The Game of Racing: Make Every Move Count
The spring and summer racing season is here. After months of dedication, preparation and dreaming, runners are gearing up for races: from 5k to marathons, eager to test out their fitness. In the coming months there will be ups and downs: this much is true. There will be some great moments, some incredible victories and some races that are...well...downright disappointing.
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. Racing is not about the race. Racing is about the doing and the pursuit of your own potential. This is what makes it so satisfying.
There is no magic to racing well. You have to be ready to embrace every situation. Having a great race is like any good fortune though: it is a combination of experience, impeccable preparation and things outside of your control all going your way. While ‘Beginner’s luck’ is often true, good racing comes from pure experience and reflection, from being a student of the sport and from loving the game.
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 this game unfold better than on the track 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 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.
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, 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 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 first 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 are 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 very move count.
LifeSport coach Lucy Smith has been competing for over 25 years, is a 19 time Canadian Champion in running and multisport, a 2 time Silver Medallist at World Championships and mother of 2. She has inspired and helped hundreds of runners through her articles, her book ‘First Triathlon’ and motivational speeches.