There really is no such thing as the “perfect build-up”. I challenge anyone to convince me that nothing went wrong for them, in terms of sickness, injury or personal pressures (including family and/or work related stress), in the 12-weeks leading up to a goal race. It just doesn’t happen… something always goes wrong. Setbacks in training (and peaking) for a race are inevitable.
I’ve been training under the guidance of coach John Hamlett for almost three years now. That’s nearly three years of the most hardcore training I have ever done in my life. During this time I have morphed from a stiletto-wearing, handbag touting competition law (antitrust) attorney, to a full-time elite athlete, coach and the manager of Team Massmart, South Africa’s first and only ladies only elite running club. I have changed, not only in terms of what I do (or rather, how I spend the hours of each day), but also physiologically and psychologically. As my coach likes to say: I am not the same monster (or athlete) that I was three years ago.
Notwithstanding the fact that I have trained harder this year than I ever have before, or that I (finally) have the core strength and six-pack I’d previously only dreamed of, I too am vulnerable to injury and setback. I have good days and bad days; days when I am almost too tired to get out of bed, never mind lace up and whip out a 90-minute speed session. I hurt, my muscles ache and I am as plagued by feelings of self doubt and inferiority as anyone else.
Earlier this month, a recurring glute injury stopped play in Dullstroom. Overcome by severe muscle spasm, something I suspected to be a tear, I retreated back to Johannesburg for physiotherapy and some shockwave. A week (and rushed MRI) later, I was back on the road licking my psychological wounds as I tried to “make up” the training I had lost the previous week. I was panicked and stressed, tearful and angry. Upon my return to Dullstroom, I felt good… for about three days. In my enthusiasm to get back on the road I’d stopped paying attention to my diet and was running low on carbs. By day four, I was completely depleted, just putting one foot in front of the other took superhuman effort, and I started to engage in negative self-talk, my old demons started throwing a party in my head. Not only was I physically battered, but psychologically I was starting to take enormous strain as well. I cannot really describe to you how much pressure I am feeling, but the strain has certainly manifest itself on my body and my psyche. I’ve had to wear two-layers of big girl panties this week.
For anyone not familiar with my story leading up to Comrades 2018, here are the highlights. In the build-up to the race I caught flu twice, tore my gluteus medius muscle a month before race day and then contracted a severe stomach bug which kept me in bed for a week, two weeks ahead of the race. Exactly seven days before Comrades, I tearfully told my Mum that there really was no way I could line up to race given how sick I had been. I then started the race hoping and praying for a gold, but knowing there was a very real risk that I might not make the cut for a silver.
And yet despite all that, despite the setbacks and uncertainty, I won! Sounds highly improbable right?? It was more than that, it was quite literally, a miracle. A gift from God.
As I lined up at the start of Comrades last year, I asked God to put into my race whatever I had left out of my training, to “top up” my body and mind in order for me to run to the very best of my ability. And he did.
And when Alexandra Morazova passed me in Pinetown with 30km to go, I asked God to keep me calm, to steady my legs and to help me pull it back. And he did.
And when my legs were screaming, my lungs bursting and I wanted to walk up and down Toll Gate hill, I asked God to carry me to the finish, to keep me going strong. And he did.
So this year, as I struggle with performance anxiety and the pressures of being a full-time elite athlete and a defending champion; when I am tired and sore before, after and during training; and as I fight against feelings of self-doubt, I will remember this: that adversity makes ripe an opportunity for a miracle; with God all things are possible; and that when I run, I feel God’s pleasure.
It’s three weeks to go ’til race day and for most, the taper has just started. Your milage will come down, your speedwork will go up and your legs will finally (hopefully) start to feel bouncy again. The hard graft is almost over.
Irrespective of whether you’ve done 1000km or 3000km in training since 1 January, there’s not too much more you can do right now. Just focus on staying injury free and healthy. Start obsessing about what you’ll be wearing and eating on race day.
Line up on 9 June knowing that you’ve done everything you can to prepare for the race. Then trust God to put in the rest.
God speed and good luck!
P.S. David and I are raising funds for S4J this year. Please take a look at our fundraising profile HERE. All donations will be very gratefully received.
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