These are great motivation pieces written by a great runner, Eric Grossman. I had to copy these from Running Times just for my own record in case this is ever removed from the site. LOVE IT! You can find it by clicking here or just read below.
The buffer of warmth generated from running met the crisp autumn air. The countless tiny droplets from our quick breaths caught the faint glow from the distant street light. We celebrated the end of our season in a fitting way: We played chase. Jennifer Sinai invited the teams to a slumber party at her house, and we were loose on the fields of Sacred Heart Academy that abutted her backyard. Now that I was relieved of the pressure to perform, I became aware of the free flow of air in and out of my body.
That morning it had been a chore just to eat. I was completely congested. I sat across from my coach at Denny’s. I tried to blow my nose so that I could chew and breathe at the same time. He didn’t say anything at the time, but later he told me I had sounded like a fog horn, and knew we were in for a hard day.
Sure enough, I blew another state meet. For a high school athlete, the stakes don’t get any higher. Almost hourly since the previous Monday I was reminded — with an accompanying wave of anxiety — that this was what all the preparation had been about. I had deferred getting nervous about all the preceding meets by assuring myself that each was small potatoes compared to the state meet. Now I had to pay up.
I don’t remember much about the race other than that it was a slog. I had finished ahead of all the other runners in regular season races. Although I felt like I was yoked to my plow and breaking hard soil with every step, I stayed near the lead for the first mile. As runners started to pass me, I remember wishing Dave Lawhorn, my teammate and best friend, well. He went on to a great finish for him in seventh place. At least 20 runners finished ahead of me. My recollection of the run is hazy, but I remember that evening with crystal clarity.
I paused between flights in our game and hovered in the shadow of an old tree. My vaporous breath hinted at a lightness of being completely betrayed by my earth-bound performance that morning. I articulated the problem to myself and got an answer. The problem: Many things are out of our control. The five kilometer course for the state meet is set at the Kentucky Horse Park, on ground trounced by countless horses. There are other fast runners, many of whom prepare zealously to run as fast as possible. Even the things I might hope to control, like my own state of mind in the days before a big event, may well elude my efforts and manifest as illness. On any given day, and especially on a big day, I might do worse than expected.
I might do worse than expected. The sparkle of the street lamp was an angel with the divine revelation: You have a year to prepare so that on the first Saturday in November you may have a bad day … and still finish ahead of all the other runners. My path became clear. I began to plan for the training required to finish a minute or so faster than my nearest competitor.
If you have been around running for a while, none of what I did will come as a surprise. Every issue of Running Times will include some version of the training regimens that reliably yield improvement. I know that night I planned for the added mileage, mostly as additional morning runs and weekly long runs, that I would need.
You can find ways to improve.
We should not brush lightly over well-worn phrases like “set goals,” and “expect the unexpected.” Our ability to use these tools gives us leverage. The world hums along, obeying its own logic, indifferent to our appeals. When we are too proud, we expect that our efforts will be rewarded. When we are too humble, we give up on our projects as hopeless. When we engage with the world and learn from our efforts, we move forward. When we do the work to review our mistakes, we can figure out ways to avoid those same mistakes. When we set goals, we can devise means of reaching those goals based on our own experiences and the experiences of others who have set similar goals. Most importantly, when we take into account those things that used to seem outside of our control, we grow in stature. We assume responsibility for our “off days” and get credit when we succeed despite them.
It should be only slightly anticlimactic to reveal that I finished second at the state championship the following year. My relative performance suffered, as it had before. My time, however, was a minute and 20 seconds faster than the year before. Though my training didn’t put all of my competitors out of reach, I had finished ahead of every other runner in every one of my regular season meets. Rob Shoaf, the state champion both years, had made plans of his own. As competitors will, he took my performances into account and trained so that his fitness peaked just as mine declined. The friendly rivalry was good for both of us. I’m certain that he values the memories of high school competition as much as I do. Not because we can reminisce about our moments of glory, but because our recollections reinforce the nature of performance more generally: We can do better.
Eric Grossman is a member of the Montrail ultrarunning team. At age 40, Grossman won the 2008 USATF 50-mile national championship. Check back next week for more of Grossman's motivational tips.