How A Competitive Edge Can Be Self Destructive

Three days after the Keswick Mountain Festival I had a long chat with coach. We discussed my performance before swiftly moving onto mentality and expectations. I was left looking in the mirror. Not literally but figuratively as one sentence stuck with me – ‘that didn’t sound like you’ – it suggests I have changed and I think Jayson is right.

The Keswick Mountain Festival formed my second race of 2018. At 25K, ascending 2500ft it made an ideal ‘b’ race to use as experience on the Lakeland terrain. With bigger races to follow and a win during my previous ‘A’ race there was no need to make KMF a priority. That was the plan, to enter the race with virtually no taper and just enjoy the experience.

But, racing is a funny thing, it can twist all logical thought inducing tunnel vision. Sometimes this is not on a conscious level, but there are obvious signs of a shift in mentality.

First, you try to compare the course with those you recently raced. Sizing up the distance, elevation, terrain and trying to figure out a good time goal. The second and most obvious sign is looking for previous results. If you’re sizing up previous results you are going to race, whether your conscious brain thinks so or not.

I have come a long way since setting race goals for 2018, but you should never change a long term plan on a whim or impulse. In the build up to KMF, I didn’t even realise my goals and expectations had grown. I didn’t know it, but on some level I wanted to go toe to toe with the front runners, in a decent race and see what I was made of.

My preparation in terms of results was ideal; a win at Wainstones, a great Winter Fell season and some heavy training. Unfortunately great form can bring with it injuries and niggles. This was the case just weeks before Keswick, my heel had flared up and gotten worse. Really, this been a ‘b’ race I should have pulled out and prioritised my recovery.

I decided to race anyway, convinced the injury was not that bad. The truth is I’d have done anything to test myself against that field, even lie to myself, even risk making an injury worse.

When I first started running, I did it to get out in the Moors, the Lakes and just enjoy nature. Two years on and so much has changed. I am now competitive; sometimes I will run across the Moors on a beautiful day and take more notice of my watch than what is around me. Of course a competitive mentality is good, but not when you are competing against yourself. There is a fine line, which when crossed can be unhealthy.

So there I am, with my mate Bob waiting for the race to begin in two hours time. Its hot, very hot and I am pacing around the Festival, anxious and eager to get things under way. I feel nervous, more nervous than usual which is daft, this was meant to be a ‘b’ race. We finally toe the line, the race director counts down from ten but while I should be excited and grateful for a beautiful day I find myself looking around and jostling for position.

I think you know what happens next. I fly out the traps, way too fast and have a horrible experience. I beat myself up over little mistakes, curse the course markings and endure the worst bout of stomach distress I have had racing. The latter could arguably be down to stress, self imposed of course. To cap it all off my heel gets even worse in the days to follow.

I cross the line in tenth place, dehydrated and disappointed. Disappointed? What on earth was there to be disappointed about, I finished tenth and even with my inflated expectations that was a result.

Lets go back to the beginning and what Jayson meant by, ‘that didn’t sound like you’. He was referring to a post I published on Facebook, quite negative in tone, talking about the course markings, how the race didn’t go well yammer yammer yammer. Not my usual tone is the point but the post itself was not the problem.

The problem was my mentality and the way I was thinking. Tricking myself to race when I should have been resting, turning a training race into a competitive one and piling on too much pressure.

In trying so hard to improve and prove to myself I can do well I have lost sight of why I run. I am no longer running for fun, I am running for results and doing that alone is not healthy. I desperately need to refocus my mind and get back to what matters.

Of course I am still going after my goals but I need to be clearer on what they are and stick by them. Celebrate them and then accept the next one, not make up mini ‘a’ races in between the real ones. The key to all this is be happy running and running alone, not just with what I can achieve.

Why share this you ask? The way we think about running is very important and its easy to get caught up in competition. You go from running, to running PB’s and then competing. If you get too caught up in the end result you may lose sight of what you truly enjoy.

I’ve had some time to think about this on holiday in La Palma and started the new approach on day one. With a 3 hour run penned in I’d usually be obsessing over pace and mileage, no more. I set out on a massive stretch of volcanoes with one aim, to enjoy the ride. Which I duly did and even took the time for some snaps on route. And most importantly I enjoyed it, enjoyed the scenery and enjoyed the sensation of running free and easy.


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Darren Smith

Training with purpose since October 2016 Darren has gone from trailing the pack to winning local races and the times keep on falling. A true believer in hard work over natural talent he writes to help others realise their true potential. Darren's race schedule for 2018 includes the Hardmoors Wainstones marathon (1st place), Keswick Mountain Festival (10th place), Scafell Skyrace and Salomon Ring Of Steall (World Championship race.)

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