Training My Mind

Like many people, I tend to fight off voices in my head telling me I am not good enough quite often.  This voice has proven to be very loud at times, especially when I am running.  A few years ago when I set the goal to qualify for Boston, I followed a training plan, did everything I should have, worked hard, but my mental confidence was never really there. Some days I was strong, but the majority of training I was exhausted not by the miles, but by the fight with my thoughts.

Just recently, I read a Memoir written by Deena Kastor, an Olympian and American record holder for the Women’s marathon.  In her book, Let Your Mind Run, she documents the ups and downs of her running journey.  In one specific chapter she talked about how one run she started to become more aware of her thoughts and was shocked as to how many negative ones came through. She decided on a simple strategy to replace every bad thought with a good one and it strengthened her running more than she ever thought was possible.  I was so inspired by the simplicity of this and decided to try it for myself while doing a local 5k.

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I love the 5k distance. It is quick but challenging, and always pushes me to run a little faster than I am used to. The most challenging part of 5ks for me though are the runners around me.  There has been countless races in which I SHOULD have finished first, but I let the other competitors and my negative self talk get the best of me.  I have always had issues with crumbling under pressure and it is something I am working on.

So I decided to try this strategy out.  So simple, for every negative thought that came in, I would replace it with a positive one.  I just needed to be aware of the thoughts, all of them. That was my only goal for this race.

As I lined up at the start line, I put myself behind a sea of what had to be the local girls cross country team.  Great.

My first thought came in…

 I am at least 20 years older than these girls. Yup, and you have 20 years of experience on them.  They don’t stand a chance.

As I stood there anxiously, I felt my heart start to pound and my legs get shaky. Good, use that energy.

The gun goes off and 3 girls sprint like a bat out of hell ahead of me.  CRAP.  Don’t worry, you know how those young ones can be, they don’t know how to pace. Get close to them, but don’t worry.

About a half mile in, I looked at my pace: 6:15.

I can’t keep that!  Says who? You feel fine. Relax your shoulders and settle here.

I end up being right behind the lead girl by mile 1 and I decided to just hang right behind her as to not be too risky, but shortly after I noticed she started to lose steam a bit.

Don’t go now, just stay here, it’s safe. What? You feel strong right now, give a little push here.

So I surged passed her and had a serious boost of confidence and energy as I took the lead.  As far as I knew, she was really the only other girl that was close to me.

Well, look at me!  I am so fast!  I am going to win! I am awesome!  I am….

A little teeny bopper FLIES past me out of nowhere right after mile 2.

You have got to be kidding me.  Well, there goes my lead. I knew it was too good to be true. There it goes?  Don’t just give it up you pansy! You can stay with her! You got this!

She is legit sprinting. I am frustrated.

My legs are dead.  They are alive.

Who did I think I was?  You are a fast runner, that’s who. Stay with her.

Look at her butt, that is a runner’s butt. I couldn’t even fit one ass cheek in those shorts, who am I kidding here?  You have a strong butt. That is an advantage.

For what seemed like an eternity, I stayed right on her tail as best I could, huffing and puffing along the way.  At one point we passed a bank sign that read the current temperature: 91 degrees.

It’s too hot to be running this fast, you really should play it safe, slow down. Second place is still really good. Oh shut up, you love the heat and you know it.  Stay here, first is  better.  You want first.

At one point one of my favorite Fallout Boy songs came on in my headphones called,The Mighty Fall.  And I found myself repeating: She will fall. She will Fall. She will FALL. (I of course didn’t want her to actually fall, just fall back).

Then somewhere around mile 2.7, she abruptly stopped from her sprint and started walking.  I literally almost tripped over her.  I could not believe it.

Worried somebody else was going to threaten my potential victory, I put on the best pump me up song I could find and and pushed on.

My body feels so heavy.  I feel like a feather.

What if somebody is right behind me?  So what if they are. They can’t catch you.

I can’t do this.  You are doing it.

Then I crossed the finish line as the first female with a time of 21:16.  This may  not seem like an Olympic victory, but in my head it really really felt like one. This was the first time I was ever able to control my thoughts during a run and it was powerful.  This was not a PR for me which is what makes it even more profound.  Had I let those few girls beat me, I would have looked at my time and been confused and frustrated, knowing I could have run faster.  But instead, I let my head win the race and let my body do what it knew how to do.  This was not a matter of just trying to stay positive for the sake of it, I literally felt my body responding with each strong thought. It seriously was just so surreal.

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Now here comes the comical part, shortly after I was handed my fancy glass “First Female Finisher” plaque, I dropped it and it shattered into a million pieces. Yup. There were a couple people standing around me who gasped in horror and I think looked at me waiting for me to start crying.  But I laughed.  Because, this is me folks. And two, because nothing could steal the joy of that victory.  NOTHING!  Not even a pathetic yet typical clumsy act that I would normally beat myself up about in embarrassment.  NOPE.

I challenge you to choose new thoughts in your day to day life.  First, become aware of your thoughts. Then as those little jerks come through saying to you “you are not good enough” or “why did I think I could do this” just choose a NEW one.  You are good enough, you CAN do this. You don’t even have to believe it, just say it to yourself.  Make it a practice and watch the magic happen.  It is too simple to NOT try.

You can read this essay and 100 others to inspire your running in the new Chicken Soup for the Soul book; Running for Good.  Check out the link HERE.