By Malindi Elmore
I am currently coaching a young runner who is very motivated to run fast this spring, but with her goals comes anxiety, doubt and concerns about her ability. We all know that physical preparation is only part of performing and that much of it comes down to our mental fortitude; but the body is often much easier to train than the mind. Pressure to stay motivated and focused on goals is a good thing; however, fear, dread, anxiety, etc. get in the way of top performances and therefore needs to be addressed.
You will run your best when you feel optimistic, confident and happy, etc. It is easy to feel confident and happy when things are going well and this impacts everything from running, to career, school, family, relationships, self-improvement, etc – and is often a self-perpetuating cycle. The trick is learning how to create positive emotions when things are not going well and you are faced with inevitable ups and downs of life. As humans, we can’t parcel one aspect of our life entirely from others, but there are always ways to do our best with the tools and resources we possess.
My last year of competitive track did not going according to plan, which left me in a state of utter despair leading into the Canadian Olympic Trials. I had never felt so low in my life. In my moments of doubt, I wanted to curl up in a little ball and quit. I was putting so much pressure on myself to perform that I was literally driving myself crazy. I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with a leading Mental Skills Trainer, Dirk Stroda, who helped me channel my energy in a more positive direction. Although I still fell short of my goals of attaining the Olympic “A” standard, he was able to help me resurrect my season and win my final Canadian Championship title before retiring from the sport.
In the final weeks of the season Dirk taught me to create positive emotions and teach myself to feel like a champion again when my heart and brain were telling me the opposite. We all know that visualization is a powerful tool, but he also worked with me on cues to focus on during training. One of the techniques is aptly called “ABCs”, and although it sounds cheesy, I found it helpful during hard workouts where I was trying to force the pace or struggling to get through a hard session.
The idea is that you choose a word with a positive emotion corresponding to each letter; for example, “A” for awesome, “B” for beautiful, “C” for courage – something that is meaningful and inspiring to you. During the gut-wrenching, soul-searching parts of a workout, I would focus my thoughts on my ABCs. Sometimes I would only need to repeat ABC, ABC, ABC, etc. to shift my energy from worry or pain to neutral or even positive feelings. Often, the most amazing thing would happen: my heart would follow my thoughts, and suddenly I would get a lift in my energy and my running would follow suit. Instead of forcing a pace, I would be able to relax and feel good, and by consequence, run faster with less effort.
Endurance athletes need to use all sorts of strategies to get through the many repetitive hours of training and hard sessions. I developed many mind tricks over the years to keep myself motivated and honest, but it is not always easy and sometimes we all need a bit of a boost. Having a technique like the ABCs may be all you need to get through a hard session and convert negative self-talk to positive emotions and better results!
More information about Dirk’s services: http://www.ppmcoaching.com/
Malindi Elmore is a Run SMART Project private coach. As an athlete she competed in the 2004 Olympic Games in the 1500m. She’s a 6-time National Champion and Stanford record-holder in the 800m and 1500m. To customize her 1500/mile training plan go here. To work with Malindi privately sign up here.