Since the Olympic Marathon Trails I have heard and read over and over again how inspiring the athletes are, and how so many runners are going to channel thier inner Shalane during thier next race, when they need to dig deep and go hard. It’s truly a lovely and inspiring thought. After all, Shalane had one of the most dramatic marathon finishes ever, suffered dehydration in the raging Los Angeles heat and, with the help of her teammate Amy (Hastings) Cragg, pushed beyond human limitations to secure the last spot for the Olympic team, and collapsed at the finish.

Shalane collapsing into her teammate (and fellow Olympic marathon qualifiers) arms right after crossing the finish.

It’s a made for tv ending. It’s inspiring! It’s something we want to imagine ourselves doing…until we get out on our 10 miler and start doing tempo repeats.

Let’s discuss some reality, shall we?

YOU ARE NOT SHALANE

Besides the obvious reasons, you are not like an Olympic marathoner because your mentality and experiences are vastly different, and this is what will matter most when you’re on the pain train during a race.

Of course we are inspired by elite athletes however, when things get tough out on a run, it’s so much easier to give up when thinking of someone like Shalane Flanagan or Kara Goucher or Meb Keflezighi. Why? When the suffering begins, it’s a matter of how long you can last in a battle of your metal will. What you tell yourself in those moments will have everything to do with the outcome of the race and how you feel about it afterward.

If you’re thinking about elites it’s a lot easier to quit by telling yourself “I am not an Olympic marathoner! This is not as important as that race. I can pull back. I’m not an elite, etc.” While elite influence and inspiration is great, it does little to help you in a personal battle against yourself. What you need is to draw upon your own experiences where you didn’t think you could push any harder or faster…and then you did.

I took this after a recent very intense run when I did not think I could do the tempo paces my coach laid out for me...especially after a hard swim. But I DID and took this to remind myself that I CAN!

I took this after a recent very intense run when I did not think I could do the tempo paces my coach laid out for me…especially after a hard swim. But I DID and took this picture to remind myself that I CAN!

 

HOW BAD DO YOU WANT IT

This is the title of an extremely fascinating book by Matt Fitzgerald. It explores the mind/body connection (something scientists didn’t even believe in a few years back!) in exhaustive detail. It’s fascinating because your mind will quit long before your body actually needs to, every single time. It’s how you can explain a finishing kick or being able to kill your last mile repeat or getting that sudden burst of energy when your most kick ass song comes though your ear buds. Did your body suddenly replenish its glycogen stores or does the mere sight of the finish line provide your mind with all the energy it needs?

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From the book:

“Endurance athletes, by definition, endure. They endure long hours of training, the privations of a monastic lifestyle, and all manner of aches and pains. But what endurance athletes must endure above all is not actual effort, but perception of effort.”

Why is this so important?

“The most important discovery of the brain revolution in endurance sports, and the most important truth you can know as an endurance athlete, is this: One cannot improve as an endurance athlete except by changing one’s relationship with perception of effort.” 

And how does one do this? Certainly not just by watching other runners do it!

[Tweet “The most important truth you can know as an #endurance #athlete and more #mental games @mattfitwriter”]

WHAT YOU TELL YOURSELF MATTERS MOST

Most of us have some sort of internal dialogue when running or racing. The longer or harder the effort, the crazier and more desperate this self-talk can become. A lot of runners rely on well practiced mantras to get them though the worst parts of training and racing, and they practice their phrases just like speed work, intervals or hill repeats because it truly is just that important.

“Proof that athletes always have some reserve physical capacity at the point of exhaustion comes from a variety of studies, including some in which subjects are required to exercise to exhaustion and then their muscles are electrically stimulated to determine whether they could continue to work if only the athlete were willing to make them continue – – and every time it is discovered that they could.”

Take that muscles!

RUNNING THOUGH MY HEAD

I remember training for my very first marathon way back in 2005. When my training runs got really hard, I would tell myself that when that happened at the end of the marathon, I would think of my mom (who died when I was 17) or my athletic hero at the time (Brett Favre – – don’t laugh it’s true and it was 2005!) to get me to the finish. Well, I can tell you that at mile 25 of that marathon I couldn’t have given two shits about either one of them and all I wanted to do was STOP RUNNING! I didn’t and finished in just under four hours, but learned a very hard lesson on mental strength – – it needs to come from within.

I finished my first marathon no thanks to Brett Favre.

I finished my first marathon no thanks to Brett Favre.

On a very different race course nine years later, I found myself as the lead woman in a duathlon. I was exhausted, depleted, and hanging on by a thread. I didn’t know I was the lead woman and I didn’t care however, when a guy on bike rode up beside me and said into his two-way “I have the lead woman and second place isn’t far back so we have ourselves a race.” I felt sick to my stomach and then dug so deep that I practically had an out-of-body experience that shoved me the last .25 mile to the finish. I broke the tape and all of a sudden had renewed energy.

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I don’t even look tired but I was a wreck just .25 miles before this.

Here’s the thing, I ran both races to my full potential, or I should say to my full level of giving a shit. In that first marathon all I wanted to do was cross the finish line and, in the duathlon, I was training for the world championship and I had a lot to prove to myself, and that made all the difference. It always does.

THE TAKEAWAY

I have a very hilly half-marathon to run tomorrow. I know from running it in years past that it will suck and suck terribly, especially in the last mile-long uphill slog to the finish. My mental game is ready and it will come down to how badly, in those moments, do I want it. Right now, I’m not sure. It’s not a goal race but, of course, I want to do well. My mind will be key in my performance since my body is more then up to the task.

You already have everything you need to run a successful race. YOU are the one who will truly know if you left it all out there or if you gave up. Maybe it won’t matter but maybe it will. The only question to ask yourself is “How badly do you want it?”

Do elites motivate you when it really matters? I’m curious.

What race have you really suffered for and what got you though it?