Racing is Not Rational

photo ©

photo ©

In the modern era, we've created a narrative backed by a neophyte (and still evolving) understanding of physiological science. We believe that training and racing are rational, logical activities governed by certain scientific truths and if obeyed will yield predictable outcomes. 

The story we coaches and athletes tell ourselves is if I plan and do x-y-z organized, structured training program in a progressive manner it will produce correlative progressive results. 

I, perhaps like you, do like this narrative. The only problem is, it isn't true. 

There is an irrational element which disrupts our desired scripted outcomes on race day — humans. 

We humans are irrational creatures, as our actions, perceptions, and response to stimuli in our environment are often unpredictable. Lest we forget athletes are humans too, not running robots, which cannot be programmed to run splits on race day with mechanical exactitude, no matter how hard we try. 

For a long time, I fell prey to this mythical story. However, in recent years, I've sobered up. 

Training and racing was once an act of compliance for me, if the athlete can do this in practice then they should be able to do that on race day. And if they failed to live up to expectations, they were non-compliant. But competition is not necessarily a zero-sum game as there can be much learned from a loss. 

The truth is, there will be many more downs than ups in every athlete's career. As a coach you need to ask yourself if you are capable of supporting an athlete during rough patches, as that is the heart of the profession. If you're only here to coach winners, chances are you won't have many to coach after a short while. 

These days I've adopted a lens that sees coaching as a teaching and guidance activity. I believe we coaches are teachers here to assist an athlete to best process and learn from failure as well as success. Our most important hour is in the moments after a crushing defeat or a poor race. If handled with care, that athlete's low moment can be the genesis for a future extraordinary performance.

It is in those moments follwing defeat I remember the words of Nikola Tesla which remind me the posture I should take:

The scientific man does not aim at an immediate result. He does not expect that his advanced ideas will be readily taken up. His work is like that of the planter - for the future. His duty is to lay the foundation for those who are to come, and point the way.

It is hard to see any athlete who has poured their heart, soul, time, energy, finances, etc. into training be met with a crushing result. But fitness doesn't evaporate overnight. Bad races happen even though the intent was to win. Racing, like humans, is not a rational enterprise because the defining element of every race, the athletes, are irrational creatures. 


Thanks for reading. I'm glad you're here. // jm 



Jonathan Marcus