Mental toughness in running is something that is often overlooked. You’ll often get tips on speed workouts, tempo runs, long runs, running form and marathon fueling, but it’s not quite as common to hear that something has been working on the mental side of racing.
For me, the physical stuff is easier. The mental part of racing has been a work in progress for me for quite a long time. If you’re still reading and found me waaaay back when I started this blog, you’ll know that I started to get in my head about running once I set my goal to qualify for the Boston Marathon.
At my first attempt, I had what I think was a panic attack early on in the crowds, and DNF’d (dropped out of the race) at my first Boston Marathon qualifying attempt at the Eugene Marathon.
That began a battle of my mind – I’d overthink when the race wasn’t going my way and sometimes even self-sabotage!
The Mental Side of Running
I’ve come a long way in my mental game but it’s still a work in progress. My race at the 2020 Carlsbad Half Marathon was a victory on the mental toughness side of racing!
This was a training race after taking about 5 months off from any structured training or speed work. I’ve been focusing so much on strength training (Morning Meltdown 100 and 6 Weeks of the Work) and running for fun – but I’ve also been training my brain to push through discomfort & stay POSITIVE when things get hard. Not just in fitness but in life.
Early on in the race I unintentionally ended up running just ahead of the 1:50 pace group, which was the finish time I’d secretly hoped to beat.
I can’t even tell you the number of times I’ve let a pace group pass me during a race and it triggered me to mentally give up. The most significant time this happened was at the Phoenix Marathon in 2014. I had a moment of PTSD when I saw the shadow of the pace sign behind me starting around mile 3, but I quickly made a vow to NOT let that be my story anymore.
But this time, I let that pace group PUSH me rather than scare me.
I told myself I would not let them pass me even on the hills, which I’ve let myself believe is a weakness of mine in the past. As we climbed one of the steepest climbs on the course, I considered letting them pass me, justifying that I could easily catch back up. But instead of letting them pass, I focused on moving my feet as far ahead with each step as I could and using my glutes to push myself up the hill, just like my Seaside Striders run club coach had told me. And it worked!! For the first time in a long time, I did not get dropped on a big hill!
I had asked for some racing mental tips on Instagram and I started to use them.
I dedicated mile 8 to Amolia Cesar, the super trainer from my new favorite program, 6 Weeks of The Work. During my workouts in 6 Weeks of the Work, I often had to dig deep to push myself harder than I thought and his coaching style was SUPER motivating to me. He would say that “resting your hands on your knees is a sign of weakness.” I kept imagining him there when it felt hard, pushing me forward.
The highlight of the race was hugging my girls and my husband around mile 9. Without even thinking I jumped off the course to grab them and hug them. I swung Siena in the air and she covered my face with kisses. It was a moment of pure pride knowing I was setting an example for them.
When I hopped back into the race, the pace group was ahead but I quickly made it my mission to pass them again and I did. I had gotten a wave of adrenaline by seeing my family but when it wore off, I was starting to hurt. I told myself that I could live with this level of discomfort and that “pain is temporary, pride is forever” (which used to be my race mantra). I told myself that discomfort is part of the process. When we went up yet another hill, I repeated a John Maxwell quote, “Everything worthwhile is uphill.”
Carlsbad Half Marathon Race Results
When I finished the race, I achieved my goal of giving it everything I had. It was a bonus to beat my goal time with a 1:49:44- the victory for me is knowing that I couldn’t have given it any more and that I did not give up.
I feel so happy about this race. I ran it very mentally tough and my splits were super consistent. I was able to finish strong. I feel like it’s a good sign of a solid foundation that I can build on over the next few months. I have a goal to PR in the half marathon this year (that would be under a 1:40:03, from the 2014 Rock n’ Roll Marathon) .
My next race is the San Diego Half on March 15th – I am excited to see how much progress I can make toward my goal by then and then I’ll probably choose another goal race for later in the year. I’m doing the new Beachbody program Barre Blend with my training and so far it’s been a great compliment!
Exciting things to come in 2020!!
Do the new Barre Blend or any Beachbody program along with your running and join our community of moms and runners as we keep each other accountable and have fun!