Athletes

Race Brave

Molly Huddle

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Here is a partial list of things I have run away from:

  • unleashed chihuahua
  • most spiders
  • one gradeschool boy-girl party
  • routine tetanus shot
  • all karaoke

I am not a brave person. I’m the exact opposite, actually; I’m more of a grade ‘A’ weenie. But, being a professional distance runner requires some degree of cool headedness and well, I basically learned it. I studied the apparent grace under pressure of my sporting idols the way you learn rough choreography to your favorite Destiny’s Child song : you watch and mimic … in your living room. And you can too! It’s part psychology but mostly just organizing your thoughts. Actually, depending on how you handle stressful situations, you may innately know how to perform.

Some people thrive on race day pressure, while others perform well in practice but can’t seem to hit competitive goals. Regardless of the size of game day aspirations, race morning usually arrives with a side of adrenaline, which causes a milieu of responses depending on where you are on a scale of ‘worrier’ to ‘warrior’ (http://www.npr.org/2013/02/25/172879971/thescience-of-being-top-dog). You may be able to tell how you respond to such stress already. If you’re more of a ‘warrior’, you’re likely lifted to a new level of performance in races and feel so very alive by high stakes scenarios. ‘Worriers’, perhaps you don’t sleep the night before the race, pee your pants on the start line, forget your shoes or any other negative response to the effects of stress-brain. But worriers, worry no more, because both categories have strengths, we just need to let them work for us not against us!

Firstly, we ‘worriers’ are good planners, and what race is benefited more by excessive, almost obsessive planning and long term preparation than the marathon!? This distance may suit you well, but all distance running falls into this category to an extent so don’t let me limit you here. Below are some of my favorite ways to control the debris-filled tornado of worries inside your brain, and they basically all entail just writing stuff down.

For the worriers:

  1. Write down a schedule for race day logistics including transportation, meal times, any other important locations or instructions , lists of what to bring, etc.
  2. Breakdown your goal. Is it a specific time? try writing out splits and using them as a guide for piece by piece racing. Smaller steps are less intimidating to think about and make focusing more manageable. Do you have a place goal? Who can you stay with to hit that pace? What is the most simplified strategy?
  3. Squash the worries and negative thoughts-what are you most afraid of happening? How would you remedy that or deal with it? You may then throw that piece of paper away and also consider coming up with a positive mantra to repeat (sport psychology bonus!)

Now for the Brave among us! You are arguably the cooler crew and I’m not sure why you chose distance running, but apparently a shortcoming of ‘warriors’ is lack of long term preparation. That combined with your thrill seeking nature might make you more suited for the mile or other shorter races where tactics and exciting sprint finishes come into play, but that’s just a suggestion. Don’t let me put you in a box!

Race day is where you naturally shine, but maybe you could shine even brighter with a better long term training routine. Here are some good ways to keep yourself accountable.

For the warriors:

  1. Partner up! Training partners keep the runs fun, create synergy and you can feed off any competitive nature by simulating a race.
  2. Get a coach – someone to lay out a plan, motivate you or just straight yell at you to get your work done consistently. I bet a worrier makes a fabulous coach.
  3. Reign in your zest for life until race day – this is just temporary but if your daily life is a series of all night cram sessions, weekend raving and Tokyo drifting, maybe tone it down a few weeks before big races to save energy, get enough sleep and focus on the minutia that seems to enhance your running by keeping you uninjured.

Good luck to you spring racers-be you fearsome or fretting, may the competition be fierce!

Molly Huddle
Guest Contributor

Molly Huddle

Molly Huddle is a 2012 U.S. Olympian who holds the American record in the 5,000 meters (14:44.76). She is a three-time consecutive U.S. 10K Road Race Champion and was a member of the bronze medal winning American team at the 2011 IAAF World Cross Country Championships. Molly was a nine-time NCAA Division I All-American at the University of Notre Dame.

Twitter @MollyHuddle

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