Last week I’m walking recovery between dynamic warm-up drills after a slow 3 mile warm-up on the Plainfield Township Trail off of Sullivan Trail Road between Easton and Wind Gap, Pennsylvania. It’s hot, my legs are tired, and it’s been a rough week. Two days before, I had woke up at 645AM and was out the door running 5 miles by 650AM. I ate breakfast in the car on the way to Wayne, NJ for my Grandfather‘s funeral. After a two hour ride back in the evening, I was back out the door for a 16 mile run in the hilly backroads of Moore Township. It was an important week of training and I was fatigued from the training, travel, and emotional energy this week.
I thought of Allen Iverson during these dynamic warm-up drills and his “practice” interview after he missed practice (see above). AI is making millions of dollars a year and skipping out on becoming a better player. Not me. I’m making it to be the best I can be. I certainly wasn’t going to jog three miles back and call it a day. I wasn’t going to cut the workout and forget about it. No, I did a few strides and then ran a 200 in 32 to fully warm-up. I imagined the marathon after 16 miles when your legs are tired and you need to push through and continue running the best you can at the pace you have been going. Now was a great time for me to practice becoming a better marathoner. After nailing the solo session of 3x2miles, I was proud of myself for remaining positive and making no excuses.
One of the most influential things I learned from Penn State athletics (outside of the wealth of knowledge from Coach Sullivan) was from Penn State Sport Psychologist Dr. Yukelson, passionately nicknamed “Yuke.” Yuke gave a speech about competitions. Every competition you want to play with your ‘A’ game. You want to wake up that morning and effortlessly hit home runs back-to-back-to-back. But in sport, we all know that most of the time we do not have our ‘A’ game for whatever reason. Sleep, training, stress, mental focus, food, relationships, friendships, teammates, etc all impact our game. Sometimes there isn’t even a reason you feel ‘off’ and have a ‘bad day.’ For me, occasionally it’s effortless to run 5 minute miles and other days it takes a lot of focus and positive self-talk to run 6 minute miles. What Yuke described was that you can perform well even when you don’t have that ‘A’ game. You can have your ‘B,’ ‘C,’ or ‘D’ effort but come away with an ‘A-‘ performance! That is a lot of letters, but it’s 100% true. I stopped wondering how my legs would feel and my perceived effort going into a race. I controlled what I could control: my mental game. I’ve raced over a dozen times this year and nearly every race I would say came out with a ‘B’ to ‘A’ result. Why? I learned the simple fact: you can run at your highest level regardless of your perceived effort through positive self-talk and a zen approach. Can anything beat a day when the perceived effort is minimal and you seem to have three extra gears to go faster? No, but you can still run personal best performances. At Grandma’s Marathon this year my perceived effort was high and I may have felt good for a total of 10 minutes of the 2:17:09. Yet I still ran a new personal best marathon time.
In summary, sometimes you need to quit worrying how you feel. Quit making excuses. Quit trying to find excuses to make. If you want to become the best athlete you can be you need to bring your top mental game to practice everyday. Learn to run good workouts when you’re feeling poor and you’ll relieve a lot of stress worrying ‘how you will feel on race day’ because you will become 100% confident you can always run a great performance.