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The battles that rage

by Britta Sendlhofer
Wednesday 2nd September 2015

About the complex mind of the endurance athlete - inspired by watching the thousands of athletes at the 2015 Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc®

The battles that rage

Photo: The 2015 Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc® gets under way © Pete Aylward

Here they are, the heroes of the trails!

Admired, idolised or envied; they are celebrated this week by the crowds in the streets.

The crowds hold the athletes in high regard; after all runners can only make it to the start line because they have proven that they have what it takes. They are the heroes in the drama that is about to unfold.

Yet, the distant stare in many of the runner’s faces, which could easily be perceived as arrogance, hides the truth that many of them are less sure and appreciative of their powers!

Ultra runners are generally a humble bunch. The more experienced they are, the more aware they are that things don’t always go to plan and that they all have their ‘achilles heel’ so to speak.

As the crowds cheer them on their way with shouts of ‘Bon Courage’ and ‘Alez, alez!’ there is more than one who sheds a tear and more than one who is afraid!

The battles that rage

Photo: The 2015 OCC gets under way © Pete Aylward

The crowds may think them hard and brave, and of course they are! They are incredibly tough, but most are hardest on themselves!

Where the crowds see bodies of steel and hearts full of fire, often lies hidden a mind full of doubt and self-loathing!

Just like the perfect bodies on the covers of the fashion magazines are not the norm and leave many despairing at their own flaws, so the image of the ultra-distance athlete as the all-conquering hero who never gives in, is mostly a myth.

The runners are willing to conquer their fears, to endure the pain and to push through the barriers. It is not true however that as long as they do that, they will reach the finish. Knowing this is as much a curse as a blessing.

Often it is not the trails, but their own high standards or unrealistic expectations that they cannot live up to, which catch them out and warp the experience.

Even those who make it look easy will have questioned themselves, will have doubted their strength! The winner is the hero and so is that last runner, who succeeds against the odds, but what of the thousands in between?

The crowds would take cover, if they knew of the battles that rage behind those steely stares!

The battles that rage

Photo: The 2015 OCC © Pete Aylward

Some of the lessons taught out on the trails are hard to take. “You’ll learn something about yourself when you are out on the trails!” is what they say. What they don’t often admit is that the athletes may not like what they learn!

The athlete who makes a hobby out of pushing through barriers and achieving the impossible doesn’t always take it well when he finds his limits!

Like the crowds on the streets, the athletes are not perfect, may not always be brave or humble, strong and accepting, and fatigue can exaggerate their reactions.

Some of those heroes can be selfish or arrogant - to prepare for and take on such a challenge that may be required; some search for excuses or pin blame - when dealing with failure that may help them cope, give them the strength to try again, however the trails don’t respond to a tantrum.

To complicate things further, the lessons learnt on the trails are often conflicting! Where once gritting the teeth and carrying on regardless won the day, giving in and cutting ones losses may be the answer on another day!

The athletes will have to make their choice and live by it! Gritting teeth and carrying on regardless generally makes a better story than giving in with a smile. Both paths can leave scars on the body and the ego, so the next time there is even more turmoil behind that steely stare.

Yet not every story can have a happy ending! Failure makes success that much sweeter! We need to find the limits before we can learn to push through. Maybe that is the heroic of it all!

The battles that rage

Photo: The 2015 Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc® winner Xavier Thévenard © Pete Aylward


About The Author

Britta Sendlhofer

Britta, originally from Austria, came to live in the Lake District in 1990.

Always in love with the mountains, the local hills and fells have since been her favourite ‘playground’. She spends much of her spare time exploring the hills – no matter what the season or the weather – always accompanied by her two Border Collies.

While the fells and trails are her first love, Britta has also completed 10 road marathons, before moving up to ultra events. Her biggest achievements are a Bob Graham Round, the Himalayan 100 mile stage race,the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc race and the Lakeland 100.


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