Mind Over Matter

by Dr. Benita Zahn

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It doesn't matter whether you're training for a 5k or a marathon; a key component of the training process is the mind. Certainly, you need to log the miles, determine your hydration and nutrition strategy, but if your mind isn't adequately prepared, your flame may extinguish. You might not even complete the training program. Mental preparation is as crucial as strength and endurance training.

As the new year unfolds with a plethora of races spanning various distances, the initial step before committing is to inquire: How's your mind? You've likely come across mental training checklists. At the pinnacle is setting your goals, alongside fostering mental focus. Following that, we must master the art of suppressing the discouraging voice in our head that insists we can't attain our objectives. By composing a personalized pep talk and regularly listening to it, we can dismiss the inner voice that urges us to remain on the couch.

Certainly, there's the intensity of the training, which needs careful planning to avoid injury. Utilizing mantras when facing challenges and incorporating visualization techniques also proves beneficial in motivating us. Personally, I've lost count of the instances where I envision myself powering through the finish of the Freihofer's Run for Women while persevering through the final 90 seconds on the treadmill in inclement weather. All these elements contribute to building mental toughness, or in simpler terms, maintaining a positive mindset. Recall the childhood story of the Little Red Caboose? In moments of adversity, the caboose repeated, "I think I can, I think I can…". Ultimately, we require confidence – that self-belief cultivated with each small goal achieved along the way.

The mental aspect of running has felt like a constant uphill battle for me over the past year. During the pandemic, I engaged in successive distance challenges, raising funds for worthwhile charities, but it transformed my enjoyable runs into a demanding obligation. I had to meet a specific weekly mileage target, and, plainly put, I eventually burned out. Recognizing the need for a break, I attempted to revive the joy of running by embracing intervals. However, the run/walk plan, initially intended as a temporary measure, evolved into a constant routine, with 'running only' slipping through my fingers. Despite still covering 5 or 10k distances in respectable times—meaning I wasn't last and outpaced the walkers—I found myself settling for 'good enough,' even as a persistent voice reminded me that I could achieve more. The 'get it done' voice grew louder, spurred on by a dear friend who epitomizes mental toughness.

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Keri Alonzo is a remarkable individual, plain and simple. She juggles roles as a wife, mother, daughter, friend, and performer, serving as the lead singer for the popular band Jukebox Rebellion. If you haven't had the chance to encounter her at a race start line or join in a finish line celebration, you might have been moved by her rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. She inspires runners at the commencement of the Mother Lovin' 5k, a race dedicated to the memory of Kelly Mulholland, who succumbed to breast cancer before the age of 40, leaving behind two young children and her husband Mark to mourn her loss. In Kelly's memory, Mark established Kelly's Angels, of which I'm honored to be a board member. The funds raised provide grants to children who, like Kelly's little ones, have lost a parent to cancer. Over the years, the organization has expanded its reach and impact, yet one constant remains—the Mother's Day race stands as a celebration of life, of women, and of overcoming challenges.

Returning to Keri, her plans to participate in the REAL SIMPLE half marathon on April 28th in New York's Central Park took an unexpected turn. In mid-January, she underwent surgery to remove a tumor from her colon, a significant challenge for someone not yet 50. Despite her active lifestyle, healthy eating habits, and self-care, Keri, like an increasing number of younger adults, received a diagnosis of colon cancer. The surgery is a substantial ordeal, and recovery demands time. A cancer diagnosis can profoundly impact one's mental outlook. Navigating through surgery, recovery, potential further treatment (hoping not for Keri), and the subsequent follow-up appointments extending over years requires considerable mental toughness—something inherently found in runners.


Still in the process of regaining her strength, Keri remains optimistic about missing this spring's half marathon race. However, that doesn't imply she won't be at any start lines. On May 12th, she plans to be present at Saratoga State Park, not just as a singer but also as a participant in the Mother Lovin' 5K run. She is demonstrating all the mental qualities a runner needs to embody—setting a goal, harnessing the inner voice with the right message, and visualizing herself confidently singing the National Anthem before seamlessly joining the runners to conquer the course. Her confidence and positivity are so palpable that she could easily lead a workshop on cultivating these essential attributes.

If you're struggling to find your running mo-jo think of Keri. Find her on Facebook and connect. Sign up for the Mother Lovin' 5k. ( Mother-Lovin' 5K — Kelly's Angels Inc. (kellysangelsinc.org) Good energy is contagious and it's the one 'virus' you want to catch. I know I have.


BenitaLogo.pngAbout Dr. Benita Zahn

Benita is a certified Health and Wellness Coach working with clients at Capital Cardiology Associates. Benita spent more than 40 years as a health reporter and news anchor at WNYT in Albany, NY. She covered issues such as wellness, treatment breakthroughs, aging, nutrition, and the latest health care trends. Benita’s work has taken her around the world and across the USA.  Benita is a contributor to the weekly “Live Smart” page in the Times Union, the HMRRC Pace Setter and the new magazine 55+LIVING. Benita also created and co-hosts the podcast EVERYTHING THEATER.

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