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Thursday, January 14, 2016


Sometimes I think that Underdog was poorly named.

"There's no need to fear," he would say. "UNDERDOG is here!"But here's the thing about being an underdog: it means you're supposed to lose. If I found myself in great peril against an animated evildoer, I'm not going to get that excited about the guy who is named after the team that will be commended for "making a game of it." Bring me Mighty Mouse. It's right in his name. Mighty.

We love the underdog, don't we? Unless you're already a fan of whatever Dynasty team is currently ruling the sport, all things being equal, many (if not most) of us will cheer for the upstart, and in many cases, we're not disappointed.

There are countless reasons why an underdog takes down the power, but for me, it usually comes down to two things. First, the underdogs get incredibly psyched up and perform at a level beyond anything they've done before; and second, the power underestimates the opponent. In sports, they'll talk about a team "looking ahead" to the next game. For example, the number one team is playing number two next week, but this week they get trounced by the JV squad, because they didn't bother to prepare. It's an old, familiar story.

In times of great stress and pressure, we can often rise above our expectations and perform like we always dreamed, but when our guard is down, everything can unravel in a moment.

I was thinking about this during my short run this morning. With my time constraints, I found myself pushing the pace a little more than I should have. Not fast, mind you, but still a level up from my standard runs these days. I considered this for a moment, and had to decide if I wanted to really go for a good, fast run, or stay in my recent groove of middle effort. I'm doing 13 mile runs on the weekends, so this would be my only chance this week at driving speed.

Then it occurred to me that I was underestimating this run. My long runs on Sunday are the Goliath to my David, when I'm the underdog who shouldn't be able to defeat the giant (but I have, two weeks in a row). These short runs in the middle of the week don't seem like much, but I could be walking (running) into a trap. Three miles is still a good distance, and I'm a long way from the days when it was basically a sprint. When I decided, at the end of December, that I was ready to push myself into speed work, I messed up a whole collection of muscles and I'm still feeling the effects. I'm not the underdog on Thursday morning, I'm the favorite. And if I'm not careful, these are the runs that can beat me.

Of course, I know I can do these runs. In a month when I've already done 12- and 13-mile runs and survived reading Ulysses (seriously, that book is tough), a little 5K isn't going to undo me, as long as I pay attention. So, I kept a healthy pace, driving a little more than some of my other runs. I did not let it get to the point of losing my breath, and I focused carefully on my form, checking in constantly for any aches or pains arising. I had none.

The lesson is to stay mindful of the moment in which you find yourself, something else I'm learning from yoga. Losing focus can mean losing a whole lot more. Don't get ahead of yourself. Rather, enjoy the moment you're in, and make it as productive and positive a moment as you can, and you can conquer anything.

There's no need to fear.

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