Unlike business, running hasn’t always been a passion of mine. In fact, it wasn’t until my 30s that I even attempted to run my first kilometre. Completing that kilometre was more of a challenge than I had anticipated, and it was at that time that I decided to make a lifetime commitment to keeping fit. Running led to cycling, which led to various other sports and fitness pursuits.
At age 40, I decided to give marathons a try. Over the next decade, I completed over 40 marathons and half-marathons until I was faced with the unexpected loss of a dear friend and training partner. His death inspired a period of deep reflection about my life and limits. Through a chance meeting, I was introduced to the sport of multi-stage, ultra-marathons.
I immediately saw running 250 kilometres in some of the remotest parts of the world as a way of testing both my physical and mental limits, and a way of adding new purpose to my life.
Fast forward 9 years, and I have completed three ultra-marathons in all different parts of the world. Whether running in the exotic Peruvian Amazon, the stifling Sahara or the frost-bitten planes of Iceland, my experiences have always been formative – changing my outlook on life and, even, my career.
Though running and business may seem worlds apart, the similarities are striking. Success in both requires a great deal of planning and skill. Over the years, I have identified a set of guiding principles which apply to both.
You are the key
Self-confidence is necessary to completing ultra-marathons. Runners are thrust into an almost primal state of survival with only the bare essentials. For some, the isolation and lack of encouragement can be disheartening. Despite the human tendency to look outward for support, it is at these times that we realize our greatest strength actually comes from within.
The same can be said for the business world. Throughout one’s career, it is important to be your own cheerleader. We are conditioned to seek approval from managers and leaders, which oftentimes makes us reliant on those around us. However, if we learn to motivate ourselves first, the possibilities are endless. The road to success is long and arduous.
By becoming confident in our own abilities, we are that much closer to unlocking our true potential.
Define your own success
We all aim to be successful. It is generally what drives all of our actions and behaviours. However, success takes different forms for all of us. Before setting out on a challenge, it is important to establish what it means to you and what the ultimate goal is.
I recall sitting at a rest camp in the Sahara with a fellow competitor who had fallen ill from dehydration and was forced to withdraw from the race. She was extremely disappointed in herself, and even labelled herself as a failure. This seemed odd to me – she had trained for months, made it through the first three days of the race and pushed herself to her own personal limit. Was she a failure? Absolutely not. In my mind, success has a different meaning – it doesn’t matter if you complete the race, it counts that you started it.
This is reminiscent of the business world. To avoid personal and professional disappointment, it is important to define what success looks like from the outset of a project. It might not be about hitting your exact sales target, but perhaps laying the groundwork for a new process that will reap benefits down the road.
Rid yourself of negativity
“I can’t” is a powerful phrase. It has the ability to stop progress in its tracks, which also makes it an especially dangerous word in the context of running, business and self-improvement. In the midst of running an ultra-marathon, there are many circumstances that may seem unbearable; weather, exhaustion and personal injury are all formidable roadblocks.
For example, when I ruptured my bladder in the Amazon, I could have easily withdrawn from the race. The pain was excruciating, and every minute seemed like an eternity – but the power of positive thinking allowed me to succeed. I chose to turn the “no, I can’t” into a “yes, I can.”
As a people leader, I try to challenge my teams to do the same. People often sell themselves short when they say no. When challenges present themselves, positivity can make all the difference. Whether it’s presenting in front of a senior management team, or staying late to finish a report, saying “yes, I can” can make all the difference between success and failure.
In racing, the goal is linear – with a defined start and finish. In business, goals can be long and winding, with no discernible end. But in both, success can be distilled down to three main values: defining success for yourself, staying positive and believing in your own strength and abilities.
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When bears attack *and what you need to know to stay alive*
The only forewarning Dan Bigley and his friend Jim had that they were approaching a Grizzly Bear as they walked the Grayling Trailhead in Western Alaska after a day of fishing was the yap-yap from Dan’s tiny dog. Upon eyeing the grizzly, Dan and Jim stood close together and raised their arms so as to appear bigger, and then quietly and quickly discussed how to put some distance between them and the beast. They decided to head upstream from the bear, slowly and quietly, and for a time they actually seemed to get away. They had opted for an alternate route around the area where they'd seen the bear to get back to their car, when suddenly they heard a rustling in an alder tree nearby. Hidden in the foliage were a couple of baby bears, meaning the furious creature they'd encountered earlier was undoubtedly a mother bear in protective mode. What they didn’t know was that, with quiet cunning, the mother bear had been stalking them the whole time. Carrying a heart full of violence stoked by the fires of parental rage, the bear charged the group. Jim and the dog dove off the trail for cover, and suddenly 25-year-old Dan Bigley was the only thing standing between mother bear and her cubs. Dan tried to leap out of the way of the 700 pound bear, but it caught his quad midair and pinned him, then slammed him around by the head and shoulders like a rag doll. Dan blacked out, and for the duration of the attack kept drifting in and out of consciousness.
He remembers waking up on his stomach, with the bear still mauling away at his backside. He heard his friend Jim calling out to see if he was OK. Dan knew it was unlikely that enough time had passed for Jim to have returned with help, but he wanted to let Jim know he was alive so he called out to him. In retrospect, this was a catastrophic mistake that very nearly cost him his life. Jim received this message, but unfortunately so did the bear. Dan's call to Jim led the bear to flip him over on his back and deliver what Dan called the "death blow." Putting her four-and-a-half-inch claws into Dan's shoulders, the bear began to take bites out of Dan's skull. Mercifully, Dan was unconscious by that point.
The bear moved off with cubs in tow and, given the remoteness of their whereabouts, it was two full hours before medics were able to get to him and a further two hours before a helicopter arrived and took him to a hospital. Doctors described the bone matter in Dan's head as "pulverized,” and according to the official E.R. report, he arrived in the emergency room in a condition "incompatible with human life. Ears, eyes, nose, and face unrecognizable." He lived to tell the tale, but barely.
On May 9, 2015 in Mackenzie, B.C, a 27-year-old man was attacked and killed by a black bear while camping with his fiancée. The man had fallen asleep near a fire pit at his campsite while his fiancée slept in their motorhome. When she awoke the next morning, there was no sign of him. She left to get help and upon returning they found his dead body, which had been mauled by a large black bear. Authorities promptly located and shot the bear.
In October 2014, a young couple living in Johnson's Crossing, Yukon, had their own terrifying ordeal with an agitated Grizzly. The incident began when the couple's dog started barking, alerting husband Matthias Liniger to the bear's presence. The animal approached a window and put its paws on the glass, forcing it to give way. The bear then fell into the house and chased wife Claudia Huber and the dog out. Huber took refuge in an SUV parked outside and Liniger was inside a second vehicle parked nearby. The bear repeatedly jumped on the hood of the vehicle Liniger was in, and he honked the horn of his vehicle, which caused the bear to run away. Investigators believe Huber at this point saw an opportunity to make a break for Liniger’s vehicle, but she never made it. The bear attacked her, dragging her into the nearby woods forcing Liniger to run into the house to get his gun. He fired several shots at the bear before running back inside for more ammunition. He fired more shots, eventually killing the bear. Liniger then drove a mangled Huber to the nearest health centre, about 50 kilometres away, where she was pronounced dead on arrival. Initial accounts by investigators suggested Huber was killed by the bear, but an autopsy later revealed she had in fact died from a gunshot. With horrific irony, investigators returned to the scene and found bullet fragments and damage to a tree branch that indicated the bullet had passed through the branch, then ricocheted off the tree and into Huber's body, killing her instantly.
Despite the pant-shitting fear of attack, The Bear Almanac, a dossier of bear tidings published in 2009, indicates that only 1-2 persons are annually killed by bears in North America. (Compare that to Hokkaido, Japan, where more than 100 persons are killed annually by brown bears). Comparatively, for each bear death in North America, 8 people die from spider bites, 34 from domesticated dogs, 90 from bees and wasps, more than 175 from hunting accidents, 190 from lightning strikes, and 40,000 from motor vehicle accidents.
The Almanac may well play down the ravages of bears, but the fact remains that bears instill a common, omnipresent fear in the mind of outdoor enthusiasts who dare to venture forth into the natural habitat of bears. Hikers, campers, hunters, fishermen, trail runners, and mountain bikers are prodded by outdoor guidebooks, brochures, and placards in well-visited bear zones to read up on bear advice to minimise potential risk of attack. Nonetheless, people’s collective safety antennae probe the air on red alert and for most, genuine fear and apprehension occupies a significant chunk of headspace when in bear country.
A few fun facts about bears; adult female grizzlies can weigh 1.7- 2.3 times as much as adult female black bears. Black bears can motor up to 25-30 miles per hour over short distances, while grizzlies can rev the engine up to 35-40mph. Black bears tend to wander a lot, whereas grizzlies tread familiar, deeply worn trails. Black bears are excellent tree climbers, whereas grizzlies do not generally climb. Both bears typically live 14-20 years in the wild, and near double in captivity. In terms of disposition, black bears adapt better to human presence, are considered less aggressive and more apt to flee, while grizzlies are far more aggressive and usually defend space and food sources. The Almanac terms black bears “extremely clever, creatures of habit, inquisitive and playful” while grizzlies are known as “deliberate, fearless, bold, and solitary unless at a concentrated food source.” The almanac continues that “curiosity, combined with a high capacity for learning and an excellent memory, may be the key to a bear’s ‘intelligence’”. Interestingly, bears have the “biggest brains relative to body size of any carnivore, giving them ample capacity to interpret and remember,” notes Candace Savage in her book Grizzly Bears. Enos Mills, in his book The Grizzly, says “I would give the Grizzly first place in the animal world for brainpower,” and according to University of Tennessee psychologist, Terry Domico, “American black bears are capable of nearly as many responses in a given circumstance as a human.”
Despite the threat of bear attack, general consensus remains that bears are beautiful beasts, and, for the most part, are simply doing what they have always done in their own domain. By entering the wilderness, humans are, in a sense trespassing, and there is inherent risk in doing so. Several recent cases of bear shootings by Conservation Officers (and hunters) – some triggered by domesticated bears fossicking through residential space - have been met with significant backlash from the public. In fact, it has become both a topic of hot debate and a public relations nightmare in some quarters.
With suburbia expanding throughout the land, and people opting to build their homes in increasingly remote locales, it has become ever more crucial to heed safety advice to minimise risk and allow man and bear to coexist.
WATCH: Joggers encounter black bear on trail run.
If you encounter a Black Bear it is likely to react in one of four ways:
Fleeing Bear: In most cases, a bear will hear or smell you before you are aware of it. Even if you surprise a bear, it will most often flee the area. If it flees, remain on the lookout and be cautious.
Habituated Bear: Some bears lose their fear of humans from frequent human contact or from being rewarded with human food or garbage. These bears may not respond to our attempts to dissuade them and may react defensively. Stay calm and determine if the bear is aware of you. If the bear is unaware of you, move away quietly. However, if the bear is aware of you, talk to the bear in a low tone, wave your arms, back away, and leave the area.
Defensive Bear: A defensive bear will respond in a defensive manner if it perceives you as a threat or if it is defending a food source. It may use vocalizations such as huffing, blowing air loudly through nostrils, exhaling loudly and "popping" of teeth, and may swat the ground with its fore paws, lowering its head, and drawing back the ears. As well, a defensive bear may resort to bluff charges. The bear is feeling threatened by your presence and is trying to get you to back off. Stop and face the bear. If you are with others, stay together and act as a group. Make sure the bear has a clear escape route. Slowly back away while watching the bear and wait for it to leave. Use a whistle or airhorn, or bear spray if you have them. Do not turn and run as this may trigger a predatory response in the bear, and do not climb a tree as bears are excellent climbers.
Predatory Black Bear: On extremely rare occasions, a bear will attack humans with the intent to kill. Predatory bears seldom make huffing or "popping" sounds, nor do they swat the ground with their forepaws, or bluff charge as defensive bears sometimes do. Instead, they silently stalk, or press closer and closer to their intended prey, apparently assessing whether it is safe to attack. Leave the area if you can, but never turn and run. If you cannot leave, confront the bear. Do everything in your power to make the bear think twice about attacking you. Be aggressive, yell, throw rocks, hit the bear with sticks, and use your whistle, airhorn, or bear spray if you have them. If a predatory bear does make contact with you, do not play dead. Fighting back with everything you have is the best way to persuade a predatory Black Bear to halt its attack.
3 BEAR SAFETY RULES1. Never feed or approach a bear - The Black Bear can quickly become accustomed to human sources of food. People who feed bears are creating problems for everyone.
2. Store food out of reach of bears - In developed campgrounds and picnic areas, store all your food (including pet food) inside the closed trunk of your vehicle, if possible. Do not store food, cooking utensils or fragrant items, such as soap, toothpaste, or shaving cream in your tent. When camping in the backcountry, put all food in a pack and hang it well off the ground, and away from the vicinity of your tent. The pack should be at least 4 metres (~13 feet) off the ground and 2 metres (~7 feet) away from the tree trunk. It is also wise to hang your pack away from your sleeping, cooking and eating areas.
One Tree Technique
Two Tree Technique
3. Keep a clean campsite - In developed campgrounds, reduce the availability of garbage and odours by depositing your garbage daily in the bear-proof waste containers. Clean your picnic table and barbecue after every use, and be sure any spilled grease is cleaned up. When camping in the backcountry, burn any food scraps and fat drippings – but not plastics, styrofoam, or aluminum foil - thoroughly in a fire. Any remaining garbage should be placed in your litter bag and suspended along with the food. To eliminate food odours, dishes should be washed immediately after each meal, preferably well away from your campsite.
Additionally, you should know how to use, store, and carry bear spray, which is used to deter bears. Also, keep your dog away from any bears as bears may chase them toward people.
Regarding Grizzlies, here a few things you need to know.
They don’t like surprises, so when you’re out in the backcountry consider belting out a tune with gusto, attach a small bell to you or your pack, and/or exchange happy tales of adventure with your buddy in nice loud voices. It’s also wise to curtail explorations of dark, unknown caves or hollow logs, as these are prime spots for den building. As with black bears, pick up all garbage, cooking supplies and clean up thoroughly after meals and secure food overnight by hanging it high in the air.
If you and the Grizzly have seen each other, stop and don’t move. Speak to the bear in a low, calm voice and slowly raise your arms in the air, making you appear bigger. If you see a bear with a cub, leave quickly. Mother bear’s number one priority will be cub protection, leaving little room for negotiation if she feels threatened. Best way to get away is just hit reverse. Slowly retrace your footsteps, avoiding crossing the path of the bear, and do not run! To a bear it looks like a game they want to play, and because they’re able to reach top speeds of 40mph, it’s a game they’ll very likely win.
If things are dire, find a tree and climb it. Grizzly bears aren’t as good climbers as black bears, so a height of 3-4 metres should be sufficient. Less desirable options include playing dead. Adopt the fetal position, protecting your most vulnerable bits, and maybe try putting your backpack on top for an extra layer of protection. The pathetic sight of you should make you appear less threatening, earning maybe a sniff and a growl but hopefully being left alone. However, if it is a black bear, do not play dead. They will view you as an easy lunch option.
If all else fails, the last desperate option is to fight with all your might. Bear spray can be pretty efficient if dispersed in the bear’s face, hopefully giving you time to escape. Otherwise your best bet is some extremely loud yelling, screaming, kicking, and go hard for the eye area.
Have you run into a bear on the trail? Share your story in the comments below.