BUILDING MENTAL TOUGHNESS ONE RUN AT A TIME
I used to be that person who read the latest issue of Runners World magazine and scoffed at the idea of people who ran 30-50 miles a week.
Granted, I did subscribe to what has now become my favorite magazine well before I was really into running just to run. Still, I never saw myself covering that much distance in just a weeks time. Heck, just a few short years ago, I couldn't even fathom running more than 6 miles at a time...like once a week. I can still remember my last trip to the Running Wild shoe store in CR. I had ran maybe 4 or 5 miles that morning. The salesman who was assisting me had ran something like 11 mile before coming to work. On a Saturday.
I think the main reason I never saw myself really getting into the heavy mileage weeks or runs that lasted an hour plus was because I thought I wasn't fit enough. Or strong enough. I'm not a natural born runner or skinny by any means. My running times are nothing spectacularly fast, and I've doubted myself every step of the way along my running journey. Yet, here we are, almost exactly a month out from my first half marathon. Something I never dreamed of tackling way back when I received my first issue of Runners World as a sophomore in high school. Heck, a 10k seemed intimidating enough. I couldn't imagine running double digit miles all at once, or going through the months and months of intense training to prepare for such an athletic feat.
I wasn't meant to be a runner. But, here I am. Doing it.
And doing it pretty well lately. Although my form could certainly use some work, and I really should conserve my energy/stop lip syncing to every bad ass song on my playlist...I am see progress each and every run. Sometimes, it's 6 miles runs like yesterday done at 9:29 pace, the fastest I have ran since early June. It's not all about paces and splits though. Today, I ran 7.17 miles at 9:47 pace. There's a lot of difference between those two runs that were just a day apart. However, I found that with both runs, I was able to fight the self doubt and push myself to "stay on pace." Whatever that means these days.
I noticed that I pretty much made every hill during the first 5 miles look like a piece of cake (with extra sprinkles of course because you can NEVER have too many sprinkles in my opinion). Sure, I dreaded climbing them as they loomed in the distance. Complained in my head every step of the way about how it really was about time that I changed my route so I could eliminate some of these god awful things. But, then I'd look back at my times after and be shocked at just how fast I had been able to take those hills.
One added bonus that I've noticed with running the same route is the mental cues that almost seem to happen automatically.
I know in advance exactly where the struggle moments are going to be, and when I'm really going to need to dig deep to keep myself from giving up and giving in to that little voice in my head that says you can't do it. You can't run that far or maintain this pace for that long. I know just how much it sucks to run on that flat/slightly inclined stretch of sidewalk from the gym up past Casey's. It seems to literally go on for forever. I also know, that the minute I run past there I have to act all cool, clam, and collected because it's usually packed in the mornings. Internally, I'm thinking, "Hey it's me. Again. I'm just having the time of my life, not struggling one bit. Yeah I know my form is sorta going to shit, but at least I'm still moving one foot in front of the other."
I know that the minute I turn the corner to head below the tracks for my 1-2 hill free laps...it's game time. It's run as fast as you can, try not to get stopped by a train (unless you're super out of breath, then make sure you get stopped so you can have a short break), and make sure to look both ways before you cross the street. I know that if I spend those miles below the tracks just focusing on how far I have left to go or how fast (or slow) I'm running...the miles will be unbearable. So, I focus on just moving. Taking deep breaths. Paying extra close attention to traffic and my surroundings. Telling myself how good I'm doing so far. How, I'm running super fast just Michael Scott from that episode of The Office where he does that 5k to raise money for rabies awareness.
Then, before long it's time for thing to get fun and fast (and also really, really hard because mini hill by the rail road tracks and running all over the sidewalk instead of in a straight line like a normal person).
You see, the finals miles of my run is where I usually shine the most. Minus the min hill, I pick up the pace because I know I'm almost at the finish line, and I figure I might as well go out with a bang/leave it all on the pavement. I take my lap up and down Main Street to recover and sort of decide just how much farther I want to go (aka look at my watch to see how far I've ran and what my time is looking like). Then, it's pretty much a full on sprint aside from having to stop for traffic at the four way stop. That is probably when I feel most like Michael Scott/Forrest Gump. Because, by now it is daylight out and there is high probability of me seeing everyone I know.
So, with that in mind, I gotta look like a real tough and sorta kinda athletic runner. Like, I know what I'm doing and how to pace myself/run with good form. I can't let on that I have no idea how I am going to handle tapering for my half in just a few week or even the race itself. Thankfully, the whole stretch from Casey's to the gym in downhill. I run with everything I have in me, lengthening my strides, and doing my best to not trip over my own feet. I go fast. So fast, I'm zig zagging all over the sidewalk, snot/sweat flying everywhere, and breathing hard. In those moments, running at 8:25 pace today (and sometimes even faster), I know I'm building mental toughness. I know, that no matter what, I can do this whole running thing for decades to come.