Saturday, 10 December 2011

Endurancelife Dorset Coastal Trail Marathon - Race Report - Self Expectations Influence Performance


If you have come to my blog for the first time to read my Endurancelife Dorset Coastal Trail Marathon race report, welcome, I hope you find your visit to my blog worthwhile. You will see from the length of my posts that they reflect the running that I do, i.e. marathon and ultra distance durations. So you will require reasonably high levels of endurance to manage to reach the end of each and every post!

One of the key benefits I get from writing my blog posts is that it provides quality time to reflect on my training and racing, in order to improve in subsequent races. I feel my performance in last weekend’s Dorset trail marathon, which I was pretty pleased with, was largely a consequence of the time I spent reflecting on my performance in my last race, the Beachy Head Marathon. It was in the process of analysing my performance in the Beachy Head Marathon, where I finished in 2nd place, but in a time 30 seconds slower than the year before, combined with the development of my Race Focus Energy Fatigue Model, where I identified what was required in order to produce a successful performance down in Dorset. With success being defined as a performance I am happy with, i.e. where I feel as if I have run as well as I can (yes, a rather vague criteria, which I will hopefully expand upon).

So as I prepared for the race, the key aim was to run hard and focused for the entire 26.6 miles (the distance advertised on the Endurancelife website and what my Garmin 305 watch indicated on the day). This desire to remain focused the entire way was in direct response to how I raced at the Beachy Head marathon, where I eased of the pace in order to unsuccessfully prepare for a tactical battle with the eventual winner. On reflection, easing off the pace between miles 19 – 23 resulted in me not able to feel totally satisfied with my performance. I guess if I had won the race I would have traded the easing off the pace, with the satisfaction of winning. Well that was the rationale I accepted, as I ‘gave in’ to the messages ‘bombarding’ me to slow down during the race.

Leading up to the Dorset race extensive time was spent firstly clearly establishing answers to the initial three questions one has to answer when preparing for a race; What do I want? Why do I want it? How much do I want it? In order to answer these questions I had to be totally aware of what the race would entail, so then I would be able to determine / visualise how I would respond to the demands of the race. I therefore purchased an Ordinance Survey map, and transferred the course from the map downloaded from the website, onto the larger scaled map. The time spent doing this is a critical component of my preparation. It allows me to get ingrained into my subconscious the overall plan of the course, as if looking from above. I am therefore aware in what direction I should be heading, whether there are any 90degree turns, any out and backs, parts where we retrace the same path, etc. It basically gives me an overall feel of the route, at a deep level. During the race, just having this plan view of the course firmly ingrained, totally eliminated any doubt there could have been, just after the turnaround point where there was some confusion over which way to go. I simply referred to the visual image I had of the route map within my head, and was able to progress along the correct route, without there being any doubt at all, so thereby avoiding any upward swing of the RPE – RFE arrow (see previous Race Focus Energy posts).

In addition to marking the route on the map, I also carefully observe the number of contour lines I cross and the closeness of the lines, hence the steepness of the climbs. I also note the height at the peak of the climbs, so therefore get a feel for the elevation demands of the course. Further time is also spent trying to find photos of the area, which is combined with viewing the map, and a fly over the course on Google Earth, using the GPS file provided by the Endurancelife organisers on the website. The hours I spend doing this research / preparation, I consider are as beneficial, if not more beneficial to my performance than spending the same time running.  The graph below clearly shows the rather demanding elevation profile!

Based on all of the above research, I was then able to have a rough prediction that I would be running for around 3 hours 40 minutes. Having a reasonable calculated idea of the time duration of the race is important, as the time duration expectation controls the pace you are able to run at. If there is doubt over the expected race duration, then this uncertainty increases the level of the reserve portion of the RFE tank, as well as swinging the RPE – RFE arrow upwards. Both of these aspects reduce your performance.

Race day arrived and I felt confident that my preparation had gone well, so I was therefore expecting a strong performance. In terms of my physical training, well I hadn’t actually done that much since UTMB way back in August - checking the training diary, only 453 miles at an average of 32.4 miles per week. However, having close to 40,000 miles of running within my legs, I knew my recent physical training wasn’t really going to limit my performance, and with this belief, my confidence and race expectations were high come race day. One of the key messages I try to get across within my talks is that one of the main purposes of physical training is simply to create confidence that one’s preparation has gone well, the physiological benefits of additional/high levels of physical training are probably secondary in comparison to the confidence benefits.

Over the last year I have been listening to the MarathonTalk Podcasts If you haven’t come across MarathonTalk, then you really should give their website a visit. The podcasts consist of two guys, Martin Yelling and Tom Williams chatting about running, combined with a great interview each week. This week was the 100th edition, so there is loads of really excellent material within the podcasts. Well anyway, over the last few weeks there had been a bit of talk about Martin Yelling racing the Endurancelife Dorset Coastal Trail Marathon. Now Martin is an elite athlete, I think a sub 30 minute 10km runner, as well as I think a double National Duathlon Champion. However, listening to him and Tom chat, it appears that they place far too much emphasis on one’s recent levels of physical training. Therefore leading up to the race, one could sense that Martin no longer considered himself as an elite athlete, even though he had just completed a 5km Park Run in close to 16 minutes, whereas I would be struggling to get close to 17 minutes based on my current physical preparation! So as the race got closer my village training partner Kev, who got me into listening to MarathonTalk , every Saturday morning would ask me “Are you going to take down Martin Yelling?” In most instances when people ask me am I going to win a race, I always reply that I cannot control how other runners perform, so unable to answer. But to Kev’s question, I was able to answer, yes, no problem, should do. This response was nothing to do with Martin’s physical capabilities, which on paper were superior than mine, but by listening to his self expectations. It appeared that he no longer considered himself as an elite athlete, he felt that he had under prepared, and therefore as one performs to their expectations, there was no way he was going to beat me, as his belief in his under preparations would most likely result in him under performing! I had felt my preparation had gone well, my confidence was high, and knowing that race performance in trail marathons and ultras is determined by more than the physical, I had a strong feeling that it wasn’t going to be a close contest!

Well, I did warn you at the start of this post that you would need marathon endurance to get through my blog posts! One reason my posts are so long is that I log all the time I spend typing up the posts as training. So the more I type, the more training I have completed, so therefore increased confidence leading into a race, due to extensive time conducting TOTAL preparation!

There are around 150 starters gathered at the start line near Osmington, not far from Weymouth. The course heads east, along the coast, with a strong tailwind for around 14 miles, before coming back on a less undulating route, slightly in from the coast. As the course within 100 metres from the start crosses a style and then shortly after goes onto single track, Endurancelife opt for a dibber start, where as you cross the start line you have to dib your dibber. This prevents the frustration of getting stuck in a ‘traffic jam’ as it takes around two minutes for all runners to start, thereby spacing the runners out. At the front of the field it makes the start of the race have a different feel, as immediately the lead bunch is down to less than ten runners. I cross the first stile after 100 metres of uphill leading the small bunch, and then decide to stretch the legs out a bit.

If you have looked at my two previous posts on my Race Focus Energy (RFE) Fatigue Model then hopefully you have an understanding that I believe that performance in trail marathons and ultra trail races is determined by the rate of usage of RFE during the race, in relation to the size of the RFE tank. There are different strategies runners adopt when running marathons, and most of them are based on the outdated model of fatigue in endurance events, i.e. fatigue is due to depletion of carbohydrate/glycogen, or due to lactic acid! The latest research has clearly shown that this concept in most cases is incorrect (unless you don’t take on carbohydrate during racing). It is now widely accepted (initially proposed by Professor Tim Noakes) that fatigue in endurance events is a consequence of a decrease in muscle activation, controlled by the brain, which is strongly influenced by one’s rating of perceived exertion (RPE). My RFE model has this latest research, i.e. RPE, at its core, however, it also takes into account all of the other factors that influence performance such as confidence, self belief, positivity, negativity, excitement, enjoyment, encouragement etc.

I therefore run hard right from the very start of the race, working at a high level, not directly monitoring my physical intensity (RPE), but monitoring the current usage of RFE. The two are related, but it is the RFE that is most important. My aim is to try to maintain a constant level of RFE usage throughout the race, so this means that my mental effort/focus is identical in the first mile to what it is during the last mile. This is a totally different concept to the typical advice one reads within running magazines, and even the advice that Martin and Tom give out on Marathon Talk, i.e. to run at an easy pace to half way, so at half way you feel comfortable so able to ‘handle’ the second half of the race when things get ‘tough’. It is interesting, that in all of the MarathonTalk podcasts I have listened to, which are quite a few now, this one concept on marathon pacing, is pretty well the only bit of advice Martin and Tom have given that I don’t agree with. I just can’t understand how they can have such good ideas on all other aspects of running, training, nutrition, preparation etc. but yet get this concept, in my opinion, so, so wrong! The idea of a negative split that they frequently highlight and encourage, appears to me to be unattainable if running to your true capabilities by runners apart from the very, very elite. Yes, there are ‘middle of the pack’ runners that achieve a negative split in a marathon, but rather than celebrating this, I think one should question how have they achieved it. Most likely due to running so slowly in the first half of the race, resulting in their overall time being significantly slower than it would have been if they had attempted to focus for the entire duration of the race. In essence, I see the negative split argument, i.e. take it easy to halfway, As an acknowledging that one’s preparation has not been adequate, in that one doesn’t have the confidence to focus for the whole race, so they are turning the marathon into a half marathon. The unconfident runner runs at training pace for the first half, and then starts to race, starts to focus after half way, due to only having the confidence that one is able to race/focus for half the distance!

Sorry about the previous paragraph. I just had to get that ‘off my chest’, as it really bugs me that so many runners believe the equal running pace concept for marathon running, and therefore I feel perform at a level so much lower than what they could be capable of, if they had used a different pacing strategy! Anyway back to last weekend’s race. So I leave the stile running on my own. Whilst racing I have now mastered the need to look behind to see how close the following runners are. I simply now focus on what I am doing, not on what others are doing. Remember you can’t control what they do! I am running on my own, monitoring the level of race focus energy (mental effort) I am using, checking that I am not using it up too quickly for a 3 hour 40 minute duration race. I guess after around 10 minutes of running I am rapidly joined by another runner. I couldn’t feel that there was anyone close behind, so it was a bit of shock when he seemed to rapidly join me. We run along with him directly behind me for a few minutes, and then he starts chatting. Now, there are times when to chat, and times when not to chat. Typically one chats in a race, when the intensity is down a bit, so therefore race focus energy isn’t in high demand to maintain the solid running pace. We were moving along at quite a rapid pace for a start of a marathon, especially when most people like to run conservatively at the start. So this wasn’t really the chatting time. So I reply with one word answers. The following runner continues to chat as I slightly up the intensity. I weigh up the options.  Is he finding the pace really easy, or hopefully more likely, it is that he is adopting the strategy that I sometimes use in a race when I sense that the other runner is possibly stronger than me. This strategy involves trying to create the illusion that I am finding the pace really easy, like a training pace, no focus needed, hence able to chat away freely. I decide on the latter and experience an immediate swing down of the RPE – RFE arrow as my confidence grows as I conclude that he is concerned about my capabilities and he likely perceives himself as the weaker of the two of us. He asks where I am from, I reply from Brighton, which he comments “Your accent doesn’t sound like it’s from Brighton”. I decide that here is the golden opportunity to ‘throw a killer punch’! I therefore respond with a comment like “I can’t call myself a Kiwi anymore now that I race for the Great Britain elite trail running team!” He asks for further explanation, so I eagerly tell him about my racing at the World Champs earlier in the year in Connemara, Ireland. I then ask for his credentials. His name is Vince Kamp and his reply is that he is just getting into trail marathon running, although successfully winning the previous months Endurancelife Coastal Trail Marathon in Gower. He then concludes that he is a novice, and even comments out loud “Maybe I am going a bit too hard. I shouldn’t be running up here at the front with you, a GB International runner”. And at that instant, even with more than 24 miles of running to go, the winner of the race was pretty well determined, barring injury/cramp, or getting lost.

We run together for I guess another 15 – 20 minutes. I test him out on a few occasions by slowly/subtly increasing the intensity for a minute or two, just to try to get him to reconfirm his belief that I am much stronger that him. We then have a long descent where for the first time he runs to the front. Shortly after this descent we start climbing a steepish hill. To my surprise, he starts walking, even though the hill wasn’t a ‘walking’ hill, well not at this early stage of the marathon. I continue to run, and slowly overtake him. As I hadn’t put in an attack to drop Vince, I decide to simply keep the intensity constant, rather than up it. The last thing you want to do is to give the other runner a confidence boost by them seeing you significantly increase the pace to attempt to drop them, and for them to counter this attack and to reattach to you. So I am waiting for him to rejoin me, he doesn’t, so after a few minutes more of ‘waiting’, I then decide that now is the appropriate time to significantly increase the intensity for the next 10 – 15 minutes or so, in order to establish a larger gap.

At around the nine mile mark - A bit close to the cliff edge!

An illustration of Race Focus

As I don’t look behind while racing, there are only brief instances, as the course sharply turns, when I actually get an approximation on just how far behind he is. It isn’t until shortly after the turnaround point when we cross paths that the size of the gap is more accurately confirmed. I usually note the exact time it takes me to meet the following runner when on an out and back section of the course. On this occasion, probably as a result of the conversation we had had earlier, I didn’t feel the need to check the time gap. However, I did make sure that as we got close to each other and passed each other, I made sure that I looked as if I was just out for a cruisey Sunday training run. Chatting to Vince after the race, this was one thing he highlighted. Upon seeing me cruise past just after the turnaround point, he comments that it simply confirmed that I was in a “different league” to him. Remember the latest research on endurance fatigue mentioned in previous blog posts, based on muscle activation from the brain. Well self expectations play a large role in determining the amount of motor output/muscle activation. His self expectations therefore allowed him to accept me running away from him, and for his running pace to decrease. When I further questioned Vince about why he thought I was clearly going to beat him. It appeared that his reasoning was based on his assessment of his physical preparation. He hadn’t been doing as many miles training as he would want to, being significantly less than the mileage that he used to do in the past, and with him not realising that probably the most important benefit from physical training is actually the confidence it develops, it appears that he allowed this decrease in his physical training to lower his confidence levels.

The remaining 12 miles are back into a head wind. With around 7 miles to go I join into the half marathon field. The last time I experienced this was back in March in the Endurancelife Sussex Coastal Trail marathon. I recall during that race, that joining the half-marathon field really interrupted my race focus, and I significantly slowed. Having reflected on how I ran back in March, I had extensively prepared for this moment within my visualisations. I therefore managed to maintain a good pace last weekend, and slowly worked my way through the half marathon field. On this occasion I therefore used the half marathon runners as a positive, to swing the RPE - RFE arrow downwards as I passed each additional runner. Take a look at my Sussex marathon race report back in March, where on that occasion, joining the half marathon race caused an upward swing of the RPE - RFE arrow. Yes the importance of race reflection. The benefits of writing this blog!

Before I know it I am making my way up the last tough muddy climb with less than a mile to go, and shortly afterwards dib my dibber at the finish line in a time of 3 hours 47 minutes and 54 seconds. I am rather pleased with my performance, in terms of maintaining a pretty constant level of RFE usage throughout the entire duration of the race. The following link shows the data on the GarminConnect website:, The graph below illustrates only a slight dropping of my heart rate. Even though, one would expect an increase in heart rate during an endurance event as a result of cardiac drift, (a rise in heart rate occurs when maintaining a constant running pace). During an endurance event, the amount of race focus energy required to maintain the same running pace increases as the race progresses. Therefore in order to maintain constant RFE usage, one’s running pace has to decline, and hence the slight decline in heart rate as the drop in running pace is more than the rise in heart rate due to cardiac drift.

Just a slight detour back to my negative split pacing strategy ‘rant’ earlier. In order to achieve a negative time split, actually requires quite a massive disproportional balance in terms of race focus, i.e. mental effort. To run at a constant running pace throughout a marathon actually means at the start, and for the early few miles the pace just typically feels so easy. However, to maintain that same pace near the end of the race requires massively higher levels of RFE, mental effort whatever you want to call it. This uneven distribution of RFE is in my view a totally flawed concept! It is RFE that needs to be constant during a marathon, not running minute mile pace, or even heart rate! The only exception is if you are one of the best of the elite. Remember though they the very top elite are a totally different ‘breed’ of runner. It seems strange that in terms of what elite runners are able to achieve, in no other way do ‘middle of the pack’ runners try to replicate what they do. They don’t try to run at 4:45 minute mile pace. They don’t try to train 150 - 200 miles per week. They don’t try to do 20 mile tempo runs. They don’t live and train at altitude. So why is it that many people have the idea that a middle of the pack runner can run at a constant pace throughout a marathon, or even produce a negative split, just because the best elite runners can achieve it!

Vince Kamp finishes in second place twelve minutes behind me, and wins the ‘smack down’ (MarathonTalk terminology) with Martin Yelling, as Martin finishes in a time of 4 hours 27 minutes. Click this link to listen to a three minute snippet from this week’s MarathonTalk podcast where Martin retells his experiences at the Endurancelife Dorset Coastal Trail Marathon. or click here to listen to the entire podcast. Third finisher in the marathon was Nick Wright in 4 hours 15 minutes.  The first three women marathon finishers were really close: Jay Hairsine 5:04, Candice Mcdonald 5:05 and Alice Constance 5:06.  For the remainder of the afternoon, around 800 runners in total cross the finish line, at the end of either; a 10km, half marathon, marathon or 34 mile ultra trail race. All finishers appear to be on a real ‘high’ experiencing a huge sense of achievement, having completed such a demanding but extremely scenic course. Take a look at a short video of the race to get a feel of the day on the following link:
There is a great atmosphere within the large hall at the finish line, as I start my second marathon effort of the day, i.e. non-stop talking for a few hours. Late in the afternoon I take a short break, and then at around 6:30pm, I kick off the first of the Live More Lecture Series for the season with a 40 minute talk titled “The Ultra Trail Mont Blanc: A Tale of Two Races – Preparation, Positivity, Performance”. The 40 minutes absolutely ‘flies by’ and I manage to get through most of my planned material, although unfortunately wasn’t able to fully explain my RFE Fatigue Model, which I introduce to the audience of around 70 runners during the 15 minutes of questions. The audience seem to take on board my ‘out of the box’ ideas, with the only heckling I receive being from my two sons, who were quite amazed that there were so many runners who actually paid money to hear me talk! There are then two really interesting talk by Tobias Mews and Phil Davis on The Marathon Des Sables, and by Andrew Barker, from Endurancelife, on the Norseman Xtreme Triathlon in Norway

So to summarise it was a really enjoyable day. From running strong during the marathon, to meeting loads of other runners, then to cap it off, for my presentation to be so well received. Thanks to Endurancelife for all their efforts in putting on such a great event. Thanks to all of the other runners for sharing such a challenging and enjoyable race.

To finish off this post, two signing off quotes which add a little bit more to some of the concepts I have raised above:
“The medals do not necessarily go to the fastest, strongest and fittest, but to the one with not only high emotional-mental intensity, but also the ability to focus it into performance.”
“The lead pack dwindled and swelled and dwindled again, as runners wrestled with their limitations and sorted themselves into the positions befitting of their mindsets.”
Lorraine Moller, New Zealand Marathon Runner, Bronze Medallist 1992 Barcelona Olympic Marathon, from her autobiography “On the Wings of Mercury – The Lorraine Moller Story”, Longacre Press, 2007.

Lorraine Moller’s book is probably the best running book I have read, even better than Ryan Hall’s “Running with Joy”, Harvest House Publishers, 2011, and Charlie Spedding’s “From Last to First”, CS Books, 2009. Both Ryan’s and Charlie’s books are excellent, so probably a good time to mention/hint to your partner/family when they are searching for ideas for Christmas presents. (I doubt you will find Lorraine Moller’s book available in the UK, but could be available to order on the web somewhere!)

Well if you managed to get to the finish line of this blog post then you truly do have endurance abilities. So you just need to work on that self-belief! All the best with your TOTAL preparations.


PS Don’t forget to check out MarathonTalk. Both Ryan Hall and Charlie Spedding have been interviewed by Martin and Tom, and both are excellent interviews.


  1. fascinating read as usual. love your racing approach. fearless

  2. Outstanding Stu, and fascinating. Come a long way since Dunedin days! Email me sometime
    And congrats on a great win.

  3. Wow. Long post Stu but worth the read. My decision to 'not see myself' as an elite athlete is very much a choice based decision. It's not that I don't think I could still perform well but that I have no desire to strive towards previously attained heights. My motivation now comes from participation and personal challenge and isn't about racing or results. Negative split stuff - hmmm- when we are talking largely to mass participation runners even splits work. Even at the top level elite splits are quite similar for the best runs. Anyway, good to meet you and keep running well.

  4. Great to read your post. Have read it before but the marathon talk podcast reminded me to look again. I love debate about performance and like that you have got a good bit of banter with Martin yelling too!

  5. Great writing Stu, I really love your thoughts on RFE and mental application during endurance events. I do really really believe that a large amount of what we achieve is governed by our mental state and how we see ourselves. Ironman taught me a lot about opening my mind to what might be possible when we throw away the self imposed limitations of our mind.

    I will certainly consider your thoughts on the negative split theory... although at the moment I do still think that the way to achieve your best time for a course is through an even 'power output' from beginning to end. It is of couse impossible to measure power output when running, and a super hilly ultra over varying terrain makes it impossible to even guess what your running power would have been. From my own personal experience though I have always found the negative split to work, for example...

    In 2008 I PB'd over half marathon having absolutely gunned it from the start (similar to how you would recommend racing). Crossing the finish line in 80 minutes I was completely spent, dry retching, and cramping... my face had been like yours in the above photo from pretty early on. Three months later I lined up at the London Marathon with a PB of 2:57, going through half way in 1:25 feeling strong with an RPE of around 7-8/10 I pushed on to a second half in 1.24 and a new marathon PB of 2:49. Now, my point is, based on my experiences over the half earlier in the year I would have thought that a faster first 13.1 in London would have left me unable to get even close to 2:49 at the finish. I would estimate that for every minute faster at half way I would have lost at least two in the second half.

    It's a very difficult question to answer... I guess the best way would be to find a course that you could run week after week and then experiment with different pacing strategies over the early miles? My money's still on the even / negative split but I'd be delighted to be proved wrong.

    My quote for the day... "I'd rather know I was wrong than think I was right" ;)

    Thanks for supporting the show,


    P.S. Seventeen minutes for 5K "based on my current physical preparation" ? You're a worse sandbagger than Martin ;) LOL

  6. Hi Ian, Mike, Martin, Alex and Tom

    Thanks for the above comments. Yes Mike, things have moved on since my cycling days back in Dunedin. I'll zap you an e-mail.

    Yes, I seem to have started a bit of a debate here regarding pacing strategy. Rather than expanding on my pacing ideas here, I have just posted an entire blog about it, and yes, as usual it tends to go on a bit. So thanks for the feedback and prompting me to investigate deeper why I have my views on negative splits. Hopefully you will have the spare moment or 20 to have a read. I would welcome any further comments you may have.

    To Martin and Tom, keep up the great stuff on MarathonTalk. I just loved Steve Jones's approach. No watch, no doubts, just went out hard from the start for a 2:07 marathon, Still a British record over 25 years later, and nowhere near close to achieving a negative split!


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