‘Trusting the process’ first rose to fame within the NBA Philadelphia 76ers basketball team and their manager Sam Hinkie, who used three years of intentional failure to rebuild the team.
But what is the process?
Generally, it means letting go and having faith that things will eventually work out in their own time. Whether that’s working towards financial freedom, starting a degree for a new career path, training for an autumn marathon, or even recovering from illness. During the pandemic many of our targets and ambitions have been put on hold and our familiar routines flipped upside down. Setting goals has often felt like a cruel game of false summits and we’ve had to focus much closer to home instead.
Maintaining progress has been tough. After so many false hopes the top of the mountain still seems too close to believe. For others, life will never be the same again. Our need for certainty often keeps us painfully close to our comfort zones and instant gratification, rather than risking further disappointment.
It would be easy to get frustrated, admit defeat and use the pandemic as an excuse for doing nothing. But there are always steps we can take that aren’t dependent on what’s going around us, however insignificant they might seem. Choosing our narrative is about looking for the opportunities and things we can control. In 2017 I visited some Sherpa friends out in Nepal, Tashi and Lakpa. A few days earlier their teahouse had burnt down in a freak fire. I arrived to a smouldering pile of rubble, and a group of locals rallying to clear up, and a surprisingly optimistic Lakpa. “Don’t worry!” he beamed, “we’ll build a better house!” excitedly showing me the plans for their new development.
In truth, things will always go wrong, and probably when you least expect them. Trusting the process allows good things to emerge from the unknown. It’s also accepting that we rarely know how things are going to work out – otherwise we all would have seen the pandemic coming and bought shares in Amazon or Zoom.
Two weeks before I was due to begin my National 3 Peaks run last August, I sprained my ankle on a training run. Snap, crackle, pop… CURSE!
After wasting countless hours worrying about when to start the run, the decision was made for me. I nearly took this setback as a get-out-of-jail card. But I trusted it must have happened for some reason still to be discovered. Delaying the challenge by two weeks avoided two heatwaves (albeit I did end up running through Storm Francis instead) and gave more time to fundraise. Just a few hours into the challenge itself, the phantom ankle pain had all but disappeared. As my physio always said, other concerns and unexpected problems will usually take their place – sleep deprivation, tendonitis, knee pain, a peroneal sprain, exhaustion and falling asleep in a bus stop. Nine days later I had completed the challenge, raising over £11,000 for Mind Over Mountains.
We usually spend far more time working towards a goal or target than actually achieving it. Sometimes this success comes so gradually that we don’t even notice. If you were to contemplate the concept of wearing face masks, elbow-bumping and keeping two metres apart from loved ones two years earlier you would have probably picked a different DVD from Netflix. Failing to enjoy the journey to get there is a tragic waste of opportunity.
Sometimes the process is simply trusting yourself and what’s worked before. We need the examples of people who faced adversity and not only survived, but used it to achieve even more. Sylvester Stallone was once so poor that he had to sell his dog for $50 to buy food before writing the script for Rocky in three days. Sylvester had always dreamed of starring in the movie himself. He was offered $360,000 for the script on the condition that he didn’t play the starring role. But he believed so strongly in his vision that he declined steadfast. Eventually, the producers relented. Rocky won three Oscars and grossed $200 million.
Since January I’ve been dealing with a chronic knee injury… after falling over a curb in town! After a lump on my knee, more ice packs than a pub freezer, and applying Voltarol just to walk around my flat, it was hard to believe I’d ever hurtle down hills again; feeling the wind in my face, with sheep scuttling off the path. Anxiety creates the worst outcome when dealing with the unknown, and it was easy to lose hope of getting back to what I loved most. Of course, it was important to stay grateful that being unable to run in the hills hardly compares to the hardships suffered by millions during the pandemic. But as an athlete goal-setting is hugely important to me. I had been living in the shadow of my 3 Peaks Run last year: how on earth was I going to ‘top’ that? As time and opportunity seemed to pass by quickly, the lack of progress and achievement was even more frustrating. But patience too is part of the process.
The process has involved lots of cycling, rehab exercises, appointments and carefully monitoring the pain with my physio. This slowly progressed to running every other day, keeping only to flat ground, only to suddenly flare up and revert to square one. But slowly and surely, things fell into place. Last month I completed my first race in over 18 months at the Ullswater Way 20 miler, and I marked my 26th birthday by running the 29-mile Abrahams Tea Round with 10,700ft of height gain. All without any knee pain. Six months was worth the wait! Had I sought proper advice and given the knee more rehab at the beginning I would’ve most likely resumed full training much sooner. Before my Everest attempts I had stopped running altogether because the risk of injury was too great, and the end goal became bigger than short term gratification. There’s no cutting corners with the process: it will always catch up with us.
So… what’s next?
I’m excited to announce that later this month I’ll be attempting to run the Bob Graham Round, a continuous 66-mile run over 42 Lake District fells with over 27,000ft of vertical ascent, all within 24 hours. Earning this iconic Lakeland fell-running token has been within my sights for over five years. Now that I live next to the Lake District, my excuses are running a bit weak (pun intended). I’ve never ran for 24 hours before, but the unknown brings a healthy dose of fear and excitement.
I’ll be starting from the Moot Hall in Keswick at 18:00, aiming to return less than 23 hours later (before the fish & chip shop closes). Traditionally you’d have a team of pacers and support crew, but for flexibility and the personal challenge, I will be attempting this solo and self-supported, stashing supplies en-route. This adds a whole new dynamic, but an extra challenge and independence to relish, where it’s just me versus the fells. I’ll be sharing more about my planning, training, doubts and lessons on social media over the coming weeks as I prepare for the things within my control.
Losing access to what I loved most brought it’s own mental health challenges and low mood. But during the pandemic many people have suffered far far worse. That’s why we founded Mind Over Mountains, a charity restoring mental health through outdoor experiences. Not everyone is as lucky as me, so I’d be hugely grateful for any donations to help more people to access the help they deserve: https://localgiving.org/charity/mindovermountains/
The pandemic has been the perfect training: a real-life ultra-marathon that none of us entered. We’ve had countless false summits, peaks and troughs, a lonely dark period, exhaustion, overwhelm, feeling lost. If we keep moving one foot in front of the other, things will always work out when the time is right. Even falling over a curb is part of the process.
More details and a tracking page coming soon. Onwards, upwards, downwards, and back up again!