Race Season: Preparing Both Body and Mind
When it comes to performance, learning to train your body and mind to work together symbiotically is critical. Years of being a competitive athlete have taught me that you can train your tooshie off, but if you aren’t prepared for the inevitable mental or emotional breakdowns, you won’t get very far.
Finding a healthy balance between pushing yourself through physical and emotional lows and overtraining can be the most challenging part. What I have found to be key in differentiating the two is being present. Yes, I know it sounds like new-agey riff raff, but learning how to be in your body, no matter the circumstance, is incredibly empowering in sport and beyond.
Being present doesn’t have to mean spending an hour looking into the deep, dark parts of your psyche. For me, it’s about acknowledgement. By acknowledging how I feel physically and emotionally, I can then set a realistic training goal for the day, then get out and do the work.
From experience, I’ve come to learn that no matter how crummy I am feeling (injuries and illness aside), or how hard I have to work to haul my behind out of bed, if I get out and get training I will feel better.
On the low days, ask yourself the why. Why am I feeling like this? Am I emotionally taxed from stress/hormones, or do I just not feel like it? If it’s any of the above, it is the perfect opportunity to strengthen your mind. Does that mean going all out and destroying yourself? No. It’s about putting in the strides, no matter how hard or what distance. Be gentle on your body – but do the work.
Training through the low days will give you the mental edge when it comes to race day and as my friend and trainer, Brian Kotoka, says, “You have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
So how do you push through the mental funk and get body-brain strong? Here are some tools that I have learned over the years that have helped tremendously:
Train without hardware: no iPod, no phone, no distractions. This forces you to be with yourself, with your thoughts, and in your body. I’m not saying that there isn’t a time and place to tune-the-heck-out and just get ‘er done. Listen to your breath, feel your muscles working, take the time to reflect on whatever stress(es) you’re feeling, and use this time to embrace being alone.
Develop a mantra
This doesn’t have to be profound; it just has to be clear. One of my go-tos is, “Be my best self.” Corny, totally, but who cares, it’s whatever works for you; it’s an idea that you can focus on and that enables you to clear away all the mental garbage holding you back and clouding your vision. Zone out, recite your mantra for the day/week/month, and go.
Some days it is hard to feel anything but defeated, and it’s usually because of your head getting in the way. For me personally, I know that when my hormones are out of whack (ladies you know what I mean) my self worth can take a beating. So, I thank myself. It may seem trivial, but it works. I start at my tippy toes and work my way up to the top of my head and thank every body part individually. I thank my legs for carrying me farther than I ever thought possible, my hands for their character and strength, my shoulders for their power, and so on. By the end, not only do I feel a weight lifted, but I am ready to go out and conquer… imaginary She-Ra cape and all.
Focus on creating a detailed mental picture of what exactly you are doing and why you’re doing it. If it’s to be faster, try picturing yourself propelling across a finish line. If it’s to transform your body, hone in on visualizing that transformation. The great thing about bodies is if you do the work, there will be change. Whatever the goal, map that baby out in your mind and remind yourself everyday why you’re grinding and how amazing you will feel when you hit your goal and hit it strong, knowing that you put everything into getting there.
Once you can get a grasp of your mind, you will empower your physical training by leaps and bounds. You will be able to push harder and move faster than you ever thought possible. Training is a challenge, but if you make the time to get out and grind, the pay off is magic.