How do the elites, those runners and race
walkers on television—those we dream of being—deal
with the same stress and demons as the rest of us do?
Have they some superpower to slay the start line-pressure
cooker monsters that often strike down the rest of us?
I am faster than some, slower than others, but not an
elite. On my journey to learn more about myself and discover
what others deal with on race day and to learn about sport
psychology, I needed to talk to those at the top. I reached
out to some elite athletes and stuck my nose in some books
on the subject to find out more.
I have taken the time to talk to my inner-self
and found a lack of confidence, a need to try and prove
myself and a fear of failure that makes me carry a load
of pressure on my back and shoulders on race-day, that
slows me down or drags me to a stop. I train physically,
prepare and plan, but take little time to prepare mentally
for a race.
think affects how you feel and perform. Training your
brain is as important as training your body.”
I have talked to regular runners (those
of us not vying for Olympic medals) and learned that most
runners get jitters or face some sort of self-imposed
stress, pressure, or anxiety on race day. There are some
that seem to have no problems racing, but they seem to
be the minority. Everyone has a few doubts, stress, or
demons they need to chase off as the start clock counts
down, and reasons vary widely. I found that by naming
the negative voice in my head, having a conversation about
the validity of what my brain tells me, by realizing a
bit of nervousness is normal and focusing on what I like
about racing (what I originally thought was nothing),
I might be able to perhaps better approach the idea of
The runners and racewalkers at the pinnacle
of their sport have often committed a portion of their
lives and sacrificed to go after lofty dreams of such
things as titles, records and Olympics. How do they handle
stress and pressure on race day? How do they succeed?
I decided to talk to former elite runners
and racewalkers, the two endurance sports that keep me
lacing up. My first stop was with Rachel Seaman, an Olympian
and recently retired Canadian racewalker. I knew she had
struggled with racing throughout her career and asked
her some questions.
“I KEPT COMPETING
MUCH LONGER THAN WHAT I ACTUALLY ENJOYED. I THINK I’M
SO BURNT OUT FROM YEARS OF PUSHING MYSELF WHEN I DIDN’T
TRULY WANT TO DO IT. I HAVE NO DESIRE TO RUN AND NEVER
PLAN TO RACEWALK AGAIN.”
Her honesty made me realize
I needed to evaluate why I train and race. I evaluated
myself on the run and sitting still. I realized I like
training hard, being fit and going fast, and that I liked
achieving goals. But other issues were making me turn
racing and race day into something negative. I did not
want to get to the point like Rachel where I was pushed
too far it made something fun and I liked doing into something
I never wanted to do again.
Another elite racewalker, Katelyn Ramage,
a 3-time Senior national champion, competing at international
racewalk cup events and the 2015 Pan American Games, also
shared her struggles. “My anxiety sits on my shoulder,
making my brain go 24/7,” she says. “I often
have difficulty articulating what I feel because I do
not always understand it. I struggle with the unknown—even
when I’m confident of my abilities, I doubt myself
in the moment. It has been six years I have been struggling
athletically, is this the end? Do I have more? As a high-performance
athlete, I would love to say that I have everything together,
but I don’t.”
Ramage says that even though racing is
a challenge, it’s a rewarding endeavour and has
been a big part of her life. “It is sometimes in
my most difficult, darkest moments that I learn and gain
the most,” she says. “It’s where I remind
myself that it is okay to not be okay. That I am worthy.
That I can compete and train at the level I know I am
capable of. It is those reassurances although sometimes
are through cloudy lenses that remind me of how far I
have gone on the journey I am on, and what lays ahead.
The next time I toe the line or head out for a difficult
training session, I am not bouncing back from these experiences
I have had, but rather I will continue to grow and use
them to grow and move forward.”
Hearing that those at the top also hear
the tiny negative voices on race day makes me realize
that doubts, stress and pressure are things that all athletes
deal with. We can all learn from our challenges.
Three-time Olympian—and now a counsellor—Leah
Pells also gave me some great advice. I had read her book
about her struggles and her success and wanted to know
how she handled race day from the perspective of a former
elite runner. She advised me to stay in the day/moment,
focus on things I can control, think about things that
make me happy and that its not about the outcome, but
the process and fun. She also made me realize that life
and sport are the same and that I need to look at why
I would be doubting myself on race day. She suggested
I take time to visualize and trust my body.
outthink our bodies. Trust your body. Let your body do
what it needs to do,” she said.
I have taken the time to look inward,
talk to other runners and now to the elites. I need to
work on my self-confidence, find ways to focus on what
I like, visualize what a successful race would be and
practice positive thought. For those that follow me on
social media, I have also realized my need to impress
and prove myself has changed my social media posts from
helping me share, connecting and letting out my thoughts
to being a need and negative use of energy and thought.
Life is about life and change. I will have a smaller social
media footprint, but have more time to connect with myself
and others around me and, perhaps, be able to race.
Learn from the
past, prepare for the future, and perform in the present.