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The edge of the mental envelope

It was an early start as usual for the 6am Thursday track session at The Haven in Terrigal, on a crisp and cold morning.  There was a good turn-out and it was pleasing to see so many of the runners showing improvement.  Running is a very honest sport, and barring injury, improvement is directly proportional to the effort invested.

On my way to 2:31 and 2nd place in the 1976 VMC Marathon
We were chatting after the session and I voiced my opinion that improvement will continue to come if the runner keeps nudging the edge of the envelope, both physically and mentally.  It is easy for runners to settle into a routine where they are fit and healthy, but don't push themselves to realise their full potential (of course, this is absolutely fine if running is primarily for the purpose of maintaining good health).

Improved physical ability through harder training is, perhaps, easier to achieve than the mental self-belief needed to fully realise running potential.  The latter does come partially from confidence that you have done the training necessary to run your best times.  However, even then, your performances can be constrained by  the boundaries you set yourself, often unconsciously.  You can think that you are performing at your limit, but in reality, you are not.

My Hamilton Marathon
race number

This was certainly the case in my running career.  For most of the early 1970s I was training hard, running marathons in the 2:30 to 2:40 range, and believing that improvement would come in minor increments, if I was lucky.  Then, in June 1976, I ran a marginal Personal Best time of 2:31 in the Victorian Marathon Club (VMC) Championship for second place behind a visiting New Zealander.  My prize, as the first VMC member to finish, was a trip to run in the Hamilton Marathon in New Zealand in October 1976.  I was over the moon with this prize, my biggest reward to date.  I can still remember walking along the beach near where we were staying after the race feeling a great sense of exhilaration and anticipation. I dreamed of breaking 2:30 in Hamilton, which had a reputation as a fast course.

Barely legible 1976 Hamilton Marathon results
As it turned out, the Hamilton Marathon changed my life.  I ran 2:22, a personal best by nine minutes, to finish in sixth place in a fast field.  I think I just got sucked along and then solid training kicked in over the last half where I gained eight places.  I could not believe my time, and still have doubts that the course was accurate.  A few fellow Australians in the race also ran their personal best times that day, but so far as I know, I'm the only one who ever improved on their Hamilton 1976 time.  However, for me the breakthrough was more mental than physical.  I had probably been capable of running that time for a few years, but had never done it, nor believed I could do it.  Suddenly, I believed I was a 2:20 marathon runner instead of a 2:30 marathon runner and that belief carried me to faster times, and not only in the marathon.

Of course, I have subsequently wondered whether I should have been a 2:15 or 2:10 marathon runner, but there's evidence I lacked the basic speed necessary.  I never broke 4 minutes for the 1500m or 2 minutes for 800m, despite plenty of attempts.  Then again........

After the session I walked a little over 6km as my training for the day.  I could still feel pain in my right arch but am moving a little more freely.