My [Humble] “Guide” to Sports Psych

If you go back and read some of my older posts, you’ll know I used to struggle a lot with my running mental game. I still do sometimes, but, over the past few years, I’ve done a lot of “work” between the ears and come up with some strategies to conquer the doubt demons and enjoy racing more.

Here are some things that have helped me. The “Unicorn Guide to Sports Psych” if you will…

[Wondering what the unicorn is all about? Jocelyn described the 2nd semester of my 4th year of med school as being like a unicorn’s horn – always on the up and up…until a crash much later. Plus, unicorns are happy and magical, also somewhat like the 4th year of med school.]



1. Ditch the Garmin

At least for a bit. Learn to run and race by feel first and then bring the Garmin back in. I ran completely watch-less for 6 weeks while I studied for the boards and then I completely surprised myself in a race right after I took the boards. I think it was because I stopped thinking about pace in numbers and started thinking about effort.

It took me a while (ie 2.5 years) to learn to use the Garmin as a tool to look at data afterwards and not as an on-the-run Big Brother watching over me. And, always remember, the only person really judging your Garmin splits is you. Garmin is only Big Brother if you make it.

2. Read this book and this book



Both are worth your time and money in my opinion. I refer back to both books often. They have some great pearls of wisdom. You are welcome to borrow my copy that is highlighted and flagged. #nerdalert

3. Get something to write in

More valuable data than my Garmin splits...

More valuable data than my Garmin splits…

Writing helps me to not only vent, but to figure out why I may have make “x” decision, am scared of “x” workout, and so on and so forth.

4. Articulate why you want to race in a sentence that does not include a time in it


And to eat ice cream...

I wrote this back in December or January…

Racing takes on a richer meaning when it is for something else other than time. Or, at least, it did for me.

5. Want to be there (the race, workout, etc) and no where else

I’ve noticed that when the pain of racing starts, I start to want to be somewhere else. My bed. Starbucks. The beach. In front of a TV watching Dance Moms. Eating. As of February (ie after Miami Half ADD race), I tried to start to mentally compartmentalize my running, meaning run time was “let’s only think about running and not the 50 other places you’d want to be right now.” You signed up. You put your shoes on. Your body is physically there. Now, commit your mind to also wanting to be there and no where else. And, remember, the whole thing is temporary. It will be over in less time than it takes to watch “The Sound of Music” or “Gone With the Wind” (unless its a marathon).

6. Race a lot

Doing anything repeatedly has a callousing affect and you start to become less nervous. For example, before I took my MCAT, I took 10 separate practice tests each on a Saturday morning to simulate testing conditions. By the time I took the real deal, it seemed like my normal Saturday morning activity. And, now, after tests about every 2-3 weeks during the first and second years of medical school, I don’t get nervous before most tests, unless its my boards.

Racing a good bit also lets you practice how you might deal with your nerves. I might have one “goal” race, but I’ll still race fairly frequently throughout my training to practice dealing with negative self talk, bad racing habits (starting out too fast or way too slow), and so on and so forth.

7. Toughen up

As my friend JB once told me, “The farmers work 16 hours days in the field…you can do this.” Or, as my mom told me before a tennis match onetime, “The Russian girls don’t need sports psych – they just want to win so they do…so go out and win!” So, just remember those farmers and the tough Russian tennis players…


Mostly, I’ve found a robust imagination and practice to be the keys to my “mental game.” Yeah, unicorns? Legs of an eagle? Sounds completely crazy, but it’s worked for me.


Until next time…

11 thoughts on “My [Humble] “Guide” to Sports Psych

  1. I can definitely relate to #6. Although I do not race a lot in running, taking a bazillion tests in med school definitely helped me get over my test anxiety. It seemed like every other week was some sort of exam, so you just kind of get over it. I was much less nervous for step 2 than step 1, although towards the beginning of section 7 i definitely had a lot of #5.. thinking of anywhere else i could possibly be besides prometric… BUT THAT IS LEGIT.

  2. WOW, Meggie! Thank you thank you thank you!!! ALL such wise words! I am so grateful that you shared some of your story and allowed the rest of us to learn from it as well! I have been working on non garmin runs and ENJOYING it so much! Also love the thoughts about racing often!

  3. Your reasoning is exactly why I started racing a lot – even if it’s not a ‘race’ goal for me it makes everything mentally better and more fun! Great tips.

  4. Hmmm. I’ve never thought about racing more to get more used to it. I purposely have raced less – having just a couple key races – because I’m not crazy about the nerves, pressure, negative self talk, etc from racing. But I do enjoy the process. I might have to try this this summer before training for my FIRST marathon starts.

  5. I never thought of looking at it like you state in #5 … but it makes so much sense! Will have to try that out during my next half (which is in like 3 months, but still…)

  6. I really love the one about being in the moment at the end of a tough race. Going anywhere but focusing on the running is basically throwing away the hard work you did leading up to that moment, both in training and in the race. I’m still working myself through this one sometimes.

  7. I think I just need to toughen up mostly. I plan on spending the rest of the year working on my intrinsic motivation and hopefully that will solve some of the issues I have been having. I do think that 75% of my problem has been because of my coach, but since we broke up I already feel so much better. I am excited to make my own training plan, even though it does scare me too!

  8. I love #5 and #7 especially – so true! I always try to tell myself that I’m lucky to be doing this to begin with, so freaking enjoy it. Also, pain is always temporary, and “you can do anything for XX minutes”

  9. It really all comes back to those farmers.

    Also – big difference between running and racing – especially mentally. And having that mental toughness takes time. I think you might have mastered it for a book series.

  10. I love this! I have discovered my head is the biggest obstacle in my races. My last 2 races I focused on my thoughts and attitude instead of my performance and I was surprised with the results. I ran good times for me and enjoyed ever step of the races!

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