Inscribed above the entrance to the Oracle of Delphi’s temple in ancient Greece were two words:
The idea being that before you go off and make your mark on the world, you need to, whatever you’re doing, look at your strengths and weaknesses, and hatch a realistic plan for success.
But, armed with this self-knowledge, the key is not to impose limitations. Belief is a powerful force.
As Milton said in Paradise Lost:
The mind is its own place and itself can make a heaven of hell or a hell of heaven.
As anyone who’s been following my series of yuletide 2017 Crimbo blog posts will know, I now have one goal as a (45-year-old) runner: breaking 2h 40 minutes in a marathon.
And for the last three years, all my running training has centred on achieving that goal.
Unfortunately, my body hasn’t agreed with my mind.
And, aside from a 2:42:14 on a dodgy left Achilles at the London two years eight months ago, I spent pretty much all of 2015 and 2016 injured (most people would have given up).
So injured that by the time I came to pen my review-of-previous-year-set-goals-for-year-ahead blog post 12 months ago, I wrote:
This year I’m not going to write one. No running goals. All I want to do is enjoy my running, and get the bit back between my teeth.
And I did.
2017’s been my best year’s running to-date. For the first time I’ve run for most of the year (11 months versus eight each in 2013 and 2014 and not a whole lot in 2015 and 16).
April saw me get a sub-2:45 at London in my best performance ever.
A big 1:40-minute PB gave me my first 2:40 marathon in late September.
And I made my first foray into ultra-running a highly memorable one, finishing a very close second at Glen Ogle in early November.
So, how to make sense of it all?
I had a really interesting conversation on Facebook with a running mate two days ago, and it got me to thinking.
In post five in this series I mentioned that if you can run a 5k in a certain time, you should be able to run any other distance (with the right training) in a time commensurate to your 5k performance.
Leaving the marathon aside, my PBs are as follows: 5k – 17:25, 5M 28:09, 10k – 35:52, 10M – 58:43, HM – 1:17:41.
Now, if you stick these into Runner’s World’s Pace Time Predictor calculator, my marathon times should be: 5k – 2:47:03, 5M – 2:43:03, 10K – 2:45:00, 10M – 2:43:07, HM – 2:41:58.
Nowhere is mentioned 2:39:59.
Could it be that I’m not fulfilling my potential at any distance bar the marathon?
Or am I outperforming over 26.2?
(Bear with me, here):
The answer to these questions, after a day’s reflection since that conversation with my mate, are: 1 – maybe, but probably not and 2: no, probably the opposite.
Returning to the theme of this final blog (of seven) exploring some universal concepts through the medium of running, it could be put down to two words: “know thyself”.
Everyone’s different. You are. I am.
When it comes to marathoning there are very few stones I have left unturned. And as the years have gone on, I’ve adapted my training to suit my body and mind. This has included (2013-14):
But 2017 was different. Coming back after two years beset by injury, I doubled up on the knowing thyself schtick with the following:
So, I wasn’t caring what everyone else was doing. I took actions suited to me.
The way this manifested itself was different for each target race. For the London block I had a pretty rigid plan; for Berlin, I was a lot more flexible, and for Glen Ogle I just tried to take a little break then hang on to the Berlin fitness and trust the taper.
Like most things, it’s the principles that are most important, not the method.
Finally, for this section, when it comes to optimising your performance, knowing thyself is nothing without the belief. I’m really glad I’ve done the analysis above because it’s redoubled my belief in going sub-2:40, but I always believe I’ll perform when it comes to a marathon anyway.
If you don’t believe you can do something, what’s the point in doing it?
This one’s easy. I’m 31 miles into a 32.5-mile ultramarathon in Highland Perthshire.
A clubmate and I had been running together, working together, since the start, moving into second and third place at around 14 miles.
As we hit Killin High Street, we overtook what turned out to be a 71-minute half marathoner, boosting past. We’re running at 5:45 pace, legging it down the centre of the road, dodging bin lorries and traffic. Job done. Or is it?
Twenty seconds later, the erstwhile leader comes back past me into second place.
And I’m there thinking: “This is amazing, he’s just retaken me, how did he do that, what mental strength, I’ll never take him back, He’s five yards ahead now, he’s getting away.”
So I summon all my reserves, increase the speed, really want it, focus, and I’m back past him, and, one minute later, running with my clubmate (we finished 50 seconds ahead of him).
Now that’s living alright.
I have just one: go sub-2:40 in a marathon. This is how I’m going to do it:
Whatever you’re up to in life, you need to take actions repeatedly over time to achieve any objective worth its salt. You’ve got to do, not watch and moan.
Once you’ve done enough doing, at whatever you’re doing, you’ll get pretty good at whatever it is you’ve chosen to do. You understand the core principles and are applying them.
That’s good. But to really fulfil your potential you’ve got to know yourself. However, having done that, it’s important not to impose limitations; to have belief.
This applies to big things and small things. For instance, taking the action of writing this post, and analysing my times, has given me renewed belief in achieving my running goal.
And looking back at my running highlight of my year has given me a final insight:
Just like Charlie Spedding in the 1984 Olympic marathon, on that day in November (my 45th birthday), at that moment, all that body and mind training was paying off. I was flying. I was fulfilling my potential.
And if I can be permitted a parting thought at the end of this series of seven daily running blogs, isn’t fulfilling your potential what life’s all about?
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