If I told you I’ve never made a mistake during training or a race, I would hope that you wouldn’t believe me. Because I’d be lying. One of the reasons why long-distance running can be so tough is that we constantly have to monitor how we’re feeling through a workout or race and do something good with the feedback our bodies give us. But sometimes we choose to ignore that feedback or we are too stubborn to believe it in the first place.
I had a pretty great year of racing in 2013. I ran my first Boston Marathon after coming off a PR at the Twin Cities Marathon the previous fall. I was completely fired up for Boston (how could you not be?), having qualified at Chicago 2011. I was extremely motivated to execute each workout as best I could. Training through the Chicago winter can be trying, but I was willing to run through any conditions to prepare for such a big race. Despite the tragic events of that day, I ran a 3+ min PR & felt like all of my hard work had really paid off. I had never trained so hard for a single race.
Spoiler alert: This is where the stubbornness kicks in. I think it’s only natural to come off of a great race experience and want to attack every other distance. So I signed up for a 5K about 9 or 10 weeks after the marathon. After a few weeks of necessary rest and recovery, I put in a decent amount of base training but I was really just getting my legs back. All week leading up to the 5K, I stalked the weather and saw the forecasted temps inch closer and closer to 80 degrees. And the humidity? Oh the humidity! A 5K may only be 3.1 miles, but it can feel a heck of a lot longer than that in hot and humid conditions.
The morning of the race, I wasn’t excited. I wasn’t nervous. I went through the motions and got myself to the start line. (I usually take lack of excitement and nerves as a bad sign—you want that kind of good, controlled energy going into any race.) I ran mile 1 relatively slowly and mile 2 was a wee bit faster, so at least I didn’t go out too fast. But the mental battle was enough to break me. By the middle of the race, I was thinking about how uncomfortable I was and asking myself why my darn legs felt so heavy. I remember thinking, “man, there’s no way I’m going to catch those girls in front of me.”
Around Mile 2.4 I stopped to walk for 10 seconds. Yeah, walk. In a 5K. I was instantly disappointed in myself. (To be honest, I think I found reasons to be disappointed way before then.) Looking back on it, I’m not even sure why I slowed or stopped. I know I was tired and the humidity wasn’t helping. My legs felt like they were wading through sand even though I was still on pace for a PR. If I had just kept my legs moving I would have been fine. It was a mental rather than a physical decision to stop that day. My body was tired, sure, but it was my head and heart that allowed me to stop in the first place.
I ended up running 3 seconds off my PR at the time and felt incredibly disappointed in myself at the finish line. Sometimes the mental battle can be more difficult that the physical one.
If I could go back and race this 5K again, I would remind myself that a little lightheartedness can go a long way in running. When I’m faced with a tough workout or race, the best thing I can do is have a good attitude about it and accept that it will be uncomfortable. I try to say to myself, “let’s see what happens today!” at the start line now. Once you get to that bad mental space, it can be tough to jolt yourself out of it. Surely, bad races happen but once you realize how you can control your thoughts and emotions, the physical part can seem that much easier. I don’t typically focus on a mantra through training but a quote from this video has stuck with me: “Drown out the voices of uncertainty with the sound of your own heartbeat.”
For more on the Saucony 26 Strong program, which pairs up 13 coaches with 13 marathon rookies, visit 26Strong.com.