Credit: Joshua Earle
Picture the scene…
It’s autumn 2016, the leaves are turning, the sun still shines occasionally and the mud is becoming that little bit stickier as the rains soften up the areas that weren’t boggy.
You’ve completed a few OCRs, you have the ‘kisses’, scrapes and medals to prove it and one October weekend you see posts on social media about the awesome time the worlds’ best, your friends and your teammates are having in the Blue Mountains, Canada at the OCR World Championships (OCRWC).
You decide there and then you’re going to be there in 2017, and begin planning your route to get there – Which events are qualifiers? Am I capable of qualifying? How will I need to train to make it? Can I convince the other half to make it a family trip ‘that we’ll all enjoy’?
Sounds like a familiar train of thought, right?
With the 2017 OCRWCs just around the corner that moment you’ve been training for is within sight, and with it comes a growing sense of nervousness, excitement, anxiety and tension that ultimately could lead to you limiting your own ability to perform to the level you are capable of, on one of the biggest stages OCR has to offer.
Uncertainty from the unknown
Credit: Tim Swaan
Those feelings, the one’s that sometimes keep you up at night and almost certainly do the night before a race, are often rooted in the uncertainty brought on by the unknown.
As children, the unknown never fazed us. We would happily climb any tower, traverse ropes over muddy holes and generally take on any adventure laid before us with an unbound enthusiasm.
As we grow, our conscious takes in the information from the world around us, programming the sights, sounds and emotions we experience into our subconscious. Current neuroscience suggests these programmes can be stored as autobiographical memories (one highly memorable experience like the time you lost your favourite toy) or episodic memories (repeated experiences like the process for tying your shoe laces).
As adults, our brains seek to find comfort in these memories, moving towards repeating the memories we enjoy, both episodic and autobiographical, and avoiding repeat of the ones that can cause us psychological, physical or emotional distress.
The challenge the unknown brings is that our brains rapidly start to sift through our memories trying to find comfort in what lies ahead, seeking out what we know. But this instantly gets skewed because we feel there is uncertainty in the experience because we know it is new. This cycle of known è unknown è certainty è uncertainty keeps repeating until the start line, escalating and building in perceived tension until the start gun fires. If not worked with appropriately, this tension can limit your ability to perform as well as your training has prepared you for.
What follows are a few simple things to put into practice to help minimise that tension in the build up to the race, and use the butterflies you will get positively to achieve more.
Credit: Ahmed Saffu
Within the cycle, there are two controllables (known, certainty) and two uncontrollable (unknown, uncertainty) and you always have a choice as to which you dedicate your conscious thoughts towards.
By choosing to concentrate on the controllables, and repeatedly doing this in the build up to the race, you will give yourself less time to consider the uncontrollables and feel the negative effects of them.
Now, you might be thinking ‘there’s so much stuff I don’t know when I get there; the course map, the obstacles, the registration tent, the supermarket with the meals I need, my hotel room’ and yes they initially they may be unknowns.
However, you have a chance to learn about these things, and if you approach that positively with the confidence you will make them ‘knowns’ before the race, you will be controlling what you can control.
For example, before you leave home take a look at a map of the Blue Mountain resort, find the square, find your accommodation, locate the supermarket. When you then receive the event map, you can contextualise that information with what you already know.
The same applies with the obstacles. OCRWC use obstacles from across the world to make an exciting and challenging event. For the one’s you’ve seen before, think through your strategy and technique for crossing each one with optimal efficiency, and take an inner confidence from the fact you can conquer it when you apply the right techniques.
If an obstacle is unknown to you, use your downtime to get researching across Facebook and YouTube. There’s a very good chance there will be videos of people tackling the obstacles at their home race, and maybe even ‘how to conquer’ videos published by the RDs. Talk with your fellow racers, call your coach back home, discuss what you’re thinking and work out a way to control how you are going to approach that obstacle when you come to it in the race.
In short, if you recognise tension building, consider what your unknown is, ask yourself what do I need to learn to make it a known and enjoy that learning.
Focus on the inputs
Credit: Ethan Hoover
One easy trap a lot of athletes fall into before a big race is they concentrate on the result they want to achieve, and lose sight of what it’s going to take to get there. This happens more when there is tension building, especially for big events.
This is often a result of our brains trying to find psychological safety by anchoring onto a tangible number to work towards.
It’s great to have goals, and achieving a certain time or position may be your goal as it spurs you on to train hard and keep going.
However, to truly unlock your potential and get yourself into ‘the Zone’, you need to focus on your inputs, articulating your goals as forward-looking statements rather than things you will achieve.
For example, instead of saying “I am going to finish in the Top 50 of my age category”, rephrasing to “I am going to run consistently at 80-90% of my top speed for the first two-thirds of the race, then leave everything on the course for the final third” is going to give you a strong input to focus on, which may lead to achieving the position you desire.
Another example would be around the phrase “I am going to keep my band.” Instead, make the agreement with yourself “to be fully composed before and through every obstacle I face.” followed by specific statements around what actions you will take to complete each and every obstacle.
Thinking about what you are going to put in rather than what you want to get out will always set you up for success.
Remember your Why
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This one may seem like a simple one, but the simplest concepts are often the most powerful.
It can be easy to get caught up in the process of achieving the goals you set yourself and executing the training plan relentlessly to get there. You will make sacrifices. You may conflict with those you are close. You may get injured and work twice as hard to get back to the strength you previously had.
All of which can limit your ability to perform because they are compromises you have had to make to get to where you think you want to be.
Having clarity in your True Why well before you race can help you frame those compromises positively and take the pressure off yourself.
It has to be your True Why though. Achieving a medal is not a True Why. It is a representation of your True Why. Your True Why could be achieving something that you didn’t think you could do. It could be you’ve had a life-threatening condition and achieving the medal proves to yourself that anything is possible.
Thinking about what racing gives you, the reasons you got into it in the first place, and crucially the identity you want to have for participating all can help you gain clarity in your True Why, which can contextualise all the positive and negative emotions you experience around the race.
To find your True Why, find a quiet space for 15 minutes with a pen and paper and answer this question – ‘Why do I do what I do?’. Note the thoughts you have down honestly, respectfully, and with positive intent, and at the end of the 15 minutes, finish the sentence “My true why is…”
All the best in Canada.