Running column: Which voice do you listen when you're running?
The ongoing mental battle is just as important as the physical one, says columnist Mark Armstrong
I’ve always got company on my runs, whether I like it or not.
Whenever I’m training or racing and I’m starting to feel the pace I have a couple of voices in my head pipe up.
I like one of them, but the other one can be a bit of a rascal sometimes.
One of the voices is ‘the doubter’. He’s telling me that I won’t be able to maintain the pace I’m running…that I’m going to hit the wall as I have done in previous races. Sometimes he chimes in before I’ve even gone out for a run… ‘You don’t want to go out there…it’s freezing…’
But there’s also another voice… ‘the supporter’. He’s my biggest fan (as his name would suggest) and backs me to keep calm, trust what my body is capable of doing and drive on. He’s also the one that pushes me out the door when it’s blowing a sub-zero gale outside.
It’s a constant battle and part of the trick of improving as a runner is to listen to the right voice.
It comes down to confidence.
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Your training is supposed to give you both the physical and mental foundations to achieve your goals.
The difficulty is that sometimes training goes well and sometimes, for whatever reason, it doesn’t.
I had a mini crisis in confidence recently after my no-show at the Cambridge Half Marathon due to illness.
My training schedule completely fell away due to the virus along with the cold snap that made it twice as difficult to motivate myself and get out there.
My first long run back did not go well. I felt like I hadn’t run for months when it had only been about 10 days.
However, I couldn’t find my pace and after about five miles I was absolutely blowing and I did something that I very rarely do…I stopped.
I had to catch my breath and reboot the run.
I paused for a minute, let my breathing settle, and then resumed the run but at a pace that I knew would be comfortable.
It hit my confidence and I felt like I had missed my opportunity at Cambridge to put all the hours of training I’d done into attaining a new personal best.
I was letting ‘the doubter’ talk over ‘the supporter’.
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Realistically four months of decent training weren’t going to fall away in a week and a half.
Neil Featherby, who has been setting my training plan, was there to talk me down and offer reassurance that I’m in decent shape and that I would be ready to PB at the Colchester Half Marathon.
I’ve since had a few decent runs and I’ve got a quiet self-belief that I will be able to produce a strong run on Sunday.
Without wanting to set myself up for a fall, I will be quite disappointed if I don’t improve upon my personal best of 1:48, which was set at Royal Parks last year.
There’s still an element of doubt whether I will get to run it with my wife, Alison, now full term with our second baby.
Fortunately, she understands my desire to run but it would even stretch her patience if I was to not be there when she goes into labour. Hopefully, the new arrival has got a decent sense of timing…if there’s no race report in next week’s column then you know what happened…
But I can’t control that. I can control those voices and it’s imperative I listen to the right one to get the result I want on Sunday.