Monday, September 26, 2011

Run Like the World is Watching

I have been away from the blog for a good while, busy attempting to complete my 33 Marathons challenge. I am in the process of writing up the report, but before that I wanted to share a couple of experiences from training runs I've completed as I get back into “normal” training (that is not 220kms a week with twice a day sessions – thankfully!)

This way to the trails!
The first couple of runs back on the trails took a little effort to get back to a normal stride after 7 days of shuffling along a roadside at 6mins/k. After reawakening the trail running muscles I decided to get back into some hills in training for the upcoming Great North Walk 100mile race in November. The first hit out was really surprising in that the hills were remarkably easy, all things considered.  

The pace was a little slower than normal, and the stride length a bit shorter, but I didn’t get the nagging complaints from my body to slow down or to walk. I put this down to 2 things. Firstly, the intense 12 hours a day, 7 day training session has put a load of endurance into my legs (the most likely explanation). Secondly, it is as if my brain either chooses not to listen to the cries to stop from my legs, or that it has got so used to hearing it that it no longer notices (like spending time in the house with the kids on school holidays, you just tune out of the constant noise!).  

Whilst on the Nullarbor I spent many hours fighting the “go on, walk” demons whispering in my ears, which I resisted repeatedly day after day, and I think having experienced this, I have a new found confidence that I can overcome it. It is almost a subconscious ability at the moment, and it will be interesting to see if this lasts. I certainly hope so, as it will make races so much more interesting, but time will tell.

The rewards for getting to the top of Mt Tinbeerwah are always worth it:

I had another experience on another hill run yesterday, which I suspect is also related.  I set out on my normal hill trail circuit of about 20kms. There are 3 routes up that I can take, and on this occasion I elected to tackle the steepest, roughest path. I have never managed to run all the way up this track always having to walk through a particularly steep section of about 300m length in the middle.  The track itself is about 2.5kms long and is all uphill bar a 200m descent followed by the inevitable climb back up.

Continuing to test out my body, I thought I would wear my heart on my sleeve and video the attempt (in a down market and far less extreme attempt to mimic the “Killian’s Quest” footage) to share with you all on here. In my head it was kind of like declaring a goal to the World, a commitment to give it a crack. I set the camera rolling and started off the ascent with some heavy breathing and dead pan commentary – it was no time for joking.

Before I had really given it too much thought I had past the place where I’d usually be feeling it pretty bad and be forced to walk. Then I past the furthest that I’d ever run before, and in my head all I was thinking was to keep going as in another couple of minutes the worst of it will be over and even though I’d only be half done, I knew that the rest was a done deal.

It’s funny how your mind fails to recall unpleasant memories, as I had clearly forgotten much of this tough section, even though I use this trail a lot. With each turn another 30m of challenging track appeared that I had forgotten about, until eventually the single track opened up to the familiar grinding trail to the summit and I knew that the worst was behind me.  

All the while I was conscious of recording the effort, as if I had you with me, and I just had to keep going. For me, I am very externally motivated, so this sort of visualisation works really well for me (the majority of ultrarunners that I know are more internally motivated – doesn’t make you a better or worse runner, it’s just that we are all wired differently).  The thing is from the outset I was only 20% confident that I would be able to complete this mini challenge, and feel that if I didn’t have the camera with me I would likely have pulled up in one of the spots where I’d usually walk. Having the camera rolling was like having a coach alongside me. I stopped thinking about how I felt and wanting to walk, and instead just had the thought of running all the way to the top.

Well it wouldn’t be much of a story if I didn’t make it, and amazingly I did. The irony was that I didn’t have the camera set up properly so missed recording it! It just goes to show what you can achieve when you find a way to genuinely motivate yourself, which for me was in meeting the expectations of virtual observers, and being able to be coach and athlete.  Basically, I had a scenario playing out in my head, a kind of play being performed by my conscious and subconscious minds. It’s a theme that I frequently cover in my blog posts, and one that more and more I believe is fundamental to the challenge of any endurance event.  

If I were to sum the concept up in one sentence it would be:

If your body is strong but your mind is weak you will likely never succeed, but if your mind is strong and your body is weak you will likely always succeed.

So I guess I’ll have to have another go to prove it wasn’t luck and this time I’ll make sure the cameras are rolling!

Run Happy,

“Nature never deceives us, it is we who deceives ourselves” – Jean-Jacques Roussea


  1. Most people train better with others, so the camera was just like having other people there. I often pretend I'm running with some of my fitter and faster friends, or imagine telling others of my feats and that always brings out the best :)