One of the hardest parts for me in racing is staying mentally tough. I’ve eluded to my inability to embrace “the suck” that accompanies racing, particularly in the later stages of a marathon. I’m determined to conquer my mental obstacles at Buffalo—fighting the “good enough” attitude. The tough part is that I’ve been here before, staring race day in the face and knowing that things will hurt. I’ve prepared myself in the past for “the suck.” I wouldn’t grade the result as a failure, but retrospect is crystal clear: you could have pushed harder.
On the plus side, I’ve been trending in the right direction. I’m learning to respect the mental-physical tug-o-war that I’ve faced in previous races. The 2014 Boston Marathon hurt (a lot), but I battled my way to the finish, fighting to hold goal pace until the stop button on my Garmin chirped. Ultimately, I churned out my final miles at 6:37/mile with a mix of grimace and smile.
In the end, we all know that the pain will stop once the race is over; however, in the moment it’s easy for the legs to persuade the brain to let off the gas pedal. Experience certainly helps, but what about those who are running their first marathon next week? What about those who have struggled with the mental battle but have failed to find the toughness to keep pushing?
The biggest piece is mental preparation. Visual imagery and mental prep is nothing new to athletes, but we view running as a “one foot in front of the other” activity. It’s not. There’s a huge mental game that we’ve all come to appreciate (whether it’s through training or racing). My mental prep involves I plan to visualize the race from now until race day.
In addition to visualizing my race all week, I’ve also become accustomed to two things to help hold the ship together when navigating the storm that is late stage marathon running. First, I work through a developed check list of run form pieces. I aim to have a strong focus on the way that I run in the presence of fatigue. I aim to fight poor movement habits that will prevent me from holding a consistent pace. While the checklist is different for every runner, the biggest item on my checklist is avoiding the marathon shuffle. You can read more about this here. Late stage shuffling is a killer when you’re tired. Try to avoid it.
The other piece of mental prep is developing a mantra. In the past I’ve used the “You can’t break me” mantra that Louis Zamperini used to fight his way through Japanese POW camps back in WWII (read Unbroken if you haven’t). Although the circumstances are far from the mental and physical battle facing Louis, this simple phrase helped keep me strong in previous races.
For the 2015 Buffalo Marathon I’m embracing “Shut Up, Legs!” Our ability to talk ourselves into and out of actions based on cognitive processes alone is amazing. Come May 24th, I want my brain to be in control of my legs and not the other way around. Internally, I’ll be screaming this message. I’ll be plastering my legs with a dominant thoughts that entitles them to zero control of my race.
It’s easy now, sitting here typing away, watching my son sleep, and I sip on a Kona Blend from Wegmans. The tricky part is implementation. For now, it’s all about taper for my legs, while ramping up mentally.