It’s GO Time and YES you should be excited And after months of learning, preparation and dreaming, you GET to toe the start line and run the streets of Victoria. You get to test out your mental and physical strength. Please notice that I wrote “GET TO” not “HAVE TO”, as this is a gift and a choice. Some of you will be eager to test out your new fitness and excited to finally be at the main course of your challenge. Others will be feeling a little fear perhaps, some trepidation and nervousness at the unknown. And finally, there will be the others who seem to take it all in stride - it’s just another day in the unfolding of their lives. By Monday morning there will have been some ups and downs and a lot of middle ground: this much is true. This weekend there will be some great moments, some incredible victories and some races that are...well...pure adventure.
Time to clear your head. If you clear your head to the task at hand and review your goals for the race, your mind will calm down, you will know where you are going on race morning and your path will be full of fun. Now is not the time to ask yourself a million questions that have no answers. Do you know how much energy it uses to ask yourself questions that you can’t answer? Not to mention that it gives you a confused muddled feeling that saps your strength. At this point, you are logistically organized, sorted out and on time. There is one last thing to drive home before you hit the starting line: are you ready for the game?
Racing is a game. It is a competitive arena, a test of determination, strength, skill and savvy. Some of the games are more important than others; some come heavily weighted with expectations and goals. Some races are just for fun, to remind us how to enjoy the game. All races are opportunities to excel, to show mastery and skill and to learn. This is what makes sport so satisfying.
There is no magic to racing well. You merely have to be ready to embrace every situation, and be open to the present moment. While ‘Beginner’s luck’ is often true, it is mainly a factor of having no or little expectations. It is easy to be happy and content when your baseline is so simple and not loaded with ‘shoulds’ and ‘coulds’. You can take this beginners’ attitude into any event, by checking your unrealistic expectations and having honesty and clarity about what you can achieve.
Racing is a combination of being internally focussed on your best effort at all times, while being aware of external factors: knowing the course and knowing your competition (and using this knowledge to your advantage). External factors in racing also include having a strategy, pacing well, and making solid (and quick) in-race decisions.
Nowhere can you watch a microcosm of his game unfold better than in track and field, in middle and long distance races, where runners jockey for position, use patience and tactical skill and unleash their full running potential all at the same time. On the track, athletes are forced to run in a tight pack, and the good racers can run behind the leaders patiently, immersed in the act of racing, fully present in the grace of their movements. There is no anxiety apparent in their position, but their senses are wide open, looking for opportunities to challenge, to make a move, to take advantage of a small opening as soon as it presents itself.
If racing well means being fully immersed in the experience of the moment, how do great racers look at what’s unfolding around them? Being externally aware is both necessary and crucial, but that awareness is purely objective and not hinged on the self in endless negative self talk: am I doing ok? You have to run with your cognitive senses wide open and with complete inner confidence that you are doing right. Your awareness just is.
In other words, the external awareness has to be free of anxiety. The freedom from anxiety is easier for some athletes than for others, but all athletes can hone this ability. To illustrate, consider a situation in which you are racing close to another competitor. As you run (or walk), you can focus on running in rhythm with them, and creating a positive feeling around this aspect of the race. The external awareness of racing, footsteps, breathing and moving is a huge part of the sport. There is no anxiety in this moment, until you bring it in. Wondering if you can maintain pace, who will win in the end, and if you are doing well enough are all irrelevant thoughts about the future, that creep in out of habit.
The game of racing dictates that you can be relaxed when racing side by side, enjoy the competitive arena in which you find yourself, and know that getting to the finish line isn’t about fear, it’s about the game. Your competitor is merely a player in that game.
Another way of looking at it is to consider the aspects of pacing and patience. Pacing requires patience. Being patient and knowing that you can run on someone's shoulder with patience, confidence and attention is crucial. In the strategic game of sport, it is sometimes worthwhile to sit back behind someone. A great athlete can lead, or follow with the same confidence in their ability. Following means to run your race, from behind.
The best athletes (the best in any field) are great at failing by being great learners: they take home lessons from every experience. The biggest factors to success are continuing to learn and making it fun. View your sport as a game, a game in which you are a key player in your own success, and make every move count.
Run For Joy!
Writing about the art of moving well and the lived experience of a life in sport.