You survived the summer. The long runs. The workouts. The mileage. The Oh-My-Gosh-I-Think-I-Broke-My-Femur-Please-Say-I-Didn’t-Break-My-Femur injury that turned out to be a tight hip flexor. You outlasted your IT band in a September-long game of Russian roulette. And finally—mercifully—you arrived at race day, fit but a little worse for the wear. After all, as the saying goes, if you do anything long enough, it’s gonna leave a mark.
Welcome to the postseason, folks.
Marathoning is a war of attrition. From the first step of training to the second you cross the finish line, the whole goal of the marathon is to Take. You. Down.
Sorry. The marathon isn’t here to make friends.
The good news is neither are you.
Guys, race day is your playoffs. Think of the Cardinals. They played 162 regular season games, lost Yadier Molina for seven weeks, and squeaked into first place as the elevator doors were closing. They had stretches when they couldn’t win on the road. They had stretches when they couldn’t beat bad teams. And they had stretches when they couldn’t hit a beach ball. But they made it to October (duh—they’re the Cardinals), and they arrived ready to do what they do best: tape it up and beat the Dodgers.
The regular season is merely the preamble to the postseason. This creates two wonderful ironies: 1) All those pretty regular season stats are wiped off the slate, and 2) only after the slate beats you over the head a few times.
Everyone arrives at the playoffs beaten up; success comes to the teams that can reach the deepest into their lineups. It’s the teams that can stitch together five or six bullpen pitchers for a patchwork win when the starter blows up after three innings. It’s the teams that can pull a professional benchwarmer for a pinch-hit single. It’s not about who has the highest payroll. It’s not about who looks better on paper. It’s about who can use every man on his roster to get the job done.
That, my friends, is the key to your marathon: Digging deep into your lineup when you feel like your best stuff is gone.
You have to use your bench players and make calls to the bullpen. You have to be creative. You have to do whatever you need to do to keep swinging. Because it’s the postseason, and you’re not here to make friends.
Good. Now that we’re all clear, here are my top three postseason mantras:
Don’t think. If you think, you’re dead.
Gutsy flying is the only kind of flying. Once you start analyzing how motivated you feel or don’t feel, how tired your legs are or aren’t, you’re hosed. We are chronic over-analyzers. We will analyze ourselves to death. DON’T. Remember Alex Baumgartner, the space jump guy? He jumped out of a space pod that was floating twenty-four miles above the earth and reached a top speed of nearly 850 miles per hour.
Guys. The earth should always look flat. If the earth looks round from whatever it is you’re about to jump off, you’re too high.
Sure, at some point, Baumgartner had to carefully think through what he was going to do and weigh the potential consequences of his actions. But as he stood on the tiny step outside the space capsule, staring down at a very spherical earth, a mere Sandra Bullock ponytail away from careening into orbit… that was not the time to question himself. There’s a reason Nike’s slogan is “Just Do It.”
Suck it up, buttercup.
Dean Karnazes once told me (yes, I’m namedropping) that during his longest runs he reaches some very, very dark places. When that happens, he begins conversing with the pain. “When you think about it, what is pain?” he said. “It’s just a feeling. It’s nowhere. And feelings pass. I’ll be running, and I’ll try to pinpoint where the pain is, but I can’t. First it’s here. Then it’s here. Eventually, you just have to come to grips with it. Become friends with it. And then move on.”
In other words, hurt happens. Get over it. Suck it up, buttercup. And keep running.
Nothing goes wrong on race day. It only adds to the story.
Race day was made for stories. Good stories. Hilarious stories. Crazy stories. Stories that will make you laugh or cry or both. Stories that you will tell over and over again. Runners live in a world of bedlam and adventure. Despite all of our meticulous calculations and the tedium of training, race day is a crapshoot. Why? Because the sport is fundamentally unpredictable. Don’t get me wrong: training and preparation can help swing the pendulum in one direction or the other, but at the end of the day, all you can do is hang on and enjoy the ride. I’ve spent a great deal of energy worrying about the minutiae of race day—pre-race dinners and breakfasts, sleeping (or not sleeping), bathroom lines, pacing strategy, overly-flappy bib numbers. Do you know where all my worrying has gotten me?
Nowhere, that’s where.
Yes, race day is fundamentally unpredictable because race day is fundamentally human. Imperfect and frustrating and wonderful. You never know what’s gonna happen. Sure, it’s terrifying. But, man, isn’t it fun?
So stop worrying, don’t think, suck it up, and beat the Dodgers.
Welcome to the postseason, folks. Welcome to the postseason.