Mental training with an Olympian

A number of other women in the room were asking questions about things like lactate threshold and aerobic versus anaerobic training. At the time, this did not fascinate me so much. I knew nothing about running, other than it was the next step up from my power walking routine, and the mathematical speak of things like “VO2 max” was way above my comprehension. But this trip to adventure camp with Women’s Quest was expanding my horizons and giving me ideas that maybe I could do more than I gave myself credit for.

The running jargon may have been over my head, but Lorraine Moller’s story wasn’t. She was the woman giving the presentation and along with her practical instructions on the Lydiard method of training, she offered us her own story — one of a four-time Olympian seeking a gold medal in the marathon. She never got that gold medal, but in 1992 she earned the bronze in Barcelona and discovered that her journey was about more than a medal. It was about how her athletic goals gave her the tools to face her own demons, to learn just how far she could bring herself.

At the time, I didn’t think I’d run a 5K let alone a triathlon let alone a marathon or an Ironman. The idea of “base training” was about as technical as I could understand but the allure, at least for me, wasn’t so much the dissemination of information to improve running form, efficiency and performance. I was captivated by Lorraine’s story of a hero’s journey, the way she described her threshold of adventure — the confrontations with her own demons, her tests, the supreme ordeal and finally the reward and a return to home ground with new gifts. I was inspired to have my own adventure, to begin my own pursuit of a goal, albeit at the time I had no articulated goal or adventure in mind.  Still, getting my picture taken with Lorraine and her bronze medal was somehow inspiring, even if I didn’t see myself as any type of athlete just yet.  (Note the look of exhaustion on my face after a day of trying to learn mountain biking on the fly.)

Moller wrote her autobiography, On the Wings of Mercury, which was released in 2007. The book is an honest look at her own life — from her childhood in rural New Zealand to her introduction to running to her accidental career as a marathoner. She writes of her relationships frankly, of her youthful mistakes and her struggles with self confidence.

“Olympian is a heavy title for any mortal to carry. When it was first bestowed upon me in 1984 I grabbed it greedily, without knowing the real prize that was being offered. Back then, I was just a kid who wanted a gold medal. But in the next 12 years, spanning four Olympic Games … the pursuit of gold was a shaping process that required me to face the burdens of the past that I carried: my petty jealousies, my projections upon others, my self-doubt, my anger and finally my sadness.”

I eagerly read her memoir last year, when I was preparing for my first marathon and 70.3 race, understanding my own pursuit of athletic goals was growing into more than just a desire to finish an event. One of my favorite parts of the book is where Lorraine discovers the power of affirmations:

“I love myself. I lo-ove msyelf. I love myself! I was repeating these words with all the conviction I could muster.”

This is a practice, I decided, that could be most useful to me. I now routinely tell parts of my body how much I love them — usually when they start hurting or aching or cramping. I generally try to do it mentally, instead of out loud so as not to scare those around me. (Although I’ve seen enough people walk, run and cycle with Bluetooths stuck in their ears having phone conversations. Or maybe they just stick the Bluetooth in their ear so that people think they are having a phone conversation when they are really just talking outloud to themselves. A possible accessory for me to ponder.)

Talking to myself has become an integral piece of my Iron Distance training. Sometimes I use mantras (“strong” and “focus” are two of my favorites) sometimes I use phrases (“Come on, Amy. You’ve got this. You’re strong. You can do this.”) And yes, when I write or talk about my mantras and phrases, part of me feels a bit, well, dorky. But there’s a great connection between the mind and body, one that Lorraine explores in her book, and one that she explained in a recent interview:

“The real beauty about sport,” she said, “is in the process of trying to achieve your goal, you come up against your limitations. I think training for a goal is not just a physical or just an intellectual pursuit. It’s mind into matter. You start to see this direct connection between mind and the result in the body.”

And the further beauty is that it’s not just about the combination of mind and body when it comes to sports. Facing your limitations, your perceived limitations actually, in the sporting world can bring a new perspective to other areas of your life. Challenges no longer seem as daunting. You begin to feel authentic, begin to feel bold, begin to ask for what you really want — and what you want begins to find its way into your life.

The key to the silly-sounding mantras and self-talk is to use it as a “fake it ’til you make” tool.

Eventually, you won’t have to tell yourself you’re strong. Or fast. Or worthy. Or beautiful. Or smart. Or competent. Or good enough.

You will just accept that you are.

For more on Lorraine Moller and her tips for marathon runners, visit the blog at GOTRIbal.

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~ by amymoritz on September 2, 2010.

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