One of the most important components of running, to me anyway, is the mentality of it. When I’m out banking the miles, my mind is just as powerful, if not more, than my legs. What I’m thinking about, what I’m trying not to think about, my stress level and my general mood and how awake I am -- all of that has the potential to make or break my run... if I let it.
That’s the crazy thing about mentality. It’s literally all in your head. I forget that sometimes, like many do, because it’s easy to go with the flow of whatever signals your brain is throwing at you. “You’re dying. Stop running right this second!” seems to be a popular first signal, followed by more reasonable, less dramatic ones like “This can be your last mile. You’ve gone far enough today, haven’t you?”
Sometimes, those alert messages are actually things that you should listen to, like “There is a shooting, sharp pain in your ankle. You should get home, rest it and ice it, and probably not run six more miles.” But other times, they’re just prime examples of why everyone doesn’t just run all the time and do a marathon every weekend: It’s freakin’ hard.
Runners, people who subject themselves to this onslaught of warnings about pain and suffering from their brains repeatedly and regularly, develop some sort of method to either ignore or override it. Some people can do it with logic: they have planned to run X amount of miles today, therefore X amount of miles will be run come hell or high water. Others slip into tunnel vision, focusing on a specific goal and tuning out anything that will prevent them from reaching it. Still others, like me, struggle with both of these concepts. The logical method falls apart when I remember that I have this wonderful thing called free will, and that nobody is actually forcing me to run. My tunnel vision slips away when my thinking gets too metaphysical and I ponder whether I can actually know what I want to accomplish and whether that is really nothing more than a super-long run.
This leaves me to adopt method of distraction and entertainment. One might think that this means that I would be the iPod-wielding type. I am not. I have a strong dislike for the feeling of earbuds, the sensation of carrying something while running, and for choosing music to listen to (weird, I know). So, one might think that I would enjoy running with others and carrying on lively, constant conversation. Alas, my introverted tendencies actually make me crave the solitude and the solo accomplishment of completing a run on my own.
I do, however, love thinking. And I love language (I am a fluent Spanish speaker). And while I can’t stand listening to music, I can remember songs that are somewhat catchy and/or enjoyable to me. While actually talking to people tends to make me exhausted after awhile, I can think through interactions with ease. While I run, I translate whatever song may be in my head, into Spanish. If I have no song, I have hypothetical conversations. In Spanish. I draw all of my mind’s energy away from telling me to stop running by giving it something else to do, kind of like making a screaming baby in the back of a church quiet down by giving it a toy to inspect. Hey... it works! I turn away from the pain and create something that, to me, is beautiful. Or at the very least, interesting.
This week has been a bit of a mental battle, with the feeling of a training plateau seeping in. While the sudden thaw has definitely been exciting, several weeks of ramping up the miles, broken up by a week of stuffed-up sinuses, has left me less than pumped to head out the door and puddle-jump most days. I think it must be the mid-training slump. Ten weeks out seems like a long time and a short time all at once. At this point, it seems the best thing to do is to keep on moving. I’ve hit the 16-mile mark on my longer runs, and am currently bouncing back and forth between feeling accomplished to have run farther than I ever have, or terrified that I have to do that plus ten more miles when I felt as if my legs were going to crumble at this latest milestone.
I’m toying with the idea of bringing energy gels with me on these longer runs. I have never tried them before, but at about 1:40:00 into my 16-miler, I spotted someone having one, and I have to say it looked like a great idea at the time. I have a pretty sensitive stomach so I tend to avoid taking in any food within an hour or two of running, but when I’m going that far, I can definitely feel it when my energy reserves run out. An experiment for the coming week!
As always, happy training, everyone. Until next time!