The Mental Game

It'll always be challenging.

One of the biggest challenges in running is the mental game. Admittedly, I’ve been hard pressed to write this blog for a while. Mainly because of how much I’ve found that my mindset truly does effect my running. It’s challenging to articulate without sounding like a total hippie when I say that the hardest part of running happens in the space between your ears. Learning how to stay positive and motivated can be the end all in a professional athlete’s career, and though I’m not a professional athlete, learning to reframe your perspective when it comes to training, such that you’re thinking like one can elevate your performance ten-fold. 

Read a book.

Over the summer I went to my local book shop and picked up a copy of, Let Your Mind Run: A Memoir of Thinking My Way to Victoryby Deena Kastor. To be honest, I didn’t want to like it. I had this preconception prior to reading the book that it would be aggravating to read how “easy” running is when you learn how to be positive, that being world class meant learning “to think world-class.” Why did this aggravate me? Because until I read the book, running wasn’t going so smoothly for me. Every morning running felt like a battle. Four or five trips to the bathroom feeling anxious if the day’s run would be fast enough, thus to think that for an elite runner so long as you “train your mind,” anyone can bust out a 5:20 min/mile for 26.2 miles. No! Running is not that simple! my mind was yelling at the cover of the book. But alas, I cracked it open and started to read. 

30 miles was fun?

About three weekends before The Kodiak 100, Elan and I had a 50-mile weekend planned in our training logs. We figured a 20/30 split would be great training and set ourselves to it. Admittedly, while stalking the other women entered in my race, I found one of them had completed a 50k the day before. Immediately I felt a competitive edge ignite within me. Whatever sparks your flame, use it and (literally) run with it. When I stopped thinking of the amount of miles ahead and instead of how strong I would be after, the task was no longer daunting, it was fueling. 

In training, I kept reinforcing over, and over, and over in my head that though it may feel uncomfortable, You. Are. Getting. Stronger. I found that I didn’t even need to repeat long phrases or meditations. A very famous writer once wrote (through dialogue of an equally famous fictional wizard) that just because something is happening in your head doesn’t make it any less real. 

Believe it, my dear.

So I read Deena’s book, and instead of being a skeptic, I drove to a coffee shop and ordered a cappuccino. Why? Because I wanted to show myself a little bit of love. Taking the time to acknowledge your strength and perseverance, especially when you’re in the midst of something difficult is critical for longevity. Re-learning how to be kind to yourself is what distinguishes a good athlete from a great one. It is no small feat teaching yourself to be your biggest fan. I am the queen of self-deprecation so talking myself up felt (and still feels) awkward and uncomfortable.

 It still feels like every good thing or compliment I give is met with equal backlash, the common retort, “you don’t deserve that,” or “that was not nearly fast enough.” But like Malcolm Gladwell, practice makes perfect, and you won’t get to 10,000 hours over night. Acknowledge the little things. Acknowledge the things that are difficult and acknowledge the things you do well. Making strides physically come when you allow yourself to work through the barriers you put up in your head. When a workout feels particularly grueling, being able to summit the discomfort with grace and tenacity will allow your body the strength to overcome the effort in a way you perhaps never thought possible.

Give it a go.

  • Visualize what you’re afraid of. There will absolutely be moments in a race that will hurt. Before you toe the line, imagine the moments that will be less comfortable and try developing strategies in your mind ahead of time so that when they arise you’re ready to take them to the trail. Call it a mental first-aid kit of sorts.
  • Find the silver lining. Find the silver lining even if it’s only a silver thread. With every bout of pain, unfortunate circumstance, or shitty situation, there is always a lesson to be learned. A run may be particularly difficult one day, but instead of chastising yourself for it, remind yourself of all the hours you’ve dedicated and the successes you’ve had. The run was difficult, yes. But you worked through it and got it done regardless. Celebrate the fortitude in being able to do that! It takes strength!
  • Be Patient. Making gains physically doesn’t come overnight, so neither should mental fortitude. Practice makes perfect, and you’ll never get good if you don’t implement positive self talk on a routine basis. An easy way to practice being positive is making gratitude lists. I write mine whenever I feel like I need time to regroup and refocus. More often than not, health, family, and accessibility all make it into my journal which make perfect sense because those three things allow me to follow and chase my dreams fiercely.
  • It’s 100% okay to be mad. Feel everything, always. Nothing good will come of repressing your thoughts and emotions. Equally, nothing good will come of letting them dictate how you live your life. When you experience anger or self-doubt, acknowledge it and find a way to reframe them.  You won’t get anywhere by expecting the same results from the same routine. Make a change, take yourself to lunch, sleep an extra hour, whatever it is try and reaffirm in your mind that you deserve it. Believe in your self worth and you’ll find only great things can transpire.

About the author

Gabi Maudiere enjoys eating rice cakes (smothered in crunchy peanut butter) despite popular criticisms and adheres strictly to the notion of reading before bed, even if it's just half a page before falling asleep.