Are elite runners human? Or are they something “more” than the rest of us? Not only are they human but also their fragile humanity can teach us lesson on how to deal with our own human shortcomings. This is the story of Kara Goucher from High school to the world championship season of 2009. Kara Goucher is one of the fastest female runners in American history and her accomplishments have inspired a whole new generation of up and coming talent. The interesting thing about Kara story from the inside is that it is far from the fairy tale journey we have come to know from the mainstream coverage of the world of running. Kara, like each of us, suffers from crushing self doubt and insecurity, which is strange to think that one whom we place “above” us is more alike those among us than anyone else.
If you read this article on Kara’s journey I promise you will not be disappointed, it is to long for me to summarize for you and even if I tried I could not do it proper justice. So if you ever have had a second thought about who you are and what you are capable of I highly suggest you take the time to read every word. What I do want to discuss are the lessons she learned during these mental struggles of which I believe we could all learn valuable lessons from.
Anxiety is a resilient demon, as soon as you beat it once it comes back with a vengeance even stronger than the last. This causes us to turn face and embrace it because we ironically we tend to see it as a protective value, as a way to motivates us to avert disaster, a catalyst to prompt out fight or flight instincts. However relying on our anxiety in the key moments of competition causes more harm then good, it’s like walking a type rope across a canyon instead of building a bridge. If you truly want to overcome your anxiety it is best to prepare well in advance. If you can identify your fears in advance then you can train to overcome them in the sessions leading up to competition. As race day approaches, remember how you dealt with these issues in training and the confidence you built by defeating them on a daily basis will carry you across the chasm.
Another tactic for fighting the good fight against mental demons is the concept of employing a key word into your training so to engrave it and the action is provokes into the moments of competition where a fight or flight crossroad is reached. Simply thinking “win, win, win,” for an entire race wont cut it. The word must be deeply implanted into your sub conscious by vocalizing it during practice to yourself and then following through on the action you wish for that word to invoke, it’s a concept of stimulus and response. Once you have focused on a key word during intense training moments and trained your body to react to it then when they get to a critical moment in a race it’s a simple matter of action and reaction, regardless of fitness or fatigue.
Lesson #3 involves acknowledging your competitors and embracing them as part of your process. The term is “competitor,” not “opponent,” to think about running with others, not against them. When you see your toughest competitors show up for a race, be thrilled about it! It means that you are going to run together with the best, and they’ll help bring out the best in you.
When fear and anxiety overcome you another way to battle these complex thought is with simplicity. Do you enjoy the feeling of moving your body forward as fast and elegantly as you can? Do you honestly believe that without that feeling in your life you would be happier? The thrill of running motion is the basis of why we do what we do, so if you find pleasure in it, enjoy it! Get in touch with your body; notice how natural and elegant it is for you, it’s like a work of art you are painting with your movement. When everything is in sync and you are a brush painting a masterpiece for those who care enough to watch to enjoy as much as you do doing it. The idea is to relax, not tense up, and if you’re in touch with the positive feeling, you’re much less likely to be tight.
A final lesson we learned is that how we define our running makes all the difference in our perception of what we do. The idea of win or fail is fundamentally flawed, there is only one man and one woman every four years that gets to claim the title of the best runner in each even, and chance are that it will not be you. So if you can’t be the best, why bother? Success is not defined by how far you got but instead by how far you’ve come.
The goal should be the process, the journey, the training to improve one’s self with each and every step. You should measure your success in terms of personal progress. Whether you run a world leading time or you can jog a couple more reps than you could yesterday, that’s success. So don’t sabotage yourself with mental demons, which place irrational barriers and society norms of success in front of you. Take shelter in knowing that having fear and anxiety only means that you are indeed still human, find an arbitrary word and give it meaning with your training, embrace your competitors who deal with the same demons as you do and together you can carry each other forward, and enjoy the motion because it’s the basic thrill of movement that makes you feel alive!