“Other than the fact that they are skinnier than you, don’t eat sugar and they run twice a day instead of just once, Olympic runners are the same as you.”
-Dr. Stanley Beecham
This past Thursday, Phidippides running store hosted the second part of their series “Brain Training for Athletes.” Unfortunately I missed part 1, but today I wanted to share with you the key points from the lecture, given by Dr. Stanley Beecham, author of the book Elite Minds. Dr. Beecham is a sport psychologist and leadership consultant, and the talk focused on how he guided Olympic athlete Barbara Parker through the 2008 and 2012 Olympic games.
“What is up with getting better?”
Dr. Beecham poses the question to a room full of runners, some still sweaty from the group run earlier in the evening. It is true that to succeed as an athlete in today’s culture, you are constantly fed the belief that you have to get better in order to feel okay about yourself.
“What happens when you get better?” As a room, we all resonate the same thought: You want to get even better.
Let me admit it. I am a perfectionist. But most “amateur competitive” athletes (and of course elite athletes) are. We all think the same: Set a PR, train for the race, beat your PR, set a new one, change the distance you race, go longer, run more, run harder, burn out.
We believe that once we get better, we will be okay with ourselves. Dr. Beecham believes in the opposite.
“Once you believe you are okay and understand the beauty and miracle that there is nothing wrong with you the way you are, that is when you will start growing and developing.”
A fleeting thought runs through my head. You mean, I am just supposed to sit there and let myself float along.
Well, yes. That’s how it happens in nature right?
“What if coaches just told their teams, We are fine just the way we are today.” Dr. Beecham tells us, “If you accept that you don’t need to get better to be okay, you will get better by feeling okay with where you are in life right now.”
It holds true beyond running too. In personal life, work life, etc.
However Dr. Beecham sets out a challenge for us. “You need to find out where the end of you is.” He says most people stop at fear. “You have to be willing to take a risk in order to discover your full potential.”
So he suggests to go out and be scared that you may “die” on the race course. Have that experience, because it makes for a more interesting life. Dr. Beecham wants you to “run because you are going to enjoy your life more, not because you want to stay in shape.”
It is hard to simply enjoy running when you set the bar for yourself. When you do a half marathon, does that mean you have to do a full marathon? Not if it isn’t going to be something you enjoy. (Non-runners laugh at the thought of anyone enjoying 26.2 miles, but for marathoners, you understand that love-hate relationship.)
Barbara Parker offers some advice to us in order to break through that barrier of fear. Each week she has a different mantra that she repeats during her training. This word or phrase becomes something familiar to her over the course of the week, so when it comes time to race, it distracts her from the physical pain and keeps her focused on her race goal.
Hearing this talk just a week before my third half-marathon (Atlanta Allstate 13.1) gives me a breath of fresh air. I’ve set a goal and feel confident that I can achieve it. But I need to remind myself that I am okay if I don’t break a new PR. At the same time, I need to make sure I challenge myself enough and feel like I have left it all on the course. I’ve never felt that experience in a race because I always hold back. Maybe this race is the one. After all, October is my favorite month, so it is a great time to push it to the limit.