I love to find inspiration for running from other sources, such as the Harvard Business Review blogs, which inspired a previous post on the six keys for becoming excellent at running. Other good sources include blogs on leadership, like Great Leadership by Dan McCarthy or Lead Quietly. However, in the vein of Predawn Runner, which focuses not just on running but on efficiently fitting it with your other priorities, the best source of such inspiration is usually blogs on productivity. One of the best out there is Stepcase Lifehack, and Craig Harper’s post on Twelve Steps to Get Things Done inspires this unplanned blog post.
On reading the post, I was struck immediately by how directly relevant Mr. Harper’s tips were to successfully achieving your running goals. Thus, I’m overwhelmed by the urge to walk through them step-by-step to draw the analogy to successful execution of a training plan and goal race, and it’s not good to suppress your urges.
Don’t talk big. Setting big goals is one thing – in fact, setting the right stretch goal is essential to defining and measuring your training plan. Sharing your goal is necessary to provide you with the external motivation and encouragement that carries you through the tough times. Confidence is essential for pushing through the setbacks you are bound to encounter. But do all this humbly. Boasting about your goal loses you the support you need and creates a false sense of security about your ability to achieve it.
- Don’t be passive. This is obvious for the runner – you control your own progress and destiny. While waiting out unfavorable conditions or injury is necessary, controlling what you can and taking aggressive advantages of the opportunities you have is key to maximizing your training and ultimate race performance.
- Keep positive. Everybody has a bad day, a bad run, even a bad week. When you let it consume you, it begins a downward spiral that kills your progress, first mentally and then, soon enough, physically.
- Don’t eat crap. OK, “crap” may be in the eye of the beholder, and I don’t pretend to have the perfect diet, but there are some clear boundaries on what is downright detrimental to your performance. Avoid the “running to eat” perspective. Instead, think about “eating to run.”
- Care about others. Everyone has their goals. No matter how good of a runner you are, there are runners who are better. Use them as the right kind of motivation – harvest your competitive spirit, but wish them the best so they can motivate you to continue to get better. And acknowledge the successes of others relative to their capabilities. There is nothing wrong with “just finishing” as a goal, so long as that goal is a sufficient stretch for the individual. We have all started from the same place, and it’s always helpful to remember our roots while looking ahead.
- Keep it simple. Running is really about two things – time and distance. Yes, there is more than that to meeting your “time and distance” goals, but don’t overanalyze things, and don’t get caught up in the glamorous-looking workouts that someone else does. Every program is built from certain basic elements – know them, know why they are important, and make sure every run, recovery, and workout satisfies at least one of these elements.
- Do things early in the day. Well, duh.
- Let go of wrong beliefs. If you have trouble doing this, look for ways to boost your confidence through setting and achieving short-term goals. You will be amazed at what you discover about yourself through running – it’s usually an inner strength that hasn’t had the opportunity to make its presence known previously.
- Bad things happen. My favorite perspective on this topic comes from Steven Covey, who espouses the philosophy of recognizing what you can control (your circle of influence) and expending your energy there, while minimizing your worry about what you can’t (circle of concern). Obviously, the two will never completely overlap – you can’t control the weather, and it can certainly impact your race day or training performance. But the closer together they are, the greater your sense of satisfaction and confidence.
- Don’t focus on what you can’t change. See above.
- Don’t avoid things you fear. The beauty of a well-designed training program is providing the right amount of workouts that you dread. It’s only by overcoming our mental limitations that we achieve breakthroughs that allow us to reach, or at least approach, our stretch goals.
- Don’t overthink things. Again, time and distance. Ups and downs. Every training cycle has them, and while analysis is good, there is a line over which one steps into obsession. Your preparation for a race comes from the full body of work you have put in during your training, not from any individual run or week. This is true on the positive side and negative side, so keep that in mind as you think from the context of a single workout.
Running is like life in so many ways, and the habits we develop to help reach our running goals carry lessons for us in reaching for our dreams in our daily lives. And vice versa.