You hear a lot of talented athletes talk about their races where they didn’t hit the mark. Granted there’s a lot good reasons why a race might go wrong – weather, equipment failure, cataclysmic freakish injury, but all things equal, when it all comes down to it you either hit it or not.
Most of us do a lot of training. Good, high quality training that puts us in tip top condition. We read the books, seek the advice, challenge ourselves with bigger and better goals. At a certain level in the amateur ranks, there’s not much that separates the top athletes from each other in a physical sense. Training is training and if you follow a solid plan, you’re likely all at the same level. So what is it? What makes one top amateur hit their mark while the others fall short of the target?
I’d like to think those that hit their target weren’t afraid to ask what if – what if I pushed it a little more, what if I wanted this more than you, what if I wasn’t afraid to go out and get it, what if I didn’t fear failure or expectations or injury or anything else that might stand in the way of me and my goals. What if.
What keeps you from asking what if, from taking that chance? More often not, it’s fear of pain, failure, injury, success. Anything, good or bad, can be feared and can hold you back. But you have to work through this. You have to be willing to take the chance, to ask the question, and see what happens. And that’s why during training I try to get in the practice of playing the “what if?” game.
Ok, you’re in the pool, there’s someone ahead of you that’s just that much faster. You’re doing a set of 9 x 100’s with 15 seconds rest. Now here’s the situation – do you stick in your comfort zone at the pace that you know you can handle for all 9 x 100 or do you say to yourself “what if” – what if I take it up a notch, what if I roll my hips more powerfully, what if I pull the water harder? Think about it – what if? The worst that could happen – you blow up. And that wouldn’t be so bad – then you shift your focus for the workout and just swim smooth, slow, and work on form. But what if you can keep up? What if you can take it to that next level and in doing so gain all the confidence in the world that day because you took the chance, made the leap, and in doing so got to that next level.
The what-if game is what you need when race day rolls around. There will come that moment where you either need to attack, or push it a bit harder to keep up, or hold them off. What do you do? If you sit back and hold back, you become complacent and risk never breaking through. But what if you take that step, pick it up, and at that moment challenge yourself with “what if?” Well, that is for you to find out.
This weekend, I am heading up to Canada, to Corner Brook for the Duathlon World Championship. I already know that I will be up against not only the best in the world, but the best duathlete in the U.S. And, she’s in my age group. And, she’s beaten me already this year. And, she can run a sub-38 10K. But this is a different course on a different day. This race can be anyone’s game and there’s no reason why it can’t be mine. So, I’m taking my chances – I’m going to ask myself ‘what if.’
I’ve been asking myself what if for the past few weeks. What if I could climb that hill harder or hold that wattage longer or run that interval a bit harder. I asked, and asked, and then waited for the answers. And I found out that I could – that I could push harder or hold higher wattage or hold a faster pace. I just had to be willing to take the chance.
I took the chance and in doing so found a new confidence, found a new place – and I now know the way to get there. Each time that I want to go there, it will be that much easier.
Don’t expect to do anything different on race day. Don’t expect to go anywhere that you haven’t already gone in training. If you play the what if game often enough, you’ll find that training is harder than any race. In training you breakthrough and breakdown, you hurt, you suffer, and ache. But the best races are those that are effortless – because you’ve been there before in training, your body knows it and trusts it. Because you asked what if and it knows how to answer.
Understand that in races, there will be a point where you have go past your training. A breakthrough is waiting to happen and there will be a bridge that you will have to cross. Get in the habit of asking yourself ‘what if’ - you will cross that bridge and find your success.