Getting Back on my Feet

Paula Radcliffe

Do you remember when Paula Radcliffe dropped out of the Olympic marathon in Greece?

5,000 M Final Atlanta 1996

5,000 M Final Atlanta 1996

Or when our own Sonia O`Sullivan crashed out of the 5,000 m final in the Atlanta Olympics?

Maybe you`ve your own favourite failure moments. Those critical points in a sporting hero or heroine`s careers when they`ve crashed in full view of the whole world. And, of course, in front of the world`s media.

How on earth do they bounce back from it all?

I thought of Sonia and Paula as a trotted along the beach last Monday. Fresh from my DNF half marathon (Yes, I  Did Not Finish), the failure hit me like a sucker punch and I could barely breathe, never mind run.

Sure, a laugh out loud moment. I am, after all, not even a neighbourhood class athlete, never mind a world class one. And my failure to finish the race last Saturday amounted to me peeling away unnoticed from the two hour paced group.

There were no eager paparazzi jostling to get my pic. No British tourists ready to hoike me to my feet. No carefully worded press release on my condition.

But, by Monday, the gremlins were chewing away at my resolve. My mind was a jumble of thoughts. And none of them were good.

A woman at your age running. Ridiculous!

You`re not going to get any faster you know.

This is just a waste of time.

Wouldn`t it be much nicer to walk instead?

Can you imagine how much harder it would be if every naysayer in the world`s media were adding their opinions to that lot?

I didn`t have such big failure questions to answer, thankfully. And this week I am searching for ways to leave the failure behind.

So far, I`ve done some training every day. Left the Garmin behind. And either ran or cycled. Cross training has to be part of things for now because the back niggle is still at play.

It helps hugely of course that I am not an elite athlete. I won`t even merit a mention in the athletics pages of the local newspaper.Even my kids, who were initially mortified by athletic antics, don`t pay a blind bit of notice  anymore.

So, I don`t have to bear the brunt of anyone`s expectations of me.

I suspect Sonia, Paula et al, had the services of a sports psychologist to help them deal with the stress and the failure.  Psychology must be half the battle when it comes to training athletes. Keeping the confidence up. Keeping them focused on what they can do. Steeling them for the battles ahead.

As I struggled to run on the beach last Monday, I passed a local gaelic football team. A grand big bunch of young lads, their training session was headed up by a middle aged and cranky coach. (And no, those two qualities are not synonymous.)

He was giving them a pep talk.

Maybe he got a little louder for my benefit. I cannot be sure. But I suspect in his whatever coach training he had undertaken, he had skipped the  module on sports` psychology.

“Ah c`mon lad, for f****sakes, yiz were f**kin no good at all. C`mon, we`ve a big f**kin match on f**kin Saturday and dem Grove lad are f**kin ready to give yiz all f**kin hell. Yizzar f**kin no good at all, lads. Look at ye, runnin around like a bunch of f**kin old wimmin.F**kin useless. Now, c`mon lads”

There was a look of gloom and despondency on the lads` faces.I doubt they felt either motivated or confident after that.

Since a lot of running is all in the head, I would reckon that psychology is an essential part of a coach`s skill set. And that insulting words can undermine the positive effects of good physical training.

I ran on, thankful that I only have to deal with my own inner critic.

It`s going to take a little while to quieten than inner critic down. It`s going to take a lot of self talk and a lot of really enjoyable runs to get me back on track.

I have no idea whether I can do that or not. But I`m going to have fun trying.

This evening`s run was the best by far since last Saturday`s failed half marathon. Three miles, and most of them with Teen Girl, who actually begged to come along.

The back niggle mysteriously vanished, and I almost got speedy at one particular point. So  much so, that middle aged me disappeared and I became a Masai warrior charging across the African plains. And then, just as swiftly, I morphed into Sonia clipping along the inside lane, head and shoulders above the pack. Then, another guise, this time as Paula, head bobbing and wrapped in cool specs, great abs, great focus and wow! the speed! Watch her go!

It`s a pity everyone else only saw a Red Hen clucking and panting as she shuffled along the roadside verge. A middle aged, spectacularly slow shuffle at that.

If only they could see what goes on in her head….

Paula Radcliffe image from The Daily Mail online

Sonia O`Sullivan image from Sports Illustrated

36 thoughts on “Getting Back on my Feet

  1. I admire you! Your courage… the will to continue! I hope there is another half on offer soon so you can pass by this disappointment with verve!

    I think you’re mad to even run but then, I wish I could have a long walk these days but the pain doesn’t seem to go away so I do feel for you!

    Keep going… maybe you running past that bunch of lads inspired a few of them to keep going as well!!

    PS – That banner pic is superb!!

    • You know, I`m not all that worried about another half. I think, no matter who we are, or where our passion lies, the important thing is to give it your all regardless of the naysayers. And know, that the biggest naysayer is often oneself!
      Thank you for the banner compliment. I`m not at all sure about it from a photographer`s perspective but it has all the things that I love-colour, history and moving forward.

  2. Keep running. Even my ultra runner friend has his downs and he always gets up again. You can do it! Yes and tell the shoulder gremlin to feck off!

    • Yes, lovely comments, and I really appreciate people taking the time to chip in and support. Not looking for sympathy though, failure is part of learning and I`ve learnt a lot from this one.

  3. I wept buckets when Paula had to stop, it just hit me somewhere deep inside, I took it way too personally.
    Do please tell your inner critic to feck off from me, I spend the whole day arguing with mine and they are such a pain. If they would all go on holiday together to somewhere dull for a month, life would be much better.
    The fact that you have got out there already and that you haven’t burnt your trainers is a good thing ;), just keep going and going and going; and look at the flowers on the way.xx

    • Haha! I`ll remember that feck off comment when I most need it. And you`re right, a holiday for the whole damn lot of them would be a terrific idea! Preferably some desert island out in the mid Atlantic where they could be forgotten forever!
      I love those runs when I get a good look around. Time for more photoruns, maybe!

  4. Gotta love the football coach – maybe you should hire him for a personal session or two. ‘Yiz are f****ng useless, come on Red Hin! My first two marathons I DNF’d really badly – boy did I feel good when I nailed it at the third attempt! It’s important to remember the reason you’re running and I guess, like me, it’s not to impress others but to do it for yourself. I’d say, once normal weather resumes, you’ll be fine.

    • Haha! I think you`ve heard that same football coach before! Hey, well done on that marathon. Didn`t know you`d ventured that far though I know, of course, you know more about running than most. So I value your opinion, your encouragement and your advice. Thank you!

  5. There is only one way to rebound. Getting out there and doing it again. And then maybe you fail and do it again. And again. And you have taken the first step. You go girl.

    • Thank you for your encouraging comment. Yes, failure again is a strong possibility. The good thing is that it`s summer here -and properly decent warm summer-so there`s every reason to at least get out there.

  6. Well everyone before me has said it all and far better than I could. I remember once reading that we would never talk to anyone how we talk to ourselves, how true! Glad you back out there redhen, keep on clucking.

    • Interesting comment re how we talk to ourselves. I hadn`t thought of that before. Never noticed how loud the negative voice was either until I started running.

  7. You have hit it on the head. It is all in your mind. Focus on your achievements, not one race. Why do you run? Does it matter what everyone else thinks? You are an adult who made a sensible desicion. You sacrificed one race to keep healthy. How bad is that?

  8. Yay! You’ve laced up those shoes and are out there running. You are a star! Don’t stop doing something you want to do because of one little hiccup. Think about all your successes. Absolutely loved your post. Your fellow runners see the ‘Paula’ in you!!!

  9. I think the first step to getting past it psychologically is to stop using the word ‘failure’, it’s such a demoralising word! Your body told you to stop running so that you didn’t cause it further damage, and you listened, that’s not failure. I sound like I’m being really bossy don’t I, hehe, don’t mean to me, it was just that word really stood out every time you used it.

    I remember when Paula Radcliffe dropped out, and some people were saying that she had let the country down and things like that; people are SO horrible, I couldn’t believe they were saying that as if she’d just dropped out on a whim because she couldn’t be bothered to carry on or something!

    Good luck, keep at it 🙂

    • Thank you for your kind comment, and no, you`re not being bossy at all-just giving honest feedback, which I really appreciate.
      I`m all for reality checks though-and that`s the value of my inner critic. Failure isn`t a bad word. It is what it is. I failed to finish. My reasons were good but I still failed to finish anyway.
      Maybe with anything in life, it`s important to acknowledge, and to feel, the failure. To listen carefully to the lessons within it. And then, to move on.
      I don`t know how famous people deal with all the criticism levelled at them. Luckily for me though, it`s unlikely to be a problem! I only have my own inner critic to contend with.

  10. I’m sorry to hear about this. I hope you can find your way through it quickly. For what it’s worth, I think it’s something most runners experience at some time or another – elite or not – and regardless of how hard that day was, you’re still a runner!

    • Those crisis in confidence really must be so difficult at the elite level. I hope they`ve all the sports` psychology in the world to help them deal with them.
      Thank you for your kind words!

  11. The Paulas and Sonias who may have sports psychologists and other pros helping them back on track are no less human than those of us who wing it with It self-motivation when a crushing defeat occurs. It sounds like you are on your way back.

    • I agree. I can only begin to imagine how those elite people deal with defeat, especially when it`s piled on with other people`s opinions and criticisms. They`re real heroes.

  12. Neighborhood class athlete–I think that’s brilliant, and that’s what I’m going to aim for, to be a neighborhood class athlete!

    inner critics suck. but one thing my inner critic has led me to see–everyone else out there plodding along (whether at running, or work, or painting, or whatever), inside, we’ve all got that vision of glorious-ness (is that even a word?) counter-acting that inner critic, and that keeps us plodding along…against all odds.

    great post.

    • Thank you for your kind compliments, Paige.

      And you are spot on about dreams of glory- I regularly think of the beach scene in “Chariots of Fire” as I`m plodding along. I can run with that music in my head while running in slow motion along the beach. I`m very good at the slow mo part, actually…

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