Last week, a few of the questions had a similar theme: what I do to stay on my mental game. I figured there was enough unity to the responses that it warranted a separate post. Below are a few of the strategies I have found useful over the years, to avoid pre-race nerves, to focus but not obsess about training, to keep balance.
Celebrate the small stuff, every run, every workout
I have been happy to find this tenet so well defined and explained in many of Lauren’s blogs and advice columns. By focusing on the good in each workout, personal confidence grows in a snowball effect throughout the season. Racing season comes around, and without even trying, there is this monster wad of good juju to fall back on.
Train with the dedication and purpose
In addition to visualizations, I find it helpful to pick one thing to focus on that will help me improve as a runner. Right now, I am working on form. Every run, I do mental body checks. I try to breathe into a relaxed gait during workouts. It’s a great way to stay sharp and aware of a longer trajectory to that day, without getting bogged down in nerves over details of an upcoming race itself.
Believe in, and love, your body
Another one I can always improve on - looking at my body in the mirror and seeing the sweat, passion, time, even tears, that have gone into it. It’s a powerful tool, something to be proud of and celebrated. Running is a gift, Racing is the party!
Enjoy the process as much as the outcome
This applies both to the season as a whole, and specific races. If training and racing are fun just because, then there is not the added pressure of performing well to validate the work. The memories, experiences, lessons, strength, health, clarity, are all there regardless of the final time. It’s already worth it.
I have my mom to thank for my openness to meditation. She forced us to get over the whole ‘embarrassment a looking goofy’ thing a while ago. Now, the day of big races, a 15 minute meditation/breathing technique is always a part of my preparation routine. I have developed my own breathing/visualization method - essentially, just long slow breath as I move my focus to different parts of my body. But a search of “calming guided meditation” on YouTube will pull up solid examples.
Develop Power Rituals
Another one from Mama. At the race, I have some rituals that I have evolved since high school. These are actions that remind me to stay centered and present in my body, regardless of what is going on around. I think she got some of these ideas from the motivational speaker Tony Robbins. They release tension, and bring out ‘strong’ Kate. For me, it’s a few breathing exercises, and a huge high knee jump. I have had other runners ask me if the breathing things are tics. They aren’t, but it’s a nice side effect that they make me seem like a crazy person – psychs out the competition!
Focus on personal improvements, specific victories
In college, when racing the same teams meant natural rivalries, there was always the question: are you nervous about so-and-so beating you? But I find this an incomplete thought. The race is so much more than the final rank or time. It’s a unique organism. If Jane Doe wins a crazy PR, and we run an awesome race, über fast times, how could that be bad? I don’t fear racing results, because there are so many permutations that I would be happy with. (As I learn more about the roads, it seems that the same thinking applies. Sometimes there are tactical races, a particularly windy or hilly course. With each new obstacle, each variation, there are new achievements to be made.)
Right now my choice of profession means life is very running centric, and that’s a good thing. And still, the ability to turn off the ‘running brain’ is important, both to reduce anxiety, and to mentally reset and prepare for the next bought of discipline.
In high school and college (and, I imagine the non-pro runner working world), I worked hard to maintain friendships with people outside of running – people with whom I would never talk running. That would naturally help me balance – when hanging out with those friends, running was not an issue. It’s hard to freak out about results when no one knows or cares that it’s happening (friends will always care, but more in a motherly, I’m happy if you are, kind of way).
It is harder to keep such separate circles when not in school. Especially because running is such a natural social activity. There is only so much time in the day! One idea is to find another interest that you can base socialization around. Examples: book club, theater or dance performances, potluck dinners, hiking or weekend getaways, pampering days. Those are just some of my go-tos.
Same goes for solo time. Though, I am still working on the skill of allowing relaxation. I just read a blog entry about the importance of weekend rest (not just weekend errands). And there is the example of Ryan Hall taking one day a week completely off from training. Letting loose, reading a book, watching a movie, is rejuvenating. But my actions don’t always match with that ideal!