Recently, I was discussing race strategy with a runner I coach about her goal time for an upcoming race. Her goal was going to be a personal best by a challenging margin. Even so, all her training had indicated that she could achieve it.
My question to her was: Did she believe it? When I asked her this, she began discussing multiple race scenarios and appropriate strategies: “If X happens then I’ll do Y and then if Y happens then I’ll do Z.”
I stopped her short: “I don’t think you really want to PR.”
Her jaw nearly dropped to the floor. After getting over her initial shock, she became indignant, tossed me a “How dare you” look and harrumphed, “Well then what do YOU suggest?”
Easy. There is no Plan B.
“You don’t understand, there are no “buts” or Plan B. You must not give yourself permission to fail. If you only have one clear objective, you can focus all your energy, all your attention on this single objective.”
My athlete was now paying very close attention. Her next question was a very relevant one, “So, do I not make a strategy? Do I just wing it?”
“No,” I responded more gently, “There is a difference between a strategy we create to achieve Plan A and Plan B. The strategy needs to be simple, uncomplicated and completely focused on achieving the goal. If we can accomplish this we will further reinforce, step by step, the purpose for your competing in the first place.”
“What about the weather? What if it’s too hot to reach the time I want? Shouldn’t I set up a back-up plan?” she asked.
“Do you want to run the back-up time?”
“Not really, but I don’t want to die out there.”
“I certainly don’t want you to die, either and doubt you will. Your body will back off before you get to that point and you’ll be forced to admit that on that given day you failed to reach your objective. If you really want this goal, you have to risk failing. And making a Plan B is not risking – it’s planning to fail.”
My runner hopefully learned something that all ambitious runners must go through. In order to reach a big hairy audacious goal, it is essential to be all in. You can’t hedge your bets because when the race or the competition is throwing haymakers, you’ll find a reason to bail.
One of my absolute favorite quotes is from former undisputed heavyweight boxing champion, Mike Tyson: who said: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
What Iron Mike was saying is that it’s guaranteed that if you set tough, challenging, sphincter-puckering goals you are going to get hit in the face. It is the nature of the sport of distance running. Heck, it’s the nature of life.
Whenever we strive for a PR or a breakthrough race, we face the challenges of distance, time, competitors, weather and our own internal thoughts and fears. So if your Plan A gets decimated after you get thrown adversity, what is the value of Plan B?
In his recent book, Elite Minds, Stan Beecham discusses the Marathon Monks of Mt Hiei (http://www.journeyman.tv), who were first brought to the attention of Westerners by the American Buddhist priest and scholar John Stevens, and their grueling 1,000-day marathon – an insane commitment to run 1,000 marathons in seven years. These incredible spiritual athletes run or walk a marathon each day (actually 40 kilometers or 24.8 miles, but who’s really counting?) for 100 days in the first three years, the other 265 days they are just like every other monk who has dedicated their lives to this Tendai school of Buddhism just outside Kyoto, Japan.
But the first three years are just a warm-up. In years four and five, they complete the marathon distance each day for 200 days. Year six the distance increases to 60-K for 100 days. Then the final year brings two 100-day commitments, the first of 84-K per day (52 miles) and the second 100-day period is a mere 40-K.
While these feats of human endurance are almost beyond the realm of comprehension, there is another aspect of this that is more incredible and relevant to our current discussion. Each monk must request the honor of attempting to become a marathon monk. This commitment is not taken lightly. Each monk carries a knife and a cord of rope, known as the “cord of death” , with them on their journey and if they believe that they will not be able to complete that days required distance they will commit ritual suicide by seppuku – or hanging. These men will kill themselves if they are unable to reach their goal because for them there is no Plan B.
What? You won’t kill yourself for your goal? Perhaps, this example is a bit extreme but I bring it to your attention so you will recognize that if you allow yourself a secondary plan, you will use it.
True greatness occurs when the challenge is scary and you refuse to fail. Commit to your Plan A and refuse to waiver. If you fail then, you have done so with honor and by exhausting all alternatives.
Don’t be an excuse generator.