Saturday, 13 October 2012

I think it is time for an UltraStu story!


Yes, another post so soon after my recent Runfurther Championship commentary.  Well over the last few days, one of the athletes that I coach has been in frequent e-mail contact, and was commenting that she was beginning to have some doubts about whether she would be ready for her first race in a wee while, that was coming up shortly.  She just felt the fitness wasn't there, she felt continually tired, and combined with really wanting to perform well, she wasn't sure what to do.

I read her e-mail, read it again, and thought to myself, what words of wisdom would help? I concluded:

"I think it is time for an UltraStu story!"

So I started typing, and hit send.  Below is a copy of what was sent, which I thought maybe could contain some useful messages for other trail runners.  So hence I am sharing it with you.

I have suggested a few possible messages, but I think there are a few more within the story.  Please leave a comment regarding the messages from the story, which is a true story, if it has any meaning to you.

Happy reading,

Stuart, the story teller!

I will start way back in the 1980s.  I have just left secondary school, so I was 18, but went to the National secondary school champs to watch the guys one or two years younger than me who I had trained with.  There was a school kid from the school 3 miles down the road, who didn’t run for our local running club (Hutt Valley Harriers) but ran for the most successful club in Wellington (around 15 miles away).  We therefore knew the guy, but weren’t overly friendly with him as we felt that he had ‘deserted’ our small, friendly, and less successful club (no top runners) to join the ‘superstar’ club that had most of the best runners in Wellington.  Running was pretty popular and strong back then, so loads of good runners and running clubs (probably around 10 – 12 clubs in the Wellington area).  Yes this guy, really wanted to be good, to be more successful that everyone else, so trained with the best.  In the Wellington races he would generally finish around mid-twenties, low thirties, out of around 80 – 100 runners for his age group.  He trained loads, did everything you were ‘meant’ to do re run training; intervals, tempos, hill reps, long runs, stride outs, drills, stretching, etc. You name it he did it!  Then a little over two weeks out from the National cross country champs, out on a training run he got hit by a car.  Nothing was broken, but he had pretty bad bruising to his legs, so was physically unable to run for two weeks, nothing, absolutely nothing.  Then finally on the Wednesday before the Saturday race, he finally managed a 3 mile really slow jog, then Thursday 6 mile jog, then Friday another 6 mile jog with some stride-outs.  For a while he wasn’t even going to travel up from Wellington to Hamilton (300 miles away) to the Nationals, but he had already paid for the fare and accommodation, so thought, what the hell!

He realised that all of that really good training he had been carrying out for the last year, was now all wasted.  He knew there was absolutely no way he was going to be able to achieve the high, improved position from the previous year, which he knew his training was going to create.  The interesting thing in the months leading up to the Nationals, he always went on about all the training he had done, how he had trained with ‘so and so’, yet surprisingly his performance in races were only improving minimally, he was still no better than mid 20s, occasionally he may get low 20s place.  So come race day, he knew that trying to race properly would be an absolute waste of time, due to not being able to train for two weeks, and therefore all his hard earned fitness would be lost.  He therefore thought he would just ‘have a bit of a laugh’ and go out with the leaders, he had nothing to lose, he would eventually ‘blow up’ and finish way down the field!

So the race starts, he goes out with the leaders, in a field of around 250 runners.  He is loving it, the excitement of being near the front in the National champs, something he had only ever dreamed of.  Remember he was only around 20 – 30th best in the Wellington region, so based on that, his expected place at the Nationals would be around 100th. (Wellington was a really strong running region at that time).  The race progresses, it is 6km in length, and the ‘buzz’ he is getting is unbelievable.  It is the last race of the afternoon, all of the younger age groups and girls have run, so everyone is watching this race.  Not only are there the pupils and teachers from his school cheering him on really excitedly at his high placing, but pupils and teachers from every Wellington region school are shouting at him (Wellingtonians are very ‘patriotic’ and supportive of anyone from Wellington when it involves competing against other regions), so he is experiencing something totally foreign, the shouting and support, for him, little old him, is unbelievable.  Totally different to the encouragement he usually received at a Wellington region race, running in the 20s, or at a National race running around 100 – 130th place.  He forgets that he should be blowing up.  He forgets that he has lost all of his fitness from not running for two weeks due to being hit by the car.  He just continues on running and finishes in 3rd place overall.  Yes, third best secondary school runner in the whole of New Zealand!  From that day onwards he was a totally different runner!  When he returned back to Wellington region races, he was never out of the top 3 or 4 places, and occasional won regional races.  Unbelievable, somehow he had improved from mid 20s, to top 3 or 4!

So, a rather lengthy story.  What is the message?  Well  a few actually.  The problems of wanting it too much, therefore focusing too much on the destination, rather than simply enjoying the journey, and letting the destination, i.e. the result look after itself.  The issue of always running in a fatigued state, due to always training, and never actually letting the body rest, recover, and improve.  How one runs to their expectations, and expectations tend to be based on previous race performances.  Often, the expectations will be slightly raised following periods of good training, however, still based on previous evidence, so only slight improvement expected.  And finally, the importance of enjoyment, excitement, the buzz, the enthusiasm, the removal of doubt / worry.  The significance of emotion.  I could expand on these messages in terms of the RFE model, but I’m pretty sure that your understanding is pretty good, so able to expand it yourself.  Probably a few more messages in the story as well, but this e-mail is plenty long enough at the moment.


  1. I've been thinking about this story today, Stu. It seems the subject of your story didn't put too much pre-race mental focus into his race? Does this not conflict with the message of most of your posts? Yet he surprised himself with his performance.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm in agreement with your message i.e. sort the head and the rest will follow. How does this relate to your client though?

    Clearly her motivation is there. I have often found that a little (sometimes insignificant and surprising) jolt to the confidence is all a person needs to turn a corner - for the rest to take care of itself.

  2. Hi Dale, Thanks for your comment. You raise a good point. Rather than trying to explain it within this comment, I think I'll expand on what causes performance and what is fatigue in a future blog post, relating specifically to the 'conflict' you have identified. So please be patient, maybe next week or the following week.