Preparing to Win
Few prepare to win these days. Instead, many elect to prepare to "run fast." Which, I think ultimately cheapens the sport.
I get it, you can place 10th in a race but run a lifetime best and walk away feeling a sense of accomplishment. And I think that has it's place for the majority of scholastic age athletes as well as the massive recreational population. In fact, celebrating small wins and having goals is very healthy, and I am all for stepping stone achievements provided it is ascending to a higher peak.
When it comes to high performance competition you must ask yourself what business you are really in.
Some, like my mentor Jerry Schuamcher of the Bowerman TC or good friend Danny Mackey of the Brooks Beasts TC, are in the "medal-acquisition-at-global-championships" business. And they've both enjoyed well earned success in that business.
At High Performance West, Steve Magness and I are in the "performance-development" business, where we aim to level up promising athletes from overlooked diamonds-in-the-rough to national class or (nearing) world class. Winning to us looks like athletes competing for the podium in whatever race they find themselves — whether that is a big money road race or the Olympic games.
It is important to know where you stand and be clear about what business you are really in. Doing so fuels better preparation which leads to more competitive effectiveness and, ideally, winning.
When we divorce the winning impulse from competition, then the race becomes a bland exhibition. There is a reason society adores the winner, because winning is very hard. Only one person or team can do it at each contest or championship.
But because it is hard doesn't mean we should shy away from the challenge of winning and instead train a generation of fast runners who don't know how to win. It is best to breed winners who know how to run fast. This is a subtle but significant distinction as the two types of athletes live in opposite worlds and speak different languages.
The fast athlete interprets a race result via their recorded time, the winner by the place they earned. I prefer to work with winners. Those concerned with the narrative of splits and times usually don't last long in this sport at the higher levels.
I remind the aspiring professions whom I'm privileged to work with, "If you can't figure out how to win, you can't play this game for very long." It is a harsh reality about the professional running world, but one every athlete must face, every race. This truth is inescapable. Winning is a key competency of the job.
But thankfully winning is not luck, it is a skill. Many think about winning or want to win, but few practice winning. The best I can offer to practice winning is by making winning decisions in races. Make enough winning decisions and victory results. One too few and the win being chased evaporates. It is a tough game, but I think the degree of difficulty is what makes it fun.
I've been in track & field for 20 years and been to thousands of meets. And I've yet to come across a winner who has not ran fast, but I see droves of fast runners who can't win. It is a pity. I often wonder, if the fast folk shifted their focus slightly to a race-to-win mindset, how much faster would they be?
Thanks for reading. I'm glad you're here. // jm