Sunday, March 18, 2012

The MENTAL of Training

There is only so much physical training and nutritional diligence one can have in their attempts to reach their goals and find success in their sport. There comes a point where the "Mental" training becomes almost more important (if not the MOST important) than the work we put our bodies through and the fuel we consume. At least it does for me. Our minds are perhaps what hold us back or help us fly forward more than any other element in life. With so many things.  Not just running.  It is our mind that fills up with the voices and messages that will either help or sabotage us.  And when life gets tough, the pressure is high, or we find ourselves pushing against a new barrier to get to another level in meeting our goals and watching our dreams unfold, it is our mind that comes into play.  


Our mental training can be one of the hardest things to get in peak condition for success because our minds are filled with so many messages that come from every past experience we've ever had. These thoughts and messages can be automatic and deep seeded.   


So how can we take the voices of doubt:


I can't.
I don't have enough ________.
I'm not good enough yet.
They must be better than me.
I haven't trained enough.
I don't have what it takes to do _____
They must have something that I don't have.
I guess today  just isn't my day.
Maybe someday....


And replace them with voices of CONFIDENCE and POWER?
I can do this!
Why not me?  It has to be someone.
I'm good enough.  
I'm just as good and worthy as my competitors.
I've got everything it takes to make this dream come true.  It is up to me to make it happen!
I've worked hard for this and I'm prepared.
Pain is temporary...dig deep!  You're better than settling.  

It takes work to push those negative feelings and self-doubt out of our heads and to the curb.  This can be especially hard for those of us who have those destructive and negative messages living within us for so long.  Even when we think they are gone, somehow, they show their ugly heads when we we need to be quiet THE MOST.   


I've tried for years to get my mental game strong when it comes to performing as an athlete.  And I'm SO MUCH stronger than ever before. I've come a LONG way and this shows not only in my running but in all the other areas of my life that I've found success in. However, in high school and college I was a MESS of MENTAL.  My mind is what held me back in every race.  I felt suffocated with FEAR (fear of pain, not being able to hit my times, disappointing others...), SELF-DOUBT, PRESSURE TO PERFORM, not feeling good enough, and so much more.  With every race or hard practice came that sick feeling in my stomach that made me dread what I was about to do.  I remember a medley relay at Indoor Track Nationals where my coach was going to have me start the relay.  Instead of being confident and going out there and giving it my all and being happy with my best, I panicked.  I literally had a breakdown when he told me I would be starting.  Fear disabled me and I was a mess of tears and feelings of inadequacy. Over a stupid race! What?! 


I know, this all sounds ridiculous to be so scared and nervous about a silly track race or a few cross country meets.  Right?  It sure does to me.  I mean, where did this fear come from?! And really?  It is only a race silly girl.  


What I do know now is that I wasn't entirely alone in these feelings and mental barriers that I faced as an athlete.  I know of lots of runners who have experienced similar things.  And these feeling translate to other areas of our lives too.  They hold us back.  They keep us from reaching our goals and making our dreams become reality. 


After this weekend, I am convinced that I must step up my mental game if I'm going to accomplish my goals with running.  I must put some big work into getting my mind in tip-top shape to go along with all the physical training I've been doing. 


As many of you know, I had a 10k this weekend. As is normal before a 10k or 5k, I felt nervous and I was putting pressure on myself to perform.  But it wasn't anything too much.  In fact, I went into the race feeling confident and in control.  I went to bed with a clear head  and an excitement to run after reading several e-mails from some dear friends that helped me put this tune-up race into perspective.  


Here are just a few things that went really well with this race:

  • I approached the race knowing that it was a tune-up race during the peak of marathon training and I kept that in mind so that I didn't get too hard on myself in expecting to run what I might if I were tapered and in 10k shape.  
  • I lined up in my yellow Brooks top feeling stronger, and more confident than ever before.  

  • I believed that this race was mine to do whatever I wanted.
  • Instead of feelings of fear and dread, I had feelings of being prepared and eagerness to see what I could do off of so much training. 
  • While I was racing, I felt strong and in control for most of the race.  I was able to push aside some of the negative messages that appeared in my head.  
  • After the race, I was able to put things in perspective quickly and not let this one race discourage me and cloud-up my vision for Boston.  I only spent a few minutes pouting and feeling cruddy about my performance and then I was ready to move forward and see it as a great threshold workout. A 43:02 10k (6:55 pace) is a workout that will get me one step closer to a STRONG Boston.  I'll get my 41:xx and 40:xx another time.
  • I WON my race!   This is always nice despite the fact that I didn't run a time I was happy with.

Goals going into this race:  
  • To use this race as a gauge for what my marathon pace will be.
  • To PR!  I mean, I ran a 42:09 in January off of way less training and a few strains.  I expected to at least break 42 minutes and I had no doubts that I would.  
  • To stay mentally STRONG and push myself HARD.  
  • To push away all the negative thoughts and replace them with the mantras:  "Don't Puss OUT", "Ride the Edge", and "Find your strong".  
Overall, I did a pretty good job at trying to stay focused and replacing the negative thoughts with positive ones.  I fought back against my negative mental messages even though it was a struggle.  I'm proud of myself for this.  Having an awareness of my mental struggles and being conscious of the messages that creeped into my head is half the battle against them (Thanks AM for your questions that got me thinking about these things).  Although I'm not proud of some of the thoughts (even a little embarrassed) that I had during the race, I think sharing them will help me conquer them. So, here are some of the messages that showed their ugly faces in when the race got hard yesterday:
  • You're just not that fast.
  • You must not be as good as you think you are.
  • You'll just have to tell the girls that today isn't your day.
  • You're not enough today.
What?!  Was I really telling myself these things and planning what I would say to my friends about my poor performance even before the race was done??!!  Yup.  I know, pretty ridiculous.  Ridiculously WEAK!  

BUT....

I'm proud of myself to recognizing these thoughts.  I'm proud of myself for fighting back every. single. time. even if it was small.  I'm proud of myself for NOT quitting even despite the stitch I had from mile 4 to 5.75 that made me feel like I would have to stop.  My legs kept moving and my mind fought back and replaced every negative with a positive.  It was quite the mental dialogue.  Funny really.  It went something like this:

"This just isn't your day.  Stop it Amanda!  You've got this.  Quick feet, lean forward a bit, use your arms, breathe.  I'll just have to accept that maybe this is just my level.  Maybe I'm not capable of faster.  SHUT UP Amanda!  You've proven you can do this even off of little training!  You've got this.  Man, I feel like a bad ass in this small race...there is no competition...la la la.  Here we go.  Happy happy bad ass feeling.  Oh crap, I'm slowing down.  What is wrong with you Amanda?!  You should be running faster!  I'm just not there today.  Maybe my threshold is way slower than I thought.  Come on Amanda push it!  Why? I've already lost too much time to PR...this is pathetic...I didn't even break 7on that stupid mile...."  

Yup, I've GOT A LOT of MENTAL WORK to do!!  LOTS.  But you know what?  I'm more than half-way there just by being aware of this.  I've got this.  Once I'm truly aware of something and I've made the decision to do something for myself...you know, because I WANT it for me and not because someone told me to do it, I usually get it under control pretty dang fast.  So, here we go.....on to some big time mental work.  And what better way to improve than to practice often.  This means the more opportunity to race, the better!  


In the same way that my dreams have come true and I've found success in my non-running life, I'm convinced that these things come from knowing what we want, believing in ourselves, surrounding ourselves with people that love and support us, being aware of our weaknesses, and doing the WORK that it takes to get to where we want to be. As with all these other parts of my life, I'm excited to push forward and keep growing!  

 Amanda

49 comments:

  1. Oh that tricky mental battle that has defeated us all a time or two...it's a hard case to crack. But like you said you are there, you know that you are strong physically you just have to continue to remind yourself of this mentally. Some days I feel like a champ at this, and then there are those others where even when I've put in the work and know I'm capable of cruising past my goal I still beat myself up inside. It's a life long battle, and you will get that 42:xx, then 41:xx, followed by 40:xx and then even 3x:xx. You are a winner no matter what the numbers tell you on one day for one race.

    Love that "ride the edge" crept into your mind! These three words seem to be the only thing powering motivation for me to get up every morning and live my life these days, so much power in them!

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    1. Yes, thanks for sharing your mantra with me Britt! It stuck. Ride the Edge...makes sense to me. Helped too! And yeah, I've already got that 42 down. Now i just need to nail the 41's. But that might come AFTER marathon training. :)

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  2. You already seem to have made so much improvement in your mental game A. I am glad you were able to get over it quickly yesterday and move on. Numbers don't define us. You did amazing on that course.... Are you capable Of so much more? Oh yes! SO much more.... But yesterday was a good mental workout if nothing else. It is good to practice fighting against those negative voices... You are strong, you are fit, you are in shape, you are fast...
    The mind is a crazy thing. It doesn't know what is true or what is false. It only knows what we tell it. And whatever we tell it, it will accept as true. It also is inseparably connected to our body... So if we tell it we are fast and amazing and capable, it will perform. Such a powerful muscle the brain is. Keep working it girl. The sky is the limit for you. I am proud Of you and I love you!!!

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    1. Love you too girl! And proud of you! Thanks for being such a big part of my life.

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  3. I see lots of confidence and power in that last pic...I heard lots of confidence and power in your words...I feel lots of confidence and power for you moving forward...
    enjoy the next few weeks of training! Looking forward to hearing more about your journey ;)

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    1. Thanks so much! I'm feeling lots of confidence and power lately. Hope I can bottle it up and use it for Boston.

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  4. Amanda I absolutely love this! I had a serious mental battle during my race Saturday so reading this post couldn't have come at a better time. I'm seriously going to print this out and re-read it as I start training for my next half. As always, thanks for being so honest!

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    1. Thanks Michelle. This means a lot to hear that you find value in what I write and share. That is part of the reason I find it so rewarding to share my vulnerable side and be honest...chances are, somebody else out there feels similar feelings.

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  5. Thank you so much for your honesty! I forget sometimes that those negative thoughts can have such an impact on our running performance (as well as the rest of our life, as you pointed out)... you are certainly not alone in experiencing those fears and doubts! Congrats on a great race-- even if it wasn't what you expected of yourself, you're speedy! And you won, yay! Thanks for the reminder to be kind to ourselves, even in our thoughts.

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    1. Thank you for the great comment Laura. And for your last sentence...sometimes I write and don't really realize the message I'm meant to take from it...I think you nailed it for me...."be kind to ourselves, even in our thoughts". You are awesome!

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  6. Great post! Thanks for the strategies - they came at the right time. I just finished a very challenging, hilly 10K. At first, each time I faced another hill, I was like, "Ugh." I had to self-talk, "Stop!" Welcome the hills and the challenge of running up each hill. I can do this, I can do this, I can do this" ...and why not me?

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    1. Awesome self talk. Yes, we are capable of doing so much more than we even realize.

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  7. Congratulations on winning your race. You did win, didn't you. In more ways than one.

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    1. Thanks Anne. Yes, I did...in more ways than one. :)

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  8. love this post!!!!!
    cant tell you how many times i have played those same mental games during my training,races and competitions!
    my mantra during college was "i can do all things through Christ who strengthens me"
    our xc coach actually had our team shirts made to say this across the front...
    still have the shirt,
    and that is still my mantra during my races!!
    ive added others throughout the years
    "get your butt off your butt and go"
    "i aint dead yet-true soldiers never die"
    "just a walk in the park,baby,i can do this all day!"
    ect ect...
    anyways,thank you for sharing post! as always,i enjoy stopping by your blog!
    :D

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    1. Thanks for sharing these Melissa. Love hearing from you.

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  9. You inspire me. Not because you are so speedy (even though that is cool too) but because you take time to touch and lift others up! I think when you love on others, your sweet family as well as yourself you see it out there on the course! SPEEDY!!!

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    1. Aww, thanks Harmony. You inspire me for much of the same reasons. And so much more. So so much. You are one of the most inspirational people I know.

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  10. This is a great post Amanda! And in running, especially in marathoning, the mental side of racing is equal to the physical side I think. I think it's important too for us all to acknowledge our self-doubts so we can fight them and have a plan to fight them come race day.
    Great job!!
    And I am jealous you and Nicole are getting all these fun tune-up races and confidence builders!! It would be way fun to live somewhere with so many racing opportunities. You look like a champ in the uniform and congrats again on the win!

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    1. Thanks Erin! You seem to be getting the mental side down so well. I can't wait to see you CRUSH Boston!!!

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  11. You're really pulling those little voices in your head into line. That's not the easiest thing to do - especially in the middle of a race. Sometimes I wish I could turn my brain off and just let my body do the work. My voices keep saying, you should be improving faster than this, you can push it a little bit harder. I have to ignore those voices and tell myself slow is the new fast and if I do the hard yards now (run/walking until my heart rate becomes more normal) it will pay off big time in the end.
    Keep practising silencing the critics and you will be unstoppable.

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    1. Thank you Char! Good for you for ignoring those voices and doing what is best for you. And yes, I will be focusing on silencing those negative thoughts!

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  12. Great post!!! Great job on your win, and even better job at the mental work! I am looking forward to cheering you on at Boston from afar. You've got this.

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    1. Aww, thanks Liz! I feel so blessed to have so much support from people that don't even know me.

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  13. Enjoyed reading this, Amanda. My only comment is to always keep in mind the lessons you are teaching those beautiful children of yours. They are watching you every step of the way (pun intended) and so want to be as wonderful as you. Nothing heavy here.....just a thought. Keep running and keep writing, Amanda. You do both so well.

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    1. Thank you Marjorie. Your words mean a bunch!

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  14. WTG! And thanks for the look "under the lid" so to speak! I tell athletes I work with all the time that self-talk makes or breaks your performances and potential, and I test it out and am always working on mine as well. I know that the races I've succeeded in, I don't recall much negative.

    The mind is like a computer-it takes some time to reprogram it, but updates are definitely worth downloading:)

    Keep up the good work!

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    1. Thanks Adrienne. Perhaps for me the key is just to shut all talk off and focus on the numbers and just go with it! :) easier said than done.

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  15. #winning....even if the number wasn't the one you'd hoped to see :)

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  16. This is really good Amanda. Running is such a nice, safe venue to work on "real life". Being aware of the mental chatter is, as you are noticing, very important. If you can predict what thought you are going to have, than you can prepare and have tricks up your sleeve, tricks that you tested over and over in training and know that work. Negative thoughts during hard runs are normal; our brains are trying to stop us from doing damage. As you know from Matt F, the brain thinks we are out of fuel, HR too high, etc, and so it tries to stop us; one of the mechanisms through which it does that is through negative thoughts. We just need to let our brain know that our bodies are safe and that is OK to push; we do that mostly through training at a similar pace we are going to race at, but also through mental techniques. If we can trick our brains into believing that we have enough fuel even when sugar deprived, by swishing sugar water in our mouth and spitting it out (research study done on cyclist), we can surely make the brain believe that we can keep holding on to our goal pace. Basicly, we need to use our brain to fool our brain:)

    But I think you are talking about deeper issues here. I think working on why those things are important to you - e.g., what we think about you, or that you are not good enough etc is going to be important because I bet these thoughts might hold you back in other aspects of your life. How we we think about you differently if you had a bad race? What does it mean you are not good enough? What is the evidence for that?

    Hope the 18 miler was super!

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    1. Oh you always give me things to think about AM! :) This is one of the things I love the most about you. I know you are honest and you say what you think...and I value what you have to say. Good questions here. Thank you. Even though I say I don't know that i will train for anything to serious this summer, it might be fun to train specifically for a 10k or 5k JUST for the purpose of mental work, training at those paces, and testing my limits. Not too long ago Meg told me about a book called Flow in Sports (I think that is the name of it). anyway, it has a lot to do with the mental of running and getting in our zone...I ordered the book but it is another book that has been just sitting and collecting dust. Perhaps I should read it. Running from Within was another book I read in college but I lost that one. I think all of this stuff will come with practice. 18 miler was so slow and my legs were super tired!

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  17. I don't know if this will help but when I was a competitive pool player - the mental side would always defeat me.

    I learned (the hard way) to stay unemotional while I was playing. Sometimes I would even sabotage myself when I was playing very well!(celebrate too early and end up losing) I would definitely wallow in my self-doubt when playing poorly.

    To *stay in the moment* I would say to myself "I'll think about it later".

    This really freed up my mental energy. I gave myself permission to "wallow in my misery" or "celebrate in my glory" AFTER the match was over - so knowing I could do that later gave me more energy to focus on the NOW. That improved my results immensely. The funny thing is - is after the match was over when I had time to feel sorry for myself or berate myself - I usually had a clearer head and could be more objective.

    So as a new runner - that continues to be my mantra when I'm not hitting the paces I want to hit. "I'll think about it later" and focus on what I can do at that point in time.

    btw - I think you'll crush Boston!

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    1. Thanks so much for this awesome comment. This does help and I love your thoughts. Focusing on the NOW is always something I try to do. :)

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  18. This is a great post! I think we all struggle with negative thoughts at times. You are doing good replacing the negative with positive.
    Congratulations on your win and an excellent 10K. You look great in that shirt. I think you are going to have a great Boston!

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    1. Thanks Angie! Yes, I think we all struggle with these things too. Thankful to have others to share my struggles with.

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  19. Great job in the race. This was a really good post. I struggle with the mental often in training and in races. Sometimes I wonder if I could talk to myself like I talk to my daughter, with tons of positive affirmations You're apart to Boston!!! Yeah!!

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    1. Oh, that is such a good point...talking to ourselves and loving ourselves like we do our children. Love this! Love love love what images I get from this. I would expect the most out of myself but love ME no matter what. I do love myself no matter what but I am wayyyyy harder on myself than I ever would be on my children.

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  21. Sorry- posting problems!!

    Personally, I learn the most from races like that. The mental self talk part is such a HUGE part of the race. After I ran a race in which I let negative thoughts pretty much consume me my number one goal from then on has been to stay positive NO MATTER THE OUTCOME. I think it was really helpful that you were prepared and you talked yourself out of those thoughts. I am going to read back over this post before my next race. I have a 10 K coming up in 3 weeks and I'm going to need to be mentally prepared like you were!

    And by the way- great racing outfit!! You not only felt strong but you looked WAY STRONG!

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  22. Another 10k already?! You will do so great. Thanks Tia. Yes, these things teach us so much.

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  23. Sorry for the long delay and sorry that I just walked in the door from being in Iowa for several days and so behind on the blogs and FB....and admittedly I didn't read your entire long post (but promise to do so this week....love your long posts); but I wanted to tell you great job sticking to it and coming out ahead mentally. You are so right that the mental aspects really can screw with us....but my coach in college always told me the reason why I was so afraid of performing was because I feared the opposite of performing poorly, I was afraid to perform well for what that may mean down the road. I never believed that until I started racing marathons.

    Anyway, Loved seeing your smiling face and so happy you are feeling great and confident - it's going to really help you kick some major butt in Boston!

    Miss ya!!
    xo

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  24. You know, there is SO much I learn from your posts. So much. There is a huge mental side of racing. I wonder how much is truly mental - as in believing that you can do it and willing your body. I have wondered if I THOUGHT I could run a 5 M mile, could I ? How much do we let calculators dictate our thoughts? I wonder if I ever raced without a watch at all, how it might go down. So many thoughts you shared, I have in races too.
    You killed this as far as workouts go, but really it is not something to expect to PR in a 10k or a 5k when marathon training. I would have to wonder how prepared for a marathon you would be if you did.
    One thing this race did, is gave some great opportunity to really think about how to get mentally ready for Boston. You will be!!
    Yes a great WIN for you. Better, it was a great mental prep day.
    Love you!

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  25. Great job Amanda! On winning your racde and on fighting with your inner negative thoughts, those are really tough to deal with, I am at the beginning of learning to do so. And BTW you totally rock in the Brooks top!

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  26. I really need to work on this. I'm pretty sure the mental side of things is what killed me in the RnR this past weekend. "Another hill? I can't do this - I didn't train hard enough for an almost entirely UPHILL course". "I'll just be slow for forever." "A sub two hour half is a pipe dream for you girlie, get over it and accept being slow."
    Not exactly productive, and I lost all running mojo about mile nine and actually walked through a water station. So hard to get started back up after that.
    Thanks for the good post! And congrats on your win!

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  27. Such a good post! Great writing and great expression of your feelings!!! Relating to many of them! The mental aspect of racing is something I've yet to master and will probably always be working to better my game there. Some really great comments above!! I have listened to a podcast relating to what AM talks about with the sugar water etc. It's fascinating really!

    You know many of my feelings, most importantly being that what I think of you as a person, as an athlete surely does not hinge on your performance in a race. My love and respect goes way deeper than that but of course you do know this as you spell out here. It is Monday. I've not changed my prediction in the least for your marathon. Check-perhaps I have. I'm projecting you a bit faster now after I see the mental progress your making:) I have such a strong feeling that all this work in every respect is going to come together for you in the most amazing way next month!!

    I could type a ton here but my time is limited this morning. I've read this closely though and you've provoked much thought in me:) You look beautiful as always. Congrats on your win. I appreciate your honesty and willingness to share-something I've loved about you from day one. Great post.

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  28. Wonderful post, great perspective and still a wonderful time considering you are in the thick of marathon training.

    You looks amazing and so incredibly fit. Love the top!

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  29. You are so pretty, fit, fast, and fun. You need to quiet those voices, Amanda! That's all I'm gonna say about that.

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  30. You look so STRONG and confident in those pictures! Congratulations on the win! I've heard your progress in your posts over the past year (?) or so. You're only going to get stronger physically and mentally.

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