Mud, Sweat and Tears is an autobiography by extreme-adventurer Bear Grylls. What does Bear Grylls have to do with trail and ultra running? Absolutely nothing…and yet at the same time everything.
Bear leads his readers through his early childhood growing up on a remote island off the coast of Britain where his adventures started at a young age. Then at age eight he was sent away by his parents to boarding school, where he lived in fear of bullies and eventually attended Eton College where once again Bear was the target of bullying but also found his identity and purpose through both mountaineering and martial arts. After college Bear spent most of his early adult life living from one adventure to the next and even with his privileged upbringing survived by earning just enough money between adventures to barely get by while planning his next adventure. Thankfully it only takes Bear 100 pages to set the stage for the last 300 pages of adventure and for me motivation.
Mud, Sweat and Tears really picks up steam when Bear embarks on the notoriously grueling selection course for the British Special Forces to join the elite Special Air Service unit 21 SAS. It was a journey that would push him to the very limits of physical and mental endurance. I’m not saying it’s exactly the same, but if you’ve ever run a 100 mile endurance run you’ll easily relate to both the mental and physical anguish Bear describes during his training and selection. At times I found myself thinking “that’s no big deal, I could do that” only to turn the page and my next thought was “scratch that…I just DNF’d”. Passage after passage, page after page I found myself relating to endurance runs Bear describes in regards to his SAS training.
Just when the book made me believe Bear was destined for British Special Forces SAS greatness disaster struck (for Bear, not me). Bear broke his back in three places in a free-fall parachuting accident in Africa. According to Bear his doctors questioned if he would ever walk again. But of course he did…we’ve all seen him on TV in Man vs. Wild. Within eighteen months Bear became, at that time, one of the youngest climbers to ever reach the summit on Mt. Everest. It was during these chapters where Bear describes his adventure on Mt. Everest that I fell in love with this book. Over the past several years I’ve probably read close to twenty books on the subject of Mt. Everest and different expeditions that have taken place. But something about Bear’s retelling of his acclimatization and scaling of the world’s highest summit totally engrossed me. Maybe it was the fact we had 5 straight days of record cold temperatures here in Arizona while I was reading this book. Maybe it was the wind howling outside my house at 3:00 a.m. when I read about his summit in 40 m.p.h. winds threatening to blow them off the ice face. Maybe it was my ability to relate when in an oxygen deprived state it was all he could do to take another step (I’ve felt this way many times late in an ultra race but it wasn’t due to oxygen deprivation). Most likely it was just a combination of all these things.
There is a quote in the book from Walt Unsworth from his book Everest: The Mountaineering History that describes the character of the men and women who pit their all on the mountain.
But there are men for whom the unattainable has a special attraction.
Usually they are not experts: their ambitions and fantasies are strong enough to brush aside the doubts which more cautious men might have.
Determination and faith are the strongest weapons.
At best such men are regarded as eccentric; at worst, mad…
Three things they all had in common: faith in themselves, great determination, and endurance.
Sound familiar? It does if you’re a trail runner and have ever competed in an ultra distance race.
I liked Bear Grylls on Man vs. Wild but only watched with mild interest. Since reading his autobiography though I have become a bigger fan of Bear Grylls the man. This book was very motivational for me, it was a good reminder that it doesn’t take an extraordinary person to accomplish extraordinary feats. It takes faith in ourselves, determination and the ability to keep moving forward when you want to stop. I’ll leave you with one last quote by Bear on how, and when to go that extra mile.
The time to do it is when it is tough – when all around you are slowing and quitting and complaining.
It is about understanding that the moment to shine brightest is when all about you is dark.
If you haven’t already or if you’re a fan of Bear Grylls or not, I highly recommend reading this book. Especially during that last week when you’re tapering for your first or next 100 mile trail ultra and need that extra mental boost to see you through to the end.
Mt. Everest Photo credit