Tuesday, August 30, 2011


We are all familiar with affirmations. Usually, it's because we've laughed at the Saturday Night Live skit where Stuart (I think) keeps telling himself he's a good person or we've seen some other movie where people tape things to their fridge, their bathroom mirror, or some other place that tell them they deserve to succeed, they will succeed. There is even the possibility that people reading this have done some of these things. I have no idea how effective taping affirmations up in frequently seen places is but if it works, keep going. When I think of affirmations I think of more subconscious, more subliminal and yet more proactive affirmations that can make all the difference in the world to a runner. Many of these affirmations are either similar or identical to one percenters but differ in the way they manifest themselves. One percenters such as cross training, lifting weights, eating healthy, taking supplements all have the a direct physiological effect on performance. One percenters can also work on a psychological, motivational level as well, however.

You always hear the cliche that whenever you take time off, there's someone out there who isn't and they have an advantage but I'm not sure it's ever fully understood why. Sure more training probably means better fitness but there's more to it. More important than the simple fitness gained from a dark, rainy morning workout is the acknowledgement of how important this must be to have a left a warm bed a couple hours early to go do this. When race day comes, there will be two types of runners. Those who have compromised their training in order to maintain comfort and those who have sacrificed comfort in order to maintain training. Since the will to sacrifice comfort is perhaps the biggest determinant in performance, guess who will come out on top when these two types of people race.

One of the clearest examples I ever got of this is from the training log of one of my former athletes. The Monday before the National Indoor Championships, we did a workout that while on paper looked fairly tame, spiraled a bit out of control when a storm necessitated we run it on ice and snow covered undulating streets instead of the track. I thought I adjusted times to account for the change but apparently I missed my goal. The log read "Wanted to die multiple times during the workout. This better make us national champions." While my goal was not to elicit the desire for death that close to the biggest race of not only these runners' seasons, but their lives to that point, there was a  certain value to that workout far beyond the fitness it brought about. Any questions of motivation, of will, of desire to run well at Nationals were asked and answered then and there. When race weekend came around, there was no doubt as to what decisions would be made when the chips were down, when the lactic acid started flowing, when the pain set in. That workout removed all doubt from a team that probably entered the track as the only team with no doubt about themselves. it's one thing to believe you can win; it's another thing entirely to believe that, win or lose, you can endure more than anyone you are racing against. If given the choice, I'd rather affirm the latter than the former. I'd like to say that athlete brought home a national championship that weekend but as it turns out, he was the only one on our national squad who didn't. On Friday, his teammates turned in what was then the number four all time performance indoors for the distance medley and did indeed win the school's first ever national title. Every athlete in that race set a personal best, which is almost unheard of in relays. The following day, we traded out our 400 runner for James and were only able to manage third in the 4xMile. Later that year at the outdoor national championships the same team moved up a notch and placed second in what was one of the most heralded fields ever for that event. Of those three national races, our team was not once mentioned as even a potential threat for the top six and yet the team walked away with a first, a second and a third. That is the power of affirming commitment.

There are less painful ways of affirming commitment although ironically they seem to prove just as tough for many athletes to do.  In past blogs, I have mentioned the one percenters such as eating well, sleeping enough, lifting and cross training to name a few. These one percenters benefit a runner directly through better health and fitness but also indirectly in that they reaffirm the commitment the runner has made to his or her task.  All of these things affirm your sacrifice every time you choose to do them. The runner who has spent a season turning down drinks and junk food and leaving parties early faces the bad part of a race with a completely different attitude than the runner who doesn't. When it comes time to decide whether or not it's worth those couple extra seconds to push through the pain, every sacrificed hour of sleep, every denied doughnut, every decision to be the best you can be, comes back to say "Hell No! We didn't give all that up for you to punk out now!" What of the runner who never gave up anything? Well training is training and you need to be trained to give up comfort. That runner lacks that inner voice. His inner voice says, "Screw going with that guy's late race surge. Let's put a pained expression on our face, limp in and go home and grab a beer!"

Even little commitments make a difference. one of the most accurate predictors of how well an athlete will fulfill his or her potential has been the training log. It's not foolproof, but it's as close as any other trait I have identified. I present every athlete I coach with the importance of keeping an online running log. the log is for them to see their own progress but also for me to monitor workouts in retrospect and evaluate where to go from there. In spite of placing a rather dramatic emphasis on this, it amazes me how few athletes, ones that are willing to run upwards of ten hours a week, are willing to take five minutes a day to type out what they just did. More often than not, far more often than not, the runners that log in improve at a far greater rate than those who don't. it's the affirmation. That little stupid decision to type in the day's workout changes the importance of those workouts, of the whole running business, to the runner. It makes it more real. It applies at all ages. I had the pleasure of watching a twelve year old girl run an astounding 19:19 5000 meters on the track last night. The performance puts her at a level that, although she is only going into the seventh grade, she could make almost any varsity high school team in the country. there may be ten schools, give or take couple, that she couldn't walk on to the top seven right now. Well, that was impressive and her improvement has been steady throughout the eighteen months I've worked with her but that has not been her defining characteristic the last few months. What i have noticed most about her was that by the time I have driven home from practice each time, she has already logged her workout. Since I first noticed that, I have anticipated her breakthrough and I doubt last night is the end of her progression.

It's more than just about putting one foot in front of the other quickly. Distance running is a series of decisions. In training, in racing, in life, you decide whether or not racing fast is worth the inconvenience it poses. You don't just make that decision on race day. You make that decision in every workout, in every aspect of your life. Eventually you come to a point where stop making the decision. Like riding a bike or driving a manual transmission, it just become second nature, it comes naturally. You finish a great race without ever being conscious of having made the decision to push through the pain. That is the final evolution. not even knowing you are making the sacrifice any more. That is the end result of subconscious affirmations. By definition, they become subconscious. In the words of the trite advertising campaign, you don't think you "Just do it!"

1 comment:

  1. Haha it took me way too long to figure out it was my log you quoted. That was about the best affirmation I could ever ask for.

    Could you touch up paragraph 4? I want to share this with my teammates.