The Chicken and the Egg
At the moment I am in a virtuous cycle of good performances giving me belief, and this belief leading to good performances. Yesterday, I ran 51:11 for ten miles, a personal best by nearly two minutes. In my last road race a few weeks ago, I took nearly a minute off my best 10k time. In the last two months I have achieved my two best cross country results ever. In between I have trained well, spurred on by the confidence that these good results have given me. I know that this eventually I will escape the orbit and that this cycle will end, but for now I’m just going to enjoy it whilst it lasts.
This recent upturn in form has prompted me to think about the interplay between belief and performance and the extent to which one influcences the other. I will try and share some of these thoughts…
Performance Creating Belief
Whilst this seems like an obvious idea, I have given some consideration to why this happens. When results are going your way a number of things happen. One is that your prejudices are challenged and that your notion of where your ‘limit’ lies is altered. You start to view yourself differently and place yourself a rung up on your perceived performance ladder. When I broke 31 minutes for 10k, I was now, unarguably, a 30-something athlete rather than a 31-something athlete. This objective assessment of where you are can carry much more weight than merely being told you are performing well.
Another consequence of a breakthrough performance is that you begin to believe you are capable of more in training; sessions that may have seemed daunting appear less so, and paces that once instilled fear can seem achievable. Crucially, though, the main way in which I believe training can be influenced by performance is in one’s ability to put bad days into context. On Wednesday I went down to the Christmas day parkrun in the hope to get some faster running in the legs ahead of Sunday’s race but just never got going. I felt heavy and laboured and at what should have been a fairly comfortable pace, felt as though I was working far too hard. Afterwards, though, I was able to be rational about it. I was very quick to just write it off as a bad day and move on. No overthinking the matter. At least it was a good hard tempo run. Four days later I managed a quicker average pace in a ten mile race than I did for just the 5k!
Lastly, I feel that your expectations begin to align with those of others the better you perform in races. I am certainly guilty of telling other athletes what I think they are capable of doing but not believing them when they do the same to me. Before my first Birmingham League cross country race after I started training with Dave, he said to me “top 5 today Ed.” I was nowhere near, and remember feeling that his expectations were unreasonably high, but now feel like this is completely achievable. This was less than three years ago.
Belief Influencing Performance
This can happen in two ways, in training and in racing. As I have stated already, your ability to train well can be influenced by recent results in races. I have also noticed from my own experience and from observing others that self-belief can be extremely important in ensuring you do not overdo it in training. Belief creates confidence, and with confidence comes the ability to stop when necessary, to take a rest day when you feel you need one, and not to run each session at 100%. It is easy to stay sensible when recent performances provide evidence that it is OK to. Conversely, I have seen athletes for whom races are not going as expected make poor decisions, over-train and under-rest, seeking the validation that comes from an impressive looking training log.
In a race situation, belief in one’s ability creates a positive mentality. Races are always going to hurt. This is beyond dispute. In my opinion though, the extent to which the physical discomfort of competition can be overcome is influenced by your self-belief. When on a bad run of results the standard response to difficuly and discomfort is acceptance. The pain is here, as expected. Now it’s just a grind and a slog to the finish. When on a good run, the pain is embraced and turned on its head. Good, it hurts. That means I’m running quickly. Just imagine how others are feeling if this is hurting me!
Whilst I won’t continue my upward trajectory forever, I know that I need to keep reminding myself of these ideas when results take a downward turn or when I am injured or ill. It is very easy to talk about belief when you have it, much less so when you do not!