Yesterday, I asked my facebook team group about some different questions they might have and some blog posts that I could write that would be helpful. There were so many interesting topics that were brought up and some of them were referencing sports psychology. Psychology is actually one of the biggest area of research that I've done within the past 6 months and most of all the books that I have read and so I just feel like I've been head deep (pun intended) for a while soaking up everything that I can learn on this topic. It is so incredibly fascinating. Our brains control SO SO much. Actually, I'd venture to say that our brains essentially control everything that we do all day every day.
We are able to handle certain things based on our prior experience and we are able to look to the future of what we expect to be able to handle based on our previous experience or what we have seen others experience. Some of those experiences might be beneficial but some of those might be damaging, and is it possible to rewire your neural circuits to be what you want them to be? The answer, in short, is yes. You basically can become a completely different human full of all kinds of different character traits and ideologies if you so choose to go against the grain. Again, I repeat, it's fascinating.
Our brain is connected to so many things throughout the body, and one of those specifically as you'll know from the race day bathroom line is our vagus nerve that runs the length of our spinal cord into our gut. So, how can you change the way that you are thinking about things to even prevent the race day stomach issues? How do you use the skills that you can learn in sports psych to not be afraid to go the longer distances for your training runs?
There are a few things that help with this
1) Separation from thoughts of your subconscious amygdala "fight or flight" brain
2) Forced experiences to create new prior experiences to create an element of trust
What is so funny about this however is the fact that even though we have the element of trust that we have done something before, if we don't combine also the knowledge that we have to separate from our subconscious then humans are very hard learning beings. We will always go back to the fear. This is how we were created. This is what has allowed us to evolve over the years because that amygdala thought keeps us on guard and protects us. The issue is, we don't really need protecting from a long run do we? I mean maybe we need to use reasoning and coaching that tells us to do it at certain speeds that are within your ventilation threshold (the ability to talk during your long run) to keep us in that zone 1-2 heart rate that allows us to complete the run, but otherwise, what are we so worked up about?
To conquer the longer distances, I think it's important to actually pinpoint your fears. What is it that you are nervous about? Maybe it's nailing your PR but studies have shown that those that are able to quiet their minds before races are able to perform within their actual capabilities. Your 'fight or flight' is only harming you. It's making you have to poop too, and ain't nobody got time for that on race day.
The other part of your brain is your prefrontal cortex. This is the area of the brain that involves all of the thinking and reasoning skills. This is what tells you that you will in fact not die if you start this long run and it's what kicks in after someone frightens you to say "Girl, false alarm. You're good." These parts of your brain are always working side by side and it's hard to really repress one or the other especially if you aren't aware that this is going on.
So, first, you must recognize that this happens. Second, I think it's important to take a few moments today or in the following days and listen to the "movie" that is going on in your head. The thoughts that are going in and out of your brain that if you sit back and separate from them, you recognize them as not your actual real thoughts. They are your amgydala thoughts. We all have them. Meditation helps because you focus on your breathing and maybe the noises around you, but you clear your mind. You turn your focus. You forget about the fear. You must tap into the part of your brain that is able to reason.
The saying always goes that you can do anything that you want to do if you set your mind to it, and that it's always mind over matter. I believe that with my whole heart. The brain controls everything, so it must be part of your training. If you are able to conquer your mind's thoughts, you will be a much better athlete over the years and it's something that I've really been working on.
One thing I've spoken about before I did research into sports psychology is this idea of emptying my brain on race mornings which is something I still do. The best way I know to explain it is my own form of meditation where I busy my mind with every single thought as long as it's not racing.
"What do I want for dinner? What can I do to make this trip fun for Tanner instead of just waiting for me? What are some new goals that I have when I go home? How can I be a better daughter? When do I want to have kids? What is my to do list when I get back to the house after this weekend? What house projects should we do? What blog posts could I write? What books can I read? What certifications can I obtain? How can I be a better human?"
I mean I could think for days, and not one of those thoughts is on racing. If I've prepared, and I have a race plan then there is absolutely nothing that is helpful about sitting there pondering on it up until the race start. I just refuse, so I push that anxiety away. Even when I start running, I'm thinking of my to do list because I get too anxious otherwise!
I hope this is helpful and that you can start practicing pulling away from your subconscious amgydala brain and more into the prefrontal cortex that lets you know that everything is going to be okay! :)