"Shalane Flanagan cut such a familiar figure Sunday, running toward the cameras in Central Park at the New York City Marathon, that it seemed odd she hadn't been seen on a marathon course since the 2016 Rio Olympics. With her upright carriage, high cheekbones flushed with exertion, chin tucked, blond ponytail switching back and forth like a metronome, she has been a fixture in big international distance races for 10 years now: always in contention, never quite able to close the last gap. Now she was the one who was accelerating beyond reach."
Most people get more self reflective and resolve to make big life decisions
around temporal landmarks like today, New Year’s Day 2018 or other important points on the calendar which mark the passage of time to help them organize their lives into focused periods. But experts suggest that folks are more likely to stay motivated if they launch goals at a time that is personally meaningful to them.
Whatever you relate to as a psychologically significant transition point, where you can leave behind your past, imperfect self – and your failures – is the time you’ll feel more connected to your goal. Birthdays ending in nine are a popular choice because you’re approaching the milestone of a new decade. One study found significantly more people sign up for a marathon when they are age 39 or 49 than 40 or 50 for example.
An anniversary commemorating the birth or death of a loved one can also work wonders. I prefer to stay clear of the New Year’s hype by waiting a few weeks until Martin Luther King Day, which often coincides with my wife’s birthday. For me, this has become a worthy occasion to renew my commitment to a healthy lifestyle and to set realistic competitive goals for the year.
To Strive in Common
A healthy attitude toward competition can be one of your most powerful allies in increasing your performance, enjoyment level, and overall satisfaction throughout life. I love the fact that the word “compete” is derived from the Latin competere, “to strive in common.” In other words, the best way to find out how good your skills are is to match them against the skills of other people of similar ability.
Remember, hope is not a strategy. You need specific goals and targets to aim for. Motivational suggestions like “Do your best!” or “Give it 100%!” are just too vague to be of much use. Points of focus, technique, and realistic running speeds/distances set just above your current skill level provide a clear focus and direction to your running. Task-oriented goals like these are the building blocks of motivation, and learning to set the right goals helps you extend your personal limits and increase your enjoyment immensely.
What about you? What are you dissatisfied with about your running? One way to think of disliking the way you are is that it prevents you from stagnating. How relevant is this feeling to the specific running goals you’ve set for yourself? Are you too loose, too tight, or just right in your approach to the challenges you are facing?
Sometimes, for reasons difficult to explain, an athlete or weekend warrior will perform at a level far superior to their previous bests – and well beyond their most optimistic expectations. How does this happen? Craft and hard work are essential, of course. Planning, testing and monitoring also have their place. But what is the mysterious “X factor” that elevates an athlete’s performance above and beyond all expectation? In my experience, it has to do with unleashing the power of the mind so that everything — body, mind, spirit, and energy — is working in perfect harmony.
Some runners claim that wearable technology — those GPS gadgets, watches and smart phone apps that track your every move — hold tremendous promise for improving health and physical performance, and might even unlock the mysteries of ultra-heightened performance. These monitors often incorporate motivational tricks, including social networking and friendly electronic reminders, to get your butt moving out the door to do your workout. But people (and the “X” factor) are more complex than that. Personal trainers who swear by such devices are still trying to figure out ways to keep their clients motivated, and are no closer to cracking the code of “transcendent” performance.
I’ve taken a very different approach. There was a time when I was rigid and exacting with my training, much more focused and future oriented. I took pride in mapping out my whole running year like an Olympic athlete. Adhering to a strict schedule and holding myself to such meticulous standards eventually presented problems for me. I became overly focused on outcomes and ego-driven goals. I compared my performance with the other 100K and 100 milers in my peer group. Final results were all that mattered to me. I measured my success entirely by my finishing time and how high I placed among my fellow competitors. Sometimes I would get so tight because of long-term planning and expectations that I would feel completely pressurized.
I’m much looser now, and much happier because of it. Now I focus on the things that keep me running well, like eating right, meditating and cross training. I totally enjoy living on a day-by-day basis. When I inevitably experience lapses in motivation, I make an extra effort to change my routine, try a new workout, seek out the company of other people or venture into unexplored countryside. I have a goal, but I’m calm and casual about the process of achieving it. I’m willing to keep working hard at running well and to be patient with waiting as long as it takes for the results to come. My running is much more than planning or splits. It’s a basic way to express my individual freedom. I guess you could say I’ve found my zone — my own personal “X factor.”
Why I Coach
Where are you in the competitive spectrum? How much are you wrapped up in your competitive image and/or your fear of appearing as a failure? What are the positive and negative consequences of this that can you see? How high a value do you place on sportsmanship, cooperation, and teamwork; the idealistic view championed by the Olympic Games? In today’s highly competitive, commercialized, corporate world aspiring to the Olympic ideal can be complicated. To run for spiritual balance is not so easy.
Pop culture distracts us with a barrage of advice on the science of peak performance; weekly mileage, speed work, cross training, form correction, minimalist footwear, sports nutrition, beer running, body work, mindfulness techniques, and wearable technology to track our every move. It takes a leap of faith to tune out the noise, become less concerned with looking good, final outcomes, beating your previous times or another person. It takes serious daring to take my help to search out the best in yourself. But it’s the best way to gain confidence to go your own way, at your own pace, without worrying about how other people train.
If we let winning and losing define our lives, we’re in for a rough road. No one can win all the time; but our character can develop and shine forth while we are “striving in common” with others, searching out the best in ourselves. Do you ever experience running as nourishing the higher part of yourself rather than running to achieve results? How high do you place it when prioritizing your daily schedule? When you do something well, or endure something difficult, do you ever reward yourself with a run?