Besides the level of skill and speed at which things happen, the level of self-control these athletes display is admirable and impressive.
While it’s unlikely you’ll ever run as fast as Eliud Kipchoge or swim, bike and run with the power of Javier Gomez, it’s not impossible to execute your races with the same level of self-control as these masters.
Since becoming a coach, teaching self-control has become an important consideration when developing and delivering Coached training programmes.
These things help to develop self-control and accountability.
Execution, Not Fitness
It’s easy to think that an excellent race performance is as simple as fitness and skill, but it’s not quite that straightforward.
Having a high level of fitness and skill obviously predispose you to a good result, but I have seen many fit, and skilled athletes perform at a level far below that of which they’re physically capable (myself included).
Because they lack the necessary self-control to execute in a manner that maximises their fitness and produces the best result.
To illustrate this lack of self-control, let’s take a look at some race splits from this years London Marathon.
Riana is a runner we coach and the strategy we wanted her to run was an even split. An even split means she was to run a consistent pace for the duration of the race.
As you can see in the chart below, Riana did a pretty good job controlling her effort. Her 5km split times and pace were relatively consistent throughout the marathon.
Despite not increasing her pace, Riana was able to pass over 3,800 runners in the second half of the race while only being overtaken by 183.
How can this be?
I estimate that most runners ran with a lack of self-control, started too fast and blew up.
It’s easy to do!
The Dangers Of Starting Too Fast
When you start too fast, you set off a chain reaction of events that work to slow you down over time.
- You sweat more, losing more significant amounts of sodium
- Muscle fatigue is accelerated
- Lactate accumulation surges
- Glycogen depletion is accelerated
- Motivation decreases
The last point is subjective, but in my experience, motivation tends to decrease at an increased rate when you’re incredibly fatigued, and athletes are consistently overtaking you.
On the flip side, if you’re fatigued but passing people (which is what happens when you execute with self-control), motivation remains high, and a positive state of mind follows.
Self-Control Is A Skill
As you can see, self-control goes a long way towards maximising your fitness and race result.
To end, here are a few examples of things that you can do to practice the self-control skills that will benefit you in your training and racing.
1. Don’t Let Others Dictate Your Session
The next time you’re out training with your buddies, and they’re beginning to push the pace or want to go longer, practise self-control by sticking to your planned intensity and duration.
2. Practise Drills
Drills are skills-based exercises that look silly and seem pointless to many endurance athletes. Practice drills regularly and without rushing them and you’ll hone your self-control muscle.
3. Participate In Secondary Races
Secondary races are races that are not your key event. Enter these races and use them to practice racing at a pre-planned effort/pace (even if significantly slower than your goal race pace). Don’t deviate!
4. Eat For Fuel, Not Entertainment
The next time you feel like that bowl of ice-cream, choose something more nourishing or walk away.
5. Turn Off Netflix
The next time you feel like watching another episode of your favourite show when you know you should be going to sleep, turn off the TV and go to bed instead.
There are thousands of ways to practise self-control. You train self-control any time you don’t want to do something but do it anyway. Remember, you should always be acting in service to your future self.
Over time it gets easier, you’ll get better at it, and it will translate into your race execution.