Mental Games — Balancing ‘Should’ Versus ‘Want’

running-advice-bugI’ve told the story countless times about how I ended up a runner. My mom had put me in sport after sport, so the story goes, and my soccer coach pulled her aside. “Ms. English,” he said, “your son is a terrible soccer player, but outruns everyone on the field. Perhaps he is a runner.”

About the time I started running (Circa 1972)

About the time I started running (Circa 1972)

I always tell this story to get the chuckle that invariably comes when the coach says that I was a terrible player. This is likely true. I’m one of the least coordinated people that I know. In fact, I often refer to myself as a “big dumb engine” — turn me on and I just go. But there is another side to that story that I’ve never really talked about. Another response my mom could have had was, “well, is he having fun?”

It occurs to me that we are often so focused on being “good” at things like sports that we forget that we can do them just for the sake of having fun. At the young age of six years old, should it have mattered that I was terrible at playing soccer? Should it have mattered that I might excel at running? What if I loved the game of soccer and hated running? Should we always be in search of the things in which we are most competitive?

I’ve noticed a bit of language that I key in to related to this these days. When I’m talking to runners and triathletes, they often use the word “should” — as in “should I run another marathon?”, “should I try to qualify for Boston?” “should I do another Ironman?” What underlies these questions is a sort of obligation. ‘Should’ implies there is a some reason or duty there. ‘Should’ could be interchanged with “must” pretty easily.
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Mental Games — Feeling Average While Doing the Impossible

running-advice-bugTell almost anyone that you’re doing an Ironman Triathlon and watch the expression on their face. They almost can’t believe it. Actually they just can’t understand it. “How far is the bike?” they ask and even when you tell them they have no comprehension how far 180KM (112 miles) really is. Sometimes I tell them by relating it to a distance they would understand — “It’s from here out to the beach and back.” They still don’t get it. The physical task is, simply put, impossible for them to understand.

Coach Joe before Ironman Australia 2013

Coach Joe before Ironman Australia 2013

But then you go out and do your Ironman or your marathon and you’re somehow feeling. . . “average.” You look around at 2,000 people crashing into the water, pedaling along the highway and running through the night and you start to think maybe this ain’t such a big deal. It’s not like you won or even came close. In fact, the winners were finishing the race before you probably got off the bike. You hear others talking about the race: this is my 50th, they say, or their fastest or their third this year. They are 65 years old and just finished their first one. It’s not only very possible, but almost common place.

Last weekend at Ironman Australia I had this very feeling. Although I was doing what most consider impossible, I was feeling quite average. How can this be?

I talked with my favorite psychologist this weekend and she helped me understand this a bit. First, both our own comprehension of what we do and that of the people viewing it is shaped by our own experience. What this means is that the person hearing about your tale of physical world domination can’t comprehend the task, because they have no experience with which to understand it. And our experience leads us to form an opinion based on all that we’ve done. In other words, we have a basis to compare against while others don’t.

Second, we’re competitive creatures. That’s why we participate in these crazy marathons and Ironman triathlons to begin with. Our competitive drive shape our impression of how we feel about our endeavors. The self-talk of the athlete quickly goes from “I am just trying to finish” to “I could have gone faster if only I had. . .” This inner self-talk, which ultimately is a source of our desire to improve, takes us from thinking that we’re doing the impossible to thinking that we could do it better the next time.
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Tips — Knowledge is Power on the Race Course

running-advice-bugPeople say “knowledge is power.” Never is that more true than out on a marathon race course. I can think of a few ways that this comes up and today I’d like to consider how a little knowledge can bring you a lot of power when you’re pushing yourself through your next running race.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I was writing about the fact that in two recent races I had either seen or been misdirected on race courses. One of my bottom line points in that article was this: it’s your job as a runner to know your race course. When the leaders missed their turn in one of my races recently, the next guy in line turned back to me and quizzically gestured, “shouldn’t we be going that way?” I knew the course and I knew to make that turn. This apparently happened again this week at the very competitive front end of The Flat Half-marathon here in Oregon, where the train of leaders didn’t turn around where they were supposed to and ended up running an extra mile or so before being brought back on course.

Runners in the 2012 Vancouver Marathon

But if these are abstract to some of you that aren’t up there at the front, let me give you a couple of more examples where knowledge will go a long way for you. First, is knowing your pace. Second is knowing your fitness. Third is knowing the conditions and how they will impact those first two items. Let’s start with pace.

I ask running all the time what they think they will run at any given workout or race. The answers are so varied it defies imagination sometimes. Perhaps the most important piece of knowledge that you can have about yourself is how fast you run at a particular distance. This shouldn’t be a vague notion at all. Your pace should be established and monitored in your workouts and you should simply know what you can do on any given day. I understand that you may have multiple goals for a particular race (e.g. on a good day vs. a great day or a lousy day), but these goals should be gradations of what’s possible for you. You might have a reasonable target pace for example and have a goal to improve on that by say 5 or 10 seconds per mile if things are going really well. But that’s it. If your coach, friend, running partner or whoever says “what are you planning to run today” you should be able to answer that within 15 seconds per mile.
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Training — Training for you, not Your Partner

running-advice-bugWe get a lot of mail at Running Advice and News, but rarely does a question grab my attention the way today’s question from Mimi does. This question could go a lot of different directions, but the main issue is this: how do you balance the positive benefits of training with people that challenge you against the need to potentially beat them in races? And if you’re training based on their needs and desires, are you just helping them beat you?

Not everyone is an Olympic-level athlete and Mimi doesn’t claim to be. But she is something that all of us are: competitive. She wants to win and she needs to train to improve her areas of strength, so that she can pull it out on race day. Her question is quite long, so I’ll provide you with the most important parts of it:

“I am the training partner of an Olympic level athlete (of yore) who made the Olympic team only once, in 1996. She’s nearly 50, dang fast for her age. I have a ton of natural speed and have had some shining moments. . . . I have been able to train along side this woman, though she can usually take me down in a race, though not by more than 50 meters or so (in a 5k), when I have a stretch of not getting sick. She also goes out very hard in every race and interval and slows late. I notice that I perform better when I don’t charge after her, but run at a steadier pace—often catching her or outperforming her in later intervals.

How do I best not get caught in a trap of trying to stay with her in training, and train my best and not HER best—-either out of shape or when very fit. She tends to run all intervals extremely hard. I race better when I don’t run every, single interval (regardless of it’s length) to the death. She always runs to the death and performs well in racing. I perform better with decent mileage and more classic tempo running and SOME very hard intervals, not ALL very hard intervals.”

Let’s start with the positives of running with other people. First, they can challenge you, helping you push harder than you might on your own. Second, having a second set of eyes and ears on you in practice can keep you going when you might back off or quit. As my friend Rich Shannon said recently, “it’s good to have someone breathing down your neck to keep your foot on the pedal.” Third, there are the social benefits associated with training with others, including the peer pressure that comes with making commitments to be at a certain time and place and perform a particular workout. Fourth, having a partner to share training goals such as an upcoming race is fun and makes things more exciting. These are all very positive benefits and should be considered when deciding when to train with someone else.
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Season 2 – Episode 29 — The Killer Instinct

running-advice-bugWelcome back runners to week 30 of the season 2 on the show. This week we move to a new location: runner’s desert oasis, where we had only a brief stay. But on this episode we talk about something that is clearly a part of Coach Dean’s personal DNA — the killer instinct.

On this week’s episode:
— How can runners harness the killer instinct while winning?
— What needs to be incorporated into training to develop a competitive edge on race day?
— Are there people that are more or less prone to be competitive in racing?
— Would Coach Dean try to beat you if your were an 11 year-old, three-fingered, one-eyed, girl with a cane? (Apparently, yes.)

To visit our video pages with links to all of the episodes in the series, go to:
Season 1 Video Page

Season 2 Video Page

Running Advice and News
www.running-advice.com

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Video – Season 2 – Episode 22 — Pre-race Freak Outs and Anxiety

running-advice-bugWe’re now 22 episodes into season 2 and on today’s show: our first guest! While filming our current series, one of Coach Dean’s athletes named Jan Lockett joined us to talk about her feelings on the eve of a very big race. Our topic this week: the pre-race freak out and dealing with pre-race anxiety.

On this week’s episode:
— Dealing with pre-race anxiety
— Strategies to focus before a race
— Envisioning your performance
— Relaxing to help performance

Jan did great in her race and we thank her for joining us on the show. Perhaps you will be next!

To visit our video pages with links to all of the episodes in the series, go to:
Season 1 Video Page

Season 2 Video Page

Running Advice and News
www.running-advice.com

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Commentary — The Superstar Effect and Marathon Running

Coach Joe English

Coach Joe English

The Wall Street Journal featured an article this weekend called The Superstar Effect. It’s a pretty interesting read that explores something that happens to folks when they are up against stiff competition: apparently they fold.

The article discusses a variety of settings in which people with extreme greatness dominate their competitors and it explores the reasons behind it. Some examples that come up are Tiger Woods and his domination of golf, Michael Jordan in basketball and Bobby Fischer in chess. Tiger apparently is so dominant that all of the other competitors in the game, especially those most likely to challenge him, statistically play worse whenever he’s even in a tournament. As Jennifer Brown, a expert from Northwestern University says in the article, “It doesn’t matter if the superstar is an athlete or a corporate vice president. . . .why should we invest a lot of energy in a tournament that we’re probably going to lose?”

It is interesting to think about this in the context of running and marathon running at the elite levels, or even at the back-of-the-pack. On the one hand, we can see how star power can come into play, but we also witness some amazing ferocity in the competition from the front to the back of the back.

Let’s look at elite racing first. In the marathon running world, we live in an era when world record attempts are promoted well in advance of races and fleets or pacers are brought in to support the athletes as they put their best game on. Look at the Berlin Marathon for example, where Haile Gebrselassie has set two world marks. In the coverage of those races it was almost as if no one else was in the race. And in truth, no one else was. No one seriously challenged Haile for the win. But it’s not as if the elite ranks took it sitting down either.
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Running — Avoiding the Starting Line Conversation Trap

Coach Joe English

Coach Joe English

I have two simple rules at the start of every race. First, I never ask anyone else what they plan to run and, second, I never tell anyone what I’m going to run. Why? Because it never helps and it almost always hurts. Here’s why.

The tendency at the starting line with runners is to want to size up their competition. They do this by looking around at the other runners and trying to guess who’s going to run a similar time to theeir (or win or whatever). They categorize people as “someone I need to worry about” or not. Then they open their mouths and start getting themselves into trouble. Asking someone what they plan to run only takes you off the focus off of what it should be focusing on: what YOU plan to run.

You need to stick to your game plan on race day and that means running the pace that you are prepared to run. Whatever anyone else does is irrelevant in that if you haven’t prepared to run as fast as someone else and you try to “go with them”, you’re going to burn yourself up and find yourself in a heap of trouble real’ quick-like.

Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t prepare for your competition by understanding what others are capable of running and where you are versus the competition. I’m just saying that it is too late to do that on the starting line. The place to do it is well before the race — if this is a key race we’re talking about — by doing some research. You can certainly look up the results of the race for the last few years and get an expectation of what kinds of times will likely be produced by the field. If it is an important race, you may even want to look in more depth at your competition by searching for their results on-line to get a feel for how they are running this season. This information can tell you a lot about how your training has prepared you to deal with a particular field.
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Video — Season 2 – Episode 5 — The Control Episode

running-advice-bugWe’re back and its time for Season 2 – Episode 5 — The control Episode.

Coaches Joe English and Dean Hebert sit down for another chat about running, racing and marathon preparation. We’re continuing to talk about the mental game. This week we look at control and competition.

On this episode:
— What kinds of things are within our control when it comes to our running and racing?
— What kinds of things are out of our control?
— Where should we place our focus when preparing for a race?
— What is the impact of focusing on things that we don’t control?
— How can we be more focused on what’s important when racing?
To watch the video, just click the play button in the video window below.

Season 2 will bring you 30 more episodes so stay tuned every Thursday on Vimeo, Facebook (our FanPage is located at Running Advice and News) and on www.running-advice.com.

To visit our video pages with links to all of the episodes in the series, go to:
Season 1 Video Page

Season 2 Video Page

Running Advice and News
www.running-advice.com

www.running-advice.com
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