If you always win or succeed, you didn’t try hard enough. And if you’ve fallen on your face, flat out, and go yep “I DNF’d” or “I couldn’t do it” or it was a failure”, then congratulations; you tried hard enough!
“93% Harry Potter and 7% Bear Grylls”
That’s how Paul Watkins’ website describes him.
There are lots of other labels that could be applied too; Pharmacist, mountaineer, full-time dad, ultramarathon runner, motivational speaker and property developer.
However, the one label that doesn’t sit comfortably with Paul is “athlete”, which is difficult to appreciate when you consider his list of achievements.
Paul has climbed major peaks on all 7 continents and competed in some of toughest ultramarathon runners in Australia and the world.
Most recently, Paul competed in the 6633 Arctic Ultra; a 614km/380mi self-supported race in the Arctic Circle in temperatures ranging from -20 to -40 celsius (-4 to -4F) with an 80% drop-out rate.
Not only did he finish the race, he won!
Now there’s an interesting theme reoccurring through much of Paul’s story; he’s often “failed” on the first go.
He ‘failed’ on his first attempt to summit Denali (the highest mountain in North America).
I first met Paul in Argentina when we were on the same expedition to climb Aconcagua, the highest mountain in South America - and also his second attempt to do so.
And his victorious race at the 6633 Arctic Ultra in 2019 was his second attempt, after he DNF’d 250km into this first attempt in 2017.
Paul is a great storyteller and someone who has thought deeply about what it takes to bring the best out of yourself, and others.
So in this conversation we discuss:
* the importance of following your curiosity in exploring “what’s next?”
* the need to be aware of the stories we tell ourselves about the ability of ourselves and others,
* his rule for selecting races, especially those that require a significant amount of training and time away from his family,
* what appealed to him about the 6633 Arctic Ultra,
* how his feelings standing on the start line for the first time at the 6633 Arctic Ultra differed from the second time,
* managing the isolation associated with a race when you may not see the competitor ahead or behind you for hours (if not days),
* the “whirlpool of bad decisions” that led to his DNF from the 2017 race,
* why you should consider a DNF, not as a failure, but rather as a training camp and learning experience,
* the importance of training your inner dialogue,
* how being tapped on the shoulder the day the 6633 Arctic Ultra in 2019 and being told “you’re the dark horse to win” (as someone who is generally found in the middle of the pack) changed this race strategy and mindset,
* why the label of “athlete” doesn’t sit well with him,
* how he’s often failed on the first attempt (like with the Arctic Ultra) and what motivates him to return to a race or expedition for a second attempt,
* why it’s so important to make peace with the fact you’re going to fail,
* his experience with the Imposter Complex and why he says it’s good to put yourself in situations where you look around and think: “wow, I’m out of my depth here”,
* the importance of developing the discipline to control your inner dialogue all the time (not just when you’re training or racing)
* the power that comes from reminding yourself that you’re a work-in-progress, and
* the struggles associated with a long recovery period after an ultra or expedition.
Notes and resources: