Coaching is relationship and connection. It feels best and it works best when words and actions are aligned, and when what you give is being received. It feels best when coaching leaves you feeling more full than when you started, and when, after 2 hours, you are more alive and energized than when you started, even though you may have just spent the last two hours giving your all, talking very loudly, being switched on emotionally and intellectually and physically and answering a plethora of questions. Coaching at its best, is about giving your passion and trusting that others will receive.
This summer I have had several wonderful enriching guest coaching experiences, and for many reasons, these sessions just gelled and were a total delight for me to attend. While I often show up without knowing anybody in a group, I love the challenge of quickly reading and assessing, seamlessly adapting on the fly, and tailoring a session to benefit as many as possible – with the goal that everybody goes home with something useful or positive. For these recent sessions, there were many familiar faces, so there is that smile of recognition that immediately puts people at ease and gets us off to a good start. As well, the Victoria summer has been warm and brilliant, even through the forest fire haze, and it’s a well-known fact that people who live on sunny islands, are happy and more at ease. (On the Republic of Vancouver Island, this is credo.)
And for other imperceptible reasons, these coaching sessions were just magic, some combination of group human energy and that I was 100% committed and the group was 100% committed to being there. In these moments, people are mindful – they are smiling and laughing, or focussed with concentration on the task at hand, and everything is in flow.
While I always have a plan for coaching a group, these sessions did have a perfect flow that almost magically took over and for those runners who were at these sessions, and for those of you who were not, here are a few of the messages and motivating topics that came up.
I have written many times about mental training and using visualization to prepare for races and an optimal performance. Every single one of my major performances, was done with the foundation of mental training. I use visualization all the time, especially during training, in order to get the best from myself. We all have imagination. We can learn to use our imagination and make it work for us in our athletic endeavours. For instance we can imagine our future running and races with fear (about things not working out) or with courage (belief that things will work out.) To visualize while practicing is one of those most powerful exercises you can perform. You can read about mental training on a cognitive level, which is one thing, or you can consciously do it while you are in the act of running, and the latter will give you the most powerful boost.
In my last session, I had the runners perform a simple pre race workout of 10 repeats of 1 minute running at race pace, and 1 minute running easy recovery, still using good form. For every 1 minute segment of race pace running, we visualized being in a different part of a half marathon. And we layered how we ‘wanted to feel’ on top of the actual physical aspect of the part of the race. Every athlete feels differently, and before each interval they had to choose how they wanted to feel. So, visualizing the start of the race, surrounded by people, I want to feel ‘confident’ and ‘calm’. Visualizing the hills at half way I want to feel ‘strong’ and ‘happy’. (or Super Happy! – you know who you are!). Visualizing the 17 km mark, when fatigue and discomfort is strong, I want to feel ‘relaxed’ and ‘smooth’ and ‘tough.’ You can bring this sort of practice into every run, bringing your thoughts to a positive place, and focusing on what your ideal mental emotional state is.
2. Anxiousness about racing and performing
I get asked a lot about how to deal with pre race nerves and anxiousness. I feel that while nervousness and anxiousness sound the same, they are essentially a little bit different. Being nervous is a physical sensation caused by thinking about an event. The nervousness can actually be excitement and anticipation, and a sense of agitation that occurs as you get ready for a race – where you know you are going to be asking more from yourself. Performance anxiety feels more rooted in how you are thinking about the future event, and a sense that things may not go well, or as well as you hope. A sense of unease and apprehension best describes that feeling. Nervousness feels like agitation, higher heart rate, a sense that you can’t stay calm, jittery. I have always been nervous before big events – the bigger the event, the bigger the nerves, and I have learned to manage the nerves by breathing exercises, being positive about the nerves (this means I am excited and that I care about what I am about to do!), and by finding space to be by myself in order to calm down and maintain a good balance being overly stimulated and being asleep.
Performance anxiety, on the other hand is more deeply rooted in fear based thinking of ‘what can go wrong’. In these cases, people are using their wonderful brains, to actively imagine the worst things that can happen, instead of the best. There are many reasons that people do this, but one of these is simply habit and this is where the visualization excercises during training, (from the point above) comes into play. Give yourself permission to visualize the best possible outcome. You are not taking anything away from anyone by performing to your best, you are simply adding to the awesome energy of the event. It may take several tries to consciously start imagining all the positive things that can happen, and it may feel forced at first, but it works.
“Firm belief in the integrity, ability, or character of a person or thing; confidence and reliance".
I pulled that definition off the internet and oh how I love those words! Read them over and over and change the ‘character of a person or thing” to “myself”. I believe the moment of truth for a lot of people –that place somewhere in the late stages of a race when the discomfort is calling so clearly – is a lot about trust. Suddenly, in a flash, our belief in our ability to finish strong falters and then so does our stride. In my most flawless races, I bring massive trust of my own ability. I trust that my body will perform, I trust my confidence will not falter, and I trust that it will simply all work out. Now we all know that trust is something you build over time, thus you must also trust this last point is definitely something runners have to practice.
Run For Joy – Lucy Smith
Writing the Running Life
For 30 years I pursued a high performance career and traveled the world. This blog melds this experience with my coaching and passion to support excellence in others.