anxiety didn’t play well for me and I ended up losing self-belief and a lot of the love for running. I’m quite a free-spirited runner which can mean a day can go way better than expected or on occasion it can crash quite quickly, something I now have learned to appreciate as a nuance of me.
Going in to the week building up to the Snowdonia trail marathon, I knew I was physically really fit and definitely ready to race with my legs moving too quickly for slow running so I was excited thinking about the course for the marathon, as it would suit me well with some good climbing and fast flatter sections. Plus, if I ran well enough here I could earn a place on the GB long distance mountain running team. I was excited about the race but finding out that there were factors going to be present from my old road running life sent me in to a tailspin of panic and anxiety that I couldn’t escape and no amount of meditation or yoga could fix. It was time to face up to it and put it to bed once and for all. I knew deep down that showing up on that start line to stare in to the eyes of the race and get it done would be the biggest thing I could achieve on that day. It wasn’t easy and poor Dan bore the brunt of the severe anxiety and upheaval of emotions. It says so much that he stuck by my side.
In life we sometimes don’t know until after the event why we were supposed to do something. I thought I was going to Snowdonia to run a fast mountain marathon but in fact I was there to realise how far I’ve come in the past 18 months, coming out the other side of a difficult race with more peace and confidence. That was the real achievement. I am not a bad runner or a bad person for having anxiety demons. I am proud of the mental strength I dug out to get to the start line when I wanted to run away, the determination I had to run the whole race and the mental strength I could just about muster to get through it all. I’ve proved to myself how much mental toughness I’ve gained because old Julia would have given up half way round.
Great results feel incredible but the realisation that a result doesn’t define me and my network of friends don’t judge me on this is huge. Racing is a chance to celebrate the hard work you have put in both physically and mentally and I never run a race having learned nothing from it. I thought I wanted the product of a result and a chance to win a vest, which don’t get wrong would have been incredible, but life takes you on paths where you don’t know where you may end up at times. Trust the process, work hard and try not to get hung up on ideals.
I don’t think I need to go back to Wales for a while. Stoked for big adventures to come!