What does it take to win?

I am not talking about winning a race where you don’t have much competition or where you are able to win by miles. What does it take to win against the best? This does not only relate to winning but the competition we take part in is about running against somebody or something else (like a time). Otherwise we would all take a slow walk and have a picnic halfway. I should really ask what it takes to bring out our best performance irrespective of whether that is at the front, middle or back of the pack.
This ability to push again and again, to dig, dig deeper and then give that little bit more is not for all but is amazing to watch when it does happen.
The great athletic battle that comes to mind immediately is: Dave Scott and Mark Allen in the 1989 Hawaii Iron Man. The two men did battle for 8h but when you look at where the race is won it really came down to one strategic move. Probably only a split second where Mark could hold on for longer than Dave. That second is where history is made.

When we go race we have no way of telling where that point is in a race. One guarantee I can give is that you will be really tired already and be pushing to your max. You will not think that you can push harder than you are but then suddenly you are faced with a challenge: Do you go in all the way or pull out of this hand because the going is too hot? I have only glimpsed that situation a couple of times and I certainly can’t claim any expertise but I recon that the ability to go on and be bold can be trained. I hope it is!

Now watch this clip from 1997 where Sian Welch & Wendy Ingraham both have to really dig deep just to finish. Yes it is also from an Iron Man event. (Until we get better TV coverage for trail races I will have to stick with these ;))

Ultimately the winner of this battle for 4th comes down to the woman who is able to think the situation through a little bit more and come up with a solution which is plan B. I am sure that nobody wants to finish an event on their hands and knees but this is what it took.

Paula Newby Frazer hit the wall in spectacular fashion 1995. It took her 20 min of lying on the road to be able to regain her energy enough so that she could continue and finish. The guts for this performance is amazing. She knew that once she accepted any medical assistance she would be disqualified.

Now look at this footage from the Chicago Marathon recently with The Science of Sport comments here. Sammy Wanjiru pushes again and again trying to get a gap. He is able to keep the pressure on and keep Tsegay Kebede guising as to when the next attack will happen.

So what has this got to do with trail? I don’t know of a trail race which has gone down to the wire in the same way but it will happen. Every time we race we do want to do our best. I hope that these inspire for us to dig deep next time we are asked whether we are in or not.

Hope you are all inspired!

4 thoughts on “What does it take to win?

  1. That is a good question, and when it comes to trail racing that is a diferent question altogether. You see most of the races you have talked about are flat and easy under foot.In trail running you have people how are good at climbing and some are good at decending, some people love the rocky twisty underfoot, while others make up time on the flatter gravel roads. So many races are a yo-yo as the top guys (or ladies) try and get their race right. If you have run to hard to your strenths you might not have enough to keep ahead on the other sections. So a trail race isn't won over the final km, but on how you run to your strenths and how you recover.

  2. I agree that trail running is different. However I would argue and say that trail running is still in its infancy and rather than looking at runner's specific strengths we should look at their weekneses. These can be addressed and improved. Once our sport and athletes have matured I think the action could be a lot closer would you not agree?

  3. You’re talking about a very interesting topic know as the “central governor theory” proposed by Tim Noakes about 10 years ago and originally researched in the 1920’s. The arguments surrounding this subject are very interesting and complex: can we over-ride our central governor? and/or can we train our central governor? Ross Tucker also writes about this in his outstanding book “The Runner’s Body”

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