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Learning About Running From Friends: The Pistol Shooter

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I had a conversation at work yesterday with two of my colleagues about our hobbies -- running, target shooting, and jiujitsu -- and our habits and views on performance. All three of us had recently read Sam Sheridan's The Fighter's Mind and were discussing the book and some of the various topics covered in the book. Early on, I was asked if I've ever experienced the 'runner's high', something that they'd heard about but never experienced. The answer that I gave was that no, I don't think I've ever felt a runner's high, but that I'm not chasing after something like that.

What I have felt, though has been an acute sense of being completely in the moment, where I've completely hit my stride and moved with a mechanical efficiency that's impossible to force. When this happens, it's often a rhythm that can be restored following a break at a red light or an untied shoelace -- but sometimes it's gone, just like that. These moments hit without any warning, but when they happen there is no mental hinderance: just another knee to raise and a clear path ahead.

We'd all read about similar moments for MMA fighters in the book, moments when a fighter's focus is so acute that he knows that he will win, regardless of the hold or position that his opponent gets him in. What surprised me, though was the nod in agreement from the target shooter in the conversation; he, too has these moments.

Target shooting at first seemed like a very peculiar hobby to me, but I have grown to see the allure. In shooting, my understanding is that there is really only one variable: the shooter. There are other moderate variables, such as gun mechanism cleanliness, powder loading, weather (though weather doesn't have huge effects), caffeine intake, etc. -- but the scores really come down to the shooter, and therein lies the appeal. In describing his version of 'the zone', my coworker talked of a state of being in which his aim was true, his round pulled off, and after recoil his pistol descending upon the target, lining up true and the cycle repeated through a full clip.

When this is happening, he says the experience is nearly an out-of-body one: he is fully removed from the situation, his mind absent, save for scoring his target and writing down his round. When the next target is up, he may still be in his zone, or it may be gone. Just as I've had runs where I absently keep going because I've stopped thinking, he has had two-hour long spells of firing near-perfect clips one after another.

But other times, there's nothing he can do to hit a good shot. Maybe the sights are off, or his arm is tired, or his mind wanders, and he just isn't shooting well. When this happens, he told us, it's not him. He's not a poor shooter, you see -- he can shoot high 90s no problem. The shooter when he's off isn't him. And even though the excuses and misplaced blame are bullshit -- which he readily admits -- they are needed, otherwise any mental edge gained by shooting a high 90 is then lost.

Though it's highly disingenuous, I kind of like that mentality.

There's no real takeaway from the conversation, at least in a lesson-to-be-taken sort of sense, but I thought the parallels between running and pistol are interesting, and I feel as though I've maybe gained another mental game to put into my bag: bad runs happen not because of me, but because of something else that went wrong. In order to stay objective and clear, it's not a tactic that I'll use often, though it will come in handy once or twice I'm sure.

And it's good to know that no longer be thinking but rather just doing is applicable in other situations besides just running.