The Real Victories are in the Mind

Over the past year, I attempted to write numerous posts regarding the mental side of running. I see so many people struggling in the same way that I did and have a strong feeling that I need to share my story so that others know there is hope. This time last year, I was in the throes of a depression that would only get worse before it got better. I think there is a lot of truth to the old saying that you have to hit bottom before you can make your way back to the top. I wanted to share what I was going through even then, but it was so difficult that I couldn’t find words to put onto a page. After I navigated my way out, finding words to describe my journey was still too difficult.

In the midst of it all, I was a MESS. I had zero self confidence. I compared myself to others and, in my mind, always fell short. I believed that I had no talent and no chance of ever being able to compete in this sport, regardless of how hard I worked. Receiving compliments from other runners made me feel like a big fraud. I stopped posting as much about running on social media because I couldn’t handle compliments and felt as if somehow I was misrepresenting myself. I mean, if people had known the truth, they certainly wouldn’t be calling me a “badass”. All this negativity started bleeding into my day-to-day life and I contemplated quitting running altogether However, there was still a tiny spark within me that loved running and being a runner and wouldn’t give up on the possibility of what I “could” be.

At the end of May, I ran one of my biggest mental disaster races to date, but it was the catalyst that I needed to start making a change. I picked up a copy of “The Happy Runner” by David and Megan Roche.  In the book, they describe what a happy runner looks like and with sadness, I recognized a former version of myself.  I wondered how I allowed myself to get to this point. I was so far off base that it seemed like I was completely out of the park. But….there was hope. I had been a happy runner once and I could be a happy runner again. The book challenged readers to answer questions including: Three affirmations, Why do I run at all?, Why do I run each day?, Why am I racing at all?, Why do I have long-term goals?, and to come up with some short-term and long-term crazy, seemingly out-of-reach goals.

I couldn’t answer the questions.  I definitely couldn’t come up with affirmations or big, crazy goals. But I wrote the questions down and continued reading the book. I re-read chapters in hopes that keeping those questions in the forefront of my mind would help me find those elusive answers that I was seeking. In order to do something, I decided to focus on being consistent and talking nicely to myself. To me, consistency meant completing every scheduled workout that I could manage.  I also aimed for consistency within each workout, which gave birth to a new mantra “don’t kill it; be consistent”.  I needed to complete workouts without the pressure of performance.  Training shouldn’t be about performance, anyway.  Training is about getting the body primed to perform. I had lost sight of that fact. As far as talking nicely to myself, that took a little bit of work that required self-awareness.  Slowly, I became aware of my negative thoughts. Being able to recognize those negative thoughts was the precursor to stopping them which was, in turn, the precursor to replacing them with affirmations. Simply focusing on consistency and self-talk began to empower me and resulted in finding joy again in the simple act of running.

As my attitude improved, so did my hopefulness about running.  I still wasn’t in a place to dream big, but I had finally made it to the starting block.  I went back to the book to refocus my brain in hopes of finally finding answers to some of the questions.  By the time I left for Ouray 50 at the end of July, I had answers to all of the questions, except the big, crazy dream.

Ouray went really well.  I didn’t finish but that was OK.  I made huge improvements in my mountain running and made it farther than I had the year before.  I still didn’t see myself as competitive in the trail and ultra scene, but I was becoming OK with just being the best I could be, whatever that looked like.

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Ouray – any day spent in the mountains is a good day

I had a great warm-up for Pinhoti at Sky Island 50k in September and my best race to date at Pinhoti 100.  I didn’t just finish Pinhoti, I raced it. The race was a huge turning point for me as one of my biggest goals was to race a 100, not just finish. My finishing time and place didn’t matter to me that much all because I had accomplished that goal!

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Sky Island – always proud of a bloody knee!
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Pinhoti finish with the crew
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Goal – accomplished!

Pinhoti dealt me a setback, though, in the form of tendonitis in both ankles. The left ankle was ANGRY. It took a good 6-8 weeks to work it all out. I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t mentally tested during this time, but I managed to keep myself in a good place. Having a coach as amazing as Greg helped a ton. He is so creative and used this block of time to focus on building strength for GDR, so I was able to continue my workouts but with less running volume to give the ankle some time to settle down.

A week into the second phase of GDR training had me at the start line of Ouachita Swichbacks 50k. I loved the course, but the rocks gave me all kinds of hell. This race exposed weakness in my right ankle. I did not handle the stress of the race well at all and was in a negative space much of the last half. I had reverted to my old habits of focusing on performance rather than the joy of running and I suffered for it. After the race, I struggled mentally.  My brain wanted to stay in that place telling me that I wouldn’t be strong enough by the time GDR rolled around and I questioned my ability to even finish my next race at Cross Timbers.

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Ouachita Switchbacks – DEAD

Despite all the negativity I was fighting within, I continued to chip away at my training, keeping the same focus from last summer: consistency and talking nicely to myself. I started adding another layer of mental muscle when I began reading “It Takes What It Takes” by Trevor Moawad.  I had learned of him in late December and pre-ordered his book which was released in early February. His approach was the perfect continuation in my mental conditioning and the timing was perfect.

The ankle was improving, but I knew Cross Timbers 50k would be  real test. Well, last Saturday, my ankle was put to the test AND IT PASSED! In addition, I paced myself just right, calories and hydration were on point, and my mental approach was spot on. I have never been more satisfied with a race result.  I just happened to come in 1st Female, but my satisfaction has nothing to do with that and everything to do with the way I ran the actual race. I used a strategy that Moawad suggested, which was not saying any negative thought out loud, and I truly believe it helped.

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Before Cross Timbers with my GDR partner in crime

Through this process since Pinhoti, I have achieved yet another goal: “Be a STRONG, CONSISTENT, HAPPY and GRATEFUL runner.”img_4507

 

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