Pulling Rabbits Out of a Hat
by Mimi Winsberg, M.D.
When I put together an ambitious fall racing schedule, I knew it would be met with some skepticism. I was careful not to share it all at once. Some things are better digested in bite size pieces.
In short I had decided to race the Vegas 70.3 world champs, then Kona, followed by ITU long course world championships and Ironman Arizona two weeks after that. “Why are you doing this?” my husband asked. He was the only one who had been given full access to the schedule. “Because I can,” I answered. He looked at me quizzically, shook his head and went back to his reading material. We have learned not to get in the way of each other’s goals.
He shouldn’t have been surprised, as he’s been my primary role model for pulling rabbits out of a hat. He has taught me not to listen to naysayers, and that if you keep your cool, things usually work out. “It might be an ugly little rabbit,” he will say under pressure, “but I’ll just have to pull a rabbit out of a hat.”
In trying to set goals or standards for ourselves, does it make sense to set them very high, thus risking failure and potential disappointment, or to set them lower, making them achievable, but not necessarily requiring us to perform to our potential?
According to Harvard Business School Professor Max Brazerman and his colleague Ann Tenbrunsel, a professor of business ethics at Notre Dame, the authors of “Blind Spots” : “The answer is yes, and yes. You need to set both a floor and a ceiling.”
Performance tends to oscillate around standards. By setting only low standards, you remove the motivation to do any better. By setting only high standards, too much internal tension is generated from the inability to achieve them. Setting both allows the mind to take advantage of both the minimum standard and the high expectations without succumbing to each of their negative effects.
Lots of people asked me why I wanted to keep racing after Kona. I felt I had little to lose (a satisfying season already under my belt) and plenty to gain (use that fitness that I worked so hard to obtain.) Any good result would be icing on the cake. I could take a less conservative approach to race preparation and just throw spaghetti at the wall to see what would stick.
By lining up multiple races, I also effectively removed the pressure of performance at each individual race. My position was hedged -- any risk factors contributing to poor performance on a single day would be unlikely to repeat themselves.
I was confident that each race would build fitness despite potentially distracting me from the next one, and I didn’t sweat the taper routines that can easily get overvalued in the athlete’s mind. Good races come from the months of training that proceed them, not from the final days of preparation. Other than Kona, I took a casual approach to my pre-race freshening.
I enlisted the help of the EC coaches, who understand how to drip feed fitness into an athlete who is already at saturation. They suggested some key workouts to keep my edge, even as my fitness had already peaked and was probably on a gradual decline.
Martin Luther King said “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” I’m glad I took the leap of faith with my racing schedule. It was my best season yet, and I could not have predicted that it would go as well as it did.
Be daring, believe in yourself and be willing to take some risks. Not everything has to be perfect. You might just find yourself holding a nice big fluffy rabbit.
Mimi is a psychiatrist, multiple-time Kona qualifier and Endurance Corner team member. To cap off an already excellent season, she recently won her age group at Ironman Arizona. You can contact her at email@example.com.