The Extra Mile: Road To Affirmation
“The last of the human freedoms: to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
There is a fine balance – in training and racing – of mental focus and physical preparation. I imagine every athlete has experience unifying these two forces. That being said, this is my struggle lately. At first it seemed my brain needed a pep talk; now it’s time for tough love.
This training cycle is posing quite a psychological challenge. My mind is distracted by its own negative, doubtful opinions. They’re assaulting my confidence. These thoughts convince me to stop running when I can clearly continue. They cause me to question the validity of my latest goal. Rather than feeling emboldened, I’m left feeling uncertain. It’s time to confront this.
Two years ago, Runner’s World published an article about Kara Goucher’s struggles with confidence. While I’m obviously not the same caliber runner as Kara, her experience with self-doubt is familiar. I, too, have a tendency to internalize similar feelings of doubt and fear. By containing and suppressing these emotions, rather than proactively tackling them, they resurface at pivotal moments. In doing so, they demand attention and action. My brain is warning: “You thought you were past this, but you’re not. Deal with it now.”
Part of the problem is difficulty accepting my own progress as legitimate. When I started running several years ago, my runner friends were highly supportive. Some became mentors. They are experienced and they are fast! I devoured their advice, leaned on their support, and assumed I’d never be as fast as them. Thousands of miles and many races later, I’ve caught up to some of my mentors’ running times. Logically, that’s the product of practice and improvement. Emotionally, I find it difficult to believe I’ve worked my way there. I can’t yet pinpoint why I feel this way.
Back to the Goucher article. Something I learned from her sports psychologist is the importance of focusing on my own progress. Advancement won’t come from comparing my abilities to others’. I understand how comparing becomes a hindrance: concentrating on my mentors accomplishments, or other people’s goals, erects a mental barrier to my own ambitions. “How can I push for Boston when so-and-so, whom I perceive to be faster than me, hasn’t yet done it?” See what I mean? Put the blinders on and look inward. If I trust in my training, I’ll see my abilities are within my control. If I examine how far I’ve come, I’ll reaffirm my potential is no accident.
Kara’s psychologist also advocated the use of affirmations. It’s time I start reminding myself I’m worthy of my goals. I am not reaching for some unreasonable, unreachable brass ring. My goals are based on careful consideration and a healthy desire to advance. I mustn’t continue to short-change myself. I will earn my next marathon time on my own merit. Last week a friend told me, “I know you. You’re not afraid of things being difficult. You’re not looking for easy.” True. I need to remember this as easily as friends see it.
To help break down some of my mental barriers, I’m re-reading “Women Who Run With the Wolves” by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés. A colleague recommended this book ten years ago. In my 20s, the book was interesting. In my 30s, it’s become truer to my experiences. Estés extols restoring trust in instinct and tapping into a fighting, wild nature inherent in everyone. (Although her book is vastly female-focused, I believe the concept’s applicable to everyone.) By November, I plan to strengthen trust in my psyche – it is strong enough to dismantle self-imposed obstacles and reach goals unapologetically.
One passage in the book states: “So often a woman feels then that she lives in an empty place where there is maybe just one cactus with one brilliant red flower on it, and then in every direction, 500 miles of nothing. But for the woman who will go 501 miles, there is something more…Don’t be a fool. Go back and stand under that one red flower and walk straight ahead for that last hard mile.” This reminds me of the fortitude required for long distance running, and life in general. Don’t be deterred; when it seems there’s nothing left, push through and reap the rewards. It may be a challenge, but the good news is: I can handle it.