The Mind Is Our Friend and Foe
“In the end finishing this race was my biggest achievement, not giving up, and the bonus was winning.”
On Sunday, December 8th at 3:15am, I bounced out of bed to consume my pre-made superfood shake feeling excited and nervous for the ambitious personal goals I had set for the race ahead. As I got ready I recalled a previous conversation with my hero and all-time running legend, Patrick Farmer. During a lengthy and enlightening chat, Pat shared some running wisdom and finished off by stating, “The number one thing to remember is just finish the race. Position and time comes after that.”
This was not the first time Pat had said this to me and as I agreed wholeheartedly I was secretly thinking, “Is he kidding? Finishing the race was not negotiable!”
The number of race contestants had almost doubled since last year. Spotting the podium I immediately visualized myself receiving a trophy! Although I was more prepared and experienced than any prior race, I was feeling the weight of a big year ending and the purpose of the race being strictly about performance. It was very different from my other races where the focus had been about deeply held charitable causes.
Just after 5am the race began. I immediately became rattled as my Garmin GPS watch had not detected the satellites and it took 1km (4 minutes and 15 seconds) to kick in. What a sigh of relief when it finally worked!
For the first 20 km I was feeling fresh and focused. I was running on target for my second goal time and pushing it for my ambitious target time but still in contention. At 23 km I experienced my first mental running block. The emotional chatterbox monkey in my head was on a roll. It was a destructive voice trying to pull me down to relish in my failure. As running is normally my ‘happy place,’ this was very confusing. Running is time spent where I solve the world’s problems and discover fabulous and creative ideas. I’d let the negative chatter in and consequently the sadness that I’d been carrying in my heart began to permeate my race and affect my body. Feeling physically heavier, my pace slowed down and an intense internal battle began. Struggling to push aside my sad and sorry feelings I couldn’t help but continue to play table tennis with my thoughts. Then the questions began: ‘Why do I run? This is hard work…is it always this hard? I miss my children. Who does this to themselves? Who cares what time you do? What would it matter if I walked off the trail now?’
The negative self-talk consumed me and the battle went on for the longest 10 kilometers of my life until finally Pat’s words seeped in. ‘Just finish the race.’ Something clicked and I desperately fought to redeem my race. My number one priority changed to just ‘Finish the race.’ Focusing on my years of hard work and my unwavering commitment to running was certainly not going to be in vain now. My time was still within my goal zone. I’d only dropped from equal first to third and I could just see first and second place in front of me. It was time to focus, create a race tactic and get this run finished.
At the 32 km+ mark, with a reliable surge of energy, I was confident that I could move my placing up to second. Making up time on the hills and using the descents for recovery I managed to start to loosen out the legs a little. Feeling tired but relieved, I was back in the zone and knew that finishing the race was not negotiable. My thoughts shifted back to the daydream of seeing myself on the podium. With the aid of my mantra, my desire to finish and the imagery of my children, I was literally off and running. For me this race was about a time I’d set myself to achieve. I had two times in mind, one ambitious and one very achievable. I did not achieve either! I did manage to place as first female though, something I am very excited about. For me this race was about a personal goal to achieve a set time, the win would be a bonus. Finishing this race was one of my biggest achievements, and not giving up turned out to be more important than winning. My finishing time of 4.06 meant shaving 22 minutes off of my existing Australian Women’s age record and that was the delicious icing on the cake.
Allowing a negative state of mind and personal sadness to creep into my race was a force of energy that seemingly could not be reckoned with. It was enough to slow me down and challenge my strength and commitment. An athlete needs triggers and sources of focus to put them back on track.
I now know that running for a purpose outside of myself really helps. It is dangerous to rely on incentives to keep you motivated because if they disappear you need to work extra hard to get back in the zone, this applies for all things in life not just running.
Ultimately finishing what you started is what matters most.
Kerrie Otto de Grancy