What Do Comrades Runners and Olympians Have In Common
For many South Africans the focal highlights of the previous period were the 87th Comrades marathon and the announcement of the 112-member Team South Africa to compete at the London Olympic Games in around six weeks.
At first sight these two beacon events may have little in common but with closer consideration, the iconic 90km event can be viewed as the South African populous version of quadrennial games that captivates and inspires the world.
There can be no debate that the athletes need to be at their peak to achieve glory in both events, with Comrades providing the opportunity for the man and woman in the street to experience and partake in the preparation process and regime that is required in seeking their own level of glory.
As with their Olympian brothers and sisters the road, even to the start line, is littered with potential pitfalls: over-training, under-training, unscheduled disruption through work, family and other commitments.
The degree and depth of preparation is often limited by resources, environment and logistics, but the goal is to be at the best possible state of readiness come the competition day.
There is no difference in approach and effort between the two sets of athletes: only the event specifics and the level of external support differs.
As with competitive Comrades runners, the goals of our Olympic team are seeded by a dream: a dream that is born from the very soul and heart of the athletes. It is a dream that constantly pulls the athlete higher faster and further, it’s a dream that take the athlete from the possible towards the improbable and kindles and sustains a desire that is unquenchable.
As the preparation continues confidence increases, fuelling belief and greater desire. It is a spiral that is limited only by our internal thermostat whose level is determined by logic, statistics, history and rationalisation. This is the restriction of ability and conceptualization that holds us to performing to ‘norms;’ to the plausible; to meeting the basic levels of expectation.
But Olympian legends, gold medals and Comrades glory, be it in the top 10, or in simply passing the finish post by the inspired club runner, is not about achieving the ordinary, but about the extra-ordinary, about excelling and achieving what most would be consider improbable.
This is the secret of high performance and the differentiation of success comes from the levels of desire, the ache and yearning of the heart to achieve something special.
This is the motivation that sees each of us pick up speed as we near the finish; it is the fuel that takes us to and through records that have been deemed impossible; to do the things that can’t be done; to excel and reach heights, speeds and distances that haven’t been seen before; it is the proof that it is not the physiology that restricts us but our mind set; our appreciation that the body is governed by a ‘thermostat’ – that our true limit is a massive multiple of our perceived ability – that our body is protected by a failsafe that we will only near with exceptional effort.
It is a level of performance that few achieve or realise but it is something that the 0.025% of South Africans who crossed the start mat in Comrades have experienced and can identify with. It is the threshold that Olympic finalists have to break through and the difference between also ran and legend.
Olympic teams are never short on desire, but members may lack the skills, knowledge or ability of implementation. Given the impact of psychology perhaps its time for South Africa, at the pinnacle of sport, to be augmenting the team and player support with formal sports psychologists who can assist to defuse the anxiety, pressures and doubts that come with the quadrennial games.
Medals are no longer won solely on physiological ability, but by those who can apply their mind in positive, inspirational and a confidence building fashion for the full period of the games.