Discovering Mental Training

Over the past 2 months I have gone through a significant period of self-discovery – of understanding who I am and what I am capable of. While I could say that most of it has been non-running related, isn’t everything running related?

For the first 4 months of the year almost every run I did was a struggle. I could barely run a mile without pausing. There was no physical reason for this; I was more than well conditioned to do so but I had developed such a mental block against it. I chalked it up to the personal issues I was dealing with at the time.

On the morning of the Vancouver Marathon, I honestly had no idea what was going to happen. Was I going to have to make 26 stops along the way? But this funny little thing called adrenaline kicked in and I ran gloriously (until I hit the typical wall). Since then mental blocks on my training runs would pop-up occasionally but nothing like how it was from January to April.

Instead, they manifested themselves in other ways.

Recently, my training runs have been going really well. A couple of months ago I found myself running pain-free for the first time in at least 2 years. I had forgotten what that felt like and didn’t quite know how to handle it. Then I started to see paces that I never run without coughing up a lung. And while challenging, they weren’t killing me. I didn’t know how to handle this either. My head would tell me, “Oh you don’t run that fast so slow down before anything bad happens.” Additionally, on long runs I’d be cruising along and realize that I’d hit 13.1 miles faster than my race PR time and I wasn’t taxed to the limit. Yet somehow, I haven’t been able to translate it to a race.

So much of training is emphasized on the physical process, but what about the mental side of it?

A little while ago I was at a Giants game with Alyssa, Layla and Courtney. We had just heard that our friend Katie had won her second race of the weekend. We were giddy with excitement and I asked, “How does she do it?” to which someone responded, “She just believes in herself.” As simple as that sounds, those words just blew me away. And ever since then, my brain has been trying to comprehend this.

Two weekends ago I brought up this topic with RoadBunner during our 15-mile run. RoadBunner is one of the smartest runners that I know. Having finished 29 marathons (wrap your head around that one for a minute…), she has a wealth of knowledge and experience, which is why I am constantly flooding her with questions. (I feel like I could write an entire blog post on “Things I Learned from RoadBunner…”)

She offered a few bits of advice as well as some insight into what she saw me capable of, which honestly blew my mind. It was the first time anyone had ever told me what they thought I was capable of – and it was something that I never once envisioned for myself. If she can see it in me, why can’t I see it in myself? Later that day, she sent me a text message suggesting I read a book called, “Mental Training for Runners.”

So I looked it up on Amazon. Then I looked at the other books that Amazon suggests based on your search. A book called, “The Competitive Edge – Mental Preparation for Distance Running.” I skimmed through the summary, looked at the chapter titles and it sounded like it was exactly what I needed.

It arrived last Friday and I finished it by Monday. If you know me, you’ll know that it takes me FOREVER to finish reading a book, so this is an indication of how helpful I found it. I related to almost every scenario the book presented and felt like the author was writing specifically to me. It was pretty amazing but there is so much to absorb. I am actually going back and reading it again, taking notes this time.

At the end of the book is a self-assessment, as well as a Mental Training Plan that includes descriptions of the exercises, the chapter references, the goals of the exercises and how often you should be doing them. I’ve started to try some of these exercises and am looking forward to this added component of training.

This post was a bit of a personal one, more personal than I usually get. I’ve spent the past few days mulling over whether to actually post this or not, but the bottom line is that I blog for me and often refer back to previous posts. This is a topic that I know I’ll want to refer back to in the future, so I’ve decided to go ahead and share it. There may (or may not) be more of these kinds of posts to come.

7 Responses to Discovering Mental Training

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  3. Layla Bohm says:

    This was a great post, and a great reminder to everyone that running/exercising/etc is not just about going through the routine of hitting a certain number. That number is subject to change, and we need to be ready and willing to change with it. Sometimes we have those days where everything feels icky and we just have to slow down. But one such day doesn’t define us, and the other side of the coin is that sometimes we have days where everything feels great and we can go faster. Those days are the true indicator of how far we’ve come, and where we can go.
    At a point in both my PR marathon and my PR half-marathon this year, I suddenly had a strange feeling — that everything felt good and almost effortless. Each time I got scared, because I was running at a pace that shouldn’t feel good and effortless if I kept it up. But then I kept going, rather than talking myself into slowing down. I decided to see what I was capable of, telling myself, “It’s just one race. So what if I crash and burn? Might as well see what happens.” It worked! It was so weird and so cool!

    You are definitely capable of more than you realize. Most of us are. So, the next time you find yourself thinking that you shouldn’t be going that fast, remember that running is something to be enjoyed. Realize that you’re probably feeling pretty happy. And that means you’re doing something right.

  4. RoadBunner says:

    Ooh, you didn’t tell me you found a book!!  I’m glad it was helpful and I’m curious to hear later what sort of points you took away from it.  Be prepared, I have all sorts of butt whooping to give you about what you’re capable of ;)

  5. Jess says:

    This is an awesome post. I’d LOVE more of this from you (if you’re open to sharing!). Mental strength has been a huge focus for me this year as well, as you know, and I LOVE that you’re on a similar path right now. Rock on my friend. 

  6. Jolene says:

    Oh I am glad you decided to post this. I love the personal, thoughtful touches to this post, and getting into your brain a wee bit too ;-) The book sounds awesome. I might need to also get it!

  7. Rene says:

    It’s great you are running pain-free!

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