Track and field: The mind of a runner
photo credit: Eric Kiekeben
What is the hardest sport?
There are a number of different factors to consider when thinking about how hard a sport is. There’s skill based attributes, like speed, strength and hand-eye coordination, as well as mental aspects like mental toughness and endurance.
After analyzing a number of different criteria, ESPN ranked every sport, putting distance running at 40th out of 60, and sprints at 38th.
Track and field may not require an immense amount of skill-based attributes, but the toughness comes from training to run races, and having the mindset to finish a race.
Sophomore distance runner Josh Layne described what goes through his mind when the gun goes off and he knows he has to get through a full race.
“In a race, the mind is like, ‘This hurts. I’m in so much pain, why do I do this?’” Layne said.
ESPN only gave distance running a two out of 10 on the nerve scale, or how hard one has to train their brain to get out and compete in their sport. Runners at the high school disagreed with the low ranking.
Sophomore Abby Wells described what makes the sport hard for her.
“The hardest part about track for me is pushing through mental blocks and just focusing on racing without having any outside distractions,” Wells said, “Mentally preparing for races for me includes lots of potty breaks, then focusing on myself and getting into a zone that prepares me for my race.”
An intense focus is necessary to complete a long distance run in an unchanging landscape, so visualizing how a race must go is an important step in mental preparation as well. Girls Track and Field coach Kelly Cable described how she tells her runners to prepare for a race.
“Visualizing is important. You have to remember a good race, remember a good meet. And positive things only. Don’t think about what could happen. Visualize what’s going to happen,” Cable said.
Head Coach Adam Walters echoed this by acknowledging that there will be pain no matter what, so it is important to prepare for anything that’ll be felt on the track.
“To prepare mentally you have to be realistic about what's gonna happen in a race, if there’s going to be pain, mentally prepare for pain, if it's gonna be fast, prepare for fast,” Walters said, “But then you have to frame all that in a positive outlook. Be confident that you can handle the pain, that you can handle the competition, and that you’re prepared for it.”
Not only is the preparation mentally draining, having the drive to stay with and pass other runners on the track requires lots of training, but also a competitive edge. Senior Lincoln Weber told the importance of that edge when trying to win a race.
“Before my races I try to stay relaxed and have a clear mind, while during my races I try to be very competitive. I always want to compete with others in my race and try to win or place as best I can,” Weber said.
Despite the mental preparation and endurance required to push through the pain of distance running, ESPN has badminton, racquetball, and bull riding harder than track and field. Whether ESPN is right or not, runners would argue that track and field includes a mental battle that isn’t visible on the track.