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CHALLENGE: Finding sense in a journey without end

Updated: Apr 13, 2021

Athletes strive for success, for progress. For things to go a little faster and feel a little easier tomorrow than they did today. For the ability to overcome bigger and more daunting challenges. For proof that hard work brings them that little bit closer to the top of the mountain, to their wild frontier. KOTWF athlete and distance runner Arne Dumez reflects on his own journey and why this past year may have been the most successful in his athletic career.

KOTWF athlete Arne Dumez runs through Swinley Forest

The destination has always been my focal point. I have always bought into the goal-driven approach to training, fully aware of its pitfalls. Wednesday’s sore legs are a welcome reminder of the pain I inflicted on myself the night before and I always embrace them because I know that, in the long run, this is what will make me the athlete I want to be. The endless repetition of pain, recovery, pain, recovery, pain, recovery is what will get me where I want to go. In good times, it is in the weathering, navigating and planning of that cycle that lies the main challenge or athletes and coaches.

In bad times, the challenge shifts to something more personal. It’s a pretty simple equation, but take away the foresight of progression and all you are left with is that cycle of pain and recovery - the physical. Whether it be because of injury, illness, life circumstances or global pandemics, sometimes athletes end up going around in circles seemingly just for the sake of it. That is where some will run on faith, some on sheer heart and others simply stop.

Now that a pandemic has made it practically impossible to look ahead with any certainty, doubt is occasionally allowed to creep in. Have I lost my way? Am I moving fast enough? Why aren’t I moving faster? Why am I still going? Races are like checkpoints. They are a great opportunity to check with yourself as a competitor and see where you are at. They give you a good indication of how far from the top you are, how much further you have to go.

These checkpoints have been taken away from us. As much as we pretend otherwise, time trials are not the same thing. In my case, they tend to fall into the training log as another hard session except they are just that notch harder than usual. An accent in the usual spiral.

KOTWF athlete Arne Dumez and physiologist and pilates instructor Esther Goldsmith runs through Swinley Forest while smiling

But that doesn’t mean we have to stop. Since when is that spiral not good enough anymore? Since when does there have to be an end? When did we start pretending that we did this for anything but the sheer love of it? I realise I am privileged in the sense that I have always found pleasure in the hard work of training, probably just as much as I do in the racing. But still, for me like for everyone else, the challenge now lies in cherishing purpose in the present.

Like many, my foresight has shifted inwards towards my weaknesses. When the destination is clear to see, it is all too easy to succumb to rushing. Sometimes a bit of mist is needed to stop building the next floor up and spend some time on the foundations. That is exactly what I have done. For one, I have always struggled with confidence in myself and my abilities, especially under the weight of expectation. This year has been a great reminder that, at the end of the day, a race is nothing more than a few fast laps of a track. I have found comfort in the realisation that there are much more important things to worry about. A bad race is not going to brand me as 'useless'. That pressure starts and ends with me. There is a lot of confidence to be found in hard, sensible training, and I like to think I have found a way to tap into that.

Combine this more serene and mature mentality with a newfound focus on injury prevention, strength and conditioning and running-to-real-life balance, and you've got a better all round athlete. Honestly, I cannot pretend I have it figured out as perfectly as it may seem from these ramblings, but I have been building something. Something strong. And I’m bringing it with me to my frontier, wherever that may be. This past year may not have offered the usual challenges we seek, but we have all fought our own unique battles. There is gratification, satisfaction and confidence to be found there too - we all deserve it.

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