I recently received the book The Runner’s Brain when I was at the Runner’s World Half and Festival. I am just about to start it and will be reviewing it when I’m done, but I wanted to share my own thoughts on the role your brain plays in marathon running before I read what the “professionals” had to say. So today, I’m Thinking Out Loud with Running with Spoons.
As you know (I mean, I’m certainly not that runner who didn’t talk about it LOL), I ran Marine Corps Marathon just over a week ago. It was my slowest marathon by a few minutes, but in many ways it was my most successful. Before the race, I knew my body was not trained to run a PR. In fact, I wasn’t sure I was even trained to fully run a marathon at any pace, even an easy run pace. So, I felt that I really had to run this race with my brain and just hope that my body could manage it.
So, what did I do differently to keep my head in the right place? Here a few of things (major hat tip to Deena Kastor for her examples at her talk at Runner’s World Festival.)
I believed in myself – I knew I couldn’t do it fast, but I believed that I could run the distance if I paid attention to my body signs. I paid more attention to my breathing and heart rate than the number on the clock.
I practiced positive self talk – sometimes even when we think we are being positive, we are using negative words. Words like stop and don’t, even as part of a positive statement like “don’t stop running” throw mental roadblocks into a run.
I stayed in the moment – whenever I’d start thinking “OMG, I have ## miles to run and that’s SOOO far,” I’d ask myself “can you run right now?” The answer was always yes, so I kept running.
I found distractions – I’m not perfect. Sometimes my brain tried to go all negative on me. Whenever that happened, I did my best to find something on the course to engage my brain. Thankfully, at MCM, there’s plenty to look at, even on the bridge.
Source: Marine Corps Marathon group on Facebook. I couldn’t find the original poster. Rumor has it that there’s a dog in the picture…
I focused on what was working – I was lucky. Despite all the issues I had leading up to the race, my body felt fine. Tired and sore near the end, but nothing hurt. And I know how to run on tired legs.
In the end, I finished with a smile on my face.
I know I still have a long way to go because I’ve lost my ability to push myself to go fast. I’ve gotten so used to going long and slow that there was no way I could add any speed to the marathon. (And I’m pretty sure I would have walked the last miles if I had pushed any harder.) I also don’t know how well those tricks will work if I’m really struggling, but I know from past races that when I’m struggling, if I stop caring about the clock, that I do ok mentally.
It’s funny how fast I’ve gone from “I don’t want to run another marathon” to “when can I start training again?” I really thought I was done with marathons. Unfortunately, my hip is still a little “twingy”, so I’ll be continuing with the off season plan to cross train and strength train. Looks like 2016 might be a whole lot more interesting than I originally planned.
What are your tricks for staying mentally strong in a race? Do you sometimes feel that your mind defeats your body?