Going Beyond the Physical Challenges of Competing in Sports
DU graduate student focuses on psychological aspects of competing at highest level
When professional athletes step into a competitive environment, there are few secrets about the training program that got them there. Everyone is training extremely hard, and there’s no magic potion that will allow an athlete to perform at a physically higher level than someone else. Often the only difference between winning and losing is who has the mental toughness to perform at their best when it really matters.
This is a lesson Addie Bracy has learned throughout her competitive career. She grew up running and ultimately earned a scholarship as a three-sport athlete to the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. She competed in cross country in the fall, indoor track in the winter and outdoor track in the spring.
“I considered myself more of an athlete-student rather than a student-athlete,” Bracy says. “I was part of a very competitive team, and I think I picked a major (communications) that was not as challenging simply so that I could survive.”
After completing her undergraduate degree, Bracy stayed with UNC-Chapel Hill and worked as a volunteer assistant for the team; she also began competing professionally. In 2012, she focused on taking her running to the next level and moved to Colorado. Since then, she has run countless races, made the Olympic trials and has competed with Team U.S.A. in approximately 10 different international races. However, through all the racing and by working as a personal coach in Boulder, Bracy began to realize there was an element missing during competition.
“I felt really confident in my technical coaching capabilities. However, the longer I coached and the more I competed, I found the deficit being not physical, but psychological. If I was going to make as big of an impact as I wanted to as a coach, and compete as well as I wanted to, this was an area I needed to explore more and understand,” Bracy says. “I was excited when I found out one of the best programs in the country was here, because I didn’t want to leave Colorado.”
Two years ago, Bracy started working on her master’s in sport and performance psychology from the Graduate School of Professional Psychology (GSPP) at the University of Denver. During this time, she has continued to run and coach, and she has also discovered the world of ultrarunning.
“I’m fascinated by the endurance piece of ultrarunning, because that to me is so psychological,” she says. “If you are running for 100 or 200 miles, you are not operating at your highest physical capacity, so to me the interesting piece is the psychological element.”
Bracy has had to put competing on the backburner while she’s been in grad school, but after Commencement in June she plans to spend a couple of years focusing on training and applying what she has learned at GSPP.
She also knows that her time as a professional athlete is limited, so Bracy continues to study ultrarunning and how people are pushing the boundaries of how far they can go, or how fast they can run 100 miles. In January, she purchased 40 acres of land near Leadville. Her vision is to create a training ground for athletes and not only provide what is physically necessary to compete, but also introduce the psychological element to the training.
“Ultrarunning is this completely other side of running that focuses on how much distance someone can cover,” Bracy says. “I’m intrigued by the psychological aspect of pushing the limit of ‘how long can I be uncomfortable?’ This challenge is unlike most sports that are happening right now.”
Bracy was recently featured in The Outdoor Journal. You can read more about her by clicking here.