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Uncommon Beliefs

On our way to Corsica, we stopped in Montpellier, where the family is gathering this year to celebrate Christmas and New Year. Scanning the horizon, I notice a magnificent hill. Located 25 minutes from Montpellier, the Pic St-Loup rises up at the start of the Cévennes foothills in an area of garrigues to the north of Montpellier. Its peak, marked by a chapel and a cross, rises to 658 metres. We found our perfect local trail training ground for the coming week.

This is a perfect winter day with a deep blue sky and temperature projected to reach 18C. While tying my running shoes, I notice the vegetation, adapted to summer drought, made up of several typically Mediterranean species – oak, pine, cypress trees. The soil, composed of sharp limestone rocks is ready to tear into mal-adapted footwear.

After a short warm up, my brother Olivier and I begin jogging with big smiles. This is the first time we run together since the Northburn100 race in New Zealand in March 2018. The distinct smell of the local soil and vegetation enthuses our sense of smell and reminds us of the fragrant nature of wines from Pic Saint-Loup.

As we settle in our easy rhythms to complete this 10km “warm-up” loop, our conversation turns into the power of asking interesting questions.

From Socrates to Einstein, the power of asking interesting questions has been recognised as essential for developing new knowledge. Over time, I found one question to be especially pertinent to keep asking: “what do i strongly believe in, that most other people don’t?” I find it interesting because it not only invites to think creatively but it also leads you to examine the basis for your own belief.

For example, it is common wisdom that attitude leads behavior. Don’t we often tell to our children to watch their attitudes or that one’s attitude is a key factor of success. And indeed, at first sight, this seems rather intuitive. However, a perhaps more interesting insight is that our actions also have an influence on our thoughts and feelings. This phenomenon have been well documented in psychology and explained via the principles of self-perception and cognitive dissonance. So when feeling in a rut, go running!

As we start the steep climb leading to the summit, I’m reminded of an essay from Alan Watts arguing that it is more useful to think of life as a dance instead of a journey. While dancing we get lost in the moment. We are not thinking about the end point. By contrast, a journey often has a destination that becomes the focal point. When running an ultra trail, or going through life, that subtle difference in perspective is often crucial – do you focus on the finish or the moment? (an interesting paradox I’ll discuss in a further blog)

After admiring the breathtaking view from the summit and taking few pictures we start our descent. Running downhill and flying through the rocks is always a bit scary and I’m constantly amazed by our body’s ability to process all the information necessary to be able to land our feet across instable surfaces while maintaining balance. As I loose myself in this rhythmic dance among rocks letting my body decides each movement, I pounder on a question Rory Sutherland asked in his excellent book “Alchemy”: is logic over-rated? I’d surely not be able to descent at that speed if I had to make logical decisions from rock to rock. Rory argues that using logic often leads to conventional solutions lacking differentiation or “magic”. For example, how do we explain that Red Bull is so popular, though everyone—everyone!—hates the taste? It’s not that logic is not useful but when everyone uses logic, it may become overrated and we could miss important facets of life.

With the car now in sight, we slow down our pace. My feet are glad this is almost over. With their large toe box, the Altra Lone Peak I’m using were the perfect trail shoes in The Lake District and around London, but they are not rigid enough for this harsher rocky terrain. Otherwise we feel great, a bit tired and fully aware of the challenge ahead…

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