Running does not necessitate racing, and being a good racer and being a good runner do not automatically go hand in hand. To be a good racer you probably need to be a good runner in the first place, and although I’m too inexperienced to confidently say that I am a “good” racer, I take my preparation seriously, and know from my own fairly limited race experience, and the more substantial experience of the other runners in my life that when it comes to race day most of the battle takes place between your heart and head, not between your feet and the road.
The mind is the first thing to hurt in a race. It’s the first thing to say: ‘I’m not sure we can hold this pace’. The mind, in this instance, is an idiot. It doesn’t know what you want to do, what you can do.
As soon as you push it into discomfort it let’s you know about all the other more comfortable things that you could be doing in the hope that it will encourage you to pack it in, pop the kettle on, and put your feet up.
You’ve got to ignore that, and the best way I’ve found to get ready to successfully ignore those false flags is to practice.
For the most part training should be a measured affair. For the most part it should only be comfortably uncomfortable, a gentle pushing of the envelope. That is how you get fitter and faster – with patience. You put the miles in, gradually increasing the ferocity of your efforts, making marginal gains. But getting fitter and faster is only half the battle. For the mental war that a race engages you in, you have to practice that hurt which burns in the back of your brain.
Since I am currently in training for a 10k, the best way for me to do that was to run a hard 5k.
I finished the trial in 17:15, a considerable personal best that I am particularly pleased with as, once again, it was run solo. I would like to say that it was a controlled, measured effort, that I knew the splits which I had to run and stuck to those limits and executed a plan but, as I often find with the 5k, it was absolutely not. It was a gruelling run. It hurt. I wanted to give up after a mile, and for every minute which passed beyond that my mind sent me the same message: stop, stop, stop, stop, stop.
In not stopping, in not slowing, I have banked a vital piece of preparation. A 10k, for me anyway, always seems like far less brutal effort than the relentless 5k, but there will be a point (probably several points) in my upcoming race when my mind will try to convince me that my efforts are fruitless, that the pain is pointless, and that I should stop or slow down. There is no way to stop those thoughts from coming, but by anticipating them, by knowing their falsity, and by practising battling them, I can stand on the start line confident that they will not hamper my success.