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She finished the run, leaned up against the wall and closed her eyes. ” How are you doing”, I asked? “Not good” was the response.

We were halfway through her workout. Its’ a point where you can’t see the beginning or the end. Knowing there are six left even though you’ve done six doesn’t really help.

The data says you’re ok. Heart rate, respiration, stressed but on target, but the mind … it starts to run away, “this is hard, there’s too much left, how come I’m so out of shape.” Then …  5 seconds, 3 seconds, on the line again, go.

She finishes the last run, takes a long walk, grabs a bottle of water and in a few minutes she’s good. Out of the pain cave and back in the light. On the way up to the gym we talk about the mental challenge of the work and how to respond. We talk about staying in the moment.

The mind wants to go to all kinds of places, tell all kinds of stories –  “I’m only half way,  I’m falling behind,  I haven’t done this before.”  Here we can borrow a lesson from the spiritual life. Be mindful. Mindfulness has become a confusing term lately. Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hahn describes it as simply, “remembering to come back to the present moment.”

In meditation we learn to notice, let go, return. We acknowledge the distractions. We don’t fight with them. Then we let go and return to our focus; the breath, a mantra, a sound. For an athlete in training it’s no different. When the thoughts and emotions begin to distract we come back to the moment and focus on that one thing. Your legs are tired and there are six left. True enough. Notice, let go and come back to the point of focus. That may be a spot on the track or a sensation like relaxing my jaw. In competition it’s this shot, this pitch, this lap.

It sounds easy. It’s not. Some talk of mental toughness. I find meditation teacher and author Sharon Salzberg’s take more helpful. ” We strengthen our minds and our meditation practice each time we recognize these distractions, let go, and begin again… Beginning again is a powerful form of resilience training.”We develop resilience like we develop any quality, through practice.

So, in our next workout we’ll remember to come back to the present, to this one run or one rep. We will build resilience as we build strength or endurance. And then, like strength or endurance it will be there to draw on in competition and more importantly in life.

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