Mindset Matters: Four Minutes Faster

This running season was never about personal records or performance breakthroughs.

Lining up in Boston this April, ten years after our traumatic first experience there, I wasn’t thinking about my long-held marathon goal of breaking three hours. Barreling across the west in an old camper van early in the fall, Pikes Peak Ascent in the rear view and Mammoth Lakes 50k ahead, I certainly wasn’t pondering podiums.

2023 was designed around experiences; exorcising pain and exploring new places.

That’s not to say there weren’t races that offered opportunities for a more competitive attitude. It’s just that I held my running more gently this year, showed myself some patience and grace. It was all quite intentional… A grab at something deeper than the time on the finish clock.

Going into the final “A” race of the season, I was just as intentional, with a twist.

I had my sights set on one guy: Last year me.

There are some things you can’t control about a race: The weather, your shuttle driver getting lost en route to the start (this actually happened in Boston), and who shows up to run. But you can always show up against yourself, and at this year’s Mount Jumbo Elk Ramble, I had my sights set on one guy: Last year me.

We’ve all heard motivational speakers and Instagram life coaches say that mindset matters. Taken to the extreme, many offer that we can “manifest our dreams” through mere thought. I don’t know about all that, but I set out to kick my own ass at the Elk Ramble and (spoiler alert) it worked.

I don’t read a lot of straight-up “running books.” Many fall flat for me in their one-dimensional, math-and-physiology approach to something I find more akin to spirituality.

But I’m reading one right now, and as the Elk Ramble was nearing, Andrew Snow’s “Run Elite” was reaching its crescendo on the power of mindset. I’d read about people from every walk of sport and life whose belief in their potential outgunned the voices that tried to keep them comfortable.

“There is no ‘B goal’ for someone who is fully committed,” Snow writes. Listen, buddy… Belittle my endurance. Say I lack speed. But never question my devotion.

I looked up last year’s time. 1:12:22 (a 7:28 pace over 15k with 1,300 feet of climbing). 12th overall and 3rd age group, but I wasn’t going to worry about that (see comment about who shows up on a given day). I scribbled down the numbers, then wrote in bigger numbers, circled, and triple-underlined, “7:15.”

Before race day, I thought through my plan. With the benefit of having run the course before, I decided to start fast on the early, flat section. I would cruise the middle, hilly miles at a steady pace and completely let loose on the three-mile downhill to the finish.

I visualized the different sections with myself in the picture, eyes up, arms pumping, legs spinning. Comfortable, but working hard. Running the tangents smartly, tucking in behind people to draft, then passing aggressively when a window opened and never looking back. I imagined crossing the finish line completely spent, nothing left in the tank.

You know, racing stuff.

There was no room in this planning and visualization for “taking it easy and seeing how things go,” which had been my approach all season. No space for “a comfortably-hard” pace or even “negative splits” (which seem to leave the door open for too-slow starts).

It was the last race of the season and I was gonna go hard.

To be clear, there is nothing wrong with those approaches… But my mindset for the Elk Ramble was different. It was the last race of the season and I was gonna go hard.

Ready for the race report? I killed it… Ran to plan. Drafted, then passed those other runners. Took the tangents like a Formula 1 pro. Sparred back and forth with a few fast folks throughout. When one of them unexpectedly reappeared over my shoulder with a mile to go, I found another gear and finished alone. Time: 1:08:50, a 7:06 pace and nearly four-minute dismantling of “last year me.”

Counter to what you might think, the intention and forethought I put into this race weren’t at all restrictive. In fact, having purpose and a plan gave me permission to let go of worry and freedom to explore the edges of my fitness.

The entire experience put a red bow on a memorable running season, proved that we don’t have to slow down just because we’re a year older, and reminded me that…

Mindset matters. 🤙

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