Incremental thinking can be a big key to producing our best as runners. And this incremental thinking can permeate all aspects of our running, from planning our training, to executing 1 run at a time, to segmenting our race plans.
By incremental thinking I am talking about both breaking things down in to small manageable sections or segments, and also on then focusing only on executing them one at a time.
In our training plans we want to move from where we are currently to where we want to go (example: from a 3:15 marathon to 3:00 marathon). To start this process I break our training down into the 4 measurable tenets if training: consistency, capacity, frequency and mixture (the 5th tenet - passion - is not easily measurable). I score the runner on where they stand on each tenet on a scale of 1 to 10. 1 is where a beginner runner would start and 10 is what are the best practices of the top elite runners. The runner gets a score on each tenet. In order to improve (get faster) and progress as a runner we seek to incrementally improve in each tenet, that is to rate a higher score as much as is practical for that runner (i.e. within any hard constraints they have). The real key to doing this is to set-up an incremental progression. If we try and jump too quickly in any area we greatly increase the risk that our bodies or minds will reject the increase and we’ll be forced to reset. So our training plans then become about patiently and incrementally making progress over time (1 training cycle at a time) in each tenet - one small step at a time.
Once our training plans have been made, our focus now becomes on incrementally executing the plan. This means taking it 1 run at a time and focusing only on executing that run. In order to do this effectively we must know the purpose of every run we are doing and keep our focus on executing that purpose with excellence. Whether the run is a stress workout or a recovery run, we realize each is important and seek to get the most from it. This incremental approach keeps us in moment and focusing on what we can control – our current run.
In racing we also follow this incremental approach. We establish our race plans by breaking the race down into segments and proceed through the race incrementally. I have found it best to also make the segments smaller as the race goes along. Then in the race we only allow ourselves to focus on executing the segment we are in. We don’t worry about or celebrate what happened in a prior segment, or worry or think about a future segment, we stay in the moment and focus only on executing our plan for the segment we are in to the best of our abilities.
This incremental thinking proves out the old saying that "the best way to control our future is to take care of our present".