Many times we stress the need to practice what we preach. The fact of the matter is that we are all performers whether we choose to be or not. Some of us are sons, daughters, friends, significant others, parents, consultants, athletes, etc. In numerous domains we are performers who can benefit by utilizing relevant mental skills and learning to employ them to enhance our own performance whether it is in a relationship or as an athlete. As students of sport and performance psychology we are encouraged to not only teach the skills we believe in but to utilize them ourselves. On April 20th, 2015 I was challenged to do just that. I will take you to the point in the race that reflects the concept of, “practice what you preach,” the most for me.
It was a cold and rainy Boston marathon. The wind was more exhausting than I anticipated and the cold began to find its way into my joints, adding pain instead of numbing it. Between miles 21 and 22 I began to lose hope: hope in myself, hope in my training, and hope in my plan. My thoughts turned to feelings of failure, anxiety, regret, and disappointment. I was ready to quit and I was ready to be okay with that.
I started to feel increasingly upset. My pace was slowing as the mental burden was adding to the physical exhaustion. Each drop of rain did its best to hide my tears, but it couldn’t change the expression on my face. I knew what I looked like, but I didn’t care. My internal disappointment was all I could focus on.
The rain and cold had turned the rowdy streets from Hopkinton to Boston to a quiet crowd of shivering fans. I lifted my head a little to scan the course, no longer caring to hide the emotions on my face. The silence was broken by one young member of the crowd, a young boy wearing a blue jacket with the hood pulled up tight around his head. All he said was one simple line. “C’mon man, you got this…”
I don’t know what it was about this young spectator’s words that impacted me. But now my mindset began to shift. “You got this…” The internal debate shifted from fighting to stop, to fighting to finish. “I do have this… I can do this… I will.” That was it. Those were the words I was looking for all along. “I will…” The mantra felt warm, as if a sun came out within me. I could feel a rush of energy, no matter how slight, but I felt different. “I will.” I repeated it to myself over and over. It began to possess my effort, energy, and attitude. “I will!”
As my focus shifted from internal to the environment I took note of the quiet, cold crowd again. I knew I could do it, but I needed some help. I stuck my arms out and pumped them up and down a few times. A few people began to cheer again. It wasn’t enough. I did it again. A small roar began to build. The spectators nearest me were reacting to my effort to get them cheering. The energy in the crowd was returning as I passed person after person. One more pump of my arms started a chain reaction near me and the line of fans began to cheer not for me, but because the crowd had come back to life. I restarted myself, the fans, and hopefully helped a few other miserable runners near me.
It didn’t change the next few miles of torture, but how I approached them did. The mantra rang through my head and I was fighting toe to toe with the course and the weather. Miles 23, 24, and 25 passed by. I held on to my pace and my rebuilt desire to finish the way I intended to. I turned right on Hereford and could see the last corner. The left on Boylston gave me energy I didn’t know I had. I picked up my pace with the last quarter mile with the intention to shave off as many seconds as I could. The arches of the finish shoot closed in and passed over my head. I was done… I will… I did.