I'm wrapping up my week off of work. For the first time in a long time, I didn't spend my time off away from home. Instead, I made it a "staycation", and made very few plans. I requested this time off way back in March--not knowing that I was going to need it so very badly! Normally, I take a week off in July and week in August--both planning around my sons' birthdays. We used to spend those weeks up in Wisconsin at my parents' summer home. Once my youngest started playing football, we had to give up our carefree week away in August. And this year, since my oldest had a job, it was just my younger son and me for our time away in July.
I've written about my very stressful summer, and if you want to read more, you can click here. I'm not going to recap that anymore. Instead, I'm choosing now to focus on the positive and what has been my main training goal for this Chicago marathon: mental toughness. I surprised myself, especially the last couple of weeks, managing to get through one of the most stressful periods of my life relatively strong. This is not my nature. I tend to be a high strung, intense person, who gets anxious pretty easily. This is the main reason I run. Running helps me burn off a lot of negative energy. And while I love to run races, races really bring out the anxiety in me, and I do believe that is why my last attempt at the marathon did not go well. I've also written about this as well, you can read that here.
I'm really happy I chose to train with Becky, via CrossFit. The work she gives me is so hard that I want to quit sometimes. But I don't. When I'm done I feel as satisfied as if I crushed a run. And I do believe that pushing through those tough workouts is making me mentally tough as well. Physical fitness is only one aspect of training for a tough goal event. For my last marathon, I was physically ready. Crushed my 20 miler. But the day of the race, my mind got the best of me. It was hot. I know that I don't run well in the heat. And I pretty much convinced myself of that at the starting line.
So what can I do to finish this marathon under my terms--in other words, strong and proud?
Research backs Becky on the work she is doing with me. Tim Noakes, a noted sports medicine researcher, theorizes that the brain uses sensory information, such as elevated lactic acid, to send messages that we are working too hard. We get signals from the brain, such as fatigue, cramping, and pain. His thought is that we need to train our brain to tolerate more exertion. So when we are training, and we start to feel those symptoms, instead of stopping, we might want to push a little harder. Speed work is one way to increase our anaerobic threshold and help us to train our brains to tolerate a little more discomfort. Some suggestions also include mantras--I have one that I'm using right now-- "I can and I will" and staying present--I've talked about that before--meaning staying focused on the workout. I also use music--songs that have positive messages and a driving beat--to help me push through a tough run.
In addition, it is important to stay goal focused, and one of the articles I read for this post suggests that we actually write our goals down to make them seem more real. Another author suggests having 3 goals: one that is easily achievable, a realistic but challenging goal, and an ultimate goal. But no matter what goals you set, they need to be reachable for where you are at as a runner. My goals for this marathon include a) to finish strong. Yes, b) I'd like to finish under 5 hours this time! Actually c) 4:30 would be my ultimate goal. All realistic, all achievable, but all dependent on me that day.
What about during the race? What mental strategies work best during a run? Again, staying present and focused seems to be the key to a strong finish. Runners who focused on how they were feeling tended to finish strongly and were less likely to "hit the wall", probably because they were really tuned into pace and fueling/hydration. Runners who used distraction as a strategy tended to "hit the wall" more often and had much slower finish times. Hmmm....isn't this interesting? The experts say it is ok to tune out once in a while, but to make sure to check in and see how you are feeling. I like to run alone because I like to dial into how I'm feeling. I do listen to music, but more as a motivator than a distractor. I found this information really interesting because so many people like to run in groups, to help pass the time and distract them from the discomfort of running. Because I do get into my head sometimes and engage in negative self talk, I can see how having a companion could be helpful. I just need to stay positive!
What helps me is when I am starting to feel negative, I try recruiting someone around you to run with me a bit. Usually, I'll just kind of run alongside someone for a bit, say hi...I don't actually ask them to run with me--everyone is on their own journey, right? Or I'll try giving encouragement to someone around me who is struggling. I've been on both ends of this--a few times at a half marathon when I thought I couldn't finish and someone talked me up or even ran with me! I've also done the same to another runner, and that really gave me a boost of energy. Smiling helps too--when spectators call out encouragement, smile and wave back! The little boost of energy I feel when I do that always amazes me. I think it's called endorphins...
|My friend Sandy jumped in at mile 14 and ran 3-4 miles with me. It helped a ton!|
And what about "hitting the wall"? "Hitting the wall" or "bonking" happens to all long distance runners at one time or another. You know the feeling of leaden legs, difficulty catching your breath, feeling like you can't take another step? Hitting the wall is very real, and it is usually a byproduct of low glycogen stores. This all sounds so common sense but recommendations include fueling before you feel fatigued and on a regular basis. If you wait too long, it could be too late because your muscles are already out of fuel and the body has to convert your fuel into energy. Another article I read suggests using even pacing strategy throughout the race, suggesting that having your pace all over the place depletes glycogen stores much faster. Jeff Galloway recommends starting out slowly and saving all your energy to the end. This will also conserve energy and glycogen stores. Try to not get caught up in the energy of the crowd and go out at your own pace!
Easier said than done.
There is also a psychological component to hitting the wall. The brain also becomes fatigued and neurotransmitters, substances that are released by the brain, send negative messages to your muscles and begin to accumulate. Keeping your carb intake steady throughout the race will help the brain as well as your muscles. Once you start feeling the symptoms of fatigue, you need to dig deep and talk yourself through it. Willpower was shown to be are great strategy for overcoming the wall. And don't tell yourself that you're going to hit the wall before you even start the race. Studies show that runners who expect to hit the wall are 3x more likely to do so. Yikes! Repeat after me...the wall? What wall? No one told me about a wall? Must gel now...
So it was really great for me to review all the research to help me prepare for my final 6 weeks of training. Physically, I got this. Mentally, I'm a work in progress. But repeat after me:
I can and I will!
Trust the plan!
Running is fun!