This one is for the track nerds out there like me. My fascination with the sport likely dates to childhood watching the Atlanta ’96 games, totally in awe of how easy the athletes made running look and how cool Michael Johnson’s golden Nikes were.
Times have changed, as has the gear (for the better, IMO), but I still do love me some track. Since getting into the sport psych field, however, I tend to watch sports a little differently than I used to.
I’m no longer a slack-jawed kid watching larger-than-life heroes on TV (maybe sometimes). Instead, I’m much more analytically inclined, now that I understand the process and work that goes into something extraordinary as a record-breaking race.
I tend to look for patterns and themes in the athlete’s behavior and race execution. Body language— yes— but also facial expressions and risk-taking, especially in distance events. At times it is unremarkable; however, other times we get a show of talent and hard work, on top of personality, joy, and utter resilience.
As I watched the final day of the USA Track and Field Championships recently, I made some observations that I will share with you. Mostly because I’m a running geek, but I do think there’s some application here for all of us. Let’s take a look.
Controlling The Controllables
Delilah Muhammad. Much was made about her intent to break the 400H World Records, but many would assume it would happen in better conditions. After all, it was raining out. What does she do? Breaks it anyway, and in convincing fashion.
There are times when it may not look like the perfect setup to do something great, but we can decide to go for it anyway. A wet road or track doesn’t isn’t necessarily a hindrance, if we focus on the things we can influence. For Muhammad, it was her steps, her training, and her mindset. Now the world record is all hers. While she may be elite, this is a good reminder for all of us when we’re doubting our potential on a less-than-ideal race day.
Every Day Ain’t Perfect
That being said, sometimes things don’t always go as planned, and that’s okay. Take miler Johnny Gregorek, who according to social media was prepared to do something special. He did not have the race he envisioned. Sometimes all you can do is pick yourself up, learn from the experience, and keep going. In racing and in life, failure is inevitable. It’s our response (notice how I didn’t say reaction) to it that matters.
Whether you’re the son of an Olympian or a just looking to BQ for the first time, understand that bad races happen, and there’s usually a lesson to be gained. But what if I can’t find anything good here? When I find myself in these instances, I simply take a step back, tell myself “that sucked, I’m glad it’s outta the way”, and get back to work as if it never happened.
Acceptance, y’all. It’s essential. In plain (Texas) English. Just because a performance sucks doesn’t mean we suck.
I saved this one for last on purpose: Joy.
Craig Engels makes track look fun. So does Noah Lyles. Granted, these are two of the world’s best talents, so it’s probably a pretty great feeling whipping around the track at those speeds.
However, enjoying yourself and not taking things life-or-death-seriously is something that’s reserved for everybody. Based on my work with my clients and in my own experience, if we set the intention to find or create a sense of joy in our running, success tends to follow. The more positive and grateful our mindset, the more ease of movement we have.
Before every race, I have a ritual of telling myself how glad I am to be there and to smile, regardless of how anxious I’m feeling. Just because its race day doesn’t mean everyone has to cease being themselves. So, thank you Craig (and your glorious mullet) for that!
I hope you enjoyed my armchair psychology of the US Championships. Seriously though, I hope you consider some of the things the best in the nation do— and think about how we can adopt some of these characteristics in our quest to be our best.
Keep learning, keep growing, take chances.
Keep it rolling.