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Be Prepared. What's your plan B? 

Published on Tuesday 16th February 2021

Sam from Hill Performance has put together a blog for us here at Maverick Race all about having a different plan for if you aren’t able to race. He talks through setting different goals besides those of crossing the finish line at Race X, Y & Z. Instead of feeling frustrated about the lack of races right now, how about using the time now to set some personal challenges and goals? Have a read to hear what Sam recommends and how he keeps himself motivated to run big with a lack of races going on. 

 

I have always enjoyed racing but for me, it has never been what inspires me to run. I know that might put me as a bit of an outlier in the running world but after years of experimenting, I have found what brings me the most joy - and it tends to involve going out for long days in the mountains, often with friends, and seeing how far I can push myself - against myself. Times are important but what I personally find more important is the feeling I get when I know I have given absolutely everything to a run. When the preparation has all come together and on that one day, doing whatever arbitrary challenge I have set myself, I feel completely in control and focused on pushing as hard as I can. I guess the cliches would be "in the zone" or "in a flow state". Whatever it is, it feels ace! 

So, as the world changed over the past 12 months and races started to cancel, I am not sure I felt quite the same frustration that many others felt. I had a smattering of races in the calendar, with the Madeira Sky Race and the UTMR being the highlights. It was a shame to let go of these events but I was invested in those races not because of the actual race but because of the places they would take me to. As it was, I found it easy enough to reframe and refocus my goals towards something that I knew I would be able to do, regardless of what was happening in the world. 

For me, that was taking a punt at one of the UK's 'Big Rounds', The Paddy Buckley in North Wales. Even with the ever-changing Covid-19 regulations, I knew that there would be a window of time somewhere in 2020 when I could pop out for a big day in the hills. It had been on my tick list for a while and fortunately, currently being based in Snowdonia, it stayed within all of the 'stay local' guidelines. The benefit of having a goal that is simply reliant on your own fitness, training and psyche is that not a lot can stop you from doing it. 

Now, I am not saying that we should all forget about races. Things are starting to look a bit brighter and I am keeping everything crossed that we can race again this year, but I am advising the runners that I work with to think about some alternative goals that don't rely on races going ahead. We saw an amazing year of record-breaking running outside of races last year and it just goes to show that if you can refocus quickly and have a 'plan B' that motivates you, big things can happen! What we don't want to happen is to have trained hard for a race and then for whatever reason it is cancelled and we are left with nothing (or something uninspiring) to do whilst we are at peak fitness. 

The thing with goals is that you need to be invested in them. That's easy when it is a race, especially a well-known race. Firstly, you have paid for it, so you have already made a bit of a subconscious contract with your self to show up. Secondly, other people understand what you are talking about when you say "I am going to do the UTMB" for example. Also, you have probably chosen that race because it looks really cool, it's in a place you want to run or you know someone that has recommended it. Races bring kudos, medals and a unique atmosphere - how could you not be invested in all that? 

When choosing non-race goals how do you find something that is going to get you inspired and motivated, and if your race cancels, something that you will be proud of doing instead? Here are a few ideas to get you started if you are searching for a challenge that could take the place of a race in your running calendar: 

Keep it local-ish 

Unfortunately, travel is so uncertain at the moment so it is wise to choose challenges that are at least within your own country and it might even be prudent to choose things that are literally on your doorstep. By all means, have ideas for missions further afield but have something up your sleeve in case the world decides to implode any further. 


Go run the race anyway 

There is nothing to stop you from going and running the route of your planned race even if it is cancelled. There are a couple of things to consider: 

  • Sometimes races in more built-up areas have secured permission from landowners to cross certain areas of land where there might not be a public right of way. The best way to check is to either get hold of the race directors and ask or to get hold of a GPX file of the race route and reference that against an Ordnance Survey map. 
  • There won't be any aid stations, so maybe you could rope in your family or friends to be your support crew. 
  • There is no medical/safety support so it is always worth carrying some extra safety equipment or run with a pacer who can carry it for you. 
  • There will be no course marking so you will need to navigate yourself. This can be done with GPS/watches, navigation apps on your phone and a map/compass. If you are not confident with navigation there are plenty of qualified Mountain Leaders that you could hire for a day to help give you the skills. It is best to go and check out the race route in small sections beforehand so you don't have to do too much navigation on "race day". 
  • There won't be any medals at the end so you might have to make yourself one! 


Get inspiration from others 

There are heaps of websites out there that have some great and well established running challenges. Many have their own quirks, rules and traditions. Here are some websites that I use to find challenges that inspire me: 

Well established hiking trails are often a good place to look as you can guarantee access and well-maintained trails. 

Get inventive 

If your goal for 2021 is to run a fast 50km then why not create your own 50km route that is completely unique to you? There are great planning tools on OS maps https://osmaps.ordnancesurvey.co.uk and fatmap.com that can help you map something out. There are some great inventive ideas out there. Everything from the classic 'Strava art' to running 'every single street' in your local area. The benefit of creating something that no one has ever done before is that you instantly have the course record!


Get Advice 

If I see something on Instagram or in a blog about a cool trail or interesting area, I will write to the person directly to get the inside local knowledge. Runners are always really open to sharing data and tips, so don't be afraid to ask. Coaches are also a great resource for advice in this area. I work with all my athletes to find the best goals, races and challenges for them to work towards. 

I hope some of that helps! 

This lack of racing over the past 12 months forced everyone to think about what they value in running. Even if it is not your main focus, I would encourage everyone to explore having a non-race goal this year. Get your friends involved, come up with a cool idea and go have a fun day (or night) on the trails. More than anything, this year has taught me that being outside, being healthy and being with friends and family trumps pretty much everything else - and experience has taught me that bringing people together for informal running challenges is a great way to celebrate all of those things! 

Lastly, I am always keen to talk running so if you have any questions or you are looking for ideas then feel free to get in touch. You can find me on Instagram @hill.performance, on Facebook https://fb.me/Hillperformance.coaching or email me sam@hillperformance.co.uk

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