I am a squirrely little thing. I get nervous for workouts. I get nervous for intense one on one conversations. I am a bit nervous right now.
So, when my coach messaged me “We’re in Rome!!!!!!!!” (exclamation points based on memory), I was extremely excited, but immediately thinking about how I would get to that race not completely paralysed with nerves.
As you can imagine, getting into a Diamond League is a huge honour, but also a little surreal. Being invited to race in one of these meets is arguably harder than making a National team because it’s so subjective. Getting in might be based on who represents you as your agent, what company you run for, or, in Gabriela and I’s case, having a connection that used to chum around with the meet director back in the day. That said, if you get in, you’d better be ready.
Even if I’m the fittest I’ve ever been, I’m still not immune to choking. We’ve all been there. You’re on that starting line, just staring people down like “I got this.” But really, you’re afraid of hurting or you don’t realize it’s going to hurt, or you think the mantra you read on that reusable lululemon bag is going to get you through. And somewhere in the middle, those negative thoughts in your head get really loud and you start to believe them. It’s a terrible feeling and I will admit that I have choked big time.
While some athletes are born with ice in their veins, I am not. Before every race I run, I put effort into my mental preparation because there’s nothing worse than not showing your fitness because your mind was mush.
Just to be upfront, I did not run the race of my dreams in Rome. I ran 15:20 and competed pretty well in the European/North American division. The tough thing about being in a world record attempt is that if you aren’t ready to run a world record you’re on your own. And that’s how all 7 of the European/North American women in the race ended up.
But, I’m actually proud of how I ran. I missed the break*, which is a totally dumb thing to do, but I realized it fairly quickly and controlled the damage as much as possible by reeling in a few of the women over the final laps. My biggest mistake was not throwing an elbow at the critical moment to keep my position in the group, which would have later saved me from missing the break.
I have been working with an amazing sports psychiatrist, Kim Dawson, for several years. These are the key things we talked about before Rome:
In boxing, the athlete is always anticipating the face shot. If they miss blocking it, it’s better to lean into it and accept the shot. Rome was my face shot (thankfully only figuratively speaking, I am much too small to fight anyone). We anticipated that it would be fast from the gun, going at around 15:00 pace, which is something I hadn’t experienced yet.
I had to be ready to lean into it and stay with it because, well, you have to risk it to get the biscuit. I think it’s important to be real with yourself and admit that it is going to hurt. It might hurt from the first lap, you might get lucky and the grind will start with a mile to go, but somewhere in there you. will. feel. pain. That’s what bracing yourself is about.
The night before every race, I tell my hotel roommate “I’m going to do this weird thing where I lie on my bed and listen to music and visualize.” I put on a playlist and visualize all the motions that I’ll go through when I get to the track. I visualize walking through the gate, sitting around listening to Kendrick Lamar, activation, warm up jog, drills, putting on my spikes, strides, the call room, the gun. Then I go through the race and the cue’s I’ll use.
Visualisualizing a race before it happens makes it seem more familiar when you actually get there. Races are scary regardless of how seasoned a veteran you are. Everyone has doubts and everyone has nerves, it’s how you deal with them that makes the difference. For me, visualizing being nervous, helps me deal with nerves when I am nervous for real.
Believe You Belong (or fake it till you make it)
Whenever I get to a new level, I get the feeling that I am an imposter. What I really had to overcome going into Rome is the feeling that I didn’t deserve to be there. When you’re about to line up against world record holders and Olympic medalists, it’s hard not to feel like a scrappy, little no name Canadian. But it also opens up the opportunity to make a name for yourself. After looking at the start list for Rome, I realized that I had beat a number of the women head to head and I intended to do it again.
If you missed my race in Rome, you can watch it on YouTube. You can see me for roughly 30 seconds before they focus on the leaders for the rest of the race.
* Missing the break is a track term used to describe an instance where you miss the moment that someone breaks from the group and are thus left behind in the “chase group”