How to race; confidence and expectations
Training is going well, but it’s all dull laps on the golf course during which I try to imagine what it’ll be like to race again. This daydreaming about dropping hot laps on a banked track isn’t really productive -- though it’s fun -- and even though my next race is a few months away, I thought it would be good to think about how it’ll really go.
A lot of people believe you need to be confident to run fast. That confidence can’t just appear from thin air, however, and no matter how confident you are, you can’t will yourself to run a certain time. Confidence must be built up from months of training and building fitness; you have to know you’re at the next level, and then actually be able to execute. There’s false confidence as well: there’s no one-to-one correlation between workouts and races, and just because you ran five-by-kilo in X doesn’t mean you’ll run Y the next 5k you run. Instead, you might run slower than you thought, and your confidence will erode even further.
Like anything in training, confidence in your ability to run fast and win can snowball in either direction. Success breeds success. It can feel like a catch-22, for how do you find the success to begin with? When your races don’t meet your expectations, for weeks on end, it can really feel like you’re in a hole you can’t get out of. Most people only get out of this hole after a break between seasons, and it’s clear to me that this is because the intervening time period usually provides a boost in fitness that finally matches the athlete’s fitness level with their expectations.
It all comes down to your expectations. An easier way out of the hole is to lower your expectations to match your fitness -- well, easy in theory. It’s hard to tell yourself that you’re worse than you previously thought (or were).
Maybe all this could be avoided if we just trained and raced with lower expectations. I read an interesting psychological study that explained how “positive fantasies translate into poor achievement” (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S002210311100031X). By imagining yourself crossing the finish line with a new PR, you’re getting your brain to mimic the feelings you’d experience if it really happened. In addition, you’re never going to imagine it as it really will happen. Races hurt, though we tend to forget that after a victory. Daydreaming about a PR doesn’t bring any of the uncomfortable stuff up -- the stuff that’ll make or break it around 50-60% of the way through the race. These days, I subscribe to a ‘visualization’ (if you can call it that) method in which I only think about how hard the race is going to be. That’s the only expectation you can really have -- and you can plan on conquering that pain and pushing through it. Don’t worry about how fast (or slow) you’ll run -- it’s irrelevant. Keep in mind that no matter how fast you are, there’s someone out there who can run that PR during a workout or easy run (any world record holders read my blog?). Expect little from your times, and a lot from your effort, and maybe you’ll run fast. If you don’t -- blame your coach, not me. Maybe I’m delusional and my first races on the track post-collegiately will end in disaster. But that’s the power of low expectations, right?
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I'm Ben Rainero, creator of BiggerLog. Here's where I'll write more in depth about my training, my thoughts on competitive distance running, and the design process behind the log website. You can also check out my running log here.