Focus – Lake Tahoe Relay – How to do

Regardless of conditioning our focus can make us better or worse. This is an article on a recent race and how it should be done. (Read my next post for how not to do it.)

I went into the Lake Tahoe Relay race in minimal condition. I was running leg one; about 9.5 miles @ 6500 feet elevation and hills over the last 3 miles. Coming from Tempe Arizona I hadn’t run hills; my longest run over the past 4 months was 6 miles.

I prepared myself mentally, knowing that physically I was going to be able to complete my leg but that it was going to be a real effort. My mindset was “I’m going for a long run”; “this is the first step in preparing to run the Tucson marathon this December”; “it’s part of my prep for Boston.” I not only told myself this repeatedly I also told teammates.

I ran the first 5 miles exactly on pace (6:50/mile) and hoped to maintain 7:15-30 or so to the end. The last 3 miles my breathing was very labored, my legs were like lead, my stride uphill was barely the length of my foot. “One foot in front of the other… just keep going… just don’t stop” I repeated to myself. I stayed focused on a couple of runners about 100 meters in front of me… glancing every once in awhile up to them… then dropping my eye gaze to 20 meters in front of me… “just take another step.”

We actually had two teams entered in the race. I had passed our other team around 4 miles or so. But, I also knew him well and I kept thinking he was gaining on me. I refused to look back the entire run. I just kept plugging away.

I repeated things “every step brings me closer to my goal”; and “this is the toughness I need for the marathon.” “I can do this.”

With a mile to go, I closed in on the two runners in front of me, I knew with a surge I could get at least one of them. My old mantra “nobody, but NOBODY beats me in the last mile” immediately clicked. I felt pretty roughed up. But, I went after him and caught him in the final 100 meters.

Dean in Tahoe

But, it wasn’t over yet. By the start of the final leg (7) the teams were only a minute and a half apart. Five miles into the leg our runner injured his back and had to be replaced at that point. I was “nominated.” I ran the last five-plus miles of the leg. The first two miles went well but then reality of my lack of endurance struck. This was going to hurt. My focus became totally on one step at a time. I went back to what had worked for me earlier in the day. I didn’t want to let my team down after all their hard work. “It is just preparing me for what is to come… run strong… I can make it” – became the refrain. In the end, we tied – 41st out of 108 teams to start.
So, lessons:

  • Have a mental game plan and rehearse it.
  • Focus on one thing at a time and only the things you control.
  • Don’t look back and worry about what someone else is doing; you don’t control their run, only yours.
  • Create affirmations that work for you and use them repeatedly, especially during tough spots.
  • You can get yourself to push even when you’re fatigued if you have a mental strategy and you believe in it.
  • Nobody, but NOBODY beats me in the last mile!

In my next post there are more lessons on mental preparation and outlooks.

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