“Left calf. What is that pain there? I think you’ve pulled something.. you sure you want to run?”
What does it mean, dear runners, to be mentally tough. We congratulate ourselves on thriving in a sport others use as punishment. We build daily miles and weekly miles and we race. Eventually, we enter the next level.
First there was, for many of us, the 5k. What everyone in our community was calling an ‘Easy Race’ or a ‘Fast race’ was for us something completely different. We weren’t used to running with so many people. We started off way too fast and we didn’t even realize it until about the half-mile mark. There was no idea of strategy or planning – it was an ‘easy fast’ race after-all, right? But we learned and we got better. Toward the end, the finish line not too far away, we wanted to quit – a long time ago – but one foot in front of the other and we pressed on. We ran into our mental wall and we kept going. We had to keep going and we did and.. we thought we were going to die.. and we kept going. And we crossed the finish line.
“There’s no shame in walking. You can stop you know? Just a five minute break and you can start again, fresher, stronger, faster”
The 10k. I was passing people until this one woman. I pulled up next to her and started to pass but she sped up and stayed even with me. Then she started to pass and I stayed even with her. We called a kind of truce, I think. We stayed together, stride for stride, for most of the last half of the race. Other people saw our pact and tried to join in. Hangers-on stayed with us for as long as they could but it wasn’t long enough and we outstripped them all. Then, in the last quarter mile, she put me in her rear-view mirror and I never saw her again. I gave in to the doubts. “I had run too fast and now it was time to pay.. I had to slow down”.
The mind is a slippery little punk.
But I keep coming back. Running 10ks and now a half-marathon and I’ve discovered something. I’ve learned that I still don’t know what I’m really capable of. Without the mind-chatter, what might I have achieved? If I had not listened, where would I be now?
Today I listened to the Marathon Academy podcast. They talked a little bit about being ‘mentally tough’. Anticipating the mind games you will play with yourself and having a ready defense against them. Body feels out of sorts, it’s too early, it’s too cold/hot, you’re sick, it’s too late.. oh go on and take the day off; the list goes on and on. The mind is nothing if not creative in it’s myriad excuses. But are you ready to face those excuses when you’re running a new distance or a new time? What will you say when your mind tries to betray you with; “You’re not going to make a PR anyway so why not just slow down and enjoy the run?”.
It can be a dicey thing trying to figure out if you really are injured and need to stop. The pain is real enough, isn’t it? But is it real or will it work itself out if you keep running? Almost always, it works itself out for me, whether it be my shoulders or knees or calves – and besides, I tell myself, I get to take the next day off. And so, I make a deal. But back on point, if you want to write about injury and how to avoid it, by all means go right ahead – just don’t do it here. I’m not advocating running through injury, I’m advocating running through the excuses your mind can make up to get you to stop – they aren’t always the same thing.
Bottom line is you have to leave it all there. All of this is your decision. You can take it easy or you can take it on the chin. There’s a point at which ‘taking it easy’ means you aren’t really a runner. Maybe you’re cosmetic; you wear tights and a headband but you don’t work out. You don’t have a clue what it means to suffer and put yourself between the hammer and the anvil. You have no idea what it means to say “Keep going” when your mind is screaming at you to stop.
“If you can force your heart, and nerve and sinew to serve your turn long after they are gone, and so hold on when there is nothing in you, except the will which says to them, “Hold on!”. “
The mind games always come. What is your plan to deal with them?