I'm no stranger to race day disappointment, having dropped out of a marathon a year ago around mile 19 in a lot of pain from a recurring injury (but clearly still not over it). Yet I've been surprised at how many London Marathon 2017 runners I've spoken to who, despite completing that amazing feat, are still feeling down about their race time.
Putting in months of training for an event is obviously going to pile on the pressure, and it's natural to want to set goals around finish time. Getting injured in the run up to a race, having to pull out halfway through or generally under performing on the day are all such heart breaking experiences - the sense of having let ourselves or other people down (family and friends watching, colleagues who've put up with our training chat for months, the charity we are raising money for, etc.), the feeling of not being able to prove ourselves or what we think we are capable of, it's all very painful considering running is something we do for a hobby.
A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to meet world champion, world record holder, and generally all round running legend Colin Jackson to hear all about the upcoming Wings For Life World Run. Of course the pressure on professional athletes representing their country in events and for their job is a million times higher, so I jumped at the opportunity to pick Colin's brain about our own negative thoughts about performance when running, and how to to move on from a bad race. Here's what I learned from our chat:
Reward yourself before running: I found it really refreshing to hear that even Colin has those days where he just doesn't want to run. He told me, 'Dopamine is a clever drug in your brain and it rewards you. [I think about] what is going to make me a bit happier and change my mood...put a smile on my face'. Colin's pre-race go to? 200g of chocolate - his 'happy food'.
Have a start-line mantra: When Colin was having a start line doubts, he would remind himself that he has done that distance a thousand times - yes it may hurt but he is more than capable and he'll recover.
Always finish what you set out to achieve: Never stop unless you are injured. We discussed this for a while - when dropping out mid-race, it was the sensible thing for me to do at the time, but I wish I could have continued to the end. Unless there is a physical reason you can't actually carry on, you have to complete that race - and there is nothing wrong with walking (even crawling!). If Colin Jackson can finish a race after smashing into a hurdle on a world stage, there's hope for the rest of us.
Be prepared for disappointment: In competitions, there are always going to be other competitors to get in your way. Go off too fast, you might blow it. Go too slow, you won't produce what you are capable of. There are lots of ways races can go wrong and it's a hard balance to get right so don't be embarrassed about getting it wrong - the best in the world get it wrong.
Pick yourself up and try again: The more you do it, the more experienced you become and the better you know your body and mind. Your chances of getting things wrong get slimmer, and your chances of getting things right increase. Basically practice makes perfect, right?!
Learn from your mistakes: Remember your limitations, review your performance and be willing to make adjustments about what went wrong. Maybe you didn't take on enough fluid, or maybe you didn't have enough rest - really basic things could be the cause of that bad race. You can get something wrong once, but to do to do the same thing a second or third time is criminal. I asked Colin for a specific example of where something had gone wrong for him and he told me he turned up to a race in good shape then got food poisoning from the canteen - after that he took a meal back up everywhere with him in case he didn't want to eat what was on offer.
Remember why you are running: Ultimately, as an amateur runner you are turning up to events because you actually enjoy them and you need to remember that. Colin advised me, "That feeling of success, which you may have tasted only once is what will drive you to go again and again, because you want to prove you are better than your last performance." Remember the people who are backing you are always backing you, you don't have to feel like you've let anyone down. You are going to try your hardest once you put yourself on that start line which took a lot of hard work to get to in itself. And you need to enjoy it!
And if you don't get a PB at that next race, remember, Colin set a world record that lasted 13 years - now that's a helluva PB to beat! What a pleasure to chat, thank you Colin.
Colin Jackson, CBE is the International Sports Director for the Wings for Life World Run, with the UK event taking place in Cambridge on Sunday 7th May 2017.
For more information, visit wingsforlifeworldrun.com.
Image supplied with permission.
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