Mind Games at Christchurch Sri Chinmoy Half Marathon
"it became a small mission for me to find what it was that I needed to do to 'finish strong'."
I was certain it was going to be a good day. I was running fast and mentally I felt stronger than I normally did going into a race, maybe that was just the confidence I had gained from all of the training going so well.
19th September 2010. It was ten minutes before 8am on a beautiful Winter morning, I was jogging out with my brother in law for an easy kilometer or two to warm up the legs and get my heart rate up a little. We were running the Christchurch Sri Chinmoy half marathon and the flat course profile offered a perfect opportunity to knock out a fast time. This morning we were going to run at an average speed of 13.31kph, which I had worked out to equate to a 4:30/km pace. If we could hold that throughout then we would walk away with a PB of 1.35 (well actually 1.34:56 but I figured we would keep those four seconds spare up our sleeves).
Start Games. Just before the start of a Sri Chinmoy race all of the runners are asked to be silent for a minute to calm the mind and ready the body for the task ahead. I used this time to quiet my thoughts, pay attention to how hard my heart was beating and trying to block out the other runners around me. I sensed that Gary knew where I was and that he would catch up to me if I got any distance on him ~ my plan was to go hard right from the start. Okay, watch is ready, shoes are tight, visor straight... BOOM! The gun went off and within the first couple of minutes I had established a good rhythm and was sitting in with the first group of four of five runners. I spent a little time at the front before peeling off to allow a couple of guys come past me; even though they were running faster I certainly felt in control and comfortable at the 4min/km pace I was turning over. After five minutes or so of running on my own it was great to have Gary come up alongside me, a quick interchange of verbal pat-on-the-backs and we were now in this race as a team.
Over the next hour we continued to run strong, each of us taking turns at the front and making sure that both of us kept an eye on the clock. The main splits that I can remember were as follows:
Finish Strong? I could see that all was running to plan. Now I'm not a mathmetician by any stretch of the imagination, but when it comes to using numbers to figure out speed, pace and projected finishing times I would probably get a good grade if there were such a subject. As the kilometres kept steadily ticking by I actually felt as if I was gaining strength and I vaguely recall asking Gary how he was feeling. His response was slow to come and I realised that he was starting to feel the effects of that initial Ύ of the race. This gave me an odd feeling of satisfaction, for the first time I had the upper hand and it wasn't something I was used to. Most weekends Gary and myself headed up into the Port Hills to run anywhere between 10-35km along the winding, majestic roads and tracks. Week after week I'd hold my own with him until the final kilometre where he'd inevitably find an extra couple of kph of power to leave me kicking my heels back to the car park alone. Consequently it became a small mission for me to find what it was that I needed to do to 'finish strong'. Well I found it.
From negative thoughts to Hunter
"Within the space of what seemed like less than a minute I had assumed the role of hunter."
It's both funny and amazing just how quickly things can change in a race, and I'm sure this applies to many other sports as well as running. One minute you are on the top of the world and feeling invincible, the next it's like your body has been slammed into a wall and you're now running through treacle with legs twice the weight they were when you started. The 17km mark treated me to this very experience.
Derailing. Gary had pulled into the front and had appeared to find a second wind, moving with the confidence and speed of someone that had been running for many more years than he had. I was starting to get an unpleasant nauseous feeling and couldn't respond to his surge, all I could do at that moment was try to limit my losses and not let the gap between us become unrecoverable. In addition to the nausea my left shoulder and upper arm was aching pretty badly, so to combat this I tried to adopt a new and unique running style where I didn't move my arms. I was fairly certain that I looked as uncomfortable as it felt; the photo on the left seems to confirm this. I was slowly coming to terms that the elusive 1.35 would have to be filed for another day.
Hunter Games. But as luck would have it, no sooner had the negative throughts started to permeate me I started to come right. Within the space of what seemed like less than a minute I had assumed the role of hunter ~ and Gary was the hunted. Mind games and mental toughness. I picked a distinctly large, oddly shaped tree that he had ran past and looked at my watch, now there was just the sound of my heart beating in my head to keep me company as I tried to bridge the gap back to him. Gary had managed to put over a minute into me and I had 3km left to get it back. Luckily for me, the time I had spent figuring out how to 'finish strong' was exactly what I needed to draw on and I simply had to run the last 3km at a quicker pace than what I was used to training at. Easier said than done, but the irony of the situation is that racing doesn't get much simpler than that.
I finally caught Gary a shade before the 20km mark and not wanting to lose any momentum I decided I would run straight by him. Pretty sure I called out something to the effect of, hey come on Gary, keep with me. By now my head was down and I was totally committed to run this last 1,000m as hard and as fast as possible. Ten seconds and I could still hear Gary behind me, twenty seconds and I was once again alone. A quick glance at my watch informed me that the 1.35 had escaped me, but the sight of the finish line (and the food) keep me focused.
I finished in 1.36:42 with Gary being the next runner to cross the line around a minute later. Good enough for a 12th and 13th placing overall.
Man you were flying at the end! blurted Gary. I was stuffed, that was hard work. Well a few kilometres before that you had crushed me. I replied. I had a really bad patch, think I might have strained my shoulder or something. It turned out that the shoulder strain wasn't a strain after all, what happened to me out there would have been the last thing I would have guessed. Not that it's turned out to be a bad thing, in fact it's completely changed the way I live my life.
James Styler, born in the United Kingdom, now owns a health store in Christchurch, New Zealand. A keen athlete, James set three raw powerlifting records in 2011 and has an unequipped total in the 130-145lb class (264 squat / 231 bench press / 418 deadlift). When James isn't lifting, he is running. His runs include a 69km ultra, 9 Marathons and 30+ half marathons.