Earning your stripes

As a coach, I am constantly talking to athletes about their belief structures and aspirations.

In many cases, these personal beliefs have been formed over time with little understanding of the physiology required for their chosen event and often without ever having being scrutinised by a suitably qualified coach or advisor. In a very large number of cases, beginner, recreational or elite runners alike have a belief that running is “mind over matter”. Perhaps most destructively to performance optimisation, an extension of this belief is that if they are not meeting their targeted goals they are “weak” or not “mentally tough enough”.

To prove the point, I would like to share a personal experience I had almost 13 years ago as relatively young runner with a very similar belief system.

The gun had fired on St Georges Terrace for the 2001 Perth City to Surf and I felt optimistic and excited as we ran up to the Terrace to Kings Park. I was even happier at 6km as we headed up the steep Selby Street Hill as I was still with the two leaders including my hero and local running legend Ray Boyd. From 6km however, things started changing in a hurry. The two front runners charged on and I ended up losing 50 seconds in the second half of the race as they disappeared far into the distance. It was an extremely hard last few km and I vividly remember struggling to breathe as I ran over the steep incline of Oceanic Drive before finally making it to the finish on the grass of City Beach Oval.

As I struggled to catch my breathe, my thoughts where that I had not been tough enough. In line with that belief structure, I was upset, disappointed and angry with myself. After gathering myself, I went up to congratulate my hero. After the superficial pleasantries and handshakes, I asked him how much he was hurting in the race because I was in so much pain trying to keep up.

The response I was expecting was the old fashioned one: “I gutted it out, you have to smash yourself, mind over matter, you will get there young grasshopper…..”. Instead, my question was met by a question. “How much training have you been doing?”. I answered that I was running 80km per week, to which Ray laughed and replied “I am running 160km per week”.

He continued, “It is great you are so motivated to compete but your aspiration is ahead of your capacity”.  It was a quick discussion that had lasting impact. It is also a sentiment that has since been shared with countless successful coaches and athletes, yet far less commonly by recreational or beginner runners.

The belief that the mind can force the body is simply not in sync with the longitudinal development required to be a successful distance runner. The process of preparing your body optimally and specifically takes time and patience and will power needs to be applied in a macro sense to help runners achieve their full personal potential.

Arthur Lydiard would say “It’s just a matter of understanding what’s necessary and disciplining yourself to do it” or to come back to our own running legend, Ray Boyd “You have to earn your stripes”

Running Regards

Raf Baugh



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