Carilyn recently traveled to Europe to race for Team USA in the 24 hour world champsionships. After having to drop out after 4 hours she got the remarkable opportunity to watch and learn.
After keeling over at Worlds last weekend, I ended up being more of a spectator than a runner. This turn of events gave me the unexpected opportunity to watch the pros like Yiannis Kouros, Mike Morton, and Connie Gardner race. And it was fascinating! When you are in the middle of the action, and on the verge of puking, falling, quitting, or just plain miserable, you are never really able to appreciate the talent running on the course around you. By dropping at hour 4, I was plenty fresh to really see what takes place during a race at that level. More interestingly, to me at least, I was able to see how the true superstars race.
Here are some things I learned:
1. Their level of focus is mind blowing. While most of the runners would wave to people cheering, talk to other runners, and engage with their crew, the top bananas rarely did. They seemed to be locked on the course, and task, in front of them only. Rarely did they break focus, and when they did, it was only for a split second to solve an issue. Since I have racing ADD, waving at, and chatting with, anyone within 5 feet of me, including people who clearly don’t speak English, I was so impressed with the top runners’ ability to stay so focused for the full 24 Hours.
2. They rarely, if ever, used an iPod. I’ve seen documentaries where Yiannis has used an iPod, but I didn’t see him using one in this race. Neither Connie, nor Mike, used one either. For 24 Hours! Aggghhhh!! I can’t even imagine. I don’t usually train with music, but I always race with it, especially towards the end. But these pros just ran and ran and ran – music free. Maybe that is how they were able to stay so focused. I think I would have dropped dead of boredom.
3. They had a very specific, and minimal, nutrition plan, and stuck to it. While I tend to just eat what sounds good, the pros had a very limited selection of items and they ate them on schedule without much deviation. Somehow, they seem to be able to override their “palate preference” and just eat what is scheduled – gel, water, sports drink, whatever. To me, this just further shows how mentally tough they are – I want to throw gummi bears at people by hour 13. I don’t know if I could eat only gels for 24 hours.
4. Before the race, the pros seem to spend much less time and energy engaging in social activities. This was a huge lesson for me. I’m always so excited to see, and be with, everyone, that I spend my time in the Athlete’s Village before the race chatting, going out to eat, touring the area, and making new friends. The pros keep to themselves, focusing on staying relaxed and calm. While I saw each of them go for a few runs, I rarely saw them out and about.
5. They seem to channel everything more efficiently. This is basically a summation of the fundamental quality of the 4 points listed above. The pros enter the arena more calmly and focused, and then stay that way throughout the race. There is very little wasted effort. As a professional whirling dervish, I found this fascinating. If you’ve ever seen the movie “Le Grande Bleu” (The Big Blue) with Jean Reno, you will know what I am talking about. The lead character, Jacques Major, would enter an almost trance-like state before each of his free diving competitions. He was so totally able to tune out the outside world, it was eerie. I watched the pros do much the same. Now I just wonder if that’s a learnable skill?
While I loved watching, and learning from, the pros, I hope I never get the opportunity to do it again – at least not until I’m retired.