From before the event
Those that follow the Bike Run Swim Facebook feed will know that I got absolutely owned at my last ultra, The Plague. I made it a whopping 18.5 miles before I timed out at a checkpoint a mere 46 miles from the finish 😛 . Physically I was fine, but mentally I was a wreck. Up until The Plague my year had been one of many disappointments, at least as far as running goes, with a lot of personal stress coming out when I race. This has led to numerous DNS’ and a DNF at every ultra I have started in 2015. It has taken me a long time to get to the bottom of it as I often feel fine in training and on paper I am fitter than ever. Little things have shown my poor mental form though, like my fastest lap at Hope 24 in 2015 being minutes slower than my slowest lap in 2014.
I finally pulled myself together and put hindsight to good use. I looked behind my physical state to what was going on in my head in an effort to figure out what was going wrong. In a little over one week I will be starting another 24 hour race, and I will be going armed with a lot more weaponry in my mental toolbox.
The problems have centred around my father’s battle against a brain tumour which he lost his fight with on January 10th 2015. It was a 9 month long battle and many of the negative aspects of what he went through have been eating away at my subconscious, arising when my mind and body are being stressed during races to instil doubt, pessimism and negativity in my every move. Day to day these thoughts stay tucked away, and other aspects of my life have been going great with my wife now progressing well after her stem cell transplant and a lot of career progression and recognition at work. Racing has been the problem and I finally feel that I am taking some positive steps towards turning that around.
I have decided to write this piece in advance of the race as I find writing a great way to get my thoughts down. It enables me to see into my own head and get my thoughts in order. It is essentially therapy without the judgement or cost of a therapist. I wont be publishing it until after the race, and when I do a section below will be added to describe how it actually went.
I was totally unable to help myself internally, so I sought some external advice from the sources available to me. The first one turned out to be incredibly useful and in many ways it was the turning point that has allowed me to start better understanding my thoughts. I downloaded the audiobook of Travis Macy’s “The Ultra Mindset” and listened to it over a week of long runs across South Dartmoor. It was utterly inspirational and helped me to understand what was going on. I followed this up by listening to another book “The Chimp Paradox” by Prof Steve Peters, a psychologist for Team Sky which added some depth to what Travis Macy had said. I have then followed this up with “The Art of Mental Training” by D C Gonzalez, which put a different light on the same topics with further examples and ways of thinking. I have a pretty good capacity for absorbing knowledge and picking up new skills, so this kind of obsessive behaviour is pretty typical for me, although it usually comes out through the physical act of running and the mental act of developing my skills as an IT Consultant.
I have a lot to learn and a lot of experimentation to figure out which techniques work best for me, but so far I have come to better understanding of what kind of person my Dad was and have been able to start seeing what he went through in a more positive light. I can see just how hard he fought and how bravely he went through a battle that he was never going to win. I can see what a great job he did of putting his affairs in order, of looking after my Mum and maintaining a strong front. It wasn’t until everything was settled that he made a conscious decision that his time was up, and he decided that it was time to go. I hope to no longer focus on his giving up and instead focus on everything that made him strong in life, that made him complete a myriad of amazing challenges, both physical and mental, throughout the time I was privileged to know him. I am no longer going to let negative thoughts about what he went through impact negatively on any aspect of my own life, but I am going to continue to mourn him, grieve over his loss to me and my family, and use his efforts while alive to inspire me through my own challenges. Brave words, and in just a few days I get to see if I am tough enough to live up to them.
Specifically I have a few things ready to go. I have some motivational things to listen to as I go around if I need them, but they are the least of my armoury. I have some good old fashioned running mantras depending on what is going through my head at the time. One mantra I like in particular for use whenever things get tough is directly from Travis Macy and it is simply “It’s all good mental training.” In other words no matter how tough it gets now, get through it and it will make you stronger for next time. Another one that I like in particular, considering Equinox is a 10k lap for 24 hours, and this one is all mine is “Just one more lap.” That is going to be my focus for the race, no matter how far I go, just one more lap. I have a couple more mantras for specific situations, but they are just for me.
I have also thought through all the negative thoughts I had during The Plague and I have some positive thoughts to counter them. Both the negative thoughts and the positive thoughts are true, but they put exactly the same topic in a different light. When the negative thoughts try to creep in I will simply try to replace them with the positive versions.
On top of all this I will be working on some relaxation and visualisation techniques beforehand to remind myself of similar things I have done before that have turned out well, and during the race I will be doing what I can to stay in the moment. If I’m on lap one I wont be worrying about lap 10. If I feel good I will enjoy it, if I feel bad I will work on whatever I need to fix it. Above all I will keep moving forwards. Right now I have three goals to hit and I will be happy if I only make the first one:
Goal 1: 5 laps to get me through marathon distance
Goal 2: 10 laps which will equal the furthest distance I have ever run
Goal 3: More!
My plan is to stop and get a few hours of kip through the darkest hours, but likewise if I feel ok I will simply carry on running. I wont be rushing. I will be taking it one lap at a time. Below you can find my post race update of how it actually went and whether or not any of the above worked. I have a long way to go, but it would be wholly unlike me to take baby steps 😉