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Why mediations are like ultramarathons

A colleague recently said to me that my competing in ultramarathons must be a good way of escaping the stress of conducting family law mediations. “No”, I said, “Ultramarathons help me become a better mediator.”

Here’s why;

  1. They teach me patience. Going out too hard too soon in an ultramarathon leads to your demise. “Blowing up” is the term runners use. A mediation requires a lot of patience. The surges of emotional energy during the opening phases of argument, positioning and offer exchange are draining and distracting. Pace yourself. 
  2. Have a plan and stick to it. Showing up to an ultra event with no idea of the course, terrain, location of water stations and important notices is a recipe for disaster – quite literally. Getting ready for a mediation is no different. Knowing what to expect / avoiding unexpected surprises increases the likelihood of crossing the finish line.
  3. Have redundancies as part of your plan.  In an event over 100km anything can and often will happen. The last two 100km ultras I competed in had course changes (due to weather) which required last minute adjustment to the plan. But planning redundancies included things such as having extra food in case I ran out, a rain jacket in case the wind created a chill etc. See previous point but also include a Plan B or C. It is all well and good to plan for an equal time negotiation, but what if supervised time is all that is being offered ? Likewise a property mediation, what if child / spousal support is actually the sticking point ?
  4. Optimal physical condition is vital. Probably obvious for long distance physical events and the degree of exactitude implemented would probably surprise most sedentary people. However, a mediation – usually a 7 or 8 hour event – also requires careful attention to your biometrics. A good night’s sleep assists concentration. Hydration (water not caffeine) assists cognitive endurance and proper nutrition keeps energy levels consistent throughout the day. Most, if not all, of these matters are directly connected to emotional and intellectual performance. Don’t believe me, then attempt a full day mediation on little sleep / no food / high energy sugary food and compare your mood to a mediation where you adopted these tips.
  5. Every uphill has a downhill (and vice versa). The first climb or significant uphill can be a mental challenge during a race. It is probably the first occasion during the race that you feel the body “suffer” and can be a discouraging emotion. There are physiological reasons behind this but I won’t bore you with those details. The trick is to remember to stick to the Plan ! It is the same for mediations. There is a well known mediator’s adage “Don’t run at the first sign of an impasse”. Every mediation has at least one impasse. Stick to your Plan but be ready to consider Plan B and C.
  6. Debrief. Post-race chats around the recovery watermelon table are important for celebrating the successes large and small, reality testing the failures and generally connecting with other like-minded individuals.  I think this is a great way of reinforcing the lessons learnt during a race. Social media, used constructively, can also be a part of this process. Ultrarunners are quite humble folk though and are more interested in talking about the actual course than their own performances. Family lawyers get a bad wrap for being gossips, especially around Level 1 of the Sir Harry Gibbs Building. I don’t agree. I consider this to be debriefing. Especially for sole practitioners, barristers and mediators who don’t have the comfort of a colleague in the office next door, having a good debrief with a colleague about the mediation that day, last week or coming up (without breaching any confidentialities or privileges) is an important part of personal development. Just keep it classy.

Ready to sign up for an ultramarathon yet ?

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