Sunday, 5 January 2020

Controll and Race Psychology

 Fighting The Spine!.

               Some racers approach the Spine with a fighting mentality. The phrases : 'Break The Spine', 'Smash The Spine' and 'Defeat The Spine' are often used .  The basis of this thought process is that the Spine Needs to be fought in order to get yourself to the finishing line.  Unless you are superhuman  pitting yourself against the terrain,weather ,distance and all the unexpected challenges will lead  to a DNF.
                I would advise you to approach the race with an open mind. Instead of setting out for a fight  ,try to understand the race especially during the initial phases.
               You can,t change the Race but you can change yourself by learning how to react to the problems thrown in your face.
               You only have to look at the low number of finishers (Counting out 2015 which was not a normal year) to deduce that this race can't be considered a conventional Ultra. Physical training and a good track record on 100 mile races is no guarantee of success.
               I remember reading an article written just before the 2014 Spine listing : "The ones to watch", as far as I can remember all but one dropped out !
               Race predictions were applied using standard Ultra data ,ignoring the fact that none of the "ones to watch had ever raced  for 100 hrs (a more accurate test of form)
                Learning how to adapt then reaping the results will boost your moral.

           Predicting who will make the finish line.

      I have mentioned before that  regular Mountain Marathon Runners are at the top of the Finishers lists.

      This fact could  be explained by the relevance of the training mountain marathons gives you to acquire  the skill to do the Spine. I suspect that although the training angle is true there is more to it.
       The fact that you are into Mountain Marathons shows that you enjoy the challenges they throw up .  
       Stephen Brown who I ran with for much of my 2016 Spine put it another way:

" Most Spine Finishers already owned much of the Kit before they even thought of entering"

           You could boil this down to the concept that running in mountains with extra nav and weather problems is something that: PUTS A SMILE ON THEIR FACES.

           If you like the whole idea of a Winter  Pennine Challenge you have more chance of finishing than a runner who has entered the race just because it is the longest race they will ever  have done.

         That is not to say that a Novice with minimum mountain experience cannot finish (You may possibly have never discovered just how much you like this type of race ).


I Suspect that I am not the Only Spine Vet who rather hankers back to the good old days where there were fewer Cp,s and you had no choice but to carry a tent and camp out on the trail.
        Every Spine get,s a little softer with extra  more slick CP,s  Caff's staying open for 24 Hrs and better safety cover. However the Spine  will always be a tough unpredictable  race and that,s what still attracts me .
        2017 with its mild conditions boosted the number of finishers
        The  no support rules and CP 1.5/3.5 restrictions plus a proper 2018winter may well come a shock.

       Will you make it to the finish line ?

        If you love the outdoors and your idea of a  good workout involves mud and hills rather than a long hard treadmill session in a warm gym you are in with a chance .

       Finishing loop race such as the Hill or multiple 10k laps of a country park  in 24 hrs is a physical challenge with the added difficulty of fighting boredom. This type  of race won,t help your mind set when fighting a snow storm on Cross Fell.
       If you can smile thinking about the race then you have a high chance of finishing.
       If you can smile during most of the race then you have an even greater chance of finishing.

       Every ones motivation on this race will be made up of different facets. From a personal point of view I know my motivation changed between Spine Years .

       Year One : No idea of how to do the race . Not scared but more fascinated as to how far I could get (pre race mentally  put my chances of finishing below 20%). It turned out to be a steep learning curve . I loved each challenge apart from the dry retching on day one . By the time I reached CP1.5 I was delighted to think I could at least finish the Challenger course.
       Teaming up with Jen Gaskell  before Fountains fell gave me motivation in the form of wanting to  help her attempt to be the first female Spine Finisher . (This had the effect of taking the pressure of me which was good for my own moral) . After Jenn crashed out of the race at Dufton I had to re-assess my motives and did this by focusing on beating the German team just ahead of me . I enjoyed the chase and looking back perhaps it was a good thing that I never caught them up!
       CP5 to the finish started as a race against the oncoming storm followed by a battle against the storm over The Cheviots .
        Throughout my 2013 Spine I had a Smile on my face .I loved the race and was totally hooked.

          Year 2 . I had a much better Idea of what I was facing. Much of my motivation during the race came from leading small groups. I also became more competitive  as I knew I could finish. My kit worked well allowing me to enjoy the race .
 I had one massive stroke of luck by arriving at Dufton just as the race was halted . This gave me 3 hrs free unclocked sleep time . By the time I reached the final leg I knew I had a 3 hr time bonus on all the runners in front of me . Again pressure off and smile on! 
           Another good race .

        Year 3 DNF,t on day one . For some competitors  this would be game over . For me a finishers medal is not what the Spine is about. By re-starting as a non competitor at CP1 I was able to look at the race as an outsider  and learn from others.  I spent most of the race collecting info for my blogs .
        Yet again this action took the pressure off me and made my race easier. The multiple stoppage breaks changed the whole nature of the race . The fast finishing times exposing the effects that a good sleep has on Spine Speed.

          Year 4 was probably my worst Spine year.   I  mentally beat myself up for oversleeping at CP 1.5 . This one mistake changed my race into one of continually trying to catch up lost time rather than racing others . The internal pressure I put on myself prevented me from sleeping well during the rest of the race . This all came to a head during the last haul through the snow on the Cheviots . If there had  been any way of quitting between hut 1 and 2 then I would have quit. This negative swing was made far greater by my chronic lack of sleep. The Cheviots mentally shattered me!

           To sum up how I mentally work . I try to focus on external factors to give me motivation . Internal pressure takes the smile off my face .
            I Enter The Spine To Enjoy The Journey . Beating others and even finishing for me is just a bonus .

            I have been asked if I would raise money for Charity By running the Spine . I have to confess that I could not mentally cope with other peoples expectations .
My chances of finishing would probably be diminished if I was sponsored to run.


Enough about Me !
Earlier in this post I mentioned that lovers of mountains have a greater chance of finishing.
If this is you then there are ways you can focus this positive mental  energy.

        1 Navigating with a map will keep you better in touch with your surroundings.
        2 Turning your torch down low at night (Especially in moonlight) will reveal the splendour.
 Unfortunately Full moon is the 2nd Jan 2018.
        3 Keep your head up and look around . Your nose and ears can help you soak up the mountain atmosphere.
        4 Try to keep comfortable in your layers. If you become over aware of physical discomfort you will close yourself off from the outside world.

          Running Your Own Race And Team running.

      If you try to make it to the finish line by running with someone you are not matched with in pace or sleeping patterns it will end in disaster.
      Starting The Spine with the intention of running the whole race with a partner is a strategy I would only advise if you know your partner really well and have spent some time training together.

            Teams competing in The Challenger  will be subjected to far less stress.

           Ad Hoc Teams will form as you run . Some last to the finish but most won't

           It  possible to run with others and still run your own race. The one proviso is that teams need to stay fluid. The only way this can work is if runners finding themselves teaming up need to discuss aims ,attitudes and possible 'divorce ' scenario,s.    It is also worth laying ego,s on the table so everyone knows where everyone else is coming from.

         Large groups tend to move more slowly and eventually break up before the finish line. This is partly due to small miss match of pace and sleep patterns but also because chronic sleep deprivation will magnify any psychological  stress between team members.(larger groups will also be slower through CP's as they tend to swamp the facilities.)

          You can and should expect unreasonable ,  manic ,unpredictable and irrational behaviour from yourself and others towards the end of the race (this is especially true for anyone fighting the final cut off,s.)

          If you find yourself working well with another runner after hooking up during the race then let them know and discuss strategy. This sounds easy but because you are both subjected to the same stress factors laid out by the race.
                You will find it easier to team up than to break up a team.
   It is usually up to the weaker team member to give permission for the stronger racer to leave them behind.
        Small teams ,especially pairs of runners can and will form strong bonds . Everyone has low moments and running with someone else who is experiencing the same conditions as you can help pull you through your lowest moments more effectively than a phone call to an outsider who can never fully comprehend your situation.

           Fear Of Getting Lost In the Dark.

            If this is a problem for you then your only option is to team up with others. This can only really work if you are physically stronger than your running partners. Trying to keep up with a group moving faster than your natural pace is not sustainable in the long term. 
            It is still possible to reach the finish line despite being a weak navigator. This can happen even even among the race leaders . This is a high risk strategy that only really works if you have the capacity to run yourself out of trouble. In some instances navigation weakness in yourself can compromise other runners who feel obliged to help you out of trouble.

               Having the ability and self confidence to navigate will go a long way to maintaining the positive mental state desirable to reach the finish line.

              Your Moral Obligations To Others.

              The Spine Race is potentially lethal! It is run in conditions far worse than other races in Europe (as far as I know)
               You have a responsibility to keep yourself and others safe . It is often up to a struggling runner to not put themselves in danger . You should not assume that other runners will be around to pull you out of a dangerous situation and rescue you.
                If you find yourself having to stop racing and help rescue another runner then don,t hesitate. The race directors will credit you with any time lost . You won,t be asked to sacrifice your own race.
                I have no doubt that choosing to quit is probably more  difficult  decision to take , than manning up and pushing on.
                One of the hardest and most courageous decisions to quit I have witnessed was made by Michael Frenz in 2013. -------30 miles from the finish  line he became aware that he was loosing control of his ability to' thermoregulate'. He was still strong and moving well but had sufficient  self awareness that he knew he would probably put himself and others in danger if he pushed on . Michael self DNF't despite the objections of the runners with him. It was the correct decision and I salute him for his actions.

                 A runner suffering from Hypothermia may not be in a position to make their own decisions. 

            Whenever you pass another runner you should talk to them and assess their physical and mental state.  Any worries you have should be reported to Race Control as soon as possible.

       Anyone abandoning another racer in trouble has no place on The Spine or any other race!

        Although you are racing this does not give you permission for bad behaviour .  Sleeping in toilets is pushing the bounds of acceptable behaviour. (during the night it is unlikely to impact on the public but sleeping during the day in a toilet is not acceptable )  This also should probably apply to the Malham Bird hut . (leave it for the bird watchers during daylight)

             Competitive Mind Games
              This race is hard enough without getting into a fight with other racers . 
         The  main niggles are  1 following a good navigator and trying to disguise what you are up to!
                                              2 Disturbing another runner trying to sleep.
                                              3 Walking off with someone Else's gear! (this is usually by mistake)
         The Front runners can get into sleep time spats at CP's  Don't ask CP staff to wake you if your nearest competition wakes up first . CP staff are neutral and not your race team.
           2018 will be interesting as the front runners will all have the same info on each others race strategy and CP storage times .
          In previous years runners with support teams could sleep outside CP's and sneak off at any time .

           Mental State Of Tail Enders Nearing The Finish Line.

            At this point the tail enders will have been racing for 48 hrs longer than podium runners
            The mental strain will probably be far more of a problem than the physical. Sleep deprivation turns most runners into a bunch of 3 year old's who have stayed up too late.  Throwing your toys out of the pram is normal behaviour . Just prepare for others to chuck their toys at you and try not to get into a fight. 
              Once you have climbed onto the Cheviot ridge you are faced with a long wilderness section with no easy way of quitting the race. Anyone on the Cheviots  pushing the final cut off will be running in the dark and needs all the help they can get!
              The Cheviots in the dark is a scary place especially if covered in snow. If you only get a chance to recce one stage of the race then this is the section you should choose. 
               By the nature of the race anyone around you in the last stages will probably be moving at the same pace as you . 
           It may be worth burying the hatchet and teaming up at least as far as The SCHIL. From that point on then turn it back into a race to the line!

                HYPERACTIVITY during the race.

               This is a common state for virtually all runners at some point . Sleep deprivation and hormonal overload can trigger strange behaviour.
                There was once an example of the medical team preventing the race leader from carrying on from CP2  until he calmed  down! (offering to do press ups to show he was OK did not go down well!)
                 Hyperactivity can be your worst  enemy when trying to fall asleep.

            Spine World: Total Race Immersion

              Once you start the race you are surrounded by a group of people all with a stake in the race. The dedication of the Racers and support staff is all quite remarkable and all consuming. 
               The non stop 24 hour nature of the race kicks up the passions ignited by the race. Followers of race trackers get sucked in and loose almost as much  sleep as the racers.
                Even for anyone unlucky to DNF keeping posted on race developments is a priority.
                Spine World is very addictive and will lead racers to blank out the outside world.

If Donald Trump presses theBIG  RED BUTTON during the race ; then the reaction of most racers would be to ask what effect his actions will have on the CUT OFF TIMES!

                Outside Communication And Social Media

               If you think you will have time for Tweets and Selfies you will get left behind.
               Stopping at almost any point for no reason in the open will leave you chilled for the simple reason that the clothes you are wearing will be matched by muscular heat production.  The only way you can pause and not get chilled is to dive into heated premises.
               There have been some Go pro images from the first 100miles but after that everyone gets serious and either concentrates on the race or Quits.
                CP time is not to be wasted on searching for wi-fi (most are black spots anyway)
                Phoning a loved one who is worried about your safety should be avoided.
                At least 1 competitor has been COMPULSORY DNF't  after a concerned partner phoned the emergency services  after  a runner phoned home for a moan  about  how shit he felt then the signal was lost!
                  AS soon as the emergency services are called the responsibility for the runners safety is transferred to the Police . YOU ARE OUT OF THE RACE (NO ARGUMENTS ALLOWED)

            Run Your Own Race From The Start!

       Now that,s a big ask! Everyone heads off up Jacobs Ladder over pace  every year. Letting others pass you is very hard ,it takes will power.
         It takes 15 hrs to reach CP1  for most runners you don't have to sprint.

       That first hill is not just an issue of over expenditure of energy but also a matter of getting your base layers damp from sweat. Damp base layers will drain you of energy for the next 15ish hours.
        Try to take it really slow at the start and for all of day one .Sitting back and learning how to move efficiently will teach you more about finishing the Spine than any Blog I can write.
         Make a mental effort to monitor your body . Adjust :pace, clothing and food intake as you go along.It takes will power to dot his but it,s worth while.

          The next mental task you need to address is navigation. Although everyone will be playing follow the leader , it,s time to start cross checking your navigation before it get,s dark. If you can make navigating a subconscious habit it will really help later in the race. Try to get into the habit of monitoring your position on the map so you know when to turn the page.

         By the time it gets dark small groups will form up for the majority of the runners. One of the reasons this happens is because it takes less mental energy if you delegate decision making to others. Just not tripping takes mental effort so we all tend to load mental strain on others. At this point on some levels  you will have ceased running your own race .  With a competent nav group leader this may not be a bad thing in the short term but you will be loosing out on forming your own efficient decision making mental pathways.  

         Good and bad mental habits have a greater impact on your  performance   later on in the race when lack of sleep strains your decision making capacity.

              Checkpoints and de-stressing.

              I have said in a previous blog that you won,t have much time for talking but at times having a chat is a good method of winding down your stress levels in order to fall asleep fast.
               If you have a CP strategy and a well organised  Drop bag this will be a great help. The most simple action such as having a laminated sign saying :"Please wake me at "  attached to your bed he'd will reduce your fear of oversleeping even though you have set your alarm.
                 Good sleep is the best way to keep your mind sharp and in a positive mood.

              Fight /Flight and the dark side of the Spine.

         You will have read tails of having to fight your way along the course at times. This may well be unavoidable at times . It certainly happened to me in 2016. Lack of sleep put enormous strain on my mental ability to keep moving . I got to the state where my ability to balance was severely compromised (if i shut my eyes for a fraction of a second I would fall over . I was not actually gripped by fear but I knew I was on the edge of my mental reserves.

                 When you are in a fight and flight situation your hormonal system kicks in releasing several hormones :Adrenalin and a lesser known hormone Cortisol . These hormones act to override many of your normal bodily functions masking your natural red light warning signs.  They also have an effect on your brain effecting mood. Mood changes can help you survive short term issues but can also be a problem inhibiting and disrupting sleep patterns and compromising your immune system This effect can persist for some time.

           It is not unusual to see  tail end Spine Race Finishers  at the Kirk Yetholm village hall sitting and quietly weeping for some time .
           Long term high levels of Adrenalin and Cortisol are not good for you . There have been studies on post race Cortisol levels at the Western States 100 that indicate that vitamin C taken post race may help reduce Cortisol. I suspect that the post WS100 levels of Cortisol are way lower than the levels found in Spine Race Finishers.

           Virtually everyone finishing The Spine even if they DNF will probably experience some form of mental fallout. What form this takes can vary. It can range from becoming a total obsessive Spine Race bore to falling into a deep depression . You should warn your nearest and dearest that you will be changed by this race.
           The term Post   Traumatic Spine Disorder has been used sometimes as an amusing term.
           POST TRAUMITIC STRESS DISORDER is  not amusing it is a real condition experienced by soldiers and others exposed to extreme stress. It is also a spectrum disorder (you can suffer it to different degrees). It is possible that some spine finishers will be somewhere on that spectrum for a while.
            Don,t plan on getting back to work too soon after the race.

       Note: I Know very little about Endocrinology  but would love to know more .   If anyone wants to investigate : The Hormonal effects of extreme distance races  then The Spine with it,s continual ticking clock would probably throw up some interesting data for a Phd . 

       I would welcome any feedback from Medics  so I can edit out any mistakes I have made in this blog. 






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