Running is as much of a mental game as it is a physical one. If you are not trained mentally as well as physically for a race or event, you might be in trouble. Our minds can fool us into thinking we are getting tired, we are not running that fast, there’s a pain developing in our leg, we need to stop and walk, we need to slow down, we cannot complete the run we started, or we will never be able to finish the event we are trying to train for.
I have had all of these thoughts and more. Have you ever noticed that no matter the total distance you are running, the last mile often seems to be the hardest? That is totally mental. This is what I am typing about. You must learn to deal with the mental battle and win the battle. How to do that just comes down to knowing those thoughts might come and just countering them with more positive thoughts, concentrating on the task at hand, and believing that all the training you did has prepared you for this moment. But it’s easier said than done. Some runners find that music helps and others find running with a friend helps. And distractions really help. Try different things and see what works for you.
Here’s a real life example that proves that both running is mental and distractions help overcome the mental battle. This past fall just 3 weeks after the Marine Corps Marathon, I felt I needed another race and signed up for the Richmond Half Marathon. My marathon did not go that well, but it was more physical problems than mental. I just wanted to end the year with a race I was happy with. I had only run 4 times between Marine Corps and Richmond. I didn’t know what to expect, (running so little between the two races), so I decided I would be happy just being under 2 hours finishing time. The first 6 miles went as planned, running about a 9 minute pace, and I was feeling decent. Around mile 7, I picked up the pace to about 8:45, and I knew that would put me under 2 hours. Around mile 8, I was feeling the effort. I was starting to think I had 5 more miles to go and hopefully I could sustain this 8:45 pace the rest of the way. But then something happened that changed my entire race….I lost the remote to my car that was in my pocket. Without that remote, I was locked out of my car. And I was supposed to go into work right after the race. Work was 2 hours away. Not good at all. No longer did it matter how I felt mentally— I sped up. I went from 8:45 pace to 8:19 for the rest of the race. I was so distracted and concerned about how I would get my car unlocked and maybe find the remote, that I was not thinking about being tired or the other negative mental thinking — it was totally blocked out. I winded up getting a PR at this race: 1:53:19. But I was very late to work! And the remote was found and mailed to me later. By the way, I didn’t think I would be breaking my previous PR of 1:54 anytime soon. It’s all mental. I would not recommend losing your remote in order to have a good race, but you should practice fighting those mental demons to overcome them better.
Just one caution to all of this — don’t be stupid. You do need to listen to your body. For example, if you have pain shooting down your leg and your leg is giving out, that is not a mental thing! You need to stop running right away. If you having chest pain and tightness, you better stop and call 911…seriously. Overcoming the mental battle just takes practice, and you need to discern negative thoughts from your body telling you that you really do need to stop. You will know the difference.