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Changing the Focus (SchrupThink)

The Boston Marathon is around the corner which for many (over 200 runners from Austin, not counting the hundreds others spread across central Texas) is the high point of the year. It is the grandest event of them all, to those who know. We all put in great amounts of time and effort to prepare for race day. Everyone does. We run countless miles burning through at least a few pairs of shoes, we do our general strength, our yoga, our Pilates and – when required – we’ll do the unthinkable and run in the pool.

We essentially ruin our Saturdays with long, fast workouts that put us on the sofa, drifting in and out of consciousness, barely able to operate a remote control. Our weekday morning workouts leave us over-cooked, our neurons firing intermittently out of exhaustion and depletion. Your co-workers ask if perhaps you had a late night, you know, wink-wink, nudge-nudge? Your spouse inquires as to why there was half eaten roast chicken in the hall closet. (Not that I’ve even done that. I heard about this one guy who did.)

We make big efforts so that we can put it all on the line for one single day.

One. Single. Day.

It almost doesn’t seem fair. You get up absurdly early every morning for six months so that you can do your workouts, or meet your teammates for a run. You beg off on the end of the week happy hour because, well, you have to run for three hours in the morning! Your kids know that you’re going to be late to the opening game of the soccer tournament because you’re at breakfast with your teammates, or standing in the shower, motionless, because you’re too tired to lift your arms to reach the shampoo. Big efforts all around! For one single day.

And then on race day, it is 85 and sunny, or you wake up with a cold, or your calves cramp (that’s NEVER happened before!) or any number of things that can happen on that one single day to rob your plans of glory and PR’s.

Now what?

Well, nothing. Nothing at all. The odds are that it isn’t going to be a perfect day. The chances of things going the way you dreamed and planned are fairly small. You take what that day gave you and say thanks. You give thanks for the lesson of the day. You give thanks that you had the opportunity to wake up and do this absurdly difficulty thing. And then you get 24 hours to whine and moan about it to anyone who will listen, and then you get up and carry on.

Nana korobi ya oki.

Fall down seven times, get up eight.

But we can’t expect it to be that easy, can we? It’s not all zen and stuff. I mean, we are results driven and we expect results. And to add to the familiar post-race depression that invariably sets in, now we don’t have anything to show for our efforts.

Perhaps you can alleviate some of that let down if we change the goal, change the focus. Yes, we still want to do well, particularly after spending all that money on travel and hotel and whatnot, but perhaps if we looked at the race as part of the bigger picture we wouldn’t be so miserably bummed when it is all over.

I suggest to people in my groups that they make the training the goal. Make the training the focus. Try to make your training block as close to perfect as possible. Make it consistent. Likely you won’t, because perfect doesn’t exist, at least in this context. But your odds are greater that you’ll have a great training block.

In your next marathon training block, make each day the most important day of your training. That is to say, put as much focus into your 45 minute recovery run that you put into your 30K specific fartlek. Pay attention to your diet over the 20 something weeks of the training in the same way that you do in the week leading up to the marathon. Learn how to run a workout on feel, rather than letting your GPS control you.

It works. It just does. I don’t know why. And what we’ve found is that you’re much more likely to have a great day on race day. You’re more appreciative of the day. And then getting up for the eighth time isn’t so hard.

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