Room for Doubt in a Runner’s Journey?

After my 12K hill run last night I decided on renting the documentary “Running the Sahara” as it came highly recommended by a good friend. This documentary was very touching to see how they positively impacted the lives of the people with whom they encountered on their run.  Charlie Engle, Ray Zahab, and Kevin Lin ran for 111 days straight across the entire Sahara desert for a total distance of 170 marathons – 6,290 kilometers (4,300 miles). They did not take a complete day off in all that distance!

As I watched the video I could not help to think about my training for a 1/2 marathon as quite infinitesimal to this unparalleled  expedition.  I decided to watch the movie for two reasons. The first reason was to pick up some tips which might help me with my training as a runner. The second was to get a glimpse of parts of the world seldom seen on television in such an intimate manner.

I found as I watched the beautiful landscapes, the people, the endurance that I could understand why three people might be willing to take on such a difficult journey. Incidentally, before I watched  “Running the Sahara” I thought of running a marathon was a long distance to run.  I wonder if I will ever perceive it in the same way again?

The theme of doubt was revealed as one of the major impediments to completing log distances successfully. Even in the small distances I currently run, I have had glimpses of how much of an impact this has on a run. The more doubt that is allowed to creep into the forefront of consciousness makes every step that much harder to take.  Mentally this extra effort impacts your focus, rhythm and objectives. I can see how a wandering mind is not the ideal state to have when running. When I ran on Boxing Day 2009 in a 10 mile race there was a hill towards the end of the race that in my mind was made into a  mountain.  That was one of the hardest hills I have climbed on a race so far. Had I not made it into a mountain then I am certain it would have been far easier to pass.

Kevin Lin said in “Running the Sahara” that there is no room for doubt. I think that there is more to this then a general bravado at the beginning of an extremely long venture. That is not to say that it can not enter into consciousness. Each time when I have experienced doubt  I try to  recognize that it is happening. I then refocus myself on practicing mindful running. I start to mentally note different aspects of the run inside and out or follow my breath.  After practicing this for a while the doubt usually disappears.  Sometimes it takes a good song to interrupt the pattern with a past anchor but usually mindful noting will do the trick. This is an ongoing part of my practice I hope to continue to develop.

The source of the doubt is likely different for each person and the solution may be as well. Understanding the nature of it seems to provide the path in which to unlock it. After watching the accomplishment being completed it became clear these three runners truly conquered the ability to control both their body and — most importantly — their mind.  It was very rewarding to see how adept they were at dealing with the doubt when it arose.

Running the Sahara

Running the Sahara - Photograph by Don Holtz

One one of the most poignant points Ray Zahab alluded to in a comment about the achievement of running long distances is that it is effectively all within your own control. He said, “I was able to convince myself to finish … I learned that any limitations that we have are ones that we set upon ourselves. If you think you can only run 5 or 10k, you can have  set upon ourselves. Its where you set those goals.” I believe this wholeheartedly and I am thankful to have had the opportunity to have already glimpsed this realization.

He was clearly talking about the long term goals because in the short term I have been told it is possible to push your body beyond its limits and ultimately get injured.  In the documentary each runner knew when he needed to stop. In a much smaller scale, I find for me the rest days are as important as the hard training days. And when running, the best runs so far are the ones when I am most tuned to my body and knowing when to stop seems an integral part of being successful.

Here are a few of the quotes that I think represent very important realizations as a new runner to experience and ultimately transform.

“You are running across an area of the earth that is so arid and a so empty but so beautiful.”

“I am driven when I do it.”

“What do I want to do next? Rest.”

H20 Africa FoundationLastly I am humbled that this documentary has lead to the development of a real sustainable Africa Smart project to provide clean drinking water to people and transform their lives for the better.  A foundation called H2O Africa Foundation is doing great work in Africa with the ability to make a significant difference in the daily lives of many people. I urge anyone reading this to consider supporting this very worthy cause.

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One Comment on "Room for Doubt in a Runner’s Journey?"


  1. [...] clear that the mind has a very important capacity to support or deter progress on the road. When doubt…

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