Finding joy in racing
by Luke Humphrey, May. 20, 2010
Finding joy in racing
I recently had a discussion with an athlete that I coach regarding her recent half marathon performance. She had reached her time goal, but when speaking to her, she seemed less than excited. She explained to me that she loved the training, but when she got to the race, she was nervous, not excited, and very worried about whether, or not, she would reach her goal. In essence, the race was not fun for her. I explained to her that I understood her dilemma. Imagine how she would have felt if she had not reached her goal! My poor athlete would have been devastated. After talking to her, I began to think about it and some lessons I have learned along the way.
Lesson 1: You are much more likely to succeed when you learn to let yourself be successful. A former teammate and good friend of mine told me before his big marathon that he would have dreams at night and simply visualize himself being successful. He stated that he didn’t visualize a time at all; just that he ran strong and comfortable the entire way and would envision crossing the finish line in exuberance. He finished sixth in the Chicago Marathon that year and ran a personal best by several minutes in 75 degree weather! To get to that point, it doesn’t take much. My friend simply would visualize the race for a few minutes periodically when it came into his head. I am sure that during his long runs and tough workouts he would visualize the later stages of the race and picture himself running stronger than his competitors. Whatever it is, it has to be repetitive and you cannot allow negative thoughts creep in.
Lesson 2: Take the attitude of I get to race; not I have to race. The goal race of your training segment should be the reward for your hard training, not the punishment! The race is the chance to see how well you planned, trained, and can execute a race strategy. It shouldn’t be a time to fret about uncontrollable variables or who is in the race. In fact, you should be happy when a race is competitive, as it is a great chance to see how well you stack up against people who may be just a touch better than you (or were)! I remember in college, we were ranked seventh (ish?) in NCAA Division I cross country. It was our highest ranking ever. At the national meet, my coach could tell we were nervous. He said to us, “Listen up! Tomorrow, when you are standing on the line, I want you to look down at the Stanford’s and the Colorado’s. I want you to realize that they are just as dumb as you guys!” Of course, he didn’t mean it, but it made us laugh. It made us realize that we were all just a bunch of 18-22 year old punks that happened to be pretty good at running. For the most part it worked and we finished ninth in the nation, by far our highest finish ever. The best part is that we went back my last two years and continued to finish in the top 25. We got to race the best and we had fun at beating the best!
Lesson 3: We all truly do go through the same feelings. I recently roomed with a fellow elite runner at a road race. We were talking about training and how we were both going through a period where we thought we were training much better than our races had been showing. We also talked about a race we ran together several years ago where I had edged him during the last mile of a marathon. He told me that he didn’t even know how he finished that race. It surprised me because he is a runner that I had viewed as much better than me. I figured that he had it all figured out and never felt those things. It seems silly, but hearing him tell me that seemed to solidify that, yes- we all hurt and we all go through the same periodic struggles.
I picked these three because the three of these lessons were the three variables were the constants in every race where I felt I ran well. I am sure there are other elements to enjoying the moment and that’s the fun part- I’ll get to find them out along the way!