I’ve been thinking about this topic the last few days as I think over my half marathon this past Saturday. When things fall apart in a race physically, we can let our minds go where our bodies are going, or we can stay mentally strong and battle it out. On Saturday, I decided to dig in and battle it out, and I’m thankful that I did. That got me thinking about what it takes to keep us mentally strong when a race specifically (but also a dream/life) is falling apart around us.
Focus on what you can control. All I can control in life are my own thoughts, feelings, and actions. If something like cramps or an injury mean I can’t force myself to physically do something, I can still control my thoughts. This is taking ownership and responsibility for ourselves in life. Staying strong mentally comes down to having good boundaries with ourselves and OWNING OUR REACTIONS.
Try to avoid Catastrophizing. I wrote an entire post on catastrophizing here. Catastrophizing involves choosing the worst possible outcome and running with it. Using words like horrible, terrible, miserable, etc… If I had allowed myself to start catastrophizing in the race, I would’ve had a frustrating last two miles and perhaps wouldn’t have even finished the race. Avoiding catastrophizing allowed me to keep myself mentally in the game, and my body caught up.
Work on changing your negative thought patterns. Practicing using the thought record throughout training will give you what you need when things don’t go well during the race. Because I teach this process every week to clients, it’s ingrained in my head. I immediately went through a few of the columns, which helped me to define a new success to push towards. The thought record will also help you to track negative thought patterns throughout training so you can build up a strong defense to these patterns.
Make a choice. As my brother asks me regularly “do you want it as bad as you want to breathe?” There are points in the race where it comes down to a choice and pure will. Are you going to decide to grit your teeth and push forward? Are you going to decide to keep yourself mentally in the game even when things aren’t going your way?
Redefine success. For me, success the entire race was setting a new PR, which I knew I could do. When things fell apart a mile and a half from the finish, I felt that PR slip through my fingers. In the moment I fell apart (read the race recap to find out how), I immediately redefined what success would mean. I decided that success would be to mentally hold it together and have fun the last two miles, no matter how long it took. I decided that success was going to be defined in mental terms not physical ones.
Hunt for the little provisions and blessings. I wrote an entire post about this here. I did this over and over throughout the race, especially that last mile. From the encouragements of other runners (someone offered to give me some sports beans, someone else walked part of that last mile with me) to the cheers and high fives from spectators, I am truly thankful for those little blessings that littered the race route. Focusing on these helped me enjoy my race and keep my head in the game.
Learn from what happened. After the race, go over your time leading up to the race along with the race itself and determine what happened. Try changing up nutrition, sleep, clothing, etc… to see if that helps.
Now it’s your turn to share! How do you stay mentally strong when things aren’t going well? What is one provision or little blessing you’ve received while competing?