Mental Capacity vs. Mental Strength


I always said I wanted to learn new things about life and myself by doing the Pennine Way. After the epic failure that was, it's been a very raw time, but as time goes on, like it does, the lessons are beginning to make themselves known.


A revelation this morning (as I ran through the dark at 4:30am) has been about the difference for me between mental strength and mental capacity. Over the years I've taken part in some 24 hour races and a 100km challenge, so I went in to the Pennine Way knowing that though I'd never tried running 10 marathons back to back and that it'd be a challenge, that I had some mental strength that I was sure would carry me through. And for quite a bit of the actual running I'm sure it did. But, and it's a big but, the running wasn't all I had to think about and be anxious about.


As well as the running I had the following things to also think about:

  • What I needed to carry with me and eat for the day

  • Whether any pain was running pain or M.E. pain

  • Timings for reaching the end of the day and the taxi booked to get me to my accommodation

  • Would I have enough energy because of the Chronic Fatigue to get to the end of the day?

  • Would I have enough energy because of the Chronic Fatigue to get up the following day?

  • Whether the bag transfer had worked properly and my kit would be waiting for me

  • Taking care of my own navigation

  • Setting up kit at the end of each day ready for the next

  • Strapping up my feet etc each evening and all the self-care

  • The weather

Now I totally accept most of those won't be anything new to many, and are likely to be on the mind of most doing challenges. But carrying all that along with you definitely effects your ability to make decisions and keep strong. It doesn't leave you with much energy left for actually getting the job done.


So if and when I ever do a multiday challenge like this again it's shown me the importance of having a support crew or at least one person to be there for you, to help motivate you, but more importantly to help smooth out all those anxieties by running around in the background and ahead to help you be able to simply concentrate on moving forward each day. Read most challenge books and the majority have a support crew looking after meals and getting kit ready. I knew it would be helpful of course, but I now understand what a difference it makes to my mental capacity. Once that capacity is used up there's not much mental strength left; and that was definitely a big contributor to me pulling out at the end of day 3. If I'd had a support crew/person I know I'd have got at least another day or two further at the very least.


Of course, any support crew would need to be ready for anything and especially have broad shoulders as whoever they are supporting will at times be very grumpy and growly as part of the ultra-running journey!


There you go! Todays personal revelation and learning. If you are going to do a long challenge, find someone or some people who can be your logistics and support crew. Trust me! You'll have enough on moving one foot in front of the other. Let someone else take some of the mental capacity off your shoulders; so you can use all of your mental strength.



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