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5 Things I Learned From A Sports Psychologist

Adios, doubt!

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For the past three months, I’ve been pushing myself harder than I’ve ever pushed before trying to make my goal to run a Boston Qualifying time a reality. I knew going into the training that shaving 27 minutes off of my personal best marathon time in 6 months was going to be hard. I didn’t realize just how hard the process was going to be mentally. Physically, I can push through and compartmentalize hard. But the pain, doubts, pressure and self imposed limits? Those have been stopping me dead in my tracks. I’ve felt like every time I took one step forward I immediately fell three steps back.

It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to run your first 5K or if you’re trying to BQ (qualify for Boston), we’re all pushing through the same mental mind games. That’s why I turned to Dr. Robert Corb, the former director of Sports Psychology at UCLA and a licensed Psychologist. These are the 5 things I learned from my first session with Dr. Bob.

It’s going to hurt but you don’t have to suffer.

The first thing Dr. Bob said to me after listening to what I was experiencing was, “You can’t help but have it be hard. It’s gotta be for it to be worth it, but you don’t need to be suffering.” He then went on to ask me if I was embracing and accepting the pain when things got hard or if I was trying to run from it. (I, obviously, try to run from it.)

Over the years, running has always been the thing I did for fun, for me, and for my mental sanity. I’ve always been able to let my mind wander and compartmentalize the pain so that I didn’t have to deal with it in the moment. But in order to BQ, I have to train harder than I’ve ever trained before and running faster really hurts! Staying present and pushing through the pain has been tough and I’m struggling to stay present.

Dealing with doubt.

One of the hardest pills to swallow is how much I doubt myself. I’ve defined myself as a 9-minute miler and whenever my coach Josh Maio gives me a pace with a 6, 7, 8 in front of it, I panic and tell myself that I can’t do it. Dr. Bob’s advice? Accept that doubt is normal part of training.

RELATED: Elite Runner Shares Her Pro Tips On Kicking Self Doubt

“Are you good enough to qualify for Boston? You don’t know yet. You’ll find out in October but from now until then, when you have moments of doubt, say ‘I’m not so sure I’m not going to do that.’ Then turn it around and focus on the process, not the outcome. Trust that you’ll get there. Even the most elite marathoners get to the point where they ask why they’re doing it. It’s worth it in the end.”

Working through self-imposed limits.

Which brings us to my self-imposed limits and inaccurate self talk. Dr. Bob explained to me that being unsure of myself is normal. “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re probably right. It’s one thing to have those thoughts, but it’s another thing to act on them.” Dr. Bob told me that whenever I find myself doubting my ability to run and hold a certain pace, to suspend my thoughts and then give it an honest shot. “Every time you get yourself stuck, or when you start to feel badly, focus on the process.” By developing habits to focus on my form and the process when the struggle gets a little too real, I’ll bring myself back to the present and what I can control. From here on out, instead of “I can’t do this,” I promise to start saying “I’m going to try!”

Take “I have to” out of the equation.

I do this all the time: I tell myself that I have to run and dread every single step because it feels like a chore. According to Dr. Bob, “The words ‘I have to’ kill us. As soon as you say that, your body tenses up and goes into fight or flight mode. You stress, you’re anxious, you’re concentration and focus gets narrow.” Wanting to BQ was my choice, one that excites me and motivates me to get out of bed every morning. I don’t have to run, I want to. (Now I just need to figure out how to remember that when I want to curl into the fetal position during a tempo run.)

Focus on the journey.

“The trouble is that we’re results driven. People worry about your time and if you focus on that, you’ll never make it. If you focus on the process and stay present in every single moment, that’s going to work. Say you don’t qualify but you do everything you need to do. The journey will be worth it. The result and the outcome are important but it’s the journey that matters.”

RELATED: Doubting Your Fitness Before A Marathon

Dr. Bob’s right. At the end of the day, I’m not trying to qualify for Boston so that I can say that I qualified for Boston. I want to push myself to put my strongest foot forward. This all started because I doubted that I could actually train to qualify for the Boston Marathon. Three months in, I’m beside myself with how far I’ve come. Sure it’s been difficult and I’ve dropped more F bombs in 3 months than I have in my entire life, but it’s also been incredibly rewarding and fun.

Now I need to trust my coach, the process, and believe that if I show up every day and give it my all, then I won’t fail. It isn’t going to be easy but it will be worth it and I’m bringing you all with me every step of the way.

Until next time, #RunSelfieRepeat.