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February 20, 2014

What the Average Runner Can Learn from the Winter Olympics

Written by Dena Evans
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images-1Watching the Olympics can be a humbling experience, seeing athletes fling themselves fearlessly up into the air or hurtle down a mountain at 80 miles an hour with their chins just an inch or two off the ice.  Unlike the summer games, where many more of the sports have recreational or youth access points which familiarize them to the average viewer, the winter games can seem a bit more exotic if not from an alpine region.   Even so, the first week and a half of the Sochi Games has featured a lot of narrative, which can teach each of us a bit about our own athletic pursuits.


US Speed Skating Uniform Drama Lesson I - Avoid Letting the Distraction Become the Focus

The US long track speed skating team is used to a regular quadrennial dose of medals, and with returning top athletes like Shani Davis in the fold, much was expected of the team this time out.  While Under Armour had spent millions of dollars supporting the team and developing what was seen to be the fastest skin suit ever, the initial sub-optimal performances teased out vocalized doubts about whether or not the suits were actually slowing the athletes down with the new technology, as they had not been used before the actual Olympic Games.  Media chatter has become louder, the team switched back to the old suits, and yet, the athletes still had a tough time.


As recreational runners, we can obsess about our outfits and our gear, but once the gun goes off and the competition is still ongoing, it is important to focus on the task at hand. If possible, avoid evaluating your performance and the causes of its perceived success or failure until it is actually over.  Doubt and questioning of the course of action and plan you have chosen may be merited, but it won’t do much besides distract you from committing the energy needed for the task at hand in the meantime.


US speed skating uniform drama Lesson II - Avoid Trying Something for the First Time on Your Goal Race Day.

Likewise, the speed skating federation wanted an extra advantage by bringing out the new suits just for the Olympics with no prior competition trials.  Similar to trying a brand new pair of shoes or a new pair of shorts on marathon race day without knowing if those shoes will give you blisters or those shorts will chafe is not the ideal course to take.  Race day is a time to eliminate question marks.  Try out everything you can beforehand so you have more knowns than unknowns while racing.  Thankfully for many of us, we don’t have other national federations trying to gain a split second advantage over us as we try to set our own personal best amongst tens of thousands of other runners, so no harm done in breaking out those new socks in your tune-up half or on a long run.  Plan ahead and stick to the plan!


Trackster to Bobsledder – Switch things up and extend your running “career”

Although not the first to make the transition, Lauryn Williams and LoLo Jones made headlines this winter as former summer Olympians whose explosiveness as track and field was also a valuable commodity in the bobsled event.  While Lolo Jones hasn’t retired from hurdling, a fall and a failure to medal in the last two Olympics likely had her seeking a way to direct her energy away from the frustrating missteps.  Lauryn Williams has announced her retirement from track following the 2013 season, but after being introduced to the idea by Jones, has ended up winning the silver medal as the pushing athlete for the top American bobsled driver.


Although we don’t run for a living, it is often an important part of our daily life.  We rely on it for stress relief, time with fellow runners, goal setting, and many other roles.  When injury or a descent from previous PRs comes upon us, it can be tempting to just give up and walk away.  Many runners find new pastures in trail races when road races become overly demanding on joints and muscles.  Team relays can allow athletes to participate in events without requiring the extent of some of the more demanding training that better days might have featured.  Incorporating regular cross training can help athletes extend their running careers with more recovery, and find success in duathlons or triathlons.  Helping others through mentoring youth, taking leadership roles in charity running organizations or other opportunities can also extend the running life with additional texture even as PRs no longer are quite the focus. Today, we are fortunate to have so many interesting and diverse running events available on a given weekend – consider challenging yourself with a new discipline and / or distance, and hopefully you can prolong the enjoyment running gives that much longer.


Figure Skating’s New Scoring System -  Add up the good things instead of deducting for mistakes

Back in the cold war-era days when skating was judged by how close one came to a perfect 6.0, every imperfection meant sure deductions from the elusive 6.  Now, skaters have a chance to earn points for their technical and artistic components on a level system that rewards for excellence rather than deducts for mistakes.  A small difference, for sure, but a huge one that also relates to how we might view our own running.  A perfect day is very rarely had.  More likely, we can have what we would describe as a “successful” day in a variety of situations which leave us feeling positive about the workout, run, or race as we finish.  Every so often, things come together brilliantly and we experience the once in a lifetime zone. But, if we focus on the many small things that are adding up to a successful day than the one or two things that might differentiate this day from an almost hypothetical perfect one, we will have many more positive memories to help us continue scaling the next mountain.


Last modified on November 29, 1999
Dena Evans

Dena Evans

Dena Evans joined runcoach in July, 2008 and has a wide range of experience working with athletes of all stripes- from youth to veteran division competitors, novice to international caliber athletes.

From 1999-2005, she served on the Stanford Track & Field/ Cross Country staff. Dena earned NCAA Women’s Cross Country Coach of the Year honors in 2003 as Stanford won the NCAA Division I Championship. She was named Pac-10 Cross Country Coach of the Year in 2003-04, and West Regional Coach of the Year in 2004.

From 2006-08, she worked with the Bay Area Women’s Sports Initiative, helping to expand the after school fitness programs for elementary school aged girls to Mountain View, East Menlo Park, and Redwood City. She has also served both the Stanford Center on Ethics and the Stanford Center on the Legal Profession as a program coordinator.

Dena graduated from Stanford in 1996.

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