Thursday, 20 January 2011

Changes Over Time - The Need to Change Expectations

Hi, yes I do still exist!

Well it has been quite a while since my last post.  I have even been shamed on John Kynaston's "Blogs Hall of Shame" for it being two months since my last post!  The reason?  None really apart from I guess my summer training camp in New Zealand, which resulted in me being pretty busy before going, and following my return.  I call it a summer training camp but it was actually a family holiday, catching up with family and friends.  But whilst we were there I did manage to fit in quite a few runs.  So I am now back in the UK, all raring to go for 2011, having run some good miles to finish 2010 off with.  Unfortunately though, I am not quite as 'skinny' as expected, largely as a result of too many barbeque's, beers and ice creams!  Oh well, plenty of time before my first race to sort that out.

Having not written a post for two months, I have a number of topics at mind; review of 2010, goals for 2011, new sponsors, etc.  But before any of these topics, firstly I will reflect on my trip back to New Zealand, and hopefully try to add a bit more to the topic I started way back at the start of November titled "Developing Positive Self Expectations - Part 1".  So tonight's post is titled "Changes Over Time - The Need to Change Expectations".

It was the beginning of December that we flew out to New Zealand.  Apart from the movies on the plane there was a Golden Classics section which included the TV programme Charlie's Angels.  Not sure if it showed on TV over in the UK, but I used to watch it every week in New Zealand back in the seventies!  I remember it as a really good programme!  Well what a surprise I got as I watched it on the plane.  It was absolute 'trash'!  I managed to watch about 30 minutes of it and then couldn't bear it any more!  So what has this got to do with Ultra Running I can sense you asking???  Well it got me thinking about how I have changed over the years, since being a teenager enjoying watching Charlie's Angels.  The strange thing is that I hadn't really realised that I had significantly changed, as the changes had been very gradual.  In my post titled Developing Positive Expectation - Part 1 there is the following paragraph:

"Now, I have been running for many years. I am running my umpteenth half marathon. What pace do I run at? Simply a pace similar to my previous runs in half marathons. How do I know that this is the right pace. It simply feels right! What happens if I find that I am closer to the front, quite a bit ahead of all of the other runners that are usually around me? I question, should I be this far near the front, in front of the others, and relate back to my expectation of what I expect I am able to achieve, and then adjust the pace accordingly, in most occasions probably easing of the pace, being conservative, so I don't 'blow up', even though no-one is able to actually define what 'blowing up' is!"

The key point from this paragraph is that the pace we run at in a race tends to be based on previous experiences.  We run at a pace that we expect we are able to maintain.  The only problem with looking back at previous performances is that you may not actually appreciate how you as an athlete have changed / have developed.  With reflection of races, it is capable to learn from every race, therefore capable to improve.  But looking back at my running over the past 30+ years, I don't think I acknowledged that I was capable of improving my performance simply due to the 'wisdom' gained from race experiences.  I used to think that performance was entirely determined by physical preparation, not other factors.  So even though I was improving and learning from my racing, my actually performances weren't improving, as my self expectations were based on the past.  And as I have mentioned before in many posts, I now strongly believe that how well one performs is largely determined by one's self expectations.  Because the changes in my 'ability' occurred at such a slow rate, I didn't acknowledge that I was now a better runner, so my performances didn't reflect me being a better runner.

I'm not really sure what I am trying to get across here within this post.  I guess the message is that perhaps one needs to 'step back a bit from oneself', and try to evaluate how one has developed as a runner.  Try to compare oneself with what one now knows about running, compared with what one knew a few years ago.  And with that increased experience due to running many, many miles, and many races, one is capable of RAISING one's self expectations.  Expect more from oneself.  People change as an athlete, just as they change as a person.  Most people over time, probably like myself, would no longer find Charlie's Angels enjoyable!  One must acknowledge the change, and expect more from oneself.  Otherwise, they may be like I was, always expecting the same level of performance from oneself, and therefore limiting oneself!  Hopefully you can follow the above.  Apologies, I guess I'm a bit blog 'rusty' with it being so long since my last post!

Back to my New Zealand trip, but I will return to this "Acknowledge Change" theme as I progress through my holiday. First stop in New Zealand was Wellington, my home town, and my first big run of the trip was a 25 year anniversary run of an awesome run that I had completed way back in 1985 when I was 22 years old.   At the time I was pretty fit, as I was in training for the 1986 Coast to Coast race, that consisted of some cycling, kayaking and a pretty tough off road run, on a tramping track, up over a descent climb down in the South Island.  Living in Wellington, bottom of the North Island, I identified the 22 mile Southern Crossing tramping (hiking) track, that goes from the Otaki Forks on the west coast of the lower North Island up to a height of around 1500 metres, before finishing at Kaitoke within the Hutt Valley, as an ideal training run.  At the time back in 1985 only trampers (hikers) would walk the crossing, I hadn't known of anyone that had ran it.  (It wasn't until 1990 that the Southern Crossing Mountain Race first took place,) But I thought it would be great training, so on the 15th December 1985, myself, running friend Mark Higham, who had been the New Zealand Junior Under 20 Road Champion in 1983 so he could run a 'wee' bit, his brother, who was a high standard orienteer, and his friend, also a top quality orienteer, all started the run over the Southern Crossing. 

Back then it was a real adventure, there weren't such things as camelbaks so we had to rely on water at the three huts we passed on route.  No high energy bars such as Cliff Bars.  There weren't even any lightweight thermal clothing.  I think I ran in a wool vest!  Although December, when it should have been the start of summer, I remember that it was a pretty wet and cold day!  My training diary from 1985 states 8 hours 55 minutes total time, consisting of 6 hours 50 minutes actual running.  I recall we had two lengthy stops at two huts, boiling up some hot water for a hot orange drink to help get ourselves warm! 

So 25 years later, unfortunately running it on my own, as none of my running friends from 25 years ago were either capable of running for seven plus hours, or excited by the prospect to want to do it!  So I catch the bus from Wellington up the coast to Otaki.  It is around 11 miles on first sealed road then gravel road before I reach the Otaki Forks where the tramping track starts.  Knowing that on the very exposed ridge above Kime Hut it can get extremely windy and cold, I am well prepared with emergeny blanket and loads of spare clothing and food.  So my Inov-8 pack is pretty heavy with around 1.5 litres of water and all of my spare clothing, as it is a beautiful sunny day, so I am enjoying running in just a t-shirt.

The two images below show the route and the elevation profile of my run. 

Clicking the link takes you to the Garmin website with the GPS and heart rate data.  As the data shows, I am cruising along at around 7 - 7:30 minute miles before I hit the start of the track, where the pace dramatically drops due to the steep climb.  To cut a long story short, I have a great run, up and over the tops, and as I start along Marchant Ridge, before the final gentle descent down to Kaitoke, I am up on schedule on my time from 1985.  It looks like my time from Otaki Forks to Kaitoke will be around 6 hours 30 minutes running time (which is the same as my total time as I am not having any breaks at huts this year).  Unfortunately, somehow I get on the wrong track and end up descending very steeply down off the ridge, down into the narrow valley containing Smith Creek. With the track next to the creek being washed away, combined with a slightly longer route, with an extra hill at the end, the navigation mistake adds loads of time to my run.  Which isn't really a problem, apart from not being able to directly compare my running time to 1985, although my brother Graham, waiting at the end of the track to pick me up wasn't overly pleased! 

Back to the theme of "Acknowledging Change", what should I have expected in terms of how long it would take me to run the Southern Crossing?  Physiologically, in terms of VO2max, although I haven't got any data to confirm it, my VO2max would have been substantially higher in 1985.  Back in 1984, 1985 I was able to race 10 miles on the road in around 52 - 53 minutes.  Although I don't race on the road now, I would expect that probably 56 - 57 minutes would be my likely time now!  However, I would expect (as evidenced from research) that my running economy would be substantially better now in comparison with 1985.  And as ultra endurance performance is physiologically predominantly determined by running economy, this improvement in running economy will benefit me immensely on a seven hour run.  So overall my expectation in running the Southern Crossing was that I would run it quicker in 2010 than in 1985.  On both occasions I wasn't racing it / wasn't running it particularly hard, just running at that comfortable training pace, so intensity wise probably similar.  Although due to going off course, I don't really know for sure, indications were that I was going to be a little bit quicker in 2010.

I guess one 'take home' message from this 25 year anniversary Southern Crossing run is that it is important to reflect on how one has changed, in all aspects, not just the physical/physiological, and most importantly, to relate this to what determines performance in ultra trail running.  I state above that I expected to complete the run quicker in 2010 due to possible physiological reasons, but in reality, my confidence in expecting to complete the run quicker was due to my improved mental state.  Back in 1985, the thought of running the Southern Crossing was rather 'daunting'!  Last month, it was just another longish run!  No apprehension, no doubt!  Remember, expectations so often lead to reality.  What one expects, one often gets!

Oh no!  This post is looking like becoming a bit of a marathon effort to start 2011 off with, but I just want to reflect on one last story from my time back home in Wellington.  Back in 1985 the running scene in New Zealand was very strong.  We would have around 300 - 400 senior men run the Centre Championships, the Centre being I guess equivalent to an English County.  We would race each other often throughout the year over cross country and road.  Looking back now, what was surprising was that our positions within the races relative to the other runners we knew well, especially the runners from the Hutt Valley part of the Wellington Centre would remain pretty consistent, pretty well regardless of what physical training we did.   While in Wellington last month, I had a great night having a 'beer or two' with one of the real 'character' runners from the Hutt, Gerard Maarhuis along with a few other runners.  As one does after a few beers, one reminisces about old times.  How so and so used to always beat ....  From a distance, it all appears clearer now.  Our performances were so consistent over the years, because our expectations were largely based on the previous race.  I used to finish around 25th - 35th in a Centre race, usually a wee bit behind Gerard, who would usually finish a wee bit behind training partner Steve Hunt.  As we reminisced last month I think we could only recall me beating Gerard once, and Gerard never beating Steve over the many years of racing, even though in terms of finish times, there wasn't much between me and Gerard, and then not much between Gerard and Steve.  We simply expected to be beaten by them, or to beat them.  As much as we hoped, we wished that we could beat them, I now believe our performances were largely determined by our 'deep down' self expectations!  Although the shorter the race, the greater the emphasis on the physiology, self expectations still play a role in determining performance.  As the duration of the race increases, the importance of self expectations becomes more substantial.

So as I prepare for 2011, and the excitement of races to come, I hope to gain a lot from my summer training camp in New Zealand.  Yes, the increase in mileage as I enjoyed the sunshine, should provide some physical benefits.  But I think the mains benefits will arise from the reflection that has taken place whilst reminiscing about old times, on some great runs from the past, with some great friends.

To all of you out there as you plan for 2011, a mixed message to sign off with;  "Give some consideration to your self expectations.  Do they need changing?  But remember to keep things in perspective.  Yes, the performance does matter, but the enjoyment gained from not only the running, but from the friendships made along the way, in the 'long run' is what matters the most!"  Stuart Mills, 2011.

A belated Happy New Year to you all,


1 comment:

  1. Great to have you back!!!

    Another interesting post with lots to think about.

    All the best for 2011. Does the Fling figure in your plans??