Something I have discovered about myself and running is that it is a MENTAL game more than anything.
This isn’t NEW information – if I am doing my solo runs, I am WAY LESS LIKELY to do the whole run without STOPPING than I am when I am in our group runs.
But the BIGGEST mental game I play with myself is actually the thing that got me out of running in the first place, decades ago: panic attacks.
I was a pretty competitive runner as a child (well, generally a competitive PERSON, full stop): And running was my JAM… until the race where I had an asthma attack. I didn’t know I HAD asthma until that race, and it was awful. But I have since discovered it wasn’t JUST an asthma attack, it was a panic attack brought on by my own FRUSTRATING brain.
It was cross country, at the beginning of my grade 8 school year. I can recall feeling great during the run: I was in first place, I was running my little heart out, but then a runner passed me…and I panicked and my heart began to race. And then ANOTHER runner passed me. And I started to feel dread, and the inability to breath. And by the time I finished the race, I couldn’t breath: I needed to puke, I was dizzy, and I was crying. I felt like I was dying.
Eventually the teachers could calm me down, it was determined I had sports-induced asthma, and I was given a puffer by a doctor.
Fast forward to the END of the year, when Track and Field occurs. I was a long distance runner. I had put a lot of pressure on myself (I wanted to do well! No…I wanted to WIN), and I remember right before the race seeing my dad in the bleachers. He was talking to someone he knew, and pointed me out, like, “that’s my daughter, running next.” And he looked so proud.
The race started…and immediately I fell behind. And the panic started. I did NOT want to fail in front of my dad, I did not want to let my school down, and I felt that panic start to take over, like before, and the shortness of breath that comes next, but this time rather get to the point that I finished the race in a flood of tears and vomit, I just stopped. I FAKED the REST of my asthma attack, because I thought that would be better than failing.
I would have been 13 at the time, and I still regret it to this day (I am now 34).
In the decades to follow, I have experienced the panic attack many other times. MOSTLY it comes during running. I’ve experienced it during the only two races I’ve done ( both 5ks). But I’ve experienced it in a non-sports situation as well – again, when I felt like I was failing at something.
I’ve felt the beginnings of it on our Hills days with Team Myles, but managed to talk myself down before it took over.
And yesterday, during our 40 minute run in Point Pleasant Park, I felt the hint of a panic attack when I heard the patter of footsteps behind me, closing in. And why? We’re not racing, we’re all in this together, but the SOUND of those steps made me feel so much pressure, and that familiar feeling of heart rate inducing panic started.
At a certain point, running is such a mental game. And, as it turns out, my brain is an @$$hole. But I can tell you that I AM learning how to make it go away, how to talk myself down, and how to squash it before it overcomes me.
However, learning how to tell myself to “keep going” on my solo runs when that little voice says, “you COULD just stop now…” THAT is another beast, altogether.