— Sports

‘Races are won and lost in your head’

Ajee Wilson opens up about the Olympics and her approach to mental health and wellness. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers) The Unwind is Yahoo Life’s well-being series. Experts, influencers, and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and mental health, from self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.

If anyone knows the secret to staying cool and calm, it’s Olympian and 800-meter U.S. record holder Ajee’ Wilson. Fully aware that her chosen sport is as much a head game as a physical one, the Tokyo-bound middle-distance runner has an arsenal of tips and tricks to staying focused and consistent in life, on and off the track.

The New Jersey native, who admits to loving pizza (“everything in moderation!”), also recently partnered with a wellness brand for the nutritional supplements she relies on to keep her in optimal shape, telling Yahoo Life, “I love that the products I use meet my specific needs while being held to the utmost standards of an NSF certification with no banned substances. Having that peace of mind is important.”

We caught up with Wilson to talk about how she stays focused.

What’s your day-to-day approach to mental health?

If you’re not [feeling] good as a person, like physically and mentally healthy, there’s only so much you can do to make physical demands on your body. Coaches and athletes say that running is 90 and 10 percent physical; sometimes, I think races are won and lost in your head. Mental prep is super-important for training and racing — but also in my everyday life.

What stresses you out?

In training and life, as broad and silly as it sounds, [what stresses me out] is the unknown and not knowing how things will play out. One of the ways I combat that when I’m racing is through visualization. I’ll run through five to 10 race plans, playing different scenarios in my head of how things could go. While I don’t know what will happen, at least I can feel prepared. It’s a bit of a mind game, tricking yourself into being calm and not letting [nerves] get to you mentally.

Do you do that before every race?

I do it before every race with my couch; it’s a collaborative effort. He’ll give me two or three different scenarios about the race based on other athletes at the race. Having those thoughts in my back pocket — “regardless of what happens, you’ll be OK” — makes me confident when I go to the line.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

“Consistency is key.” Whether it’s on track or off, showing up and being consistent at whatever you’re going after is some of the best advice or wisdom I use to get through life.

Is that your mantra for life?

Yeah! Instead of the results, your highs aren’t too high, and your lows aren’t too low when you’re tied to the process. It makes for less stress because you can only control what you can handle and manage your output.

Aside from physical activity, what else brings you joy?

Family, connecting, and being social. Either with friends, teammates, or family — being around people and connecting with people brings me joy. Also, music. It’s a big part of my life, but it’s not a big part of the athletic side [of me]. I don’t listen to music when training, only before I race. I’m a huge Beyoncé fan, so my go-to pre-race song is “I Was Here.” I’ll have that on repeat. When I’m competing or training, I like to be in my head and focus; because I love music so much, it’s a distraction… I’ll sing along! [laughs]

Molly Aronson

I'm an award-winning blogger who enjoys all things creative but is especially passionate about lifestyle design. I blog over at mehlogy.com I love that I get to share my passion for healthy living, fashion, fitness, and travel with readers from all over the world.

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