Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Video of Lakeland 100 - A Demonstration of High Self Expectations

Hi again,

A bit of a 'detour' from my planned Self Expectation Part 2, however, I am continuing the 'Self Expectation' theme as I expand upon the Lakeland 100 video clip.

On Sunday afternoon, as it was pouring down outside, I was getting a few odd jobs done. One of them was to convert our family videos from miniDV tape to DVD.  So for the first time I viewed the video footage my wife Frances took of me racing the Lakeland 100 race back in July.

YouTube Lakeland 100 2010 Video Link

The post titled "Lakeland 100 - The Importance of Preparation - Developing Positivity and Self Belief" went into some detail regarding my preparation for the Lakeland 100.  Watching the video the other day, simply confirmed to me just how successful my preparation was in terms of developing self belief and subsequently high self expectations.

During my preparations, having given some serious thought to 'what causes fatigue during ultra running?', I had total self belief that the pace one starts at, (within certain limits, obviously one can't start at 5 km race pace), will not affect the level of fatigue later on during the race.  I know this view is quite different to many other ultra runners, however, I had total belief in my theory.  Due to this total belief, I was then able to formulate a race strategy, where no matter who was on the start line of the Lakeland 100, I was going to start the race, at whatever pace was necessary, in order to be in the front.  For how long I would maintain this fast pace for I hadn't really focused on, but the intention was for at least the first hour or two!  Coming into the race my self expectations were that pretty well without doubt I would be leading at Checkpoint One.  Now these are pretty high self expectations, bearing in mind I had no idea on the capabilities of the other runners in the field.  But with this self belief, that starting fast will do me 'no harm', these high self expectations were totally realistic, as was demonstrated on race day.

If you watch the video you can see my fast start intentions within the first few metres, and then at around the 2.5 mile mark as I approach the carpark at the start of Walnar Scar Road leading the field.

The advantage of the fast start in the Lakeland 100 is that it then creates 'loads' of positive energy.  It helps to build tremendous confidence during the race, in that my preparation has been effective, i.e. the expectation of leading into checkpoint one has been confirmed, therefore, I can expect positive results for the remainder of the race.

As I mentioned in my race report post, how long would I stayed at the front of the field was unknown.  What I did know as I was leading the race, was that the onus was on the other runners to catch me.  What were my self expectations?  Did I expect them to catch me?  Thinking back to race day, which watching the video has aided in terms of the 'crispness' of my memory.  As I had to slow my pace down to a more realistic pace for a 100 mile race at around checkpoint 2 near Boot, I honestly felt that they would catch me, as it felt as if I was having to slow my pace down quite significantly.  However, I never let these distant thoughts get near the forefront of my mind.  It is only now as I deeply reflect, that I appreciate that there was this negative expectation, all be it deeply 'buried'!

My main focus of my preparation in terms of developing positivity, self belief, high self expectations, was not focused on my finishing place, but more on my finishing time.  Having recced the entire course (apart from part of leg 10 - see post titled "Lakeland 100 (UTLD) Course Recce - My Mini Adventure!" for details), I was able to set expected times to complete each leg.  Only problem, come race day, the conditions underfoot were very wet and soggy, which therefore made my target times unachievable.

Chris Carver left some interesting 'words of wisdom' in his comment he left on my previous post: 
"To avoid these situations arising I try to formulate coping strategies, in the months before a race, so that should anything untoward occur I know exactly how to deal with it."
In hindsight, this approach of his has some merit, as I hadn't considered how to deal with my target time no longer being realistic due to the conditions.  I guess I don't pay any attention to formulating coping strategies in case something goes wrong during the race, as to me, thinking about what could go wrong seems to be encouraging negative thoughts.  My whole approach in my preparation is to develop positivity, NOT negativity!  I'm not sure how to resolve this issue, as I do see the wisdom in planning for things that could go wrong.  For me during the Lakeland 100, I didn't have an alternative approach.  When my leg split times were no longer relevant, the focus then became simply to run as quick as I could feeling comfortable.  Only problem with this was, come later in the race, actually during leg 9!, due to the soreness in my quads, nothing really felt that comfortable, so what then became my focus?

Thinking back now, I can't really recall what did become my main focus from leg 10 onwards.  One thing for sure was that my pace slowed quite significantly!  Apart from a rather negative leg 10, legs 11 - 14 seem to simply fly by.  One often reads about sportspeople being 'in the zone' whatever that means.  Looking at the video clips of me near Elterwater, near the end of leg 13, and during leg 14, I was definitely in some form of zone.  A few days after the race, Frances asked me "Do I enjoy having her and our boys cheering me on?"  Of which I reply an absolutely positive YES.  She then asked, "Then why is it that you totally ignore us as if we don't exist!"  I was not aware that this was the situation, this is what I did.  But looking at the video clips, I do pretty well totally ignore them, apart from during leg 1!

Although it makes is less satisfying for my supporters, I see this deep focus I exhibit as one of my strengths.  During the last 5 legs of the race, although my legs were rather sore, deep down I didn't feel as though I was really fatiguing!  I had total self belief in my preparation and my ability, and my high self expectations that running 100 miles around the Lakes District was 'going to be a breeze'.  This helped keep any self-doubt regarding my ability to finish completely 'at bay'!

Watching the video clips of my running during the later stages of the event, I can now see why Frances doesn't really enjoy watching me race ultra races, as it really does look like I am suffering quite a bit.  The amazing thing is that, even as I watch the video, I know that it looks 'heaps' worse than it was.  In fact right up until the last leg, ignoring a bit of negativity on leg 10, I was pretty positive and believe or not, enjoying the overall experience quite a bit!

Come the last leg, things do begin to go a bit 'astray'.  This is something I need to work on.  As I get near the end, the negativity begins, as I think about finishing, think about the massive distance I have run.  All of a sudden it is as if the mind is saying you should be exhausted by now, so instantly, I become exhausted!

As I have become to realise, my performance in Ultra Running, especially these long races, is pretty well entirely determine by my self expectations.  "Expect to run fast, I do!  Expect to be tired, I am!"

On that note, I will sign off.

All the best as you develop your positive high self expectations.


Monday, 8 November 2010

Developing Positive Self Expectations - Part 1

Hi again,

Yes after 5 weeks of nothing, there are three posts within a week!  I wasn't planning to write another post so soon but this morning I was interviewed by David Bradford, a local runner who is also a freelance journalist, who is in the process of writing an article on training and mileage for Runners World.  During the interview he asked me some good questions that got me thinking, with some of my answers being new topics that I hadn't addressed on my blog.  So before I forget what I spoke about this morning I thought I would try to highlight some key points. 

David came to speak to me about physical training, but I ended up talking mostly about mental training, self belief, positivity etc.  So I  am not sure how much will end up in the article.  Also I think he said it was restricted to only 1300 words.  I would have spoken more like 13,000 words or even double that this morning!  Lastly if you are like me, you probably no longer buy Runners World or any of the running magazines as they tend to be the same old story repeated time and time again, with only the occasional excellent article.  Here's hoping that David's article, I'll let you know when it is published, is better than the standard magazine article!

We spoke about what training is needed, the bare minimum to be able to perform to a 'reasonable level', although we never attempted to define what we meant by a 'reasonable level', as this will vary immensely dependent upon the aims and expectations of each individual runner.  I found it hard to come up with an answer as I tried to explain that performance in endurance running, with the longer the event the higher the importance, is more about the mind, the mental approach, self expectations, positivity, etc.  He wasn't totally convinced, but thought that the mind has a role to play but felt that the physiology, the physical attributes were more important.  David's responses were a bit like the comment left by Andy Cole on my blog the other day in response to my Beachy Head Race Report -
"I'm beginning to believe your expectation theory, but doesn't it still link back to training - expectation comes from confidence, confidence comes form having done the work?"
Yes, Andy's comment is largely true, but one can develop confidence in other ways.  Although what is probably more important and relevant is that people can do the work, but still not end up with positive / high self expectations!  So what is happening there?  And how much work is required to gain confidence - positive self expectations?

Another question David asked was "Did I always have these beliefs about the importance of the mind in determining performance, and how did I come to these conclusions?"  Now these questions really got me thinking, I started trying to recall, when and how did my current ideas develop?  I never used to think this way.  I was like everyone else.  I used to believe running performance was all physically determined!  To try and expand on these questions I guess I need to go way back to when I started running, in 1977!  Not sure how far I will get in answering these questions and getting back to strategies to develop positive self expectations, but I'll simply keep typing, and maybe this might end up being a part 1, 2, 3 post, as it is such a big area!

I started running back in 1977 at the age of 14 when I joined Hutt Valley Harriers.  I joined the local harrier club as I was too small to be any good at playing rugby.  My lack of skill and pace probably also didn't aid my rugby performance.  So after 6 years of rugby, harriers, i.e. cross country and road running, was to be my new sport.  I distinctly recall now, picking up the club race calendar and there listed at the end of the season was a race called the Consolation Race.  It was a specific club race for only those athletes that hadn't won a prize, i.e. finished 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in any race during the season.  I immediately thought, maybe I could perform well in the consolation race, as I had clearly established within my perceived self expectations that I was a low performing athlete, even before I had begun running as a sport!  The club information also referred to an Attendance Medal.  Where if you attended and ran every Saturday during the season, club and inter club races and the club training runs, no matter what level you performed at, you would win an Attendance Medal.  I again have strong memories of me thinking, yes, I can win one of these medals!

So why at the age of 14 did I have such low expectations of my ability as an athlete?  Around that time in New Zealand, John Walker, one of the greatest milers of all time, had just set the world mile record (3:49.4 in 1975) and had won the 1500metres Gold Medal at the 1976 Montreal Olympics.  So all New Zealanders were basking in the glory of a New Zealander, from a country of only 3 million people, who was the best runner in the entire world!  Winning, success, was what sport was all about!  It is amazing how the media's portrayal can influence how people think!  Not only was the emphasis on winning, but the media also 'made up large' the importance of one's physiology, the importance of "choosing the right parents"!  How many times have you heard that expression!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  John Walker was reported to have one of the largest VO2max values recorded.  Physically he was tall, muscularly strong, with a big barreled chest which enabled him to breathe in and consume massive amounts of oxygen.  It was these physical attributes that he inherited, that he was born with, that made him the best in the world!

So little old me, 4 foot something and aged 14, had obviously chosen the wrong parents.  My Mum was largely overweight and never done any physical activity or sport in her entire life, apart from gardening.  My Dad played tennis at the local club, but for recreation, fun, at a social level.  How poor was that, he never won any club or county championships!  So these messages I saw on the TV and in the papers, led me to have a real distorted view of what sport was about.  The over importance on performance, and how it was beyond ones control.  Tough luck if you chose the wrong parents!  Just an interesting side question.  Are things any different in the UK now in 2010 as opposed to NZ in 1977.  What are all the messages given out leading up to the 2012 London Olympics?  What is the message? Yes, you are right!  How many medals will the UK team win!  Messages being sent to young athletes, and reinforced by the media.  If you aren't any good by the time you are 10, or 12, or 14 at the very latest, then you are never going to be any good.  Tom Daley the World Champion Diver from the UK who was World Champion at the age of 15, British champion at the age of 13!  Then you have all of the child superstar footballers, Joe Cole, Wayne Rooney, David Beckham, Michael Owen, and on and on!  I think things have got even worse than what they were in NZ in 1977!

Not only are there these messages about the necessity to perform at a young age, and the imporance of genes, but the hereditary message is even stronger now than ever with regards to running.  The simple message is, if you aren't from Africa, then you can not expect to perform to any high standard in endurance running.  Many people are asking the question, why can't the UK produce any top endurance athletes (apart from Paula Radcliffe), maybe it is as simple as that they have very low self expectations from everything they encounter throughout their lives in terms of the media's portrayal of sporting success and it's determinants.  It takes a pretty strongly minded young person to have the self belief to conclude that pretty well every message they encounter within society regarding sporting performance and ability is simply misleading!  Well, I said this could be a multi-part post.  I am really going 'off course' tonight!  But deep down it is relevant, as all of these messages influence one's self expectations!

So back to 1977, the 14 year old short kid, not much good at rugby, starting out running.  Hutt Valley Harriers was very good in terms of encouragement.  It still had a focus on performance and the need to be good, but I joined just at the time of the fun run boom at the end of the 70s where running simply for the fun of the participation was valued.  So I felt welcome, and was encouraged, with the aim to improve through training.  Bearing in mind that I was never going to be any good due to my genes!  Beyond my control!  Just to confirm what all the messages were telling me, there were two brothers Mark and Peter Lucock and they were both awesome runners, they both had the right genes, given to them by their parents, and with Peter in my school year I was never ever going to beat him! or even get close to him.  Not my fault, blame my parents!  Evidence for my low self expectations.  In 1975, in my first ever proper cross country race as a 12 year old, the Hutt Valley School Cross Country, Peter finished in 2nd place.  Me, I finished well behind in 47th place out of a field of 57!

The question I ask now is why did I finish in 47th place?  Lets change the question slightly, to something like:  You are running your first ever 10km road race or half marathon.  How do you know what pace you should run at?  How do you know what pace is right to ensure that you can make it to the finish without 'blowing up'!  What exactly is 'blowing up'?  What is fatigue?  What determines how fast you can run?  I used to have answers to these questions which I thought were correct.  The only problem is that even the cleverest sport and exercise scientists around the world are not in agreement to the last three questions.  Those who have carried out loads of research have PhD and you name it many other letters after their name do not know the answer!  So if no one knows what actually causes fatigue in endurance running, or what actually determines the pace I am able to run at, then how can I the runner decide what pace to run at!!!
What I have used in the past is that after I had run a few races, I based my pace on what I ran previously.  Thinking if I had completed a good period of physical training then I expected to run a little bit faster than before.  If my physical training hadn't been going very well, I expected to run a little bit slower than previously.  Quite simple really.  And as I have tried to explain, my running pace was determined by my self expectation of what I thought I could achieve.
Getting back to my first ever race. What pace did I run at?  I can't exactly recall what I did, but I am trying to think what your typical novice runner would do.  They haven't got any previous running experiences to help them.  So they formulate a self assessment of themselves as a sports person.  They look at the physiques of the other runners, and depending on what their self assessment is, in terms of how high, how confident it is they will determine their pace in relation to the other runners in the event.  I doubt they would go out with the leaders, I also doubt they would run at the back of the field with the massively overweight runners.  Again, the pace is solely determined by their self expectation, and how good they perceive themselves in relation to others.
Now, I have been running for many years.  I am running my umpteenth half marathon.  What pace do I run at?  Simply a pace similar to my previous runs in half marathons.  How do I know that this is the right pace.  It simply feels right!  What happens if I find that I am closer to the front, quite a bit ahead of all of the other runners that are usually around me?  I question, should I be this far near the front, in front of the others, and relate back to my expectation of what I expect I am able to achieve, and then adjust the pace accordingly, in most occasions probably easing of the pace, being conservative, so I don't 'blow up', even though no-one is able to actually define what 'blowing up' is!
So the real secret to running performance in endurance events is simply changing one's self expectation of how fast they expect to run!  Many readers may be thinking what absolute rubbish,  UltraStu is definitely Ultra Stupid tonight. What does he mean, no one knows what causes fatigue in endurance running!  It's running too much above one's lactate threshold, thereby producing too much lactic acid, which then inhibits the enzymes and the chemical reactions, which then causes the muscles from contracting, hence fatigue!  Only problem, is that the latest research now quite clearly concludes that this simply model is no longer correct!  It must be due to glycogen depletion then.  No carbohydrate left in the muscle cell to burn, so then one has to resort to fat, and therefore due to the increased oxygen demand to burn fat can not regenerate the same amount of ATP so must slow down.  Now this can be the case in some instances, however, with carbohydrate gels and drinks now being available during marathons, excessively low glycogen levels are no longer commonly found at marathon finish lines.  And what about all those events, half marathons and less, where it isn't likely that the glycogen stores will become depleted.  What causes fatigue in these races???  If anyone out there is able to tell me, supported with scientific evidence, NOT what their running mate has told them, or NOT what they have read in the running magazine, who an elite athletes book, then please add a comment, so we can all know the answer.  As within my readings of the scientific literature, although I must acknowledge that I do not read as much as I should, and therefore may have missed the latest understandings, I am still wanting to find out!
I think, at this moment I will finish this post - part 1 - to be continued!
I will sign off with the quote I signed off with last week, as it is probably a lot more relevant to tonight's post.
"There was a time, not so long ago, when we really did know everything about human physiology. After all, it was all so very simple. ...... But the more compelling challenge for the traditional model (of fatigue) is that it simply cannot explain the obvious." Tim Noakes (2007) From the foreword for the book:Brain Training for Runners, by Matt Fitzgerald.

All the best in your development of positive self expectations,


Saturday, 6 November 2010

The Start of My Ultra Trail Running Journey

Hi All

The last few weeks I have been organising things for our family holiday to New Zealand over Christmas.  Coming from New Zealand we try to get out there every 2 - 3 years to catch up with family and friends.  As I am in the process of planning a few long trail runs in NZ over Christmas, it reminded me of the run about four years ago that was really the start of my journey into Ultra Trail Running.  First though, you may have seen an UltraStu post titled Lego racers.  Apologies for this. It was my son Robert playing around on the computer within U-tube and clicked publish on Blogg.  So with one click the lego racers video was published as I hadn't signed out.  A good reminder, always sign out!

So back to January 2007, while staying at Kaiteriteri beach near the top of the South Island in NZ. I decided to run the Abel Tasman Coast Track as it was close by.  The Abel Tasman Coast Track is classified as one of the New Zealand Great Walks, so I knew that it would be a great run, through awesome scenery, on a well maintained track.  The total track distance is 54 kilometres, with sections that can only be passed at low tide.  However, I decided that running from the start Marahau, to Totaranui at 41 kilometres, so just short of a marathon, would be sufficient.  Looking at the tide times, meant I had to leave at 5:00am in the morning in order to cross the low tide section.  For some strange reason, Frances my wife wasn't too keen to get herself and our two boys up at that time to drive me the 11km to the start of the track.  No problem, I'll just run the extra 6-7 miles, so now my run would be around 32 miles!

So at just after 5:00am I start my journey into Ultra Running, with simply a small bum back with a few muesli bars, and 'magic biscuits', which I used to eat during cycle racing many years earlier, (the beach resort shops didn't stock gels or energy bars!).  The 'magic biscuits' are sometimes known as 'squashed fly' biscuits, or Golden Fruit in New Zealand, or Garabaldis in the UK.  Now I'm getting a bit side-tracked here, but I'll continue as its a good 'nutritional' story.  When I was a competitive road cyclist I used to empty a packet of these biscuits into my back pocket of my cycling jersey and munch on them during the races.  Cycling road races tend to be quite long, typically between 2 - 4 hours of high intensity effort.  So as you can imagine one tends to get quite hot and get quite a sweat up.  So, yes as you have gathered, the biscuits in my back pocket get rather soggy as they soak up my sweat from my back.  You may think 'yuck', but I used to actually look forward to them getting sweaty as it made them more moist and heaps easier to digest, rather than the quite dry biscuit, straight out of the packet!  I also thought that it must be good for me nutritionally, re-digesting all of the salts and minerals I have just sweated out of by body.  The perfect replacement nutrition!  Well I recall from way back in 1986 or 1987 when I was racing in Dunedin one particular occasion, which I'm not really sure if I should tell this story, just in case anyone from the Dunedin Cycling Club by some chance is reading this blog, but well here goes!

From 1986 - 1988 I was a student at Otago University, and as with most students, I always tried to save money whenever possible.  One of the highlights of cycle racing back then was that following the race, we would all go back to the clubrooms and eat cake, biscuits, etc, along with our cups of tea.  As part of the entry fee you had to provide a 'plate' of cake or biscuits.  I typically would buy a cheap packet of biscuits.  On this particular occasion, I hadn't eaten many of my 'magic biscuits' during the race.  So as I was getting changed, ready for the cup of tea and prizegiving, I removed the soggy biscuits from my jersey, and was all set to throw them in the bin, as although edible at the time, keeping the soggy biscuits for the following week's race was not very appealing,  However, I recall I then had a 'brain wave'.  Why not put these biscuits from my pocket onto the plate, and therefore keep the unopened packet of biscuits for next week's plate.  So that's what I did!  I was so pleased with myself at saving probably all of 99 cents (35p)!  In addition I do recall having to retain my amusement as I observed the fellow cyclists consuming, (and enjoying!), the biscuits that had been in the back of my cycling jersey for many hours!  Sorry about that memory, the joys of being a student!  My blog after all is sub-titled "Millsy's Memories and Mutterings"!

Now, back to running the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, and as expected it was fantastic!   In my 30+ years of running, the run that morning, as I ran from the darkness into a beautiful sunny day, through tremendous bush, overlooking idyllic sandy bays and crystal clear water, rated as one of my top five runs ever.  Right up there with the Kepler Challenge run, another one of NZ's great walks down in the Milford Sounds, and since then UTMB (Ultra Trail Mont Blanc).

I get to the Department of Conservation (DOC) centre at Totaranui where I was to be  picked up, and discover that the road to the centre is 14 kilometres of winding twisty gravel (unsealed) road.  Now Frances doesn't really enjoy driving on gravel roads, and the boys aren't great fans of winding roads, with the sick bag needing to be near by.  So I think, no problem, I'll run out along the gravel road and meet them.  At least I will shorten the distance they have to drive along the gravel road.  So having completed 52km I continue this most amazing run.  Although no longer on beautiful bush track, I am still buzzing as I steadily climb, as the road winds up a significant hill.  Surprisingly I am still full of energy and still loving every minute.  I reach the summit and then descend down the other side, and before I know it I have reached the end of the gravel road, and the road is now sealed.  So now 66km running and no car in sight!  By this stage, I am now only one km short of my longest run ever, this being the 67km Kepler Challenge from 1992 (now only 60km due to GPS!), which I ran two months after racing the Hawaii Ironman, when I was supremely fit and 14 years younger!  Although the Kepler Challenge race was my first ever Ultra run, at the time I was an Ironman, and the race, although I rated it as one of my best runs ever in terms of enjoyment, for some reason I never considered doing more off-road trail ultras.  I got back into solid training for the New Zealand Ironman and never gave ultra trail running another thought.  That was until kilometre number 66 as I was searching for the car to pick me up!

By this time, as you can imagine, I was getting pretty tired, but I wasn't going to stop.   The thought of walking just doesn't seem right, and of course I only needed to go a little further to be able to record in my training diary my longest run ever!  So I run for another km or two, and then just as I start to walk, around the corner comes Frances and the boys in the car, after being delayed due to trying to find a petrol station in this remote part of NZ.  The following day I am a little stiff, but overall amazed just how easy it felt and how enjoyable it was.  I begin to think that maybe I should do some more ultra trail runs, but mistakenly thinking that ultra trail racing is for oldies with bushy beards, I decide to have one more year racing ultra-trial marathons, and then the following year I can join the oldies and casually jog some ultra trail runs.  So after having a great year running five trail marathons in 2007, the following year 2008, the continuation of my ultra trail running journey took place, and I have been jogging ultras since!  Well maybe at times a little faster than jogging!

Most of my posts I try to have a theme or a message to convey to you readers out there. Tonight's message?  I'm not sure really.  Possibly there are a few, maybe: If you enjoy something then do it, don't just think about, but actually do it!  Or possibly: It only takes just one event / one run to change your direction.  Things happen for a reason, and always look for the positive in things, and build upon and continue on the journey initiated by that one event.  Or simply, no real message, just an opportunity for me to reflect on a great run from the past, in anticipation of some upcoming awesome runs I hope to have this Christmas out in New Zealand.

Time to sign off with a quote:  "Running means different things to different people.  Ensure you know what running means to you.  And as you run, knowing why you run, whether for the relaxation, the peacefulness, the scenery, the challenges, the friendships, the competitiveness, or in my case, for them all!, may you get much enjoyment and satisfaction as you run through your journey!"  Stuart Mills, (2010).

Enjoy the journey,


Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Beachy Head Marathon - The Importance of Having Positve Self Expectations

Hi again,

Well yes it has been quite a while since my last post.  In fact over 5 weeks!  I got to post number 33, exactly six months after my first post, and since then??? well I have just been taking it easy! In both the running and thinking sense!  Tonight's post consists mainly of my race report on the Beachy Head Marathon which I recently ran.  Although with most of my race reports I will try to link it to a theme.  For tonight - The Importance of Having Positive Self Expectations.

The Beachy Head Marathon took place on the 23rd October, a little over a week ago.  It was promoted as the 30th Beachy Head Marathon, although the first 21 of these were known as the Seven Sisters Marathon.  The course is entirely off-road and has loads of climbing, with the best bit of the race being the last 8 miles, which involves running over the Sevens Sisters, (short sharp hills) and then the lengthy climb up to the top of Beachy Head.  The image below shows the course profile.

It is a great event, with over 1700 starters.  There is a great atmosphere, before, during and after the race.  With good support along the course, and great views throughout, one can't really ask for more!  Last week was the ninth time I have raced it.  I have won the race on numerous occasions, in fact six times prior to last week, and I have a personal best time of 2 hours 57 minutes in 2007, finishing 2nd, and a personal worst time of 3 hours 11 minutes in 2006, also finishing 2nd.

Going into last weeks race, I felt fully recovered from all of my ultra races earlier in the year.  I was therefore expecting to run reasonably well.  Chatting to colleagues at work, (we had seven of us doing it from Chelsea School, University of Brighton), I mentioned to a few of them that I felt a sub 3hour time for me this year was probably not quite possible, and that 3:02 was more likely.  The reasoning for the 3:02 was that I felt that after running five ultra races this year, where the race intensity is so much lower than for a marathon, that I had become a wee bit 'soft'.  I wasn't expecting to be able to sustain such a high intensity as usual, having got used to 'taking it easy'!  This combined with the fact that I hadn't completed any 'quick stuff' in training prior to the race, led me to believe that sub 3 hours was not possible.

Come race day, with the race immediately starting with a 100+ metre climb up towards Beachy Head, straight away I am puffing and blowing hard, but not really enjoying it!  At the top of the first climb there are three of us together.  Myself and Matt Bradford from Lewes AC gradually pull away from the third guy.  The pace feels rather 'uncomfortable' and rather than pushing hard, I decide not to push the pace and simply let Matt decide how fast we should run.

At around the 3.3 mile mark there is a nice long descent down into the village of Jevington.  During the descent, I put a small gap on Matt. He quickly pulls me back in, up the next climb, but then on the following descent I pull away again.  The next climb shortly after is quite lengthy as we run up to above the Long Man of Wilmington.  Matt not only pulls me in again, but goes pretty well straight past me.  I try to stay with him, but after a pretty pitiful attempt to stay with him, I decide to let him go.  For the last two years, 2008 and 2009, which I have won on both occasions, I  have 'let' the lead runner go ahead.  The term 'let' is probably a bit misleading as I recall on those two occasions I didn't really have much choice, with my heart rate hitting 184 and 182 bpm respectively, rather high, considering my max is only around 187bpm.  This year, I let Matt go at a heart rate of 176bmp, so as you can see, not really after the same 'fight'!  However, I am not overly concerned, as I have the expectation, that as for the previous two years, I can catch and go past the lead runner later on in the race.

Matt therefore gradually pulls away, to around 20 - 25 metres and then surprisingly appears to slow down and wait for me as he pauses for a few seconds holding a gate open for me.  Shortly after this I catch him up, where upon I drop him again, on the long descent into Alfriston. 

Coming out of Alfriston (9.5 miles) there is a long climb of around 2.5 miles.  Shortly after we begin climbing Matt again goes straight past me.  But this time as the climb is so long, by the time we reach the top, and the checkpoint/feedstation, at Bo Peep carpark, he must be around 1 minute 15 seconds ahead.  On the long descent I gradually gain on him, and just before the next checkpoint at Litlington (16.5 miles), after being in second place for the previous 45 minutes or so, I pull up level with him.  Matt gives me a friendly welcome, with a comment something like "Hi Stuart, I wondered how long it would be until you caught me up".

Shortly after the checkpoint there is a short steep climb.  Realising that Matt was expecting me to catch him, I thought I better not disappoint him by allowing him to pull away from me again on the uphill.  So I decide that now is the time to up the intensity, to reinforce his belief that I am just cruising and that as he expects, I will just run away from him.  So I up the intensity, grit my teeth, not that he can see how hard I am now working, and pull away from him.  About two minutes later there is another steep climb and then a few minutes later there is an even steeper climb, up the Bagpipe steps, as every year there is a bagpiper playing, which really adds to the occasion, on probably the steepest part of the whole race.  After really 'giving it heaps' for the last 10 - 12 minutes, I am expecting that Matt by now would have given up, quite happily accepted 2nd place, and I can return to a more comfortable intensity.  Unfortunately, he hasn't yet given up, and he isn't that far behind me as we approach Cuckmere Haven.  I therefore keep the high effort up quite a steady climb before we actually start the first of the seven short and steep climbs of the Seven Sisters.

As I start climbing this initial climb, finally, I am back to my usual racing self.  I am enjoying running hard, I am no longer worried about Matt behind me.  I am now wanting to run as hard as I can from now until the finish.  From that moment on, I don't even take a glance behind.  I am running now solely for the joy of running hard.  Not running for the win, but running for the feeling of running as hard as I can.  It is strange, that once I start running for self satisfaction, and not being 'worried' about my finishing place, the running not only becomes more enjoyable, but feels easier, even though the intensity remains high.  With the renewed self expectation that I am capable of running fast, and that I can run strong all the way to the finish, this enables me to focus on running faster.  There is a massive increase in positivity.  No negative thoughts about will I get beaten, no thoughts on comparing myself to the other runner.  Simply positive thoughts about how fast I am moving at this later part of a rather undulating marathon.

As I climb over the Seven Sisters I am really attacking the short steep hills.  It is as if I am doing repetitions. Really attack up the climb, recover on the descent.  After being 'loads' down on schedule for a 3:02 marathon, I am gaining back time fast.  It now becomes apparent that a 3:02 marathon, as expected prior to the start is possible.  As I begin the drop back down to the start line in Eastbourne, I know I will run 3:02.  I am literally 'flying' down the hill, running the last section at 5:28 mile pace as shown by the GPS trace.  I cross the line in an official time of 3:02:15.  Although my watch indicates 3:02:25.

So what have I learnt from the 2010 Beachy Head Marathon?  The marathon has reinforced my philosophy that how one performs on the day is so so very much influenced by their self expectations.  What you achieve is literally what you expect!  Not what you want, but what you honestly, deep down expect to achieve.  Did Matt Bradford expect to win the marathon?  I don't think so.  In fact chatting to him after the race, in which he did finish in second place in 3:10, I asked him about his hesitation, holding open the gate for me.  His reply was that, he thought he better slow down, as he must be going far too fast, if he was leaving Stuart Mills behind!  How much did his expectation that I would beat him contribute to the expectation becoming reality?

For me, during the first half of the race, I was not running well.  For whatever reason, my mind was not in 'the right place'.  By checkpoint 2 at Bo Peep car park I was 4 minutes down on my 2008 time of 3:02:55.  I had run slower on 11 of the 12 mile splits.  Then coming back to Eastbourne, I ran faster on 13 of the 14 mile splits and ended up running 30 seconds quicker than 2008, in pretty well identical conditions, with a tail wind blowing us back to Eastbourne.  Although the tailwind was probably a wee bit stronger this year, which may account for some explanation on why I ran quicker than 2008 during the second half of the race.  However, I think the main reason for running quicker was due to the changed 'mind set' during the race.  The increase in positivity, and increase in self expectation of my capabilities, the increased focus on what I was doing, not on what others were doing. 

I always state that prior to race day, you can never know in what position you will finish or on whether you can win the race or not, as it is largely out of your control.  It is dependent upon the capabilities of the other runners that turn up.  If someone simply better than you turns up, as occurred in 2007, when Tim Short ran amazingly quick winning in 2:47, then there is nothing you can do about it.  Therefore it is not wise to generate a self expectation that you will win the race, or of a certain finishing place.  (Although, what is surprising on a number of occasions in the past, where I have had an expectation of a certain finishing place, this finishing place has resulted.  How this happens I don't really know.  Is the influence of self expectation actually strong enough to result in creating a reality of the expectation!  I'll leave an attempt at expanding and explaning this for another day.)  But the benefit one gains by having a strong positive self expectation of one's performance, is that it allows the body and mind together to run unhindered, without there being any doubts, any worry about; am I running to fast, have I carried out the necessary training, can I last the distance, etc. etc.  These doubts, created by low/negative self expectations, therefore contribute significantly towards the less than ideal performance.  If you have the positive self expectation, everything will just flow, as if by 'auto-pilot'! 

Try to think back to your best performances, when you ran faster than normal.  Did it feel harder?  Or did it seem easier?  What were your self expectations that day?  When those days occur, it is important that you learn from it.  Too often, the improved performance is credited to the increased physical training people may have carried out prior to the event.  Marathon running performance, and even more for Ultra running performance is largely determined by self expectation.  I believe it is the heightened self expectation following a good bout of training that leads to the improved performance, not the actual training per se!  So only indirectly has the increased physical training lead to the improved performance. 

But are there other ways, more direct methods to generate high positive self expectations that you deep down truly belief?  That really is the secret to ultra and marathon running training and performance.   I have some ideas.  I have discovered/stumbled on some strategies, but these will have to wait until another post, once I have a clearer understanding of how it all works!  Until then, work on your own strategies to develop positive self expectations.

Time to sign off with a quote; "There was a time, not so long ago, when we really did know everything about human physiology.  After all, it was all so very simple.   ......  But the more compelling challenge for the traditional model (of fatigue) is that it simply cannot expalin the obvious."  Tim Noakes (2007) From the foreword for the book:Brain Training fro Runners, by Matt Fitzgerald.

All the best with your training,