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As an athlete, taking care of our bodies is of utmost importance. My apartment is littered with every conceivable kind of foam roller, lacrosse ball, e-stim machine, and mobility tool imaginable. I spend my time prepping my body for training and racing, executing the training plan or race, and recovering from the racing and training.
For so long, I thought my body could work in a vacuum: there didn’t NEED to be a mental or emotional side to training and self-care, because if I willed my body, it would obey.
The past few years have taught me that’s certainly not the case, and, whether I like to admit it or not, the mental and emotional side of training is just as, if not MORE, important than what you do to prep physically.
So here are a few things I like to do in three different scenarios where the head, the heart, and the body all collide:
Pre-Race Day Nerves
The week leading up to a race is typically the most stressful time for me – generally about two days out. The “taper tantrums,” the phantom pains, the slightest sniffle that you are POSITIVE is going to turn into something way worse – you get the idea. When I find the stress and nerves at the worst, I find it immensely helpful to go force myself to walk through the scenario in my head. And for me, writing it all down is even more powerful. First, I identify my overriding concern, and then ask myself a series of “what’s the worst that could happen?” questions and then challenging those answers.
“I’m nervous that I’m not going to perform well in this race.”
Ok, so what’s the worst that could happen?
“I DNF, or get dead last.”
Ok, so what does that mean?
“Well, it’s embarrassing because people are expecting me to do well and I’m expecting myself to do well.”
Are people really sitting around their dinner table talking about your performance?
“Um, probably not. I mean, I hope not.”
Right – people are too concerned about their own lives to really care about your race performance. This is construct and a story you created in your head – the people who matter love you regardless, and race results don’t define you as a person.
Sometimes just the simple act of challenging a thought can be very powerful.
Mid-Race Doubts, Pain, Struggles
Every race is going to have a high, and every race is going to have a low – most races will often have multiple of each. When I encounter a low (whether that be doubts, pain, or just struggles), I try and get out of myself. I force myself to look around at the beautiful scenery (easy if you are doing a trail race!) or to talk to other competitors or volunteers at aid stations. Snapping yourself out of your own head for just a moment can give yourself some clarity. And I also repeat the mantra of my coach, David Roche: “Racing is just a celebration of all the training you’ve been able to do,” and my own mantra “race happy.”
Dealing with Injury, Illness or Breaks from Training
Like so many others, running, training, and racing is my happy place – I crave the endorphin release and the feeling after a long hard workout. So when that is taken away from you, the mental aspect can be the hardest part. I never advocate “finding another hobby” because I think it’s hollow to expect that you can fill a void. Instead, I try and find ways to experience that endorphin release or that mental and emotional boost you get. Long sauna sessions are favorites of mine (the sweat makes you FEEL like you’ve gotten a good workout), as is practicing daily meditation (which I do every day regardless of the state of my training). Not sure where to begin with meditation? Try an app like Headspace or Calm – my $60/year subscription to Calm is probably the best money I’ve spent to better my mental and emotional state these past few years.
Patience, grasshopper. While every “return to sport” program would like you to believe otherwise, injury rehab is not a linear process. And even on days when being back feels so far away, and the recovery process feels so painstakingly slow, I whisper “soon.” #injuredrunner #reebok #beetelite #rocktape #tbt
In sum: making sense of it all
It’s easy to get bogged down in results, performance, and outcomes, so much so that at times we forget why we are doing this in the first place. Are you a professional athlete and it pays your bills? That’s a valid reason. Are you a weekend warrior who uses it for stress release? Just as valid. But the key to putting what you do in perspective is knowing your why – why do you get out there and do what you do? What is it that drives you? As I’ve progressed as an athlete, I’ve realized that, for me, I love the process. I love the training, I love the day to day. I love the feeling after a hard work out or a brutal race. And I compete because I believe it makes me a better person in all areas of my life.
I spent many years wearing around a (false) badge of courage, emphasizing that I didn’t *need* anyone but myself – needing others was a sign of weakness. This manifested in many forms, including actively discouraging loved ones from coming to races to support and cheer for me. But you know what? Life’s pretty cool when you let people support you, and when you accept love from others. I still never expect it, but I’m learning it’s ok to appreciate it. . Thanks for showing me this, @caroburckle. ❤#besties #loveday #inclusion (@cmocko I see you creepin’) 😉