I hope we can all agree on the importance of honesty or, in yogic terms, satya (truthfulness) in how we live our lives. As we usher in a new year, many of us may also be thinking about this in terms of living authentically with our truths: What does it look like to live exactly in alignment with who we are? What does it mean to act in ways that fully represent who we are and how do we do that? In general terms, these are very important questions if we wish to live conscious lives. But, what if we focus them in more specifically and apply them to our running and, more narrowly still, to racing? What does it mean to race consciously?
I have, for the majority of my life, been an emotional racer. I’ve so often been caught up in how I feel in each moment during a race that I forget what I’m doing and what my purpose is in the race (to run as hard as I can).
I start reasoning with myself: Well, you can slow down just a little bit and still run under 8 hours. I mean, that’s not your goal, but it’s still a PR. Or there’s the thoughts like, Oh, something must be wrong. I should stop. It’s the right thing to do to stop because it really shouldn’t feel this hard; I didn’t sleep well and I didn’t eat well. And my stomach hurts so that is probably a sign. … I mean, the excuses! They can go on and on. This pattern may sound familiar for some of you. And if it does, I bet at the end of every race you may think to yourself, Ugh! If I had only pushed just a little harder!
My best races–the ones I remember with a smile on my face–are the races when I ran fully present, fully immersed and without all the mental banter.
By this point you may be thinking what does this have to do with honesty? Well that’s just it! It has EVERYTHING to do with honesty!
In those moments of reasoning, when something isn’t really wrong, when you are creating that story in your head about what you could and could not do, you are not only not being present in the moment, you were being dishonest with yourself, you are not holding yourself accountable.
And isn’t being honest with yourself just as important as being honest with everyone else?
How can you possibly do this, though? Racing can be so hard. Here, I offer three practical tips I’ve learned over the years through both yoga and running to help us all make the most of race day:
- BREATHE. When you start to feel discomfort in the later stages of a race, when your body is fatigued, just tell yourself over and over, “Just breathe.” And really do it. Drop your shoulders. Sigh loudly a few times if you need to. Stretch your jaw. Shake out your arms and legs. Count your steps and synch them with your breath. Let the rhythm of your steps and breath lead you as you relax further and focus over and over on the moment at hand (on your steps and breath) instead of the pain you feel. Think of this as a meditation of sorts.
- VISUALIZE. There is immense value in the idea of deciding you have already accomplished something before you have physically completed it. Sports psychologists use this tactic to help their athletes perform at a higher level. And it’s been proven effective. At the start line (and for the weeks leading up to your event), visualize the race going smoothly. Visualize yourself running relaxed despite whatever comes up, be it weather or body or nutrition …. or anything at all. Visualize crossing the finish line in your goal time, relaxed and happy. When things get tough in the race and you start questioning yourself, return your thoughts to this visualization. Remind yourself that you’ve already run the race and that it’s OK, you can do this. And then, well, get it done!
- CHECK IN. Are you feeling doubtful? Take a moment to check in honestly with yourself. Is this doubt from an actual place of REAL trouble (like a sprained ankle or torn hamstring, for example)? Or, is it simply sprouting from a place of fear that perhaps you will disappoint yourself or others? Would slowing down or DNFing really be the honest choice here? Would that be truthful? If the answer is no, then return to number 1 and breathe.