In 2007/8 I conducted a personal growth experiment by tackling the Gobi March a 250km ultra marathon across the toughest terrain in the world. This is a bit of that story and what I discovered on…and didn't expect.
Alone, with the sun setting behind me in the cooling desert after 230km of the 250km Gobi March, I stumble on, wanting, hoping, and dreaming of the end.
I think I am slowly becoming delirious. My feet scream with every step and I can feel the blisters squelching in my shoes. My mouth has become so dry the tongue literally sticks to the palette.
An antagonistic voice rises in my head, it’s mockery unrelenting.
Why did you do this?
What are your trying to prove?
Why don’t you just QUIT?
“Because quitting out here is death they told me!” so I carry on—jogging and walking in a half daze…anything BUT stopping.
Today, people love to ask me why I did it.
“Why would you put yourself through such hell?”
And the answer is something I love to give them…
People all over the world are flocking to events like the Gobi March because of the BIG personal benefits associated with doing something truly epic in your life.
When I returned from the Gobi March my entire perspective on life had changed. Some of the blows life had dealt me pre-race had felt like massive uppercuts. But after the race, after I crossed the finish line, tears streaming down my dust-crusted face the world changed. Everything else in my life seemed easier.
Most of life’s challenges were now minor obstacles to be broken down, and worked through. Many of the little things that used to bother me faded away. I didn’t concern myself with petty issues any more. And when big issues become small issues, life and work are set for big improvements.
- Confidence and esteem
This first race was the greatest personal triumph of my life because I did it alone. It wasn’t glorious. There weren’t throngs of people there to congratulate me. But the personal pride I felt as I stepped across the line felt electric. I developed a new inner confidence, one that I keep inside today and no one can touch.
- Total commitment
During the peak of my training I was running more than 100km a week. On a particular Wednesday, my schedule called for a half-marathon to be run. I didn’t have time after work which meant I needed to run 21.1 km before work. So I woke up at 5 AM and did just that. By 7:30am I was at my desk, eating my breakfast. I felt SO alive. I put in a full day’s work, went to a function that night, and then crashed into bed exhausted at the end of the day.
Doing something epic is like climbing without ropes—you have to go all-in or you perish. You have to continuously push yourself into new territory in order to survive and when that happens, your territory gets bigger. Forever.
- A new and awesome network
In the process of preparing and raising money for charity I met dozens of really cool people that I still call friends today. And then in the race it was like a haven for legendary people. Everyone there was high quality professional, CEO or all round champion human being and we all sat around the campfire at night telling stories.
I never did this for reputation but it made a massive impact on people’s perception of me in my current network. I immediately had some of my oldest friends and colleagues introducing me as, “the crazy guy that runs across deserts.” Which I sort of didn't really want but at least it started some conversations on an interesting note.
“Why the hell do you do that?”
It baffled people, but positioned me as someone different.
And in this ever-shrinking, ever-crowded world, being able to stand out is an advantage.
Difference and challenge attract and draw people in and when I did Atacama a few years later, one of my mates joined me (and beat me!).
When I speak at conferences or as a speaker in large corporates they invariably mention this in my bio. It gets attention and adds some extra credibility.
- Smashing big goals
The school of hard-knocks teaches you how to smash big goals.
When major projects or opportunities present themselves, you can draw on the lessons you’ve learned from doing something epic to smash them.
There is no substitute for that.
Most people never attempt big goals because their mind is full of objections like, “I’m not an athlete” or “I don’t have time in my life already so how would I do this?”
The thing about big goals like this is that you find a way to learn something new or get fitter so you can get a little further along the journey. You find something that inspires you—like climbing Kilimanjaro, or completing the Camino trail—and you find a way to get it done.
When you settle on something epic, make it congruent by involving your family in the training, doing it with your partner, or raising money for charity. I raised money for Bravehearts and it kept me going at least once or twice when the chips were down in training or during the run.
The greatest victories are closer than you think…but the window of opportunity for doing them gets smaller every day. Just do it.