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August 21, 2012

Olympians- They’re Just Like Us! Some Things The Average Runner Can Learn from London

Written by Dena Evans

Ryan_Victah_Oly_Trials

The first two weeks of August were filled with amazing performances, as well as the emotions that occur when things do not go according to plan.  When watching these breathtaking physical feats and (taped-delayed) moments of extreme anticipation, it can be hard to see a connection between the accomplishments of the world’s best athletes and our own everyday endeavors. However, there are several lessons these thrills of victory and agonies of defeat can teach us.  Here are a few:

1. Do not let a discouraging start prevent good things from happening by the end.

Early in the swimming competition, Michael Phelps barely squeaked into the final of the 400 IM, only to be assigned an outside lane and finish shockingly fourth and out of the medals.  For one used to the rhythm of “swim, win and repeat,” the walk from the competition pool to the warm down area must have been a long stroll without the interruption of the national anthem played in his honor.  However, by the end of the meet, almost no one looked upon his efforts as anything less than the coronation of the most decorated medalist ever.

Like many of our races, Phelps’s schedule was a marathon, not a sprint, and given the opportunity to turn things around, he was able to refocus and end on several high notes, with individual and relay golds alike.  Next time some other early mishap threatens to derail your day, (ie your alarm doesn’t go off, the first mile or two feels harder than it should, you miss your first fluids, etc) keep in mind the confident mentality you had the evening before all that occurred.  You are still that person.  Your training hasn’t just evaporated instantaneously.  Plenty of positives remain to be had.  Giving up mentally only assures you that you will miss out on at least some of those takeaways.

2. “Normal” is oftentimes more than good enough.

During the qualification of the women’s team gymnastics competition, elder stateswoman Aly Raisman was seen looking Gabby Douglas straight in the eye, encouraging her with the admonition, “Normal, Gabby.”    With some of the most complicated and challenging routines in the competition, Gabby Douglas was obviously prepared to do what it took, both for the team and her own all-around competition.  She just needed to execute and not let the big stage take her out of her familiar rhythm.

Many times we expect race day to be a completely breathtaking day and we act like it,  We feel the need to don a cape and become some “super” version of the boring everyday person who does the neighborhood loop at 6am.  By the time the gun goes off, you have prepared your body to handle the challenges by working hard on all the days when there is no adrenaline involved.  The excitement of the day may indeed make the same pace feel little easier to start, and that’s in your favor.  However, be confident in the work you have put in, that your “normal” will be plenty to accomplish your goal.  Take pride in the execution of your plan, and let your faithful and consistent adherence to it herald the success of the day.

3. Let your resolve be strengthened by your training partners and / or immediate context.

Galen Rupp took silver in the 10,000 meters, earning the first U.S. men’s medal in that event since 1964.  Ahead of him was only his training partner, hometown favorite Mo Farah.  Immediately behind both of them were the Ethiopian Bekele brothers, with Kenenisa the two time reigning 10,000 meter champion and world record holder.  Rupp has been one of America’s best for the past several years, but how did he kick these guys down?

As reported in the USA Today the following morning, Rupp told the press that the last lap reminded him of practice back in Oregon, saying, “I knew if I could stay close to Mo, then good things would happen.”   Some of us have the luxury of training partners or familiar faces in local races we can use to help buoy us when things are getting tough.  “If they can do it, then I can do it,” we tell ourselves, and many times, it works!  The larger lesson here, though, is that when we break challenging and formidable tasks down into smaller, more recognizable, and less daunting parts, we can relax enough to use our energy only for the running rather than the worry.  Focus on the things you know and can control.  Draw confidence from that knowledge and let the unknowns go.

4.  Ability needs execution to produce a result.

After several years of frustration, dropped batons, tripping and falling, and various other mishaps, the United States track and field relay teams finally put together four clean preliminaries and four crisp finals.  The women won gold in the 4x100m and the 4x400m, while the men took home silver in each.  Sure, the men’s 4x100m was beaten by a world record-setting Usain Bolt and company from Jamaica, but their silver medal time equaled the previous world record and set a new US best.  The women absolutely crushed the world record in the 4x100m and scared the US record in the 4x400, winning by a country mile.

While there are several strong medalists and performers among the current relay pool, the United States has always had a strong sprint corps, deep in every event, and capable of putting on a show like that every Olympiad.  The only thing stopping them has been the seemingly small detail of how to get the baton successfully around the oval.

For us, it is instructive to remember how special a performance or an experience can be if we just execute the small details.  Did we remember body glide?  Did we tie our shoes with double knots?  Did we leave time to have a good breakfast and adequate fluids before heading to the line?  Did we follow our race plan and not get sucked out into a field of fool’s gold with several consecutive milesplits way ahead of pace?  We can’t control the weather or what others will do.  However, when we nail the basics, we can leave room for the special day to occur.  You may never run the backstretch like Allyson Felix, but then again, she may never run a half marathon or marathon, so in some ways (ok, in only one way) you’re even!

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