The end of Comrades is synonymous with drama. The appointed ‘end-gun’ person standing under the finish line, arm raised waiting for the clock to reach the 12 hour mark. Those walking into the stadium, but needing to run to make the cut off. Others sprinting (after 89kms!) down the home stretch to cross the line before the gun goes off. Its both inspiring and devastating to watch.
What amazes me every time is the energy people find in those last few minutes to make sure they complete the race in the official time. They draw on reserves of strength they themselves may not have known they had until they needed it. And this an important lesson for all hoping to finish the race.
Feeling as if you can’t go on, doesn’t mean you can’t go on. Often, it’s just that: a feeling. And feelings are notoriously misleading. Think of a time in a previous Comrades or a really tough training session where you absolutely knew you couldn’t go on – but you did, and you could.
So what’s happening?
The central governor theory helps explain. Essentially, this theory says that our brains have a central governor overseeing effort, and it stops us before we get ourselves into physical danger. So, when we feel exhausted, we could continue, but our central governor shuts us down – hence we feel exhausted and as if we can’t possibly walk, let alone run another step. But of course we can – as the sprinting finishers demonstrate.
One of the ways to overcome the central governor is through training – pushing physical limits to show you are not in danger, that you will survive this effort (as uncomfortable and difficult as it may be).
But by now your training is done so you can’t teach your central governor any more, but you can encourage it. When you talk to yourself in an encouraging, motivation way (‘Just make it up that hill then you can rest’, ‘You’ve trained hard for this, you know you can get through tough times’ etc) it pacifies the central governor somewhat and you are able to use reserves of energy that you’ve spent many, many hours on the road building up. Just as you would encourage a best friend to keep going, you need to encourage yourself. Interestingly, speaking to yourself in the 3rd person seems to be even more helpful, so rather than ‘You have trained for this, you’ve got this’ it’s better to say ‘Kirsten, you have trained for this, you’ve got this Kirsten’ – as if we are standing on the outside our own heads encouraging as a best friend would.
So remember, feelings are misleading. Keep talking to yourself and encouraging yourself and you will be surprised what the body is capable of.
*some ideas in this articles come from Alex Hitchionsons article titled ‘Mental Tricks of Endurance Athletes’