I enjoyed watching the Super Bowl this past Sunday evening. The contrasting styles of the various NFL teams has always intrigued me to some extent, and being a life-long sports fan the ebb and flow of various strategy trends have been fun to watch.
This year’s Super Bowl teams came at the game from completely different directions, at least from the last quarter of the season through the game itself. To take a look at the two teams:
The Colts started the season 14-0 and then, after clinching home field throughout the playoffs, took the last two weeks off and played their backups as much as reasonably possible. They also modified their play-calling, and probably to some extent their game-week preparation, to a more conservative approach. I suspect this may have been because they were believing their press clippings (who clips newspaper articles anymore with the internet around?) and believed they could win with talent and preparation as opposed to having the single best player and good talent. An indicator of their true competency level may have been their unbelievable number of fourth quarter comebacks. It may have caught up with them. This was a team that was not picked at the beginning of the year to be a Super Bowl contender, and in some circles to not even make the playoffs. I rely on preseason analysis for exactly not much, but as a proxy for talent levels those prognostications are not too bad.
The Saints were in much the same position in the pre-season as the Colts, although they were much less proven and did not have the star power of Peyton Manning. They started 13-0 before losing their last three games. But they kept their foot on the gas pedal and did not change their philosophy. This may have made the difference in the Super Bowl, as the Colts seemed to get less aggressive as the game went on and the Saints kept forcing big plays, either for or against them (the failed fourth and goal play, the onsides kick were “forced” big plays; one went for them, one not so much).
So how does this apply to running? I think we should be careful how we evaluate our workouts and races. Each day is different. The weather, our previous workouts were of varying degrees of difficulty, our diets, our co-runners, and any number of other things. Drawing conclusions that we can do something easily can quickly bring us down. An example of this was my last Sunday run, a one-man half marathon. It was not easy the last 2-3 miles and I was disappointed with myself when I finished. But on further review I realized I struggled with a slight knee problem and still ran a 1:43 (Boston pace, by the way) with little hydration and no support (read water or preparation or spousal support). There’s nothing wrong with that time! But I walked home disappointed.
Another application is in looking at the Super Bowl winner. They went for it, from preparing for the onside kick in the week prior to the game to their attitude during the game itself. I think this is key to running at a relatively high performance as well. We have to prepare to run faster, not just hope for it. We have to race, from the start to the finish, at speeds that will reach our goals. Starting at a 3:30 pace will not result in a 3:20 marathon; I have to start at a 3:20 pace to have any hope of meeting my goal. But you want to know the really interesting part? Starting at 3:20 pace may result, somewhere out there in the marathon hinterlands at mile whatever, in a bonk. And bonks result in 3:40 marathons when 3:20 was dreamed of. And that hurts.
But it takes a hurt sometimes to meet goals. Run on!