By Ultra-Runner, Explorer & Christopher Ward Challenger Jamie Maddison
Running and adventuring are two sides of the same, very weather-beaten, coin. They can both land you in some crazy spaces – geographical, physical and psychological – far out of your comfort zone and with little else to do but grit your teeth and keep going or risk complete failure.
I first noticed this similarity several years ago. A dyed-in-the wool adventurous person, I’ve ridden horses across Kazakhstan, lived with eagle hunters in Mongolia and explored untouched valleys in Kyrgyzstan’s Tien Shan mountain. I then became interested in running, and over the past three years have raced every distance, from a 4-minute 34-second road mile all the way up to an “eight marathons in eight days” crossing of an uncrossed desert called the Betpak Dala, or the “Steppe of Misfortune”.
With all of these activities, the challenge is as much in the mind as it is physical. Here are seven key mental habits I believe you need to cope on both adventures and long-distance runs.
Situations change. It doesn’t matter whether you’re running low on resources in a far off country, or simply running out of steam mid-race, being able to clearly assess a situation and then change one’s behaviour, as a result, is one of the most important skills an adventure/runner can have. It can be the difference between success, failure, and even injury or death.
The crossing of Kazakhstan by horse took me 64 days to complete, through very barren terrain; rolling steppe, uninterrupted and completely flat, save for the odd small river. It seemed to take forever to get anywhere, an experience many long-distance runners are all too familiar with. Being able to cope with extended periods of monotony and boredom is essential and hence patience has to be one of your key virtues, on a run or en-route to completing an expedition.
Competitive runners stick to training calendars, record daily run logs, even create nutrition diaries. Prior to a race they are known to research the course, discuss race tactics, and plan everything all the way down to the how fast each and every mile should be run at. Likewise, on my upcoming expedition to cross a hundred mile desert on foot, I recently made a database of 144 geographic coordinate of each and every-turn I need to take for the most efficient crossing. That’s a waypoint for every two-thirds of a mile. To excel at both disciplines, a meticulous and planning-orientated mindset serves wonders in keeping you on the path toward success,
Coming up with interesting places to explore or expeditions no-one has ever tried before requires imagination. This is also true in running, where an inquisitive approach pushes you to set out and find new routes and terrain to run over. This approach keeps the activity fresh and you enjoying the sport, essential if you’re to keep hammering away at it, day in and day out. A creative mindset also helps strengthen Point 5, patience, as it’s amazing how quickly time passes when you’re daydreaming about something else.
Being a “Jack Of All Trades”
A mark of a truly great runner is being as formidable in the mile as you are in the marathon. It’s a skill few other than the greats such as Haile Gebrselassie, Kenenisa Bekele and Mo Farah have ever achieved.
Likewise, the great adventurers, humans such as Edmund Hillary, weren’t confined to one discipline: Hillary also undertook hard polar journeys such as the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition to the South Pole, as well as his historic summiting of Everest. Being a quick and skilled learner who can operate in many different situations seamlessly is an inherently useful trait for both adventurers and running.
Introversion and Extroversion
Adventures require an insane amount of hours spent inside one’s own head, with precious few other people to speak with. Being able to rest within your own company is essential for success both activities (Point 3 also helps with this), but that’s not to say the sports favour recluses. Being able to converse freely – whether it’s with the locals in Tajikistan or in-between sets with your running mates – helps create a support network for you, that can only help ensure success with your project.
Whether you’re on the fourth lap in the 1500 metres or the last day in a multi-day ultra marathon, being able to cope with pain and discomfort, and still keep going, is vitally important for seeing both activities through. It also takes courage to push into the unknown, to keeping going even though you do not know what lays around the next corner, or what the next 10 minutes might bring.
Luckily – like all of the mental habits listed – courage can be taught. It is just a matter of practice; of learning the ropes slowly, practising, and digging a bit deeper day by day. Until one day you’re there, and you’re ready to head out and blaze out into the world. And the best way to practice? Running, of course.
Jamie Maddison is running 100 miles over an uncrossed desert in Kazakhstan this September, supported by the Christopher Ward Challenger Programme. To follow his journey, please visit: