Heading into a race, we often have time or place goals like a Boston qualifier, a top 5 age group finish, or a personal best time. Despite putting in the proper training and having a focused taper and peak, there’s far more to having a great race day than just the preparation. There are many things out of our control that also impact the outcome of a race, such as work stress, travel, weather, or course conditions.
While having a time or place goal can be motivating, it can also have the opposite effect. For example, if you know you’re not on pace to hit your time goal, it can be easier to give into the lows or even give up, possibly leading you to drop out of the race. That’s part of why the number one piece of race day advice I give anyone who will listen is to give your best effort on the day.
You have complete control over your effort. To do this, you have to be honest with yourself. Let’s get real: You are the only one who truly knows whether you’re giving your best effort. If you don’t, you’re only impacting yourself. Giving your best effort is a lot easier when you are feeling good and things are going smoothly. It’s a whole other thing to do it when you aren’t running as fast as you had hoped, in the place you wanted to be, or are just having a bad day. Our egos are what generally stop us from giving our best effort. People tend to not want to look like they worked hard to run a slow-for-them time, or place poorly. On the other hand, however, no one ever says, “Geez, why did she work so hard in that race? It’s not inspiring at all to see her grind through a rough day.”
What you gain by giving your best effort is not only the satisfaction of being able to walk away from your race proud of giving your all, it’s also the satisfaction of knowing you maximized your potential on that day – time-wise, place-wise, and effort-wise. More important, you gain the ability to more easily put forth your best effort again in the future.
You can’t ask for anything more than your best on any day. Harnessing control over the one thing that matters most regarding the outcome of your race is empowering. Not only will it help you on the tough days, it will help you get the most out of yourself on the great days, possibly leading to a performance of which you didn’t know you were capable.
You’ll never walk away being upset you gave your best effort, but it’s very likely you will be if you don’t.
Trisha Steidl is the founder of Steidl Running: Total Running Development, a coaching business centered around the holistic and long-term development of runners.