Monday, May 2, 2016

Mental Strength: What it looks like and how to get it!

The following post was originally featured on the Team Green Running blog, a local elite and developmental track program I am proudly partnered with and wanted to share it with you as well. Hope you like it and have a takeaway or two! 

If you are unshakable at the starting line and never struggle with doubts, negative thoughts, or feeling like you underperformed, then you may skip right over this post…. BUT if you fall within the majority of athletes out there-and chances are this is the case at least some of the time, I encourage you to read on.
So you want to increase your mental game? Below I’ll list some characteristics of mentally strong runners-many of these are things I’ve seen in some amazing runners I’ve encountered in my work as a consultant and as a runner myself. Check it out:

* Mentally strong athletes are able to consistently pull positives out of any workout or race experience. Say you didn’t run your goal time for a given race…you can still pull some positives about your performance or learning experiences-which leads me to my next point…

* These athletes are constantly learning. Learning about the sport, learning about strategy, learning about themselves. These athletes are also excited about the process of learning more and improving.

* Mentally strong athletes have developed that “extra gear” when they really need it. I see this extra gear as being the ability to persist through the discomfort of running for just a bit longer or the ability to get just ‘a little’ more out of themselves than what is expected. Be advised, this takes some time and guts, but is very worth developing in yourself.

* Mentally strong runners enjoy challenging themselves and don’t feel threatened by difficult tasks.

* Mentally strong athletes are self-referenced. Comparison to others? Nah! Not these individuals. See the top two bullet points for pointers on how to develop a more self-referenced perspective. If you take a more self-referenced perspective, chances are your enjoyment of the sport will increase as well.
Think you have what it takes to get stronger?

Also, best of luck to Team Green Elite as they prep for the upcoming Olympic Trials! #rethinkingperformance 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Spring Season in Review: Making Progress

Despite my calves still feeling slightly tattered from Wednesday night's race, I'm left with a fairly satisfied feeling as I'm now in a short break from running to recharge. *Yes, a break, and no it's not currently causing any twitching, weird cravings, sleeplessness, or anxiety that I can tell ;)

It's a healthy thing both physically and mentally to just let your body absorb everything you did to it in months prior and you can reflect on what you did an plan for what's next.

Wednesday night I ran the unorthodox and oddly fun LP Run at the Rice University track in Houston, just like I did the year before. It was so humid you could see it in the air- just like the year before, and the track was still blue, just like the year before. Unlike the year before, I came in fit and in one piece and able to run well. I did review beforehand my last year's results and this was one of the first events I did after....ahem... of course another injury; this year it was basically the last one on my list after putting in a couple races prior. I had to smile when I saw my average pace and knew how much faster I was going to go that evening-not in an arrogant way, but I was pretty confident and relaxed-much different from the self-induced struggle bus ride at my last race.

The event was timed for distance around a track and I ended up 2+ laps further than last year and about 45-50 seconds per mile quicker. I won my AG and ended up 3rd overall to some very fast ladies out there. While talking about running 20 laps around a track would be boring, I will say that mentally this was one of my better runs of the year. I came in just focused on running strong, relaxed, and consistent, and I managed to make that happen. The first mile I smiled a lot until the humidity hit, but once it did I handled that much better too this time around. Obviously, I walked away encouraged and Coach Doug also seemed that way too! How sore my tired calves were after that long on a track is not very encouraging-but hey, that's running.

While I only raced 3 times this Spring-a XC 5k, a 10k, and LP, training was overall the best it has been in years. I was able to put consistent mileage in, and I could see that pay off in racing for the most part. I don't recall having to move or skip a workout, I don't recall worrying about anything being especially off.

As much good training that came out of Spring '16, there were some obstacles and times where I struggled considerably. At least once I wanted to walk off the track because I initially thought I "just couldn't do this anymore"; only to get right back on and battle through to the end. When you're training by yourself early in the morning in SE Texas, it's easy to just scrap and wait until a better day, but I think I got more resilient by pushing myself. This seemed to carry over into other areas beyond running-I gained some confidence back after it was all said and done. Trust me, guys- if you just try and go a little further than you think you can, the result is almost always worth it and creates an experience you can pull out of your 'back pocket' when needed.

Mentally, I found I was most successful when I was racing or training in the present-meaning not concerned about the next mile, how I am going to feel, the result, or anyone else around me. Honestly, this is a fairly difficult skill to adopt for a lot of us, but when you tap into the here and now, the results take care of themselves because you're operating within your ability and not sabotaging yourself along the way.

So, now the proverbial and sometimes irritating question of "what's next" for those who care...

It's a few more days of downtime/crosstraining when I feel like it and then working on a little speed for a possible open track meet in June. Very different than I'm used to but new things are good. After that, I plan on training like a college athlete over the summer and prepping for some fall XC. Of course things can change, but gotta put some goals out there.

In short, progress was the theme of this year's racing-focusing on simply what I'm doing and current improvement in this ongoing process that is distance running.

Myself, Justin B., and Coach post-race.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

A Training Week Worthy of an Oprah Quote

"Where there is no struggle, there is no strength."

You know those training weeks where the miles click by, life basically stays out of the way, and you can always go faster if you wanted to. Well, for the most part, I did not have one of those weeks!  I did, however, probably get more out of this week than those where I feel like I can do no wrong-I mean, doesn't Oprah Winfrey say it all in the opening quote. *In full disclosure I googled who owned that quote and was a little surprised it was the queen of talk. But I digress...and I do think O is absolutely right here.

And let me be clear that the struggle was completely self-induced-okay, most of it anyway. This training week looked pretty innocent on paper but my subconscious thought it would be a good idea to try and sabotage my strength gains. It almost succeeded a couple times. Almost-but we are all better and more capable than the lies that our limbic systems (you know, that deep brain structure that houses memory and emotion) generate when we're doing something challenging. 

Sometimes the only way to get out of our own way is to forcefully reach down inside to find something stronger within than the negative voices that are telling up to quit, that we're not good enough, too old, too big, too weak, it's too humid, whatever. Confession: all those things may have popped in my head at the beginning of my seemingly innocent workout on Tuesday-and yes, I resent each statement. 

So what set the stage for what felt like a boxing match instead of a long fartlek was probably rolling not one but both ankles on my 14 miler a few days before (LONG story-maybe I'll tell another time). I had forgotten that what seemed like an embarrassing inconvenience turned into some sore calves days later. 

Starting my warm up I was uncomfortable below the knee and it was 95% humidity and warm. I also forgot to buy more coffee so I felt half awake and more unfocused than usual. Caffeine addiction apparently is no joke! The calves loosened up and I started my timed ladder intervals and felt like I was full of sand. Full of sand and like I had a sweater sleeve shoved down my throat. Grotesque, isn't it?! So of course the HR soared and I started to freak. Ok not really, but the inner dialogue started to lean towards stepping off the track and waiting for a better day to do this workout; I mean, the recovery intervals are really short after all..... This lasted several minutes until I made the decision to just try ONE more interval-see if I can challenge myself and my current mood. The workout was not pretty, but the most important thing became not quitting or letting up-and besides, who really needs oxygen anyway?? ;)

Low and behold, this strategy worked. This run was really, really, hard, but I decided that I would get more out of doing something really hard in crap conditions than just gallivanting through another pristine morning. This is not where resilient individuals live. They live in the places where others dare not go because they feel they are not worthy or strong enough. You don't grow if you don't subject yourself to less-than-ideal and push through.

The rest of the week brought time-management challenges as I had to work later on a number of nights and be flexible, which isn't always the easiest thing for me to do. I had to refocus a couple times away from how hot and tired I was and refocus on gaining toughness.

...But c'mon, it's just a workout, what's the big deal here? 

This experience may help me later on in a race, but just the fact that I aggressively went after something that was really hard for me carried over into the rest of my day. More and more I feel like I am returning to the mindset that I adopted when I first started to run seriously-I did it for how it made me feel. I liked doing hard things for the internal payoff and competing with myself. There was nobody there to yell at me or give encouragement, I had to do it all myself. Sometimes, it really is what we do when nobody's watching that makes all the difference. Do it for yourself, honor your talents and honor God, and things will take care of themselves.

Now, that's real strength.

Carpe Viam.