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Controlling Anxiety by Megan Patrignelli

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A great personal blog post from Team Run Eugene Athlete Megan Patrignelli. Megan talks about her personal experience as a student- athlete on one of the top distance teams in the nation and covers the  transitions through college, the changes that can happen from a positive mindset and  how running can be impacted by happiness and self worth. An important read by a recent graduate that is having an accomplished post collegiate transition.


 

Hello Belle Lap readers! I’m Megan, and I run for Team Run Eugene. I just joined the team in October, after spending 5 years running for the University of Oregon (go Ducks!). Before that I was a little high-schooler in New York at Monroe-Woodbury HS (go Crusaders!). I grew up playing soccer, and didn’t really start running seriously until my freshman year of high school. Once I started applying myself to running, I fell in love with the sport and saw some steep improvements. (Fun fact: I started out as a sprinter, and didn’t even get near the 1500m until my junior year!) When I decided to move across the country to Oregon to run, I just naively assumed as long as I worked hard I would keep improving at a similar rate.

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As I quickly learned- that is NOT how it works. A lot more goes into becoming a better runner than just showing up to practice ‘wanting to be a better runner’. My transition to college running (and college life) was far from smooth. As someone who is generally a bit shy and somewhat of a homebody, moving 3000+ miles away from my family and friends was not easy at all.

My freshman year was awful. My normal “shyness” exploded into complete social anxiety, and I didn’t really connect with anyone. Not knowing a single person within thousands of miles was too much for me, and I dealt with it by isolating myself and trying to focus on school and running. I had some awesome teammates, who were SO nice to me, but my confidence levels were non-existent and so I kept convincing myself that they were just being nice and didn’t actually want to be friends. I struggled every day thinking about all of my “flaws” and how much I hated that it was so hard for me to just be “normal”. Naturally, this severely affected my running.
I showed up to practice every day in complete fear of how badly I would fail (Spoiler: this is NOT conducive to running well, or doing anything well for that matter). Coming from a sprint background, training as a distance runner for the first time was hard enough…trying to train as a distance runner with no confidence was nearly impossible. All I would think about was everything I couldn’t do; I never once appreciated the small steps of progress I was making. Instead of celebrating my longest run ever (it was 7 miles at that time), I focused on the fact that my teammates were running double that. Instead of celebrating my increased fitness (I could keep up on easy runs!) I convinced myself the other girls must have been running slower. Instead of realizing my own improvements, I was focused on the fact that all of my workouts were “modified” versions of my teammates. Believe me when I say, if you are worried about what everyone else is doing or about what you’re not doing, then you likely won’t make it very far. I didn’t make it very far that first year.
My sophomore year was more of the same, but things got a bit worse. I started to struggle in school as well, and was definitely very depressed. I lost touch with several great friends from back home because I was so wrapped up in my struggles that I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I had some good days mixed in there, but my mind was still in the wrong place.

I didn’t start to turn things around until indoor track my junior year. I remember racing (poorly) at the Dempsey and having a heart-to-heart talk with my coach where she made me realize: I had the power to change this. She told me talent doesn’t go away and that I was in control of the decisions I make during a race (or any life situation). That same weekend, I had a really great talk with one of my teammates, and I finally came to terms with the fact that I was not running well because I was not happy. My mind was filled with negative thoughts all the time: I was the one holding myself back.
I vowed that day to put forth a real effort into changing my life. I made myself promise to find a positive in every situation, whether it was a tough workout or just spilling a glass of water on the floor. I started reconnecting with some old friends I lost touch with, started to build new relationships, and most importantly, I made sure to consciously appreciate every step of progress I made. Even if it was something as simple as feeling good on an easy run- that was progress and I celebrated it. For every workout or race, I thought of 2 positive things I did for every 1 thing I could work on. On days where I struggled through my easy runs, I would just think about every single thing I was thankful for: people, opportunities, the trees around me, my healthy legs, everything.

I started to genuinely enjoy running again, and my life around running also significantly improved. I really could write an entire blog on just mental tricks alone- I came up with A LOT of them. It sounds easy, but it really took a ton of effort to block out negative habits, especially during hard workouts. I had to fight myself many times, and it took a lot of focus to overpower those negative thoughts. In building mental strength, I learned that you have to figure out something that works for YOU. The standard “find a mantra to repeat when things get hard” did not work at all for me. But I did find mental tricks that worked for me, and worked on them 24/7. Without mental strength, no matter how fit or talented you are, you won’t make it very far.
By the spring of junior year, I was a new person. Literally my teammates would call me “new Megan” because that’s how different I was. I was enjoying running more than ever, starting to do well in my classes again, and my social life was back to normal. Things were great! I was asked to try out the steeplechase that spring to help out our team at Pac-12s, and ended up LOVING the event. That spring, I qualified for my first NCAA meet ever in one of my all-time favorite races. Due to a crazy rainstorm, my race was delayed several times, and I ended up having to do my pre-race shakeout in the hotel hallway. My pre-race eating schedule was all set, before more delays caused me to have to make a new plan. I tried to take a nap, but I couldn’t, and finally toed the line at midnight. All of these crazy variables would normally have caused me to freak out, but I didn’t- that’s how I knew: I was a stronger athlete and I was ready to run. I ran a new PR and snagged the final time qualifier. It was such an amazing feeling after everything I had gone through the previous 2.5 years.
My senior year saw even more growth. I remember thinking how far I had come, from a sad and lonely freshman to this confident and happy senior leading the team. I ran at my first NCAA XC meet with my team that year, qualified for my first NCAA indoor meet in the 3k and DMR, and qualified for the outdoor NCAA meet in the steeplechase for a second time. I felt like I had made it through the worst, and was back where I was meant to be- running happily and confidently! I knew I’d never go back to the “old Megan” and still continue to work on mental tricks today. Training your brain is just like training your body: you can keep building and getting stronger over time, but you can’t just stop once you are “fit”. It’s a continuous process!
I am someone who truly believes that “everything happens for a reason.” Sometimes that reason doesn’t show up for a long time, but when it does, you know. Things were going great, and I was confident that I was in shape to run a PR and score some points at NCAAs. I had plans to race that summer as well, and was so excited for the future.

However, towards the end of my senior season, I started to feel pretty run down, and my final NCAA meet was not what I had imagined. My summer racing plans were cancelled and I took a bunch of time off instead to try and recover. When I started training again after a long time off, I didn’t feel any better. To make a really long story short, things got worse as time went on, and I was moving backwards in training. It was like I made it through all of these mental challenges, and then my body decided to physically shut down instead. I kept staying as mentally strong and positive as I could, taking it one day at a time, but it was definitely hard. It took until this Fall (so about a year and a half later) to figure out what was wrong and start getting healthy again.
There is no doubt in my mind that those hard years at Oregon gaining mental strength helped me through this challenge. A year and a half is a long time to not feel well- and I fought through training with a positive attitude every day. Each morning I woke up with a clean slate, ready to try again. Though I usually couldn’t do what I set out to do that day, I knew I gave my very best effort every single time. All of those mental tricks, finding the positives in a negative situation, focusing on effort…that all kept me going and not worried about what my training looked like on paper (definitely did NOT look very good). I found joy and inspiration in my teammates, and leaned on them for support when I needed it (thank you all!).
Now that I am healthy, I am so grateful for everything I’ve been through. Struggling at Oregon for two years has helped me become a stronger athlete. I am better able to handle adversity, and I am more equipped to make it through the tough times. I’ve learned that it is okay (and even healthy) to feel what you feel: whether that is frustration, confusion, etc. When you are passionate about something and it’s not going well, it’s normal to be upset about it, and it shows how much you care about what you’re doing. But there is a fine line between feeling your feelings and acting your feelings. Yes, I was frustrated, sad, confused for a long time…but acting frustrated and sad all the time would not make me feel better or run faster, and wouldn’t be very helpful to my teammates, friends, and family. So I learned to feel what I feel, acknowledge it, and then set it aside and find some positives to act on, I’ve become a better teammate and friend.

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When someone I know is having a hard time, I can relate to them and share some of my experience and advice. All of my struggles have made me appreciate my health and my body SO much more. I have always loved running- that never changed, and that’s what got me to hold on through everything- but my appreciation for running has grown to a new level. Actually just this past week at practice, I didn’t even realize until my coach said something, but I was smiling for our entire workout…I am just enjoying the entire process of training so much more.
I told a few teammates this, but I feel like dealing with adversity gives you some sort of superpower. It’s like, if you can make it through THAT (whatever “that” is for you), then you can make it through any hard workout/race/etc. When you toe the line, be proud of your scars and your battles. Be proud of your strengths, and know that the process of getting to the starting line is a journey in itself. The opportunity to race or do a hard workout is a gift, and is something I will never take for granted again. I can’t WAIT to see what I can do this year, with my teammates, coach, family, and friends by my side. With a healthy body and a healthy mind, there are no limits!

And to finish out this novel of a blog…one of my current favorite quotes:
“Good timber does not grow with ease. The stronger the wind, the stronger the trees.”

 

Belle Lap wants to congratulate Megan on a great first indoor season competing for Team Run Eugene. Megan progressed in leaps and bounds and cut her 3km time down from 9:37-9:16 in a four week racing window. A big Good Luck as she competes in the USA indoor championships 3000m this weekend in Portland. Enjoy it Megan, and go confidently in the direction of your dreams! 

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