The reports by Thomas and Marco on their recent Edinburgh Marathon runs were fascinating. Thomas had targetted the race, done some specific preparation, worked out a detailed plan for the day, and was rewarded with what he was aiming for, a great race and a PB. Marco on the other hand decided to enter quite late in the game, ran 36 miles the weekend before and a 10k race during the week. He thought the marathon would be a training run, no time target involved but he too got a great run and a PB. So how come?
There's a lot discussed about focus. Get your act together, decide what you want, plan for it, make it happen. Some nerves on race day are good, channel the energy, you won't go so well without them. But I have two little tales of my own to tell, apologies if you've heard them before.
I came to running quite late, decided the shorter distances were probably a bit fast for my ageing muscles so my first real race was a marathon. I trained for a few months and got round in 3 hours 37 minutes. This is OK, I thought, should be able to crack 3:30 next time. But I couldn't. I ran a 3:40, another 3:37, a couple of 3:34's and on one frustrating day a 3:31, but I couldn't get under the magic number. Focus, I told myself, take care of the details, get a plan and stick to it, don't be distracted. It eventually worked, and I completed a race in 3:24. I was totally knackered. Quads shot, took me half an hour to walk the quarter mile back to the hotel, had to sleep for the rest of the day. That's it I thought, that was my best shot, mission accomplished but I'm not going to get any better, in future just enjoy the day out, no pressure on times. The next marathon was the following year, I was working towards the Highland Fling two weeks later, the marathon would be a training run, there was no tapering involved. On the day I looked at the watch twice, once at half way and once at six miles to go. I finished in 3:17, it was a walk in the park, we spent the afternoon sightseeing.
By then I had got involved in the West Highland Way Race. First time out I just wanted to finish, but after that I read that an average performer ought to expect to get under 24 hours, so I worked at it. Each year I learned a bit more, improved a bit more, focussed a bit more, and on my fourth attempt at the race I got there with a finish just over 23 and a half hours, job done. The following year (last year) I turned up totally relaxed, nothing to prove. I was as fit if not fitter than previously, had done more miles and fewer races that year, but then struggled badly over the latter stages to finish a second or two over 26 hours, worst result for 3 years.
So this makes me think that Thomas/Marco results were probably not down to different approaches suiting different individuals, but that different approaches can work (or not work!) for any of us on different days. If you knew on any given day what was going to work for you, you could plan your approach accordingly..............and that would be a very cute trick. Keep calm and carry on everyone.