Subtitle: What Do You Think About While Running? (Introduction)
Posted on October 6, 2022
By Olivia Baker
Have you ever wondered what marathoners think about while
running a race? As someone who has not run a marathon but has struggled through
a 6k cross country race, I certainly have. Much like in track races and shorter
road races, headphones are prohibited for those who are competing in the elite
division of most marathons and strongly discouraged for those in the subsequent
waves (though we all know that person who has snuck in a pair anyway). For
most, we just have our competitors, the crowd, and the occasional chime of the
GPS watch on our wrists to distract us from the physical pain and potential
boredom we may face in the long hours of the competition. I imagine that this
is why the marathon is considered to be one of the greatest tests of both physical
and mental fortitude and why we can learn so much about life from those who
tackle the marathon at the elite level.
In Let Your Mind Run by Deena Kastor, the 10th
book of Runners Who Read Book Club, we will get to take a look more closely at the
mental build of a marathoner. Just as important as the physical mileage added
during a 16-to-20-week marathon build is the mental training that takes place
over the same time period. I chose this book for Runners Who Read in part
because it is fall marathon season again and it came strongly recommended
across the running community (including from some of you), but also because it uniquely
focuses on the mental side of marathoning. I'm excited to learn about some of
the more practical ways we can train our minds for endurance tasks and apply them
to my own racing. Furthermore, maybe as we discover productive ways to think during
our long hauls on the road and track, we'll come across some that will benefit
us in the long hauls of life as well.
do you think about when going for a long run, walk, or jog?
are you looking forward to learning from this book?
Subtitle: From Burnout to Balance, Mini-blog #1
PART ONE: Chapters 1-3
Posted on October 11th, 2022
By Olivia Baker
In the opening chapters of Let Your Mind Run by
Deena Kastor, we read about how Kastor got her start in running and the path
that led her to her first professional running group. A phenom, she dominated most
of her races in high school. She won races and broke records so frequently that
her talent became a part of her identity, reinforced by the newspapers, her
teammates, and inadvertently by her coaches and parents too. As a result, those
rare underperformances became personal failures for which she beat herself up
and also felt were out of her control. A fear of failure set in.
Then in college, despite becoming a 4-time SEC
Champion and 8-time All-American, she underwhelmed the high expectations placed
upon her coming out of high school—namely to lead the University of Arkansas team
to an NCAA Cross Country Championship—and struggled to find the motivation to
stick with running. Dealing with injury on and off for most of her collegiate
career only made matters worse and lead to burnout by the end of her fifth
year. Had it not been for a fortuitous introduction to the legendary coach Joe
Vigil, she was ready to leave competitive running altogether.
Most of us were not high school sports phenoms, but we
all have talents, and can all relate to the feeling of burnout, even when doing
something we are good at and that we like. As Kastor found out, when we place
our identity in something we are good at it can build us up, but we also give
that thing an incredible amount of power to tear us down. It was only once she let
go of the notion that talent was the only factor in her success in racing and
detangled it from her identity that she could truly be ready to embrace the challenges
of professional running yet to come. Thus, this week, as we too prepare for the
challenges ahead of us, let's take a moment to examine how the things with
which we choose to identify run the risk of holding us back.
1. What parts of your identity are entangled with the things you do (work, hobbies, etc.)?
2. In what way does the aforementioned identity serve you? In what ways can it hold you back?
Subtitle: Building Your Positivity Toolbox, Mini-blog #2
PART TWO: Chapters 4-11
Posted on October 18, 2022
By Olivia Baker
One of the first things that Deena Kastor's coach, Joe
Vigil, emphasizes to her going into practice almost every day is to "bring a
good attitude". He understood how easy it can be to lose hope and default to
negativity when times get hard if we are not intentional about fighting against
it. However, as we observe Kastor learn throughout the second part of Let
Your Mind Run, aptly titled "GROW", simply showing up with a positive mindset
and can-do attitude is only the tip of the iceberg. In order to sustain it, she
needed to develop a toolbox of practical strategies to fend off the negative
thoughts. Summarized here are some of the tools she picked up along the way:
Replace can't with maybe (Braveys will
recognize this one). Rather than start with fully formed
thoughts, Kastor begins by replacing words that carry a negative connotation
with ones that are more hopeful. Rather than "hard", "cold", and "tired", she
would use "challenging", "tough" and "adapting" to frame an upcoming workout
Choose your focus. Sometimes
Kastor needed to distract herself with music, nature, or conversation while
running to help pass the time. Other times it made sense to focus inward on her
breathing, stride, or arm swing. Wherever she needed to place her thoughts to
get through the workout, it was important that she dictated where her mind went
rather than letting the feelings and sensations in her body do the steering.
Practice Gratitude. Constantly
scanning the world for goodness as Kastor put it, allowed positive thoughts to
flow more easily. Traffic, wind, feeling tired, or being confronted with a
broken washing machine paled in comparison to sunshine, kindness, and the
skills of a handyman (pg#156). Actively focusing on the things we are thankful
for leaves less space for the things that bring us down.
Never forget to have fun. Time
flies when you're having fun (so they say). Whether it was yelling "Charge!"
in her head as she ran up a hill during mile repeats or imagining that wind
acts as a joyride for birds on gusty day, Kastor always sought out enjoyment
while running. When in doubt, making a difficult task fun can at least make it
go by a little faster.
As we can see, positivity in general is not a
one-thought-fixes-all tool, rather, it is a toolbox intentionally stocked with
a diverse set of equipment that needs to be sharpened, maintained, and ready to
use in any moment. While this particular blog post focuses on running, the qualities
that build the athlete build the person and these tools can just as easily be
applied to life in general. So, as we prepare for the upcoming week, let's be
more intentional about identifying the places where negative thoughts can come
up and find ways to cultivate positivity in those spaces.
of these tools are already in your positivity toolbox? Which do you hope to add?
other tools have you added that aren't mentioned here?
2001 NYC Marathon, A Case Study in Mental Fortitude, Mini-blog #3
PART THREE: Chapters 12-17
Posted on October 25th
By Olivia Baker
As we transition into part 3 of Let Your Mind Run
by Deena Kastor, we start to move away from discussions of how to build positive
thinking into our lives and lean into stories of how Kastor practically uses
her positivity toolbox in racing situations. There are many examples to choose
from throughout part 3, but the 2001 NYC Marathon stands out because it was her
first ever marathon and as we read, no matter how much preparation is put in,
there are just some things you have to experience to learn and adapt on the go
when it comes to marathoning. Kastor does that excellently here.
Hundreds of miles of physical preparation had laid the
foundation for a great race, but she was being asked to run at 5:30/mile, a pace
she had only ever held going half as far. The elite women's field was deep and
filled with experienced marathoners. Millions of spectators lined the course to
watch and cheer. It was unlike any stage upon which she had competed before, and
it was not lost on her that this race was taking place in New York City less
than 2 months after one of the most horrific terrorist attacks in American
history on 9/11. Physically, mentally, and emotionally, the stage was set for
this first marathon to be a challenge before even the first step, but at each
turn, she put her mental tools to use.
The first trial arose at mile 8 when a blister started
developing on her foot. The pain commanded her attention, but she expertly
placed her focus on more beneficial things. "It's just skin" she would remind
herself and "good thing it's four feet from your heart" (pg# 288) she thought
as she dismissed the blister and zoomed in on sipping fluids, tucking in behind
the leaders, and listening to the breathing of the pack. Through miles 10-20 as
the crowd ebbed and flowed, she found gratitude in both the cheering and the
quiet. She drew strength from the energetic display of resilience that the
crowds showed as they waved American flags and blew noisemakers. In the quiet,
she immersed herself in the hum of the leading motorcycles and light tapping of
women's feet across the asphalt (pg#289). When negative thoughts seeped in at
mile 23, "God, this hurts," they were immediately followed with encouragement "I'm
going to finish," (pg#290). In the final stages, she even manages to find fun in
"lassoing" the Columbus Circle Monument and reeling it in as she approached the
final mile. In what was "the hardest race she'd ever run" (pg# 291), Deena
Kastor ended up finishing 7th overall and running the fastest
marathon debut by an American woman.
In marathoning, as in life, there are always factors
that are unforeseen and out of our control. However, while we may not be able
to prepare specifically for every challenge that life will bring, we see
illustrated here that we can prepare the mind with a set of tools to take on any
trials that may come.
are some things that you find productive to focus on during a long running,
walking, or jogging effort?
what ways have you seen the same strategies used here apply to situations in
in the Midst of Disappointment, Mini-blog #4
PART FOUR: Chapters 18-19 and Epilogue
Posted on October 31st
By Olivia Baker
In the closing chapters of Let Your Mind Run,
we read about Deena Kastor's final Olympic build-up to the 2008 Games in Beijing
and perhaps one of the toughest moments of her career. In the shape of her
life, having just recently set the American record a couple of years ago in the
marathon, and coming off of major marathon wins in Chicago and London as well,
she was a serious medal favorite. However, just about 5k into the Olympic
marathon, she felt a snap in her foot and immediately realized that her foot
had broken. Unable to go a step further, she was picked up by the medical van
and forced to ride the rest of the way to the finish line as the van occasionally
stopped for others who also couldn't finish for one reason or another. It was
in her meditation in this van that she thought "I didn't win gold and didn't
have the answers yet, but here positivity was doing its best work. After a
crushing blow, the consistent practice allowed me to arrive at a place of
acceptance and relative peace in record time." (pg#399). There in lies the true
power of the changed mindset she'd cultivated and one of the main points of
Developing a positive mindset didn't mean that DNFing
at her final Olympics wasn't devastating. As an aspiring Olympian myself, I
cannot imagine how difficult that moment must have been. Yet, it is in that
moment that having such a mindset helped her recover and move forward in a
productive manner. The gratitude for what her body had given her, the
determination to find the lesson and opportunity in the experience, and the
ability to quietly reflect, that she had spent building in the many miles of
runs leading up to this point (just to name a few) all allowed her to cope well
with the disappointment. Running set the stage to cultivate positivity, but
beyond running, that mindset is something that will stick with her for the rest
of her life. So this week, let's spend a little bit of time cultivating a
positive mindset knowing that we can reap the benefits in the challenges to
come down the line.
what ways can cultivating a positive mindset in our lives benefit us outside
the realm of competitive sports?