Friday, September 07, 2007

The Five Developmental Stages of Finishing a Race

Over the course of my 33 years I have noticed that many of life events occur in stages. There are defined theories as in the 5 stage Kuber-Ross model of dealing with tragedy and grief or Knapp’s Relationship Stages Model which explains how various relationships form, progress and dissolve. There are scientific based findings including the stages of alcohol on the mental and physical human body. And then there are also less academic models such as the 5 Stages of Online Dating (This is hilarious…not that I would have any idea about online dating).

I thought I would provide my own personal observation on the five stages of dominating a race (or merely finishing one). The five stages are sequential, meaning the stages are followed in the order in which they are presented and each stages builds upon the other.

It’s On – Stage 1 represents the initial formation (registration) of the event and is usually proceeded by several micro stages of positive affirmation and increased self-confidence including, but not limited to mass emailing to friends and family, who may or may not care or better yet not understand, about your next adventure, water cooler boasting at the masters swim class, track workout and/or trailhead or the ever increasing incoherent and irrelevant blogs on your personal blogging site. The “It’s On” stage varies in length and can be as short as 24 hours, but has been known to last up to 10-12 months.

Toeing The Line – better known as “It’s Go Time” (IGT) is the second stage and allows the racer to move from formation to activation. IGT can be difficult for some participants as the emotions during this stage are usually the most intense and confusing. The racer is usually in a Jekyll and Hyde battle with their internal and external persona. Internally they are rationalizing their training program, setting realistic goals and trying to manage their anxiety. There external identity is usually taking shape in one of two forms. One, they are downplaying their ability by over-exaggerating minor injuries or ailments that would cause a slower race time. By using this disclaimer prior to the race you can avoid any embarrassment from the poor finish or more commonly it allows you to boast about your strong finish, as if was some miracle that you overcame the hangnail on your middle finger to finish top ten (Tiny Tim would be proud. Tiny Tim of A Christmas Carol not the musician). The second identity created by the external self is the one of over confidence. This is rarely seen, but is used in practice during smaller or less importance races. The confidence can sometime also include a disclaimer of “I feel great for this race, but this is only a B race so I will be taking it easy.” Again, using the disclaimer as a verbal recognition of the races non-importance and the racers lack of concern for his/her results. The IGT stage is relatively short and usually lasts less than 1 weeks and up through the first part of the actual race

Wanting It – This stage occurs in the first stumble by the racer or a competitor, normally around the middle of an event. When related to individual racer, the first moment of weakness is usually when the initial internal dialogue is had. Normally the dialogue is encouraging, but on occasion it can be quite hostel in nation. Luckily for the other participants, spectators and children (please remember the children) the hostilities and subsequent vulgarities are all done with the racers inner voice. When the stumble is had by a competitor this stage intensifies. The “Wanting It” can come from quick physical exertions to pass the competitor and try to deposit them directly into Stage 4 (see below) or it can allow the racer to analyze their competitor from behind, pressure them and ultimately try to crack them. In either case, the racer must verbally or internally say, “you got to want this”, to signify the beginning of this stage.

The Hurt Locker – The intensity and brutality of this stage is sometimes too hard to watch. The internal dialogue turns from friendly banter to crucial bargaining. Emotional instability and loss of critical judgment are common in this stage. The racer at this point is reaching a moment of darkness, often promising ice cream for one last effort up the hill or a training day off if you can just pass the person in front of you. This however is a very important stage in the development of the racer for several reasons. First, they need to enter into this stage in every race and try to grow more and more accustomed to the pain associated with digging deeper into the locker. Second, they need to understand the management of this stage and avoiding falling into stage five!

The Wheels Have Come Off – Also known as “running out of gas” or “bonking”, stage five is the point of no return. Visualize a motor vehicle driving with no tires/wheels and limited gas. Not pretty. You have exhausted all reserves and are merely hoping for survival. The internal bargaining no longer exists as your mind is not capable of rationalizing let alone developing any thoughts. You motor skills start to lessen, vision is blurred and verbal communication slurred. It is really a state of confusion, disorientation and staggering gait. Personally, I think it is a good recommendation to try reaching this stage once or twice in your athletic career, so you can understand that the Hurt Locker may be painful, but still manageable.

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