getting past mental road blocks


I mentioned the other day that some of my training plateau was more mental than it was physical.  That’s the thing about running.  Running is 80% mental and only 20% physical.  OK, so that might be a little different for some of you, but absolutely, running is MUCH more mental than it is physical.

I truly believe that EVERYONE can be a runner.  It doesn’t matter how fast or how slow you run.  If you run, than you ARE a runner.  I also believe that anyone can run any distance.  As in, ANYONE is physically capable of running a half marathon, marathon, or ultra.  I know that if I truly wanted to, I could go run a marathon or an ultra.  But, that’s just it.  I don’t WANT to.  I am ABLE to, but I have absolutely NO desire to actually train for either one of those things.

Unfortunately, the mental aspect of running is much more limiting than our physical ability.  Think about the last time you just HAD to walk on a run.  I’m sure it was probably a long run, in the heat of the summer, and your “body” was screaming at you to just stop.  However, it definitely wasn’t your BODY telling you to stop – it was your brain that was holding you back.

Those mental road blocks are absolutely the HARDEST thing to overcome as a runner.  Believe me, I feel like I have been dealing with them for the past 2 years.  Take for example the one workout I HATE more than any other workout:  1000-meter repeats.  I ran 3 x 3-miles this weekend for my long run and I was dreading those 1000-meter repeats SO much more than a 3 x 3-mile run.  I don’t know why 1000s are so much harder for me mentally.  Maybe it’s because I have to run SO fast for SO long.  Seriously, this past week, I was trying to talk myself out of running them while I was running them.  I just cannot mentally get over that hurdle.  And I run them for 4 to 5 weeks straight during a half marathon training cycle.

img_7443So, how do I get over that mental road block?  Goals.  Set those goals.  Why do I run 1000-meter repeats every training cycle for 4 to 5 weeks in a row?  Because I know how important long intervals are to hitting the time I need to during a half marathon.  I want that PR sooooooo bad at Rock ‘n’ Roll St. Louis next month.  I know that with my long term goal – a sub-1:35 half marathon – I need to be including these workouts.

But, I can’t just look at long term goals.  Those just aren’t going to get me out the door.  I have to look at short term goals too.  I give myself a certain number that I need to get in (5-6 typically), and I also give myself a goal time for each and every repeat.  I need those goals to keep my mind focused and to remind just why I need to do this workout.  It helps break up the session a little more too and makes it more manageable, mentally + physically.

The other big mental road block I seem to face, especially at this point in a training cycle (about 2-4 weeks out from race day), is plain, old burn out.  Burn out is inevitable, especially when you are training for a half marathon or longer distance.  When you are spending months at a time training for a certain race, you just get to the point where you are just ready to be done.  And it SUCKS…  You love running, but you just don’t WANT to.

One thing I’ve started doing which has seemed to help a TON is shortening my training cycle.  A half marathon training cycle is usually 12-16 weeks long.  I have shortened it to 10-11 weeks this past year.  So far, I have yet to feel that burn out that I have felt in the past.  Now, this will be MUCH harder for someone training for a marathon, but if you have the distance under your belt already, there is really not much need to train for longer than 12 weeks.

If it’s your first marathon, yeah, you probably need those 16 weeks though.  So, what do you do if you experience burn out and can’t shorten your training cycle?  Take. A. Break.  (OMG, anyone else just start singing Hamilton?!)  Take a day or two, or even a week off from training.  Go on a few easy runs.  Confide in some friends about what you’re experiencing and ask for some advice.  WATCH some running!  Go to a race and cheer on the runners – or watch the Ironman or Boston Marathon on TV.  Find something that will motivate you, or just take a few days off from training.  It will not hurt your training program, and you’ll probably be itching to run after a few days anyway.

Just remember, you ARE a runner, no matter how fast or slow you are.  You ARE physically capable of running that pace.  You just have to believe that you can DO IT!