Mental Tenacity

Today’s track workout challenged me. I headed out to do some Yasso 800s; after my first three I noticed that my pacing, while consistent, was about four seconds slower than what I was aiming for.

During the recovery laps my brain turned on. I started rationalizing to myself: “Sam, you are tired. You’ve been going on a bunch of fun adventures with Alli, and visiting the San Juan Islands. You haven’t been sleeping enough. I think these shoes have too many miles on them. Blah. Blah. Blah.”
But then I stopped myself. I have already posted about the importance of mental narratives, and avoiding negative self-talk. This post is going to build on that: today I’ve been thinking about strategies for keeping my mental narratives focused in order to maximize my experiences.
I believe that self-examination and forward planning are vitally important to leading a balanced, successful life. Yoga, swimming, and running offer wonderful opportunities for self-reflection: feeling how slight adjustments to your stance, your stroke, or your stride propagate and resonate throughout your entire body.
Unfortunately, those sensual, blissful moments of presence and awareness are difficult to find from time to time. Sometimes (a lot of the time), especially when I am attempting something challenging, I find that my mind drifts down some less-than-productive paths.
I start thinking: “this is unpleasant,” “oh I have to get my passport renewed,” “if that cloning I set up yesterday didn’t work I should probably re-design my primers,”man my hamstrings feel tight, I should have stretched this morning,” “I wonder what I should have for breakfast…”
The answer is always oatmeal

Those looping, spinning, aimless thoughts full of “should”s and “could”s and “ought”s are an escape mechanism: my brain is working a mile a minute to avoid doing the real productive work of focusing on the present. That is no way to get the most out of a workout, and, frankly, no way to get the most out of your life. If your body is physically present, but your brain has left the building, did you really do anything?

Maybe your brain was hanging out with martians 

If I showed up for a lecture and napped through it I probably won’t reap too many benefits. Athletic training is supposed to build mental and physical toughness- do I really get as much out of a track session if I’m mentally making a grocery list the whole time? 

Or thinking about ducks

So I’ve identified a behavior that doesn’t serve me, how can I address it? I also don’t want to discount the fact that I get some of my best thinking done on long runs and in the pool. The crucial distinction is that my best thinking certainly doesn’t involve going over my to-do lists for the thousandth time, or wondering about breakfast.

Seriously, it is always going to be oatmeal
My goal is to focus my mind to give my thoughts freedom.
I try to harness all of that excess mental energy and focus it on the task at hand. This is similar to what I have already written about becoming a process-driven athlete. One aspect I enjoy about Chi Running is the emphasis on constant body scanning and continual self evaluation of your running technique. Meditation and yoga are also extremely helpful for cultivating awareness and presence.

I can 100% guarantee that I was not thinking about oatmeal in this photo

It’s certainly not always easy, but if you feel your mind wandering off and looping through the same old lists over and over again, you are robbing yourself of the chance to experience the present moment. So with that in mind, for the rest of my 800s (this post WAS about Yassos, remember?) I made a conscious effort to focus on one thing: my breath. Every time my brain looped off I harnessed it back in and thought “even, easy, light, but deep.” The intention was aimed at my breath, but I like to think I can aspire towards those qualities in all aspects of my life.
Lo and behold, I finished my last three repeats on my target pace exactly. While I was cooling down, I started to crystallize this blog post in my head. My reward was a great sunrise. 
A sunrise….and oatmeal

What are your strategies for getting your head back in the game? Does anyone have any good mantras or affirmations to share?

4 thoughts on “Mental Tenacity

Add yours

  1. Your blog was what I kept coming back to while I was skiing, my crappy thoughts kept creeping in , mostly in the form of fear stories .I would focus on my feet and where my body was over my skis usually after thinking Sam would remind me
    Happy thought not crappy thoughts. Thanks Sam


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: