I understand a ten-kilometre road race. I'm not necessarily good at it compared to other distances and terrains. But the strategy, in my mind, is clear and easy to execute: I run myself into position over the first third of the race, I hold on to that position over the second third, and I attack the person in front of me over the last third.
But that doesn't work for me for a 10000m on the track.
It's the same distance. Technically, it should be easier - little, tiny, flat laps with a perfect surface, no camber, lots of opportunities to gauge your pace and rivals always within sight.
But it's not easier. For me, at least.
Somehow removing all those external challenges turns the 10000m into a very personal, internal battle. All the constant reminders about pace, distance and time turn it from a race against rivals into a battle with my id.
My id doesn't like ceding any psychological advantage to me. I keep my foot on top of it for the first third of the race. But somewhere in that second third it wriggles free and starts asking questions. Some are existential but most are mathematical:
- Is this lap 12 or 11?
- Are you sure?
- Perhaps you better go back and check the lap counter?
- Will anyone know if you claim it was 12 laps but it's only 11?
- Because 25 laps is so many and they are all so short it wouldn't really matter if you took one easy would it?
- Is this lap 12 or 11?
- Have I asked that already?
- If I can't remember the answer since the last time I asked that must mean several more laps have passed?
- Does it feel like we are going faster or slower than the previous lap? I think faster.
- What do you think the lions at the next door zoo think about track and field?
- Shouldn't we slow down and save energy in case a lion escapes and we need to run away?
- Is this lap 12 or ... oh look, it's lap 10.
A few years ago I made it my mission to address this mental block. I was going to run one great 10000m race. With Rees Buck's guidance I did weeks and weeks of 8 x 1000m around Newtown Park. I tempoed around the South Coast. I talked up a storm. I recruited a posse to guide me around. I glided through those first few kilometres. And then my id stepped onto the track. And the maths started. And the laps slowed.
I still have never mastered the 10000m.
But it is an event I love and hate in equal measures.
As a spectator I love-hate the 10000m.
I love-hate the fury of watching it on television only twice every four years - the women's and men's Olympic finals - and despite its rarity, knowing that at least a third of the race's coverage will be sacrificed to cut-aways to the discus or triple-jump.
I love-hate watching great performances live at Newtown Park from across the other side of the track because good races are so rare that you have to run in them rather than watch them.
Mostly, I love-hate watching other people's lonely battles with their ids.
By Stephen Day
Photo credit: stephenrwalli at Flickr