On the Mental Aspects of Running…

We may have gone over this, but I didn’t consider myself a runner for a very long time.

I spent middle school and high school pursuing field hockey, softball and lacrosse, and when I saw the cross-country runners and track athletes while I was at practice, I thought they were crazy. I certainly never thought their sport was any less than the one I was currently playing, especially because there was no way in hell you could convince me to run three miles, or run as fast as I could without a goal being scored in my favor.

Then in college I got super healthy and crazy about working out and running became part of that routine. I was able to run a mile in 6:48, and then I shot for two miles. My vacation in California during that spring break began with a run around the resort every morning.

That summer I did my first 5K, and after crossing the finish line I told my father, “I’m never doing that again.” It probably had a lot to do with the fact that I ran 3.1 miles in the most humid weather I’ve ever experienced (it was a lot like what is going on right now in New York City).

I took a hiatus from running during my senior year of college because I had other things going on that seemed more important at the time. And then after graduating and having a lot of time on my hands while looking for a job, I decided to pick it up again. That same summer I saw my father finish his first half marathon, and I knew I wanted to accomplish the same.

So I’ve been a distance runner ever since I started training in June 2011. Let me tell you, running is not all physical strength. In fact, most of it is mental. If you’re in decent shape and don’t have any physical ailments, you can run. But it might not be a great run. A great run is all in your head.

As you can imagine, my first training session was rough. I had a four mile long run ahead of me, and there was lots of stopping after that two mile mark. I worked a lot on breaking through the “I can’t” and “I’m too tired” voices in my head and eventually was able to go through every long run without stopping between water stations. The same goes for both half marathons I’ve run.

This training session has been very different. I had a lot of high hopes for running this year. When I moved to this neighborhood I would do weekend long runs – even though I wasn’t training for anything – and I seriously killed them. KILLED them. There was no pressure on me and I was in a pretty good place in life. I did treadmill runs during the week, which were the ultimate mental tests in my opinion, and did pretty well for the most part. And then I started running in Central Park after work a few months ago, and once again was running better than I ever imagined.

Then training started, I set a goal of trying to finish this next half marathon in under two hours and nothing has really been working out for me. There are days when I just get lost in my music and am able to run just as I did before, and then there are days like today where I start off running at a 7:30 pace (what?!) and by mile two I have shooting pain in my lower legs.

I’ve prided myself on being able to push through most pain at this point in my running career, but today seriously sucked. My brain couldn’t jump the hurdle of pain and I ended up cutting my run short. As I walked the rest of the way home I was extremely disappointed in myself. I thought, there’s no way I can finish this race in less than two hours, I don’t know why the hell I even do this, I want to eat french fries for the rest of the day.

I’m still maintaining that last part – because c’mon, french fries – but as I showered and relaxed and recovered, my thoughts have improved. I still did four miles, and that still counts for something.

Even though running can be an emotional roller coaster, there’s no better therapy for me. When my mind is in the right place during a run, I can think so much more clearly. I can even do math. MATH. Breaking through that barrier to get to that happy place is why I do this. And so I can have days of eating french fries.

And on that note, tomorrow’s run will be better.

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