While running with a friend this past week, we got to talking about the concept of perspective, and its critical importance in the mind of an athlete.
We were talking as coaches, reflecting on how athletes we’ve coached have hurt or helped their performances through their sense of perspective. But the conversation also came at a perfect time for me, as I’m heading into two of my biggest races yet over the next two weekends. It really got me thinking about how significantly my perspective can impact my experiences and, ultimately, my performances.
The Boulder Peak Triathlon on July 8 and the Vineman 70.3 on July 15 will bring two of the most competitive fields I’ve faced. No doubt these races will be challenging, but nonetheless, my expectations are high. Personally, I believe that we have to challenge ourselves to really get better. When we immerse ourselves among tough competitors and a challenging environment, we have no choice but to push ourselves to rise up to that higher standard. I am absolutely excited to see what I can do when faced with this challenge.
However, I know that as I approach these races, I must remember to keep it all in perspective. It can be easy to get overwhelmed at a big event. Sure, the competition is tougher; the field is bigger; the stakes are higher. But I have to remember that, ultimately, these races are just like any other, and should be treated just the same.
As my friend Joe said during our run, the difference between athletes who can succeed on the “big stage” and those who cannot is that they understand that races are ultimately about a process, rather than an outcome. Yes, a good performance is always the goal. We go into a race knowing we want to win, or perform well at some level. But that is ultimately the outcome of a process we must go through to get there, and truly exceptional athletes know how to focus on the process.
What’s more, they understand that when it comes to that process, there is little distinction between any one race or another. The way we approach each race, how we prepare for it, and then how we go out and race it are all part of the process leading to the outcome of our result. And while the preparation may vary from race to race, ultimately the process of approaching and going through the race is always the same. No matter the size or depth of the field, or the stakes of the outcome, the process does not change.
In the end, all we can do on any given day is do the right things for ourselves in that process to achieve the best result we possibly can. That is all we can control. We have no control over our competitors or our race environment; only ourselves, and our own process and approach. When you think of it this way, it’s fairly simple.
So as I head into these next few races, my focus will be on keeping it simple. I know how to race, and I know just what I need to do for myself to achieve the best result I can. All I need to do is simply that — to go through that same process I’ve gone through so many times before. Focusing on the competitors, the challenges, the scope of the event or the stakes of the race will do me no good. I need to just focus on me.
I truly believe this understanding is what distinguishes the best athletes from the rest. They know what they need to do, and they can stick to their plan. They know it is the process they go through that will get them to their desired outcome.
So as you venture out into the world of competition, do challenge yourself to race in bigger events! But remember to keep it in perspective. Don’t get too wrapped up in the outcome and lose sight of what you need to do to get there. Don’t be shortsighted. Understand that, no matter how important, each race is not only a process in itself, but just a small part of a much longer process on your journey to evolve as an athlete. Remember: It’s all about perspective.
— Truckee’s Kara LaPoint is an elite amateur triathlete competing for LUNA bar, and working up to the pro ranks. She has earned numerous overall amateur podium finishes and age-group wins across distances from Olympic to Ironman, and finished the 2011 season ranked as an All-American nationally among her age group (25-29). During the winter, LaPoint is a top local Nordic ski racer and coach. Read more about her racing and training at www.karalapoint.wordpress.com. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.