Monday 20 November 2017

Tough training days can prepare you for anything

Gerry Duffy learned a lesson after consuming liquids that didn't agree with him. Photo: Getty Images.
Gerry Duffy learned a lesson after consuming liquids that didn't agree with him. Photo: Getty Images.

Gerry Duffy

Last Saturday week I got my thinking wrong. The night before a planned four-hour run, I said to my partner, in predicting the weather for the day ahead, "the last thing I want is a windy day".

I was referring to a solo four-hour training run expedition which was on my radar. With such a running contemplation, I was keen for favourable conditions. On my training schedule was a final long run in advance of the Connemara Ultra Marathon (39.3 miles) in April.

Fast-forward to the next morning and the wind on the 2.1 mile looped and hilly course was blustery, challenging and – even on lap one – proving a stern test.

As I began lap two, I thought back to Connemara last year. In 2013, competitors had to battle with a stiff wind for almost the entire trip. By the time the 'Hell of the West' climb appeared on every runner's radar in the final miles, it had extracted chunks of energy from even the most experienced. Even the winner of the full marathon that day was keen to narrate its difficulty to anybody who would listen afterwards.

The reason my thinking was wrong was because I should have been looking for a windy day. In fact, I should have wanted a tempest to rage. After all, it is fair to say that it does just that in the wilds of Connemara on a regular basis. Therefore, it would offer solid preparation. If I could immerse myself and battle through such conditions in training, then surely I would be best prepared for whatever conditions might present themselves in three weeks' time.

On occasion, training should be about testing oneself in the most difficult weather and terrain conditions, for it is those same conditions that might be heaped upon us on race day. If we have trained in it and come through it, we already know we can do it.

To dig further on this topic, training days should not be about getting things right but about getting things wrong. On that Saturday, many things went wrong. I have learnt such days can be the most rewarding. If we don't make mis- takes how can we ever learn? It was Thomas Edison who in the late 19th century said: "I haven't failed; I have just found 10,000 ways that haven't worked." Then he put all of his learnings together to invent the light bulb.

That Saturday I got my nutrition wrong and I consumed liquids that didn't agree with me because of the sequence in which I drank them. I had to stop to remove stones from my new shoes and I hit a wall from miles 23-27.

What I learnt was that I had started out too fast. As a result, I now have a more reserved pacing strategy planned. Thankfully, I managed to pick it up again for the remaining two miles. Knowing that I could come through such a wall and pick up the pace again is good mental strength to have in my locker.

Whatever your race day has in store, include some 'worst-case scenario' training days. Embrace errors or shortcomings. In making them – just like Edison – we can learn so much.

Gerry Duffy is a motivational speaker and endurance athlete.

Irish Independent

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