The athletics commentator believes in giving his best performance.
Colin Jackson: I wasn't great at concentration being a 110m hurdler, 13 seconds didn't call for too much concentration! Now you, as a bronze medallist in 1976 10,000 metres and Head Commentator for the marathon, I presume you know a little bit about concentration?
Brendan Foster: You say you're not good at concentration but you actually were if you think about it, because you did a semi-final, and then a few hours later you would do a final, so your concentration was heavy-duty for the period leading up to your semi-final. Then you had to unwind and relax and get ready again, and then you had to come back and do it once more in the final, so it's a different kind of concentration. I don't agree that you weren't great at concentration because you needed two bursts of control when you were competing.
Long distance running
- 1970 - Bronze medal 1,500m Commonwealth Championships
- 1971 - Bronze medal 1,500m European Championships
- 1972 - 3,000m world record
- 1974 - Gold medal 5,000m European Championships
- 1974 - Silver medal 5,000m Commonwealth Championships
- 1974 - 3,000m world record, Gateshead Stadium
- 1974 - BBC Sports Personality of the Year
- 1976 - Bronze medal 10,000m at the Montreal Olympics
- 1978 - Gold medal 10,000m, Bronze medal 5,000m Commonwealth Championships
- 1976 - Awarded an MBE
The marathon or the 10,000m requires a huge amount of concentration, but it's not the same degree, it's very intense before the race, the weeks before the race, in little bursts, and then when the race starts you have to be free to think about relaxing. You have to be very happy to think about what's going on in your life as long as it's all comfortable, but then, at certain points of the race, the pressure points, the concentration kicks in, because if you ran a marathon for 26 miles for two hours plus and tried to concentrate the whole time, you'd be mentally exhausted rather than just physically exhausted.
The secret is to apply yourself exactly to what you're doing for the time you're doing it. Sometimes you're running along easily, you see the feed station up ahead and you think 'oh I'll move to the inside, I'll get my drink,' and then that's a few minutes of not concentrating, it's just automatic.
The most important thing about concentration in distance running is that you've always got to realise that sometimes your mind is going to take over and then you have negative moments where you think 'I can't do this I'm not strong enough, I can't win this race'. Then at other times you think 'I'm going to win easily'. You have times when you think 'nobody in this race is going to touch me' and in the same race you can have moments when you think 'I'm hanging on, I'm not going to be able to do it', so concentration would be a word that I could understand perfectly in an event like yours, but I think in distance running it would be lower and different levels of concentration but for longer periods.
CJ: Do you think there are any special tricks or techniques that would help you when you're doing that kind of distance and when you're going for a prolonged period?
BF: Yes I do definitely. I think you need to store ideas away, just like you would store away ideas about getting to the first hurdle in the right rhythm in the first few steps. A distance runner would have a series of positive images like 'I feel strong, I've done this before, I've run faster than this before'. You also have little things that you plant in your mind about training sessions that you've done really well in and places that you've enjoyed running because you need a combination of inputs to give you a level of satisfaction.
You always feel nervous about the race, that you'll burn yourself out, but you've got to be thinking it's just like when I ran in Auckland or wherever, or this is like when I ran around Hyde Park, or this is a bit like the training session I did when I was very good. Or you could think I beat these three in front of me last time I ran against them. You need a whole lot of messages that you give yourself, and you'll often see runners with things written on their arms. Sometimes they're just little reminders of positive thinking - more like playing a mind game with yourself.
CJ: What in your opinion is your greatest achievement?
BF: Actually when I look back, my greatest achievement and satisfaction was that for about 10 or 11 years, I ran every championship at 1,500 metres, 5,000 metres then 10,000 metres. I was always the best in Britain, and I was always amongst the best in the world. I always did my best performance for every single year in the championships, so that was my sort of legacy really.
CJ: And for you now the concentration you learnt on the track has come into play in the commentary box when you're commentating for two hours for a marathon?
BF: I suppose so. When I'm watching a distance race or a marathon race or a 10,000 metre race, and even though I know the people, which you often do in a major championship, I still have to concentrate on the race, and you speak to them in the weeks before. I like doing that, I like knowing the people.
CJ: So you're really trying to say if you enjoy it it's easy to concentrate and do a good job?
BF: Well I wouldn't realise I was always concentrating. (laughs)
CJ: When you work alongside someone, when you're commentating - for example on the marathon, you work alongside Steve Cram - how do you pace yourself? How does that team/partnership work?
BF: I was very lucky, I started to commentate with David Coleman. He invented athletic commentary and so I learnt an awful lot from him. I've known Steve all my life. I was able to help him with his training because I'd been a few years before him, so if you know someone and if you respect them, and if you have the same feel for the event it's quite good fun. He's a Sunderland supporter and if they're no good then, as a Newcastle supporter (and they're great), I can rib him about that so it's an advantage.
'I can't do it,' is not acceptable. You can do anything you want to.
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