This is part 2 of Worlds Review. Missed Part 1? Read it here. Feel free to share your experiences and thoughts at the end.
Right before the first time I ever won a major championship, I was sitting in the stands before my warm-up in Eugene for the NCAA 5k my sophomore year next to senior Brent Hauser. He asked me what I wanted to do in the race (Kara Goucher was back as defending champion) and I said I wanted to win. He raised his brow at me and thought for a moment before he spoke. Brent was a legend on the team and so I took it to heart when he finally said, “Just don’t try so hard to get first that you end up finishing 12th.”
I had to think about that for a while, but something clicked and suddenly I understood what was happening when runners (including myself) tanked. I realized that when you want a goal badly enough, anything less than that can seem like a huge disappointment. Emotions are incredibly powerful, and the let down you feel if your perfect race isn’t happening can paralyze you, leaving you unable to salvage a respectable performance. Once your mind detects failure, the body follows. Every race I’ve won, and all my best losses, have started with Brent’s tip. My worst races and the ones I ended up dropping out of were the ones where I did exactly what Brent told me not to do.
Wise Words from Jesse
After the prelim of the 5k, my husband gave me some of the best advice he’s ever given me (we aren’t usually big on coaching one another so when he offers advice, my ears perk up big time). He had been watching the endurance races on TV and he said, “On the last lap, when people pop, they pop big time, and you can still reel people in if you can stay positive about your position. Just remember that your place isn’t determined until you cross the line.”
When the leaders broke me, a No-Tanking philosophy helped me regain focus and I managed to catch two more athletes in the last part of the race who were fading. You might think, “7th or 9th, what’s the difference really?” Well, that choice to avoid negativity made it so that my 7th place result tied the best finish ever by an American woman at Worlds in the 5k (had no idea at the time). Sweet! Thanks J!
Brain On, Brain Off
Its interesting for me to read my pre-race blog about my goals and expectations because I don’t mention a medal at all, or a place goal of any kind. And yet yesterday, in part one, here I am telling you that I was thinking about a medal and about all kinds of places at various points in my preparation. What a big fat liar!
Well, here is why it turned out that way. I spend several days before a race in “Brain On” mode, analyzing scenarios, figuring out how I think I can do in the race, working on specifics (I didn’t write a blog during this time because I was in Fake World with no internet). Then about two days before, I go into “Brain Off” mode where I let go of the result and think only about the bare bones basics of running. Coach Rowland does everything he can to keep me in this mode. I felt completely peaceful and I released everything to the Universe or God or whatever you choose to call it. In that state of mind, I was inspired to write a blog to document how good it felt to be in that state of mind before a race. It ended up being a great example of what Brain Off mode looks like for me, and I’m sure I’ll refer back to it in the future before other races.
If you check out my post race interview from letsrun or post-race blog, you can see that I’m excited about how I finished. How is that possible when deep inside somewhere I had been dreaming of a medal? Knowing what you know now, check out the interview and tell me what you think:
Final Question for the Girls
If you are a dude, be warned that the following paragraph contains feminine stuff:
The race fell on the absolute worst day of the month for my cycle, and I can’t help but wonder how I would have felt had that not been the case (I get 4 pounds heavier and sluggish at that time of the month). But maybe defending world champ Linet Masai is saying the same thing about her 6th place finish. Maybe the young Dibaba that I passed at the line had the flu. Defar had stomach problems. Molly Huddle had an injured foot. Our fastest American, Shalane, wasn’t even in the race. I guess that’s what championships are all about, and have always been about: unknowns and variables and who toes the line on the day. That spirit of championships will never change, and I wouldn’t change it if I could. But I would like to change my cycle next time, please. Or at least learn how to lesson the side-effects of bloating and water retention. Tips from other women with experience in this area would be appreciated! Thanks!