“I can do this, yes I can.”
That was my mantra, literally, a few weeks back when I walked a half marathon.
Actually, the mantra was drowned out in the last 5 kilometers by heavy rains and winds. But I repeated it over and over and over for the first 16 kilometers, sometimes out loud, and it worked. Really well.
Then, negativity set in and I almost gave up.
Going into the race, I had a plan. I had broken down the race into sections and time goals.
The first 3 km: 8 minutes, 20 seconds per km = 25 minutes. I came out of the first kilometer at 9 minutes but I easily made up the time in the next two kilometers.
Kilometers 4-6: 8 minutes, 15 second per km = 24 minutes, 45 seconds…..and so on.
Up to kilometer 16, I was ahead in every section. The downhill middle section was AWESOME for time, although painful on the hips and feet (I’m still nursing black toenails).
At the end of kilometer 16, I looked at my watch and it appeared I was 2 minutes behind for that section.
I quickly reset my watch and started the next timing section, not verifying if I was actually behind; I’m still not sure, but the damage was done.
I began to believe I couldn’t make my goal, that my plan had failed.
Two big “whoops” here: I had made up so much time in previous sections, it really didn’t matter if I was behind. I was still ahead of schedule by several minutes.
Equally problematic, I didn’t have a Plan B.
I didn’t think about ‘the margin of error’: the wind and the rain; the fact I had trained with a backpack hydration system (which allows for consistent, slow re-hydration) and the race required you to gulp water at aid stations; or that I dropped half my fuel in a gutter.
I had no backup to achieving a personal best. And so the negative self talk began in earnest.
At one point, I actually slowed to a crawl.
Someone nearby told me, “Don’t give up, ’cause if you give up, I’ll give up.” Nice: Guilt.
I picked up my pace and I got to the end.
The fact I got 16 km in before that negativity started is a win for me. I used to begin to berate myself early on: in races, in new activities, pretty much anything. I could convince myself “I can’t” more often than not.
There’s a lot of factors that changed that mind-set. University was a HUGE contributor to the shift.
This summer, I was able to spend time with someone who had completed his first Ironman triathlon. I picked his brain a lot – not because I have lofty goals (given a triathlon requires swimming I’m definitely out!), but because he is good at sharing his life experiences and explaining the need to focus on our mental health as key to overall athletic and life goals.
Talking to many people, listening to their honest and brave stories of self-doubt, anxiety, negative self talk and their ongoing ability to be successful in their goals has been inspiring.
With my race, in the end, I got to the finish line and I was two minutes behind my goal. I quickly let my disappointment go. Given the way I spoke to myself in the last 5 kilometers, finishing at all was a major achievement.
I have recently begun weight training. I often joke that I have 30 minutes of fun and 30 minutes of hating my trainer. He makes me work REALLY hard. He makes me work well beyond what I think I can do.
In 5 short sessions, I am convinced that “I can do this, yes I can” because, just like the race, it feels so good to dream and achieve big goals.