April 27, 2018

What happens to you when you run in the heat?

It’s been quite a couple of weeks.

First we had a Commonwealth Games marathon that will always be remembered for Callum Hawkins’ dramatic collapse and the controversy about how he should have been assisted.

Then we had hot weather warnings ahead of the London Marathon with newspaper headlines predicting the hottest ever marathon sending everyone into a pre-race maranoia frenzy amid conjecture about the potential impact of the heat.

And then we had the actual race and it was indeed, the hottest ever London Marathon. It wasn’t just the heat by 2pm that was the issue (as has been the case in the past), it was hot on the way to the start!

And it had a significant impact.

There was a massive reduction in runners going under 3 hours – 1,108 as compared to 1,935 in 2017, and some analysis by our friend Pete Dyson showed that the heat had an impact of around 2% for the elite, 4-6% for those running under 3 hours, and 6-10% for those running over 3 hours.

The London Marathon were very good at telling everyone what to do in advance. There were emails, texts and tweets telling everyone to reduce their pace, drink fluids, reduce your pace, wear a hat, reduce your pace, pour water on yourself, reduce your pace, wear sunscreen and REDUCE YOUR BLOODY PACE!

I was staggered at how few people listened despite seeing what happened to Callum just a week earlier – for example, there were very few hats being paraded on the championship start and people were clearly battling with their pace from very early on.

Why was this?

Arrogance? – “it won’t affect me”

Stubbornness? – “I’ve trained for 3 hours so 3 hours it is.”

Anxiety? – “it’s too stressful to change my plans now”

Ambition? – “my target is 3.15, I’ve run 3.30 before, what’s the point of running 3.29, I want 3.15 or I might as well run 4.00”

Uncertainty? – “I don’t know if or how much it will impact me so I’ll see how it goes”

A combination of the above perhaps?

All of these mental approaches led to positive splits. Rather than being a criticism of anyone that ran a positive split, this is an interesting insight into human motivation and goal setting which was missing from all the communication about what to do in the heat. We didn’t just need to slow down, we needed to rethink our measures of success, and potentially our measures of self-worth.

And herein lies the biggest danger in Milestone setting – that you commit to your goal so much that you put all the focus on the outcome such that when something out of our control comes along (like unexpected weather) and scuppers all those carefully laid and brilliantly executed plans, we despair. We despair because we link our finishing time to how we are judged by others and therefore how we judge ourselves.

At The Milestone Pursuit, we had a great set of athletes who were virtually all in or around the shape they wanted to be to hit their milestone so we had a difficult week talking to athletes about altering their plans.

In doing that I was mindful that I don’t usually support people having plan b’s for a race as I think that when things get tough people quickly shelve plan A if they have a plan B that they have consciously developed in advance. Instead I encourage people to have just one goal and to be single-minded about it. But on this occasion I felt that had to change. I encouraged everyone to think about what outcome they’d accept if they couldn’t hit their goal.

I suggested that while their goal (whatever that may be) is very important to them they must remember that the journey/process they’ve been through to get to this point is actually the more valuable thing. The process of training for a marathon is a life changing one in itself – among other things you get fitter, you get stronger and you get more mentally resilient. Regardless of what might happen in the race that alone should be a source of great pride.

People can get hung up on “time”, (for example, friends and family will often say “great time” not “great run” or “great performance”) but you are not defined as a person or an athlete, by the times you achieve. Instead, you are defined by how hard you’ve worked to get to the startline and how hard you try on the day. And finally, I encouraged everyone to think that in this particular race trying hard is about being especially patient with your pacing early on AND being especially brave when it gets tough.

This is the whole point of the Milestone Pursuit: Setting goals, understanding why they are so important to you and committing to them is absolutely critical to meeting them but so is investing in the pursuit AND especially with the marathon you should not tie your self worth to the outcome. You are much more than a time.

That’s how I think the London Marathon of 2018 will always be remembered. The toughest one ever, the one where everyone struggled (did you see how Mo Farah and Mary Keitany struggled at the end?) and the one that everyone will be forever proud of having completed despite very few people hitting their milestones. There weren’t many “great times”, but there were a lot of great runs and great performances.


posted by Steve Hobbs