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Marathoning: The Mental Game

Posted Sep 17 2012 1:06pm

Distance running is no doubt a physical sport. To train one’s body to run for hours at a time is no small feat. Though, in my humble opinion, I think the physical aspect of distance running is the easier part to train. You can put in the miles, the time, the  speed work and the hill sprints. The end result is most likely the ability to run longer distances. Unfortunately, your mental game may never advance like your physical game does.

Physically, I am running 18 mile training runs. The longest I will run pre-marathon is 22 miles. Physically, I am almost there. Mentally, I still feel at times that I’m lacing up my running shoes for the first time. Right now, the New York City Marathon and my ambitious sub 4 hour time goal looms over my head. While it still serves as motivation to continue to train, it more frequently serves as something that terrifies me and feels like a burden. What if I have a horrible race? What if I don’t PR? What if I don’t reach my goal? What if I get injured before I start? I could go on with these “What ifs” for days.

Thankfully, I know this mental race is not unique to me. It commonly plagues distance runners and other athletes. Like everything else in life, you can quickly overthink running, racing and all the steps in between.

Between now and November 4th, I have exactly 47 days to shape up my mental game. My plan of attack is rather simplistic. I will train hard, follow my coach’s plan and accept that no matter what happens on race day – I will be ok. Whether I finish fast or finish slow, I will finish and that will be enough. Helping me to get to this point of acceptance is a very unlikely fix – hot yoga.

Back in Dallas, I was a regular yogi and practiced several times a week. I have recently dived back into my practice in Nashville, and it’s working more mental muscle than I imagined. My favorite instructor (Adam from Hot Yoga Plus) has a mantra he uses in class that has truly spoken to me. He always says that yoga is not something you should beat yourself up over. You should accept your body and where you are in your practice. You should measure not what you are doing but the effort you are giving. You should never beat yourself up over it. I am borrowing this mantra for running. I will accept what my body can do and put forth my best effort. I will not succumb to beating myself up over it. In a sport measured by pace and distance in relation to others, this is truly hard. However, the self-inflicted mental beatings take the joy from running. They make running a chore and not a love. Who wants to do miles of chores when you can enjoy miles of love – the simple love for running. I am going with love – I hope you will too.

What is a mantra you use in your daily life – running or otherwise?

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