Learning To Let Go On Race Day

By Mario Fraioli

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When it comes to race day, I tell my athletes that they need to be near-sighted and have a short-term memory. No, this doesn’t mean they should go get new contact lenses or have their head checked for a concussion before taking the starting line. It’s about adopting an “in the moment” mindset in regard to how they go about tackling the task at hand. 

During a race, this means focusing on the current moment in time, not worrying about what happened in the last mile or what might happen in the next mile or what place you might finish if Joe Speedwagon surprises you with a strong kick. In fact, it practically discourages thinking about the end result at all. It does a runner—any athlete, really—no good to get too far ahead of him or herself when in pursuit of a goal. All it does it cause unnecessary anxiety. The only person you have control over is yourself, and the only moment you have any say over is the current one, so it’s in your best interest to do what you can to make the most of it.

There was an excellent discussion of the practice of “letting go” in Matt Fitzgerald’s excellent book, How Bad Do You Want It? Fitzgerald shares the story of world champion triathlete Siri Lindley, who overcame race-day anxiety by learning to “let go” and shifting her focus toward being in the moment and away from achieving a desired outcome.

“Counterintuitive though it may be, caring a little less about the result of a race produces better results,” Fitzgerald writes. “An athlete who believes in herself whether she succeeds or fails is able to put the goal out of her mind and race in the moment, and to race in the moment—in flow—is to race better.”

Put another way: Don’t waste energy on your end goal—put your focus into executing (and enjoying) the steps that will give you confidence and help bring you closer to the desired result.

Self belief, Fitzgerald writes, requires “an empty mind and total immersion in the process that builds the proof of potential that is the only solid foundation for true self-belief.”

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