As spring enters the air and the snow (well what little snow there was this winter in Calgary) begins to melt, the long slow distance runs tend to get longer. About 8-12 weeks out from race day, marathoners begin to add the mileage on and training comes in to full form.
This past week I got a little reminder of how tough the mental component of training for endurance racing can be, especially for marathons.
It was a Sunday morning and my training plan called for a 9km tempo run, followed immediately by 13.5km at a more comfortable pace. So a 22.5km run in total. I know that a few of you real big distance people out there might sort of scoff at that but for me it’s a stretch.
As my feet hit the pavement I could feel the fatigue of a long bike ride I had done the day before, and a couple tempo runs during the week. I wasn’t hitting the pace that I had set out in my plan and was about 10 seconds per km off. I just didn’t have the gas to push as hard as I needed to and it was pretty discouraging.
You’ve probably been there before, whether you’re training for a 5km charity race, or a 50km ultra marathon. Its tough and you try to hit the reset button, and you try and do whatever your coach or training partner tells you to do. But sometimes you just feel like that day just isn’t your day.
Maybe take a moment right now to think of the last time that happened. The last time that a race or a pivotal training run went sideways on you and didn’t turn out the way you wanted it to. It’s happened before, and like an asteroid striking the earth, it’ll happen again.
In that case, I’ve got a few things I tell myself that I can share with you. Maybe one will resonate with you, and maybe you’ll even find it encouraging enough to write on your arm during a race. (I always tell myself that before a tough race I’ll write a word or an inspiring quote on my arm with a Sharpie. However, invariably I get up too late to have time to do that, and I don’t even think I own a Sharpie, but maybe it’ll help you.)
• “It never gets easier, you just go faster” – Greg LeMond
• “If it was easy, anyone would do it” – Basically any coach
• “I hated every minute of training. But I said, don’t quit, suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion” – Muhammed Ali
• “Most people run a race to see who is fastest. I run a race to see who has the most guts” – Steve Prefontaine
On those days that things didn’t feel like they were going my way, sometimes those great quotes above were able to pull me through the run and I got a great result in return. Other times, I finished the run completely second-guessing whether or not I was in fact any good at what I was trying to do. On those runs I’d have Bane (Batman Dark Knight Rises reference) in my head saying “I was wondering which would break first, your mind… or your body.”
However, in spite of each of those bad days eventually I was able to sum it up with another, less inspiring quote, “Some days you’re the hammer, and some days you’re the nail”. You roll with it.
After each of those days I’d bounce back, and while sometimes it would be a few training sessions before I’d have a day that I really felt like I’d take a step forward beyond where I’d felt I had faltered, eventually I got there.
The point I’m trying to make is that if you’re training for a marathon, or a half marathon, or a 10km, 5km, or whatever it is you’ve planned, you’re going to have good days and you’re going to have bad days. But the most important thing is that you’re out there, and you should be proud of that and you should see through what you’ve started.
On that note, I’ll give another piece of advice and I’m drawing on my experience from having done Ironman twice for this one. When you’re out there in the middle of a long run, or in the heat of the race, when you hit those tough moments you need to find whatever excuse you need to keep going. Twelve weeks out from race day if you start cutting runs short, you aren’t doing yourself any favors. You need to prepare and take care of your body and know that the mental training is just as crucial as the physical training.
Finally, I’ll share with you a poem that I committed to memory when I was getting ready for my first Ironman. I think that the solid result that I had on that brutally hot Penticton day in August 2011 was at least partially owing to the movie Invictus and the inspiring poem that Nelson Mandela shared with us as a source of inspiration for him during his imprisonment.
BY WILLIAM ERNEST HENLEY
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.