Every time I race, I learn something new about myself. In all the races I’ve run, I’ve found that my ability to be aware is the key to success.
The success I’m talking about doesn’t come from fast times or longer distances. It’s the success that comes from having fun and learning about what makes you tick. What’s amazing about this kind of success is that it makes every race training for how to be a better human.
Five Tips for Being a Better Human
(That I learned by running 13.1 miles)
1. Start with Strategy – There are a million strategies out there for racing, but here’s the crazy thing, it doesn’t really matter which one you use.
I’ve tried even splits, negative splits, and drafting. No matter what strategy you choose having one is the most important thing.
During my recent half I focused on running the race I wanted to run. I saved my energy early on. I ran up the hills slowly and down the hills fast.
There were times I was tempted to try to keep up with others. Or slow down when it got hard. But I stuck with my plan and managed to run 8:20’s, 10secs faster than my goalpace.
Racing mindfully, is like living mindfully. We have to follow our own compass and not get caught up in what others are doing.
2. Remember to Smile –
Even if I don’t enjoy every second of a race, I still love running. But often when I’m enjoying myself I often forget to smile. When I do I find it makes me feel even better. When I’m struggling, I find putting on a smile often helps snap me out of my funk.
Smiling is just as important off the course as it is on. Smiling has all sorts of chemical effects on your brain that I won’t go into. In addition smiling encourages others. And we often get back what we put out into the world.
(Plus you might end up as the guy at the top of the post)
3. Notice Your Emotions
The range of emotions that I feel when I’m running amazes me.
There are whole sections where I feel elated. And there are other sections where I feel like total crap. Perhaps the most dramatic shift in emotions happens right after the race.
10 – 15 mins after I finish I feel like I want to hurl and collapse all at the same time. I stand there wondering why I just did all that hard work.
Then something happens. I start to feel better and I can’t wait to race again. The pain subsides and I can feel the ease and quiet space that comes after working hard.
Watching your emotions while you race is a great way to see emotional states arise, exist, and disappear. Then when emotions arise in any area of your life, you can learn to practice with them in the same way.
4. Learn to Practice With Others
Even though I didn’t run with my friends the whole time, there is a strong camaraderie in racing with loved ones. It enhances the sense of a shared experience and the joy of accomplishment.
When you race, you raise your dopamine levels, which strengthens the bonds of friendships and partnerships. In addition, you learn valuable lessons about being happy for people who do better than you. And those that work just as hard, but finish later.
5. It isn’t all about you.
In many ways, endurance racing is an individual activity. Because of this, it’s easy to be caught up in our ego story. But making it all about us makes the whole thing harder.
Racing isn’t just about when you finish. It’s about who you are when you run.
I remember one relay race where I was running on a trail. And I noticed lots of discarded cans and bottles. Some from the race and some that had been there a while.
I felt responsible to help out. So, I stopped to pick up as many of them as I could reasonably carry. It was odd to run with trash, but it felt good to think about more than just myself.
One way I practice this is I always make it a point to thank all of the volunteers and encourage other racers. Even saying ‘looking good’ or ‘good job’ can mean a lot to someone who is really struggling.
This practice applies to everyday life as well. Encouraging others and saying thank you are two of the most important things we can do. It’s so easy to criticize, but appreciation and gratitude take real courage and compassion.
Whether you change your life to race or race to change your life, there are so many valuable lessons to be gained. Wisdom is under every step we take, if we can only slow down enough to see it. When we do, we enrich our lives no matter how fast we end up running.
What lessons have you learned from racing?