You may have noticed an uptick recently on this site in posts with actual running related content. It’s getting closer to another marathon so, of course, I’m starting to obsess more. I apologize to those of you who miss my thoughts on The Best Ways to Make Fart Sounds With Your Arm Pits and my well received discussion of 80’s era pop icons. I promise I’ll return to those more important thoughts in the days ahead (including a landmark analysis on Sponge Bob Squarepants and why he just might be a conduit for Satan’s manifestation on earth. I make a compelling argument.).
What’s on my mind these days is…my mind.
As we all know, there are really two aspects to this whole running thing: the physical and mental. To run your best, both must be working in harmony. By far, the physical side is easier to whip into shape. Sure, you have to worry about various muscular injuries, dog bites, and hit-and-run accidents. That’s all part of the game. There is a training schedule for the miles. There are nutrition plans for the diet. There are lawsuits for the hit-and-runs. By sweat of brow and bang of gavel, the physical can be accomplished. And it’s easy to measure. For many, you reference a wall chart indicating successful tempo runs, long runs, etc. For me, I take note of the increase in folks referring to me as a “Greek Adonis”. It makes me blush but, you know what, why argue?
What’s harder for me is the mental side. If you are running hard and really pushing yourself, there is a point in any race – no matter the distance – where you are suddenly confronted with the question that lurks in the back of the brain and you tried hard to suppress: is it really worth it? At least, I always have this question pop up at some point. Of course, I also have the questions: Do you really want to punch that spectator in the ear? –and- Would you like to have a massive coronary now? run through my head but that’s another topic.
To me, this is different than the notorious “Runner’s Wall”. It’s not physical. I can go on. What the question is really posing to me though is, to obtain the goal I want, am I willing to take on the fight? To accept the uncomfortable physical sacrifices to come. To shred my hamstrings to keep pace and not fade. To battle for the goal when it would be easier to pull back on pace and be content with a satisfactory time. As Dean Karnazes says to “embrace the pain”.
In other words, should I take the escape hatch or fight on?
Inevitably, this occurs somewhere about 2/3 through a race. For a 5k, after the 2 mile mark I start questioning how bad I want it. For a marathon, it’s about the 18 mile mark. If I’ve set my goals properly, I can’t coast in to the finish over the last 1/3 of the race and still get to where I want to go. It’ll be a battle. At the point where your body’s internal teeter totter tips to physical and mental exhaustion, that’s when the race – and the fight – begins.
I must confess that I haven’t been so good about answering that question in my last few marathons though. I believe I’ve been physically prepared for every race I’ve run. I haven’t skipped out on the training. Really, that’s a recipe for defeat anyhow. As much as this post is concerned with the mental side, the physical training provides the foundation which generates the mental strength. Using the Power of Positive Pessimism, I try to beat myself up as I progress through my training schedule so, by race day, I’ve already conquered the self doubts and fears. If I’m allowed some Mr. Serious Face introspection here, I think I’ve opted for the escape hatch in my last few marathons. My goals just didn’t seem too important and not worth the sacrifice.
And just because I’ve now gone two whole paragraphs without a typically hilarious joke – an F.M.S. rarity – I’m going to throw in a Three Stooges whoop-whoop-whoop, nyuck, nyuck, nyuck. And consider yourself virtually eye poked (unless you got the blocker up by your nose in time.)
So, here I find myself 6 weeks from the Detroit Marathon. Where am I at? Physically, I’m in as good of shape as ever. My training notes indicate my miles and times are faster than ever before at this point prior to the marathon. But how about mentally? I have to admit, this is still a work in progress. I’m not sure how I’ll answer that question come mile 18. Do I really need that PR? Do I really need to get a BQ? I would like both but I’m saying that without throbbing hamstrings, ever tightening calves, a strong desire to become an alcoholic, and 8 more miles to run.
Is it really worth it?
This became clearer to me this summer during my Summer of Speed. During some 5k’s, I was confronted with this question – and the opportunity to coast to the finish – and decided that, yes, I wanted my goal. I fought on and skipped the escape hatch. And even found time to become an alcoholic.
Is it really worth it?
How I answer that question will determine how the marathon turns out.