A lightbulb went off when a few years ago I read the book “Mindset: The new psychology of Success” by Stanford Psychologist Carol S. Dweck. This was one of the first audiobooks I listened to while on the run, and I remember thinking to myself “This makes so much sense… I got it all wrong! But I still have so much time to change!"
The book discusses the difference between a "fixed mindset" and a "growth mindset”.
The fixed mindset is the belief we are born with talents and qualities which are fixed and immutable. On the opposite, the growth mindset is the belief that, through practice, effort and shift in perspective, we can grow to our true unknown potential.
Don’t be fooled by reading my oversimplification and interpretation of the growth mindset.
While the concept may seem simple and obvious, the implications are enormous. Dr Dweck and her team spent years researching, studying and testing the growth mindset and system. They applied it to young students in different schools, with amazing results.
The book has particular relevance to coaches, leaders, teachers and parents, but I feel it has a place in this blog as it can be applied to running. It can be interpreted in the context of training and racing, and constant improvement of our skills.
My three major insights from the book were:
Qualities are like muscles, we can strengthen them.
It seems plausible to me that, Usain Bolt and Kouros Yiannis, possess some special genetic combinations which give them innate advantage over the rest of us. But I am sure that when they were kids or starting out, these supreme qualities were not that obvious but they cemented through a lifetime of dedication and training.
There are plenty of example of people transforming from overweight and badly out of shape smokers, to elite athletes.
We have not been served with a hand of cards when we were born and that’s it.
Our qualities are not fixed, they can grow and can always be strengthened like a muscle. Our potential is unknown until we tap into it. If we allowed ourselves to try. And it all starts from believing we can improve.
To paraphrase Tony Robbins, “we overestimate what we can achieve in a year, but we underestimate what we can achieve in three to five years”.
Focus on effort over achievement or outcome.
As a result of the previous point, a “growth mindset” is focused on the effort we put in what we do.
If qualities and talents are not fixed at birth, we can stop trying to validate them through achievements only, but instead, we can cultivate them (through effort). This is extremely powerful as when we focus only on achievement, we tend to remain stuck to what we know and what we are good at. When we focus on effort, we open up to the opportunity of taking risks, accepting failures and grow. We can take on challenges, races, training sessions and define our success based on the effort we put in (I gave it all I have, I worked hard for months, etc.), rather than just the outcome (I won the race, I got the time I was after, etc..).
I find this liberating. If throughout my training and a race I give my truly whole self, I can be satisfied. And I can always put 100% effort into what I do.
The conversation we have with ourselves and others is important
To quote Dr Dweck from her Ted Talk:
“I heard about a high school in Chicago where students had to pass a certain number of courses to graduate, and if they didn't pass a course, they got the grade “Not Yet.” And I thought that was fantastic, because if you get a failing grade, you think, I'm nothing, I'm nowhere. But if you get the grade “Not Yet” you understand that you're on a learning curve. It gives you a path into the future."
"I am not that fast, yet”. “I have not reached my PB, yet”.
When we truly mean the yet at the end of the sentence, it changes its meaning and impact. It leaves space for growth and moving forward.
We all have certain aspects in our lives for which we naturally have a fixed-mindset and others for which we have a growth mindset. I know I sound like a broken record but changing mindset requires practice and faith in ourselves.
The book is really powerful and contains several methods on how to practice growth-mindset.
I would encourage you to read or listen to this book. In fact, I have it back on my Audible list, ready for my next long run!
The inaugural 5in5 challenge couldn’t have gone any better. Colin succeeded in running 5 marathons in 5 days, in very difficult weather conditions, inspiring friends and fellow runners, stepping up the game and setting the bar high for anyone coming after him.
And it did it all by himself.
In an ironic turn of events, five days before the start of the #5in5, I turned the corner in my kitchen and my little toe got caught up with the kitchen bench, snapping in two. While I have to laugh for my first fracture coming from something stupid like turning a corner, rather than from a legendary fall from a mountain peak, it was soul destroying at the time. After 18 weeks coaching Colin, I was looking forward to finally celebrate by running the 5 marathons alongside him and keep my end of the deal - to support him no matter what.
It took me three days and the advice of 4 different physiotherapists, to decide to cycle next to Colin instead of running. When I finally summed up the courage to tell him, his reaction was a shock and a realisation that, maybe, it was meant to be like that.
“It is ok” - Colin replied - “I can do this. You have trained me to do this. Since the beginning, you insisted I should be able to turn up any day of the week, anywhere, in any condition and run a marathon.. or five in five days! I now know I can”.
Pretty powerful statement. He took full ownership of the challenge and my work was done.
As running five marathons in five days was not enough of a challenge, for the first four marathons, the weather in Sydney was extremely hot (high of 34) and the last run in Canberra was totally the opposite, cold and wet.
The courses were designed to keep Colin engaged and to be hard enough for them to be a challenge :)
I am sure Colin will put together the chronicles of the 5 days; as his coach and partner in this journey, what stood up and inspired me, was the confidence, clarity of mind and total commitment. He embraced the #5in5 challenge and was 100% invested in the vision and in his own WHY it was important to do.
There was no space for second thoughts, double guessing or self pity.
It is fair to say the personality traits propelling him forward during those 5 days were very different from when he started the training 18 weeks prior.
Colin and I discussed about this at length. During the 18 weeks, there were few key moments when he either realised his resilience and strength or made the conscious decision to trust the #5in5 process, to brake through his mental barriers and change his perspective.
For me as his coach, this inaugural 5in5 was a great learning experience. Everyone is motivated by different things and triggers by different events. What works for me, doesn’t work for others so I had to understand, adapt and find the right way to work together while getting the message through. I am proud I could provide the guidance and structure for the training, nutrition, logistics and most importantly, on the mindset. The 18 weeks were not without some dramas and confrontations but it was all part, and possibly, the best part of it. We both grew and became very good friends as result of the experience.
I am extremely proud of Colin’s achievement and I was certainly the second most excited person in Canberra when he crossed the finish line of his last marathon.
I can’t wait to start the new #5in5 intake for another amazing journey and meeting more amazing people.
Why go long when you can go ultra-long?
When I signed up for the Sydney Marathon I was thinking to go for a fast time. Then, after running the City to Surf way faster than what my body was ready for, I changed my mind.
It's not that I don't enjoy running on the red-line of my abilities, but I find going fast is not my true calling. It doesn't serve me any good. I get tight and pick up little niggles which ultimately put me at risk of injury and, God forbids, could side line me for a while.
I worked out I could commute to the start line from home, adding around 20km to the marathon. That would make it a solid long training run before my all nighter birthday run in 3 weeks. And for once, I could actually run with others, and use other runners and road closures to keep up motivation, focus and pace.
I left home at 5:30AM and I was at the start line 5 minutes before the gun went off, just in time to say hi to Guy and Steven both aiming for a sub 3 hours.
The first 15km turned out to be quite hard physically and mentally. I was moving well but felt out of focus, the plantar of my right foot was giving me grief and I was thinking "This was not a good idea! I am only 15km in and feeling so tired already!". Then I reasoned that this was nothing more than the "35km wall" and I should get more nutrition in and push through, things would brighten up. I ate my protein ball with two mouthful of Ensure Plus from my handheld bottle.
As we made our way up to Centennial Park, the 3 hour 15 minutes wagon was on my tail, 50 meter behind. Bang on where I wanted to be. After what felt like 100 turns in the park, I crossed path with the leading pack travelling in the opposite direction, and I was really happy to see Gary Mullins and Andy Heyden running really strong with a smile on their face.
Along the course, spectators and friends cheered runners on and that makes such a tremendous difference. As I was exiting Centennial Park, Neil joined in and we ran and chat all the way back down along Oxford Street when I reached the marathon distance on my watch in about 3 hours and 11 minutes. Sweet.
I stopped at the next water station to fill up my hand held bottle and have some electrolyte. My previous attempt drinking from the plastic glass on the run had been a disaster, so what the hell.. I took my time to stop and actually drink instead of splashing it everywhere. There must be a better way for this.
The day started to warm up and so did my legs. My pace started to increase without any conscious effort on my side and I started to overtake other runners.
About 100 turns later (seriously windy course..), through the city and out to Pyrmont, I hit 50km on the watch and 30km on the course. I felt really good now. No more plantar pain, legs nice and loose, go figure!
The way back via Barangaroo was so familiar I almost felt like it was one of HuRTS sessions. I spent the last couple of kms preparing for the final stretch via Circular Quay and on the lookout for Lidia with the kids, I was hoping to run the last 50 meters with Lorenzo and Allegra.
They were nowhere to be seen so I ran straight to the finish chute and here they were! waiting for me with a huge smile! What a great feeling to have them all there.
I ended up running 60km (Strava says 62km?) with a 3 minutes negative split.
My official marathon time being 3:08.
After a brief rest at the recovery area eating 2 bananas and 2 apples in 2 minutes flat, we went straight to lunch at friends' house.
A long run, delicious food and good wine with family and friends. I couldn't have had a better day!
Funny enough, the pain on my plantar and other niggles have completely gone.
This is not the first time it happens to me. I reckon a long run stretches my plantar and all other muscles maybe stimulating my body to kick in and start to repairing it. Go figure!