I’ve been spending a lot of time considering how we control our thoughts and focus lately. If you’ve been following along, recently I was talking about how we respond to others and how we feel during races and how we control our own overall training picture in our heads. Something in this triggered me to start thinking about our old friend, whom we call pre-race anxiety, and how that problematic emotion relates to these topics. So I ask you today, “what’s in your thought space before a big race?”
Let’s start with a concept of the thought space itself. This is the active part of your thinking. It’s what you’re thinking about, pondering, considering, mulling over, and performing strateg-ery on. It’s the stuff that keeps you up at night because you are expending mental energy pouring over it. We’ll distinguish this from things that are going on in your subconscious mind, of which you may not even be aware. I bring up this distinction, because my first instruction is always to tell people to deal with pre-race anxiety by bringing the “fear” that they are feeling into their conscious minds and converting it into thoughts of excitement and energy. This forces them to move these thoughts and feelings into the foreground and actually think about them.
People process information and think about things in vastly different ways from one another. Not everyone has what we would consider the same level of “presence of mind” of what’s going on in their world. To give you an example of this, I was speaking with a runner recently who told me that he was wearing “whatever they gave me in the running store” on his feet. Contrast this with many other people that would be able to articulate to me which of their four pairs of running shoes that they have to choose from for a particular workout and why they would choose this pair over that one. This is due to the level of conscious thought that each of these people are devoting to their shoe selection. This is not to say that one is better than the other — or even that one is a faster runner than the other — but they are simply processing the situation in different ways.
So let’s think about how, when and why our race preparation for a major race should enter our thought space. If you follow along with this thinking you may find that you’ll have less stress as you come up to the race and less (or more controlled) pre-race anxiety.
The first time that a race enters our thought space at all is likely when we decide to do the race and sign up for it. This might be a flash idea or something that we’ve really considered, but I bring this up because today sometimes these decisions must be made many, many months in advance. Many marathons and triathlons sell out the day they open registration, so in order to get into the race at all you may have to make a very early decision. This means that this distant event may already move into your active thought process many, many months before it occurs. And this is not necessarily a good thing. Moving too early onto the active focus about a race can lead us to really build up apprehension as it starts getting nearer. You may feel that you’ve been “working on this for such a long time” that you’re “freaking out” by the time the race rolls around.
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