A few weeks ago, I ran the Canton Fall Classic 10K and ran as well as I’ve ever run in my life. Though my time was a significant PR, and I am proud of that, the biggest breakthrough was a mental one. You see, for the first time ever in a race I “went there.” You know that place, the impossible, painful, air-sucking, muscle-burning place of exhaustion.
I went there, and I DID NOT LET UP.
I realize how limited I was by my mental state during races. This is a huge breakthrough for me and I want to share with you what I realized it takes to have the mind of a champion.
I’ve always considered myself to be a person with a strong will. I go after what I want, I persist if I need to, I don’t let others push me around and I get things done. But running hard has proven to be more than a match for my purportedly strong will. The self-protective drive kicks in, and most of the time I cannot will myself to push through it. Time and time again, I am left feeling that I could have done more, could have run faster, if only I would have willed myself to do so. As it turns out, I might be more of a wimp than I care to admit.
The mental victory at the Canton 10K was a first for me – I hope the first of many. So this got me to wondering, how is it that some athletes go to that place repeatedly without blinking an eye? These athletes are the “greats” – blessed with natural talent, of course, but also replete with those intangible qualities that separate them as champions. As the journalist Erik Brady describes in his article on the subject in USA Today, these athletes have the Soul of a Champion. Competitive drive, confidence, composure and focus. These are the traits common to all athletic greats. Soccer player Mia Hamm, quoted in the same article, says it takes courage – the practice of not even considering failure as an option.
JoAnn Dahlkoetter, a sports psychologist who works with Olympians, maintains the “Olympic Gold Medal” mindset can be cultivated by anyone with a desire to excel, be it in sports, business or life. What characterizes that mindset? Enthusiasm, desire, courage, self-motivation, discipline, consistancy, and focus. Steve Siebold, a mental toughness coach, cites a “whatever-it-takes” attitude common to these individuals. They learn from adversity, rather than shirking it. Some other interesting observations made by Siebold: Olympians can compartmentalize their emotions, focusing with singular attention on the task at hand. They are unusually open to being coached, checking their egos at the door to heed the guidance and advice of those striving to help bring out their greatness. They are extraordinary committed to winning
Most importantly, as cited by Siebold, they dream big. Salty told us in her “Fake It Until You Make It” post to visualize ourselves not as we are currently but as what we hope to be. This is hard to do. It takes confidence and bravado. But believing it and acting the part puts us that much closer to what is possible. You never know!
Salty Readers, what mental breakthroughs have you had in races or workouts, and how have you achieved them? What do you think sets apart the good from the great?