Often times in marathons there are signs that are put along the course by supporters, usually for inspiration. One sign that I often remember was a two part series… the first sign said something like this “running is a mental game,” followed by a second sign stating “and we think you’re all crazy.”
As we are coming into the thick of race season and as our long runs are increasing, I wanted to address a topic that is applicable to all. I am reminded of a marathon I ran a few years back when I was trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon. This was before Boston had lowered their qualifying times and the time for my age group was 3:10:00. At first this was more of just a dream or an idea, but as my training continued the dream became more of a goal and more of a reality.
My training runs during the week and my long runs on the weekends all started to lineup and land within the pace range I needed to keep in order to qualify. Still, however, I did not really think I was going to be able to make it. The race day came. I rode the bus to the starting line. As I got off the bus rain started to trickle. By the time the race started we were covered with water. I did have a garbage bag that covered my top, but I started the race with my shoes a little squishy. This was not going to stop me.
At the beginning of the race it was going well and at the midpoint I had met my goal of an hour and a half. As the race continued on, I started to get tired and my mind began to wander as is common during the later stages of a marathon. It was at mile 22 when I was supposed to see my family. I was excited to see them, to throw them my wet gloves, have them cheer for me, and have them see how good I was doing. Mile 22 came, but no family was there. The mind games were already playing and I began to be discouraged, and I started to walk. As I was walking the pace team for the 3:10:00 passed me. I remember the pacer holding his sign looking at me as he passed by. I had no motivation, I was not able to pick it up again and move. Finally, I was able to overcome my wall and I began running again.
By this time, however, it was too late, and I had already lost too much time. I finished the race seven minutes too late. Although I was happy with my time I still felt like I underachieved.
Why do I tell you this story? For two reasons. The first is to believe in yourself, believe in your training, believe that you can achieve, believe in what you have done. I did not believe, even at the start of the race, and even considering my training times. The second point, running is definitely a mental game – I don’t want to belittle the physical aspect – however there is a big mental component that comes into play when running for multiple miles.
Because I did not believe, I was not prepared to have a stronger mental game and a stronger finish. As the rain came and the miles grew on, I was not in the right mind frame. It is important to remember that if we want to overcome our physical challenges that usually takes overcoming mental challenges.
I give this story as an example to learn from and to remember as you are running and you feel like you can’t. When “the little engine that could” is not enough inspiration, remember what I did not do. But more importantly remember that YOU can! As it is in life, rain will always come but we can push on and achieve our goals.
Whatever your goal may be, you can do it. Fight for it.
Jeremy Stoker – DPT, Runner