Thanks to my recent realization that I can choose my thoughts, I’ve been a
bit obsessed with how this superpower can affect my running performance.
Last week, I posted some tips from my interview with sports psychologist Alison Arnold, founder of Head Games Sports, who has coached Olympic athletes and who was kind enough to let me pick her brain for a story I’m working on. This week, for the same story, I got to talk to Greg Dale, director of sports psychology and leadership programs for Duke Athletics, who has coached Shalane Flanagan. Let the mind games continue …
1. Dale, like Arnold, says runners should be aware of sneaky performance-zapping thoughts, and tells runners to keep a journal tracking their thoughts before, during and after workouts to learn how their thought patterns affect their performance.
I tried this myself before my trail run on a longer version of my beloved Rock Creek Park loop this morning, which turned out to be the source of some really whiny negativity starting last night. I was annoyed that my freaky iPod left me music-less, and that an evening assignment in Rockville would keep me from running with my Pacers running group tonight. “I can’t run fast without my iPod” and “I won’t run as quickly on my own” popped into my consciousness like jack-in-the-boxes.
I replaced them with these thoughts: I ran without an iPod for years — and in fact, I don’t run with one at Pacers. Sure, I’d rather run with one, but it will be good practice for me to leave it at home, as I can focus on the beauty of the trails and my pace.
Then, once I got on the road, I kept feeling guilty about taking time away from working. This is a repeat offender for me — as a freelancer who makes my own schedule, I often feel guilty for any time off, for any reason, especially to do something that’s just for me. To combat this thought, I tried repeating: “I deserve this.” Cause I DO.
2. Dale says once you figure out which thoughts fuel your best performance, you should plan to use them during difficult parts of races or workouts. I got a head-start on this last week, when I tried to combat feelings of being a big, spazzy, injury-prone idiot on the trails by telling myself I’m strong and confident, and that I’m an awesome outdoor diva who grew up running trails without injury or incident. Felt cheesy last week, slightly less so this week.
I also read a few of my own trail-running tips before I left, and looked at the motivation board I made at Arnold’s suggestion. Finally, I reminded myself that my hip may not feel super-duper, but that I’m running with my doctor’s OK, and that I’m a stronger runner than I was before physical therapy. I even sang Kanye West’s “Stronger” to myself to feed this thought.
3. Finally, Dale says it’s important to keep your focus on the factors you can control: on following your race plan (or workout plan) and channeling the positive thoughts that work for you rather than your competition or finish time. He tells runners to develop a plan, then set it aside to avoid pre-race anxiety. So until it was time to run, I put running thoughts aside until shortly before I left.
Guess what? This all worked like a charm! I discovered that for me, focusing on just a few simple, positive thoughts really helped keep my brain from going to the dark side, a la Miles in Sideways. I relied on these key phrases during the tough parts of the 6-mile trail run:
Amazing trail diva. I guess this would be me referring to myself? Dunno. It popped into my head mid-run, and it got me pumped.
Choose focus. Or, choose peace. I even tried to choose health. Something about the “choose” reminded me I could, in fact, choose what I was thinking about, which is kind of the whole point.
I deserve this. Running’s my reward, not a punishment — it’s time I start treating it that way!