Q: Hi, I am a Junior in high school from PA. I've been running for a long time, however not with a team. I was a field hockey, basketball and soccer player, so I always just ran on the roads on my own. This fall, however, the xc coach finally talked me into running. I posted a nice cross country season finishing 27th at states, I run about 19:30's for 5k. However, this winter I ran the race of my life (11:02 3200m) and beat out one of the state's powerhouses. . . however now I find myself with tons of expectations for my outdoor season, and in approaching the post season, I just don't feel like I can do it. At states for indoor track, I had so much nervousness built up that I walked off the track, and at Penn Relays I finished the race, but barely competed. My training has been great, and I know I am in better shape than I was when I ran that 11:02, but all I want to do is get back there again... what can I do to prepare myself for leagues, districts, and states. I'll be racing that girl again, and I just don't know what to do. Thanks for your advice. - B.S., 5/8/03
A: No matter what level you are competing at, the best advice I can give to people who allow expectations to be placed upon themselves based on what they have done in the past is to re-focus on you and the present.
In racing, I try to use knowledge and experience only to the extent that it helps me. I try to ignore everything else…especially everyone else's expectations.
The mental aspects of preparing for a race are as difficult as we choose to make them. I know that is easier said than done. Heck, I even get the jitters toeing it up for the hackers mile at a summer's all-comers meet. Why? It's because I worked my butt off to get ready for my goal race and I don't want to run a stupid race. However, I must confess that part of the reason I get nervous is because like you, people I run with expect me to run fast (for me, that is). And if I don't, they ask what's wrong. I never make predictions. If someone asks, I say "I want to run a smart race and finish strong." That's all they'll get from me. No time goal. No predictions on who I am going to beat or race against. No way, man. I won't get baited into that.
The best advice I can give you to block out negative thoughts it keep yourself busy, and keep your good days and bad days in their proper perspective. Enjoy your successes, don't dwell on your failures and move on. Have a plan. You can do this by preparing adequately for your race, have a racing strategy to meet your goal and run YOUR race. During the race, don't let anyone dictate the pace to you in the race. As you get more racing experience, you will develop some pre-race routines to help keep you focused on you and not anyone else who happens to be warming up that I am supposed to beat. I do the same routine before every race, making adjustments for that particular race distance, of course. I have specific workouts and goals for those workouts leading up to a race and keep my plan flexible for adjustments if I am off on my targets in progressing toward my goal race. Come race day, it's a matter of executing the plan and blocking everything else out. On race day in my warm up (on track races), I make sure to catch a couple of two hundred meter splits to make sure I know what my goal pace will feel like on my first lap to make sure I don't go out too fast. Then, I take the laps one at a time and run my race. After the race, if I have executed my plan and run it accordingly, I consider it successful...no matter where I finished.
I used to think I was the only one out there who had a fear of failing, despite direct evidence to the contrary. What really helped me was reading what elite athletes, like Steve Prefontaine, Marla Runyan, etc…went through. Just watch a tape of Pre's famous 5000 meter final at the '72 Olympics and you'll know what I'm talking about. It's a great thought to have before a race. Not bad for a kid from Coos Bay, Oregon. I suggest buying Jeff Galloway's Book on Running. He's got a great section on racing-check out the story on Dave Wottle. Also, I suggest reading "Pre" (by Tom Jordan), "No Finish Line: My Life As I See It" (By Marla Runyan). A good fictional story I also suggest is called "Once a Runner."
You've done it before. You can do it again. Good luck to you. And thanks for asking. - The Rage
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