Stress-busting tips from up a mountain

Beam’s Dan Grimshaw wrote the piece below for Trail Running magazine, where he extols the virtue of running up mountains as the perfect antidote to workplace stress.

Eleven hours in and another 35k to go and it’s starting to get tough. You take in the alpine scenery – watch people doing sensible things like swimming and hiking – and ask yourself why you did not just come on holiday instead. But that would be far too easy and obviously not half as much fun.

In the run-up to the race, ticking off trails including the Ultra X 125 England, Endurancelife, and Maverick Adidas TERREX UTSJC, had all given my confidence a boost over the past couple of years. But the Mozart 100 ultra-trail – at 108 kilometres and 5.000 meters of positive elevation on a loop over two mountains in Salzburg, Austria, – was something new and felt like a big step up. And when you consider you add one kilometre for every hundred metres of elevation on a mountain run, equivalent of 160km on the flat, it is more like four marathons in one day. Scary stuff.

Initially, I started running because I loved being outside and in nature. And since setting up Beam Development in 2011, it has been a way of helping me handle the stress of managing projects and scaling up operations. Now that I am busier than ever, managing clients and leading a sizeable workforce, being able to run and switch off has become even more important.

Back in Austria, and I was enjoying the race and the serenity that comes with knowing you have nothing to do but put one foot in front of the other until the race is done. I liked the stillness in my head, that almost meditative-like state that running brings you. But sadly, it was not to last. With more than 30kims to go, I hit a mental and physical wall; temperatures were touching 34 degrees; I was mentally and physically exhausted, and the thought of carrying on felt like madness.

Luckily, what got me out of the hole was something I’ve done before when ski mountaineering (another mountain sport I love). It is quite simple; it just involves counting steps from one to 100, patting yourself on the back and smiling, and then starting the count all over again from the beginning. It’s a great distraction and good for your rhythm; and because everything else is too painful to think about you can focus on that and nothing else. I did that for 10 or 15 minutes until I had steadied myself and made it to the last major aid stop. A much-need pause and some welcome cold towels and my next round of nutrition, was like a miraculous reset. Deciding to break the remainder of the course into five kilometres sections and promising myself not to look at my watch too often, I was back on the road, and even starting to enjoy it. Well, if you can call it enjoyment.

I completed the Mozart-100 – part of the UMTB World Series, ‘the world's ultimate trail-running circuit that unites the sport's biggest stars and passionate runners’ – in 17:39:55, 278 out of a field of 455, and was chuffed. I can only describe the feeling crossing the finishing line as one of pure contentment, mixed with relief that was all over. The sense of accomplishment and satisfaction was overwhelming.

I’m sure the endurance and positive attitude required to get round an ultra-course are something lots of business owners would relate to. Running for that length of time and distance gives you a new perspective. However, reconciling the benefits of flogging yourself half to death up a mountain can take a bit of explaining to other people. For me, the best way to describe it, is when you do something that is bigger, harder, longer, or more difficult than you’ve ever done before, makes everything else up to that point seem easier. Similarly, in my work, I like taking on more and more challenging projects, and avoid doing the same thing over and over.

And the future? Completing Mozart 100 has qualified me to enter the UTMB (Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc), a 170km race around Mont Blanc with 10,000m of elevation, one of the most famous races in mountain trail running. That will be the culmination of a five-year project – and then – who knows…