There is a phrase that seemed to be particularly popular when I started my first job as an advertising sales rep (yep, my Mum was more than a little unimpressed with that ‘career choice’ but I wanted the money!) which was the ‘Six Ps’: Perfect Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance.
I took on board what that meant at the time and always prepared properly for any meetings I had. Since then, the truth of that little phrase has been proven time and time again: if you don’t bother preparing, you are then trying to wing it and then the chances that you will get found out are much, much higher.
In my experience, the same is true of running.
Every time I have had a good race I can see how I have trained and prepared well and conversely every time I’ve not had a good race, I can see the things that I didn’t do well in the weeks and months leading up to the race. I have sometimes thought that perhaps it is a case of seeing a pattern that fits the pattern after a good or bad performance. Or perhaps I have known whether or not I have prepared well before the race has started and so the result has been a self-fulfilling prophecy?
Whatever – the bottom line is that when I don’t prepare well, I don’t race well. I doubt I’m alone in that.
Training vs. preparing
I think there are two elements in performing well – training and preparing.
For me, training is all the running, core work, cross-training, etc that you do in the months and weeks leading up to a race.
Preparing is more about the things you need to do in the weeks and days before a race, including eating and drinking well, getting kit sorted, knowing the race course, sleeping, etc.
In the case of the Endurance Life Classic Quarter, I think that it was the latter – the preparing – which put paid to my race.
The race report
The weather forecast for day of the Classic Quarter promised sunshine, with cool temperatures in the morning and getting warmer throughout the day. At least it wouldn’t be raining, so we would have a nice day out.
However my preparation for the race was woeful. The week leading up to our departure for Cornwall was packed with work and meetings at freestak as well as family commitments. Somehow we just about managed to stay on top of everything, but there were numerous late night and the lack of sleep was starting to tell. I was also not really running as much as I would have liked to and whilst that is probably not as bad as over training, it played on my mind and put me in a bad mood.
On Friday we (that is my wife and I) left to travel to Cornwall. I was hugely grateful to our friend Jayne who offered to lend us her van for the trip, but vans tend not to be the most comfortable and there were no plush seats, air-con, cruise control etc. By the time we had driven for an hour my glutes were going to sleep and my hamstrings were cramping.
Then we had a phone call which was very bad news indeed. My Mum called to say that there had been a death in the family. I was shocked and really emotional. After a couple of hours sat in a service station on the M4 trying to deal with the news and pull myself together, we decided that there was no point driving home to sit in the flat feeling miserable so we would keep going. By this stage however we were three hours behind schedule and started hitting much heavier traffic than expected.
We arrived in Cornwall after midnight and weren’t in bed until around 1am. I was too upset to sleep, so by the time we got up at 3am to leave for the bus to take us to the start of the race, I’d probably had 90 minutes sleep.
Then the weather decided to weigh in.
Unlike the three day forecasts I had been watching, the short-term forecast – which I didn’t see – showed a thunderstorm rolling in, along the Cornish coast that we were racing along and then out on to the Channel. And that forecast was VERY accurate! As we arrived in the dark at Lands End at 3:45am for the bus to the start at Lizard Point, it was cool but dry. By the time we arrived in Lizard, it was drizzling and an hour before the race it was pouring with rain, with lightening crackling out to see and thunder rolling in every few minutes.
The race director delayed the race briefing and start, which given the total lack of any shelter was more than a bit frustrating, as everyone gathered at the start got wetter and wetter. And despite assuring us that he would keep the briefing brief (!), we seemed to stand in a downpour for quite a while. Still, I am sure there are important reasons for going through the safety briefing.
Once the gun went, I purposefully held back. I had decided that I would run with my wife and one of the Trail Team athletes, Mel Cordon-Lloyd. I was so tired and emotional that there was no way I could have raced on my own. In a downpour that matched my mood, wearing sunglasses to hide my bloodshot eyes, we started off along the muddy path.
The race went downhill from there. My heart wasn’t in it and I couldn’t stop thinking about my bad news. At one point on the way down another slippery set of stone steps cut into a hillside, I slipped and crashed down headfirst onto the rocky path, banging my knee and elbow. There was no real damage apart from a little cut, but it really hammered home how tired and miserable I felt.
After 10 miles Julie dropped out and I elected to go on. I couldn’t really think about what else to do. The paths got ever more slick and the mud ever more sticky. The stinging nettled and thistles which crowded over the path we were following, jabbed at my calves and through my soaking shoes at the tops of my feet. I felt dizzy and had a splitting headache.
Finally after around 5 hours I reached check-point 2 at a bit over 23 miles. There I found Julie and other friends, including the lovely Helen Hall and her husband Brian. I felt like a physical and emotional wreck and as soon as my friends tried to console me about my bad news, I simply lost the will to go on. Julie put her arms around me and my race ended there.
Lessons for the future
My first DNF at any distance actually proved to be a useful lesson. There are a few things that I will take away from this experience and use for the future:
- PPPPPP… or whatever. The bottom line is that I cannot get up at 6am after six hours sleep, work for half a day and then drive to Cornwall from London, get 90 minutes sleep and try to run 44 miles. Actually possibly I could, if getting 44 miles was important, but not if it is ‘just’ a race
- Being distracted is a disaster. When I ran the London this year, my focus for three days before the race and on the day of the race was 100%, totally and unwaveringly on the race. For this race I was thinking about something else completely and that contributed to my capitulation
- Sad or negative thoughts are like anti-energy: I believe in the power of positivity and so conversely have to acknowledge the damage that negativity brings. I felt really low and when the race got tough I had no mental reserves to pull me through
- Bad weather sucks, but not as much as a bad mood or a bad nights sleep. Really the problem is that bad weather on top of everything else is the straw that can break the camel’s back
I will undoubtedly be back to race this course again and in the mean time there are plenty of other races in the next few months. By managing the things I can manage, I will hopefully be better placed to tackle them. If you have had a similar experience please tell me – I know I am not alone and I would love to know how you have coped with a bad experience.