If you've entered a major event this summer, I'm sure you've already started to think about 'what time' is achievable. Maybe you're running a marathon, an ultra event or taking part in an Ironman triathlon, but at some point, you've probably considered a finish time you would like to achieve, should everything go to plan.
Your finish time is the 'OUTCOME' but you must be careful not to allow that outcome to dictate your race strategy on the day of the event. You will have already started to put together a PROCESS which you will follow, in terms of pacing strategy, kit, feeding etc and if that process all goes perfectly to plan then you may well achieve your finish time, but whatever happens during the event, it will generally serve you better to remain 'process orientated' as opposed to 'outcome orientated'.
I'd explain process orientated racing as follows: Focus on all the personal processes you have put in place to ensure YOU PERSONALLY have the best performance possible. This does not involve anyone anyone else, there is no room for chasing people who pass you on the course and getting into needless dog fights which throw you off your personal plan. It's not about chasing a time and ignoring the warning signals to do so. A process orientated approach is very much about you doing all the things that you need to do and doing them well. If you do that, then your finish time will be the best you can feasibly achieve. Examples of going through the process are:
1. Doing your pre-race prep so everything is ready to go
2. Having a clear plan for the day
3. Positioning yourself correctly at the start
4. Pacing correctly from the start - It's harder to hold back initially!
5. Using HR and personal feedback to ensure the intensity is correct
6. Feeding and hydrating correctly
7. If things don't go to plan, what's your course of action?
Process orientated racing requires you to have a clear plan beforehand, then execute the plan on the day. Don't worry about the finish time, just focus on the pre-planned actions and execute them as well as you can and the finish time will be whatever it will be.
How does outcome orientated racing differ?
Outcome orientated racing focuses more on finishing time or the end result. Your strategy is influenced by the outcome, so you may well chase someone you wish to beat, or ride/run at a pace which is much too fast as you had a pre-set time in mind and you are determined to hit that time. Setting out to run a marathon at 8 minute per mile pace is 'outcome orientated'.
What's the issue with outcome orientated approach?
1. You can't control it. You don't know how windy it's going to be on race day and you don't know how you are going to feel. There are variables outside of your control and you can't just 'crack on' without taking these variables into account.
2. You can't predict it - In some circumstances, in particular if it's your first event of this kind, you can't predict the finish time. Rather than making up a target figure based on 'what your friends have done in previous years', it's probably better to focus on being the best you can be and the result will speak for itself.
The outcome orientated approach can sometimes results in a classic 'crash or burn': I'm aiming to run 8 minute miles and it'll either work and I'll run a personal best, or it will fail and the final 6 miles could result in a spectacular explosion! Either way, irrelevant of the signals, I'm going to run that pace and hold it for as long as I can. On the flip-side, this approach can often result in a personal best. If you want to run under 3:30 for a marathon, irrelevant of the process you follow, you have to run at a certain speed, or it's not going to happen.
Surely I should use both?
If you are less experienced, then you should really focus on the process and not really worry too much about the outcome. Do the things that you need to do, do them well and results will look after themselves. If you are a bit more experienced, then you can combine the 2. Experience allows you to predict more accurately your anticipated finish time, but you're far more likely to achieve it with a structured process.
Have a plan B
The final thing to consider is having a plan B. Once you set yourself a target time or result for an event, you run the risk of upsetting yourself when you're 'off pace'. If you aspire to run 3:30 for a marathon and you fins yourself way off that pace at half way, the second half of the marathon will be a very difficult psychological battle. It's easier to suffer when you're on target for a personal best, it's very hard to suffer when you're failing. By all means have a target time, but consider how your plan will adapt and how you will feel if you can't hold that pace. Don't put all your eggs in one basket and then drop and smash them by half way, have a plan for all scenarios.
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