When the mid-race pain really sets in for ultra runner Dylan Bowman, he shifts his focus to, in his words, ‘matching the suck with motivation’. He does this by thinking about the sacrifices he’s made to get there: passing on extra pizza and beer; missing out on time with his fiancée in order to train; travelling to get to the race. ‘I’ve ended up winning races I didn’t believe I was going to win by thinking about all the things I’ve given up,’ says Bowman. ‘It’s crazy how much more I can endure when I do this.’
It helps to be prepared, so revisit your training diary before a race to pinpoint the occasions on which you dragged yourself out of your warm bed or skipped post-work drinks to squeeze in a run. One of the world’s greatest athletes, Emil Zatopek, who won gold in the 5000m, 10,000m and marathon in the 1952 Olympics, developed this mindset into something approaching an art form. ‘There is great advantage in training under unfavourable conditions,’ he said. ‘For the difference is then a tremendous relief in a race. Is it raining? That doesn’t matter. Am I tired? That doesn’t matter either. Willpower becomes no longer a problem.’
When the moment of truth comes in your next half marathon, recalling those moments when you’re starting to suffer might take your mind off the discomfort and boost your drive to make sure you get the most out of your hard work. A similar strategy could help you endure tough workouts, too.