Over the past few days, the weather gods have blessed San Francisco with beautiful warm weather, which has been so nice! Sun instead of fog, sports bra running weather instead of long sleeves and tights... it's glorious! However, yesterday afternoon I chose to watch the Giants game instead of enjoying the lovely running weather, and instead ran loops in the park that night after the game (yes, Mom -- I was very safe and stayed in populated areas!) Thankfully, the Giants pulled off the win, so my decision to postpone my run was worth it!
For those of you who watched the game, you know how tense those last few innings were, where every pitch mattered. As I sat in a bar packed with rabid, anxious Giants fans, I started thinking about how grateful I am that I'm not a baseball pitcher! God, what pressure! All 40,000+ fans in the stadium watching you (not to mention the million or so watching on TV!), people screaming and waving tomahawks and rally rags, media commentators critiquing everything from your form to your facial hair... And all of this with the weight of your team's future hanging on every pitch! Man, running 25 laps on a track seems like a piece of cake compared to being a pitcher!
It's fascinating how different athletes respond to different kinds of pressure. Years ago during my days as a soccer goalie, I once blocked a penalty kick. How, I don't know, because I'm not very good at facing those kind of pressure-cooker, do-or-die situations. If I was a baseball player, I wouldn't be the Brian Wilson or Tim Lincecum type can get a clutch strikeout when it matters most... I'd be walking batters right and left. Perhaps that's why I gravitated toward running. Yes, in cross-country every point matters, and qualifying rounds and championship meets bring a great deal of pressure, but racing is such a different kind of pressure than game-based sports. I like that as a runner, I have some room for error. If I run a lap at 83 instead of 82 and fall slightly off the pace, I've got another couple miles later to make up for the mistake. In my 10K, the pressure is spread out over 33-34 minutes... I've got a good 6.2 miles to work through the pressure and, if I have a lapse in confidence, to "get my s*** together." Not so in baseball, football, soccer, etc -- every second, every pitch, every snap matters.
Also, racing is so much about listening to your own body, making adjustments here and there, and trusting your training... if you put in the miles and the work, you can feel confident that you've left very little up to chance. However, no matter how many pitches you pitch, it still might not be your day... your shortstop could drop the grounder that should have been an easy out at first, your catcher might let one get past him (but never Buster Posey!), you might let the thousands of red tomahawks waving in the stands shake your confidence... At least in running, you possess a great deal more control over your performance. Yes, in an individual sport like running you've got no one to blame but yourself for a less-than-stellar performance, and while that can be hard to swallow sometimes, it's also empowering. One of the things I'm currently working on is improving my mental toughness during workouts and races so that when the pressure is on, I don't give in to those negative thoughts that undoubtedly sneak in somewhere around 6K into the race... If you look at my performances this track season, you can see my face in the video and my splits on the stopwatch which pinpoint exactly where I let the pressure get the most of me and I mentally collapsed. More often than not, it was self-induced pressure, self-created expectations, and personal fears that I let overwhelm me, to the point of hindering my performance. It's not something I'm proud of and it's not the type of runner I want to be... so I'm working through my self-confidence issues to be not the runner who succumbs to her fears, but the runner who instills fear in the hearts of her opponents.
On another note, it's been great to get such a positive reaction to my blog so far -- thanks for reading, and a special thanks to those who've commented, your words of support are encouraging!
In closing, I'm glad I'm a runner, not a baseball player... I'll leave baseball to Buster Posey :) GO GIANTS!