With most of the important spring races coming in the next few weeks it may be a good time to simplify your focus to perform your best. It is normal to think primarily in terms of time or place goals, particularly with races of importance. The internal and external pressure that affixes to these expectations can be motivating or debilitating depending on your personality. If you tend to let these goals and accompanying expectations become so heavy they inhibit your performance, I encourage you to simplify what you allow to run through your head during race week.
By all means prepare your best with your challenging goals in mind but when it comes to race day focus on taking what the day offers. Let’s take a quick inventory of what you can and cannot control. This is a worthwhile exercise because the uncontrollable variables are what create most of the havoc in a runner’s mind on race day.
Let’s start with what can you control. First and foremost you can control effort. Effectively managing effort and energy expenditure will take care of pace and therefore the finish time. It works best in this order and not as well in the reverse.
Also, powerfully, you can control your thoughts and therefore your attitude. When presented with bad conditions look with a positive attitude how you can make the most of the situation. For example, race day and the first really hot day of the year collide. By recognizing the effect of these bad conditions you can adjust your expectations and move ahead of those unwilling to capitulate to the reality of the day. Some of whom you otherwise have no chance to beat.
Lastly, with good planning most logistics are under your control. Perhaps you know traffic gets crazy close to race time so you can arrive earlier and make sure you can be relaxed and ready for the start.
Variables beyond your control include weather, course, competition, and some logistics. If the weather report includes words like “unseasonably” or “record” your time goal may be out window and starting on plan “B” or “C” as discussed earlier may save the day.
You can prepare for a challenging course but it is the exception and not the rule that a person has a faster time at the Big Sur Marathon than the Monumental Marathon. Great preparation may even the courses to some degree but true mountains are hard to move.
If the bus for the Kenyan School for the Gifted pulls up to the start line you might not end up in the same place as if their field trip was at another race. However, you might get pulled along to a personal best with a better competition level.
If the course cannot really handle the number of people running creating bottlenecks or any other unforeseen or uncontrollable logistical impediment arises your performance may be marred. Deal with it the best you can on the run and then mark “less than satisfied” on your customer comment card.
With the big race approaching focus on what you can control and adjust for that which you cannot. When you feel that race day panic creeping in remind yourself to run smart, run hard, and take what the day has to offer.