Staying Positive through Adversity

Thoughts on Adversity by Matt Fitzgerald

by Matt Fitzgerald, Best-selling author & 2016 Hyland’s Boston Marathon team member.

People choose to run marathons because they’re hard. The whole point of taking on this challenge is—well, to challenge ourselves. This does not, however, mean that we want the challenge to be as large as it can possibly be. No runner in his or her right mind would intentionally make the marathon harder than necessary by failing to train adequately for it or by not drinking anything during it. To the contrary, once we’ve chosen to challenge ourselves by running a marathon, we want everything to go our way, from an injury-free training process to perfect weather on race day.

Of course, it never works out like this. Adversity is inevitable in the process of preparing for and completing a marathon. Things will go wrong: lousy training runs, head colds, crises of confidence, and so forth. Having run more than a few marathons, I’ve seen it all as far as adversity goes. These experiences have taught me a few skills to minimize the negative impact of bad luck in all its forms and prevent it from spoiling the overall experience. Here are my top three ways of coping with marathon-related adversity.

Rise to the occasion.

There’s no way to rewind time. When some form of adversity strikes, it can’t be undone. So there’s no sense in wishing that whatever happened, hadn’t. Instead, embrace the extra challenge you’ve been presented with and see what you can do to workout around or through it.

For example, suppose you get a minor injury that limits what you can do training-wise without taking you out completely. Look for ways to build fitness despite it. These measures might include cross-training, avoiding higher speeds or harder surfaces for a while, or modifying your stride.

It’s amazing how much better you feel about setbacks in the marathon journey when you put your energy into doing something about them instead of feeling victimized by them.

Let go of what you can’t control.

In marathon training, as in life, the greatest source of avoidable stress is worrying about things we can’t control. When adversity strikes in marathon training or in the marathon itself, try to separate elements you can control from those you can’t and consciously let go of the latter.

The weather is a classic example of an uncontrollable. Suppose a heat wave hits just in time for your most important week of training. Do what you can about it: Run earlier in the day, run slower, drink more while you run, move one or more runs indoors onto the treadmill, etc. But to the extent that you can’t avoid the discomfort of running in warmer than ideal temperatures, just accept it. When you do this overtly, the sense of relief is immediate.

Maintain an attitude of gratitude.

It’s so easy to lose perspective when things go wrong during a marathon or marathon training. There’s a natural tendency to think all is lost if, say, your goal of setting a new PR falls out of reach. But failure is seldom total in running. No matter what happens, your experience need no be completely ruined. At these moments it’s important to take a step back and remind yourself of all that is still good and positive about the situation. Often, when my running isn’t going well, I remember to give thanks for being able to run at all.

Challenge is the part of the marathon journey we choose. Adversity is the part we don’t. But it is just as much a part of the journey, no matter how hard you try to avoid it. I have found that the right mindset enables me to enjoy the marathon experience more despite the inevitable frustrations and disappointments, and I know you will too.

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