If you run races, the focus is nearly always on the finish line. You may have a goal finish time and a race plan to get you from the start line to the finish.
When you tell non-runners you did a race, their first question is usually some version of ‘how did you do’ or ‘what was your time?’
I’ve given the advice myself – when you race, visualize the finish. See yourself finishing strong.
However, I don’t think nearly enough attention is paid to the starting line.
My 50 Mile Adventure
I’ve been thinking about the start line a lot lately.
At a recent event, I won a raffle prize – an entry into a 50-mile race (eek!). The race was two months away when I won the entry (double eek!). I couldn’t transfer or defer the entry, so I either entered and did what I could or ignored the prize entirely.
When I asked my running friends for advice on what to do with the entry, I didn’t frame the question as ‘should I enter and try to do what I can’, it was ‘should I enter it knowing I’d DNF’ (did not finish).
My friends (bless them, the enablers they are) universally responded with – ‘why are you so sure you can’t do it?’
And honestly, it wasn’t that I thought I couldn’t do it, it just never occurred to me I could.
I went back and forth with myself quite a bit about what to do with this entry.
It became an interesting experiment in goal setting.
As I write this, the race is a month away. Training is going well, but I also know that 8 weeks isn’t enough time to train properly. For this race, I’m not thinking about what my finish time could be.
My focus is on getting to the start line.
Having the courage to try something way out of my comfort zone.
Trying my best, but knowing that I may not be able to finish. And I don’t say ‘I may not be able to finish’ pessimistically or to be down on myself or my abilities. There is simply a very real possibility I won’t be able to finish.
I will start the race, and I will try.
What actually happens on race day? Kinda besides the point.
[Update: Check out my American River 50 Mile Race Recap – spoiler: it went better than I ever could have imagined]
Don’t Only Focus On The Finish
What can get lost when runners focus only on the finish is the training and the trying.
‘Can I finish the race?’ or ‘How fast can I finish the race?’ is sometimes the wrong question.
Sometimes the question is if you have the courage to try.
“The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.”
― John Bingham
What’s So Bad About Focusing On The Finish?
Much Of Race Day Is Out Of Your Control
What happens if you train for a race (even if you train perfectly) only to wake up on race day to conditions that are unseasonably hot, or cold, or humid?
You will likely fall short of your goal, for reasons entirely out of your control and that say nothing about you or your abilities.
There is a rule in the social sciences called the peak-end rule. The rule says that how an experience ends determines the happiness we ascribe to it.
The famous example is an amazing orchestra performance that ends in a single off-note played by a single instrument. A large percentage of people said that the single bad note resulted in them thinking poorly about the entire performance, even when the performance (up until that single bad note) was perfect.
The same thing can happen if your race doesn’t go to plan.
Not meeting your goal finish time has the potential to sour your memories of the entire race (and maybe the entire training cycle), even if everything else was amazing.
You Miss The Journey
Last year, I attended a ‘Mindfulness And The Endurance Athlete’ seminar. One of the things the speaker talked about is if you are entirely focused on the end, you will likely not pay attention to (or even notice) some of the great things happening along the way.
The amazing spectators on race day, the beautiful view somewhere on the course, that training long run when everything fell into place.
Don’t be so focused on the finish you miss the amazing parts of the journey.
You Are So Much More Than Your Finish Times
Don’t define yourself only by your finish times or your finish place.
A single bad race doesn’t make you a bad person or a bad runner.
Focus On The Start Line
Racing is a journey, and it begins months before race day.
Months before you cross the finish line.
In training, you ran when you didn’t want to, woke up early to run instead of hitting snooze, passed up invites for Friday nights out because of Saturday long runs.
It likely wasn’t a perfect journey to the start, but you kept going. You learned what you could and kept going.
They say that finishes aren’t given, they are earned.
The same can be true of the start line.
Your journey to the start line is part of your journey too.
Regardless of what happens on race day, sometimes just being willing to stand at the start line of the race is a huge accomplishment.
As You Stand At The Start Line
As you stand at the start line of a race, take a moment to celebrate the start.
Acknowledge the journey you’ve had getting there. Give yourself credit for getting through training.
Celebrate that you had the courage to start training, the courage to start the race.
Whatever happens on race day? That is just the cherry on top.