Mind GamesIn a continuing collaboration with Scott over at Straight to the Bar, we will be talking about head games for the month of April and delve into the thought processes that you may have while you are working out or competing.

Today I would like to discuss fear and how easily and it can interfere with your performance, especially in a competition (such as the Boston Marathon). When you prepare for something, and you practice and test what you are going to do, then you go a long way towards easing the fear of failure or of performing in front of a crowd or of just putting yourself on the line. They will never completely go away, but being prepared will help you to overcome your fears and perform up to your abilities.

The worst kind of fear is the fear of the unknown. Not knowing what is coming, or how your body will handle it. This is something that can happen no matter how well prepared you are. Your first body-building competition, your first marathon, your first track meet. These can all be scary times. Even when you are experienced at a particular style of competition, there can be fears. Fear of competing at a new level, fear of competing in a new place, or fear of the weather.

Running with the Pack

Photo by terriseesthings
I can offer a very good example of fear overcoming your preparation and your common sense. The weather forecasts before the 2007 Boston Marathon called for some of the worst weather conditions in the history of the race, and the days and hours leading up to the race did very little to calm those fears.

When it came time to change into my racing clothes and drop off my baggage, I ignored my better sense and gave into the fear of what the course might be like. Despite my assumption that it would not rain too much on the course, and ignoring the temperatures that were in the high 40s or low 50s, I decided to play it safe and wear more clothes than I needed. I told my friend that I was going to regret this decision, and I was right.

I lost my hat within 3 miles. I tried putting it in the pocket on the back of my shorts, but it fell out within 3 or 4 steps and was lost. I had my favorite long sleeve shirt, with a vest over that to help keep my torso warm in the rain and wind. Over that I had my racing singlet with my number. By mile 5 I had pushed the sleeves up and wished that I had only my racing singlet. For the vast majority of the race, I was overheating.

I had prepared to run the race in the same way that I always race my marathons. I probably would not have made all of my goals had I not given into my fears, but I would have at least made one of them. The only time on the course when I was happy to have all of the layers that were left was near the base of the Newton Hills, where I did encounter 3 or 4 minutes of heavy rain and winds in the 20-40 mile per hour range. The rain went away fast; the wind stuck around for the last 8 miles.

The next time that you are preparing for a competition, think about the fears that you are going to have and try to find a way to deal with them. Acknowledging that a fear exists is the best way to turn that fear into something that will help you excel rather than holding you back or sabotaging your performance. My fears got the better of me, and led me to fail to meet my goals. This is not necessarily a bad thing; without failure it is difficult for us to grow and improve. The best way to learn what works is to find all of the ways that do not work. I will have more to say about that later this week.