“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” JFK
I think everyone in the world feels both gratitude and pressure in life. But as a runner, the two become so spider webbed together, creating a large interwoven knot in my brain, that nothing is clear. The positive emotions felt in a state of gratitude ignite everything within me to do the best I can do…and it works. Yet the destructive nature of pressure, hiding in the small crevices of my brain, my bones, and even my muscles, trump all those positive emotions – the fire wears thin. I can tell myself to think positive, to relax, to not worry, but still, pressure builds – I am destroyed before even starting….and it works. I can tell myself to think a certain way, or read multiple confidence boosting books, or talk to those that are more successful, but at the end of the day, there is one thing that has worked for me to rid myself of pressure.
I wanted to write a blog about gratitude and pressure not because I am an expert on overcoming race day pressure by any means, but because I know I’m not the only one to experience this. Toeing the line for a major race, and for all of us that is very personal, is one of the most anxiety-provoking things in the world. Pressure is at its highest. And if you are one of the lucky ones that never feels pressure, whether external or internal ,or thrives on pressure – awesome. For those of us that can’t seem to contain the destructive power of pressure, or channel it into positive energy, I decided it would be good to outline what has helped me, so far, to overcome those challenges and race at my best.
It took many race attempts to finally realize that pressure was my biggest race killer. It is the reason why 2nd seems to look so good on my walls….or 10th….12th…a big fish in a small pond with a great deal of pressure on her shoulders can never perform well when pressure fills her whole being as a small fish in a big pond. Unleashing the pressure is hard but it can be done. I have done it and although I’m not consistent with it, I know what it takes to rid of all pressure.
A single word filled with so much meaning. Have you ever been mid race and just stopped. Like literally mid run – stop. Look around and take in the scenery. Maybe smile for a bit. Say thank you to the world! Inhaling and exhaling all the negative energy out and breathing in all the positive. All of sudden the weight on your shoulders is lifted and a new runner is born! Seriously. Gratitude is amazing and showing it daily is so wonderful, but when you run, it becomes a tool to internal and external success. Knowing you can succumb to the elements of nature at any given time, or become victim to the demons in your head, create a greater sense of appreciation for what you are doing. It’s not just seeing the mountains as mountains, or the grass as green. It’s living by their rules and being forever grateful to the world around you for what you are able to do.
I can’t even start to describe to you the impact this has had on my running ability. The pent-up pressure on myself did nothing but make me feel more shame as a runner. Versus the complete submission to Mother Earth – a feeling of power and confidence. Maybe it seems a little out there, but honestly, letting go of race pressure and encompassing a more gracious outlook can change everything.
And maybe it’s not the gratitude that directly impacts the race, but more the relaxation that is found by showing gratitude and letting everything go that might derail your race. It’s not easy to just start relaxed and know nothing bad will happen. 50 miles or 100 miles – hours and hours into a race….anything can go wrong at any given second and minutes later be okay. Certainly experience in handling those situation is helpful, but really, relaxing through it and simply feeling what you feel allows the body to continue pushing. When a person feels happy we just soak it up like crazy. But when a person feels sadness or anger, we avoid it like the plague. No. Feel those emotions. Be grateful for them and learn how to run with them because eventually they pass. Pain passes. Mountain tops are eventually reached. Finish lines ultimately come. One foot in front of the other. But don’t avoid all the feelings that are felt over the course of your race. Embrace them. Be grateful for them. Those are the emotions that come together to create success!
So really, I want to express how important it is to show the world gratitude, to relax, and to feel. Smile and say thank you for everything and everyone that allows you to be out there on that run. Take 30 seconds to actually look at what you are running on; see the little ants walking around, and the seeds blowing in the air from the flowers…all the finer details to life that we may skip over because we are too overly focused on the finish time or place or competition (and you know what happens when you constantly think about something…it just never happens!). Feel the cold or warmth on your skin. Embrace those feelings, conditions, and emotions. Allowing yourself to feel all of that and feel gratitude is incredible and leads to race day success – better place and time too! The pressure ultimately releases, but it does take practice. Try it on a training run and see what it does for you.
What about the lingering pressure that never seems to go away even after showing gratitude?….my advice to you as someone who manages pressure…sometimes…feel it. Know that you are under pressure and really come to terms with it. Tell yourself you are feeling pressure and dig deep as to why you feel pressure. Is it the competition, the trail, the travel, sponsors, etc.? Actually sit back and reflect on why you feel internal or external pressure. Once you solve that, break it down piece by piece. Know that the competition is probably thinking the same thing and feels just as much pressure; practice on the trails you plan to race on often and if you have to travel hike them a day or two early to become acquainted. Everyone overcomes pressures in different ways and this has worked for me much of the time if I allow it to and really focus on my long-term goals. If the lingering pressure is really what holds you back, don’t call it pressure anymore. Call it urgency. I’m running with urgency. Sometimes a little play on worlds in the noggin when you race can really help too. Reframing those thoughts and words help. Again, we are all unique with different ways of finding success. However you are able to find that success, just remember to be happy and keep smiling.
Blog author: Annie Weiss, MS RD; ultra-endurance athlete and dietitian living and training in Milwaukee, WI. She is a sponsored athlete/ambassador for AltraRunning, Swiftwick Socks, The OrangeMud, and Fluid Nutrition. Follow her training/racing on Twitter & Instagram: ani_weiss and Facebook: Ani Weiss.