A response from Stuart Mills

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 ….

Hi John

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?

This entry was posted in whw race 11 feedback. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to A response from Stuart Mills

  1. Anonymous says:

    Do you remember what you told me when I met you just short of Tyndrum? I was concerned for you then for all the reasons mentioned in the email (I studied sports psychology at Uni remember!)
    You have to want it. Which means you have to have something to want in the first place! Did your time really matter to you? Was it the goblet that mattered most? Or, were you just running the WHWR 2011 because that's what you do?
    If the answer is (and be honest with yourself!) the latter, then it's time for a new challenge, or a new approach.

    My suggestion (for what it's worth) would be one of two things for next year… either go back and beat the Hardmoors 110 (since it beat you last time!) Or aim for, and believe that you can achieve, a sub 19:00 hrs WHWR. I have no doubt that you are capable of doing either!

    The biggest plus you can take from this years race, is that despite everything, you had the mental stregth to keep going and finish the race (lessons learnt from the Hardmoors?), you just have to learn how to channel that mental stregth and you'll achieve more than you can probably imagine in future races!

    Be positive, and look forward now. This year is done and dusted and to dwell any longer will just reinforce mental negativity. We all have bad days!

    My mind is already racing with ways to beat The Crazy German next year!

    Despite everything, congratulations on achieving your 5th goblet in a row… that's a pretty damn good achievement!!!


  2. Davie says:

    I meant to post this on the “lessons learnt” post but had to go out on a mercy mission as my son was injured at work.
    When I bought my Salomon shoes about three years ago I asked about wearing my orthotic insole with them and I was told that it would not be adavntageous to wear an orthotic as the salomon midsole had metal plates that adjusted to the terrain, whereas the orthotic was rigid and could break or cause injury. A few weeks later my orthotic broke when on a trail run in other shoes, indicating they are not as effective on the trail. When Stevie came to the checkpoint loking for the gaffa tape to do a repair, I wondered if that may have been your problem but I saw when you passed that you were in your road shoes so presumed you were happy with your new set up. I'd give some thought to the insoles effectiveness on the trail. I know you have had good runs on the trail with them but perhaps the accumulation of those runs has broken them, so try the salomons without them when you get back on the trail, perhaps after discussing this with your podiatrist.

  3. having read this I would contribute that it has just occured to me that perhaps you need to spice things up a bit. Maybe you like the repition of returning to a previous challenge but I for one tend to bounce from one to the other - once the challenge has been dealt with, ofcourse. For example, last year despite food poisoning I returned 4 wks after my failed BGR attempt to complete it. The second time I was filled with dread but was absolutely convinced that I was strongt enough to do it.

    Maybe, like pacepusher has commented, you either need to set yourself a really desirable target for the WHW or go and try something else. Maybe ditch the bronze, silver and gold targets next time and just go for your target and if that fails - a finish. Because as I've said previously a win is good but so too is a fail, the bits in between (for me) aren't so important.

    I believe (like Millsy) that you have many, many more years left in the tank. Good times ahead is what I say 😉

  4. Anonymous says:

    Why do any of us do these events? Personally I think it is so we can experience what it is like to take be at our physical limits AND then keep going. By definition physical abilty won't get us there, we have to have the motivation and mental strength to takes us past our physical limitations.
    Many people will offer advice as to why you didn't achieve what you initially set out for but only you can answer the question. My own opinion is that you were unclear as to why you were doing the WHW and what you wanted from it so you ended up with the minmum which was a finish (a great achievement for most but perhaps not enough for you).
    Ove the coming months (if you haven't done already) you will decide what is important to you and then I'm sure you will attack that with the vigor you have shown previously.
    Finally, I'd just like to thank you for the and guidance given via your blog over the last few years.

  5. Peter Duggan says:

    For once I find myself agreeing with everything Stuart Mills says, including why? (I'd assumed before reading your 'lessons learnt' that you'd finished in your new shoes with feet cut to ribbons, but apparently not), woolliness of goals (you know I've never been one for this 'gold, silver and bronze medal' stuff) and positivity/hunger (something I'm still questioning re. 'patches' in my own performance). But think Neal also summarises it all perfectly in asking if you were 'just running the WHWR 2011 because that's what you do', and wholeheartedly endorse his recommendation to change either the challenge (so much out there to do!) or the approach. Some serious food for thought there, John, and much of it surely useful to folk way outside a 'target audience' of one!

  6. Andy Cole says:

    Yes I was wondering how long it would take before you got some feedback from Stuart! Knowing him, I could almost have written the majority of his email to you. This time I think he has a lot of relevant points, though I don't always agree with everything he says. But I'm not sure it's the whole story, I think there were other things happening on the day that I still haven't quite got my head around yet. And “were you just running the race because that's what you do?” - if someone asked me that I would say absolutely yes, “just doing it” is far more important than any measure of performance, remember this is a hobby we pursue for the enjoyment it brings us, not for any particular score we keep! Like you I have now made 5 trips along the course, and every time I find it gives you something different in the way of a memorable experience. Have a good rest, and keep in touch (and you definitely shouldn't worry about getting older…..)

  7. Robert says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. Robert says:

    I just don't buy the “positive mental attitude” angle. Sure it helps get the best performance that you body is capble of on the day, but when you body isn't capable no amount positivity will push it faster.

    It sure doesn't sound like it was an issue of attitude on the day, to me it sounds like your body beat you down on the day, and it was only your positive mental attitude that got you through to the end. You had plenty of reasons to DNF, but you didn't, this takes guts and you had it spades.

    I don't believe ones mental state and physical state are something that are independent, both short term on the day of the race and long term in the training and lead up to a race. Your doubts you had can about during the slightly less than expect performance on the really long runs. If these had gone better you'd have been more confident. Having an even stronger positive mental attitude might have helped push yourselves a little harder but in the end it's not going to fix a blister or radically change your carb/fat/protien utiization. The aches, pains and exhaustion were very real.

    I would look to physilogical reasons for the performance on the day, and possible underling longer term psychology reasons why your physiology on the day wasn't right. As I mentioned in my comment on your previous post - stress hormones directly affect your physiology. Keeping cortisol levels under control is important for training. Positive mental attitude will help with this of course, but it's only part of the much wider issue of managing the stress that ebbs and flows through our lives.

  9. Peter Duggan says:

    Interesting question, this 'just running the race because that's what you do'…

    For some (like Andy, since he's named himself there), it appears to be enough. But for others (and I'm one of them), it'll never wash (if I'm wanting to run the WHW purely for time-doesn't-matter fun, I'll skip the race and do it at some other time). For John, who knows (except maybe John)?

    Also (@Robert), of course positivity alone can't substitute for an unwilling body, but surely even the best shape in the world will do you no good without it!

  10. Thomas says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. Keith Hughes says:

    John - Nice work to get a well deserved goblet… CB

  12. pyllon says:

    John, thanks a lot for sharing your 'lessons learned' and also the email from Stuart. It's all to easy writing about things when they've gone well, so appreciate what's involved in sharing this.

    I've never read Stuart's blog but will be going forward. I whole-heartedly agree that it's all in the mind. The “How much do you want it?” question particularly resonates with me.

    Anyway, I haven't nearly enough experience to comment further.

    Thank you.

    And, let's have a pace-free blast over the Braes soon. I'd really like to run with you.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s