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? 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.”
Think About This:
- 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?
(1) Quote by Steve Prefontaine in How Bad Do You Want It? by Matt Fitzgerald, Velo Press – 2015