Tag Archives: discipline

The Minds of a Runner

WHEN IT COMES TO RUNNING, I AM OF TWO MINDS.

One is the motivator who gets me out the door on a cold morning, pushes me to finish the last leg strong, and grinds out those last few miles when reason and sanity are screaming to end the punishment. But it dreams big and is tempted to push too hard, beyond the “extra mile” into overtraining and unrealistic goals.

So I have another mind who sets boundaries on training and has a practical view of what can be accomplished. And when I don’t set a new PR (personal record) at every race, it reminds me to be grateful for the experience and enjoy running for its own sake. But at times it needs a poke or three to get up and do what needs to be done.

When my running mind and rational mind are in harmony, amazing things can happen. But like any relationship in close quarters, there are moments of friction leading to some lively internal debates. In the end, I find a way to do what I need to. But it isn’t always a smooth ride!

Here are a few recent examples where my “rational mind” (RM) and my “running mind” (RNR) had differences of opinion.

1. Running in Lousy Weather

RNR: Remember, we have intervals on the schedule today.

RM: Yeah, but it’s windy and snowing outside. Let’s do them on the treadmill! We’re on the way to the gym anyway.

RNR: If we have to, I guess. . .Hey, what’s that on the side of the road?

RM: I see nothing. NOTH-THING!

RNR. Why, I believe it’s a runner. And he’s running into the wind. What dedication! There’s a real runner for you.

RM: I’m not listening.

RNR: You know, it’s not that cold out. And it’s only one set of eight quarters.

Result:

2. Hill Work Day

RM: Okay, the hill is just ahead. All warmed up and ready to go. How many repeats are we doing?

RNR: I think the assignment was four. But we can do at least six, no problem.

RM: Let’s see how we feel after the first couple.

(After repeat #2)

RM: Okay, let’s get in six. So next repeat we’re halfway done!

RNR. Oops, come to think of it, I believe the assignment called for eight. Yeah, I’m pretty sure about that.

RM: This isn’t fair. We still have a two-mile run home after this.

RNR: Think how good the cooldown pace will feel after the last repeat..

(Result: Eight repeats. Turned out the assignment didn’t specify a number. But the cooldown pace did feel good.)

3. Rest days

(Day before)

RM: Man, that was a brutal workout. But rest day tomorrow! Get to kick back and eat cookies.

RNR: You got that right. I am toast.

(Rest day)

RNR: What are you doing?

RM: Kicking back and eating cookies.

RNR: You understand that whole “rest day” thing isn’t meant to be taken literally. Go out and run a few. Earn those cookies.

RM: But rest is important. It’s a necessary part of training.

Kicking back with my daughter Tori in Richmond.

RNR: Come on, just a quick 5K. You know you want to.

RM: Actually, I don’t.

RNR: Lazy slob. We’re getting weaker by the minute. I feel our strength slipping away.

RM: Shut up and pour more coffee.

RNR: Okay, but if this happens again tomorrow I’m really coming after your ass.

4. Race day, at the starting line

RM: Okay, we’re going to run a good, strong race.

RNR: Righto.

RM: No pressure, no high expectations, just do our best.

RNR: Yup. Here to have fun. Only stress is what we put on ourselves.

RM: Ten seconds to the gun! Relax, shake arms out, breathe easy, focus. . .

RNR: And by the way, if you don’t set a new PR today, you’re a LOSER.

……………………………

So if you see me out there putting in some tough miles, feel free to admire the balance of dedication and self-discipline of my “two minds.” Or, like the neighbor watching me do intervals in the snow, you could just yell, “You’re crazy!”

To my running readers out there: what goes on in your mind(s)? Feel free to share it here!

Run Woodstock Part Deux: Shutting the Brain Off

Ninety percent of this game is mental, and the other half is physical. – Yogi Berra

Training for my first marathon four years ago, I ran 16 miles along the back roads from Honor, Michigan to Beulah and Benzonia, then back. It was a pretty route, but by mile 13 I was sick and tired of running it. Not physically exhausted, but mentally.

Three miles still to go, the little voice in my head said. That’s practically forever.

There was no shortcut back to my car, so I had to stick it out. It helped that I’d strategically parked at an ice cream shop. But I was pretty discouraged. In two months I have to run this and ten more, the voice said. Given this run, how am I gonna do that?

Shirt-Running Sucks - 2

The answer was to do more long runs to get the mind used to that distance. And after making some basic adjustments, such as conceptually breaking up long runs into manageable segments, I had no more trouble with self-doubts.

First 2 miles in. Just 30 more of those to go!

First 2 miles in. Just 30 more of those to go!

With that level of mental discipline I got through my first marathon, first 50K ultra in 2012, and first 50-miler in 2013, so I figured I would be okay for the 100K in 2014. Instead, I hit several mental challenges that I was unable to overcome:

Empty Tank of PatienceDistance stretching. Four miles (the distances between aid stations at Woodstock) are short hops on the road, but on singletrack that same distance seems doubled. Distances also stretch out in the dark, so trail running at night called for a full tank of patience. Instead, it was one of the first things I ran short on.

The worst was the section leading to the second aid station. During my second loop it seemed like I would never get there. When I finally did, all I could think about was having to do it twice more. My attitude had soured, and I was no longer having fun – a bad sign on an ultra run.

I thought so!

I thought so!

Pain management. Sore feet and chafing got worse as the night wore on. By the third loop the Body Glide wasn’t working and I was constantly adjusting my shorts, without much relief. More pain came from tripping on roots and rocks, and from branches in the trail that stung my ankles. I dealt with this increasing discomfort by getting more and more frustrated.

Bonking. When inadequate hydration and electrolyte management caught up with me, I didn’t have the focus to work through the nausea and correct the imbalances, and allow myself to recover. Despite having plenty of time to rest and still finish the race, I dropped out at the 56K mark, done in by a combination of things, but above all, insufficient mental discipline.

Yeah, that pretty much covers it.

Yeah, those tabs pretty much covered it.

Over the subsequent year I fixed the bonking problem, but as Woodstock 2015 approached I still worried that I needed a way to handle the mental challenge of those loops in the dark. Help came from an unexpected and last-minute source.

The night before the race I went to a local runner’s clinic on handling long runs. Most of the advice I’d heard before, but one comment stood out: the need to shut the brain off.

Not completely, naturally; a trail run requires being alert to the course and your physical condition at all times. What needs shutting off is the mental chatter – the continuous stream of trivial thoughts, especially the negative self talk and worries. So I would work on getting into a “zone” – a disciplined, quiet mind, at peace with itself and living entirely in the moment. Here’s how I applied it.

One flag at a time.

How do you finish 100K? One flag at a time.

– I created a mantra for myself: Focus on the trail in front of you. The milestones will come. Every time I began to fret about how much distance I had left, I silently repeated this mantra and I would settle back into the zone.

– During the stretches when the aid station seemed light-years away, I would remind myself, It’s really not that far. It just seems longer. I even used it when I passed a runner on that interminable second segment. “Man, they must have moved the aid station,” he said. I assured him out loud what I’d been telling myself silently.

– When I tripped over roots or rocks I told myself firmly that it was over and in the past. Then I’d forget about it. If that didn’t work I would stop and walk until I returned to the zone. Running is a happy activity for me; I would not run angry.

– When pain came in my feet, legs, or shoulder, I did not fight it. I acknowledged it was there, embraced it as part of the experience, and let it go.

– Staying hydrated and salted kept me on an even keel. I had no nausea or swings of equilibrium to deal with. But just in case, I was prepared this time to deal with it. As I overheard one pacer telling his runner, “You’re not having a bad race. You’re having a bad moment. You will get through it.”

marathon-sticker

The results exceeded my highest expectations. I stayed in a steady, positive mental state throughout the race. And one week later I’m still on that high. Maybe I should do this more often?

Make More Mistakes

How Not to Taper

“We have to go light today,” I told Mark, my Body Specs trainer, on Thursday afternoon. “I’ve been feeling sore all week, and I have a long trail run Saturday morning.”

Monday’s workout, while not like the previous two weeks (shall we say, “Bru-tall”), had still been fairly intense, and I was not up for another one like that. Besides, I’m in the taper period before my July 25 race.

“What did you do after Monday’s session?” he asked.

Well, the usual – Aikido Monday night, then a Tuesday evening run with PR Fitness that had somehow or other turned into a tempo run. On hills. On Wednesday I’d volunteered at the Pterodactyl Triathlon, which hadn’t involved anything strenuous, but I’d been on my feet for over five hours doing this and that.

Mark looked at me. “So what you’re telling me is that you didn’t take a day off on your own taper week.” He shook his head. “I’d be sore, too!”

Guilty as charged, sir.

In my relatively short marathon and ultramarathon career, I’ve found the taper period to be, at times, more difficult than the training. Not in exertion, but the lack thereof. It takes discipline to cut back, to not run as far or as hard, before a race.

Pace too fast 2

What makes taking it easy so hard?

I know the reasons for tapering. Rest and recovery are needed to be at peak form before a race. And gains from strength training, or long running, take about three weeks to be manifested. So hard training the two weeks before a race provides zero benefit and could easily mess me up. Overworked muscles and injury, for example.

And there’s the ol’ competitive nature to deal with. Like with Tuesday’s run. I’d planned to go easy, but the group started off fast and I didn’t feel like being left in the dust. Then we hit the uphill repeats, and what was I supposed to do? Let people pass me?

Never met a hill I didn't want to charge up. (Channeling T.R.?)

Never met a hill I didn’t want to charge up. (Channeling T.R.?)

Ah, the ego. Despite ten years of Aikido it remains stubbornly unconquered. Or, as we say in my profession, “always further opportunities for improvement.”

Fortunately, I have another week to get my act together. Saturday’s 16-miler will be a dress rehearsal for the Voyageur Trail Ultra, with a fully stocked drop bag and trail backpack. I will also be trying out a revised strategy for hydration (carry more water, drink more water), electrolytes (salt tablets), and heat protection (a cap with UV blocker). Then everything short and easy next week.

And I promised myself to take it easy until Saturday morning. (With the exception of a stretching clinic yesterday evening. It was brief. And Skip from Body Specs was teaching it. How could he be mad at me for going?)

A New Year: Training and Traditions

FitnessFridayLinkup buttonFirst run of 2014: Late afternoon, 15 degrees, snowing, and four inches already on the ground. But my training goes year-round, and running on New Year’s Day is one of my personal traditions, so I layered up, strapped on my new headlamp, and went out for 4 miles and change.

Most non-runners I know are pretty amazed that I run in these conditions. But it can be very pleasant. After the first mile or so, I usually feel really energized. Two layers plus a jacket kept my core warm, and my new Hoka One Ones got me through the drifts and kept me from slipping. I’m really liking these shoes. Cold fingers, and snowflakes blowing into my eyes, were only minor annoyances.

Running in gently falling snow also gives me a sense of peace and serenity which allows my mind to unwind and defocus a bit. I can detach my thoughts from everyday stuff and just be in the moment, aware and grateful that I am healthy and fit enough to be out there.

PR Fitness - we're not just serene, we get down!

PR Fitness – we’re not just serene, we get down!

It’s good for mental discipline, too. My Aikido instructors teach that the brain gives up before the body gives out (generally just before they announce some killer breakfall sets) and as I’ve written before, running long or hard (or both) involves getting the brain out of the way. I had a splendid example of both success and failure at this just a couple of weeks ago at the Saturday morning PR Fitness run.

"Personal challenge" - it's a guy thing.

“Personal challenge” – it’s a guy thing.

I’d planned on running my assigned 13 miles at a slow, steady pace, but I started out with the faster group and decided as a personal challenge to keep up with them. It wasn’t easy but I got into the flow, and my mind was occupied with staying upright on slippery roads rather than how hard my body was working. And then, 9 miles in, I suddenly realized I hadn’t eaten any breakfast.

I’ve run up to 12 miles without eating before, but not at this pace. Conventional wisdom says I should have been fatigued and hungry, while I’d been cruising right along, feeling fine. But once I began thinking that I should be tired and hungry, I became so, and my last four miles were a struggle. I just couldn’t silence the mental reminders. So I’ve got more work to do there.

Happy New Year, everyone! Thanks for reading!

On the road to recovery.

On the road to recovery.