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My friend Zoe took this photo of graffiti on the Parkland Walk, an amazingly beautiful and somewhat hidden away woodland trail in north London, minutes from our house. It was one of my absolute favourite places to run, with or without Zoe. I remember running by this graffiti and the words sticking in my head.  What would I do if I weren’t afraid?

Zoe posted this photo 115 weeks ago, some 2 years 3 months – around the time that I raced my very first half Ironman, Ironman 70.3 Haugesund, in Norway. That was already a huge leap for me. When I contemplated doing a full Ironman, I thought to myself, it’s not fear holding me back – it’s just common sense. I can’t do an Ironman. That’s not fear, that’s just being rational.

But it stuck in my head. What would I do if I weren’t afraid? What would I do if I weren’t afraid?

I’ve talked about Kathrine Switzer before, the first woman in the world to race a marathon, in my Thanks Paula, Thanks Kathrine post about running the London Marathon this year. Kathrine talks about the fear she felt when the race officials attacked her mid-race, trying to drag her off course:

That was how scared I felt, as well as deeply humiliated, and for just a tiny moment, I wondered if I should step off the course. I did not want to mess up this prestigious race. But the thought was only a flicker. I knew if I quit, nobody would ever believe that women had the capability to run 26-plus miles. If I quit, everybody would say it was a publicity stunt. If I quit, it would set women’s sports back, way back, instead of forward.

Kathrine finished that race, and many more since (in blistering times!), and most recently started up 261 Fearless, an organisation to promote women in sport. The organisation’s describes itself as “a global community of women, be she a walker, jogger, runner, or front of the pack racer, who have found strength, power and fearlessness from putting one foot in front of the other.”

There is no doubt that sport empowers us. A run in the rain is one of the best cures for a bad day at work, in my opinion – allowing you some ownership over your day. Some people take baby steps – I did. I started with a sprint triathlon, then an Olympic, then a half Ironman, and just when I thought I could go no further, I signed up for my first ultramarathon and my first Ironman.  My friend Karis didn’t need baby steps. She went from sprint tri to Ironman in one fell swoop. Some people will never do more than a 5K. The distance doesn’t matter. It’s learning to believe that you can do whatever you decide you want to do that does matter. And you learn this just one step at a time, one run at a time.

I’m not one for inspirational quotes and rah rah cheering. I like to get on with things and get the job done. But I do believe that every single person out there can do it if they believe they can do it, and for that reason I was honoured to be asked to be an ambassador for 261 Fearless to promote women in sport, to empower women through sport.

I now have a couple of ultramarathons under my belt and I’m currently training for my second full Ironman, which takes place in just 5 weeks. Training is really tough. I’m beginning to realise that I just don’t like being out on the bike for so long. Whether I race another Ironman distance after this one or not, however, I will know that the decision is based entirely on choice rather than fear.

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Pre-dawn swims, but the pool is much warmer here than in London!

 

2 Comments

  1. Great post, Julia. Well said.