As an athlete, I know that keeping a strong mindset, believing in myself and keeping my eyes on the prize are crucial to my success! But… most of us also carry with us some less healthy ways of thinking that can threaten not only our goals as competitors but also our views of ourselves and others!
I’ve been doing a little soul-searching today and I didn’t necessarily feel proud of what I found. Many of my friends and fellow runners would describe me as positive, encouraging, supportive and hopeful! But, there are other friends and family members, who know me on a more intimate level, who could tell you about the more hidden, secret side to my soul. Those close enough to me to see me as I truly am, would reveal that though I genuinely am a fairly happy person, I also privately struggle with insecurity, self-doubt, fear and jealousy to name a few of my less-than-flattering traits.
Everyone keeps telling me that the most important training that I can do to get ready for my first 100 mile race is to be mentally prepared. I’ve been thinking about that today and what that means to me. I know I’m mentally strong. I’ve overcome difficulties both in life and racing that have given me courage that I’m ready to face this challenge. But… I realized today that it’s also important that I do an honest, self assessment of my own value – the way I truly see myself. I asked myself, “Why are you doing this race? Are you doing it to impress others? To earn status with your ultra friends? Are you doing it because you think earning that buckle will somehow up your value as a person? Make you more lovable, acceptable to others and yourself?” I had a lot to think about.
Here are the honest answers and what I’m learning:
“Why am I doing this race?” — I’m doing it because I really crave the challenge of pushing my body towards an exciting new goal, I really do want to do it and I think I can make it happen!
“Are you doing it to impress others?/ To earn status with your ultra friends?” — When I filled out the entry form for the Antelope Island Buffalo Run, the waiver I signed said something along the lines of.. “I know that taking on this challenge is a little crazy, but I know it impresses the opposite sex, so I’m willing to risk it!” Aside from that funny joke, the truth is, I want to impress myself more than I want to impress my friends or family members! I do think they will all be proud of me and it will feel good to share my good news with them when I complete the race, but ultimately, “I” want to be proud of me more than I want the praise or acceptance of anyone else.
And, finally, the question:
“Are you doing it because you think earning that buckle will somehow up your value as a person? Make you more lovable, acceptable to others and yourself?” — This, for me, was getting to the heart of things. The area I need to work on.
I remember back when I was in 6th grade, earning a 99% composite score on the Iowa Basic Skills standardized test that my school used. Because my score was so high my teacher, Mr. Hoshimoto, invited a professional in to give me an IQ test, to see if, perhaps, I was a student who belonged in the gifted and talented program at my school.
I was 12 at the time. I had no idea what was going on when a strange man with a briefcase one day came to my class and asked me to leave with him. I attended a very old school. When the strange man told me to follow him, I felt nervous as he led me downstairs into the creepy, old basement, with the pipes exposed, cobwebs and hardly any light.
If memory serves me correctly, we went into the boiler room (where I also have memories of being brought to do the hearing tests each year.) I remember him setting up some complex wooden blocks into particular patterns and then breaking them apart and asking me to repeat the pattern, while he timed me. I was nervous. I felt self-conscious and I really didn’t feel comfortable being alone with a strange man in this little basement room. There was also a long test. I don’t remember very much about it, other than I wanted it to be over, so the pressure would be off and I could go back to my classroom with the other kids.
A few weeks later, my parents were told that I did not earn a score high enough to be considered a “gifted” student. I had fallen exactly one point shy of that label. When my parents sat me down, I saw the disappointment on their faces and felt it in my own heart when I realized how much had been at stake when I took that test. Had I just relaxed a bit, I likely would have earned that elusive point and for the rest of my school days been known as “one of the smart kids,” but as things ended up, for the rest of my life, I thought of myself as the kid who was “one point less than” being really intelligent.
For much of my life since that fateful day, I have longed for labels or achievements that would make me feel positive about myself. I know it’s wrong to yearn for these things, but it truly is something I struggle with. When I graduated from college, I loved thinking of myself as a “college graduate!” When I ran my first marathon, I loved being able to call myself a “marathoner!” When I ran my first ultra, I loved the self-esteem I felt from considering myself one of “them!” Earning third place overall at a local 8k brought extreme pride. Each and every hard training workout or run, every race that I finished, has made me feel better about myself — more worthy, as though with each achievement I am increasing my value and self worth.
But, putting too much weight on those types of accolades has a dark side. When things don’t go as planned and I failed — I took it terribly to heart. Self doubt, low self-esteem and feeling “Not good enough” were feelings, emotions and struggles I had to deal with each time.
I also realized that when I put too much pressure on myself, when I am a stickler to my schedule and become the obsessive-compulsive gal, that sometimes that stern inner me, forgets to be kind and gracious to myself and, as a consequence, to those around me! For, when I’m expecting so much of myself, it’s hard to relax and be supportive sometimes of others who seek dreams with a more laid back attitude.
So, in reflection, though I have logged the miles and done the work in my training up until now for my ultra marathon in 6 weeks, I still do have some more work ahead of me as I prepare. I will meditate on what’s positive, remember to feel hope inside again (for myself and for others), I will be gracious and understanding and kind in word and deed to myself and to those I interact with and… keep running!!!!
I am a work in progress! Here’s to finding myself in a good mental and physical place come race day on March 23rd!