‘I am doing this. I am doing this. I am doing this.’
It’s 6 AM on a Friday morning in County Kerry, Ireland. Just a couple of minutes ago, me and 140 other runners started our journey of about 190 km around the Iveragh peninsula. I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time. Ever since I took part in the ‘Lite’ version of the event (60 km) in 2019, running the full Kerry Way Ultra has been at the back of my mind. Up until then I never thought I could actually do something like that. Run an ultra, climb mountains, push through pain? For years I just assumed I wasn’t strong enough, brave enough, tough enough. Doing things that were really hard took a different type of people – or so I thought.
But in the years that followed, something changed. I dealt with life changes that I never thought I’d have to deal with and that I never thought I’d be able to overcome. I spent more and more time running trails and finding my way in the mountains. My mindset shifted and I started to thrive. I found joy and I found myself doing things I never thought possible. I actually could climb that mountain, navigate that technical trail or run that 100k. I could live life the way I wanted. It wasn’t always pretty, but all I needed to do was just get out there.
As I’m taking off to run the Kerry Way Ultra on this Friday morning in September, I know that this event is an accumulation of all those times I forced myself out the door to do something I wasn’t sure I could do. All those times I didn’t feel strong or brave enough to even just live my daily life, but I did it anyway. All those times I loved running and all those times it felt like a chore. All those times I succeeded and also all those times I failed. Therefore as I’m running into the dark, I’m actively silencing the voice that keeps telling me I can’t do this. That I’m not tough enough. ‘I am doing this. I am doing this. I am doing this.’ I’m finding my rhythm and as the sun rises, the voice disappears. I still have a long, long way to go, but I feel like I belong here. This, right here, is where I find joy.
In the many hours that follow, I go through the highs and lows that can be expected of a 100+ mile race. I take in the words of encouragement from people out on the course, I enjoy myself, I deal with falls, I feel like I’m flying and then I feel like I’m crawling, my nutrition plan goes out the window, I smile, I grimace, I’m ahead of schedule and then I’m way behind, I watch the sunset and I struggle through the night when all my body wants to do is fall asleep.
When the sun finally rises on Saturday morning, I know that I’m going to finish this race. Even more so, I know that I’ll probably win. The second woman is a couple of hours behind me and the gap is getting bigger and bigger. But even now that it’s bright, I’m still struggling to stay awake. I accept a caffeine gel from a fellow competitor who won’t take no for an answer as I slowly make my way up the last big hill. Although my brain is foggy, it’s starting to dawn on me that I am now the person who I didn’t think I could be. I am strong enough. I am doing this. There’s still plenty of room for improvement and there’s so much more to learn, but I had it in me all along. Like with so many things in life, all that was needed was to take on the challenge and accept the work that comes with it.
As I cross the finish line of the Kerry Way Ultra, I am overwhelmed with gratefulness. I’m grateful for my crew who were there for me every step of the way, for all the people who cheered me on, for that one gel that just about kept me awake (thank you, kind stranger), for two healthy legs and for the stubbornness that brought me this far – and I’m extremely grateful that I can stop running now. I’ve never been this tired and I’ve never been this happy to be offered a chair. The pain from the wounds and bruises from my falls can no longer be ignored, but that’s alright. I did it. I’m done.
In the days that follow, I get a lot of messages from fellow female runners. Women like me – women who find joy in running but who rarely give their body the appreciation it deserves, women who sometimes get intimidated by male-dominated start lines, women who find themselves dealing with setbacks, women who are hesitant to take on big challenges. Sometimes they ask for advice or are in need of encouragement and it makes me feel uncomfortable. I want to tell them I’m no expert – but then I realize that I actually am. I’m an expert in thinking my body isn’t a ‘runner’s body’, in showing up at start lines or group runs as one of the few women and in taking on things that I’m not sure I can actually do. And there’s only one piece of advice I can give them, one piece of advice I can give you: do it.
Whatever it is that you’ve been putting off doing, whatever it is that you think you’re not capable off, just do it. The worst thing that can happen is that you fail, but that can also be the best thing – whatever happens, you’ll learn a lot. You’ll grow. You’ll get to know yourself better. And one day you might just find yourself running into the dark, thinking only one thing: I am doing this.