Training and racing. Both very different but intrinsically linked. Clearly we can't race well without training well, but can we just train without that distant goal? It's a huge part of what we do as Pyllon Racing but is the destination the only true measure of success? For some maybe. But it's personal. John Connolly gives us some thoughts on his journey of training for and racing ultras.
It may come as a surprise to some that I don’t enjoy racing. If I’m honest I’d rather be in the mountains running with friends or on my own. But, I keep entering them and I’m not 100% sure why.
My name is John, I'm an average husband, try my best as a father and in my mind, I’ve still got a long way to go in this ultra-running game. I’ve been running now for just over 3 years and been racing ultra-distance events for that period of time. I kind of jumped in at the deep end and It’s all Davie Gow’s fault.
I’ve been coached by Paul Giblin for 3 years, I decided to start running and thought "fuck it - Ultra's sound good" and if Davie had a coach, I thought I’d better get one too. As luck would have it, Paul had just started his coaching business and I was lucky enough to get in the door first with Davie and James Stewart. If I approached Paul nowadays asking to be coached he’d probably tell me where to go. The boy’s never been the same! ;)
Anyway, onto the main point of this.
I love training for many reasons, I can't get enough, I enjoy pushing the boundaries physically and mentally. I’m a very young looking 40 and have never been in better shape. I love to suffer trying to improve and feeding my addiction, at the same time. And that’s what training is to me, an addiction that has no cure other than more running.
Any kind of run, be it short, long, interval, hill, muddy or shite is better than no run at all.
My favourite seasons are usually all the ones that you’re supposed to hate, I’m a fan of running till I’m sick…. especially if I've got company…. and by company, I mean my brother Graham. You know… the self-proclaimed shite one! It's actually not his very average chat that induces the vomiting, we just push each other, mostly in a good way but on a few occasions to the point of no return! Usually just for our own amusement though.
I love that I get to share this amazing adventure and journey of self-discovery with my brother.
So, racing is not that enjoyable and to be honest the euphoria of finishing (or even winning a race) lasts all but 10 minutes before I start thinking about all the bits I could have done better. You dedicate months on end working towards a certain goal and for what? Loads of likes on social media and random strangers coming up and telling you how lucky you are? Just for the record, I’ve got a weird relationship with social media and the fact that I’m putting this out there is making my skin crawl and increasing my anxiety levels. I don’t really read anyone’s blogs or race reports. I always feel that you get a filtered version. Just like Instagram! You don’t see people posting how shit their lives are, it’s always, check this out, check me out, pout like a fish.
I remember a time if you saw someone staring off in to space pouting like an anaemic hamster you’d give someone a call to come and get them for a short stay in a padded cell. I’m also not a fan of people…just so you know…I’m not ignorant, I just don’t fucking know you and I like to keep myself to myself. This a flaw of mine and I know it, as I’ve made judgement calls on people based on their social media activity or brief encounters which have proven to be wrong. Sometimes…..a lot of the time I’ve been right though.
I digress, so back to it.
I’ve never got to the start line of a race I thought “yes let’s do this”. Nope, quite the opposite. It’s always fuck this, what I’m doing this shite again for, and a whole load of other negative thoughts. And before some smart-arse tells me to read a book on sport psychology I’ve read a fair few of them. I just don’t enjoy it as much as I do going for a long run in the hills.
I think the reason I don’t enjoy the racing part is because I compare it to my training experiences. Through my training I’ve changed as a person for the better. I’m a lot more considerate of others and very aware of my actions and the effect they have on others. Because I get to spend up to 5 hours a day ‘on a long run day’ I’m afforded the time to analyse my behaviour and actions. It’s difficult to explain and I don’t want to get all Namaste on you as there is enough of that out there. But I’m a better person for it. If you can’t be critical of yourself don’t be critical of others. I also appreciate what I have on a daily basis, a solid loving family, good quality friends and my health.
Through training I’ve met people that I’d have probably avoided at all cost for no other reason than I couldn’t be arsed making the effort. Some of these people I’m lucky enough to call friends and some of them…. well…. if you don’t hear from me that much it’s because I can only tolerate you in small doses! JOKING Mum! ;)
Back to the racing. What I don’t like about racing is the 4 weeks of limited running. The taper followed by the recovery, that’s 1 x race = 4 weeks of no or limited running. Not ideal considering it's an addiction.
I’ve had two positive race experiences to date and one was the SVP100 earlier this year. I got to hang out with 2 of my favourite people for an entire day. They gave up a day to provide support and it was an absolute joy to share that experience with them. I didn’t care about the result, just the fact that we got to hang out and do something pretty cool. I’m eternally grateful to both Ben and Mary. I’ll never forget the words of encouragement Mary gave me at the last check point, pair of fucking legends.
The second experience was a bit of a light bulb moment and it was at the Ring of Steall this year. I love being in the mountains, running along exposed ridges and scrambling up vertical ascents. It didn’t matter how hard the race was, I just had to look up and take it all in. The visual stimulation the mountains provide always seems to make things a wee bit easier.
That’s been my relationship with racing so far, but I sense a change for next year. 2018 is the year of fear. I’m going to do stuff that scares me, but in a good way. Push my physical and mental abilities. I’m going to run abroad and in races that I don’t stand a chance of winning. I’ve signed up for TGC I’m hoping to get in to CCC as well as a few other races along the way. Oh and another wee trip to Squaw Valley finishing in Auburn at Western States 100 with Paul.
It’s the first time I’ve been excited about a race (or it might just be the thought of escaping the Scottish winter for 4 days!). Who knows, but fingers crossed, the attitude stays as positive as it’s been over the past couple of months. And the consistency in training compliments that.
Here’s my tip to anyone that’s took the time to read this ramble:
If you want to become a better runner then choose to be a better runner. It’s simple. Surround yourself with likeminded people that want to succeed and are willing to push you as they push themselves. It’s nice to run with friends now and then, but if you want to do well, don’t sacrifice your training to satisfy their need for attention. Be grateful for what you have and enjoy the time with friends and family.
Finally, have an amazing Christmas.