This summer the track and field buzz was back. From Eugene, Oregon to Munich, Germany the best athletes in the world were exciting hungry crowds with feats on the track, over the bar and in the sand.
The Olympics in Tokyo last year had quenched our thirst for world class athletics, but without a crowd, it just wasn’t the same, for the athlete or the viewer.
That’s why the Worlds and Europeans were exactly what we had all been waiting for. As I learned during my chat with Noah Lyles, athletes thrive off the crowd. They are natural performers despite the individual nature of their sport.
“The World Championships was a lot of fun after Tokyo had been so tough. We had no fans at the Olympics, I wasn’t able to show my true self, but Oregon this year was fantastic. Breaking the American record on American soil, feeding doubters, being myself, it gave me such a boost. Now Paris is in our sights and there’s so many big stages in the run up to 2024 which makes me really excited.”
How to shine in less than 20 seconds
Noah Lyles is the holder of the American record over 200 meters after clocking 19.31 seconds in Eugene. The nature of his sport is he has a very short piece of track to shine on. Success is condensed into such a small amount of space and time that I wonder what can give Noah the edge when he lines up against seven other extremely fast men.
“Basically, you work on the small stuff,” explains Noah Lyles. “When people think about us going for huge records and personal bests, they probably think, ‘Oh, I just got to try harder’ but at the very top level, that’s not going to work anymore. It’s more about where you put your time and energy.
“I would say a lot of the changes have been with how much sleep I’m getting, what I’m eating, being in the weight room, but not so much trying to get stronger in the big groups of muscles, but in the small groups of muscles so that it creates better positions, more injury prevention.
“It’s stuff like that that trickled down into all of my running and all of my training. Through that, you start to see small victories turn into big victories. Finally, you put everything together and you get the improvement.”
Eating an elephant
Being content with little gains is easier said than done. Patience can be lacking in us all but Noah Lyles attributes his slow and steady approach to his mother. “My mother turned everything into a life lesson. The idea of team was instilled into us very early on, along with patience.
“I didn’t get it at first, but then I realized the elephant is the goal that seems unattainable. So how would you eat that? You got to eat it one bite at time. Not big chunks, little pieces, and then eventually you’re like, ‘Oh, I’m halfway through. Oh, I’m almost done. Oh, I’m done. Maybe I can eat another!’”
Teamwork at the heart of individual success
The elephant Noah Lyles is currently eating his pathway to Olympic gold.
And he has a team of people helping him get there. As he mentioned, his mother was all about team, siblings supported each other to reach their dream and Noah Lyles brings that same attitude to his athletics career.
“You’d ask in an individual sport, ‘what is a team?’ But let me tell you it’s my family, my management, my coach, my agent, my doctor, my chiropractor, my massage therapist, my regular therapist, my sports therapist.
“We all come together probably about once a year and make sure that everybody’s on the same page. Communication is key. Everybody has to be honest to build strong connections.
“I have to be extremely honest with my coach. When I say ‘Coach, I’m not feeling good today,’ that’s not me saying that I don’t want to practice today or that I’m sore, that’s me saying, ‘I feel that there is something that might actually hurt me down the road, I think we should take it easy today.’”
Not only is Noah Lyles honest about how his body is feeling, he’s also honest about how his mind is doing.
“I’ve been in therapy since I was nine. It’s good to talk. When I was about 15 years old, I started visualizing races with the help of my therapist. Now, I start every race day with a call to my therapist. We’ll just decipher everything that’s going to go on throughout that day, from waking up, eating, packing to go to the track, what I’m going to do in the warm-up, the smell of the track, the smell of the warmth of power I engage with people, all that, even the race. Finally, we’ll get to the race. We’ll describe how I want to feel, what I want to accomplish in the race, how I’m going to do it, and the goal that I want to see happen. We focus a lot on being in the now.
If you’re just constantly looking at the big goal, you’re never really going to be like, ‘Oh, I need to do this to get to there.’
“You can trip and fall on your way, but if you focus on the now, what’s happening in this moment, as like, ‘In this moment I can control A, B, and C,’ and those are the things that I’m going to make sure are done correctly because I know that I’ve done well enough in training and I’ve mentally prepared myself and physically prepared myself to do it.”
So, when Noah Lyles hopefully steps out on the Stade de France track in Paris in 2024, he’ll have run the Olympic final tens of times already in his head. His team will be sitting in the packed stands cheering him on and the elephant will be well and truly digested.