Mental II

We celebrate the good workouts or races, and take instruction from the others.

Today the schedule called for a race, but there didn’t seem to be anything suitable available. So I thought it would be interesting to run a 10K time trial. I tried to simulate a race, going to Lake Merritt, warming up, standing on the start line while the geese looked on. But of course it was not a race. There was no one to run against and I was quite slow, missing my 10K PR by well over a minute. It’s a soft PR, too. I felt fresh enough afterward to run a third easy lap of the 5K loop, so I had fitness to spare. I was just unable to drive myself hard without any competitors to chase. This is not unusual, but it’s an occasion to think some more about the mental contribution to speed.

Today I slowed because I didn’t have the immediate focus of someone to chase or stay ahead of. With a suitable mindset I could have pushed harder and  unofficially beaten that PR. Harder still, and I could move my performance up a notch. Sports psychologists earn their living by teaching us  such mental techniques.

How hard is it possible to push, assuming we have the psychological wherewithal to do so? Could we run ourselves to death, like Phaedippides? That may never have happened, but it’s an appealing story. It doesn’t really happen that way, since top athletes rarely drop dead in competition. Those that do generally turn out to have an undiagnosed heart condition or something of that kind. So mental preparation, brain training or whatever you call it would seem to be a safe activity. Push as hard as you like. It (probably) won’t kill you.

Another famous collapser didn’t die. Italy’s Dorando Pietri was leading the marathon at the 1908 Olympics in London. He reached the stadium with a substantial lead before falling to the track five times. He was helped to the finish by shocked officials. Pietri was disqualified but it didn’t matter. He was a popular hero, and ignited a marathon mystique that continues to this day. When the IOC standardized the marathon distance some years later, they picked that London race, with it’s oddball length, as the exemplar.

So Phaedippides inspired the marathon, Pietri gave us 26 miles 385 yards, and they both did it by falling down.

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3 Responses to “Mental II”


  1. 1 Flo September 8, 2009 at 6:29 am

    Kudos to you for even saying you did a time trial. I’ve never attempted a time-trial since it’s a guaranteed sub-race performance yet I’d still be left thinking I suck. By not doing them, I save my fragile ego. 🙂 I know…lame. Great job for you!

  2. 2 Loraine McVey September 8, 2009 at 5:20 pm

    Interesting Jim. By the way, I believe Len does weekly track workouts at Piedmont track on Friday mornings (check with him if interested – he seems open to company) … I’m pretty sure he could give you a dose of speed.

    • 3 jime2 September 8, 2009 at 6:38 pm

      Loraine – Thanks. I’m not completely terrible at short races (20:43 5K), but I have trouble doing it on my own. I’m not unusual in this apparently. See Flo’s comment above. That’s why I was thinking about the between-the-ears element. In the past year, I think I’ve run more marathons than any other single distance. After Boston, I’ve promised myself some serious short work. Yup, I may even be seen at the track, saying things like: “Anticlockwise, right?”


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Race PRs

5K20:43 (LMJS 6/28/09
10K43:44
12K54:36 (Across Bay 3/21/10)
15K1:09:51 (LMJS 19/27/09)
Half1:31:28 (Kaiser 2012
Marathon 3;13:14 (CIM '11)

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