Posted by: Joe English | October 27, 2010

Racing: The (non-)Mythical Flawless Marathon

running-advice-bugI received a great, and unsual, e-mail the other day. It was from a marathon runner who had just completed her latest marathon. That doesn’t make it unique. I get a lot of e-mail. What was unique about it was this: everything had gone right for her. Everything had gone to plan. I don’t get a lot of those e-mails and I was quite overjoyed about it. In fact, I may have even told her that I was proud of her. Why? Because it happens so infrequently.

It isn’t that marathons don’t go well all of the time. They do. But for a marathon to go flawlessly is a rare happening. When the weather is perfect and the course is great and the people are awesome. And when the pacing is done just right and the nutrition works and the hydration is spot on. And and and. . . when it all works, it is a thing of beauty.

It is with a sense of relief then that I write about what it means, for a change, for everything to go just right. It occurs to me that just as a toddler bumps over their glass of milk a few times and we have to explain to them not to worry about it, eventually they get it and they don’t spill their milk. They pick it up, drink it and then put it back down again. And as a parent you probably smile and think to yourself, ‘he got it.’ That’s a little like this situation in that marathon runners tend to make a mess of it a few times, even with the best coaching, until they finally knock one out of the park.

So when one gets knocked out to the park, what does Coach Joe have to say about it? Well, here’s what I say. It’s a thing of beauty. The flawless marathon isn’t quite like a hole-in-one in golf, because on some level the perfect marathon becomes more and more repeatable. Hitting the first one flawlessly teaches the runner something about their performance that they can’t learn until they do it for themself. And once they’ve learned that lesson, then they are able to view the whole experience in a totally differnt manner. And that’s what makes it so special.

What the runner learns in running a flawless marathon is that they then can focus solely on improvement. Improvement of their training to do more of the things that got them there and more of the things they failed to do but would have helped. Improvement in learning the feel of the pace through the race and knowning just where that razor’s edge lies between too hard and not hard enough. Improvement in refining their mental game to be able to conquer the race confidentially.

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