Start Your Race With The Right Mental Focus

By Jannine Myers

A couple of years ago, when I attended the RRCA Coaching Clinic in Portland, Oregon, one of the questions asked by our instructor was, “How many of you think that the marathon challenge includes both physical and mental strength?” Every hand in the classroom went up, and yet our instructor pointed out a valid observation. We all pay great attention, he said, to our physical training, but very few of us give any thought to psychological training. This is not a write-up about how to develop mental strength, but it will hopefully provide some useful tips to help you mentally prepare on race day:

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Self-Control is key to a strong performance.  Learning to control your thoughts and emotions is difficult, especially if you’re like me and tend to allow negative (nervous) energy to start surfacing during the days leading up to your race. In our coaching class, we were taught that there are several aspects of being able to perform well under a variety of stress-producing circumstances:

  • being able to accept criticism
  • not being afraid to fail
  • maintaining composure under stress
  • being able to perform to your full potential during competition

In order to do these things you need to be able to:

  • control and channel your emotions
  • focus your concentration
  • bounce back from setbacks
  • deal with negative thoughts 

Ideally, you want to be able to run with the attitude of an optimist! An optimist will encounter any problems on race day with the view that they can rise above them, rather than be overcome by them. In other words, learn how to turn the obstacles into challengesor in the words of our instructors, “You can be a winner, or you can be a whiner!”

Furthermore, the greatest potential for a best performance takes place in an atmosphere of positive energy. Top performances by successful athletes are often thought to have occurred because the athletes have performed in the zone. The zone is described as a state of mind where an athlete is able to feel completely relaxed and highly motivated. Check out the following characteristics of being in the zone:

  • Relaxed – your mind is calm and your body is ready to go.
  • Confident – you don’t let a lapse in performance undermine your belief in your overall abilities; there is no fear because you have done the training and know that you’re capable.
  • Completely focused – you are oblivious to everything else going on around you, consumed by the moment.
  • Effortless – your mind and body work together perfectly, making even the most grueling and demanding task seem achievable.
  • Automatic – there is no interference from your thoughts or emotions; if you think less you will achieve more.
  • FUN – you feel a great sense of enjoyment!
  • In control – you feel that you are in control of your emotions; your emotions do not control you!

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I hope these final tips help to calm your nerves a little and perhaps even lead you to a great performance. But just remember, no matter who crosses the line ahead of you or behind you, you are ALL winners! 

What’s Your Excuse?

Jannine Myers

Knowing that many of you reading this are busy moms who struggle to make time for running and exercising, I thought it might be interesting to discuss what happened recently when California fitness blogger, Maria Kang, posted the following picture of herself:

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Source: From Facebook

If you missed all the media hype surrounding this picture, you can read about it here, but basically Maria Kang’s intentions were, according to her, simply to inspire her Facebook followers and let them know that it is possible to maintain a healthy lifestyle despite overly busy schedules.

So why did her picture go viral and cause thousands to take offense to her message? Here are some of the negative responses that Maria received:

  • Lana – Maybe we don’t have an excuse because we don’t need one. Not everyone out there is obsessed with looks and weight as much as you are, and especially not enough to go around putting people down.
  • Maya – I hope you find peace. If having the “perfect body” gives you peace, good for you….. And honestly, your children are watching your behavior too. So look at yourself in the mirror next time, not only the exterior but the interior and think how your words can hurt other people.
  • Elle – It was like an “in your face” statement – that if I didn’t look like you, it’s MY fault. Which it probably is – as I know how much work it takes to be fit – but I didn’t appreciate being compared to your body. It’s not inspiring – it’s depressing.
  • Kristen – You are implying that people who do not look like you do have ‘excuses’ and not ‘valid reasons.’ Let me ask you, what emotion did you want women to feel when looking at your picture? You ASKED THEM for their “excuse” as to why they still have 30 pounds or a sagging stomach lingering from their childbirth. Did you really not expect them to feel demoralized and attacked?

My initial thoughts when I saw Maria’s image flash across my computer screen with news titles such as “Exercise-loving mom Maria Kang branded a bully,” and “Maria Kang, ‘fit Facebook mom’ accused of fat-shaming with Facebook photo,” was that maybe many women felt that she went a little overboard in flaunting her obviously toned and gorgeous body. My 19 year old, on the other hand, saw her picture and said something like, “Wow, she’s amazing, what’s everyone bitching about?” So, I decided to look a little further into the story and see what else I could find out.

What I learned, is that Maria is a mom of three small boys (very close in age), a business owner, non-profit founder, freelance writer, and much, much more. She has a Facebook page which caters to an audience of loyal fitness followers, and her intentions as far as I can see, appear to be purely motivational. Her own health and fitness journey has been a challenging but successful one, and it’s the knowledge and experience that she has gained along the way that she appears to be sharing with her audience.

Looking back at the negative responses highlighted above, and trying carefully to be objective, I can’t help thinking that the women who wrote these comments completely missed the point. Take Lana for example, who said that not everyone needs an excuse because not everyone is worried about how they look – quite frankly I think Maria Kang is well aware of that. I think she was reaching out to those who do worry because they recognize they may be too heavy or inactive to truly enjoy an optimal quality of life.

Then there is Kristen, who suggested that Maria was asking her audience what their excuse was for still having “30 pounds or a sagging stomach lingering from their childbirth.” Nowhere on Maria’s Facebook page or personal website does she make any such statement or inference. She does say however, in a follow-up post, “What I simply stated was, “What’s Your Excuse” – an open question paired with a healthy image of me and my three boys, for readers to internalize and hopefully become inspired by.”

Maya also implied, like Lana, that one could be happy with the way they look, even if by current-day standards they are overweight and unfit. But Maya also went a little further and indirectly stated that Maria may not be the best role model for her children. I would agree with Maya if I thought that Maria was blatantly boastful and only concerned with using her boastfulness to inflate her own ego, but after reading many of her previous Facebook and website posts, I don’t believe that this is true of her.

I believe that all of the women above took Maria’s image as a message intended for all women, and therefore took it personally. But it clearly was not. Maria’s image was posted on her own private Facebook page, delivered to her own fitness followers, most of whom visit her page daily for inspirational tips and advice. They are an audience of mainly women, who choose to read Maria’s posts because they want to be like Maria – that is, fit and healthy mommas! I hardly think that the women following Maria’s Facebook page felt bullied by her image.

I know it sounds as if I am bias and completely in favor of Maria, and maybe I am, but after taking the time to read more about her and from her, my initial thoughts have changed. I can look at her image now, and see not a women attempting to show how great she looks, but a strong, confident, hard-working, fit and healthy mom, who genuinely believes that other women seeking to achieve similar goals actually can achieve them. And if this truly was her intent, then I can’t fault her for wanting to convince other busy moms, that they too can create their own successful fitness journeys – fitness journeys which may not manifest in bodies that look like hers, but successful journeys nonetheless.

Final thought – why is an image like this one more acceptable?

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