CAPABLE, DURABLE, POWERFUL
My name is Sophie Cope...
I’m a distance runner and Fine Art student at the University of Cape Town. Among many other things, I love writing, painting, Long Run Sunday, oats with peanut butter, and the sea. I haven’t always been a runner, but I have always found great satisfaction in chasing big long-term goals, doing hard things for their own sake, and finding a way to break them down into daily, manageable tasks.
Every wildest dream feels a whole lot more doable and real if it's mostly just a case of carrying out the next small task, investing in the daily insular process, many days in a row. Among so much else, running has become the best example of this for me. Of course, luck and talent are real factors in determining success, but for me, it’s somehow the most soothing, remarkable thing in the world to think about the fact that really, the people who get to where they want to be are the ones who keep showing up. Over and over, emphasizing consistency over perfection, sticking around for the long haul. The thing about this biggest predictive factor of success— just sticking around for the long haul, continuing to show up, being willing to consistently try hard even if it’s imperfect— is that it’s really hard and unglamorous. Sometimes the simplest things are the hardest.
What do you say to yourself when you’re trying to do hard things?
After doing the Leapfrog half marathon this weekend as my first half marathon in a year, Annie asked me to write about the things I say or think about when it feels real hard specifically in the context of racing. That is what I am going to do, but for me, finding ways to grit it out through the long haul of something like a half marathon is so similar to whatever it is I think about when I’m trying to commit to the long haul of a training block, a degree, or a life plan with many goals. I think if learning how to do hard things as an athlete doesn’t teach me how to be a braver human and keep at it when I’m doing hard things in the rest of the world, I would struggle to find the point in it all.
The importance of words
As I said before, I love writing and I love using certain phrases, poems, song lyrics and words to help me form metaphors and understand what’s happening in the world around me. The lyrics of my pre-race pump-up playlist are hilarious and trashy and SO important to me. I always have to listen to Sia sing Unstoppable and House on Fire before a hard run, and I have a whiteboard above my bed so that I can wake up and read a different piece of a poem every day.
For this particular half marathon, I wrote the words ‘CAPABLE, DURABLE, POWERFUL’ on my left arm. They’re a reference to a huge athlete-artist role model of mine, Alexi Pappas, who talks about how being capable and durable and powerful is something we can all aspire to and return, regardless of how objectively ‘successful’ or linear one’s progress may be at a particular time. These words are not about external numbers that can be compared to anyone else, or short-term time goals that often get chased in a very ‘all-or-nothing’ kind of way.
Since I haven’t trained specifically for the distance or done many properly long runs since being injured just under a year ago, I knew that if I was working hard enough, the race should start to get quite uncomfortable after about 15km. And this is where the words that you say to yourself are most important — not when it’s breezy and effortless, but when things start hurting. I wasn’t actually in quite as much pain as I thought, but still — my body would have been glad to stop, and for the last 6km, the only words I allowed myself to have in my mind were (over and over and over again): capable, durable, powerful. I think it’s sometimes valuable to repeat words or phrases like this, even if you don’t really believe them or feel them at all. In my case, I stopped thinking about what they might really mean and just used them as a way to fill up my head with something positive — a repetitive intention to keep going, rather than a repetitive desire to stop.
Other very simple things that I frequently drum into my head until I start to believe they are sometimes just ‘I am okay, I am okay I am okay!’ (when I feel the least okay) or ‘there is only now!’ Or ‘everything is its own reward’, or (often), ‘THIS IS A GIFT’.
In this way, I use words as prompts to help me to keep at it, and hold on to the memory that I have chosen to do this hard thing, right through the long and difficult and boring parts, and also to remember the fact that (unless faced with unusual circumstances) it is fully within my capacity to decide to persevere or not. Which is freeing and remarkable. And realizing that the decision to persevere is primarily in your own hands — in a hard half marathon, or in any long-term life pursuit — can be freeing and remarkable for you too.
Thank you to Annie Bothma for asking me to write about something that I love (and could probably go on about for many more pages!). With Annie being the definitive example of someone who has really managed to keep showing up and re-narrating her story so bravely and well in the face of so much adversity, it’s an absolute honor to be sharing these thoughts on her blog.
- Sophie Cope