Losers make excuses, winners make it happen.
On Sunday 10 March, just 13 weeks after completing my first ever half marathon, I finished my second 21km race in less than two hours. The main aim of the first race was simply for me to stay the course, to make it round even if I had to crawl over the finishing-line. The goal for the second was to break the two-hour barrier, something I did with several minutes to spare.
It was important for me to set a very specific target for my second run, and it had to be an improvement on just staying the distance. From the outset I told myself, and everybody around me, that I had to get round in a specific time. That was the thing I focused upon, that was my motivation for getting out and training, and the main reason I achieved my goal.
Planning and setting specific goals and targets is essential for anybody who wants to succeed. For me it is not good enough just aspiring to be fitter, losing weight or eating a better diet, I have to rewrite my goals everyday in order to remain focused and committed to what I am trying to achieve. This is something I was taught by motivational speaker and author Brian Tracy – writing your goals down makes them real in a physical sense.
Looking back over the weeks of training I did for my second half marathon I saw that I had written down: “I completed my half marathon in less than two hours on March 10, 2013” more than 50 times. I even wrote the message to myself just before the race, and by telling myself I had already won, I managed to remain focused. All I then had to do was go through with it physically – something that is so much easier if the mental process has already been taken care of.
I would advise anyone who is perhaps struggling to stay focused on what they want to accomplish to begin every new day by using a pen and paper to jot down their objectives, even if the goals are the same as the day before, as this helps to constantly reaffirm what needs to be achieved. And these goals can be both short- and long-term.
I will continue to do this, not just so I can keep up my training schedule, but so that I can keep other goals in my life in focus. This method has now helped me to safely run two half marathons in three months and I intend to keep adding to these goals and making them more ambitious, while making sure I have a proper plan to achieve them.
Jotting down an objective on a piece of paper is a start, but turning that ambition into reality requires planning and ignoring the temptation to make excuses for ourselves. We are all tempted to take short-cuts in life in order to more easily get what we want, but it is only by disciplining ourselves that we can realise our long-term goals. As the late American entrepreneur and personal achievement philosopher Jim Rohn said: “Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment.”
However, even with the most careful planning, we must not forget that life still has the ability to throw out the odd surprise or two. The half marathon took place in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, a place I visited 13 years ago. I arrived on the day of the race and was surprised that the peaceful beach village I remembered was actually surrounded by steep hills. Although I hadn’t expected a completely flat course, my heart started racing. I had been training on the level streets of Ho Chi Minh City where I had carefully worked out I could manage each kilometre in just under 5 minutes and 40 seconds. This would bring me over the finishing line in just less than two hours. But how was I going to manage this over hilly terrain!?
The problem was almost solved for me because in my panic I lost my race tag. Without this I would be disqualified and my dream would be over. I rushed to the registration office, and to my relief the organisers agreed to issue me with a replacement. I was also extremely tired because I had only managed to get a couple of hours sleep the night before when the advice before a race like this is to get at least eight. So I arrived at the start line stressed, tired and nervous. The race was also delayed by 15 minutes, and each of those minutes felt like a lifetime.
At 6.15am the gun was fired, and we were off. I gained some confidence after finishing the first kilometre in just five minutes and was pleased that I managed to find my stride over the next few. However the hilly terrain quickly began to wear me down and I have to admit there were a few times when I wanted to just give up. Kilometre number 14 was my slowest. With a third of the race still to complete my time over 1,000 metres slipped to six minutes leaving me doubtful that I would be able to keep the pace I needed to finish in less than two hours.
I dug in and fought on eventually making it over the line in 56 minutes and 33 seconds, well under my target!
I have wondered how I was able to achieve my goal when everything looked like it was never going to happen before and during the race. I think the answer is that it was down to the fact that I had been telling myself for weeks that failing was not an option. I could have used the unexpected hills an excuse to give up at any point, but I have taught myself to be far more disciplined than I once was, and that sort of excuse is no longer acceptable to me.
I now understand Jacqueline Gareau, Boston Marathon champion, who once said: “The body does not want you to do this. As you run, it tells you to stop but the mind must be
strong. You always go too far for your body. You must handle the pain with strategy…It is not age; it is not diet. It is the will to succeed.”
That is not to say that I have not benefitted immensely from working with some top trainers, attending running clinics, consulting doctors and nutritionists and getting in contact with other marathon runners. I have also been lucky enough to take advantage of the latest technology. I cannot recommend the running app Endomondo Sports Tracker highly enough!
My next big physical challenge will be the Oland marathon in my home country of Sweden. In November last year I added running a full marathon to my list of goals before I turn 40. However, my fitness level has increased quicker than I ever could have expected, so I have decided to go for it in July. I know the distance will be hard on me, especially my feet and knees, and I know that I still need to lose some weight. As writer and runner Hal Higdon puts it: “The difference between the mile and the marathon is the difference between burning your fingers with a match and being slowly roasted over hot coals.”
As those who have read my previous blogs will know, I was informed after twice rupturing my Achilles tendon that I would never be able to run again. Since the day I was told this by a doctor I have made it my goal to complete a full marathon. I am sure that when I am 30km into the Oland race in a few months time I will want to give up, I will want to find an excuse to throw in the towel. But the only thing I will regret is if I do not try. When I am 80-years-old I want to look back at my life and say I crossed that 42 kilometre line and remember it as one of the greatest physical achievements of my life.
Finally I would like to say thank you to my lovely wife Sofi and son Percy for all their patience and understanding while I have been at the gym or out running rather than spending time at home with them. Thanks to Nutrifort Gym for the fitness services, and especially to my personal trainers Stephane and Greg, and to Phil for his great nutritional advice. Also a huge thanks to Matt and Ulrik my running buddies. You always pushed me when I was on the verge of giving up, and I hope you don’t mind that I pushed you back!