Help Stop My Mind From Racing January 14 2015 1 Comment

I'm the type of person who is motivated by having something "in pen" on the calendar - a deadline, an event, a race date gets me to move.  Seeing that date approaching builds excitement, anticipation and, too often, stress. Many times, months in advance, my mind starts racing just thinking about all I need to do to accomplish that task. 

We spend so much time talking about how to perfectly prepare our bodies to race, but how do we train our brains NOT to? 

If my legs moved as fast as my thought process, I'd be an Elite Runner!  But, alas, they do not.  So here are a few tips to stop wasting valuable energy and effort: 

Have A Plan: Create a plan of attack for your race - write down your goals and then list what steps you are going to need to take to reach the finish line, happy and healthy.  This includes creating - and consulting - several training plans that suit your fitness level.  Endurance builds over time, so layout a plan that builds appropriately in mileage and speed and stick to it!

That said...  

Cut Yourself Some Slack: "The best laid plans of mice and men oft(en) go astray" (Robert Burns).  The greatest training plan and minute-by-minute, mile-by-mile schedule are just ideas on paper; reality is real. Allow for life to happen and do not get discouraged by a training goal that is not met on the day on which is it dedicated.  A training plan is written in pencil, not pen, because last-minute work deadlines, family plans and that dastardly cold doesn't care that Wednesday is your 3-mile interval training.  If you miss a day, or a week, cut yourself some slack - don't add stress to what may be an already stressful situation.

In graduate school, we learned about the "Ladder of Inference" (Chris Argyris, Peter Senge) - it's an organizational principle that discusses that our fears, not cold hard facts, can cause us to jump to the wrong conclusions.  For the record, I can be a world champion ladder of inference climber, which is how I know how dangerous this can be!  

For example: I did not get in my 14-miler this weekend due to work travel - that is a reality, which is the bottom rung. Instead of looking at my fitness and endurance level, and the fact I did a 12-miler the week before, I remember solely what I cannot do (selected reality - rung 2).  In a fast fury of climbing, I interpret the reality (rung 3) and make assumptions (run 4) to reach the conclusion (rung 5) that I will now not reach my goal.  If I go into the rest of my training believing (rung 6) that I have failed, I will act in concert - my actions (rung 7) of possibly stopping training altogether will most definitely affect my outcome of not finishing much more than my baseless belief ever could.

In short, stay off of ladders while training for a race! 

Keep on Truckin': Getting out and getting active - the same thing needed to prepare for the race itself - is key to helping your thoughts race less.  Ironic, eh?  Exercise physically tires us out, and when our bodies tire, so do our minds.  It also provides an alternate focus and can show us we are powerful - more powerful than the worries that plague us.

Be Nice to Yourself: No matter how much we wish it were not the case, we cannot control everything.  The weather - apparently we don't have a say...  But, we DO have a say in things such as the messages we send to ourselves - if they are positive or negative; inspiring or discouraging.  Create a mantra - a one-liner that sends yourself a repeated message that you CAN do this.  Words such as "I am powerful" or "Focus on the finish" are positive messages that propel you forward.  At a 2013 24-hour race, I met a man named Cliff who loved numbers.  He told me that, in the darkest hours of the race and the night, he repeated the number "2317" - how many steps it took him to make a mile.  He did it mile after mile after mile, until he reached 57.

A similar message can be conveyed through music.  Now, several races do not allow for headphones to be worn during a race - and I am not suggesting going against the rules - but if music is allowed, create a playlist of songs that lift you up and move you.  My friend Karen has a one-song loop of "Breathless" - the beat moves her and the words "Leaves me breathless" makes her feel like she's not alone when she's slightly struggling.  My mom likes songs she "can stomp to" (her words) - music that makes her pump her arms faster while walking.  I tend to play music with a heavier drum beat and I know I'm having fun when I "air drum" while running.  Yes, it has been mistaken for flailing - and I'm sure it looks ridiculous - but it makes me smile.

Just Breathe: Do this with me - lower your shoulders, which during times of stress, reside high near my ears, take a deep breath in and... slowly... let... it... out.  The act of slowing down to breathe helps release tension, and the focus on breathing takes the focus off of our worries.  

Have Fun: Do not forget to enjoy yourself!  Take in the sights and the sounds, and take the pressure off yourself.  A smile, a high-five and a WOO! from a spectator can make you move, even when you feel like you cannot go another step.  Starting+Finishing=Winning.