Self-talk is a Skill That Requires Practice
Positive self-talk is a skill that requires practice just like any physical skill, and it lends itself to confidence. Here's how:
First, let's take a quick, recent example from one of the runners I coach. Joe cracked 3 hours for the first time in his recent March marathon. Yes, hard work pays off and he was well prepared to run under 3 hours, but the reason I use his race as an example is because the weather was rainy with a bit of cold and wind. These are certainly adverse conditions, but they are something we experienced all winter long. So, rather than let the conditions turn any self-talk to the dark side, Joe kept his composure and reminded himself that "I've trained through these conditions all winter." Positive language = positive mood = confidence.
Does the weather affect our bodies and pacing? Yes, absolutely. The goal times I send my athletes typically reflect the race conditions. However, the weather does not have to affect your mind. That is the difference. One definition of confidence that I use with my athletes is "the feeling that you've been there before." That's a common one for public speakers, too. In Joe's case (and all of you as well), you have run in non-ideal conditions before. Remind yourself of that. That is one method to keep the self-talk positive.
Could Joe have run a minute or two faster in better weather? Sure, maybe, probably. The weather can affect our pacing via its effect on the body, but keep it together upstairs (composure) and have positive mantras (self-talk) that you actually believe in. You can't BS yourself! It doesn't work that way. That is why the point of this blog is to remind you that positive self-talk is a skill that requires practice in training. You can't just hope that it works on race day because it often won't.
To think about this another way, here is a message I just sent to another DCRC runner, and I know it will help others as well:
Pressure and anxiety can be habit forming, like Pavlov's dogs and classical conditioning. Soaking up all the positive results of a workout/race while dismissing the negative aspects is definitely a skill that great athletes practice. Knowledge is power in this regard. If you know why something is hard or why a workout is going a particular way, then that should eliminate any negative thoughts (anxiety, pressure, "I'm slow"). Many people can easily point to the factors/variables in a race/workout and understand the practical effects, such as wind, hills, etc. However, the big, big difference lies in how they interpret it at the moment, which unfortunately is the not-so-easy part for many runners. Meaning, what exactly do you say to yourself at that moment? "It's windy...I'm slow" (period, that's it) vs. "My pace is off an ideal time because it is windy, I'm still running well". I believe that many runners adopt the former self-talk, instead of latter.
Moods are transient; they can come and go based on thoughts. The thoughts and feelings come from the language we use when interpreting situations, the same way phobias occur...it's related to the exact phrases a person says to him/herself when entering a crowded subway car and then beginning to feel "boxed in". So, continue to practice positive self-talk as a skill. It's not voodoo, it's reality. The brain changes chemicals based on your mood, and your mood comes from your thoughts and language.
Train hard (and keep it positive)!