Countering negative thoughts on the long run

When a segment of a song gets stuck in your head it’s called an “earthworm.” It can be annoying, especially when you’re trying to relax and “Uptown Funk” keeps repeating on an endless loop. It also can be helpful when say you’ve got “All About that Base” on repeat which is the perfect cadence to cycle yourself up the hills of Allgeheny State Park during a sprint triathlon. 

There were no endless song loops playing through my mind during my last long run of this segement of marathon training.

But I did start to think about earthworms. (Hey there’s a lot of time on a 20-mile run to think.) It wasn’t just songs which got stuck in my head (“Shut Up and Dance With Me!) but I also realized snippets of conversations get stuck in my head. They burrow in my mind, playing at usually the absolute worst times.

And more often than not, the conversation snippets which repeat are negative or condescending. The subtle dig has a way of becoming soul crushing.

There are plenty of these earthworms waiting to pop into my consciousness without warning, taking me down when I’m happy, feeding my fear, distortining my view. 

I could tell you all about these conversation snippets, the ones where people told me I should give up endurance sports because I’m not good or the equally destructive pat-on-the-head which says “isn’t that cute you’re still trying to do this.”

I could tell you about the expectations others had of me and how I let that shape expectations of myself.

But on my last long run, I found an entire new set of earthworms.

The ones which were affirming and positive.

I thought about my friend Alexis who has traveled distances at early hours to do a long run with me, foresaking her speed for my company. She cheered me virtually through my last half marathon sending me the best photo text message (sorry kids, I’m not in the snapchat genre yet) and wished me luck through my 20 miler. I thought about our conversations on the run and heard her talk about baseball in her Canadian accent. I don’t nearly get her to say “Detroit” often enough.

Then there was the time when my friends Stacy and Tracy came to cheer me (and others) at a 70.3 triathlon. They said they’d only be there for the start, which was awesome enough. The start is hardest part, staring at the open water then searching for the perfect spot to throw up from fear. Friends at the start are great. But they stayed. They stayed the whole damn day. Every time I saw their faces and heard their encouragement it gave me a little bit of strength to finish difficult course on a difficult weather day.

Just last week, my friend Layne decided she wanted to see me cross the finish line, then celebrated with me afterward. There was the time my friend Jude was my emergency contact for a long run. She met me at the end and bought me pancakes.

There’s the tiny snippets of things my friends have said to me which repeat. The text message from my strength coach where he called me “motivated” and “dedicated.” That’s so much better to have on repeat in  your head than the know-it all asshole who chastises you for running marathons when you can’t run a decent 5K time.

The 20-mile long run brings all kinds of thoughts and emotions into play. There are the easy miles when you feel great, the bump in the road as you approach the middle miles, the burning sensation in your legs and the abyss of darkness. Earthworms of all kinds try to surface.

Everytime one of my negative, condesending thoughts came to mind, I chose to counter it. And the more I practiced this, the more I realized every one of those negative thoughts had a correspending affirmative counter. All I had to do was make the choice and give the earthworm the opportunity to surface.

At some point your route intersects with hope.

That’s when you smile. Because that’s when all things are possible.


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