While listening to “S-Town” (currently the most downloaded podcast of all time) as I ran, I was completely captivated by the storyline. John B McLemore, an eccentric clockmaker and antiquarian horologist, is the main character of the show and has a unique relationship with his community, his planet, and time itself. In an essay, John defines the amount of time one has to achieve a worthwhile life…going into precise detail the amount of time spent waking, sleeping, commuting, convalescing, etc. His conclusion, after careful calculation, is that the average person who lives about 25,000 days on this planet, can pursue matters that are meaningful for a grand total of 4500 hours — a shockingly meager amount of time to squeeze all our passions and pursuits.
“Runners are the greatest people in the world,” I overheard the legendary coach Pat Tyson say this summer. “They’re tough as nails, energetic, and determined!” As a member of the tribe, a running coach, and spending the last 25 years around runners, I had to agree, and frankly it didn’t hurt to be reminded of the positives. However, when the gun goes off, not all runners flow with pure confidence and steely resolve.
In a sport that holds a mirror in front of you at every turn of the track or finish line, the psychological challenge can be daunting. One poor race or workout can tip the scales in the wrong direction, turning a simple sport into a massively complex one. Here are four tricks to keep your cool the next time you toe the line.
Comedian Mitch Hedberg famously noted that his desire to mountain climb was based solely on the romanticized idea of hanging out at basecamp, growing a beard, and drinking hot chocolate. In a similar vein, I found myself buying a ticket to Albuquerque to go hang out with the Brooks Beasts and experience life as a pro runner at high-altitude training camp. Breathing clean, thin air, experiencing the solitude of life without wifi, and simplifying the day’s objectives without distraction — days of run, rest, eat, repeat: this, in my mind, was to be the perfect retreat away from the daily grind. But I soon discovered that everything is more exhausting at altitude — even the simple act of trying to fall asleep that first night resulted in my hyperventilation — and the body responds in one of two ways: adapt or fail. Garrett Heath, currently one of the top talents in U.S. distance running, puts it best with regard to training at altitude. “You’re always toeing the line both physically and mentally between gaining that extra 1–2% of fitness that will get you ready to go sub-13:10 in the 5k, and completely breaking down your body to the point where you won’t recover until the offseason.”