When Times are Dark

When this pic was taken we had pretty much run 42km of the UTD160. The sun was setting, and the temperatures were plummeting. I was reminded of the race directors face at the start when he requested, rather urgently, that we take every layer we could for the night stage. We knew it was going to be cold. As we crested the summit of a pretty gnarly climb, we joined a few other runners who were using the shelter of a rock to add on some layers and prepare for the night ahead. I was feeling good and ready to tackle what lay ahead. My positivity was also fuelled by the fact that I had done some training on the route the month prior so knew what to expect. That being said, I had run what was to come during the day. Soon, we were ready to go and with the sun setting quickly, we pushed on into dusk and eventually into the darkness.

I was struck by how different it was running the same route during the day compared to running it at night. The light makes everything easier. Darkness means you have to work harder and even though it is technically the same route, the same shoes and the same legs, your experience is vastly different. It’s slower. It requires more energy. It requires more focus and attention. It’s a mental game for sure. In the dark, one can’t look too far ahead. You are constantly keeping an eye on your next step and your vision is narrowed to what’s right in front of you due to the fact that your only source of light is a small headlamp on your forehead.  Funny enough one of my ‘darkest’ moments in the entire run was the few hours just before dawn, which we know to be the darkest period of the night. If you read my previous blog, this was where I felt disillusioned and disorientated.

Then it got light.

Light brings with it a new perspective. Straight away you can see where you are and how far you have left to go to the next aid station. You feel a sense of positivity wash over you. You are doing exactly the same thing you were doing in the dark; running the trails, but the experience is different.

All of us navigate dark times in the same contexts we navigate good times. For example, your marriage may experience dark times and good times, but it’s still the same two people navigating life together. Your business has been through dark times and good times, but it’s still you, your team and your product or service. The races you have run, the projects you have done, the friendships you have had have all experienced dark times and good times.

A key lesson I have learned while exploring endurance is the ability for our bodies and minds to bounce back when we are tackling ultra-sporting events. This principle can be applied to everyday life. When times are dark, we have the ability to bounce back, to restore that context back to a healthy state, or to repair what is broken. This for me is one of the most significant things about what it means to be human. We have the ability to look at a tough situation and create a new situation. Of course, this is easier said than done and may be a marathon and not a sprint, but through innovation, change, conversations or strategy, we are able to bounce back and create a new status quo.

When times are dark, we have to believe that if we keep going and deal with our circumstances breakthrough will come.

Dark times require momentum. I remember standing up, looking ahead and walking into the next stage of this race. For me, no matter what the weather would throw at us, I knew the strategy was simple. Keep going. I had a set path to follow and some check points to aim for so that part was simple. In real life, dark periods also require momentum with the added benefit that we can shift up the route, look at new ways of reaching our goals, make new plans, introduce a new habit or seek advice.

Dark times require resources. When times are dark, we need to use what’s at our disposal. I had to use my gear, those I was running with at the time and the aid stations to help me through. A victim mentality says, ‘I don’t have the resources to navigate this challenge so I may as well give up’. A victim places the solution in the hands of the external environment and renders him or herself helpless. But, if you look inside you and around you, you will discover that you do in fact have the resources to change your situation. Remember, your were made for tough terrain! As I mention in chapter 6 of The Middle book, we would all do well to look out for those who are stuck and find ways to support them to access the resources they need to maintain momentum. For some, accessing the resources is harder than others, but at the end of the day we have the collective ability to support those who are experiencing a dark period and ensure they breakthrough.

Dark Times require surrender. Surrender is not giving up. I remember being frustrated that I was not moving as quickly as I would like to through the night. It is what it is. I had to surrender to the pace I was achieving and simply keep going as quickly as I was able to. We all want to get into better space as soon as possible, but that’s not how it works. We have to surrender ourselves to discomfort and remain present in the process. For some, this may mean days, weeks or even years. But as I mention in chapter 7 of The Middle, when I run that section again, in the dark, I will be able to draw from my previous experience. That’s a game changer. No dark period of our lives is a waste.

When dawn broke, I was humbled by what I had been through. I was also grateful for the experience. I didn’t know it at the time, but the emotions that morning light produced was probably a reflection of the many challenges and barriers that I have had to overcome over the years, and a celebration of the fact that no matter how hard some of those moments were, I was able to breakthrough into the light.

Darkness will come our way, but on the other end of that darkness, is the satisfying breakthrough of dawn.

Keep going.

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