PUT DOWN THOSE WOR­RIES

Runner's World (UK) - - Fuel -

What is it about writ­ing that helps an ath­lete? ‘Neg­a­tive self-talk can oc­cur in ath­letic sit­u­a­tions,’ says psy­chol­o­gist Sian Beilock, di­rec­tor of the Hu­man Per­for­mance Lab at the Univer­sity of Chicago, US, and author of Choke: What the Se­crets of the Brain Re­veal about Get­ting it

Right When You Have To (Free Press). ‘Get­ting the wor­ries down on pa­per makes them less likely to pop up in a com­pe­ti­tion sit­u­a­tion. It’s akin to down­load­ing them from the mind.’

Beilock’s con­clu­sion is based on a study she did with groups of stu­dents about to sit an exam. Stu­dents in one

group wrote down their thoughts and feel­ings about an exam right be­fore tak­ing it, while a con­trol group did no such writ­ing. The stu­dents who wrote per­formed sig­nif­i­cantly bet­ter on the exam than the con­trol group, and those who were the most prone to test anx­i­ety showed the most im­prove­ment over their past test per­for­mances.

Run­ners who have used writ­ing in their prepa­ra­tion find th­ese ben­e­fits ap­ply to their per­for­mance as well. ‘I can be re­laxed on the day of the race,’ says Flesh­man. ‘Anx­i­ety comes from just not hav­ing ver­balised. It’s al­most like your brain is full of gib­ber­ish. Some­times you just need to trans­late it. You’re writ­ing your own story, re­ally. It makes you feel in con­trol.’

To gain con­fi­dence be­fore a race, Flesh­man says, ‘I look at the work I’ve done and also at my goal­spro­cess­ing pages so I can re­mem­ber why I’m ac­tu­ally do­ing this, which helps quiet the noise, neg­a­tive thoughts and ex­tra non­sense that pop up right be­fore a big race.’

The day be­fore a race Ramirez writes down what could hap­pen. ‘You can’t pre­dict ev­ery­thing,’ he says, ‘but you can pre­pare for some sit­u­a­tions. And then, as the race plays out, you can fall back on your think­ing [from] the night be­fore and race ac­cord­ing to plan.’

Vac­caro says she’s a vis­ual per­son, so writ­ing goals and plans down helps to lay them out where she can see and process them more ef­fec­tively.

Writ­ing also helps Flesh­man judge her ex­pec­ta­tions. ‘I spend time pro­cess­ing – “Where am I in my train­ing? What can I ex­pect from my­self? What’s rea­son­able? What’s ex­tra­or­di­nary?” – and then line up ex­pec­ta­tion with that,’ she says.

Be­sides race prepa­ra­tion, reg­u­lar writ­ing can help through­out your run­ning year. ‘Writ­ing is a way to learn,’ says Richard Kent, di­rec­tor of the Univer­sity of Maine Writ­ing Project and author of Writ­ing on the Bus, a guide for sports teams us­ing jour­nals. He has worked with many types of ath­letes to am­plify their un­der­stand­ing of their craft.

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