A few months ago I watched a TV show about the Transgrancanaria race. If you haven’t heard about it, it is a 125 km race with 8500m of elevation in the Island of Gran Canaria. The participants start at 11pm (yes, pm!) with head torches on and have 30 hours to complete this incredibly hard course.
The 2015 winner was Grinius Gediminas, from Lithuania, finishing in 14:23:37. I got curious and checked their website for the official results and immediately looked up for Australians and Brazilians in that list. The first (and only) Aussie to finish was Brendan Davies with a time of 18:23:49. Not far behind came the first Brazilian, and fifth woman, Manu Vilaseca with the time of 18:42:59. If you can read in Portuguese (or if you don’t mind the poor outcome from online translators) check Manu’s truly inspiring description of her race here. I also tried to find Brendan’s report on the race but could only find his insightful updates on his training.
But what really made me write this post was not Manu’s nor Brendan’s success stories, but a post on the DNF (Did Not Finish) story of Stephanie Case in the very same race. I love reading race recaps and Stephanie did a particularly good job with this one in her blog Ultra Runner Girl. While reading, I could almost feel her pain as I pictured her struggling along the intimidating hills that I had seen on TV. More than transporting me to the race day, she touched upon an interesting point: the confidence that ultrarunners develop on their ability to complete races regardless the amount of training. It is all in your head.
This reminded me of a chat that I had earlier this year during one of the Can Too training sessions. It was a group with only women and I heard them complaining on how men think that they can do pretty much any physical activity without much preparation. Half marathon? Oh, yeah, I could do that tomorrow. Yes, I’ve noticed this behaviour in groups of young guys but it is quite the opposite when dealing with men that haven’t exercise in a while. It is a matter of confidence or the lack of it, not of gender. I would say that over the course of a training program, these two groups learn different things: the first learns about their limitations, the second about their strengths.
The lesson here is that just confidence and mental strength may not be enough to get you through the finish line. It is not only in your head, it is in your legs as well, and they must be prepared.