"Be positive!". A rather generic phrase that is tossed around quite a bit. Your coaches likely suggest that you maintain a positive mentality before races. Your parents likely teach you to have a "glass half full" mentality about life. Currently, I am also sitting here trying to tell you to be optimistic and carry a positive outlook with you wherever you go. While it is truthfully ordinary advice that is universally given, it is also a message that needs to be preached to all athletes, especially "trackletes".
Running at a competitive level is arguably much more of a mental challenge than a physical one. You are asking your body to do what it has never done before-to run faster, throw farther, or jump higher or longer than it previously has. The sheer idea of this feat can appear daunting to the brain--causing feelings of fear, uncertainty, doubt, and even defeat. The mental battle arises with overcoming these feelings to perform at the highest possible level that the body can achieve. I have fought this fight many times, as I have previously mentioned. My junior year seemed to be a never-ending inner war with myself, for I struggled to overcome the demons inside me that threatened to destroy my livelihood.
To elaborate further, my junior year of track was defined by this overpowering pressure that metaphorically weighed me down. This pressure, as most similar feelings are, was of course self-imposed. I was the reigning state champion in the Class 2A 800m Run, and I believed that I had to have a season that was equally as successful, or even better still, to live up to others' expectations of myself. What I failed to realize at the time was that I ran because I loved it, not solely to win races. Consequently, I despised the sport that had occupied the last seven years of my life. I viewed training as a chore that I was being forced to complete rather than as something I chose to do. While it may seem insignificant, this outlook greatly affected the way I competed. I ran out of fear, rather than joy. I raced hesitantly, rather than be the fierce competitor I knew I could be. As a result, I experienced the worst state series I have ever had in my four years of racing at Big Blue. I could not mentally recover from the loss I took in the 800m Run (deservedly so to Aurora Central Catholic's Abby Fioresi). Thus, my 1600m race ended up being borderline embarrassing, for I ran well off my personal best and finished a very distant last in the final. I did not possess the mentality to compete in every single event at the state meet that year, and it obviously affected me in more ways than I realized at the time.
Heading into my senior season, I decided to instill a change, rather than dwell on the past and let it ruin yet another track season. Knowing that this was my final season racing for the red and green of La Salle-Peru, I set two primary goals for myself: to find something to smile about after every single race, and to compete in every single event. In the past years, my goals had always consisted of lofty, sometimes impossible times and winning a state title. However, I chose to focus on my mentality instead of materialistic concepts for my senior year-and let me just say, that has made all the difference.
To put this into perspective, at both the 2017 and 2018 IHSA Girl's State Finals I competed in a series of three events: a relay (2017 the 4x400m, 2018 the 4x800m), the 800m Run, and the 1600m Run. In 2017, I left with two state medals around my neck. I earned a runner-up finish in the 800m Run, which I was by no means proud of, and a 6th place medal for the 4x400m relay. In 2018, I finally achieved my goal set long ago of being all-state in three events in a single state championship. Furthermore, I earned one of every color, as I reclaimed my state title in the 800m Run, placed 2nd in the 1600m Run, and anchored my amazing relay team to a 3rd place finish in the loaded 4x800m final. The primary difference between these two seasons was not necessarily my physicality, which of course improved greatly during my final high school season, but it was my mentality. I looked at running as something I loved, FIRST. I focused on the reasons I WANTED to run, rather than the reason I HAD to. I truly loved what I did, and that was on display at the 2018 IHSA State Track and Field Finals. That day, I smiled more than I ever had in my life: I was, and I continue to be, truly content with my path.
I share my story with the hopes that it will rub off on someone out there who is struggling the same way I was. I hope that this message strikes home with many athletes out there, both "trackletes" and non "trackletes". I hope that coaches instruct their runners to focus on maintaining a positive and confident state of mind and remind them to forget about the aspects that they are unable to control (weather, competition, etc.). Being positive is such a simple change, but it is also one that carries great weight, for your attitude will make or break your competitive season. I am a firm believer of this, for I have experienced the results of optimism first-hand. I want to leave you with a Henry Ford quote that I have decided to live by:
"Whether you think you can or you think you can't-you're right."
With that being said, choose to believe that you can accomplish everything, for believing is the first step to achieving. You are capable of anything you set your mind to just be confident, work hard for it, and trust the training. And always remember: attitude IS everything.