Friday, September 05, 2008

Mind Games

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.

Happy trails.

25 comments:

Xenia said...

I know this doesn't help you any, but it's comforting to me that a seasoned runner like you still has to battle internally. It puts my own worries and concerns into perspective.

Have a great weekend.

RazZDoodle said...

Yet another post stolen from my mind. I need to find a way to so for *impending* plagiarism.

My mind cut out on me for my long run this weekend. I defeated myself before my goal. Pissed me off, let me tell ya!

Marcy said...

Ohhhh I'm the master of the escape hatch. That shiz needs a lock on it already.

Vanilla said...

Whatever you decide, just be sure not to walk through the water stops this time, mmmkay?

Marlene said...

If I find myself asking "Is it really worth it?" around mile 18, I'm going to blame you. :)

It will, of course, be very different races that we run, but hopefully we'll both have the right answer!

Melissa said...

This kind of reminds me of something my sister said to me when I was going through a painful divorce: "Your emotions will lie to you."

It's so true, the emotional side of the brain (mine, anyway) is like a four-year-old constantly demanding things it wants and whining, and being scared, and going off the deep end (though it has its cute, cuddly side too, of course). Thank God in my old age the logical side is learning to say "Shut up and sit down," nearly always right away.

Viper said...

Ah, screw it. Slow down. Don't bother with the pain. Quit now. What's the point? In the end, there's always booze.

tfh said...

I wish somebody could give me the key to shutting my mind off entirely when I race. It's not even so much about caring about my time (though I do) as hating feeling that my mind, not my body, holds me back.

Please, next time, fewer questions, more answers!

Lisa Slow-n-Steady said...

yes - that *IS* the question that lurks race after race after race after race. I don't think anyone really knows the answer each time until they have to face the question.

Kristina said...

You know what Benjamin Franklin ;) said: Success is 99% perspiration, 1% inspiration, and 5% liquor. Or something like that. He wasn't very good at math.

Sarah said...

Six weeks...can it really be that close? Yes...(squeak)

I'm a first-timer, a marathon newbie, and I'm asking myself the same thing. Is all of this worth it? I think I said this in a moany post of my own a few weeks back. The general consensus from the peanut gallery was "Yes. Yes, it is." I have no idea what I'm facing. You're a much more experienced marathoner. If you keep coming back for more, then there really must be something to this after all. Otherwise...why bother?

theloosemoose said...

In addition to being a Greek adonis, you are a wise, wise man. I wholeheartedly agree that physical toughness and proper training are just part of the puzzle - Mental toughness is at least as important. I was fresh out of said mental toughness at my last marathon, and it absolutely sucked. I basically just said, "Enough of this shit" and did the walk of shame. Baaad feeling. Here's hoping I find some reserve of toughness nine days from now!

Reluctant Runner said...

You've captured that feeling exactly! I call it my "oh, fuck it" moment (but not out loud). Let us know if you figure out a way to handle it.

Roisin said...

I think it's worth it, especially with all the work you've put into it.

chia said...

You don't really look all that Greek. Are you certain you're not like a German Adonis?

Michelle J said...

Wow and yes i ask those very questions to myself as i run...like today the virtual 1 mile, i'm freaking screaming to myself to stop but kept going!!!

Marathons are a whole other ball game for me...

You will rock it! Don't be so hard on yourself dude!!

Michelle

Cindy said...

*sigh* the wicked brain always butts in and tries to get us to slow down, walk, take it easy. time to tell that brain to STFU! get your PR! take that BQ and show it who's boss! i'm sure you will kick arse.

SLB said...

Great post, I have had those thoughts often, of course usually on the side of the mountain with no one about, I remember some words by David Horton, along the lines of "it's no good sitting down, you're not going to die" and that works for me!

Marci said...

I definately need to work on the mental. It has gotten me more often than I'd like to admit.

Ms. V. said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?fs=1&v=1sElYG7LmUU

You can't see yourself. You look disgusting.

Ms. V. said...

My head usually says things like, "You're really not going to do a Half Marathon. You can't you're almost 50."

That shiz stinks.

Meg said...

I'm with Xenia, it is kind of a relief to know that you struggle with the mental push. I've definitely noticed myself mentally giving up towards the end of races before. You seem to have won your battle in your summer races, I guess at Detroit just remind yourself of how much work you've put in all summer. I think it's one of those "I don't feel like it, but I'll regret it if I don't and I won't regret it if I do" situations.

The Young Family said...

Great post! It is comforting to know others struggle with the mental side too!

Em

Big said...

I know, for me, the answer is always yes. Because I can still recall with some level of uneasiness races where I've eased-off when I could have pushed, and these are races that I ran over five years ago.

Non-Runner Nancy said...

Did you see the new ad in RW? If you didn't have pain, congratulations, you just jogged. :D

I think I question what the hell I was thinking at least once on every run.