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Training For Your Marathon – How to Get Your Mind Around Your Marathon Goal
The other day I was asked by an aspiring marathoner what the most important thing a new marathoner should know. I didn’t have to think for a second.
“The most important thing for anyone preparing for their first marathon is that a marathon is 90 percent mental,” I said.
I know it sounds cliché, but it’s true. Running a marathon successfully requires not getting tired, paying attention to what your body is telling you, dealing with the inevitable aches and pains, and having a good mental attitude.
The physical side is easy: all you have to do is get off the couch and run. It is the mental part that is the hardest.
In this article, I offer some tips on how you can keep your head in the game and train your mind while you train your body.
Don’t get bored:
A seasoned runner once told me that he knew he was on his way to becoming a marathoner when his mind began to tire before his body could finish. It didn’t make much sense to me at the time, but as I got into better shape and my mileage increased, I started to understand.
You see, at a certain point, as your mileage increases, especially new marathon runners, there is a tendency to get bored with running and, in some cases, feel a little lonely during their long runs. Thus, running twenty miles requires a lot of physical training as well as mental preparation.
I will admit that when I ran my first marathon, I hated long runs. I didn’t hate them because they were physically tough – they really weren’t. I hated them because I was bored.
But over the years I’ve changed the route I set up for my long runs and now I love them. The key to not getting bored is to focus on something. Here’s what I do. In the week leading up to my long run, I prepare for my run by making a list of things I will need during the week that I can seriously consider while running.
These can be mundane things, like I should get a black suit or a navy suit, to more serious things, like I should get a promotion or start my own business.
One of the great byproducts of my marathon running is that I often make better choices because I can critically consider the options. That way, the time you set aside for running can also be your most productive time.
I also use my running time to relax. During the week, I make a pact with myself not to worry about things. Instead, I let myself worry about whatever ails me during my run. For example, when I run, I worry about whether it will rain at an upcoming outdoor party I’m hosting.
Beyond prompting, worrying for the sake of worrying isn’t productive or worthwhile, so I deal with it when I run. Specifically, I can allow myself to think about the presentation, but only for a mile or two. Then, I mentally try to leave it behind me as I run. Try this. It works!
In addition to thinking, planning, and worrying, I spend a lot of time praying while I run. It’s weird for me to write this because I’m not the most spiritual person in the world. But there’s something about the quiet nature of running and the rhythmic sound of footsteps that allows me to think deeply about things I wouldn’t normally think about or do.
So, after hating the time spent on long runs, I learned to really love and look forward to that time.
It will hurt, sometimes:
I’m confident that following the advice in this book will get you to the finish line, but there’s nothing I can do to help you deal with the fact that running a marathon can be a little painful. This is the best I can tell, based on my experiences, part of the process.
For example, on my long runs, I usually estimate when my legs start to hurt around mile seventeen. It’s always minor and the pain is more annoying than anything. But here again, it’s important to recognize these pains but not let them track you down.
Be smart about the pain you feel. If you have very sharp pain or pain that either doesn’t go away or feels like something is wrong, see your health care professional.
Don’t make a mess. If your pain is less severe, don’t let it side track you. Here’s a tip. The way I deal with the inevitable aches and pains when I run is welcome. That’s right. I force myself to think about the pain to come, like I’m meeting an old friend who will run with me for a while. When I feel the pain coming on, I say to myself, “You old friend, how are you?” Then I literally imagine myself running into an old friend.
I know this sounds weird as I write this. That’s how I felt when I heard this advice. But it works.
Check the system:
If you do a really good job of thinking and praying while you run, it’s often easy to forget to make sure your body has what it needs to keep going. With that in mind, I force myself to do a quick system check at each mile-marker to see if I’m hungry or need water or have unusual pain.
If you don’t have long-distance running experience, this may seem unnecessary, but it’s not. Trust me when I say that it’s very easy to lose track of what your body needs when you’ve been lost in your thoughts for long periods of time.
You’ve probably heard of a “runner’s high” before. It’s the feeling of excitement that comes from a long, strenuous activity like running. While I don’t know if I’m high as a result of my running, I definitely feel a lot better mentally, and often physically. Part of it is that I keep running!
But what you may not have heard of is what I describe as “runner’s fog.” The fog I describe is a mental state where you don’t think about running, yet you keep running. It’s like daydreaming.
Have you ever been on a long drive over the course of a few days and lost yourself in your own thoughts? Then suddenly you realize you’ve traveled a long way without even realizing it? The same is true of runner’s fog.
I tend to get “foggy” when I run the same course over and over again. Something about the introduction to the course makes me daydream. Some people I’ve talked to love runner’s mist because it helps them relax. While this is true, there is a downside to falling victim to the fog.
When I’m less alert on my run, I often forget to do important things – including taking in water and food. I also make dumb choices, like crossing the street without seeing or looking for things on the sidewalk.
In 2005, I was halfway through a long run and tripped over a small branch that had fallen while walking sideways. I “arrived” when I was sprawled out in someone’s yard, covered in mud and with a nasty scrape on my arm.
The lesson here is to try to stay sharp. Keep your mind active. Stay relaxed but keep your head in the game.
Consider Staying Motivated: I’d guess that if you talked to a hundred marathon runners, you’d get a hundred different tips for staying motivated. I can give you a lot of specific tips, but part of finding what works for you is coming up with your own inspiration.
However, I will say this. I have young children and I involve them in my training. If you haven’t already noticed, I’m big on goal-setting. A few years ago, when we were on a family trip, my daughter, five of us, asked how long 26 miles was.
To show her, I reset the trypometer. After ten, then fifteen, then twenty miles, she said, “Wow, that’s a long way to go!” This led to a long conversation about running. Her questions flared: “Do you ever get bored?” “Do you sweat?” “What do you feel when you run?” The questions continued. It was priceless.
Then she asked a question that got me thinking. “Dad,” she said. “How do the soles of your shoes look after you run so long?”
I decided that for my next run, she and I would use a black pen to draw a design on the bottom of my shoes to see if there was any sign of the mark when I returned. Before my next long run, I flipped a shoe over and asked her to make a design. she did I gave her a kiss before heading out the door for my run.
By the end of my run I was smiling as I thought about the conversation and the design we drew. Thinking back, I remembered that its design looked like the diamonds on the bottom of my shoe. Immediately, an old Paul Simon song popped into my head. “People think I’m crazy, I have diamonds on the soles of my shoes.”
To this day, we draw diamonds on the soles of my shoes before my big runs. My kids get such a kick out of it; This is very motivating for me when I run. It’s almost like running with me.
The bottom line here is that when it comes to inspiration, no one can tell you what will work. You have to find your own motivation.
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