The (mind) games runners play

Tomorrow I'm running a half marathon as part of Run Melbourne. So, naturally, the anxiety and general freaking out started about a week ago and will continue until I cross the start line in the morning. Have I trained enough? Will the weather be ok? I wonder how far I can push myself?

These are the pre-mind games I play before every event and I don't know that I'm getting any better at reigning it in. Despite knowing that I've done this distance 7 times before, I've still got nerves. I have to remember the advice I give to my Grade 4 students – nerves about something mean that it matters. That you care. They're not a bad thing and we shouldn't try to quell or fight them – just accept that they're there and they're giving you a message.

However I know that, once I start, I'll be fine. Crossing the start line means a whole lot of other mental games come into it to get me to the finish. Here are some of my favourite tricks to make 21km not seem like, well, 21km….

  • run/walk intervals – I generally run my long runs at 2/1 or 3/1 (eg, 2 minute run, 1 minute walk) as I've found Jeff Galloways' training and techniques to really help me, mentally and physically. That way, I only allow myself to think about the next 3 or 4 minutes, never more. I do not, under any circumstances, think about the whole distance or time that I will be running. Get through this 3 minutes and the rest will take care of itself.
  • run the kilometre you're in – If I'm not feeling as tied into doing set intervals, I change the screen on my Garmin to show the pace per kilometre and I focus on that. This is particularly useful if I'm aiming for a time goal. I know what pace I need to aim for and I track that in the kilometre I'm in but don't allow myself to think of the next kilometre or any that I've finished. Just this one. Make this one good and keep it within the pace I want but don't think of the future or the past.
  • break it down – Thinking about 21.1km when you start a half marathon is a very, very bad idea. It's a long way. If you run at my speed, you'll be out there for quite a long time. Neither of those things will particularly inspire you while standing on the start line so I try not to think of it in terms of total distance, rather I think of chunks. A few kilometres to the first aid station. A few kilometres to a bridge or other landmark. A few kilometres to the half way mark or a turnaround point. A few kilometres to another aid station. Before you know it, the kilometres have flown by and you're counting them down towards the finish line. I only allow myself to count down once it's less than 5km to go – that's a parkrun. I can do a parkrun, even if I'm tired, sore and over it.
  • think about someone else – This one started for me while doing my first 'Run for the kids' where the kilometre markers were pictures of children who were in the Royal Children's Hospital, fighting all sorts of illnesses and conditions. Thinking about them made it very hard to feel sorry for myself and my pseudo woes. I also think a lot about my heroes and the tenacity they demonstrate – Turia Pitt, Kelli Roberts and Kurt Fearnley being 3 that spring to mind. The combination of thinking of those who would want to run and can't and thinking of those who show what strength really looks like is a potent one and always make me hold my head a little higher and run a little stronger.

Whoever said that running is more mental than physical was completely right – for me, it is definitely that way. My runs that are hard are usually that way because of what is going on in my brain and not my body. Here's to me winning the mental battles tomorrow.

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