As I start my journey once again back from injury every word I ever spoke to athletes on the mental game came back to haunt me.
I went on a four mile run a couple days ago. I wanted a good effort. My goal was a tempo run pace of 7:00/mile (about right for my current condition) for three miles then go easy the last mile. I hit my first mile controlled in 6:59 but by 1.5 miles I had to become much more intentional with my effort and focus. My breathing was labored and shallow. My exercise induced asthma was in play but not as bad as it could be. (Everything is in bloom down here in the desert.)
I started bargaining with myself: “Well, if I can just hang in there for two miles it’ll be a good run.”
Something popped in my head: “What would I be telling my runners in a similar situation?”
First, have the best bad day possible. Learn to be tough.
Second, how I train (mentally and physically) so will I race. Tough patches in running need specific focus. Practice it so you can do it in a race.
Third, feeling discomfort does not mean you cannot continue. Learn to continue even with the discomfort.
I decided to first focus on my form. Run light. Run controlled. Work arms rhythmically. Keep stride fluid and as mechanical as possible like a metronome.
I passed through two miles in 14:10. I lost a bit around that 1.5 mile mark and had to get back on it. I had one more mile and I didn’t want the attitude of “just hang in there.” That is a survivor attitude versus a competitive race attitude. I want to groom and foster a competitive mindset.
The last mile, I repeated several key phrases for me: “Stay strong”, “stay on it”, “Be strong”, “run tall.” Each of these keep my thoughts focused on running the way I want to run – not only in practice but in races. Each time I felt some letting up and my upper body slouch a bit I repeated “run tall.” These phrases, assertions if you will, kept my mind from wandering to my wheezing lungs and progressively deadening legs.
The thought patterns did not eliminate the objective fact that I was under some physical stress. It did not make me breathe better. It did not suddenly bring life to my legs. However, by keeping control of my thoughts it did allow me to optimize my efforts. I did not start that endless spiral of negative thinking that dooms runs.
I didn’t think of all the awful things I was feeling and how much worse they could get and how I might slow down as a result and that it would just end up a terrible run and I’ll end up coughing for 30 minutes afterward and I’m going to be so sore from this and I shouldn’t have even gone out for a run anyway. (Get the idea?)
It did allow me to run tough. It did allow me to practice how I want to race – not give in and not give up. It allowed me to have the best bad day possible. (Oh ya, by the way, my third mile was 6:21. But I only knew I was focusing on being strong. I did NOT intentionally pick up the pace.)
So, much as I recite to many of you these very things… I too must apply them. From teacher to student and back to teacher I hope you see we all have to work at this and it doesn’t happen by magic.