This morning I did my last double-digit miles training run before Saturdays Tralee 100k. It was a fairly gentle 12 miler, run on the course of the 40 Mile Ultra I did 2 weeks ago. Being the last longish run before the 100k, my mind naturally turned to that.
I tend to be very “visual” about everything I do, from work, to running, and my pre-race thinking is no different. I visualise how I will run the race, how I will cope with the tough parts, how I will handle eating etc. Today, the hamstring problem that dogged me for the past few months was very much in evidence again, and I tried to visualise how I would cope with it on the day of the ultra, how I would feel and accept the pain, but keep moving forward, to keep the goal in sight, not the here and now.
This has worked for me in the past. When I did my second Tralee Marathon, I was suffering from a lot of acute hip pain in the weeks leading up to it. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had dislocated a bone in my hip. The day of the marathon, I was in quite a lot of pain from early on, but at mile 18 or so, I felt a sudden “grinding” in my hip, and the pain went from bad to agonising. I knew the smart thing to do would be to stop, and that nobody would ever blame me for dropping out, as I was clearly injured. However, I also knew that, as long as I was still standing, I would not drop out. I decided that, If I passed out from pain, I’d stop – as long as I was conscious, I’d keep going. I kept going, and finished (half an hour faster than I had the year before!), though the pain was so bad near the end, that I remember almost nothing of the last few miles.
Last year, at the Tralee 100k, I was dead and buried at the halfway point. I slumped in a car at the 50k mark, knowing that my body was done, and I could not finish. It was too much, the heat, the pain, the sheer ass-kicking distance was too much for my body, I could not do it. So I ran the rest of the race with my mind. I retreated within myself, and let my body suffer, while I ran on. I visualised each section before I came to it, and just ran it. When I realised, with 5 miles or so still to go, that I would need to run one of my fastest 5 miles ever, despite being completely exhausted, I accepted it, and made my body do it.
What this tells me is that our bodies are capable of great feats of endurance – it is our minds that try to make us stop. Our minds break before our bodies, we find all these perfectly valid reasons to stop, and, if we let it, our mind will tell us to. Most studies of ultra marathon DNF’s (Did Not Finish) show that people who drop out, tend to do so for relatively minor reasons – a sore knee, exhaustion, upset tummy, etc, while many people who get fairly bad injuries go on to finish. This is because the people who didn’t finish, allowed their minds to blow the problem out of proportion, and persuade them that they HAD to stop. The little voices in their heads betrayed them, and sapped their determination.
There are plenty of reasons to drop out of a race – no race is worth risking permanent injury for, and there is no shame in a DNF if one cannot go on. But “cannot go on” means different things to different people. If I ever do DNF, I hope it is because I really could not go on, and not because I allowed myself to give in when going on was an option.
Next Saturday I will do my second Tralee 100k, and I am confident that, as long as I am capable of standing up and putting one foot in front of the other, I will finish. I owe myself no less.