Keeping an Even Keel | Riding the Waves of Success and Disappointment
Over two consecutive weekends in February, I won two races. It’s been a while since I experienced back-to-back success like that. The successes I had over the previous four years were fewer and farther apart. And even now, there are no guarantees that I won’t have to wait another few races before I taste that winning feeling again – whether that’s a PB, a perfectly executed race plan, or breasting the tape first (take “winning” to mean what you will!). What’s apparent to me is that how we deal with success and how we deal with disappointment are equally important, as lining up for each new race presents a clean slate: a previous win does not guarantee impending success, nor does poor form guarantee imminent failure. Recent experiences have reminded me that best preparing for success involves keeping an even keel – dealing with success and disappointment with equal measures of perspective. I find three ways in which to best keep the keel even:
1. Never forget: winning isn’t easy.
At different times, we’ve all experienced the elation of winning a race or running a personal best. The elation can sometimes be blinding, and the pain and strain we endured only moments earlier is sometimes forgotten in the face of the elation. Who has won a race or run a PB, and thought, “Wow! That felt great! I can definitely go faster!”? Sometimes, that personal assessment holds true, but often the elation blinds the underlying fact: winning doesn’t, and never will come easy. If every time we win, we embrace only the elation, and reflect little on the pain and discomfort of pushing our limits, winning gets infinitely further away from us. We start to line up for races with our focus on the joy of winning, with less focus on the payment required. Of course, savouring the elation of a win is an important part of the process – it’s what we all run for, after all…that winning feeling. But never forget the pain you endured to produce that elation. Winning is never easy, and lining up for each new race requires equal measure of respect for the payment required and the reward of pushing our limits.
2. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
How often have we experienced success, gone back to the drawing board in search of ways to train harder, and then lined up again only to run slower? Or worse, come unstuck and gotten injured? When we experience success, it is human nature to look at our training and ask, “what more can I do?” One of the most fundamental principles of training that tends to get forgotten when we experience success is that of consistency. Blinded by the elation of winning, and the pressure to prove ourselves again, we see progress as a product of stress, and consistency as a path to stagnation. Experience and common sense remind us of the value of consistency, but experience and common sense are often the first of our faculties to be lost when faced with the pressure of trying to win again. With each subsequent success we experience, improvements become increasingly marginal. Trying to make marginal improvements with drastic changes to our training and preparation can often overwhelm a body that is already teetering at it’s limits. From consistency though, our body and our minds become more resilient, and subsequent success comes from having gotten better at what you had already been doing, rather than trying to get better by doing something differently. While one can make improvements by addressing the question of, “what more can I do?”, it is a question best addressed between seasons, not between races.
3. See a plan through – don’t be distracted by the hurdles and hiccups.
Each season, we plan a series of training phases, and a series of goals from start to finish. Even the best-laid plans aren’t foolproof, and occasionally, a result doesn’t reflect the preparation we put in. Disappointment with a single race is rarely the grounds for questioning the larger plan at work around your whole season. The easiest thing to do when faced with hiccups and hurdles in the plan is to play the blame-game, and start making immediate changes. Sometimes, shit happens, and patience is the operative word. Avoid planning changes every time you experience a disappointing race. Reaffirm faith in the plan you set at the start of the season, and suck it up. After all, most plans we make as runners concern a phase many months down the track, and straying too early from the plan because of hiccups or hurdles along the way only increases the chances of further disappointment when it counts.
Whether we win or lose, inevitably, there is always another race. If our response to success and disappointment become too polarized, it becomes easier to forget how to win after a loss, and easier to forget how to deal with disappointment after a string of success. Be patient. Be consistent. Remember that winning isn’t easy. And keep the keel even!