You’re ready. The race starts. The mass of humanity lunges forward. The crowd of spectators along the road side is large with the many family members and well-wishing friends of each runner.
The group procession follows the lead bike along the course. You’ve been in the front group for a few miles as you notice that the spectator crowd has thinned out to barely non-existent. Now, it’s just the few runners in the lead group, the lead bike still directing the path and the road ahead.
You pass the 8 mile mark and you are in first place. Your body is in a rhythm and so is your mind. The lead bike turns off to the side and you follow along, as does the guy running in second place. The rest of the lead pack is actually content to follow as well.
The problem is: This is the point of the race where the bike is designated to turn around, marking the end of its day as the lead. You’re now the leader and your race course continues down the road behind you. The visual lure of the bike turning made you run off the course (as well as the guy beside you and a few others).
Visual noise defeats athletes. It is a part of every game. Athletes have to prepare visually for their event or game. They have to prepare for what they are going to see. There will be visual clues that help them perform better and they will see things that lead them astray.
I write this story truly as fiction. I imagine it is not too far off from what occurred at this year’s Tobacco Road Marathon which was run in Durham, NC this past weekend. I wasn’t in attendance but read the newspaper account (Click here to read the story). I’m betting this story is much like what those first runners experienced.
The runner in third place at the time everyone turned off course listened to the volunteers telling him he was going the wrong way. He turned around, got back on course and won the race 18 miles later.
Another great example of why athletes should prepare for visual noise. See To Play has a whole chapter devoted to visual noise, helping athletes define it and then prepare for it.