May 25, 2019
What came first? The runner or the track? Do we create our environment, or does our environment shape us?
These questions fall under the category of social cognitive determinants. I know, big words. In other words, how our thoughts affect our actions and surroundings, and vice-versa. Being aware of what we are thinking, feeling, and doing and how they interconnect is a great way to practice mindfulness, a specifically important exercise in an ever-demanding world.
Today we spoke with sport psychologist Carla Meijen to discuss ways to prepare for a race three months out, a few days out, the morning of the race and everything in between. We chatted about the popular topic of living in the moment, the real effects of positive self-talk, and a completely new approach to setting running goals. These topics are sure to inspire change that will improve your mental health and toughness.
As a new or a longtime runner, it is easy to see all the things you give to running. For many people like Carla, running came as an afterthought, a necessary evil to train for a sport she already enjoyed. Carla’s first love was basketball and choosing to run for running’s sake wasn’t an option for her.
This is a common theme for a variety of runners. Consider a new runner simply trying to find a way to lose weight, or a professional runner that needs to do well in order to maintain a decent living. The pain and pressure that come from running can be terrifying.
Of course, Carla eventually came around to the thought of enjoying a run. Like many, she had an opportunity to run without the pressures of getting in her hard, cardio workout. She found a love for running when she was able to run without a watch (although she does now and loves it). When running felt like a choice, rather than a necessity, it was easier to look at it differently.
We often overlook the many positive things that running gives us and decide to be narrow-minded by focusing on the pain. Take a moment to think of all the things running has or can give to you: A friendship, a routine, a reason to get out in nature, increased energy, strength and health, a goal, time alone with your thoughts, a way to be in touch with your body, a challenge, a reason to buy new sportswear, a community. The list can go on and on.
When you take ownership of your choices and realize you are deciding to work hard and struggle through difficult training sessions, it becomes easier to see what running gives you. Find those things and use them to your advantage when times get tough.
Another great way to get through the hills, side aches, and disparaging thoughts is to create your own mantra. A few great options might be, “Run Strong,” “I Can Do This,” or “Light and Easy.” Some prefer to think of a person that they love or someone that inspires them.
Having a few mantras or thoughts prepared can be useful during different parts of the race as well. Plan on saying something at the start line that keeps you fresh and steady while saving your most motivating thoughts for the end of the race.
In addition to personal mantras there are unlimited visual aids you can practice to find a competitive edge. Sometimes just distracting yourself can be enough. Try singing your favorite song in your head or rebuilding/redecorating your house in your mind.
One of my favorites that Carla suggests in “The Lasso.” During a race imagine throwing a rope over the person in front of you and pulling yourself closer to them. You may be surprised at the amount of actually energy you receive from incorporating fun mental visuals.
The wonderful thing about life on earth is that we are all doing this together. Don’t forget it!
Your thoughts and feelings are completely your own, unique to you. At the same time, there are so many feelings that all of us experience. For example, Carla tells us that 95 percent of people have some type of negative thought during a race—ranging from “Why did I do this?” to strategizing a worthy reason for dropping out.
The simple truth is, you are not alone. Newbies and elites both get butterflies. It’s deciding what to do with these feelings that creates our path. Know that you are in good company, that you have just as many problems and opportunities as the people around you, and then choose to do the thing that will make you happy.
My new Coros Apex watch may be the new watch for me! Yes, that means I am not a Garmin runner anymore. I wore this watch in the Boston Marathon and I LOVED it! The new screens, options, the statistics, and the look alone just makes it look like a real watch and not a running one.
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Thank you to Carla, I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the show.