If I could give one piece of advice for runners of any ability on race day it would be this:
This is the one word I’d write on my arm and it would be the flag I’d use to rally my thoughts, centre myself, and bring me back into the present.
If you’re not in this moment, where are you? And how would being ‘there’ help you now?
Stop thinking about work
Stop thinking about cheesecake
Stop thinking about the social media kudos you’ll get from the story you’re writing in this endeavour
Stop thinking about anything that isn’t central to now – and CONCENTRATE.
Everything you’ve done to date has been for this moment in time. You can’t control the kilometres completed, or what lies in the kilometres ahead. What you can control is this very moment – right now.
What are you concentrating on? A half dozen things, and not much more.
The moment you shout “CONCENTRATE” at yourself is the moment you think about all the things so essential to your run. Once focused you should go through all the things that matter most, and drop wayward thoughts and frivolity.
Feel free to have this conversation out loud.
CONCENTRATE ON: Efficiency – Ask yourself “How’s my form?”
Form is how you spend your fitness. You only have ‘all of your fitness’ to spend, and no more. How you spend it matters. Spend your fitness as economically as possible. You know how to do this because you’ve read about it, your coach has told you about it, or you down-right know the difference between what an ‘efficient runner’ looks like compared to an uneconomical mess of flailing limbs.
- Run upright with a slight lean from your ankles not your waist. There’s an invisible string coming from the top of your head pulling you upright.
- Keep your cadence up. It’ll dip when you’re tired. It matters regardless of whether you’re running uphill or downhill.
- What are your arms doing? They should be helping. At right angles, forward through the hips (imagine they’re following invisible railway tracks). Your arms help when ascending. Feel them drive your quads forward as you climb.
- Head up, eyes fixed on an imaginary point just below the horizon.
- Good comfortable long breaths should be a sign you’re not overdoing it (rookie error).
- Are your poles actually pushing the ground away behind you or are you just tapping them around yourself pointlessly. Feel your triceps work If they’re not working, your poles aren’t either.
It’s all about spend. You know how you drive your car when the fuel light comes on? As carefully as possible! You know intuitively that if you had driven the car the same way through the whole tank of gas you wouldn’t be in the current ‘orange-light-nightmare’. Run like that orange light is on from the first kilometre to the bottom of Kedumba then ‘put the boot in’ and drive it home on fumes.
CONCENTRATE ON: Pace Management – Ask yourself “Is this pace sustainable?” If the answer is ‘no’ get out of it. Early in your day, if you’re running up a hill ask yourself “Would I be running up this hill in the last 20% of my race?” If the answer is no – WALK (/Hike). Don’t run anything in the first half that you wouldn’t run in the last half. Be patient!
Negative split your day by effort (not necessarily time). Your primary goal for pace management is to get to half way feeling ‘OK’. If you get to half way and the petrol tank is empty you’re in for a miserable afternoon, evening or night in the Leura forest.
One of the main differences between you and the best runners in the world isn’t entirely fitness or ability – but pace management. Be like the pros.
CONCENTRATE ON: Fuelling – Ask yourself “How’s my fuel and water?” An executive, executive, summary of one of the most complicated topics in Ultra running is – LITTLE AND OFTEN. Variable on your ‘burn rate’. We won’t get into it here but ensure that you are still on track with YOUR fuel strategy that you’ve tested, and tested, and tested. Don’t neglect it because you feel ok. If you’re due a gel or sip of water, put it in now. If you use your watch for nothing else – use it to plan your fuel strategy.
CONCENTRATE ON: Foot placement – If you just fell over and found you have a ‘sudden taste for fire trail’ it’ll be because you weren’t concentrating. People concentrate on foot placement most on the technical stuff then pull an impromptu ‘half-cartwheel’ immediately after because they stopped concentrating.
In terms of staying vertical, foot placement matters as much after Kedumba as it does on the way down. Think about where you’re going to put your feet at all times and look for the surfaces that will offer the right purchase to either decelerate your descent, or give you the traction to carry on. Avoid leaf litter. The slipperiest thing on the trail probably isn’t mud, rather it’s the stuff that’s on the trail. Gum leaves are mostly snakes and spiders anyway, avoid them.
CONCENTRATE ON: The little things – Ultra-distance running presents you with a multitude of seemingly unimportant yes/no questions. A million switches in a binary state. “Is that stone in my shoe likely to be a problem? Is that the start of a blister? Is that the onset of chafing? ….” Getting all these little things right is the difference between a ‘fun day in the office’ and a ‘chafey-bleedy-nightmare in the pants’. No one wants that. A moments triage now may end up saving you a heap of time lost dealing to a major problem later.
CONCENTRATE ON: HAVING FUN – Why are you even here? Running is the recreational pursuit you CHOOSE to do, so CHOOSE to love it. Likely you place your family as the most important thing in your life. Your day-jobs ability to service your mortgage is typically ranked #2. Chances are running ranks 3rd-at-best in your list of life-priorities. You chose it, CHOOSE TO ENJOY IT. Even when the lights go out (figuratively and literally). Find something that you love about that moment of clarity and concentration. Name 3 things you love in that moment.
What can you see? “Trees! Who doesn’t love a good tree?! Green! That’s like, my 2nd favourite colour.” And so on. Find 3 new things you’re grateful of each time you ask yourself this question – and be creative. It can be a fun exercise in and of itself.