It’s a new year (well, three weeks into the new year) and a big goal of mine this year is to blog more! A couple months ago I asked what people wanted to know more about when it comes to being a professional athlete and I got some really good questions and suggestions for blog posts, so thank you to all who submitted ideas! Along with updates about training, travels, life, etc., my goal is to answer as many of the questions as I can with posts throughout the year.
I had two suggestions come up several times - my race in Monaco last year and dealing with anxiety in racing and training. The more I thought about these two things, the more I realized how related they were.
Last year was a big year for me partly because of my race in Monaco, but more importantly because of the growth I had as an athlete when it came to my mental approach to training. Taylor Dutch recently wrote an article detailing some of this journey and how working with a sport’s psychologist really helped me with this growth.
The mentions some changes I made last year, and I thought it might be helpful to go in to some detail. Changing my mental approach to training not only helped with anxiety in training, but also racing. The biggest change to my mental approach was getting rid of the idea of “perfect”.
My parents have always told me that I was a perfectionist from the day I was born. It has just always been an innate trait for me. This trait was both a positive and negative one for me growing up as I was always striving for the very best, but I often ended up disappointed if perfection wasn’t achieved. I always tried to think of it in positive light, however, until this last year I realized how inhibiting it was becoming because my anxiety around training and racing needing to be perfect had become too much.
The perfectionism often led to me comparing myself to my teammates. Even if I had a good workout, if I did fewer reps or ran slower times than my teammates, I would start thinking it was a bad day. This comparison led to a lot of anxiety surrounding workouts for fear of when they would start going “bad”. Going into races, I felt the same way. I was so much more nervous than previous years, and if it didn’t feel like my World Championship race from 2017, I’d start to mentally panic and find myself out of the race far too early.
Between my coaches and sport’s psychologist, Sean McCann, I was finally able to find a new approach to the mental side of my training. I started focusing less on what everyone else was doing and more on having a growth mindset and being the best version of myself. Second, I dropped the idea of perfection. This was really hard (and is still something I have to work on every day), but has led to me being a much happier person. Instead of obsessing over every aspect of my training having to be perfect, I have worked to try and only “control the what I can control” (things like my attitude, work ethic, time spent recovering, etc.) and realizing every time something isn’t exactly perfect or doesn’t go the way I had it in my head, it’s just preparing me for racing which can be full of adversity. By working on the mental side of training every day, I was able to translate it into my racing as well.
I feel like Monaco was finally the race where I used this new mindset to its fullest. Going into the race, I just felt ready. Ready for anything. I knew no matter what happened, I was going to make the most of it and be the very best Courtney I could be, just like I had been doing every day in practice.
We went out around 2:57 for the first kilometer, which was a bit faster than I was hoping for, but I knew if I just kept myself in it I could still have a good race. Every time I had an instinct to make a move, I trusted it. I was finally one hundred percent focused on executing my race and nothing else. This also allowed me to be fully focused on the race and not on the clock. I don’t even recall seeing the clock until about 300 meters to go. At that point, I looked at the clock and realized how fast I was running and tried to kick as hard as I could because I knew I was going to be really close to breaking 9:00. I came across the finish line and knew I had broken the American Record, and a huge smile broke out across my face. Shortly after though, the perfectionist inside of me tried to take over and this moment happened.
Photo by Elevation 0m Media
For a brief moment, I felt a sense of disappointment because the “perfect” race had not happened. I didn’t break 9:00. I then said out loud what I had accomplished and realized how CRAZY I was for allowing myself to think it had to be a perfect day for it to be a great day, and I burst into tears.
Photo by Elevation 0m Media
I can’t say that I am successful every single day at focusing on growth and not perfection, but every day it does get a little easier and this fall was already a good example of how this new mindset has helped me as an athlete. It wasn’t a perfect block of training by any means, but I showed up each day and tried my best to better myself as an athlete. Because of this new mindset, I put together my best fall to date. I’m excited to continue down this path and keep focusing on process over outcome and enjoying every step of my journey. Thanks for following along!