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June 07, 2019

Sport Psychology: Stay Within Your Bounds

BY: ANDIE COZZARELLI

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Rewind to the 2016 Olympic Trials. I am smack dap in the middle of Figeroa Street in downtown LA. I had hit mile 3 wondering how I was going to go 20 more miles. I wish this story could have been as epic as Desi's Boston's 2018 but the similarities ended at mile 3. From that point on I was just running. I could be more descriptive but most of it was a blur. I watched people pass me with absolutely no ability to go with them. In the moments before I dropped I saw a group of Volee. As I approached them I was trying to hold back tears. I looked up and thought about my grandfather who had passed 2 years before. I told myself I couldn't stop but I started losing my breath and moved off to the side. This was the biggest race of my career and this was how it was ending. I felt like things couldn't get worse. Until of course I passed out from heat exhaustion but that’s another story. I was stuck between wanting the day to be over and not wanting it to end. I didn't want to wake up and face the next day knowing that what happened was reality. Looking back at this day, I know that it is just part of the sport. But, what do you do when a momentary incident like my 2016 Olympic Trials experience begins to feel like your new normal. For the last 2.5 years I have felt like I have been reliving those moments over and over again.

I started working with a sports psychologist this year. I wish I had done this much sooner but part of my problem is that I keep wishing I had made different choices. I keep looking at the past and either comparing myself or wanting to go back in time and fix myself. The underlying issue: my confidence.

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After the trials I recovered to have a great first marathon but after taking some time to work on my issues with secondary amenorrhea I had to cope with a lot of new issues. I had purposefully gained weight and I was fixated on it. I wasn't confident enough to listen to my coach's training. I wanted to prove myself in training. I tried to suppress my thoughts about my weight but they were there. The more they manifested the harder I pushed in training. I wanted to prove to myself that I was still the same athlete but I didn't inherently believe it. It all became a front to prove to everyone else that I was okay. Had I reached out for help sooner, maybe things would be different. I don't know but what I do know is that I have to let the past go and write my new story. 

My sports psychologist, Dr. Swoap, mentioned that I was putting pressure on myself from all angles, the past, present, and future. I started this season feeling better than I had in a long time, but I got wrapped up in it. The minute it started to fall apart so do I. The problem is less yesterday or today but more the cumulative feelings of never seeing improvement, that my time is running out (not just because of my age but my inability to convince people that I can come back from this), fear of being unable to get into races, fear of overtraining, and a slew of unfulfilled expectations. As Dr. Swoap put it, I have been running in a fearful state with a mindset of destined failure. He asked me to start taking negative thoughts and asking whether they are helpful or not helpful. He asked me to change how I felt about my thoughts. I don't need to be hard on myself for thinking them and I shouldn't try to banish the thoughts. Pushing bad thoughts away doesn't make them go away. I have to sincerely let them float away so that they can't manifest.

Dr. Swoap also mentioned how the mind can induce physiological responses. I started having panic attacks during workouts and races after the trials when I felt like I was getting overheated and or unable to finish. The body also tightens up when we go into panic mode. Stress no matter what type (physical or mental) affects us the same way. It is easy to notice how physical stress affects performance, but it is harder to see how emotional stress can affect us in the same way. Dr. Swoap asked me to be more compassionate with myself, something I am diligently still working on. Before Penn, after a bad race at Raleigh Relays, we talked about breaking the race down, lap by lap, focusing on each lap and not the 20 ahead of me. I didn't have a great race there either, but I fought some demons to stay in it and kicked for the first time in a long time. My evil twin in my head is still very vocal and still made me feel bad about the race. My biggest hurdle will be making my evil twin less powerful.

The rest of my game plan:

  • Jasyoga Meditation Daily
  • Focus on execution instead of times or race expectations
  • Focus on the 3 S's - remaining Strong, Smooth & Smiling

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I am about 3 weeks out from Grandmas Marathon. My workouts have been off and on, good and bad. I have been struggling with long runs and frustrated. My new mantra has been “stay within your bounds”. I have lost sight of so many goals because my own self confidence hasn't been enough to give me a long- term mindset. I so badly want to recover from my overtraining, but it starts with my mind and a little bit of grace. I had glimpses of a comeback early this season so not all hope is lost. I wasn't consistently hitting my PR half marathon pace in practice prior to doing it so why should this be any different? I want the OTQ but it may or may not happen at Grandmas. Regardless I need to be prepared to face it and be confident in who I am so I can keep chasing the dream. 

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