Aside from a few minor updates, the following post was written while I was training to run my first marathon. OK, it’s a repeat. But at this time of year when New Year’s resolutions begin to fade and motivation wanes, I hope these reflections on meeting a challenge head on will help you stay on or get back on track to your goals!
It’s a little over a month into my marathon training and I’m happy to report that, in spite of the heat and one minor injury, my training is on schedule. That training involves some pretty strict exercise, nutrition and hydration requirements. But in the past few weeks, I have begun to see that accomplishing a physical goal necessitates training the mind as intensely as you train the body.
Case in point. I had planned to do a 10 mile run one Sunday morning when the meteorologist promised me nothing but blue skies and a breezy 70 degrees only the night before. The meteorologist lied.
Even though I got out pretty early in the day (well, early for me), the sun was already beating down and the thermometer was at 83 and climbing. It topped 91 by the end of my run. I did have enough sense to take a hydrator with me, so I had plenty of ready fluids. But the promised breeze was not to be found. Add to this the fact that I was travelling and hadn’t run in this area recently. I was primed for problems.
The simplest 10 mile route I found was more hill-infested than anything I had run to date. Sure, I had been doing some hill training. But the hill segments I had done up to that point had always been balanced out with some flatter segment to allow my legs to recover.
On this route, there was nothing but steep ups and steep downs as far as the eye could see. The first big hill just kept going on for 1.5 miles. I had run this route a few years ago, but failed to recall just how steep this particular stretch was.
Most of the time, I was just running short uphills followed by the same distance downhill … over and over again for the remainder of the 10 miles. Working into this kind of terrain more gradually would have been the smarter option. But I had set out my course and was determined to complete it.
After 4 miles of this, I really felt myself getting tired. Scanning my body to find the source of the fatigue, I found no cause for it. My legs were feeling strong. The same was true for my arms and my core. My breathing was even and smooth. My heart rate was steady. I had no pain anywhere and it was not the heat.
Out of this moment of confusion, the answer hit me. When I saw the temperature climbing earlier that morning, my first reaction was frustration. I was counting on the weather not hindering my progress. The weather didn’t have to hinder me at all. But somewhere inside, I assumed it would.
To my dread over the weather, I added my uncertainty about the hills. I had no such uncertainty when I planned the route in the first place. But when one doubt about my performance came to mind, another followed closely upon its heels.
I realized that before I was able to get out and run, I had spent a good two hours dwelling on how difficult the run would be. And guess what? It was difficult!
If I was going to get to mile 10, I needed to change the game plan. So, I began to center my mind on images and thoughts that would generate positive emotions about this run and confidence in myself.
I began to treat each hill as a mini-run in itself. Every time I got to the top of a hill, I celebrated that accomplishment as though I had just completed a marathon. I pictured a giant abacus (some of you still know what those are, right?) and saw myself moving one red ball from the left side of the abacus to the right for every hill I climbed.
I also had a couple of little songs running through my head. “I Feel Good” was a helpful reminder. Sometimes, I changed the words to “I love hills.” Felt like a lie at first. But after awhile, I began to enjoy completing the hills. To the tune of “Jimmy Cracked Corn,” I found myself singing “Yes it’s hot, but I don’t care.” I even pulled out a couple of inspiring hymns.
Silly as this may sound out of context, it worked. The tiredness faded and I was ready to finish the run as strong as ever. It was not my fastest time. But by the end of the run, I knew that I had another 10 miles in me in spite of the heat and hills. To go from thinking I might not get through 5 miles to running 10 and feeling like I wanted to run 10 more shows the power of changing your mental focus.
During this particular run, I was reminded of three truths. First, I am incredibly physically strong. Secondly, I am also incredibly stubborn when I set my mind to something. Finally and most importantly, neither my strength nor my stubbornness can accomplish anything if I am replaying negative messages in my mind.
Mind over matter is more than just a challenge to exert better self-control. It is a simple fact of human life. One way or another, your mind will tell your body what to do and your body will be inclined to listen. Be sure, in whatever you are training for, that you are sending the message your body needs to hear!
Dr. Janice Staab is a philosophical counselor and life coach. For more information on her services or to schedule your free consultation, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also check out her Web site at www.lifesignscoaching.com.