Keep Your Eye on the Prize

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Keep Your Eye on the Prize

Written by Richard Ferguson, Ph.D on 19 February 2013.

Many of you are planning a big race this spring. Maybe you will be going to Boston for the marathon, running the Rite Aid Cleveland 10km or maybe you have circled a local race on the calendar to point toward. The race you have identified is THE race you want to perform your best in this spring. You are motivated to train and really excited about getting ready for and competing in your targeted race. However, there will be many distractions during the training for the race and at the race itself. Dealing with these distractions can be a major energy drain as you prepare for any major event in life and preparing and running in an important race is no exception.

            As you train for your big race the distractions will come in many, many forms. Of course there are the normal life activities like family, work and school that require your attention. You can’t just run away from or ignore these responsibilities, so they are constants. Other things can be distracters, such as your own thinking, expectations of your running friends, any change in your normal routine, weather, illness and even other runners that you may be competing against.

            But what makes things like rain, office politics, PTA meetings, negative thoughts about your fitness, other runners doubting you can reach your performance goal, or a major test at school distract you from your training? It really isn’t the event or comment that distracts you, it is how you react to the event in your life or comment from another person that is the real distracter. If you let things distract you, then they certainly will, but think about the following point: How many things go on in your life each day that you don’t even waste a second thinking about? The guy who pulled out in front of you on the way to work, the phone call from an overly talkative friend, or even a run cut a mile short just to make an appointment on time, are all things that happen, but they don’t mean you must spend the rest of the day mulling over and being distracted by them. If you are distracted by something it is simply because you allow yourself to be distracted.

            There are events occurring in life everyday and it is how you emotionally react to them that determines how much they distract you from a mental standpoint, but also how much they inhibit you physically. Each day as you train for your big race there will be things happening that are not in the “plan”. So you feel stiff when you get out of bed. Is this reason to panic and get anxious that something is “wrong”?  You get home late because of road construction and have to start your run late.  Is this a reason to get angry and stressed?  Heavy rain has washed out your favorite trail. Well, are there other places you can run? Yea, your long run this week was more difficult than you expected, but that doesn’t mean you need to worry endlessly about it and doubt your training program. Every time you have emotional reactions to minor events in your running life it wastes valuable energy and takes away your focus from your goals. Most of life’s little annoyances are reduced quickly and you probably don’t even recall them in a few days. Learn to conserve your valuable emotional energy.

            There are some things you can do to help keep you focused on your big race, both in your training and at the actual race. At the end of each day take a look back on the day and remind yourself of what was actually accomplished and achieved, not on what went wrong and what you didn’t do. Focus on the positives, not the negatives, each day in your training.  By focusing on the positive aspects of your day your mood will be enhanced, not only at that moment, but for the next day as well. By having a mindset that you are preparing well for the big race, even when distractions occur, it can help your confidence and give you a positive outlook on being able to handle future distractions.

            When training for a big race remember to focus on the aspects that you have some personal control over. You can’t control the weather, other people, or many small daily events, like a long line at the Post Office or getting held up in traffic, but you can control how you react to things. Be calm, be positive and adapt when distractions present themselves. You control how you think, so commit to being positive and not worrying about things that are totally out of your control. By doing so, you will feel distracted by things far less frequently.

            Seek to become a problem solving expert when hit with distractions.  If some unexpected event interrupts your training plan don’t waste energy fretting over it. Hey, you’re suck in traffic and it’s no way you’re going to meet your training partner at 5 P.M. Instead of getting anxious and frustrated, channel your energy into an alternate plan. Can you run later at home? Can your training partner meet you at a different location? Get your focus away from the distraction by refocusing on another, possibly even better plan of action.

            Even at the actual race their will be many distractions, but you don’t need to let them take your focus away from running your best. Large races obviously mean large crowds. You may not get to the starting line as early as you want to, it may be difficult to do your normal warm-up, or your normal pre-race fluid may not be available. Just remind yourself that a lot of these things are beyond your control and they don’t have to put you in an anxious panicked funk. Devise an alternate plan when things don’t go as originally planned. Focus on how well you have prepared and how ready you are to run, not on some little distraction like having the wrong flavor of Gatorade at the fluid table.

            Unexpected distractions don’t mean the end of the world, either in training or at a race. A distraction is only a distraction if you let it become one. If something does distract you from the task at hand, remind yourself to refocus on your goals. Don’t make a distraction worse than it really is by overreacting to it. Many events in your running life are out of your control, but how you react to them is very much in your control. Through it all remember to keep your eye firmly on the prize! Run well my friend.


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