Self-Talk – How the Tough Get Going
18 April 2018
When you find yourself in a difficult or an uncomfortable situation, what do you do in order to get yourself through it?
This past Monday, April 16, 2018, Desiree Linden, age 34, became the first American woman to win the Boston Marathon in 33 years. A 2-time Olympian, her previous best finish was a heart-breaking 2nd place finish by 2 seconds in 2011.
Before the race, Linden tweeted out the lyrics of a Johnny Cash song:
Well you may throw your rock and hide your hand
Workin’ in the dark against your fellow man
But as sure as God made black and white
What’s down in the dark will be brought to the light
You can run on for a long time
Run on for a long time
Run on for a long time ….
But as race-day dawned – the weather turned horrible! It was 38 degrees at start time, with a 35-mile per hour howling head wind and sheeting rain – Boston spring at its most daunting. And it threatened to derail Desi Linden. She “was feeling horrible;” she “felt beaten by the weather;” an inner voice whispered, “No, this is not my day.” At 2 miles, 3 miles, 4, 6, Linden was convinced she would not finish.
She was determined, however, not to drop out until she had to, in case she could help her teammates. So, Linden told Shalane Flanagan (winner of the 2017 New York Marathon, and one of the U.S. hopefuls in Boston) she would probably not complete the race, and asked if she could help Flanagan – maybe block the wind for her? Linden went so far as to wait while Flanagan took a bathroom break around mile 13, to make sure Flanagan had a chance to get back among the leaders.
Several miles later, as Mamitu Daska of Ethiopia opened up a 30-second lead, American Molly Huddle gave chase, and Linden thought she’d help Huddle in her pursuit. All of a sudden, Linden found herself in fourth place, within striking distance, “so I probably shouldn’t drop out.” She led the field with 5 miles to go. Linden finished the race in 2:39:54 – 4 minutes ahead of the next female finisher.
What kept Desiree Linden running for miles when she doubted her ability to finish early on?
• She kept her calm and her focus, not dropping out before she absolutely had to – and this held her in the race to its finish.
• She knew her training and knew she was well prepared for Boston. She had trained in Michigan’s even less forgiving climate – and it had prepared her well for the conditions she faced in Boston. She gutted it out.
• She thought of her teammates as well as herself – Linden said, after the race, “When you work together, you never know what’s going to happen.”
• She has run the Boston Marathon many times before and knows the course extremely well.
• She did not blow it out before Heartbreak Hill; she paced herself well.
After her win, Linden said, “It’s supposed to be hard – this is a grinder’s day.”
One approach to dealing with a difficult situation can be self-talk, or talking yourself consciously through each stage of solving your problem. A good self-talk has several basic stages:
1. Stop. Take a moment to breathe. Inhale, exhale; center yourself.
2. Look at the situation. Since all progress starts with the truth, don’t make it worse than it is, but don’t sugar-coat it, either. Face the facts, and try to leave as much emotion out of your analysis as possible.
3. Evaluate your options, calmly. Write down or think through your options and analyze them in turn before choosing a course of action. What happens if I do this first?
4. Choose your course and set out on it. If the first option doesn’t work well, make adjustments.
As I write this, it is “tax day” in America. The IRS had their own problems yesterday – their computers went down, and they smartly allowed the U.S. public an extra day to file their returns or extensions. They adjusted.
The Johnny Cash lyrics Linden tweeted sing of bringing “what’s down in the dark” into the light. Sometimes you have to dig down quite deep to find what you need. But it is always there.
So, here’s to all the “grinders” who tough it out!