The infamous ‘Bottom Field’ assault course had triumphed. Its obstacles stood peaceful having claimed four new victims. Each muscle in my leg gave out a sigh, in both relief and upset. My determined thrashing had stopped. But I was gutted…
I gazed over the Exeter Estuary as the morning sun bathed the view ahead. I didn’t want this to end… But the Sergeant Major delivered the gloomy news, and the view no longer lulled me with its awe.
“You lads haven’t scored well enough on the course and your bottom field time is too slow.” he continued, “We have to withdraw you.”
I did my best to stand up straight, swallow the sour news, and appreciate one of my most memorable experiences. In the final analysis, I knew my mindset had toughened.
How Will You Remember Your Toughest Experiences?
There is someone out there who wins and only wins. Yet i’d place the bet that you are not that person. You will have failures, as I have had failures. But to those who fail, it is better to go about it with a resilient mindset. Therefore, the memory will bare arms whenever you are in need of motivation. And so I would like to share with you a short story, detailing one of the tests I went through and its usefulness when I need help to endure – and from reading this, let it erupt your own memories of endurance.
But before the story, I’ll do a brief introduction to the United Kingdom’s, Royal Marines Commandos.
Britain’s Elite – The Royal Marines
The Royal Marines are the elite fighting force of Britain’s Royal Navy. And have been since 28th October 1664. They have a long and proud history, proving their effectiveness in battles such as the two World Wars, the fight for the Falklands, and modern conflicts still underway today.
They are considered elite due to their ability to soldier in the harshest of environments, and in order to do that, each Commando must go through 32 weeks of training. Prior to beginning training they must pass a pre joining fitness test, as well as a Potential Royal Marines Course.
The Potential Royal Marines Course involves three days of physical and mental examination. This is where my story takes place and here were the details of my course requirements:
- 3 mile run split into two halves (1.5 miles in 12 minutes 30. Followed by 1.5 mile sprint back – 10 minutes or under for satisfactory score.)
- Bodyweight exercises (Press ups, sit ups, Pull ups), all to a strict timed beep. Any rep not done with proper form or missing the timed beep wouldn’t be counted.
- Bleep test – Level 10.5 minimum requirement.
- Timed run of ‘Bottom Field’ assault course, followed by thrashings on Bottom Field and then Endurance Course.
A Short Story Of Mental Endurance
Here is a memory carved in stone that, whenever I return to it, I am refilled with fighting spirit. Sometimes you need those moments to call on. Similar to David Goggins’ idea of the Cookie Jar – a collection of memories where you have proven something to yourself.
I hope in reading this, you flood your mind with your own examples of determination.
I bobbed up and down in sweaty conviction. (Or I tried to). Really I panted like a dog. Prior to even beginning the 3 mile test. Fuck was the situation report.
We had endured the gym tests that morning, had a serious bollocking for failing to ‘number off’ correctly(to number off, is to do a count of who is there at a given moment). And we had, already, been subject to a Royal Marines warm up – sprints and burpees. The burpees increased in number when one of us had tried a sly one, doing less than what was ordered, and the result? We all did more.
The July afternoon cooked the country road ahead, the sun imposed its warmth on the clouds and the grey above became a snug duvet. Sweat pooled on my forehead. Ahead of me, the PTI stood strong. Signature white vest and shorts, a booming northern accent and a puffy muscular body with the Royal Marines Globe and Laurel tattooed on his left arm.
“Let’s get this done lads.” He said and tapped his wrist watch and set off. Aggressive trot.
Soon the trot became a gallop and my mind sped quicker than my legs. I saw the Deerhound runners bolt to the front with the PTI, whereas I found myself and a few panicky faces fall further back like a bunch of stubby Rottweilers. Red hot coal in my chest and the morning breakfast clawed to be let off the rollercoaster.
On paper? 1.5 miles in 12 minutes 30 seconds. But I was shown that whats on paper and what the minimum requirement is, is not good enough. We did the first run in 11 minutes 15 seconds. This was the PTI saying, You better be above average. This is your first, miniscule, minute, taste of what the unexpected feels like. Can you adapt? Are you exceeding minimum requirements?
(Or he just didn’t like us).
Either way, I dreaded the 1.5 mile sprint back…
After wrestling with the first run, I was on the backfoot for the second one. How could I make this time limit? And so at this point I accepted (with a painfully ashamed gulp) that my poor preparation for the course had stumped me. It’s catch up time now I told myself. However, even though the gloom had smothered me, I still had claws in the fight…
My eyes darted in subtle fashion, left and right, like a yo yo. Or like an awkward silence in a room and your eyes dart around for the next speaker to break the thick nothing. And what I saw was a bunch of lads scramble for oxygen just as I was. Many were slouched with a look of death. A bunch of fresh faced young lads knocking on heavens door. The broadcast was Us slow coaches are finished!
This doesn’t look good I thought, and my thought was correct when I overheard the training team weren’t too happy with us slow coaches. I knew something had to change and I used the negativity as fuel.
I refused to be defined by that group around me. I pulled my shoulders back, stuck my chin out and puffed my chest up and pushed my way to the front of the pack ready to run the 1.5 miles back.
Yes, I may have been a weaker runner than some there.
Yes, I was feeling depleted physically and mentally.
Yes, I thought about the easy option of quitting.
Despite all of this, it was at this moment that I decided I was no longer that person. It was no longer about what time I was going to get it was just about reaching the finish line.
Gasping for air and with legs like jelly, I crossed the finish line with 1 second to spare. This was not impressive by any stretch of the imagination but at least I had done it. I had overcome a mental barrier I didn’t know that I could, and it was a feeling of relief, regardless of how awful my time was.
“Woah, you were lucky.” Said one lad who came in seconds after me. And I just thought mate it feels like one of the first times in my life that I haven’t been at the mercy of luck. That – was determination.
I could sleep easy that night.
Finally, I would like to say that my Potential Royal Marines Course was one of the best experiences of my life. A huge step on the journey to discovering myself, and I think proof that despite the outcome, a challenge endured with the correct attitude will always bear fruit. So the next time you find yourself in a battle, ask yourself not just to endure it, but to endure it as if it is the last thing you do. And as the Royal Marines say, “It’s a State Of Mind.”
More on How to Endure
- What does the David Goggins Story teach us about Mental Toughness?
- Health Risks from Running Marathons
- Getting Ready for a Marathon
Best Selling Books on Endurance
- The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing by Philip Maffetone
- Training for the Uphill Athlete: A Manual for Mountain Runners and Ski Mountaineers by Steve House
- Natural Born Heroes: Mastering the Lost Secrets of Strength and Endurance by Christopher McDougall