Staying fast and head strong through the finish.

Recently I came across an article from a couple years back in Runner's World. I found it helpful in my work with a high school runner who consistently finds herself struggling at the last quarter of her races. Michelle Hamilton, who wrote the article was having the same frustrations and so turned to Mental Game coach Dean Hebert. Here are some excerpts from the article:

Michelle, like many others, felt physically strong but mentally weak. Giving up easily when the going got tough. She would find that voice would work it's way into her head:

{"You've done your best", the voice said in a calm, caring tone. I inhaled, pretending, as I had many times before, that I wouldn't listen. But when it said—"It's okay to slow down"—I conceded, dropping to a shuffle, finishing the race far off my goal time.
Ever have this happen when you get passed during a race? Or when you hear another racers breathing and footsteps right on your back? There is a way to turn this self talk around and use it for your benefit.
"No one expects endurance to come naturally, but people think mental toughness does. It's a big myth. You do not need more willpower. You need to train the brain like you train the body." Dean Hebert explained to her. This means practicing mental skills throughout training, not randomly tossing in a mantra mid race. Mental skills, like physical strength, develop over time and with consistency.

Mentally tough athletes are positive thinkers and process-oriented. "If you focus on results, you take yourself out of the now," says Stan Beecham, Ph.D., sports psychologist for two elite running groups. "And it's the now that allows for the results later."

If you understand that you can run well when tired, you change your performance drastically.
In sport, fatigue is highly subjective. The brain processes physical cues (chemical and electrical signals from the muscles) and environmental information (how we expect to feel) and concludes, Hey, we're done here. But years of research shows that the mind can override the body—that fatigue, more often than not, is a product of perception rather than true physiological depletion.

"Fatigue is simply a sign that you need to put your mind on something positive," Kamphoff says. In a recent study, pessimism ranked as runners' top mental roadblock.

Negativity, whether it's worry or doubt, often leads to self-defeating behaviors including slowing down, cutting a workout short, or dropping out of a race. "It is the self-fulfilling prophecy," says Cindra S. Kamphoff, Ph.D., director of the Center for Sport and Performance Psychology at Minnesota State University. Mentally strong runners don't go there. They use their thoughts and their training to feed a belief in themselves. This became my goal. }

This is where emotional control comes into play. I find that often the first step in building mental toughness is training yourself to focus only on what is in your control. This is not about the outcome or the result, it is about the steps, actions, what you need to do in the moment. I remind people to always remember their WHY. Control what you can, your body will follow.
What is the first thing that is always in your control?

YOUR BREATHING.

Your breath is your center post. Your breath has the ability to give you both physiological and emotional strength. Shallow breathing will not help you and it is often unknowingly what we do. When your body is being pushed, your mind is becoming doubtful, your muscles are screaming to just give up, the ability to check in with your breathing is so important. It will force your mind and body to focus on the moment and the specific task.
So, in our quest to have a healthy response to negative emotions, whether it be during a struggle at the end of a race or a fear of trying something new, practice breathing.
Former Navy Seal Mark Divine has this great video with a lesson on the Box Breathing technique. It is about 15 minutes in length and very worth yor time. watch it and follow along.
Take five or ten minutes everyday to practice this. Next week I will explain how you can begin to activily use your focused breathing in training and competition.

Have a great week.
Head strong with a brave heart,
Heather.