Real Resilience; Witnessing the Ultra


The sun is still in the sky but it’s raining. It’s been around 12 hours since he left Killarney.

I’ve just watched him use cello-tape to mask the pain of a blister. 8 hours ago he first mentioned that his hamstring was sore – EIGHT hours ago. Everywhere, his body is on fire. There is pain in every inch of him. But still he moves on. He changes his socks. He drinks porridge and coffee and some orange drink full of electrolytes. And he leaves again; running, climbing; reaching. No one has asked him to do this. No one has said he has to. Everyone would understand if he decided to stop.

But he doesn’t. He can’t – he won’t. He will continue until it’s over. Even though it is acceptable – far less dangerous, too – if he stops. Even though his legs are exploding with pain and it’s getting dark; he will continue.

This is pain he has volunteered for. With the sole purpose of simply seeing if he can do it.

There is still around 13 hours left before he will stop, but that isn’t clear yet. At this point he’s ran just over 100 kilometres.

And before dawn he will run a hundred more.

If you want to talk about mental toughness, you go and talk to my brother.

Resilience is referenced a lot in mental health these days – maybe too often – but I don’t think true mental toughness is as common as we’re told.

The ability to persevere through the hardest experiences imaginable is extraordinarily rare. It’s rare because it’s difficult, and we are programmed to seek easier options.

This ability does crop up, though. We persevere when we have no other available options. If there is only one route forward then we have to take it. If we are given multiple choices, we often select the path of least resistance.

And so, what is rarer than this ability to persevere, are those among us who seek out the undoable, the seemingly impossible. They seek out the hardest tasks simply to test their resilience, their mental toughness, their ability to refuse the simpler path.

And this is the purest form of mental resilience. It is not common. It is not easy. But those who have it seem to have the strongest minds on the planet.

We can’t all be at this level. That much is clear. But we can learn from it. We can be inspired by it. And when things get tough for us, maybe these people can remind us that our minds and bodies can withstand anything if we want it badly enough.

My brother is one of these people. His name is Cillian. If you want to know about mental toughness you don’t even need to speak to him:

Simple watch. Simply observe how he lives.

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