Monday 24 November 2014

In order for us to improve, we must ask more and more of ourselves

Runners make their way down Boylston Street after finishing the Boston Marathon
Runners make their way down Boylston Street after finishing the Boston Marathon

Last week – in a well-known Dublin hotel – I addressed an audience of 350 people on the theme of 'goal setting'. When I reached the podium I paused, looked at my audience for four seconds and smiled.

This was a strategy I have learned from a speaking coach. It helps relax me and to gather my thoughts before I go into concentration for 60 minutes or more. I had forgotten to use this technique the day before, but I was reminded now because I had it written down in front of me.

So what's the relevance?

Well a few weeks ago – on the eve of the Connemarathon – I opened a file on my laptop called 'Ultra Learnings'. Within seconds I was reminded of what had worked in the same event in 2013 and what I felt afterwards, I needed to improve on.

There in front of me were my individual mile splits of a year ago, nutrition strategy, wind direction information and other personal insights into what worked and what didn't work. I knew that sometime in the future I would want to challenge my personal best again and so I recorded my reflections while they were still fresh.

Couldn't this work for anything we aspire to improve? I believe it can help elevate our performance in any continuing goal. That might be in a 5k, a half marathon or in any sporting ambition. In the hours or days after an event, consider capturing what worked and didn't work. What was your training strategy? Did you do too much or too little? What and when did you eat? Was it appropriate? Are there any lessons for the future?

When I ran my first marathon, I wrote down: "Never change from your pre-race strategy." I had hit the wall and vowed never to make that mistake again. Last week, I was mentoring a football player who had been sent off the week before. I suggested to him that if he secured a nugget of learning, then the experience could help him become an even better player.

In Connemara a few weeks ago, I squirrelled away some great education. It included being a tiny bit cautious over the first third of the race and also tying my shoelaces too tight – something I had never done before. On the eve of my next big run in May, I will remind myself of these. If I make the same errors again, then more fool me.

If I want to improve, I have to be prepared to ask more of myself. In the early days when I first started speaking, I used to unconsciously insert my right hand into my pocket. I also spoke a fraction too fast. By studying videos, I have learned my mistakes and become more proficient. In the words of Arnold Glasgow, the American humourist: "Improvement starts with I".

Imagine the heights we could reach if we were willing to source new learning every time we did something. By applying this learning, we have a tool to scale higher or go faster. To do so, often we have to go back to basics and that is what I was doing at the podium last week.

Here's to a new pb in Connemara next year.

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