I’ve DNF’d twice (Thames Gateway 100 and Winter 100) and DNS’d twice (North Downs Way 100 and Race to the Stones), all were for very different reasons and all in my mind perfectly valid but at the time it really mattered to me that I hadn’t raced or worse had failed to complete the distance.
I really struggled to overcome the negative outcome of these events and it haunted me for quite some time – especially the W100 which I was angry and upset about.
Then I was chatting with a fellow runner via Twitter a few days ago and she was incredibly worried and panicked about her big 2015 challenge – so much so that I was concerned she was going to miss out on the pre-event highs as you prepare to face your road to euphoria. This got me thinking about the times I’ve stopped or failed to start, had I panicked too much, had I ruined my own experience and convinced myself I was doomed to failure? Probably.
But what was important was how I have evolved the mental attitude I have to (endurance) running.
I get nervous in the weeks coming up to a big event – sleep deprivation, over eating, starvation, my bowels do weird of wonderful stuff and I flap around like a headless chicken.
But with 2015 now well into the second half of the year I’m on a drive to my final events which include five ultra marathons – two of which are in France (my first foreign race forays) – I’ve had to spend a lot of the last few months building up my mental strength for these events. I’m very conscious I’m doing things that I’m not 100% convinced my old knackered body is ready for and basically I’ve been working to prepare for the possibility of the DNF and ensuring I don’t hit dark and gloomy places in the aftermath of such an event.
You might ask ‘isn’t that defeatist?’
The answer to that is ‘no’ and the reason is that a year ago I was in a properly bad way, the injuries I was ignoring were getting progressively worse and the events I was running were going badly. It’s taken a long time to get to a point were those injuries and problems are intermittent rather than constant and that’s why I’m much more sanguine about my race day prospects.
When I line up at the start of the CCC in a couple of weeks time I know absolutely that if on the day I can’t make to the finish I will stop. The harsh realities are that I haven’t been near a mountain in training for the CCC and so if my body refuses (it’s inclines it struggles with) then I have worked on my capacity to say ‘that’s enough’ and I won’t beat myself up about it or eat a years worth of Dominos pizza.
So does it matter if I DNF a race? Very much so, because if I DNF I’m making a choice and listening to my body.
So how have I been improving my mental run strength?
- Distraction: When I’m not running I do something else entirely different, it stops me thinking about aspects of running I can’t control.
- Avoid too much social media: social media is awesome but it can add a level of peer pressure that won’t help any anxiety you’re feeling and so I’ve been avoiding it a little bit more than I usually might – dipping in rather than giving it too much attention.
- Train consistently: staying focused on me! I don’t be try to beat anyone but myself and I feel better about what I’m doing because I’m reducing the competitive element and saving that for race day.
- Make lists: ordering myself helps me feel more relaxed about my event – they can be in my head lists but they allow me to check off aspects of an event.
- Don’t compare: I used to compare myself to my peers now I just look on at them in awe and congratulate them on their achievements because we are all uniquely gifted and we all do very different things. If I get caught up in worrying what other people are doing (either generally or on a race day) then I’m not focusing on my own efforts.
And what of the constant need to panic and ruin my own pre event experience? Has this all helped? Is my pre CCC party started?
Well my mental (and physical) training is yielding some decent results and I have faith in myself. And let’s not forget if I were going to have faith in a fictional character to get me round a mountain it wouldn’t be God it’d be Batman. Ultimately I’m enjoying running and the pre-amble and I’m ready. Well as ready as I ever get.