You train your body hard, but there’s a limit to how quickly that’ll get you to the finish line. That’s because becoming a better racer actually begins in the brain, by critically reflecting on your race tactics before, during, and after the whistle sounds.
“Critical thinking is the opposite of operating by reflex,” says Risa Mish, an attorney who designed and teaches the MBA course in critical and strategic thinking at Cornell University. “It involves heightening your awareness of your entire thought process, and particularly your own blind spots, so that the conclusions you draw from the information are more likely to be reasonable and correct.”
So how do you put on your critical thinking cap and take your race strategy beyond run like hell? Mish says to remember these three rules:
Rule #1: Information Beats Assumption
This is one of the most important critical thinking skills, says Mish. Just because everyone assumes something is true doesn’t mean it’s true for you. So, for example, carb-loading before a race may work for some athletes, but you have to determine whether it’s going to keep you at the front or the back of the race.
“Following the crowd, metaphorically or literally, isn’t critically thoughtful and isn’t a formula for success,” Mish says. “Just as you must run your own race, you must train yourself to think and verify your own thoughts, rather than acting a particular way because everyone else is doing it. Or because a self-anointed expert says so.”
She suggests heeding the words of General Patton: “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.”
Rule #2: Context Outclasses Experience
Even if this isn’t your first Spartan race, be mindful that no two are the same. Variables include weather, terrain, obstacles, number of competitors, or even whether you got enough shuteye the night before.
But wait, you say, doesn’t experience account for something?
Sure, says Mish. “Experience can be very helpful in how you react to different variables and how to adjust to them. However, to optimize the advantages of experience, you have to account for the differences between the context in which you gained that experience and the context of the current race.”
In other words, it doesn’t matter that you crushed it in your last Spartan Sprint if you don’t tailor your approach for the current one, which may be longer or steeper or wetter. Think it through.
Rule #3: Evaluation Eclipses Celebration
Crossing a Spartan finish line is a feat worthy of celebration. But don’t hesitate to find a few quiet moments to think about where you could have enhanced your game plan.
Mish says there are three questions you should always ask yourself when doing a race post-mortem:
- What did I do well this time?
- Where did I fall short?
- What was missing from my race strategy that, had I done it, might have helped me perform better?
“In addition to the answers to these three questions, you should make notes on what the general race conditions were so that you will be able to determine how similar the context of the next race is to this one,” she says. “Then adjust these experience-based learnings for any differences in the context of the next race.”
Spartans like to say, “You’ll know at the finish line.” With critical thinking, you’ll know even more. And that means crossing even more finish lines—faster, stronger, and smarter.
Ready to give Spartan a try? Here’s everything you need to know to find your race.