Day of rest. We went to church in Eugene. It was only 3.5 miles away from the house. The ward was surprised to find a family of 10 walk in that nobody knew. We met a couple of runners there. One was a 4:22 miler back in 1948 in high school, and back then they ran the real mile, not 1600. The other was 35 years old, still running, personal best of 9:45 in 3200 in high school. Stevie did not want to stay in nursery, so I ended up taking him to the Elder's Quorum.
Friday night Jenny asked me a question about how to deal with the pre-race anxiety. I struggled with that question in my teenage years. It was a big deal. I wondered how in the world an Olympic athlete is able to deal with the pre-race pressure. After I came home from a mission I did not struggle with it as much anymore, the answer seemed to be intuitive, but I never had to explain it to somebody else. Challenged, I gave it some thought and tried to put into words what I knew. Then a few ideas came to me, and I saw them plainly. So here they are.
I recall a study done of performances by Kenyan distance runners vs US/European runners in high stakes competitions such as world championships and the Olympics. There was a pattern - Kenyans frequently ran PRs while the Westerners frequently bombed. The author of the study tried to find an explanation and reached for such odd things as the Kenyan tradition of boys being circumcised in their teenage years without a pain killer and with an expectation of showing no signs of pain. The answer is actually quite simple, I believe.
The key is Alma 5:27-28, and the key phrases there are "stripped of pride" and "sufficiently humble". Also, Doctrine and Covenants 88:6 with the key phrase being "descended below all things". One major driver of pre-race anxiety is the perceived pressure to perform and the worry of what others will think of you if you fail. Someone who grew up in the Kenyan-type poverty is vaccinated against that. He knows that there is no way that anybody will think of him below what he has already experienced so he is not too worried about that. The other key driver is the worry about the pain and your ability to push through it. Through my own racing and through pacing others I gained some understanding of this matter. This is how I prefer to describe it - at some critical point in the race you start to think that you are too good for the pain. Somehow in your subconscious mind you think that it is below the dignity of a human being to experience so much of it. So you slow down. Again, the root of the problem is the wrong kind of pride. You are not willing to descend below the pain.
Through those experienced I gained an appreciation of the idea of Christ descending below all things - a frequently forgotten part of his Atonement. We often think about a mortal not being able to rise above - to travel at the speed of light, to command the mountains to move, etc, but we forget the limitation we have on descending below. No matter how hard we try our humility is limited - there is only so much beating we are willing to take before we call it quits. But Christ showed us perfection in this regard and challenged us to reach it. Running is a great tool for the purpose.
To clarify we need to say that we are talking about true humility. Telling everyone around you how unprepared or unfit you are is actually a manifestation of disguised pride. True humility gives you the power to align yourself with the way things are which enables you to see clearly and follow the path to making them better. It gives you the strength to forget about the irrelevant and only focus on the fundamentals that matter. It gives you the power to succeed.