Thank you so much for all those who have responded to my post yesterday on Lessons learnt from the whw race.
When I started this blog over 5 years ago I wanted to share my journey of running ultras putting down all the things I’m learning and experiencing.
Lots of it has been good and that’s been easier to share but it doesn’t always go to plan and the best lessons are often gained when things don’t go right.
I have really appreciated friends taking time to think about my situation and write down their thoughts and ideas. I have read and will reread them all and reflect on what I can learn from them.
I received an email this morning from Stuart Mills and checked that he was happy for me to post his reply. If you’ve read Stuart’s blog you will know that he has very different views to most about how to run ultras.
Stuart’s emphasis is on the importance of the mind and the role our minds play in determining our performance. I suspected that Stuart would have some comments about what happened on Saturday and I was not wrong!!
So here is Stuart’s take on what happened on Saturday ….
I have read your WHW report and Lessons Learnt with much interest. Following your blog updates on the Saturday was really exciting to start with and then interesting. Seeing you get further down on schedule, without having any knowledge of why, was puzzling. Then in your report, a great description of the ‘journey’ and how demanding you found it, but again, I was still left wondering why? Why the slower than expected performance? So tonight I thought, yes lessons learnt, finally John will explain why? But no, it appears you just don’t really know!
Well, as you are more than aware I do tend to have one or two ideas on things related to ultra trail running, so I have been giving it some thought to try to think of possible explanations, based on what you have written within your blog posts. I will try to express my ‘random thoughts’ below. Just before I do this, I guess I am also asking for permission if it is okay to use your WHW nutrition photo from last year in my presentation that I am doing this Saturday night as part of the Lakeland 100 recce weekend. My philosophy of the talk is not to judge what is right or wrong, but to try to get people to question. So your fuel photo is great for people to question, just how much fuel do you actually need?
Attached therefore are a few slides which include your photo, but also a few on pacing, where I have ‘swiped’ some material off Thomas’s blog site. Again not to judge people’s approaches, but more to highlight things, how expectations (of “punishment” in the second half) often lead to reality. If possible could you please forward the attached slides with a brief explanation from above to Thomas (I don’t have his e-mail address) and ask him if he is okay with me using his material. Hopefully he will feel ‘honoured’!
Back to what happened in the WHW. I have left a few other slides from this weekends presentation as they could be relevant here. It was interesting that last week Thomas left a comment on Ultrastu about how all my posts seem to be about the mind! Well that is because it is the mind that determines what happens during ultra trail running, as demonstrated by your 27 hours! As I mentioned to you when at Glasgow, physically you were in superb shape, 85 minutes ish for a half marathon! There is no way you should be running 27 hours. So why did it not happen on the day?
Looking at my slides I emphasise positivity. Now you are one of the most positive guys I have come across, so this isn’t usually a weakness, however, when you get a combination of things all happening at the same time, that seems to have occurred here, then a time of 27 hours results.
I’ll try to explain. One of my slides states. What do you want, Why do you want it. How much do you want it? Did you have deep, deep down, answers to these three questions. Not superficial, but strongly believed deep down answers??? It appears you were a bit vague with the what, maybe sub 21, poss sub 20, or okay maybe sub 22? Which one is it??? But I think the next question is more telling, Why do you want it? Did you ever ask your self why? Yes it would be ‘nice’ to run sub 20 again, but does it really matter if you do or don’t. Why did you want a certain time? It appears that even as positive as you are, there was an underlying belief that because you are two years old than your last sub 20 then it will be harder. Why this negative expectation? I would think that I am two years wiser and more experienced with more miles in my legs, more knowledge, better expectations. I see getting older as a benefit. I am running the best ever now because I am 48! I couldn’t run like I am now when 38 because I didn’t have the wisdom, experience etc. Maybe thing change once people reach the big 50, well with only 18months to go, it isn’t long for me to wait to find out. My expectation is that I will be performing even better. Performance is massively influence by self expectations! Expect to run well you will, expect to struggle you will.
And finally the third question. How much do you want it? You had already gone sub 20 twice, so was there the ‘hunger’? The huge desire to achieve. Was there a positive challenge for you? To try to resist the negativity of being older doesn’t sound like a positive challenge to me.
What really amazes me is that all the evidence from your training should have resulted in increased positivity and heightened self expectations. However, it appears that for some reason you were having doubts. One thing which I never do is mix up training with racing. When I am on the start line, I am 100% racing. Yes I have key races for the year, usually 2, but the other 4 or 5 are still important races. I am still there to race fully, without easing off anything in order to save something for the next race. It appears that due to the WHW being your No 1 race, you were too cautious in the Fling. You then eased off in order to save yourself for the WHW. In one of my slides I mention the countless arguments people may encounter during ultra trail racing. During the Fling, it appears the ‘save yourself’ argument defeated you that day. Which although there was logic to it, deep down possibly you felt that you had underperformed, and hence the start of the negativity, the doubt over the WHW. Hence why I never mix up racing and training, so this slow down save yourself argument can’t defeat me.
Unfortunately once that little bit of doubt starts, if allowed,the mind will search for negative evidence to reinforce the slow down low expectation argument. Was it that your big 2 day training run was a little slower this year compared to 2 years ago? Yes, the argument sees another opportunity to take advantage. The positive doesn’t fight back with, the conditions were different, or ???, or in fact doesn’t fight back with it doesn’t really matter actually how fast you do it in. WHW performance has very little to do with physical fitness! All physical fitness is for is to give you the evidence to convince yourself to have higher expectations. If you realise that this is all physical fitness is needed for, then if you can increase your expectations other ways then there isn’t the same need for the physical fitness, training times are irrelevant.
So! Just taking my breath! SO, so far we have a few possible small issues/problems that on there own wouldn’t be a problem but together ….! Uncertainty and lack of deep conviction on the three questions, getting older and therefore slower, being defeated by the save myself argument in the Fling, reinforced by slower times in the 2 day key training session. Then some more, the shoes. Racing in new shoes, with only one run before the race. Everyone knows you just don’t do that! Just some more uncertainty/negativity to add to our list!
Just had a quick re-read of the Lessons learnt again. Amazing you say you should have been honest with yourself and accepted 23 hours. I would be interested to know what was it that convinced you so deeply that you should expect to go slower just because you are two years older. I signed off one of my posts last year with something like “never follow the norm, always question”. Yes most other people at age 52? are beginning to slow down, but YOU are not most other people! If you want to be normal, don’t run ultras. As an ultra runner you are exceptional, for you the normal just doesn’t apply. Within your writing you know the answers, you know the importance of self expectations, deep down beliefs, but yet it appears that you hadn’t spent the time preparing this part of ultra trail running, the most important preparation. Maybe too much focus on the physical.
Within my slides it states something about knowing what to expect, and developing strategies to positively respond to it. Maybe because you had never really experienced these massive attacks from the slowdown arguments before, that you didn’t have a strategy to counter it. The ‘giving in’ at the Highland Fling possibly should have been further analysed to delve deeper, to learn and to gain experience of how to respond to the slowdown arguments.
Sorry if this e-mail is going on and on, and round in circles and a real jumble. It’s just that I have spent quite a bit of time over the last week or so trying to structure my thoughts for the one hour presentation I am doing this Saturday. The hardest thing is linking all of my ideas together into an order that flows and tells a story. Typing this e-mail, which I really hope will be of some worth to you, as I do believe that my ideas, albeit a bit jumbled, so have quite some merit, is helping me immensely in getting my thoughts structured and expressing them appropriately. To express them in a manner which isn’t critical or attacking. Apologies if the above may be like this at times. I have just typed as quickly as I could. as my thoughts came!
To finish off, I just wish to reinforce what many of your literally thousands of followers have told you. Your blog writings are truly inspirational, and you have a great following. I’m sure most of them will be like me, feeling sad that the great inspirational John Kynaston is having a ‘wee blip’. Everything happens for a reason. Maybe this blip was just the trigger you need to really asking those three key questions, and for you to re-discovery that deep down desire to take you further and beyond for your next five years of Ultra Trail running, as you continue to successfully achieve new challenges. There is so much more to learn and discovery within the ultra trail running performances and community.
Hopefully you make some sense of the above. All the best with reflections and along your journey of discovery. I look forward to your future posts.
From a typed out ultra typer!
PS Yes I am back again. I just looked at some of my slides. One of them mentions Accept positive confirmations. Get one positivity, take it on board, boost, then results in another, another, and continues to explode in positivity. Great, The only problem is if lacking experience in receiving negative confirmations, then maybe just one negative confirmation was accepted that is taken on, gives the negative boost, then results in more negative etc. Explodes. How experienced were you with negatives, probably not, as your positivity usually doesn’t allow it to surface!
Wow … thanks Stuart. I really appreciated this and it has given me a lot to think about.
The debate continues … any thoughts?