‘Don’t fight the terrain’ is the probably the best advice I have ever been given. It holds much the same sentiment as ‘know which battles to fight’ or ‘live to fight another day’.
But the thing with advice is the context. Throughout our lives we are often given good advice and often it will fall on deaf ears because, let’s face it our egos or pride always know better. But there are those times when for whatever reason, be it place, time or person when it will strike a chord and resonates; when you do hear it and when it has an impact and will stay with you.
In the case of ‘don’t fight the terrain’ it was the advice offered by Richard Donovan (runner and race director) as he briefed us before the start of the Antarctic 100km in 2013. It was exactly the right time and the right place. I took it on board and used it to great effect managing to run a steady and consistent race in trying conditions – even for the Antarctic. And it has stayed with me.
How often have we as runners fought the terrain? I certainly have. The first time I ran the Highland Fling I battled through the technical section between Invernsaid and Beinglas, making no great speed or gain and wasting considerable mental and physical energy that would have been better saved for the final 12 miles most of which I walked. I have run the Highland Fling twice since and rather than hitting the technical terrain head on I have relaxed into it and gone with the flow letting the terrain determine my pace, knowing that any loss of time here will be made up later because I will have reserves of energy and strength to go that bit faster on the easier ground. In each of the subsequent runs I have been significantly faster overall. I am intelligent enough to know that is not all down the not fighting the terrain, but it has played a significant part.
It has not just been the Fling, over the years I have battled with hills, rocks, bogs, vegetation, weather letting dogged determination and stubbornness win over common sense.
When I was younger my parents used to say that if there was a difficult way of doing something I would find it. They were probably right. I see the same trait in my eldest daughter, and it is probably seeing it in her that makes me realise my parents were right. As I have matured this has developed into something more positive: the desire to challenge myself; and failure is not an option (which I am informed is an eldest child characteristic). In my running I have taken on increasingly difficult challenges in terms of distance, duration and environment. I have developed the physical and mental strength to face these challenges and learned to use that hand-in-hand with not fighting the terrain.
Not fighting the terrain does not just apply to the running. It is equally valid in life and the work environment. Perhaps in the work environment it is seen more as knowing which battles to fight. I am the same in my work. I take on challenging clients and projects and display the same strength and determination to succeed gaining a reputation as a firefighter, a fixer: the go-to person when something is in trouble.
Currently I find myself very much fighting the terrain and I do not know why. You could argue that the nature of my work and the project’s that I get engaged to fix and deliver are by definition difficult terrain, but this terrain is especially difficult.
It is a toxic environment. I have been and am faced with difficult and unreasonable customers; colleagues who at best are unsupportive and at worst back-stabbing and worst of all work-place bullying. My stress levels are high and I am suffering from disturbed sleep and nightmares. About six weeks ago I almost walked away. I recognise that for some strange reason I am fighting the terrain. Why?
Since starting this entry events have overtaken my thoughts. I left work last Tuesday, knowing that I had to take some time for me and my head. I had to assess the terrain that I am battling and facing. At that point I had no idea if I would go back or not. My heart says no. My head says both yes and no. It is not going to get much better in spite of the changes that I am told have been put in place. However, I have to be pragmatic. I am the sole earner for my family and at this time of year the market dries up. I leave now and there most likely will not be a new contract until late January. It is a horrible dilemma.
What do I do? Firstly, I have to ‘man up’ and go back in at least to talk and then I have to assess further and see if that terrain is going to be any easier and then I have to make the decision that is right for my health both physical and metal.
But first of all I have to face that huge rocky climb that is my anxiety about even setting foot back in that environment.
Give me the trails, mountains, altitude and arctic ice any day. I know where I am with them. I can face them, I can respect them. Whilst they can be mercurial, changeable and dangerous they are straightforward and uncomplicated: no politics, no spite no prejudice.