Monthly Archives: February 2013

Runners Suck at Math

I constantly debate with myself regarding whether running is more physical or mental, whether it’s one or the other, whether it’s an equal combination of the two or something else entirely. Recently I broke it up into percentages and came up with the following formula.

Running is 70% physical and 80% mental.

Like I said, runners suck at math. At least this one does. Or maybe not. Those percentages actually make complete sense to me.

As evidence, I eased into the very beginning of my long run this past Saturday, under a darkened sky slowly transitioning to a deadened grey. The air was bitingly cold and I felt restricted by the full coverage of layered spandex necessary to keep my temperatures at a tolerable level.

Add to these less than stellar conditions, coach had me scheduled to run 18 miles with 12 at around marathon race pace, which is somewhere between 5:30 and 5:45 pace at my current fitness level. In hindsight, I knew I wasn’t ready for this….not this morning. I could probably knock out a handful of miles at this pace, but I wasn’t sure I could hold on for all 12, for a number of reasons. Still, there is no success if one doesn’t try.

After the 3 mile warmup I started in on the quickened pace, knowing I was taking it slow in hopes that my body would warm up and instinctually pick up the pace. I hit the first mile and looked at my watch…5:35. Wow! It didn’t feel like I was running that fast. I looked again……oh. 6:35. Nevermind. My spirits plummeted and so did my resolve. I ran another half mile and instantly knew this run was over. My body slowed to a jog. I decided to finish out 10 miles and reset the system for another day.

And on this day, the 80 percentage became painfully apparent. See, I had the 70% physical within me, somewhere, hidden deep, but the 80% mental was front and center. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice to say that in 2 days I was scheduled to drive 9 hours to North Carolina for an emotionally draining court date regarding a visitation fight for my son, which filled me with a preemptive sense of dread that I simply couldn’t shake. I went to sleep with the dread Friday night, woke up with it Saturday morning and despite caffeine’s best efforts, couldn’t shake at the start of my long run, carrying it with me into the compromised effort.

After struggling through the first mile and unable to concentrate on anything except my frustration with having to fight for my son, an increasing weight fell upon me as I considered having to run another 11 miles with effort while thinking about the building stress. No amount of mental strength could overcome the dread of what may come…..and I was done. It simply wasn’t worth it.

I drug myself back home and prepared to recharge once the episodic stress had run its course.

The 80% was just too much for the 70% that day.

(To quickly conclude that narrative though, it turns out that my day in court was more a victory than some of my best races ever were, and which I celebrated by running a strong and quickened 12 miles on the hotel treadmill.)

Back to the percentages though. I think about them often when it comes to the marathon. Some people feel I’m a very abrasive individual (damn facebook personas), but I think my intensity is actually an asset when it comes to distance running. I pay attention to the personalities of my teammates and can pretty accurately predict which of them will succeed in the marathon and which won’t, and it always comes down to their general demeanor. To be frank, some of them are just too damn nice. They aren’t fighters. They are super positive, very friendly, and just don’t seem to have that “fighting spirit” in their core. Which is NOT a bad thing, but I’m not so sure how that translates to running a marathon.

On the other hand, there are those who are fighters. They aren’t always pleasant to be around, and can be downright aggravating sometimes, but I also trust them to pull out the weapons when the miles start fighting back. They have developed the 70% physical game necessary to carry them to the finish, but they’ve also honed the 80% mental game that takes over when the body has been worn down. And in the marathon, the body WILL wear down. It’s how you keep going at that point that separates the successes from the disappointments.

For some, the percentages of running make more mathematical sense. They measure out 60% physical effort with 40% mental effort. Or vice versa. Or something that equals 100%. And that might get you through a solid 5k, 10k or even a half marathon, but it simply isn’t enough when it comes to the full 26.2.

Running that distance at the speeds we hope to simply doesn’t make sense….and so our math can’t either.

It takes an angry intensity. It takes a physical development. And maybe most importantly, it takes a mental development that overcomes personal stresses in training, physical obstacles in racing and the inevitable dying that comes in the last six miles of a marathon.

Do the math for yourself, just make sure your answer doesn’t add up.

Never Get Comfortable

I have mantras. Which is funny, because I’ve never been much of a “mantra” person. They seem too abstract and “wishful thinking” for me. I like physicality and results. But that’s stupid. Mantras are great, and as a coupling to the physical efforts of running, they are immeasurably valuable. Running, as has been said many times before, is probably as much mental as it is physical.

With a new job and new schedule for running, I found myself repeating the mantra, Never Get Comfortable, primarily when I wake up at 5:45 to get ready to run. Basically to get me out the door, but I’ve found it also extends to many other facets of running. Let’s talk about the great wall of getting out the door first.

At 5:45 am there are many reasons to NOT run. There is that absurdly heavy warmth of sleep embodied by a soft bed, leaded eyes and a temperature controlled house. There are the running shoes that have not yet been put on or the call to slowly ease into the day instead of the slap in the face that is training in the pitch dark. Yes, there is the comfort of all that. Which is why the best thing you can do is NEVER GET COMFORTABLE. For me, at least, it keeps me on my program.

The alarm goes off, the day’s first insult, and before the idea can even get in my head to slowly rise from slumber, I say to myself, “Don’t get comfortable.” And before I know it, the covers are off and I’m struggling to squeeze on my tights as I force myself awake and out the door. Once I’m up, I’m good. Once I fight the urge to relax and stay warm, I’m good. I WILL run. All it takes is getting uncomfortable, so I can get into the run, feel the rewards, and eliminate all potential regret of NOT running. It’s AFTER the run I can go back to being comfortable.

Then there is the comfort (relative, obviously) DURING the run. Mind you, this doesn’t apply to recovery/preparation days where you are supposed to be comfortable, but instead during workouts, during those moments that the strain of the effort seems too much to bear and all you desire is getting back to running “comfortably”, just enjoying the experience.

Yesterday I had a tough speed workout on my program. After 3 miles of warmup, I was to run 3 miles at Marathon Goal Pace, into 2 miles at 1/2 marathon pace, into 1 mile at 10k pace. That is HARD. It’s hard because even though the distances decrease further into the run, changing gears becomes that much harder as the accumulation of the effort builds and builds, so the last mile takes an incredible amount of physical and mental concentration, taking you into places that are the furthest thing from comfortable.

Admittedly, as I neared the end of the 2 miles at 1/2 marathon pace I started to doubt myself, doubt my ability to change gears, doubt my ability to run the entire last mile. I debated getting comfortable. The siren call of backing off and notching up the shortened workout to early training and prepping for the next day sang in my head, loudly.

Then I told myself. DON’T GET COMFORTABLE.

And I ran past the mile marker, doing whatever I could to change gears going into the last mile. And even after changing gears, the distance of that mile wore on me and I found myself almost instinctually backing off ever so slightly, letting my body run more smoothly, letting my legs turn over quickly but not AS quickly, and immediately I reminded myself, DON’T GET COMFORTABLE, instantly forcing my body into a state of tension and consciously quickening my leg turnover.

I ran the fastest mile of the session, despite not feeling as if I was holding on.

The mantra wins again.

Let’s face it, running is NOT comfortable. You can do it enough so that certain paces feel relatively “comfortable”, but the comfort of running will never compare to a soft bed, warm blanket and rested eyes.

However, the comforting feeling that comes from completing a run, beating through a seemingly impossible workout, or pushing past absurd limits is unparalleled.

Never Get Comfortable.