Evie Serventi has been on the podcast more than any other guest – this is her fifth visit! She and Tina are close friends, and she was Tina’s sports psychologist. She shares great advice for runners on both ends of the spectrum – those running without a specific goal and those with their eye on a big accomplishment. Wherever you are in your running journey, you’ll find something to help you on your current path.
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Evie has always tried to see sport as just part of her life and have fun with it. But she had goals and training plans, and as a competitive age-group athlete, she loved seeing the results. Having children made her view her relationship with sport in a new way. “Sport was fitted into my life, rather than the other way around, where sport was my life,” she explains. “I did have to readjust my relationship with it and be comfortable with not having goals with cycling and running, and just enjoy connecting with people.”
Running without a goal is something that many runners struggle with. What’s the motivation to get out there, if you’re not working towards something? Evie says that you can still have purpose without goals. “You can still have intention when you get up every morning to go for a run. And the purpose behind that run is that part of what matters to you in life is to be healthy. And you know that going for a run, it kind of calibrates you for the day. It could just simply be that it makes you feel good for the day and that the rest of the day will have that little bit of bounce because you’ve been for your run.”
Rather than having to have a goal with your running, it’s fine to just have it be in your life. As Evie says,” You get up and put clothes on; you have breakfast. Is there an intentional goal behind that? Well, it’s just part of your daily routine to feed your body and nourish your body. The same with your running.”
When we do have goals, it’s still best not to focus on them too much, but rather to be process-driven. “The most we can hope for is to create the best possible conditions for success, right? And then you let go of the outcome. That’s why we work with athletes to try and rein them in from looking at that six-month goal. They feel this massive level of anxiety straight away with that huge goal at the end of six months, because from here to there is this massive canyon of things to achieve.”
Instead, she explains, it’s best to concentrate on daily goals. “If you can focus on what you’re going to do that day with your running and keep yourself mentally and emotionally and physically focused on achievements for that day, the outcome, it’s going to happen, right? There’s a reason we do something every day, seven days a week, and we have those goals, something on every one of those days, because if you accomplish those, you put them together for a month, and then you put those months together for six months, the outcome takes care of itself.”
But even if we trust in the process, doubts can still creep in. What can we do then? Evie advises, “Try and accept the thoughts that come in and not judge them; you know, they’re not positive or negative. But a lot of thoughts come into your head that do freak you out. When that happens, be curious about them. So that question comes in, ‘How am I going to do this?’ And be curious with yourself and say, ‘Well, it’s interesting, I’m wondering this right now.’ And then ask another question, ‘Why am I doing this? Why did I sign up to do this race?’ And think back around that time, and what led you to do that. What factors in your life at that time motivated you to sign up for that. And it could be that you need a reminder that, ‘You know what, I lost a really, really close relative to cancer. And when this race came up through the cancer charity, it hit me. I remember that day, it physically punched me in the stomach and I knew I had to run this.’ So reflecting back on those reasons and it comes back to your ‘why’ and your purpose.”
What if you’re in a race and things suddenly aren’t going the way you thought they would? Evie says that you should work on developing “psychological flexibility.” Being flexible mentally feeds into behavior so that you can adapt physically. Think about things that could potentially go wrong, and then find solutions for them. She suggests writing down possible scenarios and then writing down what your response to those situations could be.
Some people don’t want to even think about bad things happening; they feel as though that’s calling them into existence. Evie understands that those thoughts can be anxiety-provoking. “To be able to have that flexibility under pressure is difficult to achieve. But the only way to do it is to practice in training.” It’s far better to work through anxiety before race day, instead of having to come up with a solution in the moment.
Evie also suggests that you consider the type of support you need. “Some people need outside encouragement. If you’re the sort of person who needs that external help, that external motivation, to help you feel fired up, you can ask your family and friends to encourage you, to say, ‘Look, you’ve got this, you’re going to go out there and you’re gonna crush it.’ You know, all the words you need to hear.”
For some people, that’s the last thing they want to hear. You can let your friends know that, but gently. “People mean well; they don’t know that you don’t want to talk about it. But if that’s what you need, you change the subject. So you say, ‘Yeah it’s exciting. So how have you been?’ Deflect it; change the subject, right? Without trying to hurt someone. You know, you’re not intending to hurt their feelings by saying, ‘Please don’t talk about this and make me feel like I’m having a panic attack.’
Only you know what best serves you. “Some people need their community to hold them accountable and to help motivate them. Some people don’t; it’s enough for them to know that there’s someone out there that will hold them accountable. There’s different levels of perceived support and that’s really important. ‘What works for me? What do I want? What sort of support and inventive comments do I need? Do I need someone physically to be there or do I need to know that someone is there if I need them?’ Both are hugely important, but have quite different impacts on different people.” In short, Evie says, “Never underestimate the power of your community, your network, with anything you do.”
Evie’s website and to get in touch with her
Evie’s previous Running for Real episodes:
Failure Isn’t What You Think It Is
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“Thank you” to Evie! We look forward to hearing your thoughts on the show.