As a runner we usually feel as tough as leather. We embrace the black toenails, sore muscles and all the aches and pains we develop. These are our “badges of honor.” Many times our biggest asset is our brain. However, that can also be our enemy. What you think and feel on your race day or on your long training run can have a huge influence on how well you perform.
During my training runs for my marathons or ultras I have a lot of time to ponder all of this psychology. It’s actually the same psychology that my patients go through with either their recovery from an injury or surgery, or dealing with a chronic ache or pain. To cope one must visualize success and think positive thoughts and images.
As a physical therapist, when I consult with a patient we outline the goals together. Just like in a foot race we must picture ourselves “finishing the race.” Holding that mental picture in the back of your mind during that run, or during that rehab process helps to achieve that goal. Mental imaging and developing neural patterns in the brain can nearly match the neural patterns created by actually performing that activity.
Physical rehab, strengthening, and motor development aren’t just the physical conduit but actually mentally assists the skills to become imprinted in the brain. Conversely, fear of pain, fear of failure, fear of the road forward can throw off one’s pacing and momentum. Energy management and focus is challenged. Anxiety can be managed with thinking confidently and positively.
Just like a boring long run, the rehab process can be monotonous. We “hit the wall” or “plateau,” whatever you like to call it. Our process has become dull and repetitive. We feel “over it,” or “done.” Consequently we may need to break up the long challenge of getting to that final goal. Sometimes new exercise, a new training plan, even a new or additional therapy intervention or strategy can distract from the boredom and allow us to have new stimuli for an increased level of creativity.
Sometimes a pause with a dedication of a new activity improves the focus on the ultimate return to the “long run” or the “long rehab plan”. Positive mental strategies are nothing new. Mental training methods help us to conquer any physical challenge. Marathons, ultramarathons, rehabilitation processes, are all one in the same. You can’t control the weather, can’t control the competition, usually can’t control those accidents/injuries that are unpredictable and can strike any of us.
You can shift the paradigm of pain and struggle to a mindset of; let’s tackle this, let’s celebrate, let’s get over the hurdles. So with all that in your mind: Keep positive…..Keep focused….Keep that final goal in mind.