Wednesday, 3 October 2012

The 30 day challenge - Day 3 - Running with will-power

Today I'm giving over control to Simon Freeman to guest blog for me with his report of the Bristol Half Marathon. He came 62nd overall and is one of the most driven individuals I know. He's always been interested in the mental side of training and competition, so I'm pleased to let him contribute to the Focused Mind. Tomorrow I'll write up what my take on 'what should be done' (from a Sport Psych point of view) in preparation for a race and compare it to what he and I have written for the past two days. Hope this helps to any runners of all standards. Over to you Simon...


Thanks! Since the London marathon in April this year, the opportunity to set up my own business (Freestak) has meant that I have had to make a choice between running as much as usual and working more than usual. In the interests of long-term happiness, I have opted for working more than usual.

As my training has taken a back-seat, the area I have tended to forego has been speed-work, partly because speed sessions at the track take longer than a quick 6 miles on the roads around where I live and partly because they are the hardest type of training to get motivated for.

In short I have done less training than usual. And a lot less speed work than usual.

So it was with some trepidation that I set off for the Bristol half marathon last weekend. Adding to my concern was the fact that there were a few of my friends and training partners who were suggesting that we could run together. They have been training much harder than me and I was worried I could fall to pieces at the sort of pace they were suggesting.

I will spare you a race report – Stuart has already written that here - but I will talk about a key moment in the race. Around mile five the course was heading back into Bristol along the Portway under the famous Clifton Suspension Bridge. I was running in a little group that had formed with me, two of my training partners and another chap none of us knew. 5min 45sec per mile. Into a headwind. And I felt fantastic.

Despite having missed masses of training and especially almost all the speed work that I should have been doing, I was dragging the three others along, acting as a shield into the wind and feeling great.

After the race – completed in 76:30 – I started to wonder how I had come 62nd out of 17,000 runners in a race that I was concerned I wouldn’t even finish, let alone within three minutes of my personal best. And I realized that it might be down to my brain: a mixture of confidence and bloody-mindedness.

I cannot pretend to understand this from the point of view of a sport psychologist, but I think that to some extent I simply decided that I could cruise along at faster than six minute miles and catch the runner in front and help to pace one of my friends to a sizeable PB. Once I believed that I could maintain the pace, I simply did.

Do I think that I can run faster than I ever have before with less training? No! Do I recommend that runners throw their training programme in the bin and simply hope they’ll get faster? No! But maybe what I learned in Bristol at the weekend is that even if training has not been consistent or gone to plan, by having the confidence that you can do something and by giving it a go, you might find that you do better than you thought you would. Maybe that is what Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 BC-43 BC), ancient Roman writer and statesman, meant when he wrote:

“It is not by muscle, speed, or physical dexterity that great things are achieved, but by reflection, force of character, and judgment”

Sounds about right to me! 

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