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Knock That Race off of it's Pedestal

I started out with the idea to write about the five dumbest mistakes that I've made since I've been a runner. Now to be clear, I've made WAY more then five mistakes in my 20 years in the sport, but there are certainly some that I look back on that are dumber than others, especially in my adult years.

In the end though, I decided to hone in one mistake that stood out more than the others, especially since the Olympic Marathon Trials are so recently in our rear views. It's also a mistake that I think a TON of runners make every year as they begin training for their goal races and events.

I'm of course talk about putting that big goal race up on a pedestal. Treating as if it's something special, as if it's the end-all-be-all of your running career. Before I talk about changing that idea and knocking it off the pedestal, I'll share a little story of my own. One that I've talked about before, but I think helps illustrate the point that I'm going to make later on.

The year is 2016, and it's a few months before the 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials, which are going to be help in Los Angeles. At the time I was the ripe age of 26. The previous two years were the most successful of my career up to that point (and would end up being the most successful that I would ever have). I ran well at pretty much every distance - 7:57 for 3k, 29:00 for 10k, 63:21 for 1/2, and 2:16 for the marathon (on a big negative split), and I was FIT. That success, and the feeling that I still had more in the tank, especially in the marathon, led to me putting a pretty significant amount of pressure on myself to perform.

Enter the build-up to the 2016 trials. I knew that I wasn't going to make the team, but at the same time, I thought that a top 10, or at least a HUGE performance would represent a career-defining moment, and a justification of the decision I made to move to Flagstaff to be a pro runner. I was entirely focused on the result of the race, and not at all focused on the process. I was putting SO MUCH PRESSURE on the result of that race to define my career and who I was as a runner, and that took a toll.

It's taken a lot of time and maturation to become a process oriented athlete and person. I definitely didn't have that in 2016. That build up to the trials was brutal. I wasn't working with a coach at the time, and was writing my own stuff. Most of it was based on previous build-ups that had been successful for me, but I was trying to push the envelope. Instead of doing repeatable training that had worked for me, I was trying new things and trying to do more than I had ever done.

That led to bad workouts, and un-finished workouts. Which led to negativity and a really bad mindset that I was unable to get out of. Couple that with the pressure that I was putting ON MYSELF, and I started to mentally crumble heading into the race. I remember dropping out of what was supposed to be an important workout in January, maybe 5 weeks out from the Trials, and almost being in tears in the car with Sarah on our way back to our place. Just absolutely losing it for no reason. Fast forward to the trials, and I wasn't as fit as I wanted to be (I had a lot of bad workouts), and had zero confidence. I ended up dropping out around 20 miles, which was more heat related, rather than fitness related, but as things started to go south around 14-15 miles in, I mentally crumbled pretty quickly - which didn't help at all in the battle against the elements. After that race, I really struggled to put it back together again and shrug off those results. It took some time to find the want to be back out there.

I tell this story to illuminate the point that if I treated the 2016 trials like any other race, then maybe the outcome would've been different. Certainly the aftermath of that race would've been better. If I followed a repeatable plan that I knew that I could execute, focused on the day-to-day process, taken care of the little things, and took all of that pressure off of myself, I know that I would've entered race day which a much more positive mindset.

So when you're training for that BQ, or a PR, or your first Boston, or any race that you perceive as important - knock it off the pedestal. Yes - those races are important to you, and the results matter to you, but it's not worth it to put the pressure on yourself. This is supposed to be fun you know? Racing is to be a celebration of the fitness you accrued throughout the process of training. It's the FUN PART. Competing, pushing yourself, and feeling that all-to-familiar satisfying ache of a race well run is fun; feeling crushed by the weight of your own expectations is not.

So often the results of those races are out of your control. You can't control the weather, or if you get sick, or if your body just isn't having a good day. You can control your mindset, how you treat the race, and how you handle the result - whether it be good or bad.

I wish I could say that the 2016 trials was the last time I treated a race that way, but alas, that's a mistake I would make a few more times throughout my career. It caused me to retire about four times, and quite a bit of unnecessary anguish. I didn't learn to embrace and love the process until relatively recently, and am happier and more at peace for it.

My fellow Philadelphia 76ers fans will appreciate the phrase "Trust the Process", and that is what this is all about. Don't get wrapped up in results and outcomes (though a conference finals appearance from my beloved Sixers would be welcome), get wrapped up in the process. Approach race day like a celebration instead of a funeral, and let that joyful performance mindset carry you to the outcomes that you hope for.

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