This is what it all comes down to. This is the defining moment. This is what we train for. This is why we log the miles, practice fast paces, do strength work, and visualize daily this very moment during it all. This is what defines the outcome: a narrow victory or a narrow miss. Will it be 2:59:50 or 3:00:42? 14:56 or 15:03? 3:59 or 4:01? Will you run Boston or not? Will I be a Trials qualifier or not? Win or 2nd place? Move on to new goals or refocus on the same?
Sure, we don’t always get the opportunity in a race to even reach this point. We don’t reach the fitness we would like to aim for our A goal on race day. Maybe race day is simply just a bad day and you know it the whole time. I’ve had plenty of races like this. BUT this is not always the case. I’m convinced that we (myself especially included) don’t quite reach a goal or perform to our standards simply because to race, to really race our own selves and run our absolute best, is SO hard and requires SO much mental effort. Our mental effort can’t just match our physical exertion, it must surpass it! It must overcome it! If we are really nearing the limits of our physical ability, our muscles that scream with pain will also whisper to our minds to manipulate and do everything to find the slightest relief and make you slow down. To give in to these whispers is to narrowly miss what you’ve worked for tirelessly. So if you’ve tirelessly worked, don’t get to race day and tirelessly underperform.
On Independence Day 2015, I was blessed enough to win a small road race, Old Pro’s 10k. Plenty of people saw the video of the finish on Facebook or my photo on Instagram. No one heard my thoughts during the race, and few have heard about it. Here’s a summary: At mile 5 I had pulled away from my teammate and the rest of the pack with no significant move, but just an honest, fast pace throughout the race. One would think that leading would give a boost of energy, that the thought of a victory and a trophy and to return as the defending Champion would all provide a strength I’ve not known before. Surely, they help a little bit, but lactic acid doesn’t care if you’re winning or not. You muscles don’t care if you’re still on goal pace. The pain in your body doesn’t care if a Boston qualifier or the American flag and the Olympic Trials await you at the finish line. The mind still hears the whispers and the whispers are quite convincing. “What do you care about this race?” “Is winning today really that significant?” “So what if they close well and track you down?” “You’ve probably got the win, just cruise in. Do only what is necessary. You really can’t go faster than this anyway.” I can literally remember thinking this, “Why do you even do this? Why do you even like this sport? Why do you even care about this?” I HAD THESE THOUGHTS WHILE I WAS CURRENTLY WINNING!!
That day, I could’ve run faster. I know I could’ve. I was not good at Pressing into the Pain. When the hurt came, there were moments I faltered. I won, but I didn’t run the time I knew I could’ve. I wasn’t tough. I wasn’t strong. I wasn’t courageous. When I was called to press, I didn’t press the way I had visualized. I listened to the whispers. I believe visualization and mental practice are extremely important in this sport. It is so easy to visualize kicking to the finish at the end of an easy run, or a short workout. Maybe my downfall is that I don’t practice this enough in the latter half of my toughest workouts and longest efforts. The art of racing and discovering what we can really do is to set a goal that will put us on our best day in a position that we must use all of our mental efforts to be courageous, tough, strong, and press into the pain so much that those watching will start to think that we actually like it. At the end of the day, or the end of the race, you do like it. You like it. You like the goal. You like the pursuit. Somewhere in there you like the pain. So next time, when you’re presented with the choice, Press into the Pain.
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