April 27, 2020

Tips for Training in the time of COVID-19 from the MCM Psyching Team

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Established in 2019, the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) Psyching Team consists of sport psychologists and sport performance consultants who provide mental strategies, as well as relaxation and mindfulness techniques to participants while on specific segments of the MCM course. Psyching Team members are trained in these methods and can appropriately tailor advice to the individual runner.

Clinical Psychologist and Director of the MCM Psyching Team Dr. Jennifer Lager shares the importance of assessing and adjusting your mindset to help cope with the many changes brought on by the novel Coronavirus:

Included in the many adjustments and losses that we are all experiencing during this unprecedented time of COVID-19 is the removal or reduction of access to in person training groups, partners, and coaches. Changed access to training facilities and some outdoor locations has also created challenges to remaining on track with one’s training. Finally, we have lost the wonderful, exhilarating feeling of coming together shoulder to shoulder to participate in a running event, as they have largely transitioned to virtual experiences.

If you are not familiar with Stanford University Psychology Professor Carol Dweck’s work on mindset, now might be a helpful time to become familiar with it. To summarize her findings, people with a fixed mindset tend to be more rigid/perfectionistic in their approach to the world, are more likely to give up when frustrated, and often see themselves as defined by their failures. In contrast, individuals who use a growth mindset approach setbacks and challenges as opportunities to learn and grow. People with a growth mindset innovate and improvise, try things out knowing that some of what they try may not work. Those with a fixed mindset are more focused on outcomes, those with a growth mindset tend to focus more on attitude and effort.

So what can you do?
Take some time to assess your mindset and explore if you can choose a growth mindset more often. Figure out ingenious ways to log your miles in your yard or stairwell if necessary. Spend some time focusing on other goals important to your race success that often get less attention (for example, sleep hygiene, nutrition, recovery and your mental toughness). This can include having multiple tiers of goals (ideal, better, good enough). Use your virtual communities in creative ways to stay connected and motivated.

Most importantly, we are all in a time of flux and uncertainty. Everyone copes differently with the free-floating anxiety and the unknowns in our current world. It is important to allow yourself to acknowledge and feel whatever grief you might experience related to the loss of the events that you have been working hard for and have now been changed to a virtual race. When you have given yourself the time you need to grieve, you can then choose to move into gratitude. Gratitude related specifically to running/athletics and for all the other positives you can identify in your life. Although hard, we can hold grief and gratitude simultaneously versus feeling like in order to experience the one we have to forgo the other.

For many, running is one of the best coping tools to use for dealing with difficult times like these. However, there are days or moments when your emotions might get the better of you. Practicing self-compassion and being kind to yourself on the days you’re not able to meet your optimal level of functioning is a must right now. We are all in this together, and we can both savor the joy we have felt when participating in running side by side and feel the pleasure of anticipating that we will one day be able to have those experiences again.

Be safe and be well.

Written by Jennifer Lager, Psy.D.Jennifer Lager, Psy.D. is a McLean, Virginia based Clinical Psychologist. Her practice, GAME- Get A Mental Edge, specializes in performance enhancement for athletes, performing artists and business professionals. Dr. Lager is the Director of the Marine Corps Marathon’s Psyching Team established in 2019.

Register for the Marine Corps Marathon Weekend

Recognized for impeccable organization on an iconic course managed by the US Marines in Arlington, VA and the nation’s capital, the Marine Corps Marathon is one of the largest marathons in the US and the world. Known as ‘the best marathon for beginners,’ the MCM is the largest marathon in the world that doesn’t offer prize money, earning its nickname, “The People’s Marathon.” The weekend also offers the MCM10K and MCM50K.