Written by Mark Tucker – Runner’s Tribe
“If you can spend a perfectly useless afternoon in a perfectly useless manner, you have learned how to live” (Lin Yutang).
If you have ever raced in the evening, you will no doubt understand what Yutang was talking about. It can be a challenging time before a race – you want to conserve all the energy you can and stay as relaxed as possible, while at the same time being ready and alert when it counts: race-time.
Sitting on the couch by yourself, thinking about the race over and over again while feeling anxious, is usually not the greatest idea if you want to race at your best. Of course you are going to be thinking about the race to some extent, but to lessen this most athletes try to distract themselves in some way. Sleeping, reading, watching movies, listening to music, playing video/board games and chilling out in a cafe, are all some of the popular ways for runners to stay relaxed and distracted before a big race. Nevertheless, distraction or not, it can be difficult for even the best of runners to stay positive, including the legendary Peter Snell, three time Olympic Gold medallist, who described the awkward period before one of his many races:
“Then an afternoon stewing prematurely in my own juice in the hotel room. I think that, in this blue period, I was fairly hard to live with. This is the rotten part of athletics. You can’t help it because so much is at stake. It’s fine to say it’s just a game but when you’re tied up to the extent that the race is an event of personal and national honour, this intent attitude of mind is inevitable and painful. So I stewed.”
(Peter Snell: ‘no bugles no drums’ – by Snell and Garth Gilmour).
By-the-way, Snell ended up winning the race!
Craig Mottram seemed to have a better time before his 2004 Athens Olympic Games 5000m final, describing some of the ways he distracted himself and filled in the time, leading up to the big race:
12.pm. Gave up on reading and borrowed ‘Crocodile Dundee’…This old Paul Hogan movie was just what was needed as it was very funny and it killed a couple of hours. The middle of the day can really drag when you’re racing late at night so it was great to find something that took the mind off what lay ahead. Because all the hard training has been completed, waiting to race at the major championships can involve a lot of resting and just hanging around, so it’s important to keep the stress levels down by doing things that take your mind off running.
Interestingly, a few hours before the race start, he had a
“15 minute hot and cold shower to invigorate and wake up my body”
(Craig Mottram – ‘One Special Day’ from Neil MacDonald’s gold mine of a book – ‘Caffeine Conversations’)
It’s almost impossible to say what affect the pre-race routine has on a runner’s subsequent performance. It probably wouldn’t have mattered if, instead, Mottram had slept or played scrabble with friends – the important thing was that he conserved energy while not thinking too much about what lay ahead. Sometime before the race he would have obviously switched on, out of distraction mode, and the hot and cold shower probably started this process. Most importantly he wasn’t just thinking about the race all day and he avoided doing anything silly, such as playing another sport strenuously or over indulging in the dining hall – obvious things!
Once you have gone through the pre-race process a number of times, you will hopefully be able to master the art of filling in time and be able to utter the following words:
“I wonder what feelings inspire a man to complain of having nothing to do? I am happiest when I have nothing to do.” (Kenko Yoshida, 1283-1350)