LLD: The following is another guest post from Scout. His first post, How to Run Like a Stoic, remains one of the most popular on the blog. Here, Scout takes up some of the same themes but looks more explicitly at some common issues in training. I think you will enjoy his straightforward and clear-thinking style and find his advice useful. Without further ado...
I see the same questions come up again and again...
- "What pace should I run my race/training at?"
- "How do I avoid bonking in training/racing?"
- "Am I going to slow/fast/hard/easy?"
It seems to me that a number of people seem to base their racing and training plans on some sort of fear, and this fear stems from a perception of failure. People are afraid of failing in their training and racing. Which makes me wonder, what exactly constitutes this fear of failure in training and racing?
Fear of injury is most obvious; people hold back in training and racing out of a concern of getting injured. They relate injury with a failure to train properly, and I would tend to agree. However, I don’t consider this situation a failure; a mistake, sure, but not a failure, and not necessarily something that can always be avoided.
Fear of not finishing (or not finishing strong) also seems to be a major concern. People are obsessed with bonking, and how to avoid it, almost to the point where I don’t think most people even know what bonking really is. Cramping is more common. Nutrition during the event itself is almost always going to receive the blame for these situations, at least initially. The other root cause would be “running over your head”, which basically means going too hard for your current fitness level.
I have always taken the path of telling people that they need to slow down, train more, and give themselves time. “Run lots, mostly easy, sometimes hard” has been my mantra to new and experienced people alike. It’s simple, it’s pithy, and it encompasses the basic truths of training for pretty much anything. And people hate it for all those reasons, I’m sure. People want concrete answers, without having to think too much about it. Plans are great because they take away the responsibility of coming up with your own training, which is the third fear: fear of not knowing what to do.
At this point, I think I have discovered what the true root cause of these fears really is. It’s not really earth-shattering, but I do believe that it is rather instructive. The root of all these fears is goal-setting.
Fear of failure is essentially a fear of not meeting a goal. The aforementioned fears all relate to not being successful at running a certain time, or hitting a certain mile goal, or not finishing a specific race. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think goals are good; they provide a useful way to keep us motivated and to track progress. However, the goal has to be developed through careful thought. People seem to come up with rather arbitrary goals, that they thought sounded good. This arbitrariness is a recipe for dissatisfaction. If your goal is completely random, then what good is it? How can you chart a course to meeting it if you have no idea why you picked it in the first place?
Along with the arbitrary goal-setting is basing goals on things that you do not exercise full control over. I cannot control who my competitors are, or the weather, or the course (once I have picked a race, that is). What I can control is how I race that day. For example, many people pick a time goal for a race, and plan their race around that now sacrosanct goal. Instead of setting a time goal for a specific race, I plan on putting forth the best effort I can. My plan consists of putting forth my best effort, based on my current knowledge, training, and abilities. If I hit a certain time, it’s a bonus. But if I do not, then I can still be satisfied with how I ran the race. I have not failed, because my goal was completely within my control, and my grasp.
This concept of internally-based goals will seem completely counter-intuitive to many people. It’s nigh impossible to create a race plan with splits when you don’t have a goal based on time. The beauty, however, is the fact that you don’t need splits. You just race. You race by what you know about yourself. And that means that every race, every one, is a learning experience. You learn what effort levels feel like; you learn how well you climb hills or run flats; you learn how to finish strong. And if every race is a learning opportunity, then your day-to-day training provides you a wealth of information. Every time you step out that door, you have a chance to discover something about yourself.
Which leads me to my final point: your training and racing are your education, and you use that education to create realizable, internal goals, and those goals will lead to joy. Focus on setting goals that really matter. Running a certain time feels great, for a while. Then you start focusing on people who are faster or running more or running less, and you get caught up in the chase. Instead, consider focusing on doing your best, on learning something about yourself. If you bonk, so what? You learned something useful for next time. Can’t finish a run? No big deal.
In the end, if you let your fears dictate your goals, achieving your goals will never be truly rewarding.