I've had a lot of bad runs. A lot. There were the physical problems: side stitches, shin splints, painful blisters, hip pain; and then the mental problems: feeling exhausted mentally, thinking I couldn't finish, feeling my legs get heavier and heavier when I think about how much further I have to go, thinking about work stresses and life stresses. I know that when I have mental pains I have a much harder time running than when I have physical pains. But I've learned to cope with both the physical and mental problems, not perfectly, but enough that I can get through these bad runs and come out with something positive afterward, even if it takes a few days of retrospective thinking to appreciate what I just went through.
The more I run, the more capable I feel to overcome the challenges that it presents. But I'm definitely far from perfect and I've had a few crushingly horrible runs over the past few weeks. One of the worst feelings I can get on a run is when I run five miles one day feeling unstoppable, and then two days later I can't get through an easy three miler. Doubt creeps in, anger knocks on the door, and feelings of frustration wash over me to almost an all consuming point. I get down on myself thinking how can I ever run 26.2 miles when I can't make it through a measly three miles! But then I get even more frustrated when I know earlier that week I ran a longer distance. Its taken me a while to learn how to deal with these emotions and negative thoughts. I keep trying to remind myself that finishing a run is all I need to do. It doesn't matter how fast or how slow, I just need to finish it.
The Four Miles From Hell
Two weeks ago I had a four miler in the middle of the week. Nothing major, I had been running lots of mid-week four milers for a while now. But what was supposed to be a quick in and out run turned into a horrific mixture of running, walking, and crying. Mentally I was a wreck. I had been dealing with a lot of outside running stresses: work, life, etc and it all seemed to hit me on that run. I had felt great two days earlier on my Monday run, and even better that previous weekend when I ran five miles. I physically felt fine - no major pains or tiredness, but I couldn't get my mind around the run. My mind was holding me back and I just couldn't imagine finishing the four miles. But I forced myself too. Time didn't matter at that point - all I had to do was finish. So I ran, walked, and shed some tears in the middle, but I finished the four miles. And I knew that just by finishing it I had accomplished a major feat. Little did I know THEN that I would be able to look back on that four miles from hell and know the impact it had on me just by finishing it. I FINISHED. Knowing I hadn't quit when it was hard helped me later look back on that bad run as a good experience.
Mind Over Matter
Its been said over and over again that running a marathon is 10% physical effort and 90% mental. I've been keeping that in mind as I train. I've been trying to focus more on my mental preparation and just know that I can run if I stop thinking about the actual run. This weekend I ran my first eight miles of the year. I hadn't broken the six mile mark yet this fall and while I thought I would be nervous, I wasn't. I focused on each mile as it came, I didn't think about mile five when I was on mile three, and I didn't think about getting tired at six when I only was at four. When I did pass the six mile mark I felt my mind start to break down. I looked at my watch to see I was only at 6.37 miles and let out a loud, "Damn it!" shout on the side of the road. I was frustrated I wasn't further than I thought I should be. I started to feel tired, my legs started to feel heavy, and my hip started to twang, but I knew it was all just in my head. I thought, why am I getting frustrated now? I HAVE to do this run. I have to make six miles, eight miles, ten miles and more. I'm running a MARATHON, so why get upset? I have to do this. Suddenly, my mind quieted down and I just focused on getting to the next stoplight. I did and felt refreshed. Then, suddenly, I was at mile seven. Only one more to go! I started feeling tired, but then I thought, My body is so much more capable than my mind - I can do this. So I stopped thinking, and I just ran.
You don't have to run fast, you just have to run fierce.
And I finished! And I finished faster than I thought I would! The hills I thought would crush me weren't nearly as bad as I thought they would be. My feet were starting to hurt, my shin was starting to pinch, and my hip was starting to burn, but I was DONE. All I needed now was to recover with my favorite post run drink: coconut water, pineapple juice, and sparking water, some deep stretching and foam rolling, and an ice pack for my hip and shin.
I'm definitely starting to embrace the journey of training for a marathon. I'm usually a destination-focused person, but this marathon training is teaching me to enjoy the ride. That each moment is built on the last, each little bit of foam rolling and icing only makes me stronger for the next run, and each mind over matter moment only makes me mentally more prepared for the next long run. The mileage is still low at the moment, so the real test will come in a few weeks, but slowly and steady I'm feeling right where I should be.