“Every time the ball came to me, I had to make a decision.”
~ Billie Jean King, American former World Number 1 professional tennis player, advocate for sexual equality and all-around amazing woman
So I was in my car listening to Oprah on Sirius. Yep, that’s right, I’m not only listening to Oprah but I pay for radio that I can get for free. Ridiculous, I know, but I’m usually listening to Howard Stern or CNN. Not sure if that makes it better or worse but it is what it is. This particular day I didn’t change the station because Oprah had Billie Jean King as a guest. It was recorded from like 1998 but you get the idea. The title of Billie’s book caught my attention – Pressure is a Privilege. Really? Cause it seems more like a pain in the ass. But, I was listening to a woman who knows a thing or two about pressure and how she used it to change the world for women everywhere. I have to come clean and say I didn’t listen to very much of the interview (back to Howard!) but what I did hear made me think about the pressure I put on myself when I race.
My latest race was the Ironhorse 10K in Simsbury a few weeks ago. I get extremely nervous when I race, especially (as was the case with this race) if I think I can place. Over the years I’ve worked a lot on my mental game, and it’s come a long way but, I have to train it just as I do my legs and lungs.
After stumbling over many people at various start lines over the years, I’ve gained the courage to step right up to the line at the beginning of a race. I mean, not actually “toe on the line” but close to the start. It’s funny how many guys – and I mean a lot who have no business being there! – just step right up as if they’re going to slam a 5 minute per mile pace. But, that’s a whole other blog…
After the gun goes off and my stomach flips over one last time, I get to see who the fast girls are. In this race it was clear from the start. One girl took of like a shot into the lead and another was only steps in front of me but she ran like a goddamn gazelle! I mean, really! She looked as though she was born to run. She was effortless and I was breathing like I was in labor and we were on mile 2. Did I mention is was 8,000 degrees out? Well, it was.
Around mile 4 my thoughts went something like this: “I’m gonna die in this heat!” “Why the bleep did I wear this hat?” “Keep your pace, run your race (pause and think of my brother who told me this mantra years ago and is not a runner!)” “Is there another woman right behind me?” “Is there another woman in the lead? Oh wait, that’s just a hippy guy with long hair.” “If I can just hold on to third, I will be thrilled!…(envision self crossing finish line in third)” “Is there any bleeping water on this endless bleeping course?” “I should have done more speed work.” “I should have done less hills in spin on Friday.” “Where the bleep is the 5 mile marker?” “Is there another woman behind me?” And that was probably just five minutes worth of ranting!
There are experts out there who say these thoughts or mantas you think to yourself can make or break a race. There is a deep mind/body connection they say. You know what? They’re right! The more I work on positive thoughts and reinforcement, the better I perform. I believe in the magic of my shoes! I trust in the strength of my training! And, what I think, I tend to become so perhaps I need to channel Usain Bolt or Lightening McQueen!?
In the end, I passed the leader. Unfortunately for me, so did the gazelle but I finished second overall and I was beyond thrilled. When I could catch my breath in the finishers chute I chatted up the gazelle to tell her what a great race she ran. She replied “Yeah, I could hear you breathing behind me for the first few miles.” Yup, that was me.
Fast forward a week, to me in my car listening to Billie Jean King, and my thoughts are that I need to see the pressures I have as opportunities. With every “ball” (or in my case, race) that comes at me, I can make a decision. What I tell myself during a race can help determine the outcome. I train hard to deliberately put myself in a race situation over and over again. Why? Because I’m a little bit insane and at the end of the day, it’s a privilege.
By the way…the hippy guy with the ponytail won the race and set a course record of 33:20 (that’s a 5:22/mile pace my friends!) in the HEAT! I wish I knew what the bleep he was thinking!
How do you deal with race day stresses? Do you have any mantras or “self talk” that work for you?