When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.
– Henry Ford
A while back, I asked a good friend of mine to share her favourite inspirational quote. Her mantra. The words she would meditate on when things were tough. When she shared with me these words of Henry Ford’s, in all honestly, I was slightly underwhelmed. It doesn’t seem especially positive, does it?!
But I’ve thought of my friend and those words often over the months. And when, on a Saturday afternoon I found myself battling against gale force winds of up to 50 miles per hour in torrential rain through fields and hills in North Wales in the famous “Race the Train”, I think I finally, maybe, “got it”.
To put her quote in context, I’ll tell you a little of my friend’s story (she’s given me permission). She didn’t have the easiest time growing up, but she and her older sister found solace in sport. As kids, they’d set up obstacle courses in the garden and pretend they were show jumping champions. Their invisible horses would compete over the most daring of fences to the imaginary applause of spectators. As they grew older, athletic ability was spotted in her sister, who trained under top coaches, and my friend tagged along to her sister’s training as well. Her talent quickly shone through, and she advanced, training throughout her teens to then represent her country at the Commonwealth Games, placing 2nd at an international meet in Belgium, and was on track for the Olympics.
It was when she was in the GB squad for the Olympic training programme that she was thrown an unexpected, smack-you-in-the-face, curve ball. She was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease and within a short space of time, her years of overcoming, discipline and training, when most teenagers were out partying, and her dreams of racing on the world stage at the Olympics, all fell apart as she was faced with this complex and life-altering health condition, which left her unable to train or compete.
Those must have been dark years that followed, as she adjusted not only to the loss of her career and identity as a world class athlete, but also coming to terms with a disease that meant every choice she made daily could affect her health. She found herself in hospital several times over the years, and even now is continuously learning about her body, what can trigger ill health and how to stay well.
But she didn’t crawl into a cave and disappear into feeling sad for herself, as I think I might have done. She’s rebuilt her life and has an incredible husband, a miracle baby, a successful career and business. She’s a member of a local running club (which is where I met her) and even though she’s not able to race as she used to, and has to be very careful to look after herself, she still smashes it running. I’d say she’s inspirational, but that possibly sounds patronising. What I mean is, I wish I had half of her tenacity.
Back to my race, and I was a bit of an emotional wreck as I thought of the metaphor contained in my friend’s favourite quote, of fighting against the wind being the very conditions in which to take off. Your greatest disappointments or setbacks can become the environment for giving birth to your new story in the next chapter of your life, a story of overcoming, survival, and determination.
As I ran against the relentless wind, I put my head down and imagined I was a battering ram forcing my way through castle gates. I thought of my friend. I thought of the girls and women I run for in my 30 races challenge. I thought of how sometimes life can be unfair and cruel and sometimes people endure pain and battle the unimaginable, but that this doesn’t need to be the end of their story.
The charity I run for, A21, has an incredible aftercare programme designed to rehabilitate survivors of sex trafficking, assisting with their physical and psychological health needs, and creating a safe space to recover from the trauma of their experience. It is thanks to incredible organisations like this that victims of violence are able to rebuild their lives and move forward into a better future, taking off against the wind.
Race the train was one of my favourite races. I’ve wanted to run this iconic race ever since I first heard about it a year ago, before I’d even completed my first half marathon. I chased after the whistle of the steam engine leaving the station, knowing I wouldn’t catch the train, but giving everything I could to the chase. The scenery was stunning and despite the poor weather the Welsh hills stood proud. The race was tough, the rain and the wind adding a new level of difficulty to the terrain that delayed the times of even the fastest runners. But I think mostly it was my favourite because although it had been a difficult week personally, and I experienced a little discomfort in my back and feet (I’d show you the ugly photo of my post-race feet but you might never forgive me!), it put into perspective for me just how little I have to worry about in the grand scheme of things, of of much I have to be thankful for, and how our difficulty can become our opportunity for better days ahead.
I’m running 30 races for 30 years to support the work of anti-trafficking charity A21. Here are the races I’ve completed so far:
Muskathon, Bulgaria to Greece (Race 9 – blog to follow!)
Man Vs Horse, Llanwrtyd Wells, Powys (Race 10 – blog to follow!)
Race the Train, Tywyn, Gwynnedd (Race 13 – blog to follow!)
Severn Bridge Half Marathon, Monmouthshire/Avon (Race 14 – blog to follow!)
South Wales Trails Half Marathon, Rhondda Cynon Taf (Race 15 – blog to follow!)
Images of the train from http://www.talyllyn.co.uk.