Thursday, 10 June 2010

South Downs Marathon - What Do I Want?


Welcome back.  It has been a wee while since my last epic post.  It has taken me equally as long to recover from both the lengthy post as it has physically to recover from my lengthy recce run.

Tonight's post will be significantly shorter and concerns my final pre-race preparation to this Saturday's South Downs Marathon.  The focus is regarding "What Do I Want?"  What is the motivation for this Saturday's race? What am I hoping to achieve?  Hopefully I will expand on these aspects.  Firstly some race background.

The South Downs Marathon is organised by Mike Gratton and his company 2:09 Events.  Named 2:09 Events because Mike Gratton won the London Marathon in 1983 in a time of 2:09 (and 43 seconds!).  This year will be the fifth running of the race which also includes a 4 person relay option.  The race is an excellent event.  They probably don't come any better.  It is extremely well organised, including transport to the start, computer chip timing, sufficient drink stations with water bottles, not flimsy cups, carbohydrate stations as well as water, a good quality Solomon shirt, excellent prizes for many categories, a really good post race atmosphere, but best of all a fantastic scenic course along the South Downs Way!  If you aren't doing it this year, put it on your to do list for nest year!

I have raced it twice before in 2007 and 2008, winning on both occasions.  The 2007 race, probably ranks as one of my best ever performances in a trail marathon.  Back in 2007 I was only racing trail marathons, so they were my key focus.  In 2007 I actually raced five trail marathons, but I targeted the South Downs Marathon as my key race, equally with the Beachy Head Marathon.

Each year I usually target one or two key races.  The consequences of a race being a target race is that I tend to therefore increase the level of mental preparation for the event.  This mental preparation involves identifying 'What do I want from the race?'  I think this is one of the key initial steps in race preparation in order to obtain a 'good performance'.

I have mentioned in previous posts the book titled "From Last to First" written by Charlie Spedding.  If you haven't read the book, it is well worthy of a read, especially Chapter 6 - The Beer Drinker's Guide to Sports Psychology.  At the end of the chapter he summarises all he had to do with regards to sports psychology was "Change my vocabulary. Aim for perfection.  Know what I want, why I want it, and how much I want it.  Use my imagination. Try to feel fantastic, and think like a caterpillar."

So my race preparation tends to involve most of the aspects mentioned by Charlie Spedding although I don't tend to aim for perfection ( I am too lazy for that), and I don't think like a caterpillar.  The image I used to use, and on occasions still do is the Gazelle.  Other people may describe this preparation as "goal setting" and "motivation".  Whatever you label it, is is essential for achieving a 'good performance'. With good performance simply being defined as a performance that you are happy with.

Going back to 2007, the South Downs Marathon was my key race for the year.  I think I targeted this race because having run part of the course, which follows the South Downs Way, previously as part of the Eastbourne to Winchester Relay Race, I was well aware of the amazing scenery.  I had wanted to do the inaugural race in 2006 but unfortunately was slightly injured, so I wanted to make up for missing it in 2006, by running extremely well in 2007.  In addition a £200 GPS watch was advertised as first prize, and seeing the 2006 winning time, I thought, I can run faster than that!

Race day 2007 arrived, and my good friend Dave, came to support me.  He was going to follow the race on his mountain bike.  As it is quicker to run up a hill than mountain bike, he headed off before the start to get to the top of the first climb well ahead of the runners.

People occasionally ask me "Are you planning to win the race?"  Well whether I win or not, is not really within my control.  What I try to achieve within my race preparation is that I am well prepared, both mentally and physically, to run fast, so fast that it will take a 'good' runner to beat me.  If a 'good runner' turns up on race day, I can probably increase my performance by a tiny bit, by getting it absolutely right on the day, but if they are simply better than you, for whatever reasons, then you can't change that.  So I focus on what I can do, rather that what others are able to do!

The race starts in 2007 and as with my approach now, I started fast.  Well for two other runners that day, it wasn't fast enough!  By the time I reached Dave at around the 4-5 mile mark, I was in third place nearly 1 minute behind!  He shouts at me, "What are you doing, why are you running so slow?"  One thing that is important in both marathon running and ultra running is to be able to assess accurately how hard you are running.  You must be able to establish whether the pace you are running is appropriate for your state of fitness, and your state of mind.  This comes with experience, and is probably one of my strengths.  I knew I was running well, it felt fast, I felt focused.  I simply replied to Dave, either they are extremely good runners, or they are inexperienced runners and running beyond their limits.  Either way I just had to simply run my race, although remembering back now, I definitely was affected by their fast start, and was running at a higher intensity than usual.

As it so happened, for what ever reason, one of the runners pulled out just after halfway, and the other runner, slowed down significantly just after halfway and also pulled out after I went past.  I went on to win in a record time of 2 hours 51 minutes!  Amazingly quick if you know the terrain!

I learnt a few things from the South Downs Marathon from 2007.  Firstly the need to stay focused and to clearly know, what do I want from the race. Although the thought of winning is nice, I focus on what I am able to control.  I focus on running fast, relaxed, within a smooth rhythm, at all times trying to enjoy myself, enjoy the surrounding beauty of the environment, enjoy the excitement of competing.  It is important to know that these are the things I want from the race.

The other day the following comment was left on my blog, on the What Determines Ultra Running Performance Part Two.  (Thanks for the comment Brian, sorry to hear that the race didn't go as planned.)
"I bailed out of the 145 mile GUCR at the weekend basically because I didn't want to finish enough. Physically I could have continued beyond the 93 mile point where I stopped, but just didn't have the drive to complete. Completing is definitely all mental."
Although, as suggested by the comment, it was possibly a lack of planning that contributed to the less positive result!

The 2007 race also got me questioning, what determines the pace, the intensity I race at?  How do we know that we are running at the quickest pace that we are capable of?  A big issue this, in terms of what determines what we are capable of?  Well as I have highlighted in previous posts, the body and mind are not separate identities, they are intertwined, so what you are capable of is largely determined by your attitude.  Hence Charlie Spedding referring to "Use my imagination.  Try to feel fantastic"  I learnt that day the importance of positivity and enjoyment during the race!

So this Saturday will be the third time I have run the South Downs Marathon.  It is not one of my key races this year, so I haven't given it the same mental preparation as before.  However, in writing this blog, I am hoping to fully clarify "What do I want from the race?  It is essential that this is 'sorted' prior to the start of the race.  To put it simply, what I want on Saturday is the same as what I wanted back in 2007, the enjoyment of running fast, the excitement of the competition etc.  The mental preparation this year for the South Downs Marathon hasn't been as extensive as 2007, but I feel confident that there has been adequate preparation.  I am more experienced now.

Well sorry, if tonight's blog has been rather jumbled and a bit all over the place.  As mentioned above, tonight's blog is mainly for my benefit, my essential race preparation.  Thank you for aiding me in my race preparation. 

I think I will sign off by repeating Charlie Spedding's key section from his excellent book.  Give it some thought.  How many of the following aspects do you do?

"Change my vocabulary. Aim for perfection. Know what I want, why I want it, and how much I want it. Use my imagination. Try to feel fantastic, and think like a caterpillar."  Charlie Spedding (2010) p86.

Enjoy your racing,


1 comment:

  1. Another helpful post Stuart.

    With just over a week to go before my BIG race of the year I'll be taking your thoughts on board (not that I'm aiming to win the whw!!).

    Have a great race and I look forward to hearing how you get on!