Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Mental running lessons.

This weekend, I re-learned a running lesson.

I had a long run set up with my friend, Rebecca. Because of timing, we had to meet at 8:30 and needed to be done 10. My schedule called for 10 miles on Saturday but, as we were figuring out the plan to meet for the run, I decided to scratch that. Sure, I wanted to run 10 but that meant we'd have to hit the path right at 8:30 and run 9 minute miles the whole 10 miles.

I didn't think that would happen.

And then Rebecca wrote that she wanted to run 10 -- or maybe even 11 -- miles at an 8:30/9:00 min/mile pace.


Stop sand-bagging, Happy Runner. You can so easily run at that pace. Didn't you run a half marathon at 8:15 pace and an entire marathon at 9:00 pace? So, 10 miles at 9 min/mile? You can totally do that.

Yes, I could.

So I agreed to meet Rebecca and we'd bang out 10 miles at an 8:45-ish pace.

And that's almost what we did.

Rebecca was delayed getting to our meeting spot (darn one way streets!) so we didn't get to start right at 8:30. Since we got off a little late, we decided to run 9 miles. We settled immediately into an 8:45 pace and kept it going as we chatted and chatted for the first 4+ miles. We turned around at 4.5 miles and continued to run strong. About 7 or so miles into our run, Rebecca needed to make a pit stop. She told me to keep going (because she knew I needed to be back at my car by 10) so I did.

Here's the thing: I started our run feeling cruddy. My breathing was crap and I couldn't get into a good rhythm for the longest time. The whole first 4 miles, I wanted to stop. If I hadn't been running with Rebecca, I would've slowed down or maybe even cut the run short.

And then, after 7 miles at a good clip, I had to finish the run alone.

Photo from my friend, Amanda. Lonely stretch of road --
that's what the last two miles of Saturday's run felt like in my mind.

For a second, I felt my body slow. Just take it easy. Slow down. Why do you want to run so fast, anyway? 

For a second, I entertained those thoughts. And then I silenced them.

So what if I was now running alone? I can push myself. I am a strong runner. This run would make me an even stronger runner.

I reminded myself that I have run much faster than this for much longer. Then I reminded myself that discomfort in training runs leads to better races. I focused on my breathing  -- in, in, out, out, in, in, out, out -- and on how strong I was truly feeling (brain fatigue aside). I did a posture check.

I picked the pace back up and told myself there was no way I was finishing this strong run with two weak miles.

I finished with 9.05 miles at 8:43 pace.

And felt great!

Now, what of that running lesson that I re-learned?

The lesson I re-learned is that running is one heck of a mental activity. Your legs might be propelling you forward but if your brain isn't thinking the right thoughts, you aren't going to go as far or as fast as you'd like.

Your brain is in control. And, sometimes, it is going to want to stop.

I am working on getting my brain in the game.

Saturday was a success. I overruled the part of my brain that didn't want to run at the 8:45 pace and then I overruled the part that wanted to slow down 7 miles in to the run. I ended up with a great run. I've done it before, I will do it again. It is a running lesson to learn over and over and over.  

To make this easier, I've put together a short list of awesome training runs and races that I can look back on when I'm hitting a rough patch in a run and my brain wants me to slow down or stop. It may seem like a dorky thing to do, but just writing those performances down gives them more life and -- I hope -- will make them a more powerful tool against the "slow-down" brain.

So there you have it. My running lesson re-learned and my tip for overriding your brain.

Now, please tell me I'm not the only one who has to repeatedly learn this lesson! 
Do you have any good tips for convincing your brain that you can do it?

Thanks for stopping by!

~ Felice


Naomi said...

Love this post! It's so true - running really is all in the mind.

Well done for keeping going and being the strong runner that you know you are :)

Darlene said...

Yes, this is so true when you are healthy. However, when you are not, your mind says you can do it and your body say "no." The difficult part is to know the difference.

Anonymous said...

Great job and just what I needed to hear right now! I struggle with mental toughness during training runs....it stinks! I will remember this post today during speed work and this weekend for my long run. :-)

Sarah said...

I learn this over and over and over again- day in and day out. Fitness itself is truly mind over matter. How can you have positive results with negative thoughts?


Sheila said...

Thank you for the reminder!!

Angela @ Happy Fit Mama said...

I have to remind myself repeatedly that running is 50/50 body and mind. Sometimes even more mind. I had a similar run on Sunday where if my friend hadn't been there with me for the majority of the run, my pace would have tanked.

RunningJunkie said...

Awesome that you finished the run! I am CONSTANTLY struggling with myself mentally. This is a big reason I like to run outside. If I'm on treadmill, I can become weak-minded and quit. Not so easy to do when your 7 miles from home.

I do know one thing, you ALWAYS feel awesome that you didn't quit though:-)

Hanna said...

I love this post!!! His is so so true!! I constantly have to rind myself of this! Isn't it awesome when it just marurally happens and you look down atthe garmin and it's 8 min miles w no effort:)

Dr. J said...

You know, like the old song, you got to know when to hold them and know when to fold them. I have often started out a run feeling like crap and finished feeling great. Actually, I have almost finished every run feeling pretty good. But there was one time when I was having some bad knee pain in one leg and I was less than a 1/4 mile from the end, so I hopped to the finish line! That was really dumb! It took a while before I was all right. You don't know much about me I imagine, but I've run sub 38 minute 10ks and 7:15 mile splits for the half marathon, and honestly, I've run over 100,000 miles to this point and still run every day. Yet there are times when folding them would be a smart plan :-)

RunToTheFinish said...

amen!!! it is such a mental sport. I definitely have more issues with pushing the pace on long runs and it doesn't make sense when i compare it to my race times, so i agree that is one area i'm working on finding a way to enjoy the long run as a peaceful time but without just taking it so easy

AmyC said...

My mind always gives out before my legs! Ugh!

Way to push your run!

PavementRunner said...

Great job. Running is mental, just as much physical. It's a battle sometimes and working on blocking out the negative is just as important as getting the distance. Great job.

Running With The Girls said...

Such a mental game! I fight with myself all of the time about what I can/cannot do and end up short changing myself so much more.

quix said...

Yessss. I'm working on this now. I know I can run faster, but especially getting off the bike, I make excuses. No more. Last 2 races, I've run better because I've worked on keeping my head in the game. It's a goal this year. Running is so mental...

Unknown said...

So totally true. Especially when you've had company on a run that kept you going and then you have to finish alone.

Awesome job!!!

MizFit said...

for me it is 1000% about the mantra.
it's the only thing that reminds my brain I KNOW I CAN.


MizFit said...

for me it is 1000% about the mantra.
it's the only thing that reminds my brain I KNOW I CAN.


Amanda said...

This is a brilliant reminder. :) It's hard to remember this when you're midrun!

Kate said...

I can't tell you how much I loved this post. A bad workout or mental state can be changed, and some days just work.

Thank you! And congrats on such a great run :-)

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