Run Focus Take III – Smell the Roses

Bainbridge Island, early morning chill, two sets of foot steps echo off the forest towering above; an occasional car passes giving wide birth. (By the way – very courteous drivers here!)

My brother and I run in tandem without much comment in the first mile. Then I break the silence, “Look at the Buttercups!” Quickly I follow with, did you notice the moss back there on the tree and those big red flowers?”

Jim looks at me – his look said it all – I knew I had crossed a line. A look of exasperation, fatigue and resignation fills his whole body language as we run. He starts, “Have you sunk that low? I don’t believe you just said that. Worse yet, I don’t believe I took notice.”

He continued, “I remember the days… not that long ago mind you… our running conversation was about what was that last split, what pace are we going now, monitor breathing & sweat rates, when should we pick it up, how long do we wait to pass that guy up there, let’s push the hill, and now let’s go for a negative split…”

“Now, it’s reduced to a Buttercup run.” He shakes his head.

Dean & Jim Smelling the Roses

So, it got me to thinking. I was once told many years ago my problem was that I never stopped to smell the roses. There was some truth in that. But the part that wasn’t understood is that I love going fast. For me, moving as fast as I could was my way of experiencing life fully and “smelling the roses.”

It has come full circle I guess. I love making observations on the run: other runners & cyclists, nature, weather, people, flora and fauna.

Association and dissociation are two aspects of focusing. Earlier in my career I used associative techniques most of the time (not always mind you). And this recent experience was a vivid example of dissociating. Don’t get this wrong – neither is better than the other. All runners use both at various times and varying degrees and it varies by run/race as well as personality.

In fact there has been some interesting research on this topic. Researchers have found that more novice runners tend to dissociate more frequently than elite runners. The elite runners tend to “tune in” instead of “tune out”. In one article there was an interesting observation. They surmised that this is one reason why we see more novice runners encountering more severe physical difficulties in races such as marathons. They do not “tune in” and have not learned to read their bodies. As a result, things go bad… very bad in some cases. Certainly lack of proper physical conditioning plays a role. However, when you “read” your body by associating regularly (notice I did not say “all the time”) you are less likely to push to points that may harm you physically. Again, do not confuse this with the ability to push and take advantage of your conditioning. Elite athletes can and do all the time.

For me, I’m having more buttercup runs on my route to getting into better shape. It’s just a technique I’m relying on more than at other times in my athletic career. But, I’m coming back!!!!


About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
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One Response to Run Focus Take III – Smell the Roses

  1. TriExpert says:

    I addressed this very issue the other day in Yahoo! Answers–though not as well as you, nor as kindly–when someone asked (paraphrasing) “What can I think about now that I can’t wear an MP3 player in the marathon?”:

    “In training work on developing: 1) form cues that help you run better; and 2) sensitivity to different levels of exertion and how these effect your speed and endurance.

    ‘Zoning out’ … leads to unaware training and ineffective racing.

    Runners at the top of any echelon pay exquisite attention to their running, and nothing else, when they run.”

    Dean, I’m grateful for your reminder of the “middle way.”

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