Everything Is (not) Fine – The Dark Side of Racing Psychology

If you have been around this sport long enough – or any endurance sports for that matter – than you would be pretty familiar with the dark places the mind can visit when things become uncomfortable. 

In racing, it can be pretty intense and potentially overrides rational thinking, sending you into a spiral of chaotic self-doubt and negative feedback. I think we have all been there once or twice, maybe more. 

Usually, in those moments, it seems like everything is the worst thing in the *your* world. Your pace is not good enough; you are not as well trained as the others, those people shouldn’t pass you, you should have raced a shorter race…it goes on. And it seems as though it will go on forever. 

Until you decide to change your perception, alter your own influence on yourself. It’s not usually a permanent state. It seems like forever, but it’s only a short while. Sometimes food helps, sometimes hydration helps. Most times you just don’t know what you need because it is so overwhelming. 

Changing that perception can be hard though, especially when you are not accustomed to doing so. Of course, trying to harness that ability without prior practice is going to leave you frustrated, and still clouded. See I think, in the current world of influencers, promoters and posers, we (endurance athletes) tend to believe that everything must be positive, always

It’s the ultimate illusion that you must not feel like crap at 4:30 am in the morning, so let’s put some rosey filters, add emojis and show the world that everything is A-OK. It’s the sneakiest trick (on yourself) to tell everyone that will listen that your world is amazing 100% of the time, that your life is never disrupted – inconvenienced – by negative thoughts; you are impervious to them. Only positivity exists in your world.

But we know that is complete bullshit. Not one person exists that has not had a negative thought at some point in their life. And the issue isn’t whether they have or they haven’t – the problem is that ignoring what we really feel is helping us to unravel, destroying our rational thinking. We simply are not positive all the time. 

Sometimes, we feel like crap – and that is A-OK. Sometimes we feel worse than that, and that’s OK too – you have to accept what you are feeling for what it is, not what you think it should be. 

To paraphrase this guy  (the source of inspo for this email):

“….to be happy and positive is a good thing, but I don’t think the answer is to tell yourself that you are happy when you are not. Whatever you feel is good…” 

What does this have to do with racing? 

Lots. Not every training session is a good one. Not every race is a great one. Some days, you wake up and feel like you just don’t want to. Sometimes, your head goes real deep into that darkness.

You shouldn’t look to ignore those moments of darkness, or worse, avoid them (almost impossible) – you should be ready to acknowledge their existence as they float through your mind as you race. 

That doesn’t mean you believe them, or that they are real – it just means that you see them for what they are: negative thoughts. Nothing more. They don’t define you, they are just thoughts.

Once you do that, you can move on really quickly – a lot more so than just waiting for things to change on their own. It’s a conscious decision that has far more efficacy than filling your brain with positive quotes and affirmations (there is nothing wrong with either, by the way). 

When you assess things for what they indeed are, you free up that space and allow reasonable, rational clarity back in. That means you can get back to the job of racing. That’s why you are out there in the first place!

How many times have you finished a session or race and thought – “man, my head just wasn’t in it. Everything felt like shit” (or something similar – I don’t know how you talk to yourself). It’s not about controlling things, or suppressing them – it’s about being so switched on with yourself that you can see clearly so that you can return to that laser-focus more quickly.

So you can get on with it.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you should never feel like crap, that because it is posted online that everyone else must be amazing all the time. Don’t pretend that it’s okay when it’s not. But don’t allow that to define you. 

Just as you shouldn’t let your sport define you – don’t let the bad stuff determine who you are as an athlete. Look at it for what it really is. 

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Hey, if you find that those dark thoughts exist far outside the discomfort of training and racing, consuming your life. Then speak up, talk to someone who knows how to listen. Know that it is OK. You owe that to yourself.