But what does it mean to win? What is the real victory? When I cross the finish line, what is it that makes my hair stand on end or makes me feel that my feet are afloat, makes it so that I can’t suppress the need to cry, want both to run on and collapse to the ground? What makes me react inside this bubble?
The real victory isn’t the act of smashing through the tape and crossing the finish line; it’s not seeing your name first on the list or standing on the highest step on the podium. None of that can make your legs shake with fear and excitement. Victory, the real victory, is what is deep down inside each one of us. It’s what we can’t believe will ever happen despite all the training and will on our part, and yet it is what finally happens. Despite all the thinking and brandishing of calculators, after so many hours of preparation, after so many days of training, of telling ourselves that we can win, or simply finish the race, it is as if something in our unconscious is constantly telling us that it is impossible, that it would be too wonderful, too brilliant, too incredible for it to become reality. That what we want to achieve is only a dream. And when you cross the line, when you look behind and see that it is for real, that you are flesh and blood, and that what seemed possible only in dreams has become real, you realize that that is the real victory.
Winning isn’t about finishing in first place. It isn’t about beating the others. It is about overcoming yourself. Overcoming your body, your limitations, and your fears. Winning means surpassing yourself and turning your dreams into reality.
There have been many races in which I have finished first but haven’t felt that I was the winner. I haven’t cried when I crossed the line, haven’t jumped for joy, and haven’t been swept up in a whirlwind of emotions. I merely had to win the race, had to finish in front of the others, and before and during the race, I knew and was sure that I would finish first. I knew it was no dream and didn’t think for one moment at any point what it would be like not to win. It was too easy, like a chef who opens his restaurant each day and knows exactly how his steaks will turn out. There’s no challenge, no dream to wake up from. And as far as I am concerned, that isn’t winning.
On the contrary, I have seen big winners, individuals who have overcome themselves and have crossed the finish line in tears, their strength gone, but not from physical exhaustion—that is also there—but because they have achieved what they thought was only the fruit of dreams. I have seen people sit on the ground after crossing the finish line of the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, and sit there for hours with blank looks, smiling broadly to themselves, still not believing that what they have achieved isn’t a hallucination. Fully aware that when they wake up, they will be able to say that they did it, that they succeeded, that they vanquished their fears and left behind dreams that they had turned into something real. I have seen individuals who, though they have come in after the leaders have had time to shower, eat lunch, and even take a good siesta, feel that they are the winners, and they wouldn’t change that feeling for anything in the world.
And I envy them, because, in essence, isn’t this why we run? To find out whether we can overcome our fears, that the tape we smash when we cross the line isn’t the one the volunteers are holding, but the one set in that place inhabited by our dreams? Isn’t victory being able to test our bodies and minds to their limits and discover that they have led us to find ourselves anew and gradually to fulfill our dreams?
In his book Run or Die, Kilian Jornet shares his passion for mountain running, offering a fascinating world rich with the beauty of rugged trails and mountain vistas.