Trail Running Lessons – What is our Best?

I’m grateful I live very close to the beautiful trails on the island of Gozo, where I can also swim at the end or at some point during my runs. This is one of my favorite times of the day, when I go out and do it, which on most days I do.

Saying that, I don’t always wake up brimming with excitement to go. Sometimes I don’t feel like, I feel tired, I make excuses, I procrastinate. Especially now that I don’t have fixed working hours, and can go later in the day.

One of the main reasons why I go is because I know that after I start running and get over the initial stage of overcoming my psychological mind telling me to stay home or do something else, I get into that beautiful rhythm, have a refreshing swim, and come back home feeling great!

Rarely have I went out for a run and felt bad after. The chemicals that are released while running are surely something I enjoy.

Running is also my practice, my discipline sort of. And my teacher. Today I’ll write about running the Gozo Ultra Marathon, a 50K run around Gozo, and one of the many lessons I learn and practice through running – doing my best and accepting that my best today is not the same as yesterday or tomorrow.

Last week I ran the Gozo Ultra, a 50k run that goes round gozo, 95% on trails, a little hilly and technical. It was hot and sunny, and humid, with almost no wind. The days before I hadn’t been feeling my best, had been feeling a little run down physically. I hadn’t really trained for it, since I had been travelling till mid March, although since I had been back I was running regularly and putting in some long runs to prepare.

But I enjoy running races. It gives me a little bit more motivation to exceed my perceived limitations, push myself. I also love being around other people who love running trails. The whole atmosphere of an ultra marathon is, to me, very enjoyable. I go to other countries to run them, so I will definitely do my best to run the one starting literally a 5-minute walk away from my doorstep.

Coming up to a race, I already start dealing with my mind. It starts saying all kinds of things, like I won’t get enough sleep, I won’t feel good on the day, I will be tired, what if I don’t make it? Anxiety or excitement, kind of the same feeling, start butting in.

Every time I notice that, it’s an opportunity to observe it and tell myself that all of that doesn’t matter, whatever happens, however I wake up on the day, I will do my best. One time my best was to stay at the guesthouse I was sharing with my friends in the Dolomites in Italy, because I spent the night dealing with diarrhoea and vomiting due to some food poisoning. I missed the race, and my best was to learn how to deal with that, to totally let go of any expectations, and accept my human being-ness.

Last year my best during the Gozo Ultra was getting to the finish line limping and cramping, cause I was dehydrated and started cramping after 3 hours, and pushed myself to walk, and run when I could, for another 3.5 hours to the finish line. I knew it was just cramps, no injuries, so I decided to get to the end. My mind was sometimes butting in and telling me to stop cause I won’t do a good time. Not good for my ego. But i decided not to care about time, and just finish what I started, or at least go till I really couldn’t go anymore.

Each day is different

Apart from learning to push myself and do my best, I also learn to accept my best for the day. Not only in races, but in my regular running, I repeat the same trails, the same distances, and each day is different.

Sometimes I go out feeling like shit and then end up having an amazing fast run, and others I have to push myself till the end, feeling like I want to turn back before it’s time to turn back.

Life sometimes feels like an uphill struggle, and at times we have to keep pushing ourselves, through the hard times. We have to accept that not all days are the same, sometimes we find what we do easy, and sometimes not. And there are many factors, some we know of and others we don’t.

Sometimes we blame it on the stars and this and that, and that might be true, but the truth is, for me, that I don’t always know why I feel good or bad, happy or sad.

Sometimes after a period of hardship, a breakthrough comes, and we start running on a natural high, everything feels a bit easier.

That’s just how it is. We just keep moving forward, at the pace that life dictates. The practice is accepting that pace, instead of trying to force our own pace into it. That usually exhausts us more, makes us sick, in more ways than one. And why? All of nature takes its own time to do what it’s here to do.

Trees grow at different rates, depending on the factors around them. They don’t compete on who will get to the top first.

Accepting that our best is not always the same can be hard, as hard as we make it in fact. If we decide to resist reality, we make it harder. If we try to reach some goal that we had set, we make it harder.

It’s good to have goals and work towards them. Great things are achieved by making goals and plans. But flexibility with them is key to not stressing ourselves out. If we are rigid, we hurt ourselves. If we are flexible, we can bend but not break.

Running teaches me to show up

It teaches me to start, if I have the energy to start. Then what happens from there is not up to me. Not starting because i “think” i’m not able, is different than not starting because I am really not able. Many times in life, it can be an excuse, arising out of fear, fear of not being good enough, or fear someone will be better, that hold us back from starting.

If we start, the next step is to continue

and to continue means to keep starting. Every time we feel we can’t go on, we check with ourselves who is really saying that, where that is coming from.

At one point in the race I felt very tired, and thought I might even start to cramp again, only cause I cramped last year. This year though I knew I was hydrating myself much better. At that point I decided to push a bit harder, and I realised that the energy was there. So I continued.

I ended up finishing the race in just under 6 hours, I was very happy I managed that. And I was very grateful that my feet weren’t as wrecked as last year, when I had to accept my cramps for a few hours after the race. I woke up the next day feeling quite well actually, just a bit sore, and very hungry!

Be compassionate with yourself

I remind myself this many times during my runs, and during life. Accept my limits for the day, for the moment. Today is different than yesterday. Beating myself up about something only makes me feel worse! Life is not a competition, it’s just Life! We show up, day by day, and live through it.

Thanks for the photo Cri

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