Besides when she’s got her game face on, it’s rare to see pro distance runner Deena Kastor without a smile. The woman practically overflows with optimism.
That’s the focus of her new book, Let Your Mind Run: A Memoir of Thinking My Way to Victory. “I realized early on that when it comes to running, my mind is my best asset,” says the Olympic medalist and American record holder in the marathon and half marathon.
Even for her, though, staying upbeat isn’t always easy. “That process of looking for positivity is never-ending,” she says. “It’s about twisting your perspective and changing your thinking patterns.”
Negative thoughts don’t just sneak in when you’re struggling mid-race; they can crop up all the time (read: when you get sidelined with an injury, doubt your fitness, or get intimidated by other people) in any training cycle.
Read on for Kastor’s best mental tricks to nix negativity at various points during your training—to help you have your best race day.
When you’re nervous to sign up for a new challenge
Signing up for months (and many miles) of training can be super-daunting. But instead of letting it psych you out, think about why that race or event is important to you. “The process can be intimidating at first, and then arduous and mundane,” says Kastor. Throughout that process, it can be easy to give up on your goal (whether that’s to finish, PR, or something else)—but having a positive motivation in the back of your head can help. “Having that purpose makes it easier to get out on the days when you’re questioning your ability,” she says.
When you’re bummed about your performance
If you compete regularly, you’ll inevitably have a few (or several) outcomes that don’t meet your expectations. “You can easily own that disappointment and let it stick with you for a long time,” says Kastor. “It’s hard to shake it.” She says she used to dwell on disappointing finishes until she figured out how to flip the emotion. “I realized that disappointment means I really care and that I have better in me. It means I want to do better than I did—so when I feel disappointed, I figure out how to get out and do better next time.”
When you’re injured
Getting hurt is par for the course when you’re pushing your physical limits, says Kastor. But rather than just accepting that fact, she digs for the root of any injury and concentrates on finding proactive ways to prevent another. When she got a stress fracture in the 2008 Olympics, Kastor went through a slew of tests until she found out she had a severe vitamin D deficiency; then she researched how to get more of the nutrient from her diet. You’ll feel more optimistic if you focus on what you can do in the future rather than what your injury is preventing you from doing right now.
When you’re intimidated by other people
No matter how hard you’ve trained, show up to an expo and you’ll see tons of other people who seem hard-core—and you might start thinking that everyone else is fitter and better prepared than you. “Everyone feels in their taper that they’ve lost the fitness they’ve worked so hard for in the months before,” says Kastor. Look at your training log to remind yourself of how well you’ve prepared, focusing on some of your best workouts. Take those memories from training and come up with a few reasons why you should do well in the competition, she suggests: “When you’re focused on those reasons, you won’t be thinking about how much better prepared everyone else is.”
When you hit a wall
“When a moment feels arduous or unbearable even, it’s temporary,” Kastor says. “It’s just a moment that could pass, so think about getting out of that negative mindset quickly. Then when you hit a stride where you feel better, hold on to that moment as long as possible.”
For more mental tricks to help you up your fitness game, check out the ones Barry’s Bootcamp CEO Joey Gonzalez swears by, or how 5 pro runners mentally prep for big races.
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