Monday, November 21, 2011

It's All in Your Head

Let us take a moment to celebrate the 100, most intelligent, beautiful, loveable people to grace the internet:

I have 100 followers. 

If the box of followers was on the left side of this page, this would be awesome

I think I'm supposed to throw a giveaway or something, but the only thing I can think of to give away is this Homer Simpson rubik's cube thing that we don't want, but I won't led the Gentleman throw away.  I keep thinking it is going to the PERFECT gift for someone some day.

Fact: I don't officially "follow" any blogs, so I don't even know what it means.  I exclusively read blogs in my Google Reader.  So more than anything, I am truly and absolutely grateful to you 100 who choose to support this blog by clicking "follow," even -- and especially -- since I don't reciprocate.  But I promise, if you leave a comment I will always check out your page.  I'm pretty sure that if you like me, I will like you.

Goodness.  Edited to add: at some point shortly after posting, the number fell back to 99 followers.  Someone get on up there before this post gets any more inaccurate.

Now.  Let's get mental.

I attended a social event in my law firm office a few weeks ago.  Gentle schmoozing turned into a serious conversation about running with a young guy from a bank office that came to the event.

It slowly, humbly came out of him that he ran an incredibly hilly marathon in 2:47...and that he has an extremely rare degenerative arch disease (1 in 30 million people have this.  Basically, his arches collapsed).

He talked a lot about how he was able to do this because running is primarily mental.  You train your body to do what you want it to....but even more than that, you are training your brain.  And if you can't train your brain, well that is a huge part of why you won't succeed with your goals.

I was cheesily moved by this conversation.  He was such an unsuspecting runner, just looked like an ordinary dorky banker.  Something even slightly autistic about him -- the way he talked about how he trained for runs and races through photographic memory.  For example, instead of pacing himself by miles on a Garmin, he paces himself with a normal watch because he can memorize that from a certain tree to a certain stop light is one mile....after driving a marathon course just one time.

And the way that he described mentally pushing through the last mile of a marathon was brilliant.  Despite a 6:25 average pace (with hills!), he ran his 26th marathon mile under 5:00 minutes, because he mentally escapes his body.

If it's all mental, are all these hours and hours of runs leading up to races just training our brain?  Are we adapting our brain to think that 20 miles at xx pace is safe and comfortable, and then training our brains to accept that the last 10k will hurt no matter what?

He said when you hit the last 10k, you have to convince yourself that you are fresh.  You have to believe this.  He also mentioned other mental tricks, such as having debates in his head.  Making points and counterpoints.  Thinking about his work. 

This may be an obvious aspect of training for some of you, but it is a new idea to me.  I want to approach races with this new strategy.  I want to toughen up my mind and learn how to trick it from it's urge in the second half of races to tell me I'm wiped and to ease it up.

Unfortunately, going into a marathon in less than 2 weeks now, I am mentally deteriorating.  I have no excitement at all about this.  I have a lot of fear for how painful it will be with a hopeless hip (yet I refuse to withdraw my bib -- I will stand at the starting line no matter what).

I'm going to try my best to build a strong mind and attitude towards this marathon, and to battle defeating thoughts while running.   I think this is something that may take a very long time -- years even -- to really master.  Especially with a stubborn brain like mine.

Do you actively train your brain when you run....or just your body?


  1. I need to work on the mental side of running SO much. I have a really annoying habit of glancing at my garmin, seeing a slower pace than I feel like I'm running, and kind of giving up. It's not pretty...

  2. So much of running is mental. You have to train your mind to make your body push through. Haha maybe it's lame but I always visualize myself running... Running past the finish line, running while exhausted, running witha weighted vest (a future purchase I'm going to feel stupid wearig) etc. I think it helps a lot. Also that guy ran a 2:47. Craziness.

    Google followers, I've found that a lot of my readers are anon ppl who bookmark my page and come back...

  3. I try. It is not an easy thing to do..well for me anyway. In races I struggle during the last miles and it is because of the mental aspect of the race. runners like this guy impresses me.

  4. Geez, that's crazy. In an awesome way, but...just, wow.
    I know how much of it is mental, and that's what I'm working on. Sometimes I think a certain pace is "right" and beyond that is impossible, but clearly my mind can push my further if I let it.

  5. 'You train your body to do what you want it to....but even more than that, you are training your brain. And if you can't train your brain, well that is a huge part of why you won't succeed with your goals.' I reread that about 5 times... it is so true. I do not consider myself a very athletic person, and certainly not talented like some; but the mind over matter game you can play with your brain is phenomenal and I think has made me a much stronger runner. You mentioned that this is new to you...but I don't believe that! :) You are an incredible runner and have pushed through some tough races. Plus, the fact that you are still planning on toeing the line with your hip pain shows mental toughness for sure.

  6. Fact: when anyone posts that they just reached XX amount of followers, I always have a strong urge to un-follow them, just to mess with them. :) I wasn't the 1% that unfollowed you though, I promise. I'm a Google Reader person too.

  7. Thinking about work would not help me run any better. I run so I DON'T have to think about work.

    However, I do agree that running is very mental. I always run better with a group because they distract me from what I'm doing. I always think that if I hit a certain pace, it's too fast and I should stop, but if I'm not thinking about it, I can do it.

  8. That's definitely an interesting concept, especially because the last half marathon I ran was so freaking miserable, largely due in part to the fact that I mentally didn't want to run it. I think I shall try this tactic on my long run this weekend.

    And you will dominate your marathon, I'm sure. Your hip is just giving you grief for being so speedy :)

  9. Wow, that's a pretty amazing runner. I don't know if I would have believed this a few months ago, but after destroying my marathon goals without even specifically "trying" for it, and running 55 miles this past Saturday, I am a firm believer that it's mental. The last 3.5 hours of my race, in the pitch black woods, freezing to death...yes, that was certainly mental.

  10. I agree that when you train your body you are training your brain. When you push your body to limits that are past comfortable your brain forms a relationship with that feeling.

    I'm also a weirdo about not giving in to the garmin techonlogy. I wear a normal watch and I have routes where I know where the mile markers are.
    Last but not least. I think you are suffering from normal prerace jitters. This isn't just some halfmarathon you are planning to run this weekend. This is an attempt to PR at the Full at a good sized marathon race. I think you care about this race more than you want to admit. Try to taper and get some extra sleep in when you can. I think you will kick some butt at CIM.

  11. That 2:47 marathon guy sounds amazing! The fact that he can memorize the course based on distances is crazy to me and not run with a watch - he really sounds like a genius to me.

    I do agree that some of running is mental, though a lot of running simply comes down to your ability and what kind of shape you are in. But yes, the last 2-3 miles of a marathon are heavily mental, how much punishment do you want to push your body through.

  12. I think running mostly amounts to what I put in it: training. I'd love to run faster, and my mind pokes my body to go faster, but if I don't do the work it ain't happening.

    That said, in the past couple of weeks I have been trying to mentally train myself for marathon-type dilemmas like hitting the wall.

  13. I also am a Google Reader only - don't do the Blogger following thing.

    Well, running is mental, to a point. I mean, you can just get off the couch and run a marathon without training. At least not fast.

    But I like that trick of convincing yourself you are fresh with 10K left. I guess if you can really convince yourself of this you can at least maintain a decent pace rather than crumble into a walk or a slow shuffle.

  14. If I knew how to follow someone, I'd follow you! I'm a google readerer too, duh. Ok, so this man sounds slightly genius and crazy all at the same time. When I run, I basically train myself not to stop because I'm sweaty. Its not going that well, so far.

  15. this concept is so logically, yet takes awhile to put into practice and actually find value in the benefits. i've been running for 15 years and for the first 14 i had no idea how to get my head in the game. but it's just like any other skill, it needs to be practiced in order for it to be put into use and it can be rather tricky at times having your mind power you through a marathon.

    i always find it interesting how other runners keep themselves moving ahead.

  16. I agree in part with what the unsuspecting runner had to say. Running takes guts, but there is a physical component to it that no amount of will power can erase. But this is a nice reminder to set an intention during a run, and don't let your legs override your brain and heart.

  17. that's where I am always boggled by you runners...what the f*ck do you guys think about while running? When I run/gasp/walk I am thinking of THE END and all the chores I have to do when i get home! btw sounds like you met the rain man of running.

  18. I am 101 follower!! Happy Thanksgiving! What a beautiful day.

  19. Just bookmarked this post. The part about convincing yourself that you are FRESH for that last 10k is something I really need to try for myself. I think that talking to this guy came at the perfect time for you!! That is crazy that he can remember the course so clearly.....I am still trying to figure out how far a mile is from my front door step. I forget...can I track you for the marathon?

  20. I read you comment. Decided to go run to think about it. I think you enjoy pushing people's button a little. I see it here reading your blog. Anyway it is all good. So yes you have the "right" to post any comment you want on any blog just like I have the right to not like it. My point was about coward anonymous people or people set on private settings leaving crap on blogs not people like you who have a public profile. I dont need you to write "you are great" on my blog. This is a little silly and High Schoolish. As for the comment that I was refering was a classic example of working outside the house mom thinking she is better than working at home mom. She was refering to that. And yes I do take those personal as you can see. You have a good day.

  21. Oh man I am so behind on your blog! I feel like a real loser! I'm behind on every single blog though if it makes you feel any better. Google Reader has officially giving up even keeping track anymore. I love this post though. Not only because of the 100 followers (yay!), but I love the stuff about the mind and brain and using it for training purposes. I believe that our minds control so many things that we may not even realize. And so many positive things can come from trying to work your brain just like any other muscle in the body. Cool post!


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