Sunday, 30 December 2012

Five Year Review from 1983 to 1987


Yes, back again so soon. Yes, as explained in my previous blog post, with the intention to write seven posts for each five year review, I need to get a move on!  So here is five year review part two.

Before I start 1983 - 1987 though, looking back at my 1978 – 1982 review there are probably two further things that are worthy of mentioning. Firstly, I mentioned that my big break-through race was getting 2nd in the 1980 regional Dorne Cup race. Back in 1979 as I was learning to drive, for some unknown reason I got into visualisation. I would sit in our car parked in our carport with the engine off and visualise driving the mile or so to my school. I would visualise where I was driving and change gear, using the clutch pedal, accelerate out of the corners, brake when stopping at the stop sign etc. Being very familiar with my route to school made the visualisation really easy. I then found that when actually driving the same route, the whole process of driving was heaps easier.

Following my substantial improvement in running during the first part of 1980, both prior to and following my first marathon, suddenly there was a sense that perhaps I could start performing towards the front of the field. During the start of the harrier season, April and May there were one or two club and small interclub races only involving 2 – 3 clubs. The first big regional race of the year was the Dorne Cup. The Dorne Cup was one of the most prestigious cross country races within the Wellington region, which was organised by my running club, Hutt Valley Harriers. I therefore knew the cross country course very well, due to racing over the course in club races and small interclub events. Probably based on the success with the car driving visualisation, in the weeks leading up to the race I spent multiple, multiple times visualising the race, especially the start, running on the edge of the leading bunch following the ‘maniac’ sprint start that always used to occur. I would visualise running on the right hand side of the lead bunch as it completed the first big lap of the playing fields before clearing some fences and heading to the river bank. I would visualise the lead bunch getting smaller but I recall I never visualised the race right to the end. So the visualisation wasn’t about being within a dream world of crossing the line first, hands aloft in the air. It was a lot more about being a realistic visualisation based on the belief that perhaps I could manage to maintain running within the front group. Yes, there is a difference between visualising and dreaming. Dreams do have their purpose, and often can be related to one’s long term goals. But I find the term dream tends to make the content seem unrealistic, beyond the possible at the moment, hence why its use is only as a long term goal, as most likely not possible now.

I have just finished reading Julian Goater’s book titled The Art of Running Faster. It starts of really well with quotes within the introduction like “Relying on science alone ignores the mysterious mental and emotional aspects critical to performance”. However, although overall a good read, I find that he doesn’t truly understand and give sufficient recognition to the “mysterious mental and emotional aspects”, and I was therefore left thinking “and so ... , therefore ...” He seems to touch on some really important aspects, but then doesn’t develop, expand it, relate it back to what you the runner is required to do in order to improve. For example from page 187; “The power of the mind can help you achieve performances far better than you’ve achieved in training. So believe in yourself and expect miracles.” As highlighted, he acknowledges the power of the mind, however, apart for simply stating “believe in yourself” there is little other guidance on how do you actually develop this belief. This is what my intended training blog for January is hopefully going to cover. Then just to wind me up, the term “miracles”, just doesn’t sit very well with me. Terminology / words are very important. They influence feelings, perceptions immensely. To me the term “miracle”, is probably even more unlikely, even more distant than the term dream. If you visualise miracles, such as winning the race with your arms aloft, a bit like the miracle of becoming Olympic Champion, then yes, miracles do sometimes happen, just like winning the lottery. But the likelihood of it happening is so small that it isn’t worth wasting time ‘hoping’ that it will happen!

Oops, sorry about heading off on a bit of a tangent there. It’s just that without getting the detail and the terminology right, important really useful messages can so easily be misinterpreted. Don’t get me wrong, The Art of Running Faster is a good book, but maybe the second edition could be a fantastic book!

Anyway back to 1982! Come race day, as the race progressed I found myself just where I had visualised I would be, on the front right edge of the leading bunch, completing the circuit of the playing fields. I distinctively remember both at that moment in the race and still now, how I thought clearly to myself, “Hey, I have been here before, I have been in this position before.” I hadn’t in reality, but I had within my mind, many, many times. Then, just as I had visualised, the lead bunch had got smaller, and without actually realising it we were two thirds through the race and I was clear on my own in second place, not far behind the leader Matt Squire. As we entered the bush track section, two runners from Scottish Harriers overtake me, one of them was top class runner Peter Stevens who I had raced many times before and who always finished way ahead of me in the first three. Even though I was performing so much better than I had ever done before, rather than letting them go and settling for fourth place, I decide that being overtaken wasn’t what I wanted. As I mentioned above, I never visualised the end of the race, so it wasn’t as though I had visualised a certain position. No, the visualisation was more about the start of the race, and then the process of running well, running strong, running fast. I decide not to accept dropping from 2nd to 4th place and simply lift the pace and leave both of them behind, and end up finishing in 2nd place, 6 seconds behind the winner, but 5 seconds ahead of the Scottish Harrier Andrew Hercus , and the high performer Peter Stevens.

The really strange thing following the race was even though I had finished second I still believed that I wasn’t really any good at running. The Dorne Cup result was somehow a fluke! There was no way I was a better runner than Peter Stevens. With these thoughts at the front of my mind, at the National Secondary School cross country champs exactly one week later, I perform pretty well, achieving 17th place, but as I now realise, my thoughts strongly dictated where I finished, being one place, 2 seconds behind Peter Stevens, and also finishing behind Andrew Hercus 11th, and Matt Squire 5th. For some unknown reason it appears to be human nature to ‘hang on’ to a low perception of oneself, even when there is evidence otherwise. It is as if, to believe in oneself as being good, is quite difficult. Whether this trait is inborn, or whether it is a result of one’s environment isn’t clear, but it doesn’t really matter. The key factor is that one has to successfully battle this trait. The accepted society response of having high self expectations, could be interpreted as being arrogant, of being cocky, being a show-off, being a smart arse. So there is a real conflict here, and probably, why I find that pre-race interviews with top performers are usually so ‘false’. The athlete in order to satisfy society’s expectations states something like “I hope to perform to my best”, even though they have clearly established to themselves, much higher and more specific goals corresponding to their self-acceptance of being an awesome athlete and performing successfully.

Reflecting on the above two races 32 years later, the influence of self-expectations is very apparent. I don’t recall doing any visualisation of the National champs, I guess mainly because I had no idea what the course would be like. Even now I find my visualisations are so much more effective if I have previously run over the course. It is often started that it takes a few attempts to ‘nail’ a good performance. This is especially stated for big races like UTMB or Comrades. I’m not sure how common the use of visualisation is amongst runners, but for me, one benefit I get from having previously run the course is as a result of the enhanced visualisation.

This post was meant to be about 1983 – 1987, however, I will still briefly mention the second aspect from 1978- 1982 before reviewing the next five years. It was during the 1981 Junior (Under 20) Centre Road Champs over 8000 metres. It was on a road course in Miramar, Wellington. A very similar course as the previous year’s centre road champs except about 100 metres from the 1980 finish line, for 1981 instead of turning left, up the side street to the finish line, this year you continued straight ahead and ran probably an extra 700 metres around a block and entered the street with the finish line was the opposite direction. Being a first year Junior (the race categories covered a two year age range) with around 800 metres to go, I am running really well in 5th place, when suddenly Matt Squire, the chap that beat me at the 1980 Dorne cup, and probably the best runner in Wellington for my age year at the time, pulls in the 20 metre lead I had on in and overtakes me going at a significantly faster pace than me. I couldn’t believe what was happening. How could he get a sudden burst of energy at this point in the race, with around 800 metres to go? Back in 1981 I was really into the physiology. Having recently read Arthur Lydiard’s 1978 book “Run the Lydiard Way” I could tell you all there was to know about aerobic, anaerobic, lactate, glycogen depletion, glycolytic energy etc. So I was puzzled into where all of a sudden Matt Squire’s physiological energy had come from!

He pretty well immediately gains a gap of around 20 metres on me, and then appears to start to head of course turning left up the side street to last year’s finish, before being sent straight on my an official. I didn’t think much of the incident at the time. I simply tried to maintain my focus, and work as hard as I could to pull back this 20 metre gap he had established. For the remaining 700 metres of the race, the gap stays the same and I cross the line 20 metres behind him. I immediately approach him and ask him where all the energy came from in order to have such a quick burst to go from 20 metres behind to 20 metres ahead of me. He simply replied that he thought that the finish was the same as the previous year, so when he went flying past me, he thought that he had less than 200 metres to go. He was giving it everything for his final sprint to the line. He did comment that he pretty well ‘died’ on the spot when the marshal sent him straight on, telling him that there was still around 700 metres to go. I recall at the time, that I was quite angry in that he had only beaten me due to chance, due to his ‘good’ luck of misjudging the finish line approach, as without that spurt, I would have almost certainly beaten him!

What astounds me now though, is that at the time I never gave the incident any further thought. Why was it that he could do this rapid spurt? Where did this burst of energy appear from? I guess, apart from now acknowledging just how important it is to reflect in depth upon one’s races, the key messages that I should have taken from this incident at the time, but only now, many years later know are as follows: (i) The mechanism that controls one’s pace, that somehow determines what pace you are able to maintain, in order that you don’t ‘blow up’ tends to be very conservative. It is over protective, and will tell you that you are running at your ‘limit’ which in fact is significantly less than your actual limit. (ii) When we talk about a burst of energy, or running out of energy, this isn’t in fact physiological energy, like ATP or glycogen/glucose. It is mental energy, or what I refer to as RFE, Race Focus Energy. It is this energy that dictates the pace you are able to run. Although the aim during racing is to deplete your RFE tank at the exact instant you cross the finish line, what typically happens is that the mind is very over cautious, and want to keep a reserve supply of RFE just in case you get your pacing wrong, and you ‘blow up’, i.e. run out of RFE before the finish. However, once you are within sight of the finish line, there is no need to maintain this reserve supply of RFE, so all of a sudden extra RFE becomes available, and hence why one is able to producing a finishing spurt, and increase their running pace, even though physiologically they are at their most fatigued.

What Matt Squire was able to do by misjudging the finish line, was to make his reserve supply of RFE available 800 metres out from the finish, rather than only 200 metres out. This enabled him to reverse the 20 metre gap, and then return back to his previous running speed and yet still find some more RFE for the increased pace during the final finishing spurt. Where he found this extra RFE from, is either due to the over conservative nature exhibited in judging one’s pace, so there was still RFE available, or alternatively, by overtaking me and moving into 5th place, he was able to ‘top up’ his RFE at this moment of time due to the extra excitement, satisfaction, crowd support of moving one place up the field. Yes, the unique feature of the RFE model is that there are many factors that can add to the RFE tank, as well as the many factors that can increase the rate in which the RFE is consumed. The RFE model is a much more useful and applicable model, than the now generally accepted, rather limited model concerning physiological energy and its impact on running pace!

Training Diaries 1983 - 1987
Finally, the year 1983!!! This year I was a first year senior, so now running against men with years and years of experience, wisdom and miles in their legs. In some ways I regressed back four or five years, to where I was back in 1978/79, with low expectations of myself in terms of how I would perform in the races. The first big regional race of the year, the Dorne Cup, but now as a Senior (Over 20), I finish in 54th place. As the season progresses I slowly make my way up the field, to 40th place in the Centre Cross Country Champs, and then at the end of the season, finish in 27th place at the Centre Road Champs over 16000 metres in a time of 53:30. Each year, two or three weeks following each regions centre road champs, the National Road Champs took place at a different venue. Each region/centre were able to select up to 20 runners in the Senior category. Finishing in 27th place, I somehow ‘scrapped’ into the Wellington team, I guess because seven runners that finished ahead of me declined the invitation to travel to New Plymouth (a 4 hour drive away) to race representing Wellington.

I recall being in a bit of a dilemma, whether to go or not. I felt really privileged to be invited to represent Wellington and to wear the yellow Wellington singlet (vest). But I also knew that I shouldn’t really be in the team. I wasn’t one of the 20th best road runners in Wellington, and I only made the team due to other runners not choosing to go. In the end, mainly due to the anticipated social side of the trip I decided to go to the National Champs. Yes, and as one would expect, with the social aspects of the trip being the reason for going, I performed really poorly. In fact so poorly I dropped out of the 16000metre race at the half way point. I wasn’t injured, I wasn’t dying, I wasn’t even last! I just had no reason to continue. It was hard work, it was a really hot day, and I was struggling with running against the best senior runners in New Zealand. I had no goals, I didn’t know why I was there, what was I trying to achieve? I hadn’t determined prior to the race, what would constitute a worthy performance. Although, my first experience of representing Wellington at a National Championship was a negative result, I actually gained absolutely loads from the venture. I learnt the massive importance of having clearly established goals prior to the race. These goals must mean something to you, and they must be able to be checked/measured/assessed whilst actually racing. So while one is racing, one is able to gauge whether at the pace they are running whether they are in the process of achieving their goal. The assessment during the race is necessary in order to change one’s strategy if need be, if at the current rate the goal will not be achieved. If it is only possible to determine achievement of the goal after the finish, then the progress of improvement is reduced, as it is only possible to make changes following the race, in preparation for the next race. Yes, the 1983 National Road Champs aided me immensely as I progressed up the massive learning curve to do with endurance performance, which I am still far, far away from reaching the top! During 1983 I raced 29 times, including two ventures into multisport racing, (which I will return to), and ran a total of 2300 miles, my third highest mileage year to date.

The following year, 1984, my second year as a senior runner, proved to be more successful with there being further improvement, that I think was largely due to my understanding of the need to set realistic, but ambitious goals. I didn’t “wish for miracles”. I just gave more thought to my preparation, more thought to visualisations, once I had decided what the goal for each race was. During 1984, I also returned to the marathon, and looking back now, I see that it was actually for the same reason that I did my first marathon as a 17 year old. I still wanted so much to be able to classify myself as a good runner. Even though I was able to run 16 kilometres in 53:30, to me this did not ‘count’ as being a good runner. During the early eighties, endurance running within Wellington was huge, and a time of 53:30 got me nowhere near the front of the field. The winning times for the Senior Centre Champs on the road over 16 kilometres were always sub 50 minutes. I notice from my pile of results that in the 1980 centre road champs the winner was Keith Livingstone, the author of the book titled Healthy Intelligent Training – The Proven Principles of Arthur Lydiard, which I mentioned in my previous post in a time of 49:37. Then as the standard got stronger during the early eighties, the times got quicker with the winning time in 1984 being 48:48 by Dallas McCallum. So by returning to the marathon, it gave me an opportunity to classify myself as a ‘good’ runner.

Back in 1980 I had decided that as a 17 year old, a sub 3 hour time was what was required to be classified as good. Come 1984, now 21 years old, the standard had been raised. Now I decided that a sub 2 hour 30 minute time was required. So the stage was set, could I be a ‘good’ senior runner. Note, I didn’t want to ever be ‘elite’ and looking back now, that was probably the biggest mistake I made during my running, this deep down acceptance that I could never be elite. For some reason, being elite was beyond my reach! Not possible to be achieved. Being elite would be beyond a miracle, only a dream!

I decided that I would race the Christchurch Marathon in June to obtain my sub 2:30 time. This race was selected as the course was extremely quick. It was the same course that was used for the 1974 Commonwealth Games, where Ian Thompson ran 2:09. I therefore planned my training and racing programme, to peak on Saturday the 3rd June. Come race day, all is going well. I am banging out 3:30 kilometres with ease, which equates to a 2:27:41, so I have a few minutes ‘up my sleeve’. Then disaster, as I reach the 35 kilometre mark, I run out of energy, and this is actually physiological / biochemical energy! Back in 1984 there weren’t such things as gels. There was no mention of the need to take on board carbohydrates during the actual marathon. All that was mentioned was the need to carbo load prior to the race. Therefore, I literally depleted my carbohydrate stores, and hence had to massively reduce my running pace for the last 7 kilometres (4 ½ miles)! I cross the finish line on the QEII running track, (the same running track that New Zealander Dick Tayler had the iconic win of the Commonwealth Games Gold over 10000 metres in 1974, convincingly beating World record holder at the time David Bedford, and Englishmen David Black), in a time of 2:30:39. Missing out on being a good runner by 40 seconds! I was disappointed but being so close I felt that yes, with a little bit of improvement I could be a good runner, but that was the limit. I could just ‘scrape’ into the ‘good’ category, but no more!

The remainder of the harrier season I continue to run well, to a level at which I was content with, and although in the Wellington Centre Champs my finishing position of 24th is only three places higher that 1983, the time of 52:14 is over a minute quicker. I get selected for the Wellington team again, for the National Road Champs that this year are being held in Christchurch. Having learnt from my 1983 National Road Champs experience I am conscious of the need to clearly establish, my race goals, what do I wish to achieve? Not knowing how strong the field would be, who the other runners would be, or even what the course would be like, it was hard to establish clearly definable and measurable race goals. I was also finding the visualisations difficult. I therefore decided to simply focus my performance in relation to the other Wellington runners that were competing. I analysed the Centre Road Champ results and decided that I was capable, on the right day, to beat all of the runners that had finished within 40 seconds ahead of me. I have no idea where I got the 40 seconds limit from, but I believed that it was possible at the time, so I then spent three weeks visualising myself ahead of these Wellington runners who were also travelling to the National Champs down in Christchurch. These runners included: Gerard Maarhuis 23rd in the centre champs, Lance Jackson 22nd, Howard Gregory 21st, and Murray Ball 20th, as well as expecting to finish ahead of other Wellington runners who I had beaten at the Centre Champs who were also competing.

In order to really reinforce ‘the want’, the ‘need’ to perform, I then made one to one bets against all of these runners. The bet was for a one litre jug of beer, probably worth around 3 – 4 NZ dollars at the time. Not a huge amount of money, but with probably 8 – 10 bets made, it could have been quite costly if I ran just slightly below my Centre Road Champs form. Recalling the above names really brings back some great memories, and I could type for hours about the great times we had on these running trips. But, I think I will keep these stories for another day.

Whether it was the extensive visualisations, the establishment of well defined goals, or simply the incentive of not wanting to lose loads of money, I don’t know. All I know is that at the 1984 National Road Championships, on an extremely hot day in Christchurch, I ran probably my best ever running race and won every single one of my bets and finished in 46th place, in a time of 53:07. A really great performance for me, but finishing over 5 minutes behind the winner Rex Wilson (47:53), it further confirmed that I should be ‘happy’ with this level of achievement, and not expect anything greater.

Whether, as a consequence of realising that 46th place at the Nationals was the best I could ever achieve, or whether, just simply due to the overall appeal of a new sport, the fun aspect, the natural beauty, the adventure nature of multisport I’m not sure but 1985 saw a change of focus away from running, to the new sport of multisport. Multisport could be simply described as a triathlon, but with kayaking rather than swimming. On occasions the multisport event would be a quadrathlon involving all four disciplines of cycling, running, kayaking, and swimming. But as I wasn’t a very strong swimmer, and didn’t really enjoy swimming, I tended to stick mainly to the kayak triathlon of multisport. In addition rather than the distances for each discipline being standardised as they are in triathlon, for multisport, the distances were determined by the demands of the course, i.e. the distance between the access and exit points on the river, the distance back over the hill, the length of the bush running / tramping / hiking track, etc. It also just seemed so much more casual, exciting and refreshing. The years of 1983 - 1985 were the very start of multisport within New Zealand. The famous Coast to Coast multisport race started in 1983, and the very first National Multisports Championships were held in 1985. During 1984 in addition to running, I also started getting out on the bike a little bit, and competed in a few multisport events and cycling races as preparation for multisport. During 1984 I competed in 23 running races, 6 multisport races, 5 cycle races, and ran a total of 2588 miles, my highest mileage year to date.

The year of 1985 was therefore a transition year, as my focus on running reduced and my competitive thirst was satisfied through multisport and cycle racing. I was extremely fortunate that a friend from Naenae College, Tony Clegg, was a very knowledgeable road cyclist. He was a pretty reasonable level cyclist within the Wellington region, but tended to love the sport of cycling for the overall package (Tour de France, etc), rather than simply enjoying cycling due to the actual racing. He therefore knew absolutely everything about cycling, about how best to train, the importance of a smooth cycling technique, which gear to ride, how to service the bike, change the bottom bracket, glue on tubular tyres, pedal in the seat/out of the seat, etc. Tony and his cycling friend Graeme McLay, an extremely aggressive and powerful cyclist, one of the best track cyclists in Wellngton, both ‘took me under their wing’ and passed on all of their extensive cycling knowledge to me.

It was therefore quite unbelievable, within a very short space of time, from being a total cycling novice, with Cleggy and McLay’s guidance, I was able to compete in cycle races at regional / national level. During 1985 I first won the Wellington two-up time-trial teamed up with John Jackson, a fellow multisport athlete (Yes during 1985 I considered myself as a multisport athlete, rather than a runner or cyclist), beating the formidable pairing of Duane Rock and Ray Tomlinson. Then three weeks later, I somehow won the first stage of the regional Wellington Centre Air NZ two day multi-stage race. Beating all of the top cyclists within the Wellington region including Stephen Carton who had won a Commonwealth Games medal at the 1982 Brisbane Commonwealth Games, and Wayne Morgan who later went on to ride for NZ at the 1988 Seoul Olympics Cycling Road Race. Yes, I had got away in a three man break, and then as we prepared for the sprint finish, I had the words of McLay ringing in my head “Delay your sprint until the very last moment. When you think that the time is right to explode into a sprint, wait, and wait some more, then give it everything”. Having taken on board all of Cleggy’s and McLay’s tremendous experience, this raised my self-expectations significantly. McLay was a natural winner as a cyclist, and his expectation to win seemed to rub off onto me, and as I keep on repeating, yes I know, time and time again, expectations have such a large influence on one’s performance! Hence, why I was capable of winning the first stage. Unfortunately during the afternoon stage of the Centre Air NZ I crashed and had to withdraw!

Throughout the year, I did a mixture of running and cycle racing, including the famous long standing Palmerston North to WeIllington, and Taupo to Napier cycling road races. I raced the Wellington Centre Cycling Road Champs rather than the Centre Running Road Champs, and finish in 9th place, a significantly higher placing than what I could have possibly achieved running. I get selected for the Wellington cycling team to go to the National Road Cycling Championships, but even though I was performing at a really high level, and worthy of attending the National cycling champs, for some unknown reason, I decline my place. I still can recall quite clearly now, after the Centre Cycling Champs road race after being selected, chatting to Dave Comparini. He was one of the Wellington selectors, who was a former cyclist, who had competed at an Olympic Games for New Zealand, so he knew quite a bit about cycling. He was trying to convince me to go to the National champs. He was saying such things as; “you are extremely talented, you have real potential, you could be a ‘very good’ cyclist”. For some reason I didn’t listen to him. I think this was due to the deep down low perception of myself. I could never be a very good athlete, being good was the best I was capable of. And perhaps it was also due to not wanting to be disappointed again. If I listened to him, started to believe that perhaps I could be very good, there however was the anticipated expectation of not being able to perform to his expected level at the National champs and therefore I would have to suffer the disappointment again of further confirmation that ‘good’ is the best I could achieve, and I should be happy and content with that! It is hard trying to remember what my rationale for my decision was back then, over 27 years ago. One thing that I have learnt already from this 35 year review, is just how important it is to create time to carry out serious and deep level reflection of one’s training, racing and decision making. As mentioned in my previous post, one can learn so much from this reflection.

Although, I hadn’t raced the Wellington Centre Road Running Champs, I was still selected in the Wellington team for the National Road Running Champs due to my strong performances in other regional races throughout the season. However, this selection was only within the Wellington ‘B’ team, not the official A team. Because the National Champs were being held in Wellington in 1985, the host centre Wellington, were therefore able to enter a ‘B’ team. I felt that my performances were worthy of me being included within the official A team, so I spoke to Don Dalgleish, the chair of the selectors. He was adamant that because I didn’t race the Centre road champs that I didn’t deserve to be in the ‘A’ team. This got be quite angry. I was therefore really determined to prove him wrong. I therefore had different motivation compared to the 1984 Nationals, but what resulted was a similar strong performance. This time I finished in 33rd place in an identical time of 53:07. Was it a better performance than 1984? Well when compared to the winning time of 48:54 by Geoff Shaw, this being 1 minute and 1 second slower that the 1984 winning time, would suggest that my 1985 performance was actually better, although I only recognised this last year when sorting out the filing of my results/training diaries.

What is quite interesting from this race, is just how there are so many different factors that can influence one’s performance on race day. From reading Julian Goater’s book, where he describes in detail how anger at not being selected for the 1980 Olympics was probably the main cause that led to him racing the best cross country race of his life, winning the 1981 English Cross Country Championships by two minutes, it is obviously apparent that anger can aid performance. The difficult thing is identifying what non-physical factors influence your performance and how to incorporate these into your TOTAL training. During 1985 I competed in 12 running races, 8 multisport races, and 19 cycle races. I ran a total of 1535 miles, and cycled 7350 miles.

The year of 1986 started with a return to the 2-day Coast to Coast multisport race from near Greymouth on the west coast of the South Island to Christchurch on the east coast. I had finished an unexpected high 8th place in the 1985 race, and was therefore hopeful of a higher place than the 6th place I achieved, considering I felt that I had prepared adequately. One thing that I did learn from the 1986 Coast to Coast is that even though one can have a huge desire to achieve, and have high expectations to achieve, there is an actual limit to what the non-physical training can achieve. At the end of the day, the underlying physiology also plans a substantial role in determining the overall performance, and if you come up against other athletes that have the same ambitions, desires, expectations, and have prepared TOTALLY just like you have, it will be the underlying physiology that will determine the result. Yes, I had improved quite significantly from 1985 to 1986, but so had a number of other multisport athletes!

The year of 1986 was also quite significant for me in terms of change. Since leaving school at the end of 1980 I had been a student at Victoria University in Wellington studying architecture. After four years of study I decided that architecture wasn’t really for me, and so come 1986 I had a massive change of direction and headed down to Dunedin, and commenced studying Sports Science at the Otago University’s School of Physical Education. During the year I do a mixture of multisport, cycling and running racing, but to a much lower degree than in previous years, due to a few niggling injuries, but mainly due to the need for my changed direction to sports science, and living away from home for the first time and meeting loads of new people taking priority. During 1986 I competed in 6 running races, 7 multisport races, and 6 cycle races. I only ran a total of 818 miles, and cycled 2560 miles.

The final year of this five year review is 1987. After having a bit if a break during 1986 in terms of competitive focus, I decided that my focus for 1987 would be road cycling. The cycling scene in Dunedin was excellent. Although there were only two cycling clubs in Dunedin, the Otago Amateur Cycling Club, and the Cashes, officially called the Otago Cycling League, there was racing every weekend, with visiting cyclists often from Invercargill and other surrounding areas, as well as travelling to the occasional race away from Dunedin adding variety during the year. The sport of road cycling is quite different to running, in that it is so important to be able to stay within the leading bunch. Once you get dropping it is pretty well history! Overall, I really enjoyed the racing throughout the year, and felt that I improved as a cyclist as the year progressed. I was often able to stay in the front bunch through to the finish, but due to not having much of an explosive sprint, was unable to finish any higher than third place.

The big highlight of the year was racing in the prestigious four day Southland Tour. This event was huge, and involved a total of 12 stages over the four days of racing. Loads of the best cyclists in New Zealand were racing including plenty of New Zealand representative, National Champions, Olympians and Commonwealth Games medallists including; Brian Fowler, Graeme Miller, Wayne Morgan, Alan Miller, Greg Fraine, Del Woodford, Carlos Marryatt, Bruce Storrie, to name just a few. I absolutely loved every minute of the entire four days. I was buzzing the whole time and finished at the end of four days in 10th place overall on General Classification (GC) which also included winning the B Grade classification. At the time I didn’t understand how and why I had performed so well in this event. It is only now whilst doing this review, that it has just dawned on me. My recollection of the Southland Tour in 1987 seems very, very similar to the experience I had at the 2011 IAU World Trail Championships when running representing Great Britain I again performed extremely well, significantly better than any of my previous performances. And the reason for these two outstanding performances? Simply the overall excitement, the overall joy of competing amongst such high quality athletes, some of them literally the best in the world. One can’t underestimate the influence enjoyment and excitement can have on endurance performance. Yes , my final cycling race of 1987, the Southland Tour, was an extremely positive and satisfying experience that it got me yearning for more. At the end of 1987 I couldn’t wait for the following cycling season to commence. I was now an out and out cyclist. No more multisport, no more running, I was 100% a road cyclist. But you will have to wait until my next five year review blog post to discover what happened! During 1987 I competed in 2 multisport races and 24 cycle races, with the 4 day Southland Tour, and the 2 day Tamahine Tour being counted as one race each. I only ran a total of 155 miles, but cycled 9525 miles.

Well, that was a bit of an epic blog post. I didn’t realise what I was taking on when I decided to write seven blog posts each reviewing a five year period. I will sign off with an expression I picked up whilst in Lanzarote competing in the very first Lanzarote Ironman. Yes the next five year instalment introduces the world of Ironman!

If you managed to read this blog post in one sitting, then “You’re a better man than me!” An overweight Englishmen holidaying in Lanzarote, 1992.

Once again, all the best as you review your 2012 year.


Friday, 28 December 2012

Review of 2012 - Well not Quite! First a review of 1978-1982!


It has been a while since my last blog post back in October.  I have been intending to write a post on training to help expand upon some aspects raised back in October, but somehow haven't managed to.  Hopefully the post will eventuate in January sometime.  First though is a review of 2012.

The intention for this blog post was simply a review of my training and racing from 2012. However, with the 1st of January 2013 being exactly 35 years since I started recording my training down into a training log, I got a bit carried away after digging out my training diary from 1978. So the idea of a quick review of 35 years of racing and training seemed appealing. Unfortunately reviewing 35 years isn’t going to be quick! Hence my plan is to split the last 35 years into seven posts, each covering 5 years, starting with 1978 – 1982, so here we go!

35 Years of Training Diaries!

Firstly, why did I start recording my training on the 1st January 1978? Living in New Zealand, I was like most other kiwi boys, I played rugby. Yes from the age of 8 to 13 I played rugby for Naenae Old Boys, the local rugby club. I knew I wasn’t going to become an All Black, and I recall during my last year of playing rugby I was finding it quite demanding, with the intensity of rugby having increased significantly now that I was a teenager! At the same time, I found that I was enjoying the runs we occasionally did as part of PE at secondary school. My favourite PE run, the Summit Road run, I guess was around 2 miles. It was an out and back route, with the turnaround point being at the top of Summit Road. Yes, as you would expect from a road named Summit Road, it was a pretty tough climb up to the turn point where Mr Chen, our PE teacher would be waiting with a clip board to tick off our names! So during the winter of 1977, instead of playing rugby I joined the local running club, Hutt Valley Harriers, and had my first experiences of club racing, usually every second week, with there being a club training run on the other Saturdays when there were no races.

Although I usually finished within the second half of the field, I wasn’t last, so I really enjoyed the season of harriers, involving a mixture of cross country and road races, which ran from April though to October. Meanwhile at school, Naenae College, the occasional Summit Road runs at PE continued, and although I wasn’t doing any training, the benefit of running or racing at Harriers each Saturday was cumulating in me improving during the PE runs, so I was now finishing usually in around 3rd or 4th place, from a total of around 30 boys from the 4L and 4D PE class. Probably the most significant impact that led to me starting to record my training on the 1st January 1978, was in 1977 the arrival to Naenae College of Mr Wilby, a newly qualified music teacher from Christchurch, but most significantly he was a runner. It was during his first year at Naenae College that he established a running group that trained together each day after school. One of my friends from the 4L and 4D PE class, Jeremy Wah, had joined the group and said it was really good and suggested that I should join the group. Jeremy probably used to finish the Summit Road PE run in either 1st or 2nd place, so a better runner than me, but not that far ahead, so although the thought of joining an ‘official’ training group was a bit daunting, there was a little bit of evidence to convince me that I wouldn’t be totally out of my depth training in the newly formed training group.

I therefore resigned from my after school job at one of the local butcher shops that I had been doing each week day for the previous year and a half. I remember ‘conning’ my Mum in that I needed to quit the after school job in order to have more time available to concentrate on my School Certificate subjects (GCSE equivalent), which I would be examined on at the end of 1978. I therefore negotiated a weekly pocket money amount to compensate my loss of earning, and officially commenced my entry into the fantastic sport of endurance running in September 1977. Other runners within the Gary Wilby Training Group were, the Lucock brothers - Mark and Peter, Michael Bastion, Chris Bryant, Jeremy Wah, and also the Ritchie brothers – Glenn and Martyn. Yes, it was all boys in the group, I guess mainly due to the fact that instead of getting changed and departing from the school gym, we met and got changed in one of the music rehearsal rooms. Back in the 1970s us boys at Naenae College didn’t really worry about such things as having a shower following our training. I do recall that on occasions, one girl would join us for the after school runs, her name Fiona Tanis. She was a pretty impressive runner having run if my memory is correct 2 mins 16 secs for 800 metres as a 14 year old. A pretty impressive time! especially as my PB for 800metres as a 14 year old was only around 2 mins 35 secs! Mr Wilby would join in with us on our runs probably around twice per week, mainly for the interval sessions. Without knowing how fortunate we were, Gary Wilby, commonly referred to as the wizard, (you’ll see why in the photo below), was not only a good quality club runner, probably around 25th best within the Wellington region, but more importantly a very knowledgeable running coach, having trained with some of the best runners in Christchurch prior to coming to Wellington, and since arriving in Wellington, being a member of the Victoria University Harrier Club, and therefore currently trained with many of the best runners in Wellington, including the world famous Professor Roger Robinson, the inventor of ‘Sausage Sessions’.

An interesting aside, I have just finished reading an excellent book written by Keith Livingstone titled Healthy Intelligent Training – The Proven Principles of Arthur Lydiard. For a while Keith Livingstone lived in Wellington and he was also a member of the Victoria University Harrier Club. Whether many of his the ideas he shares within his book were developed during his time at Wellington it isn’t totally clear, one thing that is clear though is that the training we were doing within the Wilby training group closely resembled the principles described within his excellent book.

Yes, way back in 1978 our training was extremely well balanced. It was heavily based on the Lydiard Principles, i.e. a strong emphasis on a periodised approach to training, building a strong and solid aerobic base, before moving to the quicker more anaerobic phases. Mr Wilby, although interested in performance, also placed a lot of emphasis on long term sustainability. He was very cautious in not to over train us, or to give us too much anaerobic work without there being an aerobic foundation. Yes, us group of young lads, and the occasional lass from Naenae College, were very fortunate to have the Wizard coaching us. And as every good coach will tell you, it is extremely important that you log your training down within a training diary. However, the thought of buying a diary when there were only a few months of the year left in 1977 just didn’t appeal. So my recording of my training had to wait until the 1st of January 1978, which just so happened to also be my 15th birthday.

Training Diaries 1978 - 1982

So what was the entry on the 1st January 1978? I quote “My Birthday. Rest until 10th”. Looking at these early entries, not much has changed in 35 years. I still simply state either the approximate distance or the run time, a brief description of the route, and a comment regarding how I felt. From Wednesday 25th January 1978: “7 miles, 65 minutes. Very hot day. Had 2-3 rests. Ran through golf sprinklers, cooled me down. Felt hot and tired, then got more relaxed, felt better,” And from Tuesday 14th February 1978: “800m at athletics. 4th Time 2min 30secs. Felt good and amazed. Really sprinted hard with 200m to go and at finish wasn’t completely stuffed.” Really interesting that way back then I included a large focus within my training diary on my emotions, how the running felt! The fact that the latest research regarding fatigue during endurance performance includes such articles as “Fatigue is a brain-derived emotion ...” (Noakes, 2012) is quite revealing. Together with my Race Focus Energy (RFE) model of fatigue being heavily dependent upon feelings / emotions suggests that maybe I knew the ‘answer’ way back then without realising it!

The five years from 1978 – 1982 were five years of tremendous change. At the start of 1978, I am a middle / back of the pack runner. At the Wellington Secondary Schools Cross Country Champs, that took place in October 1977 I finished in 77th place from a field of 96 finishers. Just for those interested, probably not many of you, but finish places for runners from the Wilby training group in the same fourth form (year10) age group race were: Chris Bryant – 12th, Peter Lucock – 19th, and Jeremy Wah – 40th. Come the start of 1978 I therefore didn’t have very high expectations of myself in terms of finishing positions. I hadn’t chosen my parents very well, and therefore didn’t have the necessary genes to be a good runner. That was what I believed back then, and as I have since discovered one’s performance is strongly influenced by one’s self-belief!

The change in terms of my self-perception of my running qualities was quite slow, but with one or two key shifts in attitude. During 1978 the two big leaps forward were the New Zealand Secondary Schools Cross Country Championships that took place in June, and the New Zealand Secondary Schools Cross Road Championships that took place in December. The cross country champs were being held way down south in Timaru. Although, not performing to the same level as the other runners in the training group, Mr Wilby still strongly encouraged me to go to the National champs. I still recall now that I felt a bit of an ‘imposter’, heading all the way to Timaru, consisting of a 3½ hour ferry journey, then a 4½ hour train journey, an overnight stop in Christchurch, then a 2½ bus trip finally to Timaru! I was convinced that I would finished close to last, competing against the best runners in New Zealand. Whether it was the fear of getting last, or simply the fact that the course was pretty well 4000 metres of ankle deep mud so running was extremely difficult, so it got down to ‘wanting it more’ rather than actual running ‘ability’, I just don’t know! But I ran probably my best race to date, finishing in 104th place out of 205 finishers in the Junior Boys (Under 16) event. Nearly, in the top half, at the National champs. I was absolutely ‘wrapped’, as we used to say back then.

On the Picton Ferry with Gary Wilby on the Way Down to the NZSSCC Champs - June 1978

Six months later, it was the National Secondary School road champs. The road champs took place at the same time as the National Secondary School track champs. Therefore all of the best runners raced the track, so the road champs contained significantly weaker fields in comparison to the cross country champs. This well known fact had a significant impact on my performance. Immediately my expectations were raised. Not only was I confident of finishing much higher up than 104th due to the weaker field, but also due to the way the age groups were set for the National Secondary School champs, being taken as under 16 as at the 31st December rather than using the usual academic year groups. Having my 16th birthday on the 1st January therefore meant that I was the oldest person in the entire field! It should therefore come as no surprise that as a result of these heightened self expectations, my performance was quite outstanding in relation to my other performances during 1978. I finished in 24th place in the Junior Boys (Under 16) 6000metre road race. Considering just over a little more than a year earlier I was only 77th best in the Wellington region. I was now 24th best in the whole country. Yes, once I obtained this outstanding result, I conveniently ignored the fact that the best runners in the country didn’t start the road race as they were racing on the track!

It would be foolish of me to conclude that my massive improvements during the year were simply due to changed expectations. In addition I had continued training regularly after school within the Wilby group. Throughout the year, he had carefully orchestrated our training, (yes I also thought orchestrated was a very apt word considering Gary Wilby was a music teacher!) Although we didn’t know it, we were mimicking the training, but to a lesser extent, of the Lydiard boys from the 1960s – Peter Snell, Murray Halberg, Barry Magee and Bill Baillie, all of them either Olympic medallists and/or World record holders! Our training involved developing our endurance base first with different types of runs including, the long run, sub-threshold effort runs , fartlek, aerobic intervals, and recovery runs, before progressing to the anaerobic phase, including VO2 max intervals, sausage sessions, hill repetitions and again the important recovery runs. Yes, our training programme was very well structured, that not only developed us physiologically, but also helped develop our confidence by getting us to peak for the big races, one of the key principles of the Lydiard approach to training. As highlighted by Matt Fitzgerald over 30 years later in his 2010 book titled Run – The Mind-Body Method of Running by Feel, "If it does nothing else, a runner's training must make him feel prepared, because if he feels prepared, he is prepared, and if he doesn't, he isn't. The primary objective of training for every competitive runner should be to develop confidence in her ability to achieve her race goals.” Yes, Lydiard knew this key principle way back in the sixties, and fortunately, so did Gary Wilby, back in the seventies. During 1978, excluding track races, I raced 14 times and ran a total of 1044 miles.

During 1979, Gary WIlby took the last two terms of the three term school year off as he travelled around Europe on his 'Big O.E' (which stands for Overseas Experience to you non-kiwis). The after school training group didn’t function so well, so I returned back for one last season of rugby. I still raced the NZ Secondary School Cross Country and Road Championships, but now in the Senior Boys (Over 16) category. Considering during 1979 I was in the sixth form (lower sixth) I was racing against boys up to 1½ years older than me, my finish places of 64th (cross country) and 25th (road) were a gentle continuation of my improvement as a runner. During 1979, excluding track races, I raced 6 times and ran a total of 1169 miles.

I have commented about the start of 1980 in a previous blog titled Marathon Number 1 - Fletcher Marathon, Rotorua, NZ - 26th April 1980, posted in April 2010, which describes my preparation for my first ever marathon, at the young age of 17. Performances following my marathon were a significant improvement upon 1979. Whether my improvement was a result of the increased physical training I carried out preparing for the marathon, or as a result of a changed acceptance within myself that I was now a good runner, I don’t know. I would expect a combination of them both. Refer to my Blog articles to learn more about factors that influence endurance performance. My key results from 1980 were, in the order they occurred through the year; probably my biggest breakthrough race to date, even more dramatic than my 1978 national performances, was finishing in 2nd place in the Colts Under 18 regional Dorne Cup race in June, then 17th at the NZ Cross Country Champs, and finally 7th place at the NZ Road Champs at the end of the year. During 1980, excluding track races, I raced 19 times and ran a total of 2167 miles.

The year 1981 was my first year at Victoria University in Wellington, so being a student I found I had more time available to train. Turning 18 at the start of the year, I moved up into the Junior Under 20 race category so found the competition pretty tough as I was competing against boys again up to 1½ years older than me. I had some good performances finishing between 6th and 11th place in the regional races. During 1981, excluding track races, I raced 20 times and ran a total of 2520 miles, my second highest mileage year to date.

The final year of this five year review is 1982. The intention was that this would be the year that I would really perform, being 19 years old and therefore my last year competing as a Junior. Well, what a disappointment. I picked up two injuries during the year, which severely restricted my running. The injuries, combined with the excessive alcohol intake of my University student lifestyle, resulted in me gaining the name ‘Tits Mills’ after 8 weeks of non-running! I managed a 12th and 10th place at the Wellington Centre Junior cross country and road champs, both positions worse than 1981. So overall a bit of a ‘blip’ following four years of successive improvement!  During 1982 I raced 10 times and ran a total of 1406 miles

Well that’s the end of my first five year review. This post is probably not typical of my previous posts, so maybe not many messages to take away from the post to aid your running. However, my UltraStu blog is sub-titled Millsy’s memories, and as I approach a significant date next week, it is a good time for a few memories.

Time to sign off; “Often one is not aware of the significance of the learning that has taken place until many, many years later. Reviewing 35 years of training, highlights the importance of the need for reflection on a more frequent basis. Discovering ‘secrets’ 35 years later could be considered a little bit too late!” Stuart Mills, 2012.

All the best with your reviews of 2012,