The mind is a funny thing.
I am pretty fascinated with the mental game of training and racing when it comes to running. The concept that adventure, endurance or more ‘extreme’ sport requires mind over matter is common, and I know from my own training the challenges that your own mindset can provide. Feeling a bit out of sorts before a run? Under confident that you can make the distance? Just feeling a bit tired? All seems to be able to have the power to hinder achieving goals, whether your body is actually capable of doing the task or not.
I have been recently preparing a talk about my own journey to becoming an ultra-distance runner ahead of my ultra next week and it has given me the opportunity to reflect on the concept of distance and the ‘mindful’ nature of running. From signing up to an ultra in January 2014, I raced a mountain ultra that August, having only previously raced 10 miles upon signing up. A lot of those months in between involved strategic and pretty dedicated training. But if I had had the wrong mindset or lost my nerve? Well I would never have done it.
So it was an overwhelming surprise to me to be able to train my legs to be able to be fairly successful in that race, but I remember clearly on the day how much the ‘positive mental attitude’, ( aided by wonderful supporters, good weather etc. ) helped me to run that bit more confidently, and make it smoothly to the finish line. As discussed by Neil Maclean-Martin, director of Physiotherapy based in Chamonix, in our running doc ‘Running Wild’, the mental challenge is, quite arguably, tougher.
On that basis, some positive thinking. I really think running an ultra is open to all. It is not something reserved for some kind of ‘ultra-human’ . It just needs to be mentally tangible from the off. Can you run 10k? Good, four miles more and you have decent fell race distance. Get used to this, then the transition to half marathon is just over three miles. For off road runners, spending whole days out just focusing on this kind of distance (stopping for lots of snack breaks etc) would better your endurance and stamina, and then moving onto 15 miles becomes very accessible. Etc. I have mentioned this before, but this blog really helped 'keep it real' when it comes to training for long distance races, so do visit for some down to earth advice: http://yourfirstultra.blogspot.co.uk/
I have yet to actually take part in a marathon (nothing like going whole hog to ultra from a half – but it is doable!) but you can see how the miles rack up, and roughly 26 miles were something I tackled as part of getting ready for my first ultra. It is a fairly long way. But then, some people enter events that are 100 miles – and they finish! So don’t underestimate yourself.
When I mentioned I was writing this post to John, his take on this notion of mind and sport was “You don't eat an elephant in one sitting”. Quite. Small steps for big distance running.
Whatever the distance, never assume you won’t be able to do something.