Diving Deeper into Mindset Series

Coach Ray loves a good mindset tip.  They do truly work…for a lot of people, but not everyone.  So what happens when you still feel stuck, the anxiety doesn’t go away, or your inner Negative Nancy* is the voice still running the show?  

*I apologize to anyone reading this named Nancy.  This is simply the name I grew up with and that I use when I’m doing my own “Parts Work” (IFS).

This series offers a slightly deeper dive into mindset from a mental health therapist’s point of view.

Negative Thoughts

As strange as this may sound, most negative thoughts are trying to protect us from feelings of disappointment and shame.  For example, if we’re worried we won’t hit a pace, the brain thinks it will save us from the uncomfortable feelings by telling us to not even try.  To challenge negative thoughts, first try out some of our mindset tip “go-to’s”:

  1. This is one of my favorites from Coach Sandi:  Notice the negative thought, then switch your focus to how you want to feel.  (This simple switch actually will light up different parts of the brain and affect what hormones are coursing through your body.)
  2. Practice mindfulness: Notice the negative thoughts, label them “that is a judgey thought”, let them pass like clouds, and return to your breath.  Thoughts are often just thoughts and the ones that stick are the ones we choose to give power too.

Here’s where we start to switch to more therapy skills:

  1. Acknowledge the thought, or fear.  Reply to that thought, or your inner Negative Nancy “I see you.  I know you’re trying to help, but I’ve got this.”  

If the negative thoughts still persist, it’s okay to seek out a therapist.  Because the hippocampus makes future predictions based on past memories, you may need to go back and explore the time when the thoughts and feelings first originated.  Be curious, and be kind to yourself. 

Pre-Race Anxiety

While pre-race anxiety is considered “normal” I actually don’t believe it has to be, though I’ve admittedly not overcome that feat just yet.  So for now, we can say that pre-race anxiety can be greatly reduced.

  1. Mindset- Nervousness vs. excitement; threat vs opportunity for growth.  Viewing how you see pre-race anxiety can absolutely change the effects of it.  When you label the feeling as excitement or a sign that you simply care about the race, this thought (in the brain) signals to the body that it’s safe, and therefore your muscles and mind can relax a little.  Same as viewing a race as threat (“I’ll be a failure if I don’t meet my goal”) vs. an opportunity for growth (“I’d really like to hit my goal, but even if I don’t, it will be a beautiful opportunity to see how well my physical and mental training is going. Plus, my family and friends love me no matter what.”) These thoughts can actually change what hormones the brain releases, whether they be stress or motivating and feel-good hormones.
  1.  Dive into the fear: This one is counter-intuitive for many people, but as a therapist, this is how I work with my clients who experience anxiety.  Go into the fear.  Examine it like a detective.  Where do you feel fear in your body? Can you describe the sensation? What is the belief the fear is carrying?  And most importantly, how can you reassure yourself that you’ll be okay?  If the negative thoughts persist, and/or you feel overwhelming anxiety (puking before a race), or this feels like it’s too much to do on your own, seeing a therapist can help guide you.  

Good Pain vs. Bad Pain

Simply put, good pain is the pain that will physically help us get stronger and mentally help us grow.  It can be your lungs burning during a workout session or the muscle fatigue starting to set in at the end of the race.  This type of pain is to be only experienced periodically during a weekly training block.  A little helps us grow, too much leaves us fatigued.

Bad pain is the pain of pushing through an injury or illness and is associated with the thought of needing to prove ourselves (ie. our toughness, worthiness, enoughness, etc.)  

This is a play on semantics, but I like to say “You don’t have to be tough to be strong.”  Strong is knowing that our pain carries wisdom and with it the intelligence to listen (rather than ignore) our bodies.  


“Higher levels of stress cause higher cortisol output via the HPA axis, and cortisol inhibits the activity of the inflammatory cells involved in wound healing.” -Gabar Mate, When the Body Says No

High levels of stress can not only slow healing if you’re experiencing an injury, but it can also slow down recovery time.  This is obviously not what you want when training for a race, or simply for the joy of running.  But how do we actually reduce stress?  

1. If possible, change your lifestyle.  Learn how to say no.  

I know changing a lifestyle, quitting a job, moving, etc., isn’t possible for everyone.  What is possible for more people is saying “no.”  Quit agreeing to take on projects that don’t make you excited, kindly decline the invitation to the dinner party, and for goodness sake, it’s 100% okay to buy cookies for the bake sale at your kids school. 

2.  Change your perspective.

Is what you are stressing about really that important?  A lot of people have a tendency to make a big deal out of small things, things that really aren’t that important.  Practice zooming out, like you’re on a mountain looking down at your life, and put things into perspective.  What really matters?  Humor is also a good tool. Laugh at yourself and your humanness.  While life is meaningful, it’s really not that serious.  

3. Feel your emotions, let them move through your body, and self-regulate.  Emotions are simply the messengers of our body.  They are meant to be listened to.  Unfortunately, a lot of times they are pushed down, and this actually affects our nervous system and our immune system.  If you’re thinking “How in the world do I feel my emotions?”, it might be a good time to speak with a therapist or read a book by a mental health professional. 

Coach Ray’s Training Plans:

The Rites of Passage 50mile to 100k Plan

The Mind Body 50k Plan