Mind Games

We all know that our mental state and the various voices in our head can have a huge impact on our running: How we perform in a race, whether we complete that challenging tempo / long run or not, or how much we enjoy a shorter comfortable run: all to a great extent depend on how we approach them mentally and the little conversations we have with ourselves when things get hard.

I remember a 10k race a few years ago, in which I had to smash my PB in, if I was to get my next club standard that year: I needed qualifying times for the standard I was aiming for at three different distances in the year, and having achieved them by the skin of my teeth in 5 mile and 5k races, I needed to improve my 10k PB by just over half a minute to achieve the standard. Not easy, but I felt I had a chance.

The second half of the route proved hillier than the first and it took us against a strong headwind; after a strong half start I was flagging: From the moment we passed the halfway mark I began to slow down, and my pace dropped to under the target pace I needed. After the 8th kilometre (probably the hilliest on the course) I was no longer on target, and after the 9th the deficit had grown even more, but all was not yet lost: If I could only run the final km just 3 seconds faster than my target pace (the target pace I hadn’t achieved since halfway remember), I would still get the time I needed. My legs were gone, my breath short and I was alarmed to discover I was beginning to feel a bit light-headed as well, but as I started the final kilometre one tiny thought crossed my mind: “never mind now, think of tomorrow: Tomorrow, how do you want to look back on today? Success or Failure?” Corny perhaps, but it did the job: It filled me with emotion, push me to dig just a little bit deeper, give it everything I had and made that final kilometre my fastest of the whole race – by a margin. I ended up improving my 10k PB by almost a minute and getting the time I needed with 10’’ to spare.

This rather self-indulgent trip down memory lane was brought about by Sunday’s long run: It was a miserable day and I had to trick myself to even get out in the first place: Then a series of mind games between me and my evil nemesis followed, some of which you might find amusing:

1) Sunday’s run was a long 27km, which was much longer than I have run in a long time. I was going to run it along the canal towpath (13.5 out, then 13.5 back), but it had been raining heavily and I know that it would be very muddy and slippery – meaning that the effort of keeping myself upright and not sliding would make it harder than a run on even an undulating road route. I was also feeling very tired and lazy, and I really, really did not fancy the pain of the last few slow kilometres of my planned run. It was the kind of Sunday when you potter about the house a bit, hoping you can distract yourself till it’s finally too late to go out for a run.

So I did something very strange: I decided to add an extra kilometre to my already too long run. Just for the devilry of it! I don’t know where that idea came from, but at least this way what would hurt would not be the last few kilometres of my planned run, but rather the additional effort required to exceed my goal for the day! And bizarrely it worked! I went out on the treacherous path and I wasn’t on the defensive, bracing for the inevitable pain of a long run; but on the offensive, setting out to outrun the longest run since my last marathon in April 2016!

1 – 0 to me!

2) It was all going well till at a certain point on the way back (I think it was around the 21k mark), when I felt a rumbling in my stomach. I fancied something solid to eat, and promised myself a tostie as soon as I got in. “No wonder you are hungry” I thought to myself “you’ve had nothing since the two slices of toast at breakfast and it must now be past 4pm”. And at that thought, and for no apparent reason, I slowed down to a walk and abruptly stopped! I set off again as soon as I realised what had happened, but I make that 1 – 1.

3) By the time I past the 22nd km, I was starting to feel tired and the run was beginning to become hard work. I thought back and I recalled that I had passed the 20th km feeling relatively rested and running well. I tried to identify what change had taken place over the past 10 – 15 minutes that could explain the change from running well to it being hard work, but could not put my finger on any one thing (e.g. legs feeling heavier / getting out of breath / aches and pains / change in terrain / cramp etc). I think if I could solve that mystery (which occurs on all my long runs by the way), I would make a big step in becoming a better and more aware runner!..

1 – 2 to “it”

4) One of the joys of doing progressively longer out-and-back runs along the canal is that each such run takes me a bit further out. Running past the point where I turned back on my last long run is a very tangible representation of increasing endurance as my training progresses: it acts as a confirmation that I am improving as a runner. It also appeals to the child within, who is keen to explore a little further down the canal to see what monsters or wonders may hide there!

2 – 2

5) This also works on the way back: returning to within the range of the previous longer run, I feel I am in familiar territory once again: “it’s ok, you’ve run home from this far out before and it was ok in the end!”

3 – 2!

I’m sure that such mind games are not unique to me, I’d love to hear your experiences, good or bad: How do you motivate yourselves when you need that extra push (run-related or not)? Are there times when your own mind or emotions become your worse enemy? Do you have little conversations with yourselves trying to convince your body to go just a little bit faster, or a little bit further?

Leave me a comment and let me know!

And a reminder that Sunday’s Long Run was part of my training for the 2017 Virgin Money London Marathon. I will be running in support of the London Transport Museum and you can sponsor me at:  http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/LeonardSymeonides

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