Letting go of the Outcome
Letting go of the outcome to train and race at a higher level. It seems counterintuitive but if you have read my post Its all in your head: Mental Toughness and Body Awareness then you will start to see where I am coming from. When you are so concerned about the result that you are obsessing over it, losing sleep over it or, it is just an overbearing sense of anxiety, it is just not productive. I am not saying that you don't have to have goals. Its more about having a healthy relationship with those goals.
The Early Days
Reflecting back on my career as a competitive paddler, I was always obsessed with the outcome. I have to make Canada Games, I have to qualify for nationals or make the junior worlds team. The list goes on, but the mindset was the same. It can't be very good for your race performance if you have yourself so worked up on the start line that you are throwing up before the gun goes off. That is putting way too much pressure on yourself and in the end it means that you do not perform to your full potential.
So you can see this is a pretty personal topic to me. When I started running, I of course fell into the same thought patterns. I have to finish this marathon, qualify for Boston or make it to the finish of my first 50 miler. Unless you do the work to disrupt the way you approach things, nothing changes and you fall back into the same routine. Even my wife would tell you how nervous I was leading up to the races, or how consumed I was by my training.
How This Works
I have done a fair amount of reading on the the subject of performing at your maximum potential and the most common theme that keeps coming up, is letting go of the outcome. I don't mean that you don't care, its just a shift in mindset that takes the pressure off so you can focus on the task at hand.
If your head is not all clouded with anxiety about whether you are going to run a PR then you have more bandwidth available to get down to business and execute. You can be more in tune with what is going on around you and instead of crumbling when things don't go your way you are more able to adjust on the fly and course correct. Not to mention that all that stressing takes energy.
On the training side of things being 110% into your training all of the time can also be counter productive. If all you think about all day in and day out is "are my splits fast enough, is my heart rate low enough" or "I really blew that workout, there is no way I am going to make my goal now". All of this over analyzing and negative talk can be quite detrimental. It causes your body more stress.
Yes mental stress is still stress and your body can only handle so much of it. So if your stressed out all of the time about your training or your race, you are actually causing your body to recover slower from the training that you are doing. As a result you are likely not able to train as hard as you could if you weren't stressed.
Tips to Let Go
Have a flexible training plan, and accept change
Keep you eye on the big picture, look for long term trends when analyzing your training
Check in on your progress periodically, not obsessively
When you do check in, recognize and celebrate the gains, no matter how small. Its all about forward motion. It doesn't happen over night
Set smaller process goals so you can gauge progress, so its not all tied to one big goal
Find your tribe, you don't have to go it alone, surround yourself with like minded people
Don't compare yourself to other people, this is your own journey. You are doing this for you
Meditation to help calm your mind
Spend some time and plan your race day.... then practice it, then master it.
Line up on race day with a purpose. That purpose is not to run a PR or qualify for Boston (those are outcomes), the purpose is to get the best performance out of yourself on this day, in these conditions and on this course.
How Is This Working For Me?
First let me be honest and say that I struggled sharing this before I run my BQ attempt in a few weeks. What if I write this and I don't run a good race, what will people think?
So I am not perfect, I still struggle with letting go of the outcome and worrying about what other people think sometimes, but I am actively working on it and so far with big improvements.
My training has gone great, I have pushed myself harder than I have ever before. I am sleeping better than I ever have, and I am recovering faster from workouts. My overall stress levels are way down. I am actually present at home with my wife while running 100-120k training weeks.
Ive also been able to take a bit more of a laid back approach to training. I am still training my butt off, but it has become more of lifestyle for me. I have been able to incorporate it into many adventures and outings with Amanda which has definitely increased my level of enjoyment. As seen in this picture, we often enjoy camping together, and getting to do my training in new parts of the province or country is always fun!
This has been and still is a gradual shift for me. I can see it in myself mostly at home during training, but I am also noticing changes in myself in the weeks leading up to races and on the start line. I am calmer and more focused, then when I look back at my former self not only as a teenage athlete, but even my self from last year. Recognizing the gains of something as abstract as this can be difficult, but that where practicing self awareness also comes into play.
My Upcoming Race
So in three weeks time I will line up for the Fredericton Marathon knowing that I have worked my butt off, I am fitter than I have ever been, I have practiced my race day strategies and I am confident. Yes I still have the goal of trying to qualify for Boston, and I have met all of my process goals leading up to this point. On race day its just going to be all about giving it my all and seeing what happens.