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Athletes at the start

Whether you're standing among a crowd of athletes waiting for a race to start or even going on a long hike, your mind is always telling you something.

Have you ever stopped to examine the message you are sending to yourself at the start of a competition or a physical activity?

Whether you're standing among a crowd of athletes waiting for a 10K to start, tackling a challenging single track dirt trail on a mountain bike or even going on a long hike, your mind is always telling you something. It may be the grit of grim determination: "I'm going to pull this off." It may be self confidence: "I can handle this," or "Wow, I can win." Or it may be a kind of self-loathing that predicts failure: "They're all better than me," or, "What was I thinking to even try this?"

Here's the reality: Whatever you are telling yourself is probably what will happen. If you're riding your bike up a steep hill while telling yourself you don't have the stamina to make it to the top, that self-message goes to your whole body. It makes you gasp for breath, even though only deep breaths will give you the oxygen your lungs crave. It makes you tense your muscles, thus tiring them out and robbing you of energy you need to summit the hill.

One of the biggest mistakes made by those who enter a competitive event is the making of judgments. If you think, "Oh, I can't beat that one," you probably won't. That will be true whether you actually have the athletic ability to pass that competitor or not. If you're in a race, always remember that you are racing against time, not against other people.

Never allow one person to become a rival and then concentrate on beating that one person. That's true even if the rival is the fastest athlete in the event. If you're concentrating on the performance of another person, you're not focused on your own performance. In any competitive event, your mind should be all about you, and not about anyone else.

Meeting your athletic potential doesn't require being in a race. The truth is that many active folks hold back, not allowing themselves to accomplish a goal because they are sending themselves the subconscious message "I can't."

That's why it's so important to examine your state of mind, not only in any activity or event, but in the time leading up to it. Suppose you didn't have enough restful sleep the night before. You couldn't sleep, you thrashed around. When you get out of bed, stop dwelling on it. Don't tell yourself how tired you are. Of course, if you're truly tired, skip the activity. But first, think about it. Is your body really tired, or do you just need more time awake to become alert and energetic?

If the activity or event is a truly challenging one for you, the most important thing to eliminate from your head is worry. That includes any kind of worry, such as "Am I going to beat (name of other athlete here)?" or "Can I actually do this?" or "Am I going to embarrass myself?" or even "I don't feel so good."

One solution in learning to control your mind is meditative practice sessions. Sit in a comfortable seat, close your eyes, and think of yourself being able to do better in an activity or move up the rankings in an event. Try to actually feel your body in motion.

Observe and feel what you want to improve. Do you want your spine to be straighter? Envision yourself doing your activity with a straighter spine, both by the way it feels and the way it would appear to others.

Do you want your knees to bend at a deeper angle? Envision your knees bent as you wish, and concentrate on the feeling.

To sum up, controlling your mind means to a large degree that you control your results.

Wina Sturgeon is the editor of the online magazine Adventure Sports Weekly, which offers the latest training, diet and athletic information.

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