I had a professor in graduate school who, in class and at supervision meetings, would always randomly throw out the phrase “your perception is your reality.” As a natural overthinker, I would constantly look for a deeper meaning to something that is very simple: we see and believe what we want to see and believe.
I once said that on a first date and surprisingly still landed a second one. You think things get weird in the late stages of a hundred miler? Try dating a psychology student.
So how does this fit into running?
I recently ran a half marathon with about 3,000 others in a medium-sized town. The weather wasn’t warm, but the weather wasn’t frigid. The course was dyed a nice shade of gray, draped in a fog that would not let up. Welcome to Texas winter, y’all.
The course itself ran through my alma mater, Texas A&M, but other than that, it was pretty unremarkable. I ran a very good race here last year and put in another solid effort again, but not without working through some adversity. Adversity that came post-race.
Multiple Race Realities
Given how much I love the running community, hanging out post-race is something I enjoy doing– both catching up with running club members and meeting new people.
Following this specific race, a lot of conversation naturally had to do with the course, the weather, the day itself. But I was thrown off by how different everyone’s interpretation of their race was. It was like we all ran something different.
I kept babbling about how much I loved the downhills while another guy was asking where all the downhills were, only noticing the uphills. Seriously? I mean, there were hills on the course, but what goes up must come down somewhere.
Others kept talking about the conditions: this was both a ‘great’ day and a ‘humid, tough one’ at the same time. One woman called it ‘easy’, while another called it ‘brutal.’
Didn’t we all just do the same thing??
Sure, like any race, there was a variance of ages and fitness levels. But everyone’s interpretations had me shaking my head a little (I also heard a similar spectrum of discourse regarding this year’s California International Marathon as well…).
So which was the reality? The answer is all of them, but also none of them. One thing is for sure— what we believe is our reality and our belief in how we adapt can affect our performances a great deal.
Framing Your Race Reality
Here are some thoughts I came away with, concerning this particular race and how I was able to adapt to have a good day:
- First off, let me say this— as much as your perception molds your experience, I’m not ignorant enough to say the course profile and conditions don’t affect us physiologically. However, the mind can either intensify or mitigate some of the effects based on our coping skills and expectations. Planning on what to say or do during a race and determining what your mind and body needs beforehand (fluids, pace adjustment, etc.) goes a long way.
- If you know a course/city/region, focusing on what you like about it may be beneficial to your performance. No course is perfect, but it does help us stay positive if we know that parts of the course are “made for us.”
- Related, think about and play to your strengths during any race. I recall telling myself ‘use this downhill, you’re great at running them’. If you encounter something you’re not so comfortable with, remind yourself that you are resilient and able to handle the challenge (this got repeated a heckofalot when I ran up a hill and then turned into a nice headwind).
- Events are like running shoes– each of us has slightly different likes and dislikes. Be sure and make up your own mind and listen with caution when asking about a particular race. If it’s your first time running a course, try and have an open mind about what’s ahead. Also, how you feel halfway through and how you feel when it’s over are often very, very different.
- And always, always, take it one mile (or whatever you think is appropriate) at a time!
Thanks for reading and remember that in a world that is so objective nowadays with advanced GPS watches, carbon fiber-plated shoes, and Strava, your race and pace are what you make of it.
Believe in your run.
Adrienne has been a runner since the age of 12 and a sport psychology consultant for the past 10+ years. As a writer, she was a key contributor to Kara Goucher’s book “Strong”. She lives in Texas where she loves to run cross country when she gets the chance.