My team ran a tough meet on Friday. The field wasn’t necessarily tough, but the conditions were. The air was thick with humidity, and just before we started the warm-up, the sun came out from behind the clouds and started cooking us like an easy-bake oven. Our second meet of the season was about to take place at the lovely Cranbrook Kingswood campus, a swanky private school that our Utica High public school kids often refer to as “Narnia.” As I ran the warm-up with the guys, I noticed the lovely, pristine lawns were particularly squishy. They looked and felt like spongy putting greens, sucking out the momentum and strength with each step. The wooded sections had large wood chips that were about 6 inches deep and felt like you were running on sand. I thought to myself, “This will be a tough one today. Let’s see how they handle this.” I was about to see what our young team was made of.
It is very interesting to see how different athletes respond to the same conditions. Some rise to the occasion, and some simply fall apart. A few of the guys had negative comments before the meet, which is forbidden on our team.
“I don’t know if I’m going to do well today.”
“This course is hard.”
“Those wood chips are insane.”
“It’s really muggy.”
“Those hills are much bigger than last week’s course.”
The second I hear a guy on my team complain, I immediately tell him to stop (and he gets a lovely, nasty look from me as well). Most rephrase the comment to something like, “What I meant was, uh, I like the hills here. Yeah. This is a more interesting course than last week.” Sometimes rephrasing the complaint into a positive comment becomes somewhat of a joke, but it’s definitely better than whining.
We’ve had multiple discussions this season addressing how utterly contagious negative comments are. Sometimes the guys don’t realize that a negative comment not only takes a toll on the personal mindset, it brings down the morale of the entire team. Negativity seems to spread like wildfire, and it usually takes multiple positive comments to undo the damage done from just one negative comment. We are a very young team, and they are still learning the power of the mind, and in order to be a successful runner, you have to believe you are a champion, all the time.
Why decide you are going to fail before you even start? A winner doesn’t think that way.
Last weekend I was at my family’s cottage, the same town where we do our summer training camp, and I decided to do the 10-miler route that they do during camp week. I wanted to experience the tough course for myself. The course goes over a causeway to tiny Johnsons Island, including a steep bridge that you have to cross going to and from the island. As the fatigue set in during mile 7, I didn’t have a coach telling me inspirational quotes to keep me going. I had to coach myself. As I approached the bridge-crossing the second time, I refused to even think that the bridge was going to hurt. I said to myself, “Attack it. Attack it. You own it.” Just before I went up, I said aloud, “Okay! Here we go!” I said it in the same tone you would use before going up a steep roller coaster hill at Cedar Point. It helped. I attacked it and kept my same pace through the entire the uphill.
After this run, I thought about how I work to stay positive, even when I am by myself on a run. I train my runners to stay positive, even when I’m not there. I can’t be at the top of every hill screaming down at them to push harder and to believe. I can’t be next to them at that moment they change their minds and give up. They have to push themselves to maintain a good attitude, even when it gets tough. Through continuous reminding, the new guys will catch on. The older ones get it, but even they slip every once in awhile into a negative mindset. It’s a constant battle, but it’s one they they can get better and better with overcoming. There’s always going to be a potential excuse to fail. Conditions for a race are rarely ideal. We can callous ourselves to be the strongest runners in the field. I often delight in less-than-ideal conditions, because the opportunity is presented to be tougher than the other guys.
I’ve been thinking back to the way the guys looked before the Cranbrook race started. The ones that showed concern on their faces, seemed distracted, or said negative comments beforehand, they were the ones that ended up falling apart. Even some of the veteran runners on the team found excuses to fail. The athletes on the team that were focused and positive beforehand were the ones that had huge breakthroughs that day. Even though many race times in the field were slower due to the conditions, our 2-man had a 21-second personal best, and our 3-man beat his previous best time by 33 seconds. It’s all about mindset. Keeping a positive attitude is work. This is why we do these early meets: to learn these tough lessons and to get mentally stronger each meet. Come October, my athletes will be so tough, they won’t even remember the wimpy runners they once were.