Focus on What You Can Control, and Don’t Waste Energy on the Things You Cannot

Here you go fellow WOOTers – something to ponder over while reflecting upon yesterday’s race and strategizing for next month’s half marathon races which many of you have signed up for. This is another great post by Bradley Stulberg, and one I wish I had read before yesterday’s marathon! Take some time to read it, you’ll be glad you did.

Post by Brad Stulberg

While reading an interview with a Kona bound age-grouper, Adrian Rishworth, one particular insight really stood out to me. Worrying about whether or not his qualifying race (IM Lake Placid) would be wetsuit eligible, Adrian’s friend told him, “Focus on what you can control, and don’t waste energy on the things that you cannot.” With the second half of the race season fast approaching, this is some of the simplest yet most powerful advice we [as endurance athletes] should keep at the forefront of our minds. I’ll even go an enormous step further, suggesting that this is a pretty good way to approach nearly all elements of life. Since the wisdom largely speaks for itself, my subsequent examination of it will be brief. And in order to avoid overstepping the purpose and reach of this blog, I’ll keep things in the context of endurance sports.

The first part, focus on what you can control, gives us a lot to focus on! Prior to a race, there is a laundry list of things (big and little) to do that we have full control over. And while these tasks often have the power to make or break a race, it is common to hear stories of athletes (and often really good ones too) getting lazy here, and then paying the price. There is no shortage of examples.

The right in-race nutrition, and in the right format to easily take it down; having your 3 Powerbars will do you no good if you can’t get the wrapper off while biking or running. Foam rolling; It’s a pain in the ass (literally), but the 2 minutes it takes in the morning can save you 40 minutes of meltdown causing pain in the later stages of a race. Blister control and other minor bodyshop care; it stinks to spend time duct-taping your big toe, especially at 4AM (when even the smallest things are hard to do), but the one time you don’t do it will be the time the blister grows to performance deteriorating levels. Pre-race fueling; you train so hard and for so long, often scrutinizing a lot of what you eat, so it makes zero sense to mess up your carb-load, yet this seems to happen far too often. Call the hotel and check out the local options in advance, and if they don’t have what you need, pack it! Getting to the race on time; leave early! Again, you put so much time into this, so what’s an extra 10 minutes on race morning to minimize stress? While I could go on forever, the theme should be clear by now; there is a lot that we can control and should focus on in the days leading up to a race.

The second part, don’t waste energy on the things you cannot control, is equally as important! All the things we can control (see above) can really place a sizeable stress-load on us, all in addition to the usual pre-race anxiety, and the extreme physiological stress that racing places on the body. Long story short, there is a lot to do pre-race [within our power] that will demand a ton of energy, and then all the energy that is left over should be expired on the course! So, with that in mind, it makes absolutely no sense to devote a single calorie of energy (mental or physical) to things that are out of our control. For example, wasting energy worrying about what the temperature will be on race morning is pointless; you are not going to change it. But…the lost sleep, raised HR, physical tenseness, and forgetting to do other things (that you can control) because your mind is consumed by worries about the temperature is likely to cost you in a big way.

To summarize, in the lead-up to races (or in training, or really anything in life) the worst thing you can do is worry about the things that you cannot control at the expense of doing the things that you can. Unfortunately, this seems to be a vicious cycle that too many people fall into. The best thing you can do is the opposite. Focus on what is within your control and knock all that stuff out, and believe me, there isn’t likely to be a shortage of it. And for the things that are out of your control, don’t waste energy on them; you simply can’t afford to. It’s OK to be prepared to react to a handful of variable situations, but it’s not OK to worry endlessly about which of those situations might occur.

Good luck to all as we head into the second half of race season!!!

Day before the Okinawa marathon – you girls rocked it!!!

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