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“Is There Enough Time to Train for This Race”?
Feeling a Time Crunch vs. ‘Will This Race Ever Get Here’!?
Pink Floyd’s song “Time” has been a favorite song of mine since I was a teenager. Time is a very peculiar concept, a concept made all the more mind-boggling given the notion that it’s an expression of distance/movement and might not exist otherwise. Would it even exist without the universe’s existence? I don’t mind engaging in a deeper conversation on such a topic; I enjoy a good mind melt. On a more casual basis, we can all agree that time is relative. For example, how quickly is your next big race approaching, like the first race of the season, your spring Half, your upcoming military PFT, or the Boston Marathon? Is two months a long amount of time, or a short amount of time? Well, it depends because time is relative. Relative to what? At this point I’ll chime in (pun intended) and say it’s relative to the degree of confidence you have in your preparation, which is also a byproduct of how much emotional stock you have in the race.
If you’re feeling confident in your abilities for an upcoming race, then the race can feel like a loooong time away, and you’re chomping-at-the-bit for race day to arrive, a reality experienced by many highly trained athletes during the tapering period. If you’re not feeling confident, then you may feel like you’re “behind the 8-ball” (not good), which can cause anxiety during workouts for some athletes. Moreover, if you don’t have much emotional stock in the race (maybe it’s not an A-race or you’re “jogging it with friends/coworkers”), then once again the race has plenty of time to arrive, even if it’s a only a few weeks away. On the other hand, if this race will be part of defining who you are as a runner and/or how you measure success (i.e., lots of emotional stock), then maybe a race that is still 6 months away feels like it’s coming up too soon! So, as the song lyrics state, you either fritter and waste the hours in an off-hand way (i.e., lots of time, no perceived pressure or time crunch) or you’re running and running to catch up with a sinking sun (i.e., not enough time).
I understand that personality can be a factor in this equation. Perhaps a worrisome individual or a type-A personality feels the impending race “looming on the horizon,” causing pressure, stress, and feelings of being under-trained and not up to par (i.e., behind the 8-ball). Therefore, there’s a dreaded time crunch. On the contrary, perhaps a mellow individual (regardless of the goals) or a type-B(uddha) personality views any race as having ample time to prepare. “Which is which, and who is who?” (I slipped in another Floyd lyric there).
This is a department where a coach can help. In another article, I wrote about the importance of learning how to Peak Mentally, not just physically. The main goals of the winter off-season are to experiment, load up on ST/XT, and get a mental break from numbers/data. Regardless of the race date, the focus needs to be on the process goals more than the performance goals and outcome goals. In this way, I offer assurance that we have enough time to work together and prepare. In essence, we’re adjusting the perceived timelines. To repeat, as with many aspects of athletics, the solution rests in proper goal setting. The more realistic and better managed the goals, the more confidence that exists, along with an increased likelihood to feel that there is ample time.
As a quick aside, this is an easy “sports as a metaphor for life” analogy. For instance, whichever personality-type you possess, do you carry this same approach into the workplace? Managing your own expectations and satisfaction with your career, with deadlines and a daily to-do list, is related to your mental approaches. Is it realistic that you’ll accomplish all the tasks you’ve given yourself this week? If not, then here comes the stress and worry. Similarly, if the goals related to the task are too challenging (unrealistic), then that deadline will certainly feel much shorter than it actually is. Here comes more stress, less sleep, and the sniffles and a cough, and so on… As such, this is why I intentionally dedicated the last chapter of my book to the inextricable link between motivation, goal setting, confidence, and happiness.
Back to running: I’m always going to try to help my athletes become as fit as possible in the most efficient manner, yet when taking the science and physiology of the training into account (periodization) then yes, some goals take more time than others. This understanding reminds us, “Knowledge is power.” Knowledge becomes the building blocks of attitudes, whereas the knowledge about the timeline of our goals shapes our attitude (mental approach) as to what is realistic. Physical therapists should be operating under this same principle—giving athletes knowledge about the timelines for strength gains and/or recovery from injuries so that there is more confidence in the rehab process. In turn, the rehab won’t be derailed by a perception of a time crunch.
My goal is to have athletes thinking that there is plenty of time to achieve their race goals for the entire year. Many of the folks I’ve coached have shared their longer-term goals with me, and all of them have demonstrated much patience and maturity in adjusting their goals on the fly mid-season, which adds to the overall feeling of success. That last point is a hallmark of champion athletes. If you are feeling unprepared for a race that is 6-10 weeks away, then take it day-to-day or week-to-week, and don’t put the cart before the horse. Enjoy training in the present day, live in the present, and the races will get here when they get here. I know that’s sometimes easier said than done. If it feels like the big event can’t get here fast enough and you’re chomping-at-the-bit, and even a few days before the race can feel like an eternity, then remind yourself that there’s nothing you can do to change the clocks. You can also remind yourself that this eagerness probably means you are ready!
The take-home message is to mentally push these races back as far as you can, so that you can feel confident that there is enough time to prepare, as well as to enjoy life in the present. Does this mean that we adapt a lax, passive attitude toward training and life? No! It means that you don’t need to put a sense of urgency on your training. If you struggle to do this, then what can you do to reconfigure your mental approach to training and racing? Inquire within.
Train Smarter, Not Harder!