“A true champion knows how to overcome doubts and manage those doubts and turn them into motivation.” -Misty Hyman, Olympic swimming gold medalist
This is my second year running middle distance. I started training in January 2009 for a March 10-miler. I finished that race at my reach goal but only with the help of a good friend who paced me (and dragged me across the finish!) This year, I ran that same race by myself and shaved 7 minutes off my time. Seven minutes, and I was slightly disappointed – crazy.
Tomorrow, I return to the scene of my first half-marathon. It was a hard race for me last year, mentally as much as anything. I had just finished a round of antibiotics the week before the race, and I had no idea what that was going to do to my physical condition. (If you are wondering, it has some less-than-optimal effects on your digestive system!) When the problem struck, I had no mental preparation for any kind of challenge and I didn’t know what to do. I was off for the rest of the race. I did finish, though. The time wasn’t what I had in my head by any stretch – my training runs and time trials all said it should have been faster.
Flash forward a year. I’ve now run three more half marathons and a 10-miler. I’ve learned some things – things about me, about my body, about conditioning and about nutrition. Most of all, I’ve learned that these runs are as much mental challenges as they are physical feats.
There’s a lot of opportunity to think during these races (at least at the pace I run!) It is fascinating to hear what voices pop up. When I first started training, I was happy to hear the run voice because it replaced the fear voice that had moved in after my husband lost his job a few weeks before. Over time, I’ve found a great group of people with whom to train, and we chatter during most of the long runs.
The race voice is different, though. I’ve learned over the runs I’ve completed that I need to direct the noise in my head, not turn the DJing over passively. If I do the latter, I seem to channel into fear (“you can’t do that hill”) , self-pity (“you are so slow-everyone else is just humoring you”), and physical doubts (“you have MS for goodness sakes-what are you doing? You might as well walk!”). Once those thoughts come in, they are hard to get out. And as soon as they get loud, my body responds. That’s one of the most fascinating observations I’ve made. No amount of training, positive visualization, or external validation seems to be stronger than about three minutes of negative tapes. My legs start to feel heavier, my breathing is more labored, and it feels like I’m running through sand.
I can’t stop those doubts from coming in. The challenge is to provide a path some that they come in and move on through. If I don’t attach to them, they can’t drag me down. That’s the managing those doubts Hyman talks about, at least for me.
So let’s talk about goals for tomorrow. I’ve started reading The Marathon Method by Tom Holland and was immediately attracted to his discussion of goals. He talks about outcome, performance and process goals. Like many runners, I’ve always focused on the least controllable goal – outcome. He recommends not telling others what your outcome goal is in advance. I understood that immediately. Once I get a time in my head, I become attached to that time, not to the run. I don’t make the necessary adjustments because I’m trying to make the time. Case in point, last fall I was so attached to a goal time that I ended up in medical, having collapsed on the finish line (literally). Now, there’s nothing wrong with leaving it all on the course, but one of my goals for my races now is to finish in a vertical position!
So I’m not going to tell you my outcome goal for tomorrow. The course has completely changed since last year and there are supposed to be thunderstorms in the morning, so any outcome goal I have (and I do have one) is completely subject to change.
I do have some other goals, though. The thing I like about Holland’s book is that he gives as much importance to those goals as to the outcome goals. And these are goals on which I can focus during the race. And most importantly, if I’m listening to the tape of those goals, I won’t have much space for all the other negative stuff.
Some of my performance goals for tomorrow:
- Don’t go out too fast. There’s a big risk to the course change because the start is now flat for the first couple of miles.
- Pump your arms on the hills. Listen to your trainers voices, “Pick up your feet, shorten your stride, pump your arms.”
- Glide down the hills
- Stay solid but not too fast between hills. The second hill is a bear. Make sure you are fresh when you hit it.
- Check in with your time at the 10-mile mark and make a decision. This has something to do with my outcome goal. I’ll hopefully be able to pick up at the 11-mile mark, but if I’m in good shape, I may try to start a move at the 10-mile mark. My body will make the decision, not my fear.
- Shoot for negative splits. This has been my goal for my last two races. I’m close, but not quite there.
My process goals are the ones that I can talk about the entire run:
- Maintain good form
- Pick up your feet (do I really have to remind myself of that? yep)
- Keep your arms and shoulders loose
- Check in with your legs – are you favoring one or the other?
- Hydrate every 25-30 minutes
- Nutrition starting at top of first hill, turn toward the second hill, top of second hill
- Remember the mantra “Yes to life”
- Don’t let the negative tapes take up space – say “hi” and let them go on their way!
So that’s the plan. I’m off to packet pickup now. I’ll put out my clothes and pack my back and nutrition belt tonight. I’ll go through my routine and remember to put the 13.1 bracelet Katie gave my on before I leave the house. I’ll leave my old doubting tapes at home. I don’t yet know how to turn them into motivation-yet. Maybe I’ll find out tomorrow?