Actually, I can't claim any originality with this axiom, it's something I read in a Triathlete Magazine article back in the late 80's or very early 90's. The article was dealing with strength training and triathletes, and documented many of the training methods of a coach who incorporated several zen principles in his methods. Of the many phrases used in the article, two stuck with me:
* How you do anything, is how you do everything.
* Strain is effort burdened by emotion.
The first one is kind of a general guiding phrase on how you apply yourself in whatever you're doing, and how the weakest link in your chain is really what defines your game.
The second, though, has fueled a lot of how I approach racing, and even intense training.
We all know what strain does in racing. Doesn't matter the distance, strain is detrimental. We've all seen it -- the person starts fast, smooth, then some one comes up on their shoulder, presses, and when it comes down to the final sprint, the person who wins is the one who maintains calm, maintains their form, maintains their emotional distance.
Why? Emotion. Pushing harder, using tension to try to move faster. You see it in the face -- eyes squinting, lips held tight, or pulled back to expose clenched teeth. The shoulders rise, the arms flail. And all this effort becomes counterproductive as form breaks down, and the person straining actually moves slower...
The key is to make every effort count. Effort only goes into those actions which promote the needed movement, everything else is relaxed. Watch the front-runners at the elite marathons. There's a reason their speed looks so effortless -- all the effort goes directly toward making the needed motions, and nothing goes into unneeded motion. Faces are slack, hands and arms relaxed. Emotion clouds this direction of energy and diverts it toward expression, aggression.
Some people will claim that it was that aggression, that surge of energy from emotion, that saved their race at some point. I can't argue that -- I wasn't there. But I would submit that, if they practiced avoiding the emotion in the first place, if they'd trained themself to avoid the strain, the same could have been accomplished, and maybe more, with less effort.
Become the zen master. Don't strain. Let your performance flow. And put a lot of effort into making it look effortless.