Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.
Sun, 26 Jul 1998 09:39:59 -0400
Eliminate the Negatives(from RC 274)
This wasn't ground I cared to stand on, especially not now. The event was the Trinity Hospital Hill run in Kansas City, and this year another pair of H's could be added to that title: "heat and humidity." I needed to concentrate on making a positive experience of conditions like this.
I stood in the starting crowd, chatting with a stranger. He said he'd run Bolder Boulder the week before.
A young man heard this. He butted into our conversation with, "That's the race that tried to ban the Kenyans so the Americans would have a chance."
Louder, he added, "That really sucks. All runners should boycott that stinking race."
Almost shouting, he reddened and broke into a sweat though we were standing still. "American runners are totally worthless. They don't deserve any breaks."
I slipped off into another part of the crowd, out of range of the angry young man's voice. He was free to say whatever he wanted, but I was equally free to walk away.
The Angry Young Man's outburst was a symptom of the negativity creeping into the sport. Most of it has to do with people we don't know and with issues beyond our control.
Running is breeding a new class of critics like those common to spectator sports. They watch the events, read the reports and suddenly know more about running than the leading runners do, more about coaching than the best coaches do, more about organizing than the top organizers do.
I tolerate this negativity, but only to a point. If it starts to infect my writing, and especially my running, then it's time to walk away from it.
In Kansas City I met Dr. Andrew Jacobs. He's a sports psychologist who conducts a radio talk show.
Andy, whose credits include work with the U.S. Olympic cycling team, said on his show the day I was a guest, "Research has shown that whenever you make a negative statement, you say 12 positives to cancel that one. For each 'I can't,' you need a dozen 'I cans.' "
I heard runners around me in at the Hospital Hill starting line saying, "I'm not a good hill runner," or, "I have trouble running in the heat."
This put them into a hole at the beginning. Better to never have uttered those words than to have to wipe them away by repeatedly chanting, "I like hills," or, "I can run in this weather."
By chance I ran the last mile of the Kansas City race with Andy Jacobs. We said and did enough right to make the day positive for both of us.
Our goal in the 12-K was to "beat" the first half-marathoner, and we did. You take positives wherever you can find them.
I never saw the Angry Young Man again. He would have needed to speak good lines to himself for an hour to purge his road rage from the starting line.
The AYM might have told himself a dozen times, "The Kenyans will get their due," or, "The Americans will rise again." But mainly he needed to tell himself, "The only race I can run is my own."