You've got one life. Make it count. Live for yourself, on your terms.
Whoever told you what truly matters is where you get to in life, lied. The only thing we can be sure of is that we will die. That is why I often tell myself: How you live before you die matters. Where you die does not.
When looked at from that perspective, the journey is more important than the destination. When I look around, it pains me. Everybody is too focused on the destination, on those sheets of paper, pieces of metal, hollow designations and the concrete boxes we live in.
You’ve got one life. Make it count. Live for yourself, on your terms. Those who matter are the ones who questioned status quo. They push the limits set by society and experts in it. And I have a lot of stories to tell of such people.
To begin with, allow me to share this note I received from Mark Wooley, one of the most celebrated ultra marathon runners in Spain after the latest edition of La Ultra, the cruellest run on earth—an event I thought up.
You really have created the world’s finest masterpiece of ultra running, a canvas 72 hours long and 333km wide in the Indian Himalayas. Upon this canvas are the runners—the artists who paint their art as they make their way over the most beautiful of majestic mountains.
But I have a problem. I spilt the paint, I was clumsy and the art I left behind on your perfect canvas is flawed. The paint ran over the edges and that just won’t do. Art is meant to be perfect and anything less just isn’t art. It is a mess. I will have to start this painting again.
Your good friend, Mark
He missed the 72-hour cut-off time by 54 minutes. He finished 222km at La Ultra in 2012 and then came back to attempt 333km in 2014 and 2015. Last year, he was leading until 318km. Then he suddenly collapsed. He couldn’t move. He just had to cover 15km in four hours.
Think of this man as a gladiator who has been beaten not once, but twice. He wasn’t furious. Instead, the gladiator relooks the opponent with respect, and says he’s going to come back and give it a shot when he is better prepared. Our system calls such people losers. I think of them as high performers.
A 22-year-old wild-card entry into the event, Parvez Malik, a ragpicker, comes to mind. He had not run ever till six months before this gruelling event.
He took to it when he was part of the crew at the Garhwal Runs where he was practically thrown out of the car to walk along with the last participant. What started as a walk morphed into a run until he did 51km because it was a lot of fun.
I offered to prepare him for 111km at the La Ultra. One day, he could be on cloud nine for having run 93km and the next day, I’d ground him because he couldn’t manage 90 minutes. This happened because I’d increase the pace to levels he couldn’t manage for too long. This was important in training for a run like La Ultra. Lows follow, much like in life, soon after the highs. He had to learn how to prepare for them.
Eventually, he not only finished running 111km, but blew away seasoned runners with a good finish time.
True champions and leaders can come from practically any background.
To get back to my original point, the journey is more important than the destination alone. Sean Maley from the UK, who eventually came first at La Ultra, followed a simple strategy. He had plans A, B and C, but knew that he couldn’t plan for too far ahead. He was just prepared to dig deep and take it as it came. As Mike Tyson once put it: “Everyone has a plan till they get punched in the mouth."
For the same reason, Maley took the course one bit at a time and relooked at it when he was close to what he had in mind or breached the limit in his head or reached there. He eventually broke the 333km barrier by making it a series of challenges.
Darek (Dariusz) Zwyciezca from Poland, another veteran runner, met with an accident at age 8 and was in a coma for two months. He had to relearn how to talk, walk, read and write. Experts didn’t think he would ever walk again. He first picked up cycling and then running. Today, he runs the most difficult of ultra marathons in the world—not to win, but simply to finish, because society gave him no chance of even walking again. For him, it’s about pushing his boundaries further.
High achievers set their own goals when there is nowhere else to get to. The 52-year-old Hungarian Szónyi Ferenc struggled to get past the 333km mark. But even before the pain evaporated, he suggested we plan a 555km run the next time around. That’s exactly what champions are made of. They keep pushing their limits.
Let’s be very clear, an event like La Ultra attracts triple Type A personalities who happen to be very grounded as well. They are simply amazing human beings. To play a long innings as high performers in life, these qualities are very important. Any less, you either never get there or don’t last long enough.