My Brain Is The Problem

Remember when I ran the Las Vegas Half Marathon — and, uh, a handful of other races that didn’t go as planned this year — and I talked about how I had a really hard time during those last, oh, nine miles?

That's not me in the yellow. I'm on the right, in the pink and orange, seriously struggling.

Last night I had a revelation: My brain is the problem.

My legs are fine. They’re pretty strong. Kinda cool.

The problem, my friends, is that my brain sucks.

Oh, this isn’t breaking news, you say? I know. We’ve discussed this before. “You get in your head too much, Ali,” they all say.

I’ve realized for a little while now that my brain gets in the way when I’m trying to reach my full potential. It’s a constant struggle for me to push those deafening, discouraging thoughts aside when I’m racing.

How much did I hate the Battle of Brooklyn? SO much.

Last night I took a Hot Power Yoga class at the always lovely Pure Yoga. Every time I go there I feel fancy and unworthy. It smells good and everything is clean. I love it there. Who would like to buy me a membership? Thank you in advance.

OK so I took this class, alongside Hot Mom Gia, and I wasn’t too scared. I’ve taken hot yoga before and I love it. I had never taken a class with this particular instructor (I didn’t catch her name, but she does have a very visible six-pack, and I took clear note of that) so I was looking forward to the hour-long challenge.

And what a challenge it was.

Hot damn.

Apparently I’ve been chaturanga-ing incorrectly for the past year. You’re supposed to hover above the ground, not just drop to the floor like a dying fish. That’s good to know. The teacher had us doing some crazy arm things and I was shaking, but I also got into a battle midway through class with the ol’ brain again.

I was wearing short shorts (obviously) and a tank top, and I didn’t have one of those fancy little yoga towels to put over the yoga mat. So once I started dripping sweat out of every possible pore (sexy, as always), my mat got really slippery, and I started to hold back.

When everyone else did those little handstand hops, I just sort of…stood there? And looked around. And kept sweating. I didn’t even try the hops. I was scared of slipping and falling and breaking my neck and dying. How will I ever run a sub-4:00 marathon if I’m dead? I won’t. So no handstand crap for me. No thank you.

I don't know, this picture just seemed relevant here... Right?

But on a more serious note: There were a bunch of times during the class when I knew I should have been chilled out, but my brain was on overdrive. I couldn’t zone out and tune into the class. I just kept thinking about all the stuff I had to do when I got home. And then, during certain moves — like this one where we were in plank position and then kicked one leg across/underneath our bodies and onto the other side and then did push-ups — I found myself taking it a bit easy.

I think I probably could have done most of the moves and poses if I had given them my very best effort. Yeah some of the stuff was challenging (sad left split, you will never happen for me), and most of the stuff I went for, but I would see certain things, and I would see everyone around me easing into everything so effortlessly, and I didn’t understand why their feet weren’t making squeaky fart noises on the mat like mine. They were all pros. I was oh so amateur.

And then there was Gia, on the mat next door, busting out splits and smiling like it was no big deal.

"Hi, I'm Gia, I'm perfect in every way. And sorry, you can't even hate me because I'M SO NICE."

Evil, gorgeous bitch.

So yes, my brain holds me back.

The class was great, it really was, and I’m so glad I went. I love hot yoga. It’s so cleansing, and even if you’re terrible at it you’re still guaranteed to sweat. I appreciate that.

During my walk home, which was lovely, I thought to myself, “Hey, Ali, maybe the problem you’re facing is that you’re so afraid to fail that sometimes you don’t even want to try. You’ve never been much of a risk-taker. You’re a play-safer. Why?”

And then, instead of pondering that question and exploring my deep thoughts, I caught up on emails and ordered sushi.

Perhaps in 2012, one of my goals will be to push it…hard. Push the speedwork when I’m running. See how fast I can really go. Push myself to try new things, like a headstand. I think I can do more. I just need to not be scared of failing. Apparently you can learn from failure and mistakes and stuff and get stronger from them. Who knew?

In other news, this morning I woke up ready to go to the gym for a spinning class, but then I saw that it was 54 degrees outside so I mentally apologized to spinning and ditched it for a run in Central Park instead.

Nice view this morning, right? OK not really. It was mostly just dark.

It was ridiculously windy, but running in shorts in mid-December and being totally comfortable was wonderful. I ran five very slow, very dark solo miles, listened to chilled out music (yeah, I do think the “Hannah Montana Remix” classifies as chill, so thank you for asking) and arrived back home feeling way more relaxed than I was last night.

Thank you, running, for making me feel so good sometimes.

Tomorrow I’m running the Ted Corbitt 15K. I have a goal in mind and it’s completely un-time-related. I’ll keep it to myself for now. Secrets, secrets, are so fun.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!



0 Responses

  1. I totally understand this! I am probably the worst yogi ever, the majority of the class, I want to be doing a million other things and by the time I leave I have a to-do list a mile long and can’t remember a thing on that list…so maybe it does clear my brain? Hmmm…

  2. Good luck tomorrow! I’m HORRIBLE about over thinking things and becoming mentally defeated. There was a really good article in Real Simple magazine this month about over thinking…apparently it’s being called “being a ruminator” (I forget the exact translation, but somehow related to a cow re-chewing it’s food…gross, but kind of makes sense) and had one really great idea – when you start to worry – picture a stop sign. Even just for a second, you’ll be distracted from the worry and can then refocus on what the true facts are (i.e. you ran 2 slow miles – but that doesn’t prove that you are a failure in running) and then can get back on track. I kept thinking “oh that’s such a good idea” or “ugh, I’m so bad about doing that” as I was reading on the train last night.

  3. I’ve been neglecting yoga lately, but went on Tuesday and boy do my legs feel better! I need to remind myself that yoga can really be a runner’s best friend!

  4. Lately I’ll go into a race with a goal in the back of my mind (usually just to P.R.) but my focus during the race isn’t on my pace, but my heart rate, and keeping it in a zone I know I can sustain, but is still pushing it. That way I finish strong, but I know I gave it my all, so I have zero regrets when I finish. I even created a chart in case others want to learn their target HR zones: (PS I am in no way a medical professional … just a runner with a Garmin and a religious user of my HR strap.)

  5. Ali! You are a girl after my own heart.

    I’ve been having the same problem as well. I’m so afraid at failing that I don’t push myself hard enough to FAIL. I over think and analyze things way to much and make myself sick before races b/c I’m afraid I won’t run as fast as I want to. In the end this results me in not PRing since I’m too busy driving myself nuts over numbers. My fastest times are w/o a watch and in the comfort of my own neighborhood. It’s all a work in progress though. We’re both still “new” to racing so it’ll come with time to just enjoy it all and be in the moment. Racing is supposed to be fun, who would have thought? 😉

    I hope you learn to chill your brain out because you have SO much potential, look how far you’ve come so far!

  6. Um remember that time I collapsed into a heap on the yoga mat during ab exercises while the pretty lady next to me crunched and crunched like a pro … yeah that was last night!
    It was such a HARD class and I agree, I dont zen well but really need to learn 🙂

  7. My silly little brain does the same thing. I was feeling great in my half this last weekend and then just died at the turn around. I started walking and jogging, but then when I saw a photographer I started running! It honestly wasn’t that difficult. I got so pissed off at myself. If I could run like for a stupid picture, why wasn’t I running like that for the race?!?!?!!?

    And then my brain said eff you and killed me again.

    I will defeat you, brain. Or at least work with you.

  8. Hang in there. It’s perfectly OK if you can’t get it all right off the bat. Your yoga practice is just that — your practice. Don’t worry about others are doing around you.

    Plus, what fun would it be if you could everything right out of the gate? My crappy back has limited my ability to run.. so what I appreciate about yoga is that it’s challenging, and I can make measurable progress. It’s the same sense of accomplishment I got from running. The first week of this new yoga class was tough and I couldn’t get through all the planks and chaturangas. Each week I’m able to get through a bit more..and that’s the best part.

  9. I have the same mental blocks. I have them in yoga, running, my diet, everything. I can totally relate! I really enjoy the hot classes also. Once in crow pose, my hands slipped and I fell. I bought a yogi-toes the next day. It was worth it. But, I found that I would push myself to attempt things my body was not ready for, I wanted my poses to look like the girl’s next to me and I would try and hold uncomfortable binds when I should have been in child’s pose collecting myself. After sometime, I got mad at myself and thought, “I’ve been taking these classes forever, why am I not good at this yet!?” And I stopped going for a while. I’ve since taken a step back and now go to more slow flow and beginners classes. Its hard not to jump into the Powerful flow classes that really worked up a sweat, but I was psyching myself out to much. I do it sometimes when I run too, I am very slow, and really want to get faster but don’t know how (or if I can). Thanks for the post, I can totally relate. And good luck tomorrow!!

  10. Oh I SO get this. I definitely let fear hold me back, and I think that’s why I have hated intervals for so long, because they are scary and HARD. But once I let my mind go a little and go with it, I actually found that I LIKED them. Who knew? I am glad that you are realizing that your brain is what is stopping you, nothing else. you are physically capable!

  11. Dear Ali, my brain would like to introduce itself to yours. It’s really quite embarassing to admit how much I’m always putting myself down and thinking I can’t do things. Since I also give myself anixety attacks about long runs, I decided to do it today instead of tomorrow because I JUST COULDN’T TAKE THE MADNESS ANY LONGER. So I did 15. It was fine…nbd. But the WHOLE time instead of positive little mantras I heard “You will never make it past 8 today. And if you do you won’t get to 11. Then you’ll probably die at 14. Also, You really think you can run ANOTHER 11 on top of this? Probably not.” SIGH. I’m not really sure how I acted during my last two marathon training plans, but my guess is it was something similar and I’ve managed to block it out. Don’t mind me when I stalk all your blog posts on each long run you did. No one around me runs and reading about you reminds me of me. Makes sense I’m sure.

  12. I fully agree and empathize with the getting in your head, being afraid to fail, and being more of a safe taker. I often wonder what did/did not happen in life, thus far, to put me in a place where I am afraid of failure. More importantly, what to do about it now.

    Still, I think you should give yourself some credit, Ali. I mean, look at the last two-three years… I would definitely say you have taken some significant risks, that could have ended in some sort of failure, and made it through. Not just made it, but thrived (from the look of it, at least). Keep doing your thing my NH buddy for life (and one hell of a QU formal date).

  13. I’m very much the same way. It sucks. But recognizing you have a problem is the first step to recovery! I hope.

    That said, come to Refine with me?

  14. Ohh I SO know exactly what you mean and have BEEN THERE. I used to go halfway and then stop, give up entirely. In lots of things in life. I’d do “good enough” and think “ok, I did it, that’s what matters, right?” but really? I was selling myself short. Not trusting myself to go for the gold and REALLY go for it. Without second guessing myself. Without doubting that I could go farther, faster, higher, whatever. But once I nailed that issue and realized what the problem was – that it was mental, not physical – it was such a breakthrough. I have learned to train my mind to let my body go, to trust it more, to leap without looking. And I’ve surprised the sh*t out of myself left and right lately. I am the person I always wanted to be…I just didn’t’ recognize her. Until very recently. You can totally get there friend, I just know it. LOVE to talk to you about it if you wanna trade emails! (sorry, novel length blog comment again!!!)

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about ali

I’m the creator of the Ali on the Run blog and the host of the Ali on the Run Show podcast. I’m also a freelance writer and editor, a race announcer, a runner and marathoner, a mom, and a huge fan of Peanut M&Ms, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (way better than the first one!), and reliving my glory days as a competition dancer in the early 2000s. I’m really happy you’re here.
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