For years, I’ve watched elite runners as they perform feats of running the likes of which we mere mortals only dream. The Geoffrey Mutais, Ryan Halls, Meb Keflezighis. The Deena Kastors, Paula Radcliffes, Grete Waitzs. The names and faces change over the years, but one thing remains constant. They’re fast. Wicked fast. And, the question is always in my mind, “How the heck do they do that?” How do you train your body to run a 2:03 marathon (Geoffrey Mutai – Boston, 2011, a 4:42 pace), or a 2:15 (Paula Radcliffe – London, 2003, a 5:09 pace). That’s a five minute mile (more or less). How do you make your body do that for 26.2 miles? The answer is that you don’t just train your body, you train your mind.
Now, please don’t misunderstand me. There’s no possible way I could EVER train my body or mind to run at a pace like that for one mile, let alone 26.2. But, I’ve learned over the years that it’s not just about getting your body to move over that distance, you have to train your mind. Here’s the thing about running. A good run makes you feel strong, even bulletproof. It makes you look forward to the next one, to know that you can kick its tail. But, a bad run gets in your mind, sets up camp in your psyche. It whispers mean things to you, makes you believe you’ve lost it, you’ll never have another good run.
Take last week’s long run, for example. I was scheduled to run nine. The run started well enough, I ran the first four at my goal pace, but at mile 5, nausea set in. I slowed to a walk, but to no avail, mile 6 involved a short visit to the woods to throw up my breakfast (note to self – no turkey bacon before running), then that slow walk of shame to the end of the “run”, which turned into 7.5 instead of 9. Ok, I told myself. That one was a bust, but it’s done – move forward. Tuesday’s training run was a shuffle, another try on Wednesday morning brought the same results. By now, the whispers had started. “You’re not a real runner. A real runner would never walk. Or let a little vomit slow her down. A real runner runs through pain and nausea, steps over the mess on the ground and keeps on trucking.” All lies, of course. Although, I do know people who believe those things. I call them “temporary runners”. They’re running straight to long term injury or burnout, and will most likely not be running twenty years from now. But, still. The lies work a number on your mind.
This morning’s run was my first scheduled double digit run since the early March half marathon in Seaside. I haven’t pushed this year, my goals are different for 2012, so I’m not doing a lot of racing. I have a half marathon scheduled for the end of November, but no other races that I’m pushing toward. Lots of reasons there, I’ll share them in another post. The result of that has been wonderful. I’m building my mileage very, very slowly, concentrating on form and learning to maintain a desired pace. But, after the mind games of the previous week, my confidence was shaky. Doubt set in yesterday, and I even said the words aloud to my husband, “I don’t know if I have a 10 miler in me.” In his usual, quiet, serene way, he replied, “Yes, you do.” No discussion, no argument, just words full of confidence. Words I needed.
So, this morning, we got up early. I fed my man his omelette, bacon, and toast, and sent him on his way (he has a motorcycle race today – at Angola prison, no less). In my anxiety last night, I had laid out everything I needed, so I geared up and headed to our local rails to trails (Longleaf Trace) that is the sight of most of my long runs. Motivation, in her usual fickle way, chose to sleep in, and the voices in my head threatened to overwhelm my shaky desire to run. But, I cranked up my praise and worship music and drowned them out. I got out to the Trace with all my usual gear, Ipod clipped to my shirt, but earbuds tucked in. I chose to start my run with no music or chatter, just a long talk with God, and as usual, He was more than up to the challenge. I decided to set a 3:1 run/walk interval, so I set my timer and off I went. The stillness of the early morning, the only sounds being the birds, crickets, the steady plop of my feet, the low, steady beep of my timer, and the occasional cyclist whizzing by worked its magic, and before I knew it, five miles were done. Still felt strong at mile 9, so I turned off my timer for the last mile and just ran. Excellent, soul soothing run. One that I almost let the mind games take away from me.
Running is an exercise for the mind, body, and soul. It’s vital that all those elements are engaged if you’re going to be successful for the long term. Visualization of who you are and who you want to be play an important role. Be realistic, but dream big. I’ll never be an elite runner, will never even be highly competitive in my age group. But, I’ll be the best that I can be, I’ll constantly toe the line to see how far and how fast I can go. One of my favorite quotes is: “The only thing that keeps us from running farther (or faster) is the belief that we can’t.” Don’t listen when your mind tells you that you can’t do this. You can. Make your mind a believer.