Are You Letting a Toddler Make Your Race Decisions?

Susan Donnelly at a Zumbro 100 aid station

Let’s say you’re running a 100-mile race through the woods.

It’s 2:00 am and you’re sitting in a chair at the 65-mile aid station while helpful volunteers fetch your drop bag, serve you food, fill your hydration gear and otherwise wait on you hand and foot.

Still, you’re discouraged, You’re slower than planned, sleepy, blistered, tight, and tired. If you think about it, you’re probably dehydrated too.

And there’s 35 miles still to go.

You feel defeated. 

Forget that you’ve dreamed of running this race and have been training for months. All you want to do now is drop. 

Ideally, you’d have a plan for this moment but in case you don’t, here are the basics.

Figure out why you want to drop. This should be super easy because it’s stuck in your head:

“I'm too tired.”

“I have too many things wrong - I can’t.”

“I didn’t expect it to be this hard.”

Now, repeat after me...this is not a fact. 

The facts are: you’re in a race, you've gone 65 miles and you’re feeling physical discomfort. I'll even give you dehydrated.

But “too” tired is simply an opinion about the physical discomfort at this mileage and your prospects for finishing. 

You and I might have run the same distance together and have the same physical sensations, but I might be excited because even thought I’m tired, we only have 35 miles left to go. 

See? “Too tired to finish” v “we only have 35 miles left”…opinion. Not the absolute truth.

Once you get this - it takes practice - and can separate facts from opinion, you’re back in the driver's seat because you can change your opinion to one that’s helpful. 

You might think you already chose this opinion but you probably didn’t. It’s likely coming by default from the leftover primitive side of your brain that wants to keep you safe in the predictable cave - the opposite of running around in the woods all night. 

This primitive part of the brain operates like a toddler. As you’re sitting in the aid station, it’s throwing a tantrum to get its way.

“I’m too tired! I want to quit NOWWWWW!”

It’s actually helpful (and amusing) to picture this toddler rolling around on the ground kicking and screaming while you calmly “watch.”

Notice the toddler’s all about immediate gratification and doesn’t care one whit about finishing.

“This is so AWFUL and it’s just going to get WORRRSE!!!” it screams.

(Oh, the drama!)

As the adult in your head, it’s your job to decide who’s running the show - you or your primitive brain toddler. 

The primitive brain toddler is only trying to keep you to the safe and predictable but even so, you wouldn’t actually want an unsupervised toddler running amok, making important decisions for you in the real world, so why let it do that in your head?

Calmly and compassionately tell the toddler (in your head, of course) you understand her frustration but you're going on anyway. Thank her for trying to keep you safe and reassure her it'll be ok. She gets nice treat of R&R after the race, which will come soon enough.

Then skedaddle out of the aid station toward the finish.

Remember, whenever things look grim in a race and your primitive brain toddler is running loose in your head screaming “quit”, look at the actual facts.

In a race. X miles so far. Period.

Then remember you get to decide if you’re going to cave to the primitive brain toddler’s tantrum or calmly continue on for the reward of finishing.

Susan Donnelly’s signature

PS -