"I Love You, I Love You, I Love You"
[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]
"I love you, I love you, I love you," I said as I made my way up and over a long pass. This section of the course was an out and back. We had to climb to the turnaround, punch our bibs with an old-school hole puncher, and run back downhill the exact way we came. I was having trouble eating and could feel my energy fading. Nausea is difficult to deal with in a long mountain race. It was waxing and waning like the moon; one second I'd feel overwhelming nausea and the next, I'd successfully swallow a bite of food. My mantra at this point was simply to tell myself that I loved myself, not because I didn't know or believe it, but because in moments of deep pain, love is the most useful emotion, the most tangible resource, and the most evergreen, accessible, and true reality.
There are obviously other tactics, à la David Goggins, whose tagline "stay hard!" has captivated audiences everywhere. He plays a mental game in which he separates himself into two people: a strong person and a weak person. The strong person's entire job is to eradicate the weak. It's sort of intense. Useful at times, and not so useful at others.
I personally don't think it's all that useful to "stay hard." Staying hard is easy. Shutting out the world and everything in it is easy. Armoring yourself against the things that could possibly harm you is easy. It's much more difficult, I think, to stay open and loving, even in the midst of pain. To be courageous in tackling that pain face first, which is why I kept repeating, "I love you, I love you, I love you."
I like ultras because I masochistically want to know how much pain I can endure. Is there a threshold when it becomes absolutely unbearable? If there is, I haven't found it yet, which is a large chunk of my pie chart of motivation.
Pain can be a useful tool. The kindest people I've ever encountered have had to deal with tremendous pain, as are the most jaded and cold. Pain will happen, but how it affects you is up to you. For me, pain is a tremendous teacher, helping me grow into myself and know myself in new, more profound ways. I don't believe this is uncommon. Our true character often shows itself in difficult moments. When you start dating someone new, you probably don't really know them until you see them stressed or challenged in some way. That's when someone's real character bleeds through whatever facade they constructed to make you like them.
I don't know if this is a universal truth, but I know it's my truth and I know that there are layers to my being that I only uncovered through intense physical pain. And, when that pain is over (because it does alway end, no matter how much I think it won't) I know I am stronger. I know my capacity for dealing with hard things is greater. I know that the next hard thing won't seem so hard.
"I love you, I love you, I love you."
I reached the top of the pass, where a large stick and a sign marked the turnaround point. I punched my bib and started back the way I came, looking forward to seeing my friends on my way down, who were still climbing up. One of them said, "Sarah! You're doing awesome, I'm so damn proud of you." He would later pass me and finish nearly an hour ahead of me. I'm proud of him, too. Another stopped me and said, "You seem a little pale, maybe try to eat a gel," which I tried, unsuccessfully, to do. Two others cheered and clapped as I passed them, "You're doing great!" I said, smiling broadly. Seeing my friends gave me renewed energy, and I suddenly didn't feel so bad.
Positivity can do that. Love can do that.
"I love you, I love you, I love you."
P.S. Follow Sally McRae (@yellowrunner) on Instagram. Read about dopamine and motivation here,
or watch a video about love and motivation here.