Provision #537: What’s Your Game?

Laser Provision

Last Sunday I ran the Marine Corps Marathon. Instead of running the race as fast as possible, I decided to play a different game. I decided to play the “perfect pacer” game. What’s your game? Are you winning or losing? Do you get “in the zone” while playing the game? If not, LifeTrek Coaching can help. So can this Provision, as you read the story of how I played the game while running through the streets of Washington, DC. Enjoy!

LifeTrek Provision


Although I promised you a Provision this week that reflects on my wife’s email journal from Russia, life again got in the way. Only this time it was pure joy.

Three weeks ago, many of you will remember my Provision titled Sympathetic Reactions. It described the reactions of our family to my son’s trip to the emergency room with chest pains. A year and a half ago, he suffered a spontaneous collapse of his left lung, and we were afraid it might be happening again. Although it fortunately turned out to be a false alarm, even the prospect of it happening again sent us all scurrying to Charlottesville, where he and his wife live and go to graduate school.

The only inconvenience three weeks ago surrounded my annual running of the Baltimore Marathon, as the leader of the 4:45 pace team. It was hard for me to turn my back on that, even though I never thought twice about my priorities. Family comes first, especially when it comes to something as repeatable as a marathon. There’s always another marathon (even as a pacer); there’s only one moment to be with a loved one in need.

Last Sunday I had my next scheduled marathon opportunity, at the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC. And, in honor of my comrades on the 4:45 pace team in Baltimore • who successfully ran the race three weeks ago without me • I decided to pretend I was back in Baltimore, leading the team. Instead of playing the “How fast can I go game?” I decided to play the “How close can I come to 4:45 game?”

In facing and making that decision, I found myself in the same situation as my coaching clients and, really, every human being. We all have to answer the question, “What game do I want to play?” The answer makes all the difference in the world. You’ll get a sense of this when you consider some of the many games that bring people to coaching (and that you may find yourself playing at different points in time). For example, there’s the:

  • “How can I make a lot of money game?”
  • “How can I meet the perfect mate game?”
  • “How can I retire as soon as possible game?”
  • “How can I expand my network game?”
  • “How can I find a new job game?”
  • “How can I run a marathon in every State game?”
  • “How can I write and publish a book game?”
  • “How can I make a difference in the world game?”
  • “How can I lose weight game?”
  • “How can I bounce back from tragedy game?”
  • “How can I organize my office game?”
  • “How can I get everything done game?”
  • “How can I meditate like a yogi game?”

Looking at the list, I hope you get the idea. With no disrespect intended to the players, it’s all a game. It’s all invented. We are not born and we do not wake up with a set of instructions. We decide on the games we want to play, and then we play them to the best of our ability (or not, as the case may be).

In coaching, we assist people to get clear about the games they are choosing to play. That clarity sometimes provokes people to stop playing some games and to start playing new games. Other times it provokes people to play the same games but in new ways. Either way, we assist people to play their games with full engagement. As a result, our clients end up with happier, more meaningful, and more successful lives.

That is a good description of LifeTrek Coaching at its best. I would invite you to learn more about and to experience the process for yourself by contacting us today, either by Email or by using theContact Form at our website.

My experience at the Marine Corps Marathon proved to be a case in point. Happily, my son and daughter-in-law were able to join us for the occasion. What a difference two weeks can make! Even more happily, the game I decided to play generated my full engagement and, as a result, the experience of flow. I was in the zone, from beginning to end.

Part of the secret was deciding to play the right game. Due to my 2007 travel, writing, and work schedules, I have not run a marathon in more than a year. I have not even had many races at a shorter distance. As a result, I lacked the self-efficacy to play the “How fast can I go game?” I honestly did not know how fast I could go which, in a marathon, can lead to disaster. The formula goes something like this: for every second per mile that you run too fast during the early miles of a marathon, you slow down by ten seconds per mile during the final miles.

I know, from personal experience, how that works. When I ran the Big Sur Marathon back in 2004, I went out too fast for my level of fitness, given the conditions and a nagging hip injury. I paid for that dearly at the end. It was all I could do to walk in from about mile 19, after seeing someone die of heat stroke at mile 18. I was completely undone, and I was pleased to finish at all.

Not wanting that to happen last Sunday, I decided to play a game that I knew I had a chance of winning: the “How close can I come to 4:45:00 game?” which I was scheduled to play just two weeks earlier in Baltimore. Only this time it would be harder. For one thing, I would have to do it all on my own. There was no pace team to fall back on and draw strength from. In addition, I would have to do it on an unfamiliar course with more than 20,000 other runners. Talk about full engagement! There was no other way to get this one done.

The day started out perfectly. When the phone rang, for my hotel wakeup call, I realized that I had been sleeping soundly for seven straight hours. I also realized that the clock in our room was set one hour slow. It’s a good thing I didn’t use that for my alarm clock, or I might have been late for the race itself!

Upon leaving the room, I was pleased to find out that the hotel was within walking distance of the starting line. Sweet. That’s always a nice treat. And the weather. Talk about perfect running conditions! It was 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius) with a slight breeze at the start, and it was forecast to get no more than 10 degrees warmer over the course of the race. Unlike the Chicago marathon, which suffered mightily from extreme heat in early October, these conditions were made for running.

And run we did • all 20,000 strong. I’ve done many other big-city marathons, and the crowded conditions always make them both crazy and exciting. People bumping into each other, jamming up through the water stops, spectator-lined streets, traffic and security details, as well as the sights and sounds that are unique to each city (in this case, the capitol of the USA). There’s nothing quite like the energy of Big.

But maintaining an even pace under those conditions, per my Baltimore race plan, proved to be a real challenge. Perhaps that’s why I was unable to locate the Marine Corps pace teams, which are organized by ClifBar, at the start of the race. Maybe the logistics got in the way, or maybe they just don’t have the amazing leadership of the Baltimore Marathon pace team organization, or maybe I wasn’t looking in the right places. Whatever it was, I was on my own with this one.

So I got out my Baltimore pace band, marked in half mile increments, turned on my GPS pacing system by Suunto, and slowly got underway. It took more than five minute to cross the starting line, which was actually better than I expected. Then we started moving en masse, like a stream of human sweat and aspiration, from point A to point B. Here were some of the things I thought about and noticed along the way, which have relevance to all the games people play (including your own).

  • It helps to have a plan. There’s no way to randomly finish a marathon in exactly 4 hours and 45 minutes. That’s a long time and many miles (26.2) to go. In order to win the game, I had to break that down into manageable parts. My pace band made it simple: every 5 minutes and 26 seconds I needed to run or walk my way through a half mile. Do that 52 times, and I was just about done. Easy to say! But at least I had a plan.
  • It helps to have feedback. Once I had a plan, I needed to know where I stood along the way. Those are called milestones in project planning, and they loom large in any game. Where do I stand? Do I have time in the bank or do I have to make up ground? Is my heart rate sustainable or am I over working? My GPS pacing system by Suunto, my pace band, and the mile markers along the race route, provided the information for continuous course corrections • until mile 24.75.
  • It helps to not panic. That’s when I lost my pace band with the plan. Around mile 24.75 I felt a bit dizzy, so I started walking and consumed a 100-calorie energy gel. Within a minute or two I was back to feeling fine and running. But when I hit mile 25 I looked down and my pace band was nowhere to be found. I must have dropped it while reaching for the energy gel. The loss of that band was disorienting relative to the game I was playing. Fortunately, I only had 1.2 miles to go, but I was no longer sure where I stood. “How fascinating!” was all I could say to myself.
  • It helps to know math. Although I was not able to calculate it exactly on the fly, I was able to do some quick calculations, working back from a finish time of 4:45:00. “5:26 is about 5:30 is about 11 minutes per mile, so mile 25 would be 4:34 less a couple more minutes for the last little bit of the race.” I’m not sure how many times I ran that equation through in my mind, but I was glad I had the ability to do so.
  • It helps to have friends. I ran this race, in part, because my good friend from high school invited me to run it with him. If he had not made that invitation, so long ago due to the registration deadline, I would not have run the race last Sunday. And given that I had to bail out of Baltimore, that would have been a real shame. It would also have been a real loss. The presence of Jim and his family made the whole experience much more enjoyable.
  • It helps to have a fan club. My daughter-in-law, Michelle, had made large, bright red signs to encourage Jim and me along the way. Thanks to the fact that Jim was more familiar with the course than I was, he let me know ahead of time to look for my family in front of the Federal Reserve Bank building (around mile 7). They were there, sign clearly visible, with lots of pick-me-up energy. I saw them again 3 more times, and each time I saw their sign from a considerable distance. It beckoned to me with heart energy, and it gave me something to look forward to along the way.
  • It helps to have a signature presence. My approach to running a 4:45 marathon is to walk for a minute and to run for four minutes and 26 seconds, every half mile. During those walk breaks I breathe deep, through my nose, raise and lower my arms, and go through a series of stretch walking steps which make me look rather silly but which extend my leg stamina. At mile 10, someone ran up as I was walking backwards, and said, “Are you the 4:45 pace team leader from Baltimore?” I said yes, but not this year. He said, “I was in your pace team in 2006. We had a great time. And I have been walking backwards during my long runs ever since.” That brought a smile to my face. We ran together for a while, and reminisced.
  • It helps to have self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is the belief that “I can do it” • whatever “it” may be. I did not have the self-efficacy to run fast, but I did have the self-efficacy to play the pacer game. Had I finished the Baltimore marathon two weeks earlier in 4:45:00, as planned, I would have tried to go faster at the Marine Corps Marathon (probably running with Jim for most of the race). But in the absence of a recent mastery experience, I decided to play a game that I would enjoy and that I knew • at least in theory • I could win.

So how did I do? On one level I did great. I finished the race after experiencing flow for almost five hours. What a rush! The race had timing mats at the following mile marks: 5, 10, halfway, 15, 18, and 22 plus the finish. Although my first two marks were off, thanks to the crowds and the slow start, by the halfway mark I was right on, and I stayed right on through 15, 18, and 22. I was smiling: my friends in Baltimore would be proud of me. 

But then I lost my pace band at mile 24.75 (that will never happen again, thanks to the magic of string). As a result, and notwithstanding my mental calculations, I started running too fast in the final mile and a half. That means I had to walk slowly up the final hill or I would have finished about 45 seconds early. At the end, I was barely moving at all (which is not how pacers like to play the game). And even after all that finagling, I still finished the race one second too soon, with an official chip time of 4:44:59.

Now that may not seem like a big deal, but I am famous in Baltimore for finishing the race in 4:45:00. I have done that for the last two years in a row, and I was intent on doing it again last Sunday in Washington, DC. I missed that mark, but I came pretty darn close. I’ll take it! It was good to get back in a racing frame of mind. And, as they say in baseball, there’s always next year. Baltimore, here I come!

Coaching Inquiries: What enables you to experience flow or be “in the zone”? When was the last time that you had that experience? How could you have that experience more often? Who could be in your fan club to support you in the process? What’s stopping you from making the necessary arrangements right now?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..


I just read your poem called “Passion” and found my eyes tearing up. My soul connected with it; I feel all of those things. It’s like I’m having a hot flash and can’t get my clothes off fast enough. I want to be free of those limitations too. I feel that I am on the brink of the doings. 

I just wanted to share and thank you for your self-expression. I am inspired by your take on many topics to which I have been introduced through the Wellcoaches program. You have not been one of my instructors, but as I listen to the mp3 recordings, your voice speaks truth to me. You do so with an authenticity and practicality that is unique. Thank you for doing what you do. Also, I want to mention that your articles on Listening were absolute genius to me.

Thank you for your contributions to our planet. (Ed. Note: Thanks! The listening articles originally started out as Provisions, which you can read online by going to the Provision Archive. Enjoy!)


Thank you for sending me Megan’s Russian Diary. As a Russian myself, now living in the USA, it was so educational to look at this whole situation and people’s behavior with “American eyes” 🙂 That is sad for me that your friend lives so far away; it would be so nice to get in touch with her. If she would like to connect by phone, or if she needs any help, I’m very much willing to offer mine! Thank you very much to your wife for her courageous journey!


As the “Mama” in this story, it was fun to re-read Megan’s Russian Diary. Doing so helped me appreciate how far the kids have come in just a few months’ time. Especially Ksusha • she certainly has common sense now! I think she just must have been so overwhelmed with what was happening that she couldn’t digest it all. Thanks for all your support.



May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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