Posted by: Joe English | May 24, 2012

Racing — Taking The Pressure Off

running-advice-bugOver the past couple of months I have supported lots of runners at their Spring marathons. I’ve been kind of fascinated by a common theme that I’ve heard from some of them. The most common scenario goes something like this. The runner is telling me that they originally planned to run their marathon in X time but that now that something has happened to them, they’re “just going to relax and see how it goes.” I bumped into a couple of such runners out on marathon courses and they looked great, happy, and relaxed. One such runner said to me, “Once I really realized that I couldn’t make my goal, I felt so much better about the race.”

The common theme here is the tremendous pressure that we place on ourselves as runners. What these runners are expressing is a form of relief that they are feeling after loosening the pressure valve and letting themselves off the hook. As I asked one of the runners above: “hey, we knew that you weren’t going to win this thing, so what’s really changed here?” Nothing’s really changed, except that they’ve allowed themselves to experience the race without the pressure that they were putting on themselves.

Pressure is not necessarily a bad thing. The sense of pressure that we place on ourselves is something that helps us perform. When it comes time to endure pain, push hard, or dig deep, it is that sense of pressure that allows us to respond and meet those challenges. But pressure can be a negative thing as well. If we become obsessed with meeting our goals, especially our stretch goals, then we can drive ourselves crazy with anxiety and worry. This just takes away from the experience and makes us feel bad.

What’s important is that we are in touch with the pressures that we are putting on ourselves and try to understand where they are are coming from. Are these real competitive pressures that we’re feeling (such as from a true adversary or in trying to set a new personal best) or are we simply putting pressure on ourselves to meet a particular goal? I commonly hear runners say things like, “I just really wanted to run 3:35:00 here at this race.” They are heartbroken when they run 3:37:00 or 3:40:00 or 3:45:00 — but have they actually failed to achieve something that anyone other then they would even recognize?

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  1. My most enjoyable races have been when I went in with lower expectations and resolved to “just have fun.” Sometimes we runners take ourselves too seriously. I like a PR as much as the next guy, but 99% of the world could care less about my finish time.

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