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Cultivating Positivity


you have talked to me in the past 10 days, you know I can’t stop talking about Deena Kastor’s book.

The truth is that it came to me at a time when I really needed to read it.

From September 2015 – July 2017, I worked really hard on cultivating positivity. Gratitude journaling, re-framing negative thoughts, developing mantras, being conscious of the words I used about myself, and practicing a positive mind frame during workouts were all my jam.

Then, in the fall, I got sick and running stopped being fun. When I was back to being healthy (but not fit) I was so focused on regaining fitness and doing all the right things, that I somehow let the positive thinking roll to the wayside.

And I could feel it.

March and April were particularly rough. How is it possible for me to be living the exact life that I want yet feel so unhappy? Am I doing it wrong? Is this actually the life that I want? What happened to that buzz I used to feel about the most mundane things, like a good cup of coffee or seeing a pretty bird in my yard? I tried reflecting on different things: what does the perfect day look like? Perfect life? I made lists of things that made me happy. Things I could do to make myself happy.

I chalked it up to the long, cold, miserable winter we were still having. I thought maybe my iron or vitamin D levels were getting low. Maybe the mileage was getting to me? Maybe I just secretly hated my husband and was having a 1/3 life crisis?

Then Dave and I got in a fight at Barnes and Noble because I caught him in the self-help book section. I thought he was looking for books for him (and was impressed at his internal reflection) but then he said a book caught his eye that he thought could help me. OH HELL NO.

That night, I picked up Let Your Mind Run, the self-help book I didn’t know I needed (and NOT the one Dave tried to recommend). As I was reading, bits and pieces started coming back to me. Oh right, I used to do that. I made lists, thought about things for which I was grateful, and started reframing the things I had thought negatively about.

Then I read Deena’s chapter about her time in Finland. She, too, had a period of time where she stopped working the mental muscle, and that ultimately resulted in a panic attack (I had one in December). The way she felt in Finland was very similar to how I had been feeling. A lot of what’s the point? and feeling sorry for myself. Within weeks of reframing her experience and thoughts, she ran a US leading 5k. Light bulb moment for me.

My mental game coach and I were chatting yesterday and the chicken and the egg argument arose. Are athletes confident because they are running well, or running well because they are confident? I know that my confidence was at an all-time high between August 2015 and January 2016 when every time I toed a starting line I ran a PR. Literally. I ran 6 PRs from 4k xc to marathon.

My best races and workouts have been the ones where I stood on the starting line and knew that whatever happened, it didn’t really matter. Even at Twin Cities, which was my last chance to qualify for the Trials, I felt an unprecedented sense of calm. I think my calmness surprised – and concerned – my coach. For the first time, possibly ever, I was completely at ease with whatever happened that day. I knew I had prepared to the absolute best of my ability and that if I didn’t get the result I wanted, it was probably due to circumstances entirely outside of my control. I went to bed that night forgetting to even set an alarm (thankfully Dave realized my mistake).

What was the secret? How could I feel that way again? Would I ever feel that way again?

Fortunately, I found the answer in Deena’s book.

Gratitude. Positivity. Removing emotion from performance. Visualization. Maintaining emotional control. Creating a plan to execute [this is a big factor. Up until I was reminded that I run my best when I am executing my plan, my marathon strategy had been to go out and run fast. That type of goal does not keep my brain engaged].

How had I forgotten all of these things I had worked so hard to utilize just 6 months ago? Well, it turns out it’s kind of like those core exercises you say you’re going to do every day. Once you get slack, it’s easy to put them out of sight and out of (literal) mind.

I started with gratitude lists. I was grateful to be healthy. To have achieved new mileage highs in training. To have been able to recognize weaknesses with enough time to strengthen them. For my support team.

Then I worked on reframing negativity. Removing the word setback from my vocabulary. Focusing on what if things go right instead of what if things go wrong. Making plans for positivity based on any circumstances that might arise on race day. Realizing that Cherry Blossom was a pretty freaking great race considering I was at such a low point, mentally, that I couldn’t wait to get out of DC once I got there.

The potentially scary thing about a marathon is that anything can happen. But instead of thinking about the what ifs (what if I fall off pace? What if I start hurting at mile 8 instead of mile 16? What if I go out too hard? What if I don’t OTQ?), I realized that it doesn’t matter. I have full control over how I react to any situation that is thrown at me, and I have learned and practiced mental strategies for whatever situation occurs. I am looking forward to seeing how hard I can fight on Sunday, mentally and physically. As far as I am concerned, the worst thing that can happen (outside of injury) is that I don’t meet my C goal of running under 2:45. What will that mean? That I will have learned something from the race that I can use in my next training cycle for a fall marathon ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

That’s not to say that I wouldn’t be disappointed, but without being able to know or predict what I will encounter on race day, I’m not going to waste the mental energy on those thoughts. I’m either going to have a good day, or a great day on Sunday.

I ran a very encouraging workout this morning. I met up with Rebecca, who is running the Mini this weekend, and we did my favorite pre-race workout: 2 x 4k @ race effort with 7:00 recovery. This workout can be deceptive because you *think* it should be easy because it is *just* marathon pace. The truth is that when you’re trying to run a fast marathon time, race day goal pace isn’t easy. It’s not something you just casually run. I would never arrive the starting line of a marathon without a full warm up because I don’t know about you, but I’m not one to just casually start dropping 6:00 miles. RT and I chatted about our expectations for the workout a bit, and I told her I didn’t want anything faster than 6:00 pace. This workout is much better to be too slow than too fast. She said she was mentally prepared for anything slower than 5:40.

The irony of me, pulling us through in 5:35 for the first mile (usually RT is the one to go hard and I’m the conservative one) was not lost on me. While it wasn’t a perfectly paced workout, it was good to shake out the legs and know that I am FIT right now. I know that I can hold a full conversation at 6:10 pace, and that 5:35 apparently feels like the proper marathon race pace. At this point, the outcome of my race is entirely up to me.

I am 2 years stronger. 2 years more race savvy, and I reminded myself recently that I have done something really brave the past 2 years: I have stood on starting lines all over the country with the nation’s best and raced distances that are not my forte, but treated them as though I deserved to be in the top 10. Yes, this shook my confidence a little when I didn’t perform to my extremely high expectations, but it developed my competitiveness and gave me the race experiences that I missed out on in college.

What’s going to be the outcome on Sunday? In many ways I feel like I have run the race, because I have visualized nearly every inch of the course and have acutely felt the way it would feel to cross the finish line in every possible scenario, from 2:30:00 to 3:00:00. I feel at this point there won’t be any surprises, just opportunities.

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