I’ve heard this quote attributed to different people over the years, and frankly, I don’t know who said it first, but they were on to something.
Sure, there’s a time and a place for reflecting on past performances, just as there’s a time and a place for planning ahead. Without these practices, we would never learn from the person and runner we had been. We may not have noticed that race times were slowing when we eliminated speedwork or that one knee always flares up after running on the slanted part of the road. And we certainly would struggle to meet goals if we never created training plans for the coming days, weeks, and months.
Nonetheless, when it’s time to perform, there’s no place you should be but present in the moment. In the same way that we can practice mindfulness in our day to day living, we can practice mindfulness on the run. We all know there have been plenty of long runs and races that didn’t feel great. It’s tempting to keep dwelling on mile 2 when we pushed a little too hard up that hill and we’re still paying for it. And it’s equally tempting to keep repeating over and over, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe have 11 more miles to go…” When you’re struggling in the middle of a run, there is perhaps nothing less motivating than reminding yourself that you’re not even close to being done.
However, by refocusing and being present, we can choose to concentrate on the mile we’re running at that very moment. It turns a big goal into a smaller, more achievable goal. When you’re five miles into a half marathon, focusing on “8 more miles” may not help you perform your best. But focusing on getting from mile 5 to mile 6 makes more sense. Sometimes you can only ask yourself to try to keep this up for another mile, and then… we’ll see what happens. Sometimes you need to choose to forgive yourself in advance for whatever is to come. Acknowledge that you’re going to do your best on this mile. In all subsequent miles, whether your best is still this good or you have to pull over and stop altogether is out of your control for the time being. All you can control is this mile.
I love this little piece of advice because it’s so useful in running. In my last half marathon, I recall holding a pace that I thought was ambitious, and I frequently started to doubt that I could maintain it for the duration of the race, but I maintained my sanity by never asking myself for more than this mile. Just try to make it to the end of this mile, I would tell myself, and then I’ll re-evaluate. Dwelling on what’s yet to come is a distraction, and it’s unfair to the mile you’re in.
But perhaps I like this advice best of all because it applies to life in general as well. There have been many days when I’ve felt overwhelmed – either by disappointment over what I’ve failed to accomplish in the past or by a daunting to-do list in my future. Sometimes that to-do list is so distracting that it keeps me from truly focusing on doing a great job of the task I’m presently working on. My desire to do all things at once so often prevents me from doing a great job at any one thing.
So whether it’s one workout, or one mile, one book you’re reading, or one closet you’re cleaning out, give it your full attention. If you’ve chosen to be there, then be there. And when you’re done, move on to the next thing. Certainly set aside time to reflect and time to plan, and when you’re doing those things, give them your full attention. But at all other times, give yourself the freedom to dive into the task/mile/project at hand.