Today I am "racing" a 5k. It is my first race since the marathon. It is the first race after taking time off to heal my calf. It is actually my first "timed" 5k in nearly 4 years, where I am racing for my own time, not accompanying someone else. And now I'm going to say it.... I am nervous. I am nervous because I am not an experienced 5k runner. I like to run longer distances at a more reasonable pace. I don't know how to pace myself for a 5k. Or not one that I'm racing anyway.
I know what I'd like my avg pace to be. Two weeks ago, I went out to test myself at that pace. I completely died at 2 miles. So then I realize that this could be the result of the time off and lack of speed work in months. Or could be simply the result of inexperience at this type of racing. I am trying to arrive at today's race with zero time expectations, but I can't. I know what I'd like to get. And no, I'm not going to say what that may be.
Last night when I went to bed, I wanted to get into "racing" mode. This is the mode where I try to get into a mentally tough state and remind myself that the race will hurt and that I'm ready and willing to let it. So of course, I pick up my favorite book on training your brain to race well. Let me back track by saying that I was a bit disturbed by the nerves I was experiencing because I'd worked so hard to become a calm and confident racer. And because this race doesn't matter one bit and that I'm doing it because I love this. And no one has any time expectation for me or really cares what I get.... except me. So why the heck am I nervous?
I have read this entire book from cover to cover. I'm not sure how I don't remember this part or why it jumped out at me last night, but I'm so glad it did. There are two views on pre-race anxiety.. the general psychological view and the existential view. I am going to quote the following excerpt to explain both and to say that I wholeheartedly now agree with the existential view... as long as the anxiety doesn't cause me to choke, that is.
The general psychological view is that anxiety before competition is not a good thing, because it's unpleasant and it causes the athlete to waste energy, lose focus, and have fear of failure. The conventional view in sports psychology is that if you have an athlete who is shaking, sweating, and miserable before a competition, you need to give them interventions to stop it. The existential view is that anxiety often is a sign that you are challenging yourself. That anxiety is about you pushing yourself into a challenging situation.
Existentialism calls upon the athlete to muster courage and work through the source of anxiety instead of taking the easy way out and trying to make it just go away. It's about facing up to the discomfort that is associated with the sport experience, whether it's the pain of racing, the grind of training, or the entire lifestyle sacrifice. The existential view is that the encounter with anxiety that comes with facing up to challenges---repeatedly facing up to those challenges and going through them-- strengthens the core of who you are. Every time there is a chance to step up--every time there is an opportunity to move beyond where you are now-- and the recognition dawns on you that the choice is yours-- if you repeatedly say "no" to these opportunities-- if you make "no" your typical response-- that undermines your personality and character and makes you less of an authentic person. You become less of the real you.
And so there you have it. The reason pre-race anxiety is good (within reason, of course). Today my goal is to run happy and strong. To remember how much I'd missed it during my time off. To run with a thankful attitude for the gift of health and wellness. To run so that I feel like I left everything I have out on the course. And to run it in a time under %& : *^. Good luck to all running with me today :)