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 racing and "guts"
Rickshaw
Runworks 2005 5M Racer
San Francisco, CA
Joined: 26 Nov 2004
Posts: 1157

racing and "guts" Posted: Sun Nov 20, 2005 1:32 pm 

How much do you think "guts" figures into racing performance? I'm beginning to believe that the mental side of racing is even more important than I thought previously. Sure, you've got to be in shape in order to race well, but you've also got to be willing to push yourself very hard. I think it was Steve Prefontaine who called this "guts", and claimed to have more of it than anyone else.

Ask yourself this: in your last race, did you race as fast as you could? Or did you race as fast as you were willing? This might sound like an imponderable question, running's equivalent of how many angels fit on the head of a pin, but I think it's a critical idea to consider. It's not uncommon for the fastest milers to push themselves to a near blackout, or to vomit at the finish. Elites at other distances endure significant physical pain during races too. The average age-grouper won't push himself that hard, however. He's penalized once for not being as fit as the best athletes, and a second time for not pushing himself to the limits of the fitness he does posess.

This idea was really driven home for me when I reviewed the results of my last 5K. I was a little beat up and hurting from the hills, and near the end I was caring less about my finish time and more about just ending the suffering. The Nike Triax I wear during races lets me graph my speed vs time on the PC, and the results from the last half mile or so of the 5K were illuminating. It was a basically flat stretch after the last hill, so you'd expect my pace to have been pretty constant, maybe slowing a bit as I tired. Instead, it jumped all over the place as I fought a mental battle with myself to keep pushing. At one point I forced myself to give it everything I had left, and dropped to a 6:00 pace for about a minute. But it hurt so bad, I didn't have the willpower to stay with it, and I abruptly slowed to about a 7:30 pace. Then as I approached the finish, I kicked it in and finished the last bit at about a 6:20 pace.

Why didn't I stay with that 6:00 pace through to the finish? I'm sure that I was capable of it physically-- if I could hold that pace for a minute, I could hold it (or something close to it) for another two. The problem was a matter of will. I didn't WANT to run that pace, because it hurt like hell, and at that moment in time it was more important to me to end the hurt than to get the best possible finish time.

Has anyone else had similar thoughts about this? How can I go about improving my "guts" factor, assuming I wanted to? Should I practice burning my hand once a day until I become desensitized to pain? Um, no. Or convesely, find ways to increase my motivation to finish in the best possible time, so it will outweigh the need to escape the pain?


mfox

South Orange, New Jersey
Joined: 19 Dec 2004
Posts: 367

Re: racing and "guts" Posted: Sun Nov 20, 2005 5:33 pm 

Well, I like to think I've run with guts. When I ran the 2004 NYC Marathon I did nearly the entire race in great deal of discomfort. I had been suffering from a severe case of Plantar Fasciitus in my right foot for about a month. I ran very little the two weeks before the marathon to rest it. The pain started kicking in before I had completed the first mile. And by mile five it was at it's peak, while at the same time my left foot was developing a good three inch blister along the insole. By mile 13 I knew I should drop out, but I knew my family would be waiting for me at the 18 mile mark. I pushed myself to make it to the 18 mile mark only to find that I was so behind schedule that they had moved on to the next randezvous spot after determining that they must have missed me. I felt very emotional and demoralized at that point but I also knew that stopping and walking was only going to extend the agony. So despite the fact that I was heading away from the finish line, I pushed onward. Once again, when I got to the 23 mile mark and didn't see them I realized they must have thought they missed me again and moved on to meet me at the finish (which they did). Obviously, at that point I was too close to the finish to give up. So I pushed on and hobbled across the finish line with a time of about 4:31. So did I run with guts? I like to think so. I didn't run very fast but I pushed myself past some serious physical and mental hurdles. My motivation for finishing was a combination of wanting to finish something I had worked very hard for and a bit of stupid bravado I suppose.

I've also pulled back during a race because the discomfort was more than I wanted to endure. I think it had less to do with having the guts to run harder and more to do with the value of the return on my investment. I don't think it's fair to compare us "regular" runners to the elite runners The elite runners, by far, have much more on the line that you and I do. What do you or I have to show for our guts? Self pride and maybe an age group award if we're lucky. The elite runners do this as a living, or it at least plays a significant role in their lives or reputation. Not only do they have prize money to collect after they've puked but endorsements and appearance fees too. You and I go back to work the next day in relative obscurity.

I often wisper out loud to myself during the final 2-3 miles of a marathon or long training run "it's all mental now." Sometimes it seems to help. I suppose you can develop more mental fortitude by training under difficult conditions. But I think it all comes down to how motivated you are at the time. I think the more importance you place on achieving something the harder you'll work for it...and thus the more guts you'll have.

So, if you let up in a race I don't think it's because you don' thave the guts to push yourself, but rather it's just not that important to you.

Richshaw, I bet if you knew you were close to placing in your age group during that 5K your Nike Triax would be telling a different tale.


Bricks
Runworks 2005 5M Racer
Chicago
Joined: 09 Dec 2004
Posts: 222

Re: racing and "guts" Posted: Mon Nov 21, 2005 8:24 am 

"value of the return on my investment"

i think this is very often the way i look at training and racing. in training i often push trough pain, telling myself 'if you can't finish this workout, how are you going to finish the marathon' or something of that nature. i have had two races that i can think of, specifically, where i 'shut it down'. in both cases i had a time goal that was relatively arbirtrary and reachable if everything went right. both times, i was clear i would PR anyway, but perhaps not reach the 'A goal' of that time i has set. in both cases i evaluated mid race the 'guts' it would require for me to 'maybe' reach the goal and if it was worth the effort. most recently, a tune-up race before a goal marathon, i wasn't going to risk the interruption in my training required to recover from the effort or risk possible injury and jeopardize the bigger picture goal that was the marathon. could i have gotten the goal? maybe, but at what cost. i did get the goal in the marathon, so i'd like to think i made the right call. in said marathon though, i felt like i used every last bit of guts to get me across the line in time. for the last 4 miles my tank felt empty, but i forced myself to ignore it. i refused to have to look back and wonder. 'did i have enough, if i would have just pushed harder' etc. i left it all out there and got my goal, primarily because of the pysychological late in the race. the stakes where higher too, as a BQ was at steak, versus 'just' a PR or some random clock number. it was painful, but worth the investment.


Rustyboy

LA, CA
Joined: 14 Dec 2004
Posts: 225

Re: racing and "guts" Posted: Mon Nov 21, 2005 8:51 am 

Wow, this is an illuminating subject.

Not that I don't push myself, and not that I don't set goals (my last race I set a finish time and beat it by almost 40 minutes), but my main goal during races over 10k is to just have fun. Otherwise, I spend the entire time on my feet staring these specific goals in the face and not enjoying myself. For me at least, the journey - which also includes the training leading to the race - is equally if not more important than the finish.


mfox

South Orange, New Jersey
Joined: 19 Dec 2004
Posts: 367

Re: racing and "guts" Posted: Sat Nov 26, 2005 4:55 pm 

Some of my best races were one's where I went out with the intention of just taking it easy; because I wasn't in the mood to suffer through the discomfort of chasing a PR. After a mile into the race and feeling pretty good I usually decide to pick up the pace a little, and as I continue I re-assess how I'm doing and find myself picking up the pace after each mile marker. Finally, I'm find myself aproaching the last 1/4 or 1/5 of the race and realize that I'm doing better than what I would have expected had I tried to run hard from the start and I then feel motiviated to keep pushing and thus suffer the discomfort.

I was re-thinking the notion of running with "guts" today during my easy 6 mile run. I kind of changed my oppinion. I think the average runner stands to show just as much, if not more, guts by pushing him/herself to a new PR when there's nothing more for motivation that the desire for a PR. The elite athletes definitely have more on the line and are motivated by status, expectations, and money. They still exhibit guts when they run like they do to break course, national, or world records. But I think the middle of the packer shows just as much guts to put him/herself through the level of discomfort experienced during training runs and races. In fact, I think the folks who are out there on their feet for 5-6 hours completing a marathon show a lot of guts too. You don't have to break records or puke at the end of a race to show guts. Some runners just exhibit more "guts" than others.


Rickshaw
Runworks 2005 5M Racer
San Francisco, CA
Joined: 26 Nov 2004
Posts: 1157

Re: racing and "guts" Posted: Sat Nov 26, 2005 10:45 pm 

Agreed... I never meant to imply that slower runners are somehow less worthy because they aren't gutsy enough. Maybe "guts" is the wrong term. What I was originally thinking about is more like basic pain tolerance. I think Bricks summed it up well as a question of return on investment. It's difficult to motivate oneself to run so hard that it's very painful if there's nothing really important on the line. Yet I believe that successful runners are much better able to push into that pain zone than average ones. Whether that's because they'remore strongly motivated, or perhaps because they're simply more accustomed to the pain, I can't say.

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