The abyss of doubt

I haven’t got the garmin data yet on the ultra from last Saturday – mainly because it involves me being in the same room as the computer, the little downloading dongle and the garmin watch all a at the same time.

Life’s too short for that sort of coordination.

I’ve taken it pretty easy this last week with only a few maintenance runs. It’s not that I don’t feel up to it, in fact the complete opposite, I’ve never felt better after a race. It’s just that, from experience, I’ve realised that you can often be a bit over enthusiastic after a big race – kind of like still being drunk the next morning – and then crash and burn spectacularly about two weeks later when all your energy and motivation disappear.

I might try to get a decent long run in on Sunday morning – maybe 20 miles – just to keep the memory of all the souls in Connemara to the front of my mind.

I have been reflecting (a rare occurence for me) on why I felt that the Wicklow Way Ultra was so hard. I feel fine now and have taken much longer to recover from much easier races so why was it that made it so hard.

For a start hard is the wrong word. Concrete is hard. This was very, very difficult.

I think the reason it was such a challenge was because in most races from 5k to ultra marathon there is an analogue dial somewhere in your mind that sits in the ‘I can do this’ zone – the green zone – for a long time. It might be the first 2 miles of a 5k, the first 16 – 22 miles of a marathon. The part of the race where the mind knows that the body can meet this challenge.

This allows you to save up all your mental strength and resilience so that when the body starts to falter and the dial moves up into the ‘I don’t think this is possible’ zone you can drive it on and ignore the physiological signals that would suggest stopping would be the best strategy.  This is what Noakes would call overriding the central governor.

For anyone who hasn’t become obsessed with running Noakes is a South African runner and doctor called Timothy Noakes who wrote the bible on running called the Lore of Running.

Anyway, last Saturday the dial went into the ‘I don’t think this is possible‘ zone almost immediately.

This was due to a combination of factors. The most obvious ones were the fact that it was over mountains and they are high and running up hills hurts. The other things that played a role in the race being difficult were the fact that I didn’t know the course and it was an out-and-back course.

It wasn’t possible to manage effort in anticipation of the challenges ahead on an un-known course. This meant that at some points you were going too slow (rarely too fast!) as you adopted a conservative strategy. The out-and-back course speaks for itself. This just crushes your spirit if you are finding it tough because you know you have it all to do again.

Even if you can cope with the course (and I could) these factors rob you of you mental reserves very early on in the race so you end up adrift in a sea of doubt with no sign of land and the knowledge that you have no choice but to persevere.

As such I think that the race was excellent training but mainly for the mind. I did get to sweat, pant,  eat junk food and get a sun tan for 6 hours which will come in handy at some point in the future (a fat paedo on a kiddie’s holiday?) but that is almost a side issue.

The real training was to hang over the abyss of self-doubt for hours on end and learn to accept the lack of control you had over the situation. This will, I think be very useful for future ultras – flatter one.

That’s as serious as I get!

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2 responses to “The abyss of doubt

  1. Your mental recovery appears to be going well. I’ll send Scott Brown over for lessons.

  2. g2-f477380b7cf325543ca01338086d52f8

    Flatter Ultras? Connemara?

    Your accidental running mate Liam is a top notch guy, btw. Well chosen.

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