Race Day – A Great Time to Experiment

Florida State College for Women students experimenting in the chemical lab: Tallahassee, Florida
Florida State College for Women students experimenting in the chemical lab: Tallahassee, Florida

Conventional running wisdom says, “Nothing new on race day.”
I say, “Bull puckey!”

One reason we race is to see how well we can perform when we give our all – perhaps against others, often against ourselves.

Following conventional wisdom, we only do things on race day that have proven themselves in the past. But, how can we know we’re doing the best thing?

We can’t!

All we really know is that we’re doing something that has (likely), at some point and in a very particular context, provided an improvement over some past performance or that (at least) hasn’t yet caused a spectacular failure. In other words, we’re playing it safe.

But, to truly excel, we need to explore the edges of the performance envelope – and risk taking a step outside. When we race to test our performance, we push ourselves beyond previous limits – into test pilot zone.

So, why do we play it safe? Two reasons come immediately to mind:

  1. To remove potential distractions from external factors (gear, nutrition, etc.) that we think might detract from our running / racing (strategy, technique).
  2. To eliminate anxieties so that we can focus purely on performance – aka, running / racing.

But. But. But …

These are also things that get tested on race day! And, we cannot possibly test them on race day without testing them on race day; there is no way to reliably simulate the conditions of any single race. The only way forward is to run that race and (with a grain of salt) apply our findings to future endeavors.

And, there is no way for us to ever know what is best – we can only approach it, but never actually reach it. We do this by trying new things and ruling out those that aren’t better.

So, given that we can’t possibly know that by doing “nothing new on race day” we’re really doing the best thing …

What happens if we give ourselves permission to experiment?

Maybe, just maybe, we’ll:

  • Feel free to follow our intuition
  • Spend more time feeling around the edges of the envelope in realistic, pressure situations
  • Gain confidence with novel situations and, hence, become better equipped to handle the unexpected when it arises – reducing anxiety and keeping us on our game
  • Discover viable alternates for the future, when we need to go to plans B, C, or Q
  • Give ourselves more opportunity to approach our best

In an upcoming post, I’ll share some thoughts on overcoming fear and mitigating risk – so we can more comfortably free ourselves to experiment with success.