Last weekend, I ran back-to-back marathons. 26.2 miles on Saturday, and then 26.2 miles all over again on Sunday. These weren’t races, which means there were no spectators, no aid stations, no finish line, no closed course, and no shiny medal at the end. It was 80+ degrees with 80% humidity, and my coach’s instructions were simple: “Just survive it.”

And I did.

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There’s a lot I could tell you about running these 52.4 miles, but the overwhelming thing is this: It was hard. No flowery language, no excuses, it was just hard - and there were points during both days where I didn’t know if I could make it. Here’s how I made it:

Lately, I’ve been studying the mental side of athletics – reading books on how to train your mind for peak performance and then diligently practicing – and this weekend was a ripe testing ground for one of the techniques I’ve learned, a two-step process for overcoming the downward mental spiral that takes over when things get really challenging.

Step 1: Interrupt negative thoughts as soon as you notice them

Many times throughout these runs I would start thinking things like, “I’m so tired. I’m sore. This is insane. I have a stomach cramp. I can’t do this. It’s too hot. I have too many more miles to run.” And just as soon as the thoughts would start, I’d tell myself, quickly and strongly, “STOP” or “ENOUGH” or “NO MORE.”

Step 2: Flood your mind with positive thoughts

After giving myself the command to stop thinking negative things, I’d immediately begin filling my mind with short, powerful phrases instead. Things like: “You’re strong. You’re fit. You’re in control.” And then I’d repeat those phrases over and over again for a few minutes or a few miles – however long it took to lift the dark cloud of self-doubt and re-focus on the present moment in which I was 100% in control of myself. Guess what? It worked. Every single time, it worked. And I know it sounds too simple and I know you might be rolling your eyes but, you guys, THIS WORKS. Just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s easy, though, and I know I still need a lot more practice in order to really gain control over my mind.

That concept, though, the fact that we can control our minds, it’s one that took me a long time to admit. In fact, you know what, I think this is the first time I’m actually admitting it to myself – admitting that I do have complete control over my thoughts.  And god, that’s a scary thing. Because (real talk) it’s so much easier to play the victim to my feelings and to outside circumstances and to let those things control me, instead of going the hard route of learning to control myself. But here’s the truth:

Lasting change and peak performance are only possible once you accept 100% responsibility for yourself and your life. 

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