Sunday, 2 June 2013

Run! Don't Think!!

I sometimes wonder if when it comes to running ignorance may well have been bliss.

A year ago I was preparing for my first marathon in Rio. I had no idea how hard it was going to be and so I had no idea what pace to run at.

In my training I didn’t really know if I was training hard or not. Whether I was going fast or slow. I knew I was putting in the miles as I'd found a beginner’s marathon training schedule  and it told me how many miles I had to run to be able to run 26.2 miles but it was completely agnostic about speed.

In Rio as I lined up for the marathon I started talking to the runner next to me and he asked me what time I was aiming for. I looked at him rather embarrassedly and told him I had no idea, I felt as if I was admitting that I really didn’t know what I was doing and almost had no place being there.

Not only did I not know my potential I also had no idea what a “good time” for a marathon was. 

And so when it came to the race I just ran.

In the end I completed the Rio marathon in 3 hours 18 minutes and I’ve subsequently found out it’s a pretty good time for a first marathon for someone the wrong side of 40. But I think I was able to achieve this because I was ignorant. In the last two miles when my body was aching I had no idea if I was making a good time or not, I just knew I had to push my body as hard as it could go.  

Since my first marathon I have run three more marathons and I’ve now consciously been aiming to run the marathon in under 3 hours ten minutes. I’ve come close running 3 hours 11 minutes but never under my goal.  

I now think the 3 hours 10 minute goal might be a mental block. If I'd known that 3 hours 20 minutes was a good marathon time before the Rio marathon would I have been able to run a sub 3 hour twenty marathon at first attempt?

People have sometimes called this the 'Bannister Effect'? Before 6 May 1954, it was thought 'impossible' to run a mile under four minutes. But Roger Bannister beat the 4 minute mile by 6 tenths of a second - he defied people's perceptions of the impossible.  In many ways the 4 minute mile was less a physical barrier and more a psychological one. The following year after Roger Bannister broke the psychological barrier 37 more runners broke the four-minute mile, and in the 12 months after that, another 300 did it. Today even school boys have broken the 4 minute barrier.

Running blogs and trainers often say that you should sometimes leave your watch at home when training and even racing. Our mental awareness, our perception of what we think is good, great or even impossible shapes our physical abilities. Roger Bannister reshaped the mental perceptions of at least 37 runners the year after his historic race which transformed their physical reality.

I am beginning to obsess over three hours ten minutes.

I just hope it does not become my "Bannister Effect".

Instead I think I should return to the way I was before the Rio marathon and realise that ignorance might be my best strategy to be the best runner I can become.

Run! Don't Think!!

(The picture today is of a kid I saw running as fast as he could on a beach in Brazil - I doubt he was suffering from the Bannister Effect)

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