Mental Flex

Why do I run? Honestly, it is not because I think running is the most enjoyable thing. With my track record (no pun intended), I would be the last person you would think who has found enjoyment out of running. I enjoy the health benefits and runners high I often feel. Yes, I enjoy certain aspects of running, like being outside and being alone with my thoughts. My favorite part about running is how it challenges me, both physically and mentally. Running provides me with an opportunity to overcome my thoughts and find an inner peace. While this may seem like a minimal task for some, I challenge you to start noticing how you think about yourself and your abilities through tough times. Personally, I can get negative. I start to make excuses. I tell myself so many things that may or may not be true. You learn about yourself when you experience adversity. While some of you may share my love (or hate) for running, I know you can all relate to experiencing defeat or frustration on some level.

In April, I ran in a half marathon with my “marathon friend.” When we signed up for the race, we had planned to beat our previous half marathon times by 20 minutes. Yes, 20 minutes. Once you finish a marathon, you really start to question your true physical ability, so we put our minds and body to the test. I started training the end of January and subsequently, during some of the most difficult times of graduate school. Regardless of the grad school stress, I did my best to keep to my training plan.  

Fast forward to race day. I am feeling mildly prepared to run an entire minute and twenty-five seconds faster per mile than we had ran our previous race. No matter how physically (un)prepared I may have felt, I knew I had a secret weapon in my ability to “sport psych” myself throughout the race. My mental state was the last thing I was worried about collapsing throughout the race.

The race started on a chilly Sunday morning and the South Dakota winds prevailed throughout the course. From mile nine to thirty, it felt like the course creators had a personal vendetta against us because of the, what felt like, constant uphill nature of the course, into the wind. My marathon friend stayed strong through the hurricane (yes, I am being a little dramatic). For a mile during these four miles of about absolute torture, my mind became my own worst enemy. I started reminding myself of the training days I missed. At one point, I convinced myself the one long and successful training run I had completed must have been tracked incorrectly on my Fitbit. After a mile of me beating myself up, I started to rethink what I was telling myself. Miles ten through thirteen are what I am now referring to as my “mental flex.” During this time, I started thinking of all the wins I had throughout my training. I thought of the days where I woke up and ran seven miles, went to a full day of classes, worked, and planned (or delivered) a mental skills workshop. I thought, “Wow, if I can do that, this wind is nothing.”

I enjoy running because it gives me time to flex my mental muscle. You never realize how strong you are until you succeed. You never realize what you can truly accomplish, until you put it to the test and running provides me that opportunity.  

Now is when you start thinking, “Ok nice, you mental flexed while running. What does this have to do with anything?” Well, I challenge you to think of your current situation/difficulty (like my race day). No matter how ill prepared you might feel to deal with it, you are much stronger than you think. You will find a way.

My take away:

  • A mental flex is necessary.

In life, you are faced with adversity. A lot of adversity. The adversity is inevitable, but it is how you handle it and what you tell yourself when feel like you can barely move forward. As Rocky famously points out, “Its not about how many times you hit, its about how many times you can get hit and keep moving forward.”

  • Find a balance.

I can run over twenty miles without stopping. I can also eat my body weight in pizza and frozen yogurt. It all evens out. This semester taught me the importance of finding a balance and how that balance is necessary to your mental health.  

  • Embrace it.

Throughout my training, I had days where I did not feel like going to the gym. I had days where I was supposed to run ten miles because it was part of the “plan” and I never did. While I felt like a failure in the moment, it was not worth being hard on myself. I am not saying to avoid adversity and challenges. I am saying it is necessary to be kind to yourself when you do not overcome the challenge the first time. A failure is a friendly reminder you can do better. You can think of a better way to overcome the difficulty in front of you.

In life, I think we try to do too much sometimes. I am not saying you should not push yourself. You should push yourself. Its not about running your hardest every mile, its about moving forward even when you want to stop. It is about that mental flex at mile 11 just to show yourself, “I might be struggling, but I am still strong.” Some days will feel like my miles 10-13. Heck, most days might even feel like that for some of us. Life gets hard. Take some time to appreciate yourself for how far you have come. It adds up. By the end of it, you have a lifetime to show for it. Adversity does not stand a chance when you start to believe in your inner strength.

Thanks for reading!

-Mikaela 

“It is what it is. But it will be what you make it.”

Pat Summitt
P.S. We achieved our goal.

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