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The Mental Game

Posted Mar 23 2012 10:11am
"There are people who have no bodies, only heads. And many athletes have no heads, only bodies. A champion is a man who has trained his body and his mind, who has learned to conquer pain for his own purposes. A great athlete is at peace with himself and at peace with the world; he has fulfilled himself. He envies nobody."
 Coach Sam Dee The Olympian
In my 16 years as a runner I think that it would be safe to say that I've had my fair share of peaks and valleys with the sport. There were times when I felt unstoppable , courageous enough to push through even the most challenging of races to valiantly dance across the finish. Yet for every moment of glory and flawless execution there have been countless moments of self defeat where the unwelcome acknowledgement that I simply wasn't capable of achieving the goals that my heart had set out to hunt down seemed to overtake me soiling my mind with toxic thoughts.

As runners, as athletes, we spend so much time perfecting the physical aspect of our sport. We put our faith in our muscles, toning and building strength for months before competition to insure that come the big day our body will know what to do. Learning the right movements, picking the right shoe, foam rolling out all the aches and pains, and diligently pressing forward. But even with all of the blood, sweat, and tears that are shed during training, the most important muscles that can make or break competition often becomes an after thought. That crucially vital muscle is the mind.
Years ago I was a mess with my running. I was a champ at putting in hours upon hours of great mileage, threshold workouts, speed sessions, long runs, tempos, strength sessions, you name it I did it. I thought the physical would be enough to over power over the lack of mental edge I had. It wasn't, and sadly many races in my past have brought the tough reality that mental preparations can make or break you. 
In the past year I have been focusing a lot of my efforts on turning the minds eye into the hearts center. Learning to find peace with the work that I've put forth and putting faith in myself has been one of the most challenging lessons for me. It has taken practice, focus, and just as much careful preparation as the physical. While it sounds silly that I have to consciously pause to remind myself that I am strong and powerful, I know that I am not alone in my self-destructive behaviors. Human instinct is to take the easy way out, to fill the mind with excuses and let that little voice in all of our heads begin to take over and push away all of that positivity that our hearts lust after.
In my final few days before Sunday's race when butterflies seem to be frolicking in my stomach, it's time to channel that energy and turn it into one kick a$$ race that will quench my thirst for life making want to continue to press harder and farther. Here are few ways that I've been mentally preparing for my race:
Mantras These short phrases have had great power in my life. When the going gets tough during a race and my mind begins to focus on how my legs are burning and my lungs seem to be gasping for air, the distraction of a few silly words that may have little to no significance to others somehow generate this amazing power for my mind. They provide focus and somehow allow my mind to travel to a place where I suddenly feel like Jessie Owens and that I can fly like the wind.
AcknowledgementTaking a step back for a few days before any race to replay all of the hard workouts that have been put in to get me to that point is always a humbling experience for me. It's in the gritty sweat of the late morning hours when my breath is heavy and heart is dauntless that the athlete in me is made. While I may not make money from my sport and I may not win the race, I am a strong and courageous athlete that can push beyond the impossible.

Letting the numbers goRacing tends to be mainly about numbers, we all long for those tasty PR's and quicker splits. But really, they are just numbers that hold little significance in life. Races are merely tests of our fitness level on one day for one moment in time, they don't define the character of the athlete. The time that I cross the line is really irrelevant, all that matters is that I run from the heart and give the race all that I've got.
PositivitySurrounding myself with reinforcement of my character is key for me. I like to put post it's with key phrases or mantras around my house so that I can constantly remember that this is my quest that I have set out to conquer.

VisualizationShamrock Shuffle 8k 2011
"The purpose of a race isn't to see who wins, it's to test the limits of the human heart."Steve Prefontaine While there are few things that we all can control in life, the one thing we can control is our attitude and outlook on situations. I choose to feel prepared and pressure free about my races because they really aren't that serious. I'm not going to find the cure to HIV or end world hunger with one race, but I am going to allow myself the chance to live outside the safety net of my comfort zone in life for a few brief moments of time...and I'm going to enjoy every step of the way.

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