But there were a ton of close games and if some of those games went the other way, maybe I would have been sitting pretty at the end of the tournament and enjoying the winnings of my $12 bracket pot.
At the end of the close games, people talk about how exciting the game was to watch and how "clutch" some of the players were and how missed free throws and turnovers in the last few minutes cost the team the victory. And at the end of these close games, the players show an intense focus and play harder, the crowd is on the edge of their seats and you're only a few minutes away from seeing someone crying in the audience, who will forever live-on as an internet gif.
But I never understand why people put a lot of focus into what happens towards the end of the game. What about all the mistakes people make in the middle when the pressure isn't there? Two missed foul shots hurt you just as much eight minutes into the first half as they do with eight seconds left in the game. They didn't lose the game at the end, they most likely "lost" it long before then.
And when someone has an amazing play at the end of the game, you hear about their clutch performance. What really is a clutch performer? Someone who is able to perform to their potential when the pressure is on or when they feel more is on the line? Someone shouldn't need external influences to affect them for the better or worse. A true champion can call upon their skills whenever they want or need to.
Now what's all this rambling about? Running is the same way. In a race, every second counts. Especially in the shorter distances, most people's fastest miles are the first and last with a lag in the middle. It's easy to start off strong when you're motivated and fresh. And it's easy to finish hard when you smell the finish line, have people cheering you on and know the race is almost over. But during the middle, it can be lonely and difficult to keep on pressing forward. But during those times, the second hand on the watch moves just as quickly. Taking a mental time-out during this time may help you finish harder, but your finishing time will be slower. High school cross country runners are the guiltiest of all when it comes to this. Those guys shoot out like animals, put on the brakes for a mile or two and then finish looking like Usain Bolt.
So what can you do to fix this? Well, people usually race how they train, so practice it during your harder workout days. Start out controlled and ease into the session. Once you shake the rust off and find your sweet-spot, mentally focus on the middle intervals and take them one at a time. When I do 10 reps of something, I use the first 3-4 to get a feel for the effort at hand. By 5-6, it starts to get pretty tiring but if I can focus until the end of the 7th repetition, I only have three more left to go. And even though I'm tired and hurting at this point, making yourself push through the last three isn't as mentally tough because you know the end is near.
In races, it's the same story. It's very easy to go out way too fast, especially in the first minute or two of a race. And one of the most mentally tough things in racing is when you start to die too early and your miles get slower and slower. It's much harder to fight when each mile split makes you feel worse about yourself. But when you are clicking off the splits or better yet, accelerating, each mile is a huge confidence booster and serves as positive reinforcement to keep pressing forward. And the longer the race, the more important being patient early on is.
While I'm a pure gas tank runner and feel like I'm sprinting the entire time in anything under a 10k, with the longer stuff, I break the race into portions. In the first portion of the race, I try not to think about anything. I ignore my competitors and don't consciously make any moves. If someone passes me, they pass me. If someone is going too slow, I pass them. I do my own thing and save my mental and physical energy for later. Towards the middle of the race, I start to consciously pick people off. I try to find people a few seconds ahead, who I can tell are slowing down and then slowly reel them in. I've learned that at this point, if you're not passing people, you're most likely slowing down. Then towards the end, I finish with whatever I have left. So by going out smart, I run a better time, get the mental boost of passing people throughout the race and get the positive reinforcement of good mile splits. Win, win, win.
So the next time you're in a workout or race, constantly keep focused on your current effort. Mentally stay dialed in the entire time.The next time you race that rival who always leaves you the last mile of the race may already be left in your dust before the last mile even begins.