Avoid the Drama, Finish the Race

Mindset ultramarathon coach Susan Donnelly and Greg Trapp at Cloudsplitter 100 mile race

A couple of years ago I ran the Cloudsplitter 100-mile race in the forested, eastern mountains of Kentucky coal country.

I was miles into the race, past the first two or three aid stations, running with five guys in a loose group on a dirt logging road when we ran down a short hill and one by one, came to a halt together at the bottom.

A large cleared area lay ahead. Two dirt roads branched off the cleared area and the dirt road we’d been on curved right and uphill. 

There wasn’t a single race marker in sight. The Race Director had warned us that the trail was legal but still disputed by some locals and markers might be sabotaged. 

But one marker couldn’t be missed. Two towering poplar trees stood like identical pillars on either side of the road we’d been following. Each had been spray painted with a gigantic, red X too tall for a human to paint unassisted, and “No trespassing!” spray painted below each X.

We stood there as a group and debated, strangers but fellow racers. None of us had run this new course before. We didn’t have paper maps, gpx maps, or detailed course descriptions.

We sent scouts a short way in each direction but none of them saw markers.

Each person had to decide for themselves. A group of three took one of the roads off the clearing. Another guy decided to stick with the road we’d been on, despite the forbidding red X's, and started up the hill.

That left me and an agitated guy who hadn’t participated much in the debate and seemed to be waiting on me for guidance.

I’d decided to stick with the original road but wanted to see if the guy who'd started uphill turned around at the top, so I stood and watched.   

Suddenly, Agitated Guy lost it. He started jumping around, yelling, “This is unacceptable! This is unacceptable!”

When he finished his tantrum, I calmly turned and asked, "What do you expect someone to do about it? This is a race. Markers get moved, destroyed and lost - things happen. And anyway, we're supposed to know the course better and don't. No one's going to appear out of nowhere and fix it, so you might as well move."

He seemed stumped and I wasn't waiting for an answer. I started up the road we'd been on - which incidentally, turned out to be the right way.

This story’s a great example of one of the big concepts I teach clients about running ultras - that running 100-mile races and longer, is about managing energy.

You decide where and how you spend your energy. Whether you’re going to manage it and use it wisely or react like this guy did and burn it on useless drama. 

Think about it. His tantrum didn’t get him one step closer to the finish and didn’t solve the immediate problem either. He wasted a lot of energy on something that didn’t contribute to either result he wanted.

Not surprisingly, he didn’t finish.

Drama comes from the stories we tell ourselves about a situation. He saw something to freak out about, where I saw a puzzle to solve. He probably saw being helplessly lost in the east Kentucky woods. I saw a finite number of possible solutions, one of which had to work.

Different stories create different reactions which lead to different results.

One example of how your thoughts affect your running, and why learning to change them makes such a difference.

If you want to learn to change your thinking to work for you, email me here to set up a free 30-minute mini-session to see how coaching can change your story for the better.

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PS - My friend Greg Trapp, with me in the photo above, is NOT Agitated Guy.