Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Running as a Mental Sport

This is hardly an original thought, but running is definitely a mental sport. I was reminded of this fact in a big way today during my medium long run. Yesterday I got in a speed session, 8x800 at just under 5k pace and last night I hit the gym for some strength training and stretching. Add yesterday's activities together and what do you get? Sore legs!

A lot of times the mental struggle begins when my alarm clock goes off. Do I really want to get up now? Couldn't I just do my run later this afternoon? Or take an extra rest day? Didn't I feel a tickle in my throat last night or something? Thankfully, I didn't have to deal with any of that today--I woke up feeling good to go. When I got out the door, though, and started running, it was a different story. Not only did my legs feel tired and heavy, but I had a 10mph headwind the whole route. That meant the challenge today was finding the mental drive to finish the run, to ignore my tired legs, and to resist the temptation to hop on the subway every time I passed a station.

Let me be clear, it's important to recognize the difference between discomfort and actually pain. Running through discomfort is a good thing. You practice using you mind to conquer your body and this is the kind of practice that lead you to push the pace harder in a race or to cover new distances. Running through serious pain is not a good thing--it's a stupid thing. You can end up injuring yourself (like I did with my Achilles a couple of weeks ago) and damaging your future performance potential. Alright, now that I've got that disclaimer out there, let's talk about how the whole mental thing works.

Today I kept thinking about a bigger goal. In this case, that goal is Boston. I know who tired I will feel in the final miles of the marathon. I kept telling myself today, no matter how tired your legs feel, they will feel more tired on April 16 and stopping will not be an option then. I also thought about my reward for this morning's run. When I run to work (as I did today), I buy a giant from the cafeteria for breakfast. I kept telling myself, you have to earn that delicious muffin.

There are plenty of other mental strategies you can use--during the marathon I have a special phrase or mantra (harder, better, faster, stronger--thank you Daft Punk!) that I save for the final miles. Even though I don't listen to music on most runs, if I'm doing a long run by myself, sometimes I'll break out my iPod for the final 2 to 3 miles. The extra energy I get from the music sort of simulates the extra energy I get in most races as I approach the finish line crowds.

What's the point of all this rambling nonsense? It's just as important to practice these various mental strategies during your training as it is to put in the physical effort. Knowing how to use these mental strategies on race day can really give you a boost. Let's just hope I can practice what I preach on April 16!
Today's Run: 13.3 miles at 7:50 pace.


  1. i always tell myself that the fatigue i *think* i feel now will be nothing compared to the fatigue at mile 25 on april 16!

    i'm running with music for my 22-miler, something i never do. i'm hoping it will somewhat simulate the crowds in boston!

  2. If you really want to simulate the crowds, splice in some random shouts of "Yankees suck!" on your playlist.