Last fall I competed in my first ultramarathon trail race. I won’t bore you with tons of details, just the important ones – it was rocky, hilly and humid. Despite being billed as a 50 mile race, it was 58 miles (just for fun?)
I was having a good race, until I wasn’t.
The race was unsupported (no official aid stations) but it circles back into the same park twice (at 18 miles and 38 miles). The first time I came through the park I was feeling great! My wife was going to pace me through the final 20 miles so I brazenly advised her to get ready to move quickly the next time I came through the park, I thought I’d still be flying and be waiting for her to catch up.
That was a HUGE rookie mistake….by the time I got back to the park it was dark, I was moving VERY slowly and was experiencing the worst chafing that I’ve ever experienced.
I stumbled into the park almost in tears. I didn’t want to quit but I was scared to keep going.
Dejected, I flopped down under an event tent and stayed there for way too long feeling sorry for myself.
The park would have been the perfect place to quit. There were heaters, dry clothes, cold beer and warm food. There was even bacon.
In my brain I knew that I needed to change my shoes and socks but I couldn’t convince my brain and body to cooperate. I had already changed one sock but spent several minutes looking in my bag for it. I was a mess…
A friend who I respect a lot as a person and athlete came over to check on me. He asked me how I was doing. When I somewhat emotionally told him that I was struggling his response was perfect.
He calmly said “Look around you, everyone is struggling.” He was right.
Despite my mental fog those words got through to me. I slowly changed my shoes, struggled to my feet and prepared to head back into the woods.
Lost in my own self pity I didn’t realize how many other bodies were scattered around the park. Some of them got up and carried on, many didn’t. They decided to end their adventure in the park and texted the race directors to let them know they were tapping out.
Understanding what our clients need to hear and when they need to hear it is a true skill. It can only be mastered by developing relationships with them to understand what they are going through and what motivates them.
Sometimes it’s cheering and clapping.
Sometimes it’s not speaking but cranking up the Metallica on the gym stereo.
Sometimes, like on that rainy night last September, the answer is a gentle reminder that hard things are hard.
I was so far beyond hearing the cheering and the Metallica. I needed the tough love to end my pity party. It was perfect.
The message that night also serves as a good daily mantra for coaches and gym owners given the current global situation.
Look around you, see who is struggling and find a way to help. It won’t ever be forgotten.