In my time coaching competitive endurance athletes I have learned some truths about what it takes to develop a successful athlete. These are not hard and fast rules or even magic workouts. Instead I would classify these as athletic mentality, habits or even traits. The mentality, habits or traits that I have found that benefit my runners the most are listed below. You may find in your own athletic pursuits that you may possess some those listed or that you are lacking in other places. Look the list over and let me know if you agree with this list, need help or think you have other items to add.
Runners who are winning in age group races and at the upper echelons of distance running are running consistently. Notice how I didn’t say frequently? When I say consistently I mean that the runners are planning their work and working their plan. No excuses are made; these runners take ownership of their lives, their training and their goals. Poor weather, work and family issues are not ignored they are managed!
Competitive runners are never happy with “just” a nice pace they are striving to be the fastest and most efficient they can be. Often the difference in performance levels in the top 5 finishers is minimal. So these runners will always be looking for a: training edge, mental edge, nutrition edge and even an equipment edge. These runners will also look at the next goal as a challenge not as something to be anxious about.
Partner with a coach
The highly motivated and self directed runners at the top levels still work with coaches. While many age group runners will often opt for self-coaching, the benefit of working with a coach can reap big rewards. The coach athlete relationship isn’t just about the coach dictating exactly what a runner eats, does or how they perform. GOOD coaches are partners and are invested in the success of their athletes and do everything they can to maximize their efforts.
Plan the work and work the plan
Any athlete who wants to succeed in their given sport must set goals and develop an actionable and measurable plan on how they are going to reach their goals. Runners are no different. While runners can download a myriad of training plans for events or to improve a potential running weaknesses, these plans can be followed blindly and lead to disappointing results or at worse, injury. Working with a coach to build your plan, monitor your progress and tweak when necessary is when an average runner becomes competitive.
Know when to back off
Competitive runners who are consistently winning have learned much about their bodies. This comes about with most runners in due time but competitive runners have invested in coaches, doctors, nutritionists, strength trainers and even mental coaches to keep themselves safe, healthy and winning. Even with this wealth of information it often comes down to the runner’s intuition. That little voice that says “something isn’t right”, “you went to hard” or “maybe it is time to take a break” and then listen to that little voice.
They do not compare themselves to others
Great runners know not to compare themselves to other runners. The temptation is strong to do so. You line up at the local 5K and you see your running buddies and you size them and the competition up. This is only natural but the successful runners are not there to run against the competition. They are there to run against themselves.
Use auxiliary training effectively
Experienced runners know that running and running intervals alone are not always enough to be a podium contender. They know that time in the weight room working on improving muscle imbalances, developing functional strength, improving their core and flexibility may give them the edge over their competition. These same runners understand that their goal is to spend as little time training as possible to enlist the desired adaptations that lead to that edge.
Don’t make excuses
When you watch successful athletes loose at a big race, yes there maybe tears, but I promise you in their mind they are saying, “what could I have done differently, could I have done more”. Rarely do you hear a successful athlete blame their loss on others. It’s often the opposite they will state that in some way “I could do more and will”!
Know how to ask for help
The best runners are often very critical of themselves and their performances. The best of the best won’t dwell on this criticality. Instead they harness it by asking critical question without expecting to have an immediate answer. They also understand that it’s OK to request help from others. They will speak to not only athletic professionals but also to past or current competitors. You might be surprised how often the top runners will share voluntarily with each other how they think each other can improve. Why would they do this, because they want to compete against the best versions of themselves.
If you are going to become a podium contender you must go to as many races that you can. The best training in the world is competition. Saying you want to be the best is not enough, becoming the best means showing up.
Train Smarter Not Harder,