Thursday, August 4, 2011
FDR's most famous quote might be, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." When I was younger, I hated this quote because it was always used in movies or by sports coaches to somehow manipulate people to happily risk their lives or health. My personal belief was, and still is, there are lots of things to fear and a healthy fear of those things kept me from doing a lot of damage to myself. This applied to life in general as well as running specifically. For instance, the fear of injury, overtraining, and later in life atrial fibrillation and even death has kept from doing some incredibly stupid things that I would have happily done if I subscribed to the notion that there was nothing to fear but fear itself. (You see, I'm not afraid of fear so sans that I would be afraid of nothing and would have killed myself many times over by now.) I actually took the time to look up the context surrounding FDR's speech, however, and more importantly, the sentence he followed it up with and ever since then I think it's one of the most powerful things ever said. (I still believe anyone using the initial quote out of context should be given time alone with some of my top fears, however, just to learn the difference.) Here is what FDR followed up with."Nameless, unreasonable, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance." FDR wasn't speaking of going into battle or some life threatening event; he was speaking of living day to day existence in a rather bleak period of American history. He was saying that Americans would bounce back if they just kept doing what they do well and didn't let themselves get crippled by an intangible sense of doom. Over the years, I have seen how incredibly applicable this is to runners when it comes to racing. While a healthy fear of extreme conditions, hills, terrain, weather, and even a fast pace help to ensure a smart race, a random fear of racing and anything but perfect conditions is in itself a race killer... and sooner or later will be a career killer. The fear of racing in and of itself becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is bad enough when it happens to individual athletes but is absolutely tragic when it becomes institutionalized. Many years ago it struck me that running is pretty much the only sport there is in which the "experts" tell you not to participate in the sport itself. I have always been a fan of racing, it's the reason I train the way I do. So for most of my life, coaches and other runners have been telling me I would burn out from racing so much. Well, I'm not afraid of racing and I'm not afraid of the fear of racing so I never burned out. I'm betting I have about as many races under my belt since the age of ten as anyone. Thirty years of liberal racing has not yet burned me out the way people said - and still say - it will do to a runner in only a few years. Racing doesn't burn you out. Freaking out about racing burns you out. I see the way some people act leading up to races and I know I would never have lasted four years in the sport if I did that to myself five or six times a year much less thirty or forty. Teaching young runners to fear racing is not a good thing. Telling them that if they race a few weeks consecutively or even a few times in a certain week they will burn out is nothing but counterproductive. If people like to race, let them race. If they don't like to race, well, they're in the wrong sport, but those people you can save for only a couple races a year. I've never been one of those people who think any runner can be a champion if they have the right attitude. I have too much respect for the physical side of the sport to think that. However, I used to always tell my teams that if we were to race on potential alone, we would lose. We would not win due to our superior physical prowess, but rather a combination of substantial physical ability and a superior mindset. This mindset is what separated all my championship teams and all of my personal accomplishments from the people and teams we defeated. A healthy fear and subsequent caution in regards to that fear mixed with an absolute indifference and or disdain for any "Nameless, unreasonable, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance" is the key to success not only in this sport, but in life.