“Run for fun and Personal Bests” Often, I think of the underlying wisdom of these six words for those who ultimately absorb the perspective to know yourself, accept who you are, and ultimately make the most of your “God Given Talents” through their work ethic. Do the best you can with the gifts you are given and be yourself.
“The hardest this is to be yourself in a world that is trying to make you into something you are not.” Unknowingly at the time, one of my former athletes had a major influence on me personally and as a coach when he spoke those words while traveling to a track meet. (I believe Emerson was the original source). I can mark the spot on the highway when I first heard them.
Fortunately, the message continues to be a reference point for me while walking that fine line between molding athletes into a team, yet not interfering with their individuality.
As an athlete, I recognized the importance of knowing who you are while competing at the Milwaukee Journal Games Indoor Track Meet one Saturday in 1962. Keep in mind that Jim Beatty, a world class runner coached by the great Hungarian Mihaly Igloi, had run a 3-minute, 59.7 seconds mile race in the Chicago Daily News Relays the previous night.
Prior to the Milwaukee Competition, I was sitting in my hotel room when one of my Illini teammates called to inform me that Beatty was eating right next to him in the hotel restaurant. Needless to say, I rushed down as fast as I could to find Beatty finishing a full course roast beef dinner, topping it off with a dish of ice cream.
Back then, it was my pattern to eat a specific light meal with no less than four hours prior to competition. Bolstered by what I saw, I took the risk and ordered everything Beatty was eating. After all, he was world class and would be competing that evening much earlier than myself. What was good enough for a world class runner would certainly be most likely even better for me.
Well, it all went downhill from that meal on. Not for Beatty. He won in another world class performance. As for me, after my race I dashed straight to the nearest restroom, sick to my stomach with undigested food, wiped out, and wondering why I was getting a second look at that roast beef dinner. Not surprisingly, at that moment, I realized I was not Jim Beatty.
Along this line of thought, there are times in the midst of a workout I will ask an athlete for his name. While thinking coach’s short term memory had just taken a turn for the worst, he states his name with a puzzled response.
“Then why are you being influenced to run someone else’s workout?” I ask him.
No one’s workout fits everyone perfectly. Trust yourself and run your own practice (dress rehearsal) so you can run your won race. Also, often during meets athletes attach too much importance to other external variables beyond their control, causing them to lose focus over what things they do control (i.e. who is in the race, how many are in the race, weather conditions, etc.) Clearly, the more the athlete is distracted by outside circumstances, the more he gives them the power to influence his race.
Next, performance is at its best when one listens to his intuitive signals and is supported within a cooperative team environment. Through it all, this is a tough concept to understand and implement. I’m convinced that letting your intrinsic intuitive feelings guide you, yet supporting selflessly your teammates in pursuing a common goal, is far more influential in achieving personal bests than competing against one another.
We need each other to maximize our God given talents in the development of our potential. No one does it on their own. To that end, synergy, on the idea that the whole is greater than its parts, is a powerful unifying performance force.
My dad once told me that one horse harnessed to a wagon can pull up to 6 tons of material. In contrast, Dad said two horses working together side by side can pull 32 tons. The math did not make sense to me but the concept was clear. When it really gets down to it, we achieve more working together than working separately.
It seems to me it begins with learning who you are, where you want to go, let nothing external distract you, surround yourself with supportive people sharing similar goals, and believe in who you are to become the best you can be to reach personal bests! In other words, Run Your Own Race!