Dr. Joan’s Sports Psych Talk: Sports psychology in action
Dr. Joan’s Sports Psych Talk-
Sports psychology techniques are powerful tools for the recreational/amateur athlete and mandatory for the professional. As a sports psychologist, I’ve always advocated the importance of practicing what you preach. Maybe a bit of a cliche, but true. Your goals, thought habits, focus, and visualization techniques play a vital role when participating in a race, even if you’re not an elite participant. So I ran in my first road race 1/2 marathon in 18 years and put sports psychology to work.
The Santa Rosa Half and Full Marathons were held this past Sunday. Held together, the course for both started in Juillard Park in Santa Rosa and wound its way along the bike path following a small creek. The half marathoners did one loop that went under and over bridges on a bike path that had both paved and unpaved sections and the marathoners went out for a second circuit. The temperature was perfect, reading only in the fifties at the start with a gradual warm up. They had prepared pace-per-mile markers at the beginning which allowed participants to line up in their respective time areas. With good energy and cheer at 7:00 am, the runners set off at the sound of a gun. Participants and those cheering the crowd were of all ages.
Establishing goals for any event needs to be done with each athlete’s own individual capabilities in mind. Although I had been running four-days-a-week and hiking one, I didn’t include any speed work in my training. My main focus had been on preparing for our upcoming trekking trip to Nepal. My goals for the Santa Rosa Half were modest– finish in under 2:30 hours, run the whole way, have fun, be relaxed, enjoy the journey, and to push towards a stretch goal of a finish in 2:10 hrs. Having been primarily a trail runner, I had stayed off the road for years and years and I was used to periodically walking up steeper grades. At age 55, I’ve been coming back from a serious bicycle accident in 2003. Given all that, I knew I would be using sports psychology techniques all along the way. I stayed calm, managing anxiety by eating dinner early, coming back to our hotel room, and actually getting to sleep at a reasonable time.
In the morning, we (my husband and cheerleader, and I) awoke, left in plenty of time to prepare, and arrive at the race start. This was all done calmly yet with focus and concentration on the event. I got in the 9 minute mile pace group and started off. I began by focusing my thoughts on relaxing the shoulders and whole body. I usually focus on relaxing the shoulders since this is where I carry most of my tension. Specifically, I thought “run strong and relax the whole body” to start off the beginning miles. Eventually, this changed to “run, strong legs and relax.” After getting through the first five miles, I visualized myself running along the bay on my standard five mile Blackie’s pasture run and feeling strong in my tempo run. Between miles 8 and 10, I further broke down the run into the last couple of miles of the Blackie’s route.
Arriving at mile 10, I thought, “I only have a 5K to go. Keep on running.” Keep on running, I did. As I approached the finish, I rounded several corners until I hit the final stretch on the grass. I had chosen not to worry about time during the run. I first viewed the clock and misread it as 2:40 but kept up my speed. On the sidelines, my husband, JP, is yelling you smoked it. Surprisingly, I looked at the clock again and it read 2:04:35. I thought, “Wow, I never imagined running that time.” It was actually faster than the first half I had run at age 24. Just for fun, I decided to check what place I had come in the the age 55-59 group. I had placed fourth and was thrilled. Each goal was met. I was tired and happy with a sense of accomplishment and the support of a wonderful husband. Sport psychology and the support especially essential to female athletes.
On Friday, we leave for Nepal to trek for nine days. Another adventure ahead which I’ll share with my readers upon my return at the end of September.
Dr. Joan Steidinger is a sports and clinical psychologist with offices in Mill Valley and San Francisco. She has been practicing sports psychology with clients ranging from recreational to pro athletes for the past 17 years.
As an athlete herself, she has been a competitive ultrarunner, Ride & Tie competitor, and ultradistance cyclist.