The title is a reference of course to the best laid plans. When we came out of cross country season last year, we made a plan to build toward this weekend. Each phase was meant to build on the last, and each phase was planned as if the last had gone perfectly. Of course, it never goes that way. We plan, but then we have to revise. I teach writing, and really, the only important bit of advice to give about writing is to revise. Write, then revise, revise, revise again. So if the plan doesn’t come together exactly as first envisioned, this is ok.
On the whole, for our little group, we did manage to stick with the plan. A few elements we considered important were that we were going to try to keep racing focused on a couple parts of the season, in order to allow us to train better, for longer, uninterrupted stretches. Some people needed a bit more racing experience, and we got them that, but for the most part, we got the training we wanted, and we got the racing we wanted.
When the season is about to end, it is hard not to place a lot of importance on the last races, as if they will define and validate all the work that has come before. But this is not so. A bad day at the track does not mean everything went wrong, and that we need to throw it all out the window. Nor does a good day mean we should just repeat exactly what we did this year, and expect similar results another time. A race is just a snapshot in time, in an evolving career. It’s an opportunity to show what you’ve got. I think that’s the best way to think of it.
The race is not a weight you carry, doesn’t force your hand, is not a dream where you stand in your underwear in front of your peers and recite some poem that you can’t remember. It’s a chance. All the holding back you’ve done, all the little pieces you’ve worked on, all the rest you’ve accumulated will all come together. Trust the training. If you’ve put in the work, you’ll race within the expected range of your fitness.
If that doesn’t sound all that exciting (who finishes a race and says, “Yes! I raced within the expected range of my fitness!”? No one does), it’s not. The real fun comes in trying to reach the ceiling of that potential. Some people say fitness is the main determinant of racing, and I agree to an extent. But fitness only gets you in the race. The moment of the race is yours to grasp with whatever mental strength you have.
There’s a moment in every race where you have to make a decision. I’ve heard it described as the answer to this question: “Are you going to channel your inner hero, or your inner wimp?” A man (woman), or a mouse? Perhaps that’s harsh, as we know distance running is hard, and to call someone a wimp for not running to their potential might seem unfair. But if that is the case, they had the chance, and they didn’t take it. Everybody hurts, so hurting is not really an excuse.
You also have to race smart. I heard this recently and I really like it: “In the first half of the race, don’t be an idiot. In the second half, don’t be a wimp.” Again with the wimp, and I’m also not so much for telling people what not to do, but it’s true. Be patient, because it’s easy at first. Prepare yourself for the pain. When the pain comes, it is a signal to you that it is time to work. Call on your training: remember the very tough workouts you finished. Remember other races where you took that leap and found something you didn’t know you had. Make the right decision.
You’ll probably be disappointed in the end. Runners always are. Even if you run a PB, you’ll think “I could have gone 2sec faster” or “I could have beaten one more guy.” That’s ok. Unless you just broke the world record while winning an Olympic gold medal, you’re right: you can do better. But for now you’ve done your best. Take a moment.
And if you didn’t do your best, figure out why. What is stopping you? Why won’t you give yourself permission to run fast? It’s up to you to make the decision. No one else is responsible for what you’ve done. Be smart, be confident, have fun, make the right decision, and you’ll run fast.