Discussions with runners normally focus on a specific ‘D word,’ as in “What Distance did you do this week?” But while there is no question that successful running is all about D-words, that particular D is the last in a long line of D’s that should dominate your planning and implementation. – BY NORRIE WILLIAMSON
Successful runners will frequently commence with Dreams, which are the seeds of goals, and goals give Direction, Desire and Determination. Dreaming about breaking 60 minutes for 10km, or three hours for a marathon; securing a Sainsbury Medal at Two Oceans, or a Bill Rowan in the Comrades; representing your province, competing in the World Masters, making the Commonwealth Games team, or going to the Tokyo Olympics… no matter the level, each goal commences as a dream.
That said, dreams tend to be a stretch above your current ability, but the mind is incapable of differentiating between vision and reality, and with sufficient vision comes the ability to change the vision into a goal, and then into reality. Dreaming is therefore the first in a litany of D’s that push and pull us to new performance:
• Dreams become Desires – these provide the craving that will see us search, investigate and learn more about how to achieve that goal.
• That gives us Direction, along with Determination, which are the catalysts for belief that we can achieve the goal, and keep us focused on the Dream.
• The greater the Determination and Desire, the greater we realise the need for Discipline, even when things don’t go to plan, because getting side-tracked to different, possibly easier options, is the biggest destroyer of Dreams.
When multiple World and Olympic Champion, Usain Bolt, was in Johannesburg in January, he was asked what it would take to repeat or exceed his records. Without hesitating, he answered that it would revolve around staying focused on the singular goal, even when things go wrong, having a strong supportive back-up team, and consistency and commitment. He could just as easily have summed it up with Direction, Desire, Dedication and Discipline. These are the founding attributes of achieving any Dream.
Spelling it Out
Now consider where that quintet of D’s originate: They are not found in the weight, height, stride, lung capacity, flexibility, strength or natural speed of a runner, they are born and cultivated in the mind! Running success is not born in the body, it is born and sustained in the mind – and the longer the race, the greater the impact of mental determination. Sprinting involves overcoming extremely intense pain, primarily in the chest, but the race is only nine to 43 seconds at elite level. There isn’t that much time to think! However, as the distance increases, so the pain intensity reduces, but the time available to talk yourself ‘out of the pain’ increases.
From the very first steps of long races, we will frequently find ourselves making excuses as to why we cannot be expected to run to our best. This happens because we have not worked hard enough on our Desire and Determination in the build-up to starting the race. When Desire, Determination and Discipline (in pacing) dominate, the questions are usually easily answered and short-lived.
Even if we commence without that doubt, around two-thirds of the way in any distance we usually start to question our ability to continue. This is why the third lap of a mile is the slowest, or the wall comes at 30 to 35km in a marathon. While it can be perceived as negative, it is also a positive sign. It’s a clear indication that we are pushing our body towards a limit, and a sign that something special is possible. It is easy to quit, but Desire and Determination are the most powerful antidotes to that negative questioning.
The longer the event, the longer we tussle with the option of success and failure: Those debilitating “wall” kilometres in a marathon tease the mind, tearing it between the need to stop the pain, and the need to succeed. In Two Oceans, it’s on the slow poison climb of Constantia Nek. In the Comrades Down run, it’s on the M13 from the Bottom of Cowies Hill to the crowd-encrusted crest of 45th Cutting. These are the kays where we ask ourselves, why am I doing this? This has nothing to do with the amount of distance covered in training. The outcome of the questioning in all these scenarios, from 800m to 100 miles, is down to the D’s underpinning your running: The Dream, Desire, Determination, and Deep-seated Desire to Dominate!
Go Forth and Conquer
As we enter SA’s traditional “ultra season,” do not get caught up solely in Distance. That’s only one small portion of your potential success. The real Determinate of your success lies in the Dreams in your mind, and your mind has to accept the reality of your ability before it becomes physically possible. Work on the Dreams, Desire, Direction, Determination and Discipline, go steady with the Distance, and avoid Distraction – you will be amazed at what you can achieve.