It’s not uncommon to see the North African leaders in a race cast caution to the wind by impulsively going out faster in their opening mile than anyone else would dare. Sometimes they even sacrifice their own race by going out hard, dropping their competitors only to tire in the late stages to allow one of their teammates to ultimately win. Look at their stride. They don’t think too much about planning or splits. They do things in more in a natural way. But at the same time, they can also get carried away.
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?
There are all sorts of ways to build energy and momentum on trails. Not by working harder, but by making agile movements, taking light leaps over tree roots, balancing on boulders, navigating sharp switchbacks speedily, avoiding muddy patches — or tromping right through them! Moving rapidly on rocky surfaces, through soft sand, dense grasses or shallow creeks, attacking a formidable headwind… all of these challenges force us to alter our habitual stride pattern.
There was a time in my life when I thought the ultimate goal of running was to compete, and the greatest happiness to be derived from training was to win. For me, there was no worse feeling than not being able to race up to my expectations. Not surprisingly, I discovered that my happiness and self-esteem were directly linked to my win/loss record. I began to question the wisdom of this approach; I began studying the nature of competition itself.