Push yourself harder than ever before, says Steve Trew, and you may find you have ‘sisu’.
We used to call him “God”. We being the middle-distance squad of Enfield Harriers in the early 1970s, and God being one of our group; let’s call him “Alan”. Alan had won a national title over 800m at 18, and had then gone on to study sports. He’d won that title against faster runners by refusing to acknowledge they were faster than him, and refusing to give up. I was the one who asked the squad the stupid question, “Why do you all call him God?”
God had only recently started back training with us. I’d heard about him, but hadn’t met him. “You’ll see, you’ll see,” they all said, nodding their heads.
Then we started the session, a classic middle-distance interval session: 12x400m with a 200m recovery jog; target time of 58 seconds per rep. The first rep went smoothly, the second rep was good, but in the third one God spoke: “Just going to put my tracksuit bottoms on guys, I’m getting a little bit cold at this speed.”
And that was it. God had effectively established his superiority over us with that single statement.
Keep on pushing
My second tale comes from Loughborough in the early 1960s. Robbie Brightwell, John Cooper, Adrian Metcalfe, Tim Graham, John Sherwood and Stuart Storey were the foundation of the Great Britain 4x400m team for the Tokyo Olympics. They trained, ate and lived together.
It’s another 400m interval session, with ten reps this time, but faster at 52 seconds. We get to the last rep, and a voice pipes up: “I think I might do a couple more.” The response from all was, “Yeah, let’s do that!” Then, after the twelth, “A couple more?” And so it goes on: ten becomes 12 becomes 14 becomes 20. The result? A silver medal in the 1964 Olympic Games.
Sheer determination is not limited to terra firma though. Our third tale concerns a female Welsh International swimmer, whose discipline is the 400m individual medley. At a 6am training session, she swims a main set of 10x400m individual medley off of 5 minutes 30 seconds. It’s one of those sessions that didn’t feel too good, so she just gets through it. Or so she thinks. “You can’t just drift through, it’s got to be every single session!” says her coach.
Exit one chastened swimmer. At 10am the same day, she returns to the pool by herself and swims a main set of 10×400 metres individual medley off of 5:30, and hits every rep between seven and 12 seconds faster than the early morning session. She gets out, goes home and doesn’t say anything.
That afternoon, at a two-hour session – the third of the day – she does it all again, but still doesn’t mention anything about the extra session. “Well done, much better than this morning!” says her coach. She still says nothing. The result? Commonwealth final, and she beats her personal best by eight seconds. And that, in swimming, is unheard of.
Guts and determination
I’ll leave you with the big one, Kona 2011. This British female athlete is one of the best in the world: swims in the top pack, comes out in 51 minutes, gets on her bike, puts her head down and proceeds to put minutes and minutes between herself and the rest of the world, riding a blistering 4:44 – over 12 minutes faster than Chrissie, Leanda and Rachel.
She goes into the run and starts to suffer immediately because of a foot injury that she knew would make it nigh-on impossible to finish.
And yet she did it anyway, because there might just have been that miracle on the day and she was prepared to give it a go, despite the pain and the hurt. Because that’s what she does. Because she’s special, because she has ‘sisu’, what the Finns call guts and determination.
As another great Briton and the eventual winner of that race, Chrissie, said at the presentation ceremony, “Your limits may not be where you think they are.”
This article was originally published in Triathlon Plus magazine. Save time and money by having every issue delivered to your door or digital device by subscribing to the print edition or buying digitally through Zinio or Apple Newsstand.
You’ll find loads more blogs from the likes of Steve, Phil Graves and the Triathlon Plus team in triradar.com’s blogs section