Let’s face it, the middle miles in a race can be the toughest. At some point beyond the initial burst of adrenaline that followed the starter’s pistol, the reality that you are actually racing begins to settle in. You feel your legs losing that gazelle-like energy that for a few brief moments had you thinking that today was going to be that day when you would break out and take it to the next level. Then, your legs turned to jelly, and your energy level dropped sending you right off of the proverbial cliff. Within the span of a few yards you’d gone from fantasizing about finishing in a new personal best to questioning whether you were going to finish with any semblance of dignity.
The first time it happened, you might have written off the meltdown as a fluke. But, after experiencing the phenomenon in subsequent races, you were faced with the stark realization that you were indeed fallible, and maybe not quite the greyhound you’d imagined. If you’re like most, it was then that you probably opted to err on the side of caution, and embraced the idea that you should hold a little something back and start saving your energy for the later miles. An observation of your fellow racers, confirmed that your prudence was warranted, and that this was indeed the way you should be racing. And, in that moment your fate was sealed. You accepted your limiting thoughts and, like so many other runners, resigned yourself to running at less than your best and accepting a running career in road-racing mediocrity.
A buddy of mine used to say that the end of the race takes care of itself. While few runners embrace this principle, anyone who’s spent a few minutes watching runners approaching the end of a race can attest to this point. Consider the numbers of people, who muster the energy to sprint across the finish line at the end of a race. Suddenly, runners who appear one moment to be knocking on death’s door, seemingly come back from the dead to finish in blazing fashion. I’ve often wondered if any of them considered how much faster they might have finished if they’d run the rest of the race more aggressively.
Unfortunately, many runners opt for the easier route waiting until the very end to start racing. Sorry, but by the time most runners begin their kick, the race is already over and they’ve missed their opportunity.
As it does in everyday life, achieving something you’ve never done involves taking chances. Sometimes you have to start the race faster than prudence would dictate, push harder in the middle when you’d prefer to be resting, even use up your reserves to break from the pack. Few people actually reach their potential because they’re always holding back and waiting for the finish line to come into view. It’s been my own experience that if you want to get to the next level, though, you have to push yourself when others are resting. Trust that the finish line will be there, even if you can’t see it yet.
In my last blog, I discussed an early breakthrough; the one where I decided to start a race by trying to stick with the leaders. The gamble paid off, and I indeed found myself running among the local elite. But, then I had to make another decision. Was I going to keep pushing and try to race with them, or was I going to take the safer route; which would involve backing off and waiting for them to make their own moves. In the end, I learned that racing well boils down to choice. The runner has to ask himself, “Am I going to take some chances, or am I going to hold back and wait for the kick.” Friend, the race is filled with runners waiting to kick. Meanwhile, as those folks are playing it safe, the race is being won by the few runners who are willing to push the pace during the difficult middle miles. You have to ask yourself, “Am I going to wait for the kick, or am I going to take some chances?” Which group will you be in? The choice is up to you.
The lessons I learned (Part II of III)