Six weeks ago, I heard that North of Copenhagen there would be a 100km march over 24 hours. Without thinking twice, I signed up. I knew I would have only four weeks to train. I knew it would be difficult but I was so curious about how my mind would tackle such a challenge. How would I motivate myself? What would my inner critic say? How would I pull it through till the end? How would I get over the pain and boredom?
Walking 100km in 22 hours and 24 minutes during the Mammut March 2020 was anything but easy. However, I was reminded once again that the power of the mind can be a strong ally when challenges such as physical pain, exhaustion, or my inner critical voice whispered in my ear that I should give up.
We started on Saturday at 11.30 am. The first 20km was a beautiful walk through the forest and around some small lakes, where swans and ducks looked curiously at us. The sun and clouds were playing in the sky and the temperature was just perfect, around 19 degrees Celsius. Life seemed perfect. I was so happy and relaxed, feeling grateful I had made the decision to participate.
Close to kilometer 40, blisters on both heels started to make their presence known. I stopped, used two blister plasters, had some food, got a coffee from the refreshment station and felt ready to continue.
The day became night, and I could feel my body more and more. My partner started to have some pain as well, and the wind started to blow. Along the way we met Lasse, who was walking alone. I started to talk with him, and the time passed quickly, if I can say it that way.
When we reached the 50km sign, which read “When it hurts, there are still 50km left”, all three of us were so excited to already have walked half of the march in only 10 hours. And yes, we were starting to feel the pain, and were looking forward to the next break at the 65km refreshment station.
It was now 1am, and we realized that we had missed the station! I didn’t want to go back, as this meant walking extra, but my partner insisted to go back and find the station (great to have someone keeping you down to earth). We needed more water and a bit of rest. And what a blessing! The station was inside a school. We could sit on a couch for a few moments, warm up, use a “normal” toilet and wash our hands with water, not using just sanitizing gel. It was so interesting how things that we take for granted in life, and don’t pay too much attention to, became such a delight.
After this piece of heaven, which we enjoyed a bit too long – we are human and need comfort, a long period of hell came. Putting my feet on the ground and starting to walk again was so painful. I could feel the blisters, every inch of both feet and all my toes was burning. I started to walk slowly, slowly until finally my pain numbed. Over the last four weekends, I had walked 36km each weekend. I told myself that now I had only one final training left. I found myself remembering when I reached the 38th kilometer of my first marathon, where I told myself “One more training and you are home!”
Walking with a partner started to feel more and more like a love-hate relationship. On the one hand, I loved that we were supporting each other, saying encouraging words, talking and getting to know each other better. On the other hand, I hated to make so many long stops. Actually, I loved the stops, nevertheless the price paid for each stop was excruciating pain. I was determined though to keep on walking and cross the finish line together. We were a team!
The sign at the 80th kilometer made me laugh so much. It said: “Nobody forced you to do this!” Indeed, I was the only one responsible for my decision. I wanted to explore my limits and the power of my mind. I was asking myself if this is the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in my life, and I realized it was not. I remembered while climbing Mont Blanc, I never thought I would reach the peak. I hardly could walk and breathe, and I had no previous experience with endurance. I was frustrated and feeling hopeless. I didn’t know how I’d manage to get down from the mountain with my heavy backpack. I had altitude sickness, and I fell asleep while walking.
Now, I was more experienced. I knew pain, tiredness, the temptation to say “enough” or “I can’t anymore” would come. At times, I was tempted to say “I can’t or I don’t want to walk any longer”. Then I asked myself: “Can you take one more step?” Every time the answer was “yes”, and I knew that if with every step I could take one more step, I would cross the finish line. Immediately, it came to my mind what Fred Kaufman wrote in his book, Conscious Business, about climbing Aconcagua: “I was totally exhausted. I couldn’t imagine summiting this day, and I contemplated heading back down. At that point I remembered my commitment to my unconditional goal—walk till you drop. I decided to keep going until I passed out—which I imagined wouldn’t take very long. Then, a thought burst into my mind, hitting me like an avalanche: There is a finite number of steps from here to the summit, and I am going to walk them one by one. (…) My world boiled down to one more step, one more step. I felt an unexpected surge of energy. I didn’t know where it came from.”
Time was passing, somehow very slowly. I was walking and thinking of my friend Girish Nair who told me about his experience while participating in his first Ironman race. I was feeling deep admiration that this man, like many other men and women, do not walk for so many hours, but they actually swim, cycle and run. Now, I was even more in awe. We, human beings, are much stronger than we believe!
The 90th kilometer came – “Be a Mammut! The last 10km!” I was noticing a wave of strong emotions rushing through my body: exhaustion, joy, fear, gratitude, anxiety, hope… I realized that now the tiredness kicks in, and it’s normal to feel these contradictory emotions. But what I didn’t expect was to burst into tears one kilometer later when, after a 20-minute break a couple of kilometers back, my partner saw a bench and said: “A bench! Let’s sit a few minutes!” Without being able to control myself any longer, the tears rushed out of my eyes and the words out of my mouth: “I can’t stop again! Do whatever you want, but I can’t stop! I can’t!” And more determined than ever, I kept on walking, and he followed. Looking back, I realized how long I had said nothing trying to accommodate his needs. I knew he had pain. We were a team, and I wanted to do all I could to finish together. But I also realized how much I had harmed myself by not speaking up when the breaks were getting way too long.
It’s past 09.30 am the next day, and we walked out of the forest. I heard the waves breaking on the beach. I saw the sand. I heard the voices of people saying: “Go, go, go!” and applauding. These were the final few meters left. At 09.52, we crossed the finish line together. I was smiling and crying at the same time. Tears of joy, as the pain was already part of normality during so many hours. I had made it! We made it! My emotions were rushing again.
I took my shoes off (I had been dreaming of this for so many hours). I saw the biggest blisters I’ve ever had in my life, and I went to dip my feet into the sea. Another piercing pain hit my body when the cold water of the Baltic Sea touched my overheated feet – like lightning striking my entire body. At the same time, I felt relief. I felt strong. I was standing strong on those feet that had carried me for the past many hours and many kilometers. I was proud and humbled. I was grateful for my health. I was grateful for the support I received from my partner, family and friends. I was grateful for all the inspiring people I have met in my life. I was grateful that the march still took place even if the whole Corona situation made it almost impossible, and for the organizers who had worked so hard to make it happen.
In 2008, I couldn’t run after a bus without being exhausted; however, since 2009, I have run several half-marathons, three marathons, I climbed four mountain peaks above 4000m and one almost 6000m high. And now I’ve just walked 100km in a little over 22 hours. Now, I know for sure, that no matter how difficult it is, if I trust myself, my training and my experience, there is nothing that can keep me down. Or even more realistically, no matter how difficult the challenges, I have the strength to stand up again and keep on walking, one step at a time.
And this strength is both physical and mental. During these last 12 years, working daily, with kindness and discipline, my mindset changed greatly and my mental strength increased day by day. It’s not perfect and will never be, but I am more confident, courageous and calmer than I’ve ever been. I might not be naturally gifted in some areas, but I am very determined and have lots of will power. “I can’t”, “I’m not good enough”, “I’m not talented enough” etc are not part of my vocabulary anymore. They have been replaced with “I will give it a try”, “I do all I can with what I have”, “I’m not perfect but I have a lot of will power”, “I don’t give up”.
Even if I don’t like talking about myself, I wanted to share with you this story because I want you to know, you, the one who is reading my humble story, that you are also strong and have all you need to stand up and keep on walking, no matter what life throws at you. Just remember, one step at a time.
Btw, if you don’t believe the last paragraph, let’s have a chat. I’m sure I can change your mind 😊