Getting mentally tough

The jargon is the same whether it’s March in college basketball or an Olympic year for a figure skater. It’s the same whether you are a professional athlete or someone just trying to run their best 5K time in a local road race.

No matter the stage, there are certain times when athletes want to “peak” coupled with the fear of “peaking too early” and any other number or phrases invoking that sentiment.

It’s a combination of being prepared both physically and mentally. One goes askew and you can forget it. Put in all the proper training possible, work your program to perfection, and it cal all be for naught if you’re head and heart are out of the game.

The ING Miami Half Marathon is six days away and my taper week officially begins today. And as much as I’m ready for the actual race, this time, I’m actually ready for the taper.

Because the taper has done me in before. Some people love taper week. They love the rest they get before their big competition. Others, well, can go a little nutty.

Count me among those who have penchant for having a nutty (or two or 10) on race week.

There are a variety of factors involved. I’m full of adrenaline and excitement and anticipation, yet the time I spend working out is drastically reduced, giving me only limited outlets for my energy. This is good, because I want the energy on race day, but learning to harness it for the big day is a skill I’m working on mastering.

The reduced amount of exercise time also means I’m burning fewer calories, yet I’m still hungry. All the time. It becomes a balance between fueling for each day (and for the race) and not gaining too much weight on race week. And the whole process can stress me out.

Then, with the free time I would normally be spending on the bike, in the pool or on the treadmill, I have plenty of time to ponder “what ifs” and let the doubt cycle begin which, if I’m not careful, will quickly spiral out of control until I’m in tears on race morning afraid I’m going to let down my friends if I don’t hit some mythical goal time I created for myself.

But this week will be different. I have those experiences to learn and grow from. And as much as I’m ready to say “bring on the race” I’m also ready to say “bring on the taper.”

To start with, I have a better handle on my nutrition needs. I’ve learned what works for me, which is to spread out my meals into basically a day-long buffet, eating about every two hours. I’ve also learned to listen to my body, asking myself if I’m really hungry or if something else is going on, like being bored or anxious both of which can cause me to think I’m hungrier than I really am.

While I will never be a zen master, I have become more proficient at looking at the tasks in front of me, rather than the overwhelming to-do list for the week. I can only tackle what is in front of me at the moment, and I can only really deal with what’s coming today. Breaking my to-do list into manageable pieces and looking at really has to get done seems to instantly reduce my stress level. Suddenly, my schedule doesn’t seem all that bad.

Most importantly, I have recruited an excellent support staff. My tribe has helped me prepare for months for the half marathon, and will be crucial to me this week. It starts with my running mates for the trip — Sue and Herm — both of whom have helped me endure, and then excel, at my long treadmill runs. Both seasoned runners, they understand when I have a nutty and without dismissing it, quickly remind me that whatever irrational thought is going through my mind I can just choose to focus on something else. That I’m fine. And I trust them enough to separate the nutty from the valid concern.

Jessica and Karyn dispense the wisdom of Oprah in the short, to-the-point style of Yoda.

Nick has helped me for a month change my mindset heading into the half marathon by telling me every single day that I can run my goal pace. He is specific and quirky in his messages which both makes me laugh and helps me develop my confidence. The specificity and the repetition have been incredibly helpful in supporting my efforts to create a better inner dialogue for myself. While it’s always helpful to hear the general support about how well you can do, there is something powerful about being encouraged in specific ways. I no longer wonder if I can run the race I would like to run. By hearing it every day, I know that I can.

Just as importantly, it doesn’t seem like a big deal anymore if something breaks and I don’t reach my desired outcome. I’ve now conditioned my thinking to believe and accept that I can run the half marathon in a certain time. It’s just a matter of if it all comes together on this particular Sunday.

And no matter how fast I run the 13.1 miles on Sunday morning, the beach will still be there on Sunday afternoon along with my friends and a never-ending supply of laughter.


~ by amymoritz on January 25, 2010.

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