Mile 27 Coach Scotty Hawker had a break through performance at the recent TNF100. In this blog Scotty takes us back to the Hong Kong 100 where he finally gained the belief that he could compete with the best ultra-runners in the world. The lessons he learnt in this race can be used by all of us. Since the mind controls how much of our training and potential we can use in a race , learning to work with the mind can help us take that next step in performance, whether thats competing with the elites or simply mixing it up with a faster group than you normally run with. Take it away Scotty …
Goosebumps kick in, self doubt, nerves… am I really good enough to be here? Why on earth am I standing on the front line at the Hong Kong 100? As I look around I see faces I recognise from social media such as Jez Bragg, Dave Mackey, Antoine Guillon. These guys are on a whole different level; aren’t they?
Fast forward a few hours and I’m 40km into the Hong Kong 100, running firmly inside the top 5 alongside some of Nepal’s best ultra runners. I’m ahead of the runners mentioned above with the exception of Dave who was running off the front incredibly well. Throughout the opening stages of the race I was constantly questioning myself and my ability. One thing lead to another and in the last couple of km leading into the aid station at 50km I started to feel a sharp pain on the outside of my knee. I laughed to myself and said out loud “There ya go, it was too good to be true”. I arrived at the aid station feeling pretty miserable and ready to drop out. I instantly thought the worst, thinking that it was a meniscus tear again. I knew that another tear would almost certainly mean the end of my ultra running career.
As I sat down 8 runners passed me as I watched on hopelessly. I told my wife how sore my knee was and that I didn’t think I could go on. She snapped me out of my bad headspace pretty quickly by reassuring me that based on the pain I was feeling it was highly unlikely that it was anything to do with the surgery I’d had years earlier and that it was more than likely a bit of ITB friction, something that goes hand in hand with long distance running. She was the calm amongst the storm and was able to make the rational decision based on the information we had. Something my wife always reminds me is that no matter what, running an ultra is always going to hurt at some point throughout the race. And it’s going to hurt everyone in some way, even if they’re leading.
As I sat there I started thinking that I didn’t fly all the way over to Hong Kong to give up because things were getting a bit tough. I had some anti-flam cream rubbed into my quad, ITB & knee, hydrated and ate a little, and then just figured that I’d try and make it to the next aid station.
A few km further down the trail I thought back to an hour or so earlier when I was thinking about throwing in the towel. I was thankful that I had someone to make me realise that things weren’t as bad as they seemed. It’s amazing how words of encouragement can change our outlook on the current situation. Gradually my pace increased and after running a long downhill with no pain I thought it was game on. I then started picking off runners and passing them feeling like I was in the fast lane on the freeway. Smoothly swinging out and around them on the trail and continuing on my journey. I felt like I was reeling them in with ease and before I knew it I was at the next checkpoint.
I was now in race mode and there was no complaining about a sore this or that. As I was running the final few km into the aid station I made a mental note to myself to not bring up anything about the knee or how the legs were feeling. I said to myself “It doesn’t matter what was sore earlier, all that matters is here and now and you’re feeling good!” It was at this point that I finally felt I was good enough to be here mixing it up with some of the best runners in the world.
I left the aid station with the news that runners 5,6 & 7 were only 5-10minutes ahead so I made it my goal to try and catch them. The final 15km up to Hong Kong’s highest peak, Tai mo Shan, hurt but the pain quickly subsided when I started to catch runners in front of me. I crossed the finish line in 5th place only 27seconds behind 4th place.
There was a lot to take away from the Hong Kong 100. I’d beaten the demons and realised that I did deserve to be standing up the front at the start with some of the worlds best ultra trail runners. I also realised how the mind plays such a big role in these tough long races. The mind is such a strong thing but it can also be easily manipulated which we can definitely use to our benefit. If we can convince our mind that something is doable, our body, on almost all occasions will accept the challenge. Convincing ourselves something is achievable is a great tool we can all use when training and running these long races.
We aren’t always going to have friends or family there to help us through. It’s in these moments that we need to draw on our own self belief and have to try and change our frame of mind into positive thoughts. Part of the journey of running ultra marathons is finding ways to overcome adversity, sometimes we just need to think a little outside the box when it comes to doing this.
Some ways I make links from training to racing are using key sessions as a gauge to whether I can realistically do something or not. For example, if you have been doing hill repeat sessions involving approx. 450m+ gain per 10km as an avg. and the race you’re doing only has approx. 400m+ gain per 10km, then you know you have done it tougher. That session although very tough at the time, didn’t break you. You knuckled down, worked hard and got the job done. Keep reminding yourself of that.
Another way I convince myself things are achievable is comparing race day conditions to training day conditions. It’s not always the case but I believe generally most people will have trained in worse conditions in one way or another than what they are facing on race day. I like to think “If I can run 40km in that heat/rain etc then this is a walk in the park”.
Back yourself – if you can’t, then no one else will. It’s not arrogant, cocky, or full of yourself to back your ability regardless of where you are intending to finish. Everyone on that start line has a goal and it’s essential you’re standing there as a true believer in yourself that you’re going to get the job done. The biggest thing I think about when things are getting tough is that I’m not going to let this rough patch or big climb beat me, I’m better than this!
Some key points that you can use in your own training are as follows
1. Train specifically for the course. If you cover 500m of vert per 10km in training for a race that has 400-450m per 10km then training is tougher . This gives you the belief that you can handle the demands of the race.
2. Train in all conditions so whatever conditions the race is run in you know you have handled worse
3. Believe in yourself. Remember all those tough sessions in training that you didn’t think you’d finish but somehow you managed to get through. Those training sessions were tougher than you thought could complete and you managed to do them so apply the same positive thinking in the race. Believe you are capable of more than you think you are. Challenging yourself in training and stepping outside your comfort zone is so important to develop that belief in yourself.
4. Develop techniques to turn a negative mindset to a positive one. Whether this is by reciting mantras, counting to 10, focusing on your breath or just smiling . Whatever works for you . I’ve written about these techniques here . Practise these in training so they come second nature.