Whenever I look at setting myself a goal or a target to achieve I always look at why I’m doing it. I might already know how I’m going to do it and what I’m going to do to achieve it. The real driver to achieving it is why, the purpose of doing it in the first place. If you want to look at this concept in a bit more depth look at some of the videos the brilliant Simon Sinek has done on the topic.
I’ve always had an interest in endurance sports and have taken part in them since 1996 when I took part in my first triathlon. I didn’t know a great deal about the sport, motivation theories, or training back then (this was before the internet. I had one book and a couple of copies of ‘Triathlete’ magazine). It seemed like a good challenge and something I would enjoy, as well as feeling a sense of achievement.
That sense of why hasn’t changed a great deal 25 years later with the ultra-marathon – why am I doing it? I’ve never done a run of that distance before, so it is a sense of the unknown, it has given me a goal to aim towards this year, and the sense of achievement when I cross that finishing line are great drivers. It is something I want to prove to myself that I can do.
It has also had an impact on other areas of my life as well. My focus has improved, my diet has improved, my motivation is better, sense of well-being and the way I view myself has improved. I enjoy training. I can’t train for the sake of training though. I need a goal or target to work towards. There needs to be an outcome at the end of it. To me, it is more than just saying I want to be fitter and healthier (and this is very subjective and has multiple variables as well). That end-goal is important.
Knowing why I am doing it is important throughout. What the purpose of doing all that training is building to – physically, mentally and emotionally. I know there will be challenges along the way, but I also know I have it in my ability to overcome those challenges – I just need to return to the purpose, 'the why' I’m doing it.
There are times when I’m out running when I think about slowing the pace or even stopping and walking for 50 m or so but I manage that internal self-talk and return to the purpose and 'the why' to motivate myself to keep going – quitting is not an option. I’ve not missed one training session this year – every session I’ve completed no matter how I’m feeling or what the weather is doing – because I’m focused on why I’m doing this.
I’d much rather train when I don’t feel like it and/or train in the wind and rain than not even make the start line (let alone the finish line!)
The runs are getting longer every week now and every time they are getting longer I’m enjoying them more. There are probably a few reasons for this – the sense of achievement for building up the mileage and also being a step closer each time to achieving that overall goal. Running a couple of different routes recently has helped with the motivation – exploring different parts of the city and wondering where a certain trail or path leads is always pretty cool.
Having that sense of why and purpose has been filtering into other areas of my life as well, since the start of the year and the other goals and targets I set for myself – I think the motivation becomes contagious and those links are easily made. On the flip side of that, if the motivation isn’t there then that negativity also becomes contagious. I know this from times when my mental health has been at rock bottom – that purpose isn’t there, there is no why, there is no focus, motivation doesn’t exist. Having been at the abyss of trying to take my own life years ago I know how important it is to have that sense of purpose. I had nothing to drive me then.
Nowadays, I have lots of things that drive me. I set myself challenging goals – they are not easy, and they are not impossible either. I know that they will stretch me as I work to achieve them. I know I need to have self-discipline to achieve them.
As lockdown eases I know that I must remain as focused now as ever before, going out and meeting friends is not the main priority, easing off and kicking back to have some downtime is not an option for the moment. What is the priority is getting in those long miles in training, getting my studies done for work, focusing on ticking off a couple more of the goals I’ve set for myself.
I know when I’ve achieved them I can look in the mirror and be pleased with the effort, application, drive, sacrifice, and determination. And when that happens it is time to create new goals and targets, new purposes and finding the new and next why.
Last week was an interesting week and gave me some time to put a few things into perspective and also reflect on my own development this year.
I've had a really busy week in work and had to juggle around my training slightly but still managed to nail every session, Saturday was a great example of this as I did a shorter run (10km) than normal of late but upped the intensity of the session, a great way of making it count. Although faster run sessions are not necessarily essential training for an ultra they are good in terms of mixing it up a bit and having entered the Great South Run for later in the year it will help towards the training for that when I want to be running at a much quicker pace.
I had a meeting with the tutor from the training provider for my external study in work on Thursday. This was the first meeting I’d had (they’d forgotten to schedule one which should have happened weeks earlier). The quality of the work I’m providing is to a good standard, but I was told that in certain areas I was emphasising on what I was already doing, rather than how I would be using it in the context within the study areas.
I was extremely annoyed and angry with myself as I should have done this properly.
I sat down to reflect on this and gave myself a bit of a rocket up the backside. To me this wasn’t acceptable and didn’t meet the standards I expect from myself. I felt that the quality was good, the effort I put in was what I would expect, but the outcomes didn’t match. I decided that this needed to change and change immediately. Being good isn’t good enough, being exceptional is.
In the past I would have beaten myself up about this, and it would have lasted for quite a few days at a minimum. I would have been dragging myself down a fair amount, and it would have focused on other areas of my life as well, therefore increasing the scope of self-blame.
I was more focused on what needed to change, what I wanted the outcomes to be, what I needed to do to change that immediately, and what I needed to put into place to stop it from happening again. The focus wasn’t on what I felt I had done wrong and picking up a stick to beat myself with Instead I focused on what the solution was and putting it into place.
I also reflected on the reasons I was doing the study in the first place, the differences it was making presently and the differences it would make in the future. I felt it was important to do that to realise the value, not just the value to myself personally but also the overall value to myself professionally and others as well. I don’t expect excellence to happen automatically, I expect excellence to happen through hard work, determination, learning from mistakes, and never quitting. I also know that if I want excellence to happen I need to raise the bar. That requires putting in more effort, that requires pushing limits even more, that means knowing that if 80% is required to reach the standard than 90% should be the minimum target.
I looked at the targets and goals I’ve set for myself this year. Some of those I’m smashing, others are going well. I looked at how I might improve on each and every one of them – what would happen if I put in that extra bit of effort, how much difference would that make. I also reflected on how much I’ve developed and changed in the last month, since the start of the year, and since a year ago. The answer to all of those is a lot. I’ve not been this determined for years, I’ve not been this focused for years, I’ve not been this self-disciplined for years.
Instead of sitting there and feeling a certain amount of self-pity and focusing on self-blame and feeling bad about myself I felt fired up to make the changes I needed to put into place and action them straight away and to get back on track. I was able to put a glitch into perspective and focus on the outcomes I wanted and move forwards more determined to succeed than before.
Having taken part in quite a few long distance endurance events over the years I know the importance of consistent training – there are no hiding places if you haven’t done the training, there is no easy option if you haven’t done the training, and there are no shortcuts either.
I really like that about endurance events. You have to earn the right to start them. You have to earn the right to finish them. I’ve only ever failed to finish one race and that was due to hypothermia setting in. All the others I have crossed the finish line. In those events my target might have been just to cross the finish line, or I might have been racing to complete it in a certain time. Not all of those races were easy, far from it, actually some of them were tough – both mentally and physically. There have been times when I’ve taken part in events where my race plan has suddenly been torn up in front of me, either due to the physical aspect or the mental aspect and sometimes both. The things that got me through were my determination not to quit, knowing that if I could kept moving forwards I was getting closer to the finish line, and that I had put in the effort to do the training to get me across the finish line.
Putting the training in requires effort and sacrifice but the satisfaction of crossing the finish line far outweighs that effort and sacrifice. To me that means getting out of the door whether I feel like it or not. It means getting out of the door no matter what the weather is doing. It means planning the time in each day to complete those training sessions and yes, that means making sacrifices at times. It also means making every training session count.
When I train I make some of the sessions tougher because I want to know that on race day I am able to dig deeper, both mentally and physically when things get tougher. There should be certain elements of training that are uncomfortable – to me, if it feels too easy then I’m not gaining anything from it, it feels like I’m just going through the motions. The longer runs I do should be at a slightly quicker pace to what I’m planning to run at the ultra in July. The shorter runs should be a lot quicker. I try to vary the pace a lot on my runs – sometimes that feels great and other times I am in a world of pain.
I know the importance of making each and every training session count. Consistency will get me to the start line in July. What will get me across the finish line is knowing I’ve made every session count. Knowing that physically I’m able to endure the demands required to finish the ultra. Knowing mentally I’m able to endure the demands required to finish the ultra, knowing on the day I am mentally unbreakable, that I can overcome the challenges that I will face.
I’m under no illusion whatsoever that it is going to be a tough event, so I need to do everything I can to prepare for it – I need to have done every session I’ve planned, to have the right kit to wear on the day, get my nutrition plan right, and be mentally prepared for it.
I know that on the day there will be times when I will probably want to throw the towel in, but I won’t, I know I won’t, I know that is not an option. There is only one option I have – keep moving forwards, keep pushing towards the finish line. I know I am going to have to shut out the pain when my legs are aching, I know I am going to have to shut out some of the negative self-talk and maintain that self-belief that I will get across that finish line. I will have the answers to all that faces me on the day because I’ve been there already, I’ve faced it already when I’ve made every session count. I’m doing all I can to earn the right to be on that start line and all I can to earn that right to get across that finish line.
Last week proved to be another busy week. It was also a very productive week as well. I completed a couple of small projects in work ahead of time and that was good as I had scheduled a couple of days off, it was good that I didn’t need to think about finishing them on my return this week.
Training continues to go well and the motivation and focus are still strong.
On Saturday I did another long run – 14.2 miles. Sooner or later this will become a medium distance run as I push towards runs of 20-24 miles as long runs. I decided to sort my mp3 player out prior and purchased a 16gb micro SD card, so the capacity was increased. Just over 3 hours later of transferring songs onto it, and I’d only used half of the capacity (at full capacity it should be able to hold around 4,000 songs or one prog rock keyboard solo!!!!!). Great, even more different stuff to listen to whilst training.
Slight glitch on Saturday with it though, as I was running along at a steady pace, focused, and it repeated the song I’d just listened to (‘Radio Free Europe’ by REM), skipped it and again the song same popped up – seriously!!!! Managed to sort it out and got moving again, until once again, a few miles later the same song decided to play again (and again after hitting skip!) – as much as I like the song I don’t really want it on a loop for a run of over 2 hours.
Last week's training mileage was just over 27 miles plus a couple of walks of over 2 hours. The walks were great as I’d be meaning to do this for a month or so as I wanted to get some pictures of some of the points I pass on my runs – I don’t tend to take a great deal of notice when out running so to explore the vast history and great architecture was good.
I’ve also increased the amount of strength and core work I’m doing. It is all going in the right direction and I know that as each week passes the previous week was an easy week in comparison to the coming week.
I’m trying to live as spartan an existence as possible as I train for the ultra. I spend very little time watching television or browsing the internet (I read and listen to music instead). I’ve become more disciplined about what I eat. I stick to the routine I’ve set myself – it is neither exciting nor inspiring, but I know it is the way that it needs to be until I cross the finish line of the ultra. I know I have the self-discipline to do this, I don’t see it as making much of a sacrifice in terms of what my goal is.
I don’t feel bored, far from it, some days it is a push to get everything I’ve planned done, but it gets done. I’ve already finished reading 14 books this year and have a stack of 10 more to read in the next couple of months. I’ve been here before when I’ve trained and that sacrifice is worth it once the finish line is crossed.
I have some of my finishers medals hanging up on the wall – they don’t solely represent the race or event but more the effort that went into achieving that finish, those long miles, those days when the training went well and those days when I had to really dig deep to finish the session. I know this is going to be exactly the same this time around. Mentally I will be prepared, and physically I will be prepared.
I did watch a video from the Serpent Trail 50k Ultra last week. The course looks amazing as well as challenging. I visualised what it would feel like to cross the finish line. Then a thought popped into my head – “then what?” Good question. Once I’ve recovered the from the ultra why should all the hard work and training stop. Hopefully I will run the Great South Run in October and then the Portsmouth Coastal Marathon in December.
If all goes well with the ultra and after saying ‘never again’ for a day or two as my legs recover and thoughts start veering towards ‘what if I did that differently’ I’m not ruling out returning to the Serpent Trail again in 2022 and maybe finding another 50k trail run to take part in somewhere in the country. However, they are thoughts for later in the year when the event is completed. Thoughts now are on being focused and self-disciplined, not being distracted, shutting out the noise, and building the strength, determination, and belief even more each day.
That is two months of 2021 ticked off.
In terms of training I’ve not missed a session this year, pretty good start. It has meant a change of routine, but I’m OK with that. It means getting up earlier a few times a week, but I’m OK with that also.
I’ve got around 17 weeks until I take part in the ultra. My training is going to plan so far. Saturday was my longest run so far in 2021 – 12.2 miles. I felt comfortable at that distance and the pace was on the money. The sessions are getting longer. Not just one session a week but an increase in all my run sessions. It means the alarm clock going off earlier, getting out for a run earlier, doing longer mileage and then getting back and starting work for the day – that suits me. As I’ve said in early blog entries this is just some short term ‘discomfort’ for a longer-term gain.
I enjoy the longer run sessions. They give me a chance to really work on both my physical and mental endurance. They provide a real test of patience as well – I’m feeling really good and feeling strong, then being able to hold the pace sensibly rather than hitting it too hard from the start and blowing out at half-way.
Physical endurance is important because I’m training my muscles and cardiovascular system to go further and further and being able to hold off fatigue. There may be times when my muscles are aching or the pace has dropped slightly, and it is having the endurance to complete the session that really counts. This is why it is important that I’m consistent with my training, why I need to take a no excuses, no quitting approach. I need to constantly be pushing myself that little bit further all the time.
Mental endurance is just as important. Mental endurance is training the mind not to quit; mental endurance is training the mind to cope with the demands of the physical training; mental endurance is training the mind to shut out the internal negative dialogue – ‘this is tougher than I thought, maybe quit and try again another day’, ‘the weather isn’t great, maybe call it a day’, ‘I can’t do this, it is too difficult’.
There are things I have no control over when I’m out running – weather conditions for example. One thing I have full control over is my mindset and how I’m using my mental endurance. Sometimes I just switch off totally when running, listening to music and moving along smoothly – ideal. Other times I’m having to dig a bit deeper and am constantly telling myself I’m not going to quit and how I can do this. The internal negative talk soon passes, and I find that if I start focusing on something else it passes even quicker.
Having that positive mindset is essential. I think about why I’m doing this every session and what it means, what achieving the end goal means to me? If I mentally crack on a run of 15-20k then what chance have I got of completing a run of 50k? If that happens then what doubts are going to set in for that overall goal? What doubts are going to be gnawing away on the next training session?
I read an interesting article recently that said when we do quit something difficult, we are usually only 40% done, and we’ve still got 60% left in us. It is our mind that has quit, not our ability. By enduring a bit more how close can we get to 100%? By shutting out that doubt what are we really capable of achieving?
Each time we push through that barrier of doubt our levels of endurance increase, next time you’ll go further, much further, as you know you can do it.
I love endurance training, I love the challenge of it. I love the fact that I need to push myself constantly. I love the physical and mental endurance aspect of it. As the mileage increases each week and the sessions are being ticked off I know I’m getting closer and closer to the finish line of the ultra, I know if I have the endurance to complete the training, then I have the endurance to complete the event.
I have set some milestone sessions for my training based on distances – 13.1 miles (half-marathon), 15 miles, 18 miles, 20 miles, 24 miles, and 26.2 miles (marathon). I know if I complete each of those in the next 17 weeks then it isn’t a case of if, but when I cross that finish line.
Richard Guy, 47 years of age, born and grew up in London and have lived in Portsmouth since 2017.