Friday, September 17, 2010
With that established, I was able to move on to more constructive problem solving. I am embarking on a process to get at the root(s) of my problem with self confidence/fear of failure or whatever it is that is wrong with my mental running game. As with any other aspect of my running, these are deeply rooted problems that first need to be properly diagnosed before they can be treated. I liken it to changing running form. I read a great story about a coach who is changing one of his runners' form (can't honestly remember where I read it). The obvious problem with this runner's form is that one leg has an excessive back kick out to the side. He diagnosed that this runner was kicking out because she was staying on the ground for too long with each foot strike. To correct this, he can't just tell her: "don't let your foot stay on the ground for so long." She can't act on that. The solution is to do drills that help decrease the amount of time her foot is on the ground and to do those drills over and over and over until her body and mind are trained to recognize the difference and change her form.
This is why advice from people about using mantras, visualization and other mental training techniques have not resonated with me. They may or may not be useful treatment for what ails me.
What I am finding useful is taking the time to explore the root of this problem. The first step was to convince myself that I am not a wimp. Chuck 50 reminded me of that, and I am serious about wearing my airborne wings on my racing uniform in Chicago as a tangible reminder of her. I think it is great to have runners to look up to who embody the characteristics you want to emulate. It's even better when you can draw on examples from your own past and can use those to motivate yourself. You've done it before. You can do it again.
The next step in my diagnostic analysis was to think about what in particular is driving this lack of commitment to suffering in workouts and races. I think I know the answer. As I wrote in one of my first posts in this blogging journey, I hated to run for 37 years of my life. I mean, really hated it. I tried it many times but could not convince myself that the pain I felt when running was worth repeating regularly. It's no wonder that I felt this way since the most regular experiences I had running were during military fitness tests where I was required to run 1.5 miles all out. I never trained for these tests and felt like absolute death every time I did one.
When I finally caught the running bug, it was because I finally felt comfortable running, and I discovered this by running for longer distances at slower paces. So, my new life as a runner was constructed on a foundation of comfortable running. My unstated (and likely subconscious) goal in every race and training run to date has been not just to run as fast as I could, but to run as fast as I could while remaining in a given comfort zone. I was telling The Genius the other night that I cannot think of a race or training run where I pushed myself into a zone that I would characterize as suffering. Sure I often don't feel good in races and training runs, but I don't push myself harder when I feel that way. I always back off. This is also likely the reason why I recover so quickly after my marathons. I don't push myself into that suffer-fest territory that probably causes more physical stress requiring more recovery.
Given the level I've reached with my running, I would have to argue that this has actually worked out very well for me, and I've really had no reason to make any changes. To get to the next level of competitive running, however, I realize I will have to push myself out of that comfort zone. This will be hard, and I will need a lot of practice to break my old habits. I need to build confidence that I can sustain a harder level of effort than I have in the past. This also needs to be a deliberate process. I have a training plan that details the physical workouts that I need to do to race a certain time. I will need to overlay a brain training plan on top of that to develop my mind as well.
This is a work in progress and I am in the R&D phase right now. I'm gathering my tools and resources so I can start figuring out what works and doesn't work. While this sounds completely hokey, I have downloaded some podcasts and mp3s on hypnosis for runners as well as ordering a copy of a training plan guaranteed to make me more fearless in my sport. I'll let you know how those work out.
One of the main reasons I'm delving into this so deeply is because I had started to see a noticeable deterioration of my love for running in the last year or so as my expectations for success increased. I started to find myself not just getting nervous jitters before a race or hard workout, but feeling negative thoughts bordering on dread and anxiety. That is ungood. Uncovering the root of those fears and that anxiety will be part of this process too. It' going to be an interesting journey. I can tell already.