Before we dive in, here’s a little background on me. I was a 3-sport athlete until college (basketball, soccer, track), stayed active in college, competed in 2 sprint triathlons in graduate school, stayed active after graduate school running and biking… then life happened, I had two children, started this business with Theresa, and found myself needing a goal to challenge myself. None of my physical activity was pushing me outside of my comfort zone.
I wanted a physical challenge
I wanted a mental challenge
I wanted to practice what I preach and renew my ability to relate to the athletes I work with on a different level
Ok. Now I’ll bring you back to February. My amazing partner, Theresa, is a stellar athlete. She’s fit and strong and has crushed the Broad Street Run a couple of times already. She encouraged me to sign up. After a bit of convincing, we both signed up for the lottery and both got in! (For anyone who isn’t familiar, the Broad Street Run is a 10-mile run with 40,000 (!!) runners.)
As soon as I saw that I’d gotten in, I felt the familiar feeling of nerves coming from anxious anticipation and excitement. Thoughts were swirling through my head:
“Can I really run 10 miles?”
“What if I can’t finish and have to drop out?”
“What if I can’t find time to train?”
“Am I actually going to be able to run for over an hour…?”
“This is going to feel like such an accomplishment.”
This was exactly what I wanted. Before I even started to train, I was remembering the feeling of getting ready to challenge myself physically and mentally – and all that comes with it. The butterflies, the self-talk. The whole shebang.
I put on my sport psych hat and thought, “How would I advise a client right now?”
Here’s what I did:
I set a goal to finish the race with an average pace of 8:30-minute miles
-- Then I told a whole bunch of people – I wanted to say it out loud and own it!
I found a training plan to keep me on track
I connected with my purpose (Why am I doing this?) and wrote it down
I started considering my mental strategy
I’ll elaborate on numbers 3 and 4.
As I mentioned, I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone and, in doing so, practice what I preach. I knew that training to compete in a 10-miler would require mental fortitude (have I mentioned yet that the furthest distance I’d ever run was 5 miles, but that I mostly maxed out around 3?! More of a sprinter than a marathoner, here…). Thus, my purpose was to:
Commit to a goal that would challenge me physically and mentally,
And therefore require me to develop and execute a mental plan,
So that I could be more effective in my job working with athletes and relating to their efforts
My mental strategy
As I say to my clients, the creation of a mental plan for an event takes time and modification. Over the course of my 2-3 months training, I did the following to develop my mental plan:
Create a routine: My goal with my first several runs was to stick to the training plan and start to get into a routine of proper hydration, fueling, and stretching
Be objective: While I tracked my runs on a GPS watch, my focus was to be objective about my process and try not to be too focused on paces (I had to trust that that would come with consistent effort)
After runs, I thought about what went well/felt good and what didn’t go well/didn’t feel good
I avoided getting too hung up on my times (which were pretty far off of my goal pace at the start!)
Develop a focus plan: I don’t run with music. I know I’m in the minority, but it works for me! These long runs left a lot of time to think. Here’s what I did:
Chunking. I broke my runs down into chunks. The mile markers are easy chunks to focus on. But even within 1 mile, I’d pick landmarks to run to, mentally check it off, and focus on the next chunk of the run.
Every mile I focused inwardly and checked in with myself. I focused on the positives (My legs feeling strong; Realizing that I felt relaxed).
I sang songs in my head. Honestly, it was usually just one song, and sometimes just one portion of a song, but something that served a purpose for me (pumping me up, giving me confidence, simply distracting me).
When I felt tired, I remembered successful runs and replayed them in my head, focusing on how it felt to finish that run and feel proud.
Develop a self-talk plan: My brain goes a mile a minute, so taking control of my thoughts was imperative. Here’s what I did:
Every mile when I checked in with myself, I’d say things like:
2 miles down, 5 to go. I feel good!
Halfway there! WOO!! (I’m not exaggerating… I feel no shame cheering for myself. I’d shout it right out loud on Kelly Drive.)
2 miles to go. This has been a tough one, but just keep moving.
I developed a few go-to phrases so I’d always be ready to take control of my thoughts if I felt self-doubt creeping in:
Just keep moving
Get yourself to… (insert whatever chunk I was focused on)
Dig deep. This is how the race will feel. Prepare for it now.
Fast or slow, it hurts the same
Boost confidence: I did this before and during my runs.
Before runs, I’d say simple things like “I’ve got this” or “I’m going to crush this run”
During runs – particularly when I started to feel tired, I would:
Remind myself of specific runs and say “If I did it then, I can do it now”
Remind myself of my strengths
Use imagery: I did this in the evenings or during runs.
Sometimes before going to sleep, I’d picture myself at the start of the Broad Street. I’d picture myself shoulder to shoulder with other runners, trying to feel the butterflies and jitters I know I’ll feel. I’d tell myself “this is what you trained for. You’re going to crush it. You’ll feel proud when you finish this.”
During runs, I tried to picture running down Broad Street. I imagined what I’d feel like seeing spectators and hearing them cheer. I imagined how I’d feel approaching City Hall, the 8 mile mark, the finish line. (Once I even broke out into a huge smile when I imagined seeing my family when I run past my neighborhood!)
Ok. That was a marathon (or 10-miler…?!) of information!
It’s important to note that this is what worked for me. While the skills of focus, self-talk, and imagery, for example, are essential, you might use them in different ways.
It’s also important to note that even with a solid mental plan, you’ll still experience highs and lows. Some runs will be amazing (I’m thinking of one run when I came home and said “I felt like I was flying!) and others will be terrible (cue the run that I came home from and said “…that felt terrrrrrible.”). But having a plan helps you enjoy the process and feel more confident.
Now… all that’s left is for me to actually run this race! Tune back in to see how Theresa and I do!