Being the Best (Runner) You Can Be: Part 1

Was there anything else that I could have done today that would have made me a better athlete?

An athlete who can say no (to the best of their knowledge) will be at peace for the evening. To be the best that you can be, I think you need three key components. They may be broadly summarised as an internal locus of control, adequate head-space and the formation of habits that allow you to deliver 80% effort, 100% of the time. In running or life, those that can prioritise the process in favour of the outcome, will generally speaking and somewhat ironically, have better outcomes. This piece has been prompted by a weeklong training camp in Portugal where I was in athlete mode rather than athlete support mode. As I mapped out the week, how it followed from the previous and led into the next, I thought it was worth a blog on the thinking behind it.

What is an internal locus of control?

What can I do to work toward my goals? Could I do more? Are there things I could learn to help me achieve my goals? Am I willing to give myself permission to make time to prioritise my goals? Why have I failed before?

A person with an internal locus of control views their life largely as a product of the choices they make on a day-to-day basis. A person with an external locus of control views their life largely playing out as a result of factors beyond their control. To illustrate the concept, think of the person at work who blames the organisation, the government, colleagues etc. for their under performance or unhappiness at work. This is a classic representation of the external locus of control. Now think of that person who remains largely optimistic when times are tough and always seems to get things done in spite of barriers. This is the classic representation of the internal locus of control. This person views themselves as responsible for their own happiness. Placed in an unhappy workplace, they can survive by focusing on what they can control.  If the workplace doesn’t satisfy them, eventually they leave. The beauty of the internal locus of control is that as circumstances change, the individual’s emotional state remains relatively constant within a certain bandwidth. In a good environment, they will thrive. In a poor one, they will survive.

In the case of a runner, someone with an external locus of control will refer to his or her injury history, job, coach, other commitments etc. when attempting to explain a lack of improvement or crucially a lack of consistency. Of course, these things have an impact on us but they do not influence the choices we make right now.

How do I develop an internal locus of control?

The internal locus of control is just that – internal. What is essential for a runner here is to accept the present and not be affected by external reference points such as a) their previous habits and performances and b) other runners or running norms. To do this, 2.5 years ago I looked at what I felt I needed to do rather than what a runner should do or what I would have done before. When I planned my week to include all the things I felt I needed to do, I was left with 3 days to run and so off I went. Improvement followed and you can read about it here, eventually I moved to 4 and sometimes 5-days a week depending on what I needed. Why plan the running last? That is the easy part. We all love it. It requires a lot less discipline.

The two key steps here were a) letting go of my past self and b) being comfortable with an unconventional programme compared to other runners.

How does it work on training camp?

What can I do today to make sure I am a better athlete than I was yesterday? At dinner can I be certain (as is possible) that there was nothing else I could have done that day to improve? These are daily questions that athletes can ask themselves on training camp. In my week, I know the components of fitness related to running that I am aiming to improve and mentally I keep a score of how well I am doing each day. In a training-camp environment, you are surrounded by athletes from the amateur (me) to the elite. It is vital that you stay focused on what you need to do and ignore what everyone else is doing (unless you think there is something you can learn from observation). It sounds intense but you can also score yourself in relation to relaxation and recovery. Once you are confident you have mastered or planned how to master the components of fitness for that day, you can also factor in an hour in the sun, a coffee with a friend or a nice meal. Best of all, you will have the evening to bask in the satisfaction that there was nothing else you could have done that day to be a better athlete.

When I have addressed the other aspects of being the best you can be in the next blog, I will also show how I design the training camp plan. Stay tuned.