Monday, February 1, 2016

The Art of Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing.

 Runners are great at being perfectionists.  It's what makes us good. We have such attention to detail.  But there is a fine line between paying attention to details (which is good!) and getting lost in the details (bad! bad!). The devil is in the details, remember?  

We’ve all heard the advice: “It’s about the little things,” they say, “Do the 1%” they say.

Well, this is kind of misleading advice. There, I said it. Because focusing on the 99% is probably going to get you farther than focusing on the 1%. That’s math. Or common sense? Sometimes, we get too zoomed in and can’t see the forest through the trees. This is a problem. It is good to take care of the little things, as long as the little things don’t become the main things.

Let’s talk for a second about the things that aren’t the main things:

What you ate pre-race.
If you got a cup of coffee.
If you got a massage.
What spikes you are wearing.
How you felt in your pre race workout
What your weight is.
What the pace is supposed to be.
Doing too many strides.
Doing too little strides.
Doing too fast strides.
How much you hydrated.
Talking about all the race plans.
How much you were on your feet yesterday.
How much you slept last night.
The workout your competitor tweeted about.
How fast you did your warm up.
What lane number you are.
That damn weather!

Let’s talk about the main things that are the main things:

1. The work you put in over the last few months.
2. Your mindset.

It is actually kind of hard to mess up your race the day of—You’d have to do extreme weightlifting and sprint a mile during your warm-up. Or maybe join fight club and not talk about it. Or maybe join cross fit and talk about it. And that still wouldn’t affect your race as much as you’d think.

The problem is it is so so tempting to get stuck on the details.

Reasons why the details are easy to focus on:

1. Details help you take the pressure off. It’s like a defense mechanism. It resolves you from responsibility of your race. If you don’t race well, it is a nice excuse to fall back on. “Well, I would have raced well, except…”
I personally use/love/hate the “I would have raced well except I had bad positioning” too often.

It’s really scary to try and lose and have to be like, “Well. I’m not as fit as I’d like.” Or “I didn’t try as hard as I wanted to.”
That makes you feel bad on the inside. Where if you raced badly because of that Chicken Phad Thai spicy level 4 stomach issue, then it’s not really your fault!

2. Details allow you to zoom in so much that you don’t have to think about the race or the outcome. It is scary to line up and have no clue if you are going to win. It is stressful. One Phoebe tested (and unapproved) way to deal with stress: not think about the stressful situation whatsoever! (I call this “compartmentalizing”) Instead! Think about minor stressful situations that you can fix, and then feel that sweet, sweet since of relief when you fix them. NOTE: This is a terrible problem solving method.

3. Details allow you to feel like the race result is predetermined. If you take care of all the details, then it is the universe’s way of saying, “Don’t worry, Phe, all the evidence suggests that you have already won this race.”

Being a slave to the details is a terrible habit. It puts the fate of your race into the environment. And the environment is fickle. So don’t do it! And when you do it even though I just told you not to do it, these self-talk phrases can help talk you back to reality:

If ____________ ruins your race, your race wasn’t going to be jack shit anyway.

______________ is nothing compared to all the work you did leading up to this.

Weather affects the whole field, remember?

You never worry about this at practice.

You have run well before when this happened.

Just try hard. That’s all you have to do. Literally.

Bottom line: Don’t be a perfectionist. Be an ADAPTABLE perfectionist.


  1. Reminds me of a wonderful article in Psychology Today, so many years ago that I'm the only person in the world old enough to remember it. It was called, "The Perfectionist's Script for Self-Defeat." Pretty much needs no further explaining. Thanks, Phe, always a joy.

  2. TRUTH! Reminds me of some things Matt Fitzgerald touched on in his new book. Love it. :)

  3. Phoebe, I love your blog! It has really helped me when coming to terms with overtraining during my senior cross country season. I read it often with books based on sports psychology (but, I find you a hella lot more relatable). Thank you so much for your insight! I am becoming a lot more confident as my track season nears (I run the 800/1600m).

    1. This made my day! I'll be rooting for you this season!!

  4. This needs to be read by so many people, thanks

  5. Preach! Sending to all my type A friends and mathematicians.

  6. bookmarked. Thank you so much for this. Simple and so true.

  7. Nice write up and summary of what to focus on and what NOT to focus on. I was guided here by a link on a friend's blog. Glad he included it. I have subsequently recommended it on another friend's blog for her to have a look.

  8. Great stuff again! I go over this again and again with my team, especially the two main things how prepared you are and "your mindset". I'll be doing it again, quoting you!

  9. This is a great post that I need to seriously engrave into my head! thanks for sharing!


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