Do you have a mantra?
The way you speak to yourself matters.
When I first started my fitness journey, my self-talk was typically pretty negative. Even when I lost all the weight I had set out to lose, I felt that I needed to punish myself for eating too many calories. I would do things like “buy” treats with exercise. This is why calorie counting became dangerous for me.
When I shifted my focus in my fitness journey from weight loss to performance goals, my self-talk also began to shift. I also stopped counting calories. But when I first started running, the shuffle of my feet seemed to mock me. I heard, “nanny-nanny boo-boo.” It was in perfect rhythm to my cadence. I learned to run with music to drown out that negative mantra.
During my first cycle of marathon training, something changed. Now, if you’ve ever run long, double digit mile runs in the heat and humidity of the South, you know things can get crazy in your head. But I recall clearly on a 14 mile run in the brutal August heat of Virginia the moment my mantra changed. Instead, I heard a mariachi band telling me, “You can do it!” (I told you things get crazy…) It was the first run where I really felt it was possible for me to finish a marathon.
I often tell this story of my mantra shift to teammates during training runs with my marathon training team. (Long runs yield lots of opportunities to share!) But I can’t say that all of my self-talk with exercise has been positive. It’s actually more like a roller coaster ride, with many ups and downs.
Going to a CrossFit gym is an extremely humbling experience. It’s challenging to not compare yourself to women half your age who are simply beasts in the gym! But I learned to channel that frustration into my next lift. I also WOD like I marathon: slow and steady. And I’ve also learned to compete with only myself at the gym. It’s one reason why the YMCA is my happy place for now.
I also recall clearly making a deal with God in my final miles of the Marine Corps Marathon last October after slogging through a monsoon and finishing in brutal heat and humidity, my feet screaming to get out of my wet shoes. I definitely had a personal Shalane Flanagan moment when I reached the last cutoff at mile 22, screaming “F*%k YEAH!!!” But I was also surprised to see many of my friends behind me at the out and back through Crystal City. Sometimes races are just hard, especially when Mother Nature throws curve balls.
This winter, I have struggled with my running. I feel slow, like molasses. I have to remind myself that it’s a miracle I’m running at all. Last spring, I was so stressed out, I ended up in the emergency room with heart palpitations and chest pain. My blood pressure was through the roof. Of course they couldn’t find anything wrong in the ER. So I got the “you are a stressed out crazy lady” speech with instructions to quit my job. (I wonder if a man would have been treated differently.) After some follow up testing with a cardiologist, they found that I throw PAC’s and PVC’s fairly frequently, but that it’s “normal,” and that my BP elevates easily with exercise. But when your resting BP is 110/60 and resting HR is 51, medicating will not help! I was cleared to exercise. And I did eventually quit that job. And now I plod on, comparing myself to my best, chasing what once was.
Rich Roll posted recently on Instagram about the phenomenon of self-judgement. Rich Roll, the vegan ultra-running and triathlete legend, struggles like the rest of us. I find his admission comforting. He advises to “train where you’re at,” accepting what is, and to “find yourself where your feet find themselves.” (By the way, read his book. It’s inspiring!)
So I’m letting go of what once was, because my best was a few years ago. I will train, but I will also try to focus on enjoying being out there, hopefully inspiring others to do the same. I will congratulate myself for getting back to double digit runs and feeling comfortable with the effort. I will take back my PR’s with weightlifting and be happy with that. And then I will reassess my goals. And I will find my new mantra.
If you’re new to fitness or not, realize that your journey doesn’t move in a straight line. There are many twists and turns and ups and downs along the way. But above all else, be kind to yourself. If you’re still getting out there and moving, you’re making progress, whether you realize it or not. Make sure your self-talk is positive.
Do you struggle with self-judgement, especially with your fitness journey? Do you have strategies to help deal with this? I’d love to hear them!