Discussion: Managing Expectations
Running fast requires training two things: your body, and your thoughts. Books are full of elite athletes talking about how they mentally prepare for races, but what happens when it's you? In your own head?
One of the best books on mental race preparation (it's way old-school) is "The Competitive Edge" by Richard Elliot. It's cheap: get it on amazon and read it.
In my case, next weekend I'm walking into Ogden UT to face what is easily the most talented field ever assembled for a middle-distance trail race. in the XTERRA Trail Run Nationals: Max King, Mario Mendoza, Ben Bruce, Will Christian. These are heavy hitters with multiple top-3 finishes at the Trail Run World Championships. I'm in the second tier, roughly 10 more guys with experience and top-5 finishes in championship trail races.
How do you face that kind of challenge and be confident in your ability to win? Or even your ability to hang with the lead pack when the competition goes live?
In your case it can be a million different scenarios in XC. Who do you start with? How fast? Do you surge with the group or guy who just passed you? Can you get back to them later? What if you lose sight of them? Running is hard. Running fast is harder, and running your best race is probably the hardest thing you will ever put your own body through. Being mentally prepared for the effort, the pain, and possibly the failure, is equally as important as being physically prepared.
We all run mileage, run intervals, run hills. But how do you train your brain? The best way to start is with your imagination. Try to live through every possible moment and decision of the race. I won't go into all the techniques because this is a blog. I'll just say you should study the subject, because if you're ignoring your brain you're only training half your runner self.
Success requires preparation; if you want to succede you have to prepare for everything. Everything.