Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Mental Challenges in Running Far

Like me, are you a little inspired by seeing improvement?  Running, weightlifting, your career, shit anything?

I have been pretty good about figuring out "what limited me last time?" - and assessment of my shortcomings in hopes of reducing limitations.  Might be a tough shortcoming to surmount - like, "well in that last race I was out of breath!!" - ok, a few MONTHS of cardio base building should remedy that.  Certainly a tall order.

My first few races (talked in to running by friends with decades of experience and me with NONE) usually ended like this.

As I 'jumped' in to the sport, injuries seemed to plague my running, but this was finally remedied by awareness, practice and implementation of good running form.  Strength building outside of running prepared my body for the unforeseen.  Nothing gets you ready for tripping in the woods like deadlifts in the gym!!

As my races got longer, I've been limited by temperature regulation, fatigue or nutrition, etc.  Each of which comes with valuable lessons learned.   BUT I then hit a new 'weakness' or 'limiter' - the brain.   Chasing around the commands of a brain that seemed not always to have my goals aligned with its own has been an interesting ride!  One of the indicators I knew it was my mind was:  
You're trudging up a hill, it's so steep that you better walk it.  After you peaked the hill and it's flat, then downhill smooth you snap out of a trance-like state and ask yourself "why am I still walking!>!?!?!1!? Then you do the checklist, breathing=idle, muscles=unfatigued, heart rate=idle... well get back to WORK!  this is a RACE!"
I have these conversations periodically with myself.  Here's some ways to overcome your own brain (aka mental fatigue):

1. You Are Lucky

I begin with this strategy because I use it most frequently and believe it produces the most empowering results. When I’m not enjoying myself during a long run, I turn it around by reminding myself that I am so, so fortunate to be out there.
So many individuals will never have the chance to explore the remote mountains, meadows, ridges, and lakes that we see during ultras. Some are physically unfit, others saddled with injuries, and others grappling with life circumstances that make distance running impossible.
During your worst moments of any ultra, tell yourself these words: “I am lucky. I paid money to do this. I am in one of the most beautiful places on earth, and I’m one of the fortunate few able to experience it.”
It works for me.
2. Break Down the Numbers
Looking at the numbers during an ultra can either provide a sudden boost or instant frustration. To assure it’s the former, I turn the numbers into something positive. I try to never, ever look at a mile marker and think, “I’ve only come this far?” Inevitably, that mental process makes me feel discouraged and weary. Instead, I say, “Only seven more miles to the next aid station!” or “I’ve already finished one-third of the race!”
I break down the race into manageable bits, but look at my progress in a positive way.
3. Reward  
Exercise is all about reward, in my book. I think about the slice of watermelon waiting for me at the next aid station, or the hamburger I’ll get to devour at the finish line. If my stomach isn’t feeling so hot, I’ll change it up to “Only 10 more miles till I get to change my socks” or even “20 more minutes and I’ll get a burst of energy from the Gu in my pocket.” Looking forward to the next small thing on a long run helps keep me going.
4. Distract:  When all else fails, I try to forget that I’m running. I do many of my races with my running partner, Caroline, and we spend hours catching up on work, family, rowing (me), triathlons (Caroline), and any other topic of conversation we can think of. If I don’t feel like talking, I listen to music on my iPod. A favorite song perks me up right away and makes me forget about the long, laborious trail ahead. 

Any others?