When I race, my toughest competitor is myself. My first goal is always to run the best that I can run on that day. That’s not to say I don’t like to race against other people. I do. And it’s a great feeling to finish first, or to finish in front of someone I wanted to beat.
When I compete in a race, I’m racing against the people who are there on the day. If I’m the one on the start line who is the most talented and best prepared then it’s quite likely I will win. But this isn’t always the case because there are people out there who are more talented and better prepared than me. But I can’t have control over them. I can only have control over myself. So when I race I firstly have to beat myself before I can think about beating anyone else.
To beat myself I know I have to overcome two things:- my body and my mind. During the race, parts of my body will hurt. Really hurt. I monitor this while I race and I know the difference between a hurt that signals an injury and a hurt that is the result of me pushing the limits. The majority of the time it’s the latter and I know I’m not doing myself any damage.
The real battle however is in my mind. Because when the hurt starts, the thoughts that come into my mind are:- ‘ease up‘, ‘give in‘, ‘stop‘, ‘what does it matter‘, ‘there’s always another race‘, ‘you’re not feeling well‘, ‘you didn’t get enough sleep‘, and a more recent one ‘you’re too old for this‘. I have a compartment where I push these thoughts. They don’t stay there long and after a few minutes come back again and start their nagging. And sometimes they beat me. Sometimes they win. But luckily this doesn’t happen too often.
What I’ve found over the years is that if my lead up training for a race is strong and consistent, and most importantly I’ve been able to win the battle with my mind during the hard interval and tempo training sessions, then I race well. If I’ve been slacking off in these hard sessions I don’t race well. The trouble is, even though I keep a detailed running diary, I usually don’t realise I’ve been slacking off in training until I’m well into a race and losing the mental battle.