Next weekend we are going to be racing on back to back days, something that with all of the running and racing craziness that we have done over the last 5 years or so we have never attempted.
A lot of endurance athletes compete in more than one event a weekend at times. Doing so in and of itself is not necessarily a big deal. But for me it is a significant departure from my approach to racing which is to compete every single time I pin on a bib number and lay it all out there.
I don’t run races for T-shirts, finisher’s medals or just for the heck of it.
I “race” races to test myself. To see if I am able to lay down something special. Be the best that I have ever been at that distance or at that particular event. Doing so on back to back days does not lend itself to top performance. I am not going to be able to really “peak” for either of the two events next weekend as I know that I am going to have to save a little something at the Holland 5K on Saturday to be able to compete relatively well at the Lake Pflugerville Triathlon on Sunday.
Despite my best attempt at managing my energies on Saturday, I know that once the gun fires and the race starts, my body is going to take over for my mind and we are going to drop that first 1/2 mile in 2:55. It is just about a certainty. How that manifests itself over the rest of the race, and particularly on the run portion of the triathlon on Sunday will remain to be seen – but as my friend Steve Spiers said to me down in Florida last January at the Ragnar Ultra Marathon. “We go as hard as we can as long as we can, that’s just what we do.”
As I was thinking about next weekend on my mid-week 10-miler on Wednesday morning my mind wandered back to my discussion about “Breakthrough Moments” for runners on my flight to Dallas a couple of weeks ago with my new friend and three time Olympic Qualifier in the Marathon.
We spoke about races where an athlete prepares diligently for an event and is in peak condition. The weather cooperates allowing for a fast time and the course sets up well for that runner’s particular strengths. The runner is healthy, focused, well rested and on that one magical day it all comes together for them. They run a race that not only meets their expectations, but truly surprises even them.
They breakthrough to another level.
After that day, that race, the athlete is never the same again. The confidence gained and the feeling of that race stays with them. It fuels them to continue to train hard, look for ways to improve and raise the bar even higher. That “breakthrough” performance creates a new level of expectations. A new “normal” if you will.
The athlete then tries their hardest to search for the next breakthrough performance. The next time they can capture that feeling once again and continue to move forward. For some, they never achieve it again. For others, it is a constant ladder that they climb to heights that at one time not only seemed scary, they felt absurd.
An 18:12 5K?
A 10K PR of 37:30?
A 1:23:46 half-marathon?
Those are times that if you wrote them on a napkin and slid them in front of me back in 2008 I would have thought you were talking about someone else. Another person altogether who is a far, far superior runner than I.
Today, those are my current PR’s. All set at the age of 44. None of which given the right set of circumstances are out of reach. In fact, they are my new “normal”.
So how does it happen exactly? What changes for the athlete? After I came through the chute at the IBM Uptown Classic in 37:30 this past October, was I more “fit” than I was standing at the starting line moments before? Certainly not.
What changes is confidence. The feeling that if a pace feels right during a race of any distance, on that day, for that moment IT IS RIGHT.
You have to realize that the numbers on your wrist are simply that. Just numbers. They measure the speed by which your body is covering that particular mile at that particular time.
The numbers themselves do not control you.
You control them.
Running 6.2 miles at 6:01 pace is a notion that standing at the starting line of the IBM Uptown I did not even entertain. It was not my “goal” or my “pace” that I was shooting for. What I wanted to do was to go out and run the first mile at a “comfortably hard pace” and from there I would lock in and stay right there as long as I could. When I reached the 5 mile mark, with 1.2 miles to go, I would continue to pour on the energy so that when I found myself 2/10 of a mile from the finish I was essentially out of gas. Nothing left.
At that moment I would dig down even deeper and find the reserves. The absolute limits of strength and power that was left in my legs and sprint to the finish. At the tape we were done.
It is the recipe for Personal Bests as I know it. I don’t know how to race any other way.
Those breakthrough moments and races are out there for everyone. You just have to let go of your preconceived notions of what your training level is or what your potential is and pour everything you have into that race on that day.
You show the clock just how good you are.
Don’t let it be the other way around.