May 2015 Archives

Sometimes DNF Stands for Definitely Not Failure

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There is a well-known quotation often attributed to Michelangelo (although there is some dispute about the attribution) which goes: 

"The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark."

This seems like an excellent sentiment for endurance athletes. I often remark that the nice thing about ultras, as compared to marathons, is that you don't worry so much about time. You line up at the start line and mentally award yourself a gold model if you finish the event. A very different state of mind from having a goal time for a marathon. However, as with times in a marathon, if you always have a 'gold medal' race this likely means you aren't challenging yourself enough in your event choice. Combine this line of thought with my common advice to focus on the question 'Did I run the best race I could run today?' and you can begin to understand how it is that I can hold my head high after finishing 'only' 88km of this year's London 2 Brighton 100km Challenge. I know that some runners view taking a DNF (Did Not Finish) as a failure. I feel that they are wrong to do so.

I had a fantastic day in the country running with my friend Jason. The weather was just about perfect: comfortable temperature, dry, just overcast enough that I didn't feel baked by the sun. The course was mostly beautiful country, ranging from the River Thames from Richmond down to Kingston to the countrysides of Surrey and East Sussex, with some nice pieces of trail thrown in from time to time. The staff at the aid stations were really great, and the food choices were generally excellent. I ran a much stronger fifty miles than I had run last year, and definitely had my nutrition plan working much better. Despite having been really good about nutrition for the first 45 miles or so, I then made a couple of errors. First off around 45 or 46 miles in I found myself thinking that I should reach into a pocket, get out some food, and eat something. I failed to follow through on that thought. Big mistake. Without eating often enough, your body starts shutting down your digestive system, and at that point your race is basically over. Yes, you can slog through to the finish, but it will be tough and slow. Coming into the 80km checkpoint I was starting to lag, and then I tried to force myself to eat, but I went right for the hot food which was jacket potatoes, when I probably needed something with more rapidly available carbs. Then I added cheese, which added protein into the mix, something which my stomach was definitely not up for handling. A couple of miles later I was feeling ill, tired, and generally beaten. Just couldn't keep running. I did manage to walk to the 88km checkpoint (and Jason scored major points by sticking with me even though I tried to send him on his way), but I was beaten.

At this point I had a choice: stick with what I had accomplished, start recovering, and call it a day; or push on, have hours of tough slogging to the finish, risk injury, dehydration (I wasn't keeping food down so this was an actual risk), etc. If I hadn't finished this very race last year I might have felt I had something to prove, but that wasn't an issue. I'd already learned a great deal, and knew where I had gone wrong. I didn't seem likely to learn anything more by pushing on. So I called it a day. Spoke to the excellent medical staff. Had a little Coca-Cola to settle my stomach and spike my blood sugar. Ate some fruit. Spoke with staff and other runners. Took a shuttle to the finish line so I could be there to greet Jason when he came in. The result of this is that I felt fine the next day. A little sore, very tired. Hungry! Ready to start recovering and turn my attention to my next race.  It's a lot like setting out to run a sub-3:30 marathon and 'only' running a sub-4:00. Did you miss your goal? Sure. Do you still feel a sense of accomplishment? You should. Did you just do something most people can't even imagine? You betcha. Did Not Finish, true, but Definitely Not a Failure.

Not Twenty Six Laps: One Lap, Twenty Six Times

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Flatline Marathon 3.jpg

As many of you know I recently undertook an interesting training challenge. Here in London it is difficult to get in a lot of hill training because, frankly, the city is fairly flat. This poses interesting challenges for the Londoner training to run in the mountains. The EnergyLabs solution to this problem is Swains Lane or, as we call it, Swains Lane of Pain. We don't quite do the entire hill as the cyclists do, but instead run the top 800 meters. This makes each lap very close to a full mile. The standard challenge is the Flat Line race that EnergyLabs sponsors These are ten laps of this hill. As I am training to run a mountain marathon in June, I decided that ten laps wasn't enough of a challenge. So the Saturday morning before the London Marathon I headed up to Swains Lane and set off to run a full marathon. Twenty-six laps, plus a could of hundred meters of flat at the very end.

I've been asked a lot of questions about this, mostly 'why?,' 'are you mental?,' or 'how did you do that?' The best I can do in the way of answers is that I did it because it needed to be done; and I probably am mental, but more to the point the way I did this was entirely mental. People make the mistake of thinking this was a physical challenge, but in truth it was much more of a mental one. My approach was simple in concept, but hard to execute. All it involves is not running twenty-six laps, but runnng one lap, twenty-six times. The rules are simple: on the way down the hill you can think all you want about how many laps you have done, how many are left, etc. But on the way up there is always only the one lap you are doing right now. The magic of this approach is that if you think about how many you have done your body will feel more fatigued; and if you think about how many you have left your mind will begin to despair. You can very quickly go from feeling fine to feeling crushed. As long as you focus on just running the one uphill you are running right now, however, all is fine.

I did break the race down a bit as well. I decided up front that the timing would be on training run rules, not race rules. That means if I stopped for a break I stopped my watch, and restarted when I started running again. Using these rules I ran the first thirteen laps straight through. Then I took a bit of a break as it was warmer than planned and I needed to go buy some water. Then I ran seven more laps, and took a short breather. Finally I ran the last six straight through. I had flirted with the idea of taking a short break after lap twenty-three, but decided that giving myself permission to take the break, and then not taking the break, provided a mental lift due to showing strength more potent than the physical lift I would have gotten from actually taking a break. The most surprising part of this whole endeavour was how well this mental technique worked. The combination of the second half of every mile being the uphill part (Flat Line always starts going downhill first), and the mental technique requiring every uphill being the uphill meant that the miles simply flew by. I never had that experience one so often has in road marathons of feeling like a mile is dragging on. Nor did I have the experience of hitting extreme fatigue or muscle soreness, although this may be as much due to the slower pace as to anything else. This exercise examplifies what I mean when I speak of being half bear/half machine. Half of the exercise was the strength to just keep running and running, the other half was the mental control to keep my brain out of the way and let the machine drive. 

Early this morning a bear slipped from his den and headed towards the London Underground. Observers, if there were any, might have noticed a distinct sense of purpose in the bear's stride. This was a bear on a mission. A #secretmission. The bear was next spotted boarding a bus outside of Archway tube and heading towards the top of some large hills. As the morning wore on reports started to circulate amongst the city's bicycle community. Those who had turned out for their usual Saturday morning reps of Swains Lane, aka Swains Lane of Pain, aka the Steepest Hill in London, were starting to report that throughout their rides, however long they were, they kept spotting a bear determinedly running up and down Swains Lane. The bear was briefly joined by @thestevenlayton but most of the time was on his own. Those who enquired were told that the bear was running a marathon. Composed of 26 laps up and down Swains Lane. Surely the bear was mad. Surely the bear would falter. Mad he may be, but falter he did not. When asked afterwards why he had done it the bear simply replied "it needed to be done." The bear expressed hopes that those running the London Marathon tomorrow will draw strength, inspiration, and courage from this simple act of running up and down a hill until the running was done. The bear also expressed a desire that today's deeds be considered as living up to @robinnyc 's exhortation to #DoEpicShit #secretmission #HalfBearHalfMachine #WhileYouWereSleeping #rundemcrew #energylab #Flatline #Flatline26 #FlatlineMarathon #Bears #Mile21

A photo posted by Daniel Maskit (@rundembear) on

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This page is an archive of entries from May 2015 listed from newest to oldest.

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