Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Staying the Course: 10 tips to Get You Through a Tough Run

Did you watch the US Olympic Marathon Trials last weekend? It's always inspiring to watch elite athletes run to the finish of a marathon. This year was particularly grueling because of the heat. Shalane Flanagan collapsed at the finish line. You could tell that she was struggling. Yet she got herself across that finish line. What can we learn from Shalane and other elites about staying the course during a tough race? Or a tough training run?

10 Tips to Get You Through a Tough Run

I had plenty of time to think about this on Sunday's long run. Thus far I haven't had to dip into my mental toughness regimen as I begin marathon prep, but last Sunday was the day that I had to dig deep. Let me set the stage: starting temp was 16F and the wind was blowing at 10-15mph. My PF was barking at me from my run the day before. As I headed out, within a mile, my right shin tightened up. I'm certain that it's related to my hobbling as I run out that PF pain in my left foot. I could hear my right foot flapping on the ground, and a walker even turned around as I approached. Hello, it's just me, gimpy runner! Don't judge. I hoped knew it would get better.

I stopped twice to stretch out my shin. This is when I pulled out my first mantra of the run. I relied on a couple of mantras to get through this painfully cold run. What do you do to keep going when your brain is telling you no?

Never judge a run by the first mile. Or two. Or three. Or four. Yes, because that is how long it took for my shin to loosen up on this tough run. I knew it would, once my PF calmed down (running stretches out the plantar fascia) and I settled into my stride. At mile 4, my leg felt loose and I smiled to myself as I watched my splits improve. I just didn't think it would take so long.

Keep it loose. Since I was hurting so much at the beginning of this run, I found myself tightening up. Unconsciously, I was clenching my fists. There was no way I was going to finish this run if I was all tensed up. I kept remembering what my childhood piano teacher used to tell me. She reminded me to play the piano as if I had an egg in each hand. I use this mental exercise a lot when I'm running. I don't want to break the eggs, so I keep my hands loose. Try it.

Eye on the prize. I had to remind myself why this run was so important. I can't quit in the middle of the Big Sur Marathon! I also thought about Kristina, from Live Love Laugh Run, and how I don't want to disappoint her. We plan on running this race together, and I sure as heck am not going to quit on her! That thought kept me moving.

www.bsim.org
I don't HAVE to run. I GET to run. I'm so lucky that I get to do this, and I know it. Big Sur is a bucket list race for me, an adventure of a lifetime. As I ran, I also felt thankful that in spite of the brutal weather conditions, there was minimal snow on the ground, and that meant the forest preserve path was clear. I did most of my Chicago Marathon training on that path, and there's a lot of good juju on those trails.

Keep smiling. There were a few brave souls out there running and walking. The walkers were bundled up as if we were in the arctic circle. They all smiled at me and stiffly waved. Smiling really does lighten your step. I also smiled (but ran a little faster) because even though it was really cold, there were still a few cars backed into parking spots in the preserve. Of course, I'm not the Valentine these men are looking for.

10 Tips to Get You Through a Tough Run
I also saw this. Shoes hanging from a tree. Any ideas about how or why they are there?
Breathe in strength, breathe out weakness. At mile 10, as I was reflecting on how this was a solid training run, I got a side stitch. Seriously? Well, I wasn't going to stop to walk it off. It was just too cold to slow down. I reminded myself to inhale for 3 and exhale on the side opposite of the stitch. Repeat and repeat. After about a mile, it finally went away.

Prepare for the worst and hope for the best. These tough training runs are actually a good thing. They force me to deal with glitches and problems that are likely to come up during the marathon. I don't know about you but I don't like surprises and I certainly don't like surprises that are going to hold me back!

Head up, heart strong. I actually channeled my inner Shalane during this run. I pictured her slowing down at the end of her marathon yesterday, in obvious pain, yet never giving up. She never quit. Sure, she came in 3rd, but she's going to the freaking Olympics! I'm no Shalane Flanagan, but I'm a tough mother runner, and I can do this.


When you feel like quitting, remember why you started. I never believed that I couldn't do this run. But the conditions were so tough that I wanted to quit so many times. Yeah, it sucked. I really wanted to go home and get back under the covers. I won't lie. But then I'd glance down at my Garmin and see my pace, which made me smile. I actually picked up the pace on the back half of the run, because at that point I wasn't hurting. My legs felt great. That made me smile too.

There's pizza at home. I don't usually dial into thoughts about my post-run meal until the last mile or 2. But that's usually when I need the extra push to get home. My last mile of this run was my fastest, believe it or not. I was hungry. I was tired. I was cold. I couldn't feel my face. And I was ready to be done.


There's a lot of time to think on a long run. So make the most of it. Are you going to be negative and bring yourself down? Or are you going to make it positive? It isn't always easy to push through a tough run, but remember this: 
"Baseball is 99% mental." -Yogi Berra
What? Ok, running isn't baseball, but it's a great analogy. Do the work on the road and off. Keep your head in the game. Stay the course. You got this.

What do you tell yourself to stay focused and positive during a tough run? Any favorite mantras?

I'm linking up with DebRuns for Wednesday Word. Today's word is stability. What's your take on this word?





94 comments:

  1. Definitely definitely a tough run but most of these apply over here to a tough DAY too.

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    1. Isn't that the truth? I find myself taking lots of deep breaths during the day.

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  2. As I'm heading out for my long run soon, I really appreciate reading this just before. I try to keep the whole "run the mile you're in" mindset strong. The fact that I'm out there and doing something good for me (mentally and physically) is also something I remind myself of when the going gets tough.

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    1. As you could probably tell, this was a pep talk to myself! That run on Sunday was as tough as any marathon I've run. I'll keep this advice all close to my heart.

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  3. These are great tips. I think because I've done some of my frigid runs in the city where I run past homeless people, I am particularly conscious that I am CHOOSING to be out in the cold so I had better smile and count my blessings!

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    1. That is some pretty powerful motivation right there!

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  4. My mantra "the faster I run, the faster I get done" :-) definitely some good tips here. As times seem to slow down or injuries prevent good training, my friend reminds me to see this as I "get" to run. It's in the experience. and I do love running. I can't see my life without it, no matter how slow I get!

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    1. I use that mantra too! Especially when it's cold out.

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  5. I could have written this LOL I think I have had to tap into all of those mantras at one time or another. I've said it before.....the easy runs are great, but there's nothing gained from them (other than a fatter ego). It's the tough runs that make us tougher, and they show us what we're really made of ;-)

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    1. Yep, there was a whole lot of learning after Sunday's run. I was just wrecked after that one!

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  6. Your first one is my favorite and the one a use most often for any type of tough run- speed work, long, whatever... Don't judge anything by the first mile, first interval, etc. Also, I do the countdown. Like if I am doing a 10 miler and get to mile 3, I say well now I'm not doing a 10 miler, I'm doing a 7 miler!

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    1. I do that too! On Sunday, when I hit 2 miles, I thought, only 10 to go. It makes it more doable that way.

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  7. Those runs will make you or break you. They can't all be rainbows and sunshine, right. I do think learning how to work thorough stuff helps when a race isn't going like we hoped. We adjust and adapt and and smile :) keep smiling is big :) These are a few of my go to's:
    You can do hard things!
    I love running, I feel FINE!
    PUSH!
    Now is the time I feel great :)

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    1. I love that one, you can do hard things! I also think about that at work a lot....

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  8. I've noticed that I don't really hit my "stride" until mile 3 or 4 of a long run. I have no clue why it takes me so long to warm up, but I always keep that in the back of my mind when I want to quit!

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    1. It depends on what I'm doing. I don't warm up before speed work, and I expect my first split to be slower but you just never know...

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  9. I use the mantra, you can do hard things. That helps me get through some tough times. I agree that you can't judge a run by the first few miles. Sometimes those are so tough but then you eventually fall into a rhythm

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    1. One of my favorite mantras. Because yes, we can do hard things!

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  10. Great post. I felt this on Monday. 10 miles and I just didn't want to do them. Starbucks at the end!!

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  11. All great tips for any tough run, Wendy. When the going gets tough for me I try to focus on taking it one mile at a time, and reminding myself why I'm out there running. Keeping an eye on the prize - the goal race - often helps me through those really tough miles.

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    1. That's what I keep thinking about in this training cycle. Training for a spring marathon is tougher because the weather is so dicey here! So I keep thinking about that beautiful Big Sur course that I get to do.

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  12. I love the "I get to run" vs "I have to run". So so true! I go to church with a women who is in a wheelchair and she always asks me about my running and how she wishes she could still run. Running is a gift not a chore.

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    1. Sometimes training is a chore but you have to keep it all in perspective.

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  13. I chose to run. That one's always gotten me through my injuries, and I'm always itching to get back out there.

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    1. And we're always looking for that great run, too!

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  14. Nice job getting it done, lady!

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  15. I need to work on loosening up - I'm going to try your egg mental trick! Also, when it's awful out and I see some other crazy person running, I love giving them the smile and a wave, knowing there's at least one other person out there who doesn't think it's ridiculous to be running right now. (Or do think it's ridiculous but do it anyway - either way, it's nice to see someone in the same boat).

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    1. Isn't the craziest idea? But it really works. I was so tense on Sunday--and I had to consciously loosen up.

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  16. I love that pic of Shalene...so strong!! I have totally used the pizza one too:)

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    1. Pizza is always a good reward after a long hard run!

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  17. These are great tips. I especially love the point about not having to run but getting to run. I think that's something I forget about sometimes and it's a great reminder to focus on how lucky I am to be healthy enough to run.

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    1. In the middle of a long hard run, we often question our sanity...and forget the big picture!

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  18. You are one tough mother runner! The cold is tough and I often bully myself about it. Before if it was under 50 degrees i would not get out and run, no way. Now if my schedule say 5 miles and it is 36 degrees I get out there, no way am I telling Coach M or my blog friends that I am sissy and thought it was to cold, that's right, toughen up buttercup is my mantra!

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    1. I have a cross fit shirt that has that mantra across the back...just sayin'

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  19. Great tips - I was so motivated after watching the trials - so inspiring!!

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  20. These are all great tips. When a run is tough, sometimes it just takes time for your body to get to where you want it - I think that's what happened on my run last Saturday. And I totally agree that keeping it in perspective and smiling makes the run better. I gotta try that egg thing too!

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    1. Isn't that egg thing the craziest? Yet it has stuck with me since childhood!

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  21. My most frequent weather related running training partner is wind. I always remind myself that I will be faster on the days when the wind isn't blowing if I just keeping pressing through. After several days of wind, I'll feel like I'm flying again.

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    1. Wind and cold are often partners here. Pretty tough company...

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  22. I always encourage my athletes to make smart decisions. And I have those mantras that I shared with everyone at the beginning of the year, with my two favorites being : I am capable and 2) you have 100% success rate of surviving your worst days, the odds are in your favor!

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    1. I really believe that these tough runs give us a mental edge!

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  23. Such good tips! Whenever I'm not feeling a run, I tell myself to get through the first 2 miles. I usually find my groove by then. For long runs, I just run away from my apartment, instead of in a loop, so that I have to keep going to get home haha.

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    1. I always have my phone with me and I could call my husband to pick me up. I think I've done that twice in my whole life, well, not counting that horrible first marathon I ran 5 years ago!

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  24. Great tips, that can be used in almost all aspects of life!

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  25. OMG I LOL'd at the cars backed into parking spaces and then when you said you were not the valentine they were looking for it just cracked me up! We have the same thing going on at a local park. Too funny Wendy! Thanks for that! Oh and this post is very much "share-worthy" ;)

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    1. Isn't it so icky, those guys backed in for a little woodsy action? ewwwww

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  26. Great motivators! For me quitting simply isn't an option. I tell the runners I coach to draw strength from past success. Summon a time you were particularly strong or worked particularly hard and reaped the rewards for it. It doesn't have to be running related. It can be personal, parenting, professional, whatever. Build that web of confidence and let past success fuel your future ones. That's why running is so great. It's so hard it brings out your best qualities.

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    1. Oooh, Marcia, this is gold! I may have to quote you. Love love love this. Web of confidence. That's a web I want to get caught in!

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  27. Never judge a run by its first mile (or 3) is a big one for me - I swear, I don't settle into a run until I hit 3 miles!

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    1. Or 4...I swear, that was a long time coming!

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  28. great tips! I gave up on a tough run last week because I really just wasn't feeling good. I slept pretty hard a few days after that. I think that's an important thing to remember too - will it break you to tough it out - probably not but in some small cases it might be best not to just push through it.

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    1. Rarely will I give up on a tough run. This one was close. But I knew I needed it.

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  29. yes remember why you started for sure oh an pizza at the finish is always great. Good motivators. I also need a few miles to settle into a pace and feel good. I try to think about what has worked for me before that I can use now.

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    1. I can usually settle into a pace, but sometimes it doesn't feel good. That's always tough.

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  30. My newish mantra from this cycle of marathon training is always that my determination is stronger than..(insert whatever the issue is that day.) I also use the have to vs get to a lot. I love the egg tip. BTW, I got to see some of the trials live in LA when I went to bib up my race bib...it was amazing and it was hot!

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    1. I cannot imagine running a marathon in that heat, much less in 2 1/2 hours. Those ladies are amazing.

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  31. I feel like all of my runs have been tough lately. I'm really over the treadmill and need a break from it. I can't get off of it though because my hubby is out of town ALL of the time. I need to study when the kids aren't home, so I have to sacrifice the outdoor run for studying. At least for the time being.

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    1. You are way stronger than me. I don't know if I could do it. I guess I used to when the boys were little. I guess we all do what we need to do to get it done!

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  32. Congrats on getting your long run done under such cold conditions. That can be so hard at times. The cold makes your muscles or PF feel even worse! I love all those points you listed on how to stay positive when the going gets tough during a hard run. My favorite Mantra has always been that I don't have to run, I get to run. I'm usually always grateful just to be out running. The one thing I have not managed yet, is to smile when it gets tough:( I try for a second or two, but I can never sustain it. :):)

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    1. I might not be able to maintain that smile, but even a brief smile lifts the load a little bit! It really does!

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  33. Haha your last mantra! Towards the end of every run I focus on the food I get to eat when it's over. It totally works! I hate when long runs are tough so great job for sticking with it!

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    1. I think this would have been fine had it not been so cold! But I was so glad to eat when I got home.

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  34. When I ran the NYC marathon a few months ago it was my toughest mental race by far! My mind 100% got me to the finish line and yours will too. You are so smart to work on your mental toughness as well as your physical endurance and strength. What the mind can conceive and believe it can achieve! I believe in you Wendy!!!

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    1. I'd say this run rivaled any of my tough races! That cold wind was not joke. It was definitely good prep for a race.

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  35. I always start thinking about food towards the end! :) You have the right attitude and you're getting closer to race day! The last few weeks and months always seem to be the toughest. Hang in there, you got this! :) -C

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    1. I had the option of a bike ride this day vs the run, and as hard as this run was, I'm glad I opted for it. Pushing though gave me the confidence to know I can push through a tough race.

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  36. The whole "I GET TO RUN" mentality is a big one for me. I've had so many times in my life I have not been able to run, so I try to remember that when I'm running. It is a gift.

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    1. Running really is a gift (I think I wrote a blog post with the title once!)

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  37. I didn't get a chance to watch but I've loved reading people's thoughts on the trials! I definitely try to keep in mind how lucky I am to be able to run and participate in races. And there have been plenty of long runs where I've bribed myself to finish with thoughts of food :)

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  38. Great tips, I agree with all of them!
    I think the mind is the most powerful tool when it comes to a long distance race. Yes, having the body well trained is helpful too, but if the mind is not there and not trained for what may come then that is when people start giving up.
    Great post!

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    1. Thank you! After all it is a mental game, isn't it?

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  39. These are all great tips! Very often the first few miles of my runs are a bit tough, but my body usually just needs to wake up and get used to moving! I also agree with keeping your eye on the prize and having a short-term reward (like a delicious brunch!) when you finish can be so helpful. I have to say, watching Amy Cragg pull Shalane along during those last few miles and then watching Amy catch her friend and teammate as she collapsed at the finish line was so inspiring and heartwarming. What a race!

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    1. That was probably the best marathon finish I've ever seen! Oh my gosh, talk about some tough competitors there!

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  40. Ms. Wendy, great motivators but as a podiatrist I must caution you about running to much with PF. I hope at least after your run you tapped your foot and did the hole RICE thing. You need to also remember the price is the run in Big Sur. Sorry my doctoring is coming out. I can't help it. But great motivation

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    1. I do appreciate your concern. But I am managing it very thoughtfully here. My goal is to get to the start line.

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  41. Your blog just keeps getting better!! I usually pull out a couple of mantras and then really focus on how I'll feel when I finish knowing I pushed through!

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    1. Thank you!! You provide me with some pretty good inspiration, my friend!

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  42. Great words of wisdom Wendy. My right shin does that too if its cold and I get the flop flop too. It always goes away after about 30 minutes... once I am warmed up.
    My post race food fantasies start a bit earlier than the last 2 miles... :)

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  43. Man where was this post 2 months ago! I agree with the whole shin thing. I spend the first couple miles begging things to loosen up! I love all of this!

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    1. I wish there was a way to just hit the road and not have all this stuff talking to me!

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  44. Boy I wish I'd had the time earlier this week to read your post before my long run yesterday. It was a tough one! We are our own worst enemies, and I defeated myself mentally. A lot of times I like to use the mantra "can't stop, won't stop" which I repeat with each foot fall, but that didn't work for me yesterday. Time to come up with some more, I suppose!

    I took piano lessons for 12 years as a kid and had two different teachers during that time. My first teacher from when I was in Kindergarten and first grade made me play with pennies on top of my hands to teach me hand position and holding my hands lightly above the keys. She got mad when the pennies ended up stuck in the cracks between the keys. Like it was my fault - I was six!

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    1. I like the idea of visualizing the egg rather than playing with pennies on my hands! That sounds tough.

      This post was as much a pep talk to myself as anything...hopefully both our next long runs won't be so tough!

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  45. The mental toughness that these difficult long runs give us far outweighs the physical benefits; and mental toughness gives us stability to weather whatever is thrown our way on race day.

    Thanks for linking up!

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    1. Mental toughness is a muscle that needs to be trained too!

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  46. Ha, I missed the trials because I was suffering through a blister filled long run! Could have used this then.

    Also, shoes in a tree/over a telephone wire/etc is a sign of a place you can buy drugs. Same goes for those plastic bags tied impossibly high in the trees. That and the lonely guys parked in their cars, might not be a place you want to run at odd hours.

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    1. I've heard that about the shoes, but this was in the middle of the forest preserve. Idk...

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  47. Wendy,

    I can totally relate to your experience. Just that instead of plantar fasciitis I have knee pain (chondromalatia).
    Your mental toughness is really impressive. It is the mental toughness that outweighs the physical barriers. Every time I face a difficult obstacle I remind myself that I can do whatever I set my mind to.

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    1. That's where I'm at right now. I"m not doing a whole lot of running these days but I'm doing a lot of cross training.

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