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Learn how to make tough decisions and stay determined from an ultra marathon running sky diver who has signed up to go live on Mars


Dianne McGrath sails tall ships in the southern ocean, cycles extreme distances, jumps from planes and runs not just your run-of-the-mill marathons but ultra-marathons too.

And now, after conquering it all – land, air and water – here on Earth, Mars is the next great leap for this avid adventurer.

Dianne is one of 28 Australians shortlisted in the international Mars One program that seeks to establish the first permanent human settlement on Mars.

So it’s safe to say she knows a thing or two about how to make tough decisions and staying determined – both great skills for any entrepreneur.

Anthill recently spoke to Dianne and below is what she had to share.

What inspired you to sign up for Mars One?

My immediate response on reading about Mars One was, “Wow!”

It captured the excited adventurer in me from the start.

Then my rational mind took over and I thought about how the Mars One mission would have to be completely sustainable in every aspect. This aligned perfectly with my interest and growing expertise in sustainability, particularly sustainable food systems.

Mars One would be a demonstration of how we can live within our means – an experiment, yes, but a very worthwhile one to be a part of. It seemed an opportunity too good to miss. 

Signing up for Mars One surely was no easy decision, what advice can you share about how to make tough decisions?

It can be challenging to temper the emotional response at times, but to make important decisions I like to have sufficient evidence to allow me to weigh up the benefits and costs (both financial and personal).

In deciding to apply for the Mars One mission I researched the organisation behind it, the funding model, the proposed technology, other similar space programs and of course the planet Mars itself.

Once the evidence convinced me that it was a viable program technically and financially, the other considerations were the personal costs.

The Mars One mission is a one-way journey where the astronauts will establish the first permanent human settlement on Mars. No coming back means leaving all that I love, enjoy and take for granted in my everyday life here on Earth.

That’s a big cost.

The benefits for me include living out childhood dreams, showing that we can live sustainably and harmoniously, inspiring young girls to not only dream but to accomplish those dreams, and being the first person to step on another planet.

For me these benefits outweighed the costs.

A bit like an entrepreneur, exploration of somewhere and something new is an astronaut’s raison d’être. Both groups continually take calculated risks.

In your extreme adventures, you must sometimes feel like throwing in the towel or backing out at the last minute, how do you push yourself to keep going and stay determined?

I definitely face those moments!

Every time I run a ‘long run’ during my marathon training, and on race day, I fight mental battles. They are usually much tougher than the physical ones.

With a well structured training plan almost anyone can learn to run a marathon. Very few training plans include information on how to mentally prepare however.

The first step is getting to the start line. It’s often easier if you are training or running with someone else as you don’t want to let others down.

However that’s not always an option. Last year while training for a 50km ultra-marathon I had to run a few actual marathon distances by myself as training runs.

One of them was on a treadmill in Dubai!

How do you motivate yourself to do something that is physically and mentally tough that is also likely to bore you to tears for hours, particularly knowing that you absolutely will be sore afterwards? I remind myself that I have a goal in mind that this step is critical to take in achieving my final outcome.

That’s what makes me take the first stride on a day I can’t be bothered.

And when I’m part way through the run, when my body might be hurting a bit or my head is playing the very common game all runners have of, “You don’t need to do this today. There’s nothing and no one you need to prove anything to. You’ve run a marathon before. Why don’t you just do a half?” that’s when the real mental toughness comes in and various strategies are deployed to get myself to the line.

One of the strategies is to break the run up into bite-sized pieces in my head. A few sets of 5 or 10 kilometres seems more achievable than a single 42km run. It also provides for milestones to give a sense of achievement.

Some people refer to this strategy as ‘eating the elephant’.

Other times I deploy a strategy of distraction – choose a route or pathway where the journey itself becomes enjoyable. Then the distance becomes secondary.

I used this strategy last year when I had a 42km training run planned while I was in London. I chose an interesting and picturesque route and ended up actually running 45kms by accident because I was enjoying sightseeing so much while running. 

But sometimes if strategies such as distraction or eating the elephant aren’t working I ‘take a cup of concrete’. Occasionally you just need to give yourself a stern talking to, roll up your sleeves and just do the task ahead. 

To hear Dianne speak live, get to TEDxMelbourne set for 10th October 2014.