Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Mental Toughness and my Chicago Marathon Mantras!

 I started thinking about this post during my run on Monday.  About 10 of us showed up for our group run.  The forecast was 100% chance of rain/ tornado warning/hail/ 20+ mph winds, but no lightening, so we were good to go.  I had 5-6 miles on my plan and some other peeps that were running had 3-4.  Most of the guys were also running 5-6, so I fell in behind them (wayyyy behind) and we headed out.  It had stopped raining by the time we left and at mile 1, the sky opened up and it started raining in sheets.  The guys took off and I ended up alone.  I’m used to running alone, so it didn’t bother me too much, and I knew that we somewhere on our route, we were all running through the same thing. 

But running alone always makes my brain think of a million things.  I mean, my brain literally is on hyper-speed mode all day, so when I’m running I try to remember some of those things.  The image popped into my head about all the runners in Boston this past year and how mentally tough they really had to be to push themselves 26 miles in the rain and the cold.  I truly believe that races are won and lost (not necessarily actually winning the race) in the mind.

I look back at myself, even just a few months ago and am amazed at how far I’ve come and how much my mentality has changed.   I had no idea what expect when I started training for longer distances. 4 months after I ran my 1st 5k, I ran my first ½ marathon.  I had no idea what to expect, no idea how my body would react.  It’s scary to think about those distances when you’ve never run them before.  You’re putting your body under extreme stress.  You know you have to train for the distance you’re racing and if you do that, you will most likely be capable of finishing the race. Finishing a race of any distance is an accomplishment in itself.  It’s awesome set high expectations for yourself, but even easier to set low ones. I went into my first ½ with the goal to finish under 2 hours.  And I didn’t accomplish it.  I was bummed a little, but proud of what I was able to accomplish. 

A few months after my first half, I ran my second half marathon in NYC in 1:58. 1 year later, with 7 other half marathons and 1 marathon under my belt, I ran the NYC ½  again and improved by 18 minutes, finishing at 1:40: and change.  This time around I really believed in myself.  I knew I could hold onto a strong pace and I trusted my training.  I was in the middle of training for the NJ marathon and my runs had felt on point!

Training for a marathon is entirely different beast.  It takes grit, determination and commitment.  You need the training.  Every single run during marathon training as purpose.  You need to mentally understand what that purpose is, otherwise you’re just running the miles to run the miles.  I remember the first time I ran my first 20 miler.  I honestly could not believe it! How can my body, or anybody’s body, run for 3 + hours and still be okay!?  Our bodies are freaking amazing and we need to take the time to thank it and care for it, because it is a machine.  A few weeks after my 1st 20 miler, I did it again.  It was hard.  And more than a few times I asked myself why I was doing this.  Why does anyone choose to run 26 miles OR MORE (#crazies).  For the same reason we do anything that seems scary, right?  For the adrenaline rush. For the feeling of accomplishment.  To prove to ourselves we are capable of more than what we thought we were.  To prove to anyone who’s ever told us we couldn’t or wouldn’t be able to do something. 

my 1st 20 mile run
my 2nd 20 mile run from Albany to Kinderhook
My first marathon was scary.  I wanted to BQ, but once I told myself I’d be okay with just finishing, I gave that BQ up.  I made my goals backwards so I wouldn’t be disappointed with the outcome.  So I wouldn’t disappoint others.  By telling myself I just wanted to finish, I mentally checked out trying to accomplish my ultimate goal before I began the race.  My 2nd goal was to finish under 4 hours.  I finished the race and came in at 3:42:46. I was proud! I hit the wall coming onto the bike path of the Mohawk Hudson marathon and literally let out a whimper because I just wanted to stop and walk and I knew I still had a few boring miles ahead.  I wanted to stop, but I didn’t.  I got discouraged when my pace fell from the mid 8’s into the 9’s.  With a little over a mile ago, I came to the last water stop and my uncle was there waiting for me.  He ran the last mile with me and my pace came back into the low 8’s and I mentally knew I would finish that race strong.

heading to finish line of my first marathon
The New Jersey marathon this past April was very different mentally for me.   You can read my race recap here.   I was stronger and my running had improved so much.  I put in the time and the effort and the energy.  I ran in negative degree weather, on the treadmill, into the snow and ice.

  I went into the race with my A goal being to Boston Qualify, my B goal to PR and my C goal to finish no matter what.   My goal was in my grasp and I watched it slowly slip away during the last few miles.  I was mentally really strong, my body felt really strong, but I just couldn’t will my legs to turn over any faster.  I was hurting and things started to cramp up towards the end, but I never felt like I couldn’t finish or that I needed to stop.  In the end, I came in just short of my A goal and finished in 3:37:10.  I needed at 3:35 to qualify for Boston.

This training cycle, my sights are set really high for my marathon in October.  My A goal is sub 3:30.  I don’t even really want to set any other goals because that is what I’m focusing on and what I’m training for.  I’ve put my training in someone else’s hands and I just have to execute my runs and get the work done.  I am mentally checked in and focused on this training and I don’t even let the negative thoughts in.   I have drilled into my brain that this is the race I will BQ. 

If you start letting any negative thoughts in your brain or start thinking whatever task at hand is ‘too difficult’ or if you are willing to settle for anything less than your best, you absolutely will not accomplish your goals.  Be afraid of your goals.  Be afraid to set the bar high for yourself.  Don’t give up when or if you fall short.  Let those “failures” be the driving force behind your next step in accomplishing your goal. Do the work, make the commitment and it will pay off.

My favorite way to regain focus during a tough run or race is too repeat a mantra over and over again in my mind.  Something that reminds you of your strength.  Something easy to remember and that sparks your ‘go’ button.  I usually choose 1 or 2 and repeat them over and over again in my mind until I am back on track.  Anything from ‘you freaking got this’ (I stole this from RUNEMZ and The Athletarian for my first marathon) to ‘the faster you run the faster you’re done.  This morning 2 mantras got stuck in my head.  These are what will carry me through my fall marathon training and the Chicago marathon.

-Relentless Forward Motion-
-No guts, no glory-

How do you mentally regain focus if negative thoughts come into your mind during a hard run or race?

Do you use any mantras?

Have you ever dropped out of a race because you mentally checked out?

Happy running xoxo


  1. Great post!! Running truly is a huge mental game (especially long distance!)