Hours of training, a strict regimen, healthy meals, and supplements are just a few of the things that go into making a world champion athlete. However, the training that most people don’t see often happens below the surface. It’s the mental endurance, the positive self-talk that is the glue the holds it all together. The mental strength is what allows an athlete to perform their physical feats. And for world champion track star Ajee’ Wilson, this mental game has helped her reach new heights and literally run after her dreams.
Wilson is a naturally born track star. Her career first took off in 2011 and 2012 when she won gold medals in the 800m World Youth Championships in Athletics. The New Jersey–born runner holds the US record for the 800m event and is a USA Track & Field Champion. And although the 800m is where she shines, she has also won gold medals in the 600m, 800m, and 1000m events at the USA Indoor & Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
BGN had the opportunity to talk with this Olympic runner who currently runs for Adidas. Hosted by Thorne, we got to chat, via Zoom, about what goes through her mind to help her perform at her best.
What is your self-talk like? Being an athlete and competing all over the world, what does that mental game look like for you?
My self-talk is very positive. I think sometimes when we think about positive self-talk, we think about just showering yourself in praise and telling yourself you’re the best thing ever, but I feel like I’m very realistic about the things I tell myself. I’m also just a practical person. I can’t lie to myself, no matter how hard I try. But if I empower myself with facts: “You’re ready for this race, you’re going to do great regardless of the result.” That’s the way I mentally prepare and make sure I’m good.
I read that your personal philosophy is “day by day, race by race, step by step.” How do you implement that philosophy, and what does that look like in your everyday life?
That looks like looking at the bigger picture, which is taking it apart and focusing on the little puzzle pieces that are going to make that big picture. On the daily, that’s making sure I’m getting enough sleep, making sure I’m showing up my best in practice. That’s making sure generally I’m eating right, I’m supplementing, I’m making sure that I’m dotting my i’s and crossing my t’s so that the best version of myself can show up.
What’s been your hardest race and why?
My hardest race was probably the 2017 National Championships in Sacramento. When I came to nationals, I hadn’t raced much that year. It was a super intense three to four months leading up to the trials. And mentally I was all over the place — I was just not myself. When I got to the meet, when I stepped on the track for my first race, a switch just kind of clicked, you know, the positive self-talk I’ve been giving myself, and the people I had around me who had been supporting me got me through that weekend. That was the definitely the hardest race that I’ve had, but not because it was physically difficult — it was hard to tap in and do what I needed to do.
When you’re training physically and mentally, how do you keep both your mind and your body strong?
I think on both ends it’s about checking in with yourself, it’s about being aware of how you feel. In training that helps with am I pushing myself hard enough, am I doing too much, is this working — checking in in that sense. On the other end, it’s how do I feel going into the race. Am I super nervous? And sometimes you don’t always get it right. Things get away from you, and it’s about regrouping. I try to just check in with myself to just know where I’m at and what I need to work on.
Do you have any words of encouragement for any other women who want to pursue a dream or who want to be athletic?
My advice would be to be bold, and I say that just reflecting on the journey I’ve had through track. When I first started, I definitely wasn’t the most confident runner. I didn’t feel like I belonged here, even though I was in these races. I didn’t feel adequate. I feel as I raced more and built confidence, as I look back, all I had to do was commit. All I had to do was go for it, and that’s what I mean by be bold in whatever space you’re in. Whatever dream you’re going after, go after it and go after it hard.
The biggest lesson that Wilson teaches us all, regardless if you are an athlete, a runner or whomever, the key ingredient to achieve your dreams is to pay attention to what’s happening inside you. Pay attention to your thoughts, create positive self-talk, and no matter what put yourself out there and commit.
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Kiersten is a freelance writer and coach. As a writer, she has written for Travel Noire, Passion Passport, BAUCE mag, and various travel and lifestyle blogs. As a writer, her goal is to write content that inspires others to take action. As a coach, her goal is to empower women to be their most authentic selves. In her free time, you can find her dancing to any song any where.