“It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.”
An old injury resurfaced on a relatively easy tempo run last week. I wasn’t in pain; but the tight muscle prevented me from adequately dropping pace. The solution was simple: I took a roadside stretch break. While the muscle responded and my body became cooperative, my mind latched onto anxiety. Not surprising, it was now my state of mind that quickly impacted the run.
My mind wasted no time spinning what-if scenarios. “How will I get through 15 weeks of training if this is how I feel now?” “What am I going to do if this injury flares up again?” “What if my goal is completely out of reach and I’m being delusional?” The mind plays awful games. I pulled myself off road again for a silent pep talk. “No negative thoughts. Push them out of your head. Leave them here on the road, Lora, and move on.” A few deep breaths with resolve and I ran the rest of my run at target pace.
Negativity is a manipulative force, which proliferates once we give it slightest credence. It becomes easier to enable a defeatist thought than combat it. This happened at the NJ Marathon. When I was physically tired, my mind said I was burnt out and overpowered my body. I spent the rest of the race fighting myself. Succumbing to that situation felt terrible. I believe the physical discomfort of persisting would have been less painful than the emotion that lingers. The experience made me determined to withstand negative thoughts during training and racing.
A few ideas are helping me:
Hits of Grace – In a recent yoga class, the instructor spoke about “his of grace.” These are moments where we experience sudden ease, joy, peace. They may be equally intense and fleeting. The instructor urged us, as we struggle through difficult times, remain open to small instances of happiness.
I’m quite fond of this concept. During my workouts, I look for surrounding positivity. I search for people, situations, or emotions that inspire and bring joy. I use these simple things to fuel my run. When I see someone else persisting, I supplement my resolve with that energy. The act of looking outward, beyond myself, helps me notice things I would otherwise overlook. Thus it not only benefits my running but enriches my every day life.
Counting – Some workouts are destined to be tough and creaky. Running on concrete legs, for example, or with a mind laden with heavy thoughts. If I can’t shake these feelings, I start counting. As I run, I carefully and evenly count to 100. And start again, and again, for as long as my run lasts. It may sound boring, but perhaps that’s the point. Boring is better than negative. The repetition occupies my mind and allows my body to hit its natural running rhythm. I view it as running on autopilot. Occasionally, a few rounds is enough to clear my mind and feel present. But if that doesn’t happen, I count until the workout’s done.
Think of the Journey – Some days, I simply remind myself how far I’ve come. I recall how I felt first learning to run. I think of when running 90 seconds was a struggle. I remember a conversation with a friend when I couldn’t yet break four miles; or how I felt nervous to tackle my first 10K. I remind myself that I’ve survived summer training before; and that disheartening runs teach more than sublime ones. Sometimes, I need to see I’ve surpassed obstacles to be where I am now. I take a moment to appreciate that I’m still learning, progressing on my own will to succeed. If that doesn’t turn my spirit, I’m not sure what would.
I’m certain experience will reveal other ways to overcome hindering thoughts. Just realizing negative thoughts impact happiness and performance is a big step. Actively countering doubt with appreciation, strength, encouragement, or meditative neutral space takes effort. I view it as an emotional investment – one that will pay off on race day, and beyond.
~ What are some ways you counter negative thoughts in training?
When things get negative for me, I think of how special it is that I am able to swim, bike or run and that some people might not be so fortunate. I run for those people, because they can’t. When the pain during training or a race becomes so unbearable, I simply think, “I am alive. This is what it feels like to be alive.”
Chris, Love this. Your comment, along with something I saw this morning on my run, are inspiring my next post. Funny enough, the photo I’ll use is one I considered for this post, which fits exactly what you’ve said! – L
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