Charlie Spedding, age 28, is a good runner, but not a great one. He sits down in a pub one day, drinks his ale, and reads a story in the paper. A job had been advertised with a salary of £60k – no one applied. The employers re-ran the ad, but took down the salary to £25k – they received dozens of applications. Charlie sips his beer and realises that, up to this point, he was the guy who didn’t think he was worth the higher paid salary. His subconscious is the thing holding him back in races, not injuries, nor lack of training. He writes down some ridiculously lofty goals, leaves the pub, and goes on to achieve them. He becomes GB champ at 10,000m, wins the London Marathon, and gets a bronze at the Olympics in 1984 (incidentally, the last medal that Great Britain have won in the Olympic marathon).
Charlie came to grips with the importance of the mental aspect. He attributed it fully to his success, but also, to his downfall. Age 36, in the Olympic marathon again, Charlie is in 6th place, with 5 miles still to go. He is feeling terrible, and he is being caught up. He wants badly to quit, or at least slow down. In that deep dark point of suffering, on the verge of breaking down, he made a deal with himself. Just finish, and hold onto 6th place, and you will never have to run a marathon again.
Charlie kept to his promise. He did finish 6th in the Seoul Olympics. But then, after that, he was still a top pro runner. Having finished 3rd and 6th in Olympic games, and with the running scene booming, he was hot property, and was being offered very lucrative fees to race marathons all over the world. Due to injury, illness, or (as he himself suspects) in honour of that promise, he never did managed to finish one again.
3 months ago, I promised myself I would quit running if I could just finish the Snowdonia Trail Marathon. I did finish. I reneged on that promise a week later, and have, to date, raced five times since. But, as soon as the race starts to hurt, I find myself whisked back on the dark, moody slopes of Snowdon, and I remember the deal I made with myself. I promised myself I wouldn’t have to go through this again.
In each race, I start with all the optimism of the ‘old me’. This time I will be back to my old self, I have switched my brain back on now and everything is ok again. But, each race…hurts, want to quit.
Cardiff Half, the weather, the atmosphere, the organisation, it is all incredible. I have been put up by a lovely couple (Gwenno and Dylan), have had a great night sleep, training has gone well, and in the warm up I am feeling light and ready. On the start line, with 27,500 runners behind me, I feel great.
4 miles into the race, we go up a hill. It hurts. I want to quit.
I want to quit. I am angry with myself for wanting to quit. I am 4 miles away, if I quit, I will just have to walk 4 miles back. Screw it! I will walk 4 miles if I want to, you think I won’t walk 4 miles? What the hell do I care?! I am a mountain runner, I LIVE in the mountains, why am I the one struggling up this piddly little hill?! I should be devouring this fucker. There are girls infront of me. There should not be girls infront of me. There are guys infront of me who shouldn’t be infront of me. Everyone around me is wearing 4%s. My mum and dad have come to watch, I don’t want them to see me quit again. I miss my little girl.
I have to find a way to finish this race, and I have to find a way to enjoy it. The look my little girl gave me when I told her I was going away for the weekend, she might as well have ripped my heart from my chest and stamped on it. I have to find a way to make this all worth it.
I will drop back, relax, enough until the pain subsides. I will convince myself I am running a marathon, and then I can drop out at halfway.
The above line of thought, all takes place within about 1 mile. As we drop down off the hill and across the Cardiff Barage, a dam type pedestrian walkway over the sea, I am already starting to feel better. 5.20 miling is feeling easy, and I have got my breathing and my rythym back quickly. I let the group of leading ladies go, let any chance of a PB go, and let my ego go too. The mile markers seem to come quicker, I notice the crowds, hear the bands, and I am enjoying myself. I know I can run faster than this, at some points, I am almost overwhelmed with a desire to kick on. I want to catch the women back up, they are just up the road. No Russell, hold! I feel lazy, cruising around at 5.20 pace, I want to shout to the crowds, “I could go faster than this you know!”. I have to remind myself that, mile 4, I had nearly dropped out, so this is a million times good enough.
Somewhere around mile 10, I really start to tune into the simple feeling of my trainers gripping the tarmac, freshly dried by the morning sun. Man I am loving this. We get to mile 13, I am almost in a daze, I am only halfway through, my mum pops out of nowhere and screams at me “Russell you have to go now”. So I might as well, I kick as hard as I can for the last hundred meters and fly past the guy I had been running with, the lactic stings, but it feels good, I relish the pain this time. 68.53. This could be seen as a disaster, considering I was initially targeting somewhere around 2 minutes quicker. But, then, it’s a wonderful success compared to dropping out at mile 4. Maybe my body could have produced better, but my mind couldn’t. So if 68 is where my mind is at, then I’m happy enough with that.
After a wonderful Nandos with my folks, I set off on the stunning drive over and around the Brecon Beacons and Snowdonia. I have time to think things through. I realise that, my mental state is fragile. It’s not a word I like to use, ‘fragile’, but none the less, I have to admit it is true. It needs time to heal, and a bit of self-compassion. I can’t expect to just flick a switch and be back to the old me, bulldozing through races and smashing through the pain barrier. I’ve tried that. It’s not working. There is some damage done, I need to realise that first, and then give it the space to heal. I feel like this was the first race that really started that process for me. There are still 3 months of the year left. Plenty of time to build on a 68 half. Maybe next time I can get to mile 5 before I think about quitting!
|Tuesday||6||3 miles @ 5.26 pace. (1km, 600m, 400m) x 3. 2min rest between reps, 5min between sets. 2.54, 1.44, 68. 10 miles total|
|Thursday||12@ 20kmph tm. 5 miles total||REST|
|Friday||REST||5tm @ 6min miling|
|Saturday||5tm + volunteer at Academi||Drive to Cardiff|
|Sunday||Cardiff Half. 68.53. 15 miles total||Drive home|
|TOTAL:||60 miles||tm = treadmill|
Non-Running Related Highlight of the Month
We take the kids out cycling on the dam underneath a brilliant rainbow
Thing I’m Digging This Week:
Alberto Salazar, ex-marathon runner, now infamous coach, has finally been busted for drugs. I was walking from my car to the Cardiff Half start line, and heard lots of runners in the crowds talking about it. It’s a big thing. I am happy he has finally been caught, but a lot of heros were coached by him; Mo Farah, Galen Rupp, Alan Webb, Matt Centrowitz, the list goes on and on. It doesn’t look good for any of those guys. Great article on the subject here
Best Thing On The Internet This Week:
The World Athletics Championships in Doha. Stupid place to host the World Champs, the desert. The outdoor stadium had to be constantly air-conditioned to make it habitable to the athletes (how about that for a carbon footprint?). The women’s marathon had a third of the field drop out due to the heat. There were nights with less than 1000 spectators. I sat down with my little girl, El, and watched the women’s pole vault. At 3yrs old, she fricking loved it. She is still talking about how she is going to be a pole vaulter when she grows big. The IAAF is so corrupt, bloated and arrogant, that there may not be any pole vault by the time El grows big. But still, the athletes brought it. Dina Asher Smith, KJT, and Callum Hawkins, immense performances for which the GB team can be proud. You can watch all the highlights on the iplayer, if you watch one thing, watch Cal Hawkins come from nowhere to lead the mens marathon with 1km to go.