Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Finding my focus


Sunday's long run was a tough one. I started out behind the eight ball, and I never could get it together. I kept trying to refocus, trying to stay positive, trying to turn that run around. But I just couldn't make it happen. Even though I've got a big goal for my fall marathon, for some reason, I couldn't stay focused on the task at hand.

Too many things were distracting me. The heat, the humidity, my legs, my life...my mind kept wandering. I've been struggling with insomnia for the past week, and I was tired. I couldn't stop focusing on how badly I felt. Just listen to all that whining I was doing. Can't you just hear it?

I just couldn't get my head in the game. And even though I was aware of all that negativity in my head, I couldn't make it go away.

I tried. I even thought about doing punishment burpees, like Becky makes me do. But I was beat, physically and mentally, and if I would have gone down to the ground to do a burpee, chances are, I wouldn't have gotten back up.

I finally gave up. Brain 1, Wendy 0. I've pushed through really tough runs before. Why couldn't I push through this one? Physically, I felt pretty bad, but this time, I let my brain get the best of me.

I walked towards home and mentally beat myself up a bit. I wasn't mad at myself because I didn't finish the run. I was mad because I couldn't stay focused on the run. I know that running 8 miles instead of 12 isn't going to kill my marathon dream. But what is going to do me in during the marathon is the inability to control that mental monkey inside my brain. Looks like it's time for me to start on my mental toughness training again.

What can I do to prevent this from happening again? How does a runner stay focused during a tough run? Seems like it could be pretty simple:


 Last year, about this time, I wrote a post called Getting Out of My Head. I went back to read it, and you know what? I had some pretty good advice for myself. I talked about being present and staying focused on the moment you are in. For a runner, that means staying tuned in to what's happening on the road.

Breathing: check in with the breath. Is your breath smooth? Is it raggedy? Sometimes consciously breathing rhythmically helps me a lot. I do a 1-2-3-4 pattern, exhaling on the 4. Usually that exhale is on my left side, because I'm prone to side stitches on the right. Taking time to concentrate on the breath helps me a lot.

Pace: on a day with hot, humid weather conditions, pacing is tricky. I knew that I needed to slow down, and for the most part, I did. I wanted about a 9:30-9:45 min/mile pace, and when I stopped my run, my average pace was 9:38. But my splits were all over the place. Had I done a better job with pacing, I may have been able to complete my run.

Stride: long strides mean more effort. So focusing on shortening your stride can be really helpful on a tough run. I use my music as a metronome, and that helps me with stride length, believe it or not! But stride length and pacing is a delicate balance.

Mentally: what's going on inside your head? If you're feeling good and having a nicely paced, easy run, it's easy to stay positive. But what if you feel like crap? And all you want to do is get it done? How do you stay positive and focused when everything else is going wrong? 99% of the time, I can chase the bad thoughts away. I might think about a good run that I've had or a great race where I pushed hard and finished strong. I pull out my mantras. I think about Becky telling me that I have to do burpees for every negative thought I have. I think about my goal and what I'm training for.


Sometimes, none of this works. Sometimes you just have a bad run. But I believe that there's a purpose for those bad runs, because they force us to look at what went wrong and to refocus ourselves.

There's always something good in a bad run. If they were all good, we'd never get any better. It's the challenge of pushing past adversity that makes us stronger runners.

Heck, any run is better than no run, right?

How do you stay focused during a tough run?

I'm linking this post up with DebRuns, who hosts WednesdayWord. Today's word is focus. She always seems to know the right word for me. Ha! Check out what the other bloggers are saying this week.







72 comments :

  1. Running is definitely just as much mental and it is physical. I often find it difficult to stay focused on positive mental thoughts when I'm running during the summer, but know how necessary it is. Its tough to see that slowing pace, but I try to remind myself that I'll be able to pick up the pace again in the fall.

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    1. That's what I keep telling myself. This heat and humidity definitely is humbling me!

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  2. Those bad runs definitely make the good runs just that much better. I have found staying at a consistent pace really helps to fight the leg fatigue too and obviously getting into a groove can combat some of the mental garbage that goes on though it doesn't always work! :P

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    1. I definitely need to rein in my pace on those long runs.

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  3. I'm hoping for a good run this morning and will definitely keep these points in mind! Thanks.

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  4. My best trick for getting through a bad run? Unfocus for a bit. I'll write a blog post in my head or sing "bottles of beer on the wall" (Yes, I know that one is weird, but for whatever reason it works). When I refocus on the run, I've usually killed that voice in my head and can think about what's actually happening with the run. But sometimes, a run just sucks and you either push through or don't, all the while mentally beating yourself up... It happens to the best of us.

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    1. Yep, it's been a while since i had such a bad run...guess I was due. I'm looking forward to a much better long run this weekend.

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  5. I like to think of bad runs as money in the bank. You know you're going to have them, so if you can get them out of the way before a race day, you're still winning! But one time I was so un-focused (tired, and just looking at the sidewalk on an early morning run) that I almost ran right into a deer. We were both very surprised!

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    1. I'd say that you were really focused on your run!

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  6. I think you touched on something huge...insomnia. I've never been a good sleeper. It's a family trait. You would think training for a marathon would afford you some good sleep. NO. I've been writing a post about it in my head for a while. It will eventually get typed. But when fatigue peaks, there's really not a whole lot you can do but rest. I also think it affects the BRAIN more than it does the BODY. You will run an awesome race, sista!

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    1. I'm really a pretty good sleeper, so the insomnia was troubling to me. I'm starting to sleep better again, but I'm fatigued right now! Got some catching up to do!

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  7. I really struggle with my mental toughness. These are some great tips though that I've never tried. Usually i just focus on getting to the next half mile at a time. That seems to distract me.

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    1. That works for me on a shorter run. But on a half or a full? It can be overwhelming. I ran a race where they had mile markers at the half miles. It was too much for me!

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  8. Hey you got a bad one out of your system. Better now than on race day, right? When I'm struggling I find nice things to say. About me, about the run, the scenery, the breeze, having to legs that work, sort of, whatever. It resets the brain.

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    1. I do that too, try to make positive out of a negative. There was just nothing good happening that day. Yep, it's behind me.

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  9. Yes, one "bad" run is not going to set back your training. Maybe you needed a break? Not sleeping enough is probably the thing that holds me back most during my marathon training. With more sleep, my training runs feel easier, and I can recover more quickly. For some reason I can't sleep enough to compensate for the increased work load.

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    1. That's how I feel. I'm pretty tired right now. I have a few days off after today, and I'm looking forward to sleeping in! If you call getting up at 630 sleeping in! LOL!

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  10. Isn't it nice to have old blog posts to go back and reread when you need to talk to a part of yourself that is in a better head space? I am sorry you had a bad run and couldn't get focused. Obviously it happens to all of us. One thing I try to remember when I have a bad run (for whatever reason, some days I just feel extra horrible) is that a good run is always right around the corner. Yes, that is a little sunshine and rainbows, but sometimes we just have a blip and can't get our head in the game, but the next time we try, we do it and it reminds us that sometimes we just have those days.

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    1. Funny, because I did think about that. I told myself finally to stop, that this was "the bad run", and the next one would be better. And it was.

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  11. That quote about running being a battle between our brains (yes, brains) is so so true. Some runs, one totally overpowers the other. But you can still make the other one stronger and with greater endurance by activity (consistent) or inactivity.

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    1. And cross training helps too. Just focusing on a different activity, and gaining some strength is a good motivator for me.

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  12. I love what you said "There's always something good in a bad run. and It's the challenge of pushing past adversity that makes us stronger runners" those words are so very true! Just think if you had not had that bad run this post would have gone a completely different way! We often dish out great advice but find it hard to take our own! Why is that? Even in your older post you had some great advice! We just need to revisit it sometimes!

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    1. I didn't have anything to write about for this word, and ha! the bad run happened. Coincidence? I think not...

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  13. I haven't had this happen for a loooong time but BUMMER when it does. A great read, as always!

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  14. Yes. Yes. Yes. Oh how I have so many arguments with my brain on my runs. I am trying to listen to my heart (heart rate training) and so many times my BRAIN gets in teh way.

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  15. Running and really working out is always all mental for me! If I start thinking about my baby toe hurting too much then it's all I can focus on. Your tips are great! I need to remember them the next time I'm failing.

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    1. I need to remember them too! It was great to revisit the old blog.

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  16. I love that first cartoon - so true! I like the idea of counting breathing. I will definitely try that next time I'm struggling.

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  17. Don't you love when you read your own blog posts & think, Wow, that's good :)
    That cartoon is spot on

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    1. Haha! Yes, that's exactly what happened! I need to take my own advice.

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  18. When I'm having a monumentally bad run, which thankfully doesn't happen often, I count steps. 10 steps, over & over & over again.

    And for me, food is almost always the carrot. There is some yummy snack in my car or waiting at home.

    But yes, a run is better than no run.

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  19. I think like an alcoholic when I have a really bad run. Not one day at a time, but one mile (or block sometimes) at a time. Sometimes the wise thing is to stop. I'm glad you don't blame yourself. Maybe your body, your thoughts, everything were trying to tell you that this just wasn't your day. As long as it doesn't happen very often, just stopping won't hurt you. Running is definitely a mental sport (and we're all mental! ha!).

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    1. That's exactly what my coach told me--one bad run isn't going to ruin my training.

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  20. I'm definitely no stranger to those types of runs. I wind up calling them a mental training run because sometimes it's all I can do to survive.

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  21. That cartoon is awesome! It's really hard for me to stay focused with even 2-3 mile runs....

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    1. I don't usually have a problem staying focused on the run. I think that's why this was upsetting to me!

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  22. LOL at the cartoon. This is a topic for a much longer discussion, but in short I'd read articles comparing whether it is more effective to try to zero in on the MOMENT while pushing through those tough runs (e.g., paying attention to your breathing, trying to feel the pavement under your feet)... or if it is more effective to try to disassociate yourself (e.g., think about vacation, listen to music, etc.) I tend to prefer the disassociation method, personally. But others have sworn by the method of being present!!!

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  23. Any run is better than no run. I can't remember the last time I had a really bad run....but I definitely have runs that are better than others. One day my run may be harder and slower and the very next day I could be flying with ease. Mental games...running the mile you are in and not the ones left ahead of you (I think that's from somewhere in the mother runner trilogy of books) definitely help...

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    1. Isn't it funny how unpredictable running can be? You might not feel like going and have an amazing run...and then there's this run!

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  24. I struggle with this same issue often. It happens to me a lot in races and I'd love to figure out a way to stay focused and tune out some of the crap.

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    1. You know, I struggle more during a race than I do during training! I'm sure my nerves have a lot to do with it.

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  25. I can totally identify with this. Some workouts are a total mental battle. I have to break them into small chunks and just focus on finishing this mile, this interval, etc. It doesn't always work, but it definitely helps. Or I will go for time versus distance and tell myself I can go easy but I have to go...walk if I have to.

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    1. I'm pretty good at pushing through a tough run...that's why this one was so disturbing!

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  26. One reason I like to listen to music when I run -- it keeps me out of my own head. Yesterday I was working at home and really agitated about everything - I decided I had to go for a run, never mind it was mid day and blazing hot - and that really did clear my head.

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    1. I'm with you on the music! I like to lose myself there.

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  27. I agree with the above comment about the music. I wish I could stay focused enough in silence, but honestly...I can't. Even with music though I've definitely been through some mentally tough runs that I would have pulled the plug on if I had been any closer to my house. I feel like they make us stronger runners though!

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    1. My iPhone craps out on me occasionally and I'm stuck running a mile or so without music. It's SO HARD! I listen to myself breathe and ugh. I know I could do it but the music makes it so much easier.

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  28. I can totally relate to that quote! I want to be a runner so bad - but it just never sticks with me! Maybe I need to try again!

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  29. Oh... I've done this before... the feeling of NOT finishing my run is usually enough to keep me running! I always beat myself up over quitting!

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  30. Whether this part's in my head or not, I feel like it's good to get those tough, bad runs out before a race. I had to quit a long run two weeks before a half last fall, and in that race I beat by goal time by three minutes! On tough runs now...I tell myself that I'm a fighter and part of the training is to fight the run. And I bribe myself with food/beer for afterwards.

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    1. I'm always glad to get a bad run out of the way. This morning was much cooler, and my legs felt much lighter. It's amazing what a change in the weather does to our runs!

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  31. I do love that about blogging. I went and read my stuff in my Garmin Connect log and my blog from last year about this time and it gave me a lot of insight. If I was honest, I've had more bad runs then good lately, but I still want to try. I deal with rough runs differently, because there are so many factors.
    I think that heat just zapped you! It will not keep you down, you are a fighter.
    Last winter when I would have a rough run, I would usually wake up the next day and go run a speedy 5K. It was like my confidence tool lol A few speedy miles and I was happy again :) Right now I can't do speed but if I finish and feel good all seems right with the world.

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    1. Today was so much cooler, and even with the wind, my legs felt lighter. The cooler temps were so nice!

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  32. I have seriously been struggling with my mental game as I work my way back from injury...and the weather is just not helping!

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    1. Yesterday we had cooler temps, and I had a much easier time. That was really encouraging to me!

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  33. It can be SO hard to fight through when your brain is just telling you no. I had a long run recently, before we left for vacation, where I literally spent the entire 8 miles just arguing with myself. That first picture you put up is so, so true. Sometimes I win the battle and sometimes I don't. I wish I had a tried and true way to win the fight!

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    1. That is exactly how my run was...I argued with myself the whole time. And finally gave up.

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  34. There are so many factors that play into a run. How we feel emotionally, lack of sleep, nutrition, weather, you name it. I think when too many of these get out of whack for a while the quality of a run eventually suffers. But I think if you're committed that will only be temporary. I had to stop a planned 16 miler today at mile 10 ( it was still in the upper 90s early evening) and I thought about your post. And yes, it's pushing through those bad runs that will make you better runner.

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    1. I don't know how you Floridians do it--at least I know our heat and humidity will come to an end. But yours continues...

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  35. Sometimes I find that these symptoms can mean a little case of overtraining. Maybe your body is just physically exhausted, especially if you aren't sleeping. Have you thought about taking a good solid few (3-4 days) off to regroup?

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    1. Ugh. In the middle of marathon training? I'm going to talk with Becky this week and see what she thinks.

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    2. I agree with Sue - some of those symptoms sound like over-training. What did Becky say? It could also just be the ho-hum of late summer training. Perhaps the change in weather with cooler fall tempts will put a spring in your step, and bring back the fire...

      Thanks for linking up!

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