Someone once told me that running is about 98% mental. I agree and believe that mental focus and strength are key differentiators to achieving goals when training or racing. The good news is that these are abilities that can be learned and trained. Even for young runners.
Saturday’s dual track meet was a perfect example of the importance of mental focus and strength. It had been raining all night, but at meet time the skies cleared. More threatening clouds were visible in the distance. We traveled from New Canaan to Pomperaug High School in Southbury to face host Nutmeg Striders, Danbury and Wilton, three of the state’s top youth track teams. Setting two huge PR’s at his first home meet two weeks ago, and some solid workouts in between, my son was excited to race the 1600 meters and 800 meters.
Son (number 620) in the 1600 meters
He started fast in a crowded 1600 meter race, moving to 2nd place at the 400 meter mark. That’s when it started to unravel. Literally. The shoe laces on his left spike shoe that I had so carefully double-knotted opened, and my son ran three laps with open laces, worried that his shoe would fall off. I was cheering him on, and didn’t notice what happened because he continued to race with focus, pushing to close the gap with the lead runner. Finishing in 2nd overall with a time of 5:29 (2 seconds slower than his PR), my son nonchalantly told me “hey Dad, I ran three laps with open laces and wasn’t sure if my spikes would fall off.” I couldn’t believe it. I asked him what he thought about when he realized that his laces opened, and he simply responded “there goes my PR.” I was proud that he was able to maintain his focus and that his mental strength enabled him to race hard and fast in a competitive field. And we both wondered what could have been if his laces didn’t open.
Barrel start of 800 meters (outside runners in the barrel not shown)
Son (number 620) in the 800 meters (with laces now taped)
About an hour later, as the boys started to line up for the 800, with my son in lane 2, I realized how crazy this race would be with a barrel start and 22 boys in the same race (single heat). It would have made sense to create 2 or even 3 heats. We taped his laces to his spikes, but he now faced a different challenge. At the gun, my son sprinted out but was immediately cut off and almost pushed to the infield grass, the space in front and to his right was closing up. Several more kids pushed and shoved. Unfortunately he was trapped and unable to move to the outside. The lead pack in the front started to separate, and my son was able to move to the outside on the back stretch and move up to 4th place. Although he raced the first lap in 76 seconds, I knew that he expended unnecessary energy to fight to the front pack. Finishing in 2:36 (4 seconds off his PR), my son was happy to finish the race standing up.
Son and teammate practicing baton handoffs on infield
Son running 2nd leg of 4×400 meter relay
Powering through the 200 meter mark on the 4×400 meter relay
My son’s coach asked him if he wanted to participate in the 4 x 400 meter relay, and after two tough races I would have understood if he declined. He was thrilled that his coach asked, and jumped at the opportunity. His response: “Coach, I want to break 70”. Running the 2nd leg, he was handed the baton in 2nd place and widened the gap with the 3rd place runner. He handed off to his team mate and clocked a 69 second split. It was an unbelievable ending to a day that required mental focus and strength to succeed. Something that we work on every day.
Boys 4×400 meter relay team with coach (son 2nd from right)