Would you enter a running race that advertised itself as covering an unknown distance? If you were the adventurous type and decided to enter, how would you train? Sprints, long runs, wait and see? On the morning of the race everyone assembles at start, the gun goes off, and you start running. How fast? Some racers sprint, others start at a pace appropriate for a 100-mile endurance run, and a few just stand in place. What are you thinking at this moment?
Try This:* Select a running loop. Have a friend start you without agreeing on a finish line. Have your race official friend select a finish line while you are running. Run your ‘race’ and see what happens. Now, after recovering, try it again over the same distance. Now that you know the distance did you change anything? Were you faster or slower? How did you pace yourself? Did you spend more or less mental energy thinking about the unknown?
Finish lines are important. They help us focus, prepare appropriately, and expend resources wisely. Running to an unknown destination is as much a mental challenge as physical. I have competed in races where I do not know the course and found the experience to be taxing in a way that I cannot replicate if I return and compete in the next version of the event. Our ability to import our experience from one event to the next is helpful. I know what a half-marathon feel like. Add some climbs or make it flat and I can adjust but I still have the muscle memory to cover the distance. Competing without a defined finish line is completely different challenge. If the finish is 100 meters I would be disappointed that I did not run faster but if the competition turns out to be 36 miles I am going to regret sprinting early.
Does your organization have a finish line? Is there clarity about the course for your programs and events? Are your team members and advocates running to reach a goal or running because somebody said ‘run.’
* Please do not attempt this running exercise without consulting a physician in advance or if you have any serious known or unknown health risks. You can try this by substituting physical exercise with some other form of activity (like working on a puzzle with an unknown number of pieces).