Racing & Competition Skills

Light Your Fire!
When it comes to training, runners try to do it all. Yet when I ask runners to describe their typical training week and the purpose of each run, they often can’t explain why they do what they do. These topics help runners trim the “shoulds” from their routine, focusing instead on what results in the greatest satisfaction. If trying to include everything you think you should into your training plan is dampening your enjoyment of running, try a simpler approach: just make sure to vary your distances, paces, and recoveries, and you will garner maximum benefits from your investment in training time.


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In today’s highly competitive, commercialized world, to run for the pure pleasure of it is not so easy. Pop culture barrages us with advice on running form, weekly mileage, speed work, cross training, barefoot running, body work, nutrition, mindfulness techniques, and wearable technology to track our every move.


It takes courage to tune out the noise, become less concerned with looking good, final outcomes, beating your previous times or another person. It takes courage to search out the best in yourself. But it’s the only way to gain confidence to go your own way, at your own pace, without worrying about how other people train.


Rather than running simply because you “should,” or because it’s good for you, or to look and feel fit, to be up front, or to achieve results that outperform other people, do you ever experience running as nourishing the higher part of yourself? 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?


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?


How strong is your commitment to learning something new each and every day you train? To learn with your whole body is to refine the mechanics in all required motions of your sport. How continually do you search for more flow and fluidity, more power within the range of the running motion… that small bit beyond just doing the same thing over and over in the same way?


Contemplate your own running. 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? 


Effort makes the being vibrate at a certain degree of tension which makes it possible for you to feel joy. Those who are essentially lazy will never find joy–they do not have the strength to be joyful! (1)


Feeling the vibration of joy will give you a deep incentive to keep going. You may even find it stronger than tracking your activity or posting performances on the various social networks! More significantly, it connects you with a second energy, much like the survival impulse we share with all living things. Making an effort uses energy, but it also produces more heat, more “fire.” That’s why we say there is always a “kick” no matter how exhausted your legs feel.

When you choose to take on the weak and rebellious parts of your nature, you enter into a fiery struggle between “yes” and “no.” Do I take the time I need to get my run in today, or do I procrastinate further? Should I slow down, speed up, or stop altogether?  Whatever you do, don’t be afraid to struggle. Unless you’re over-ambitious, foolhardy, or vainglorious, you won’t injure yourself by pushing your legs and your lungs.

When you feel good you will run farther and faster. That’s the easy part of training. If you’re having a difficult day, stay with the effort, even though you will not cover as much distance. Every workout can be a good workout as long as you make the right amount of effort. The key to your future happiness and fitness is your willingness to joyfully do battle with your weaknesses.thewayofrunning-wide31

Remember that persistence will do what cannot be achieved by force. Drops of water wear away a stone; a cloud burst will leave it unchanged. A very modest plan of action, carried through to a conclusion, (add comma) can produce astonishing results. (2)

Take your work seriously and yourself lightly. Never stop to regret failures or excuse them. They have gone out of your present moment and there is nothing you can do about them. (3)

Approached with more fire, a run turns into a creative situation. The value in it is self-discovery. All kinds of human qualities emerge – things that you may have never seen about yourself before. Now that’s motivating!

Think about this


(1) Excerpt from “The Sunlit Path” – by The Mother

(2-3) J. G. Bennett, Transformation, Claymont Communications – 1978


“Waiting is not mere empty hoping. It has the inner certainty of reaching the goal.”

– Hexegram #5 Hsu / Waiting (Nourishment)  – The I Ching or Book of Changes

Perseverance furthers. That wisdom was instilled in me from the very first time I began working on myself. I love the fact that the word “competition” derives its meaning from the Latin words con and petrie: “to search together.” In other words, the best way to find out how good my skills are is to match them against the skills of other people with similar ability.(1) Competition is not ego oriented for me any more. I’m less concerned with the final results than I am with searching out the best in myself.

This means much more to me than simply “doing my best” or “giving 100%.” That’s not specific enough for me. Points of focus, technique, and realistic running speeds/distances, set just above my current skill level, give a direction to my running. Task oriented goals like these are the building blocks of my motivation, and learning to set the right goals helps me enjoy the process of competition — and the practice of extending my personal limits — immensely.

I believe this is one of the reasons why African runners tend to do better than most non-African runners. 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.


The way they run is ultimately with more fire. (2)

It’s not uncommon to see the Ethiopian or Kenyan 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. The pundits wonder why they do such things. It doesn’t make sense — at least from the point of view of winning a race. They don’t seem to worry about such things. One could argue that they are running with more fire.

It’s impressive but it can be both good and bad, gambling in this way. The physical shock can be staggering. You have to be mentally and strategically organized in order to withstand it. If you stand at the starting line and just expect it to happen, and haven’t thought about what you need focus on, it won’t happen.  My advice is to push yourself in a relaxed way. If you’re not too ambitious, you’ll eventually learn to measure your own capacity with accuracy. This is how you learn to run with more fire – to continually work just that small bit beyond what is required on race day.

Read more on this topic here

Footnotes –

(1) M. Csikszentmihalyi, Flow in Sports, Human Kinetics – 1999

(2) T. Tanser, More Fire – How to Run the Kenyan Way , Westholme Publishing – 2008

“Some people create with words or with music or with a brush and paint. I like to make something beautiful when I run.” (1)

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.


 Meadow cruising - Elkhorn Mountain 100K

Meticulous planning got me to the starting line of the Elkhorn Mountain 100K in Montana. Knowing how to stay in the moment empowered me to finish 5th overall.


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.”

Think About This:

  1. Exercise science has proven how few other activities match the benefits of running to your health and fitness and longevity. Rather than running because it’s supposed to be good for you or to look good etc., do you ever experience running as nourishing the higher part of yourself? 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?

Read more on this topic here

Footnotes –

(1)  Quote by Steve Prefontaine in How Bad Do You Want It?  by Matt Fitzgerald, Velo Press – 2015


“Let your personality show; let your game flow.” — Anonymous

If you’re like me, motivational suggestions like “Do your best!” or “Give it 100%!” are just too vague to be of much use. I need specific goals and targets to aim for. Points of focus, technique, and realistic running speeds/distances set just above my current skill level provide a clear focus and direction to my running. Task-oriented goals like these are the building blocks of my motivation, and learning to set the right goals helps me extend my personal limits and increase my enjoyment immensely.

Competition can play a key role in this process. Odds are you’ve already formed your own philosophy and attitudes about competition, which have in turn been shaped by your genetic inheritance and childhood experiences. A healthy attitude toward competition can be a powerful ally in increasing one’s performance, enjoyment level, and overall satisfaction throughout life. But competition can also have a dark side.Art-Ives-062715-19

There was a time in my life when the desire to win was so strong that it cast a shadow over everything else. 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.

I learned that the “racer” and the “pacer” are the two bookends of the competitive spectrum. The racer believes that winning is all that matters, that failing to win is unacceptable. The racer’s attitude is summed up by Vince Lombardi’s quote, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” The pacer, on the other hand, believes that participating and doing your best are what matter most. The pacer attitude places a high value on sportsmanship, cooperation, and teamwork; it is the view championed at the Olympic Games. In today’s highly competitive and commercialized world, the choice of which camp to be in, racer or pacer, can be complicated. 

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 my skills are is to match them against the skills of other people of similar ability. This understanding brought about a fundamental change in my approach to competing. There’s still nothing like a race to ignite my inner fire, but now I’m less concerned with the final results than I am with searching out the best in myself.

Whether it’s playing in a Super Bowl or running in a local trail race, 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.

Think about this

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Art emanates a sporting “vibe” that acts as a hidden spiritual power, influencing others without their being aware of how it happens.

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