The book Comprehensive Stress Management defines stress as “pressure minus adaptability,” or “Stress = Pressure – Adaptability.” At Whisper, working on adaptive strategies is the focus during Winter Training, which is as simple as prescribing homework…in the form of running. Just like aspiring to learn a musical instrument or perfecting a piece of art, running takes work and commitment. The difference between these skills is that when running, we must go to a place of discomfort to begin learning to sustain a set workload while being uncomfortable, then learn to comfortably sustain this feeling for five, six, 12-minutes, or even longer! This is also known as “dancing with discomfort.”
How is this done? Well, the obvious answer is interval, fartlek, and tempo training, but that discussion is for another time. This discussion is about the mental side of running, which includes having goals, understanding self-talk, and adapting to heightened levels of stress.
Goals – these are the easy part of the equation. Simply review past performances, often found on athletic.net, average the times from past events, then, based on your commitment to the off-season and performance variables that might play a role, create a realistic, tangible goal for 2022. This is something we will be doing very soon at Whisper.
Self-Talk – like seeds placed perfectly into soil for roots to take hold, the initial stem to shoot through the ground, and the leaves to grasp the energy from the sun, self-talk can grow like a weed, or blossom into flowers. If you are like most people, there is likely a healthy balance between Dandelions and red roses. But just as rose bushes have thorns, dandelions are not actually weeds, and surprisingly, we used to eat these little nutritious plants! The idea is self-awareness and balance. Allowing the healthy seeds to nestle into the crevasses of the brain and take root, while pruning away any negative energy(ies) that prohibit growth and advancement in pursuit of your goals. Again, we will be working on this over the coming weeks – often discussed at Saturday morning practices.
Adaptation – Picture this: Runners are required to go into the “pain cave,” remain there for a set distance or time, then repeat this behavior until the conclusion of the workout. Then they are asked to go back into this pain cave 2-3 times each week, all in pursuit of a goal that will take them less than, hopefully, just a few minutes to complete. So, what’s going on during these consistent bouts of heightened stress? Well, for new, inexperienced, or unfit runners, it’s likely the feeling of panic. But when fitness improves, when one learns to control varying speeds at varying distances, there is a moment of magic that happens. It can be difficult to explain, but this Flow state, a state when “a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile” (Csikszentmihalyi) is the ultimate pursuit.
Running, specifically running well, takes nurturing, understanding, compassion, and patience. Once one begins to run well, more ambitious goals can be set, self-talk improves, and adaptation begins to take root. Clearly there are countless variables that must be considered, but these will scratch the surface of discussion, and hopefully satisfy the itch for now.