My favorite part of being an endurance coach is learning about different mindsets. Most people think that distance runners are crazy or “addicted”. Admittedly, there may be a few, but not as many as people in the non-running community think. People run for so many reasons other than being addicted to it, such as for health, social reasons, race swag, or today, the selfies and social media posts.
A big part of my job if the runner allows it, is I get to know them and what makes them tick. Some runners are overly confident and give too much in training and don’t have enough left on race day. More runners have no clue what may be possible for them. Typically, because they fear what they believe to be “failure”. If you aim low and achieve it, you get to feel like a winner and celebrate in the beer garden taking selfies with your friends. If you aim high (or really within your unknown potential), but miss it, you hang your head and feel like a failure. Sometimes the fear of putting it all out there on race day truly holds a runner back from their true potential.
What is your true potential? It is coded in your genetic makeup for starters and just because you want to be the best marathon runner in the world, your chances are slim to none and that is likely being generous with the slim in there. However, you achieving your personal best, your inherent ability is a process and training your mindset is a huge part of that process.
The coach plays a big part of training the mindset. It goes beyond you practicing positive self-talk or imagery. The role of the coach is to show you what is possible for you. Test you occasionally in training so that you can experience the power of positive experiences, fuel your self-efficacy, and build confidence. You know what else is important in fostering a positive mindset? Surrounding yourself with like-minded people. People that want to see you succeed and will be by your side to celebrate your success and pick you up from the fall if necessary and persuade you to keep marching forward towards your goals.
You may think this is just a rambling blog, but it isn’t. This blog is about celebrating all the above. Marching forward toward your goals when you don’t achieve them. Adopting a winning mindset because those around you (coach and comrades) see in you what you can’t see in yourself.
Last week one of my runners relocated to Texas to start Officer Candidate School. She has left us to fulfill her dream of becoming a Physicians Assistant and thanks to her hard work, persistence, and the U.S. Army, that dream will come true. This was not her first try at getting into the PA program, but she marched forward and kept trying after she already heard “no”. I really wanted to have a send off for her to celebrate her perseverance, but with the COVID-19 restrictions in place, I will just honor her by using her as an example and provide hope to many other runners I know just like her.
I first met Cecilia while running in a training group in 2012. Her training distance was similar to a group training for the Boston Marathon, but her pace was much slower than the Boston group. She ran her 2012 marathon and finished in the mid 4-hrs. She ran a couple more marathons faster, but still over 4-hrs between 2012-2016. She trained with Run With Gina for the 2017 NYC Marathon.
Today, while cleaning out my email inbox, I found conversations between us, leading up to the 2017 NYC Marathon. She told me she would be happy with a 4-hr marathon. I told her she was out of her mind and could execute a 3:38 marathon at NYC. She ended up running the race in 3:56:14. She was happy because she ran a sub 4-hr marathon. I was happy that she was happy, but at the same time, I knew she didn’t come near her potential.
2018 comes around and we start training for the California International Marathon. She trained with a few people and those folks would constantly say to her, your PR is only 3:56? Not “only” because it is chump change. Only because she always executed everything in training with a much lower heart rate than anyone else and if someone picked up the pace, there she was. If someone needed extra miles, there she was to run extra miles. She showed up all the time with ease.
Race day was approaching, and she tells me she will be happy to run a 3:50 for a personal best. I tell her she is out of her mind and can run much faster, but I have already learned not to throw out outcome goals at her. Way too much pressure for her. So instead, I tell her to run stride for stride with another runner. Show up like she always does and be Army strong, without looking at her watch. With the support of the other runner, Ara and all her other training buddies, she did what she is best at and showed up. She ran a 25-minute personal best that day for a 3:31 marathon and her Boston Marathon qualifying time.
I have written her story on my social media before, but I wanted to send her off with her own inspirational story as she marches forward towards everything she wanted to be. Also, I wanted to give my runners that have similar stories of doubt and fear about their potential something to strive for and really, something to smile about.
I have been fortunate to form special relationships with several of my runners, who share not just their goals, but their fears and struggles. Not just with running, but in other areas of their lives. Currently, with the COVID-19 pandemic in full swing and many living in panic and fear, I have heard from a few of my runners, their fears and frankly, lack of motivation as a domino effect.
With my 22-years of experience as a full time registered dental hygienist, understanding of the biomedical model vs biopsychosocial model of health and motivational factors, I feel like I am viewing things through a different set of lenses.
The running community has had race after race cancelled, as well as their beloved running group sessions cancelled and rightfully so for the love of humanity. As the cases of COVID-19 increase in our communities and more restrictions are placed on us, more fear has spiked. As time ticks on and the weeks away from our running friends turns into months, depression is growing, and the lack of motivation sets in. Some are losing their identity, because their identity was so deeply rooted in that Saturday morning running group. Now, research has been conducted suggesting running 6-ft away from others may not be enough because expelled droplets from the mouth spread out and suspend in the air. With this “new” information, I have seen more fear with many of my runners.
News flash, this “new” information is not new! For those of you that run with groups or have run in races, have you ever accidentally run through someone’s snot rocket? Have you ever been running next to or behind a hyper sweater and their sweat lands on you? Have you ever been running through an aid station and a runner in front of you cannot drink and run at the same time and cough up their fluid, just steps in front of you? Were you grossed out? Did it occur to you that you may have been exposed to a virus or some other pathogen?
Who remembers at the 2011 Las Vegas Rock and Roll marathon, 1,000 runners became ill, with half of them violently ill from what they thought was contaminated water at the aid stations? Officials claimed the water that was taken from fire hydrants to fill trash bag lined trash cans to serve the runners, was not contaminated. The Southern Nevada Health District released a report a couple weeks after the 2011 race with this statement, “While our initial testing has been unable to identify the pathogen, our initial analysis of the survey data indicates that the outbreak is most likely infectious in nature”. What does that mean? It means they don’t know if it was a bacteria, a virus, or what microorganism for that matter, but it was clear that whatever it was, it was something infectious, which means it passes through people or the environment (droplets). Did this occurrence stop the race from happening the subsequent 8-years or any of the Rock and Roll races throughout the world or really any race for that matter? Considering that races all over the world sell out, this seemed to have very little impact on the running community.
A race for the COVID-19 vaccine is on. This my friends, is the biomedical model of health. Let’s all take a medication and we will be fine. I know vaccinations don’t work that way, but I am delivering a very simple example of what the biomedical model of health means. In my years as a dental hygienist I have had 100s of patients tell me, “I’m healthy” as I look at their medical history and they have checked yes for; diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol and they are taking five medications to treat their non-communicable diseases.
The biopsychosocial model of health takes into consideration the influence of the biological, psychological, and social aspects of a person’s life on their overall health, behaviors, expectations, and experiences. You better believe the social interaction of running impacts your overall health and the lack of it brings on detrimental consequences. You better believe lack of running/exercise will compound your quarantine blues and pack on the pounds, again impacting overall health. You better believe you need to find ways to get your butt moving. Now is not the time to be depressed and unmotivated to move your body out of fear or depression.
My biggest fear for my runners, the people I have a great deal of love for, is that this COVID-19 pandemic will scare them into NOT living their lives in the future. We already know once we (humanity) beat this thing, life as we knew it will not be the same. But please don’t fear running with friends, running in groups, or running in races in the future because you may be exposed to some pathogen. The potential for exposure to pathogens has ALWAYS been there. We cheat death every day when you don’t even think about it. Not to mention, we are all just here on borrowed time anyway. Once we all make it out of quarantine, let’s live life cautiously and purposefully as we move into a new normal, but for crying out loud, live it! Sign up for that race you always wanted to run and train with Run With Gina (Rwg).