What is success?
I reflected on this question over the weekend. It is hard to define success, and it is subjective to what you are trying to achieve. How we individually view success is very subjective as well. Some define success in terms of acquisition and material possessions. Others define success in terms of status and wealth. Some may define success as the outcome of a target or goal they are working towards. I looked at some of the goals and targets I am working towards this year and re-evaluated them in terms of what is success. Did merely ticking them all off mean that I’ve had a successful year?
I looked at my training for the ultra and looked at whether it had been a success or not.
I really broke this down into much smaller components. Firstly, I had identified something I wanted to achieve – finish an ultra-marathon. It has been something I’ve wanted to do for a number of years and despite a few previous unsuccessful attempts I feel that I’ve got my act together this year and because of the training and commitment I’ve put in I am going to achieve that goal.
Has the training been a success so far though? I’ve completed every session I’ve scheduled in this year (at the time of writing that is 98 training sessions). This is two-fold though – the planning can be a success but not necessarily the execution of that plan. I’ve spent time building up the distance and time so that every session is working towards building the endurance I need to finish the ultra.
At the weekend I did another long run (21.1 miles) and in terms of that session it was a success – my pace was consistent, the kit I used was suited to the purpose and worked really well, my nutrition was correct, and my focus was exceptional. I can’t pin-point one area of that session that did not go to plan. Compared to the previous weeks long run it was a much better run – whereas the previous week the last 3 miles were a slog this week I felt strong in the last 3 miles. I was mentally prepared for hitting a mental dip in places and knew how to overcome this and knew that physically I was able to move forwards.
But there is going to be a huge difference from finishing a 21.1mile training run and finishing a 31-mile event. Therefore, the sessions will get longer and the parameters of success will change – sometimes it isn’t just about the physical element or distance covered but the mental element as well – that ability to shut out the negative inner dialogue, to carry on when the mind is saying stop.
It got me thinking about what will I deem as being a success on the day of the ultra in just over 2 months’ time. Is just crossing the finish line going to be a success? In terms of achieving the overall goal it is, but other elements will also come into play. I’ve not got a specific time I’m aiming for – at present that is a bit of an unknown, and I’m only just scratching the surface in terms of distance. I’ll have a much better idea in the coming month as I work towards a long run training run of 26-28 miles.
Success on the day will also need to factor in how I handle things not going to plan and how I overcome these challenges. I know there is a good chance I will have an existential crisis during the event asking myself - Why the hell I’m doing this? What am I trying to prove? Why did I think this was a good idea? Being able to overcome my mental demons will be key to success.
Success will be sticking rigidly to my nutrition plan and fuelling properly before the event and during the event. Success will be standing on that start line, knowing I’ve done everything I needed to do to make sure that 31 miles later I am crossing that finish line, that I have done all the training required. There will be a certain amount of satisfaction in crossing that finish line and how I answer those questions of what I define as success will hopefully have been answered along the way.
Having completed in many, many endurance events over the years I know that after the event in the coming days and weeks many questions will arise – could I have done things differently? Could I have gone quicker? Could I find a different event with a more challenging terrain? Could I do a longer distance - 50 miles? 100km? 100miles?
Then the measurement of success changes yet again.
One thing I am learning is that the measurement of success isn’t always about achieving the goal or the target but the learning that takes place on the way to achieving it.
Richard Guy, 47 years of age, born and grew up in London and have lived in Portsmouth since 2017.